Josh Brolin narrates "Man kind: The Story of All of Us" (9 p.m., History), a six-part series. This is a follow-up of sorts to "America: The Story of Us." Gosh, I was waiting for "Belgium: The Story of Them."
Broad survey histories are the kind of films that give history documentaries a bad name. Narratives that try to encompass "the history of mankind" are so vast as to be slightly absurd.
In history, as in fiction, good storytelling requires a particular narrative angle. Take "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, a preposterously popular book. If he had merely written a fictional tome filled with arcane detours into the history of Western art, architecture and early Christianity, most readers would have passed. But because he approached it as a symbol-laden detective story shot through with bizarre conspiracy theories, readers would follow him anywhere.
A few years back, the documentary "Helvetica" discussed modern notions of design, politics and societal attitudes, all while explaining the history of a single typeface. Films that explore generalities through a particular subject are much better than ones that try to tackle a huge topic in a couple of hours.
"Mankind" is a handsome effort filled with cinematic re-enactments, but it is literally all over the map. History marches on at a startling clip. We go several billion years from the Big Bang to the "dawn of man" (yes, it uses that hackneyed phrase) in about two minutes.
Four minutes later, we've invented fire and cooking. Cable star Anthony Bourdain makes an appearance to tell us (very briefly) how important cooking is to culture. About 45 seconds later, newscaster Brian Williams gushes about prehistoric cave paintings. Can early agriculture be far behind? Wait half a minute, and you'll find out!
All the same, it's nice to see history on the History Channel, instead of "Ancient Aliens" and "Pawn Stars." For disappointed viewers, there's always "Hardcore Pawn" (9 p.m., truTV).
---Similarly broad, Animal Planet embarks on a series of nature documentaries: "Fron tier Earth" (8 p.m.), followed by "Wild Hawaii" (9 p.m.) and a repeat of "The Blue Planet" (10 p.m.).
---"Doomsday Preppers" (9 p.m., National Geographic, TV-14) enters its second season, profiling the extremely paranoid as they prepare to tough it out on their own after such calamities as tornadoes, earthquakes, political and
economic chaos and Mayan
---Other afflicted (and no less prepared) folks also appear on a new season of "Extreme Couponing" (11 p.m., TLC).
---TV-themed DVDs available today include "Friends: The Complete Series (Blu- ray)."
---Tales of adoption on "Raising Hope" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---Jess needs a job on "New Girl" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---Professional help on "The Mindy Project" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---"Frontline" (9:30 p.m., PBS) examines assisted-suicide laws in Oregon and Washington.
---Savino wants a friendly mayor on "Vegas" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Kristina barely copes on "Par enthood" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---Quicksand beckons on "Covert Affairs" (10 p.m., USA, TV-PG).
---Jax gets busy and expects the worst on "Sons of Anarchy" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).
A robot janitor looks for love in a despoiled universe in the 2008 Pixar hit "WALL-E" (8 p.m., Disney).
---A returning vet becomes a victim on "NCIS" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
---Live results on "The Voice" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---A political tiebreaker on "Hart of Dixie" (8 p.m., CW).
---Ben needs a career to talk about on "Ben and Kate" (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---A transplant rejected on "Emily Owens, M.D." (9 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---From Russia with extreme dislike on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
---Ryan becomes a mentor on "Go On" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---A day without gadgets on "The New Normal" (9:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---A camera crew follows Sam on "Private Practice" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
---Joel McHale and James Fay appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).
---Greg Fitzsimmons, Loni Love and Matt Braunger are booked on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).
---Mumford & Sons perform on "Late Show With David Letter man" (11:35 p.m., CBS).
---Jay Leno welcomes Keira Knightley, Whitney Cummings and Gin Wigmore on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC).
---Sally Field, Finesse Mitchell and Lee Brice visit "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC).
---Craig Ferguson hosts Toby Keith and J.R. Martinez on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.