I was lucky enough to attend the premiere for the HBO television movie Game Change (HBO; Saturday at 8pm) in New York. Apart from seeing executive producer Tom Hanks in the flesh (looking jovial, artfully stubbled), the highlight was free popcorn. These, ladies and gents, are the perks of a career in television journalism.
The film - which details the inner workings of John McCain's 2008 campaign for the presidency of the United States, and particularly his troublesome selection of an Alaskan moose-muppet as his running mate - comes to us from the makers of another political, er, thriller: 2008's much-lauded Recount, starring Kevin Spacey and John Hurt.
Game Change's cast is even more impressive. Ed Harris plays rogue Republican McCain as a decorated war hero with good intentions who is knocked off-course by the dark art of political campaigning. Woody Harrelson inhabits the body of Steve Schmidt, McCain's wily campaign strategist and (initially) the chief promoter of wildcard vice-presidential pick Sarah Palin. It takes a while but Schmidt eventually comes to realise the enormity of his error.
All the critics seem to be talking about, however, is how brilliant Julianne Moore is as Palin - even though she overcooks the by-hokey accent. Indeed, Moore breathes a curious force into Barracuda, as Palin was nicknamed, channelling her charisma and magnetism while capturing her impulsive, small-minded, manic-depressive meltdowns in minute detail. Watch all the folds in her chin as she crumples under the harsh spotlight. It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Republicans.
It's a great film, really, and I'm glad HBO took a punt on it. It has snappy Aaron Sorkin-ish dialogue, buckets of laughs and not a moment of drag. It's also a must-watch to find out how bad the world could have been had Palin got into office.
Talking about apocalyptic disasters, it turns out that if Palin had become Veep, she might merely have been hastening humanity's demise by about four years. As any self-respecting Paranoid Peter will tell you, the ancient Mayans long ago predicted that the world would come to an end on December 21, 2012 - just in time for Christmas.
Discovery's Apocalypse 2012 Revelation (above; today at 9pm) explores that idea with doomsday scholars (is that the best professorial title ever?) and Mayan religious leaders.
So what's the verdict? Well, one expert says don't fret - the Mayan calendar will just move into another cycle after December 21, and the ancients always expected that.
One Mayan high priest, however, warns that if we continue to mistreat the planet, we'll suffer terrifying consequences. Which reminds me of the scene from Game Change in which a smirking Palin stands on stage in front of thousands of supporters, proudly proclaiming: 'Drill, baby, drill!'
Further on into American Grotesque, it might be a bit of fun to tune into Extreme Couponing (Tuesday, TLC at 10pm), which filters the US mania for shopping through a handful of 'super couponers', who find meaning in life through deals. Some of them manage to help their communities through their coupon callisthenics, and one paralegal manages to score US$1,900 worth of 'merch' for US$103. This, one can only assume, is the natural end point of shopping-mall-o-nomics.
Take that, economy!