The Kennedy story is so embroidered with legend that it's difficult to tell the fable from historical fact. The myth-making continues with "Ethel" (9 p.m., HBO), an affectionate profile of Robert F. Kennedy's widow and mother of his 11 children.
directed by Rory Kennedy, who was born in
December 1968 -- more than six months after her father's assassination.
"Ethel" revisits many hardy perennials from the Kennedy image catalog -- scenes of touch football games and other moments of vigorous competition; enormous gatherings of healthy, wealthy children lectured on social purpose by their politically engaged elders; and happy clips of an insular and expansive clan connected by
political ambition and abiding faith. "Ethel" strives to tell the story from the perspective of a Kennedy in-law, but it keeps getting dragged back to familiar territory.
Some interesting tidbits emerge. In addition to having 11 children (or, as her daughter puts it, spending 99 months of her life pregnant), Ethel Skakel Kennedy was passionate about animals and often had as many as 16 dogs, various horses and livestock and, for one brief shining moment, a pet seal at the family's Hickory Hill, Va., home.
More than most Kennedy hagiographies, "Ethel" discusses Robert F. Kennedy's work for Sen. Joseph P. McCarthy and the fact that the notorious red-baiting senator dated two of Kennedy's sisters.
At its most charming, "Ethel" crosses the Kennedy story with "Cheaper by the Dozen." It's an affectionate glance back at a huge family and two singular parents -- an exercise in home-movie nostalgia laced with epic tragedy.
Given that this is Ethel's story, it's strange that less than 20 minutes of the film is dedicated to the 44 years since her husband's tragic death.
"Ethel" reminds us that the children of famous people are rarely cut out to create three-
dimensional biographies of their parents. A far more complete and surprisingly sympathetic portrait of Robert F. Kennedy emerges in "The Pas sage of Power," the recent installment of historian Robert A. Caro's masterful biography of Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy's sworn enemy. As for a comprehensive biography of Ethel Kennedy, we'll just have to wait.
---On a similar note, "Com mander in Chief: Inside the Oval Office" (10 p.m., Military, TV-PG) recalls John F. Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis 50 years after the fact.
---Liz does damage control for Jenna on "30 Rock" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---The St. Louis Cardinals host the San Francisco Giants in the
National League Championship Series Game 4 (7:30 p.m., Fox).
---Marcus and Sam learn that the Navy has branded them traitors on "Last Resort" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
---Ava wants to feel relevant again on "Up All Night" (8:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---A diplomat's daughter needs protecting on "Person of Interest" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Jim sows seeds of doubt on "The Office" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---The doctors are faced with an impossible choice on "Grey's Anatomy" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
---A winner is chosen after the
finalists present their collections on the season finale of "Project Runway" (9 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).
---Leslie is shocked to discover sex among the senior set on "Parks and Recreation" (9:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---A kidnapper leaves balloons behind on "Elementary" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---A bureaucrat's bombshell throws Olivia off her game on "Scandal" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
---Creative recycling on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).
---Chefs are put to the test on "Sweet Genius" (10 p.m., Food).
A full half-century before "Avatar," Hollywood tried to lure disenchanted viewers back to
theaters with a spectacular new
widescreen process. The 2002 documentary "Cinerama Adventure" (8 p.m., TCM) recalls the gargantuan screens and larger-than-life spectacles, most notably the 1952 blockbuster "This Is Cinerama" (9:45 p.m., TCM).
---A rough re-entry on "The Big Bang Theory" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
---Stefan and Damon have plans for Elena on "The Vampire Diaries" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---A young woman makes Walden feel ancient on "Two and a Half Men" (8:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---A ballerina's murder investigation gets off on the wrong foot on "Beauty and the Beast" (9 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
---President Barack Obama visits "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central).
---Jeff Goldblum and Maggie Q appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).
---Christina Aguilera, Brad Wollack, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Lavell Crawford are booked on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).
---The Killers perform on "The Colbert Report" (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central).
---President Barack Obama appears on "Late Show With David Letterman" (11:35 p.m., CBS, r).
---Jay Leno welcomes Bryan Cranston, Rebel Wilson and Cher Lloyd on "The Tonight Show" (11:30 p.m., NBC, r).
---Matthew Fox, Emily VanCamp and Paul Weller appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (midnight, ABC).
---Craig Ferguson hosts Kelsey Grammer, Casey Wilson and Nina Conti on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.