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TV Critic’s Corner

Two shows on PBS go back to where it all began

Simon Schama (seen in India) is one of three principal contributors to “Civlizations.”Nutopia Ltd

There are plenty of ways to observe the decline of civilization on television (which reminds me, there’s a four-pack of “Roseanne” in the fridge on ABC, and Bravo’s got a new episode of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” at 9 p.m.), but wouldn’t it be nice to watch something about the rise of humanity? The kind not assisted by extraterrestrials?

For those who just said, “Why, yes, yes it would,” PBS is a showcase of auspicious beginnings tonight. Starting at 8 p.m., you can catch part two of the nine-part PBS/BBC co-production “Civilizations,” a more pluralistic descendant of Kenneth Clark’s landmark 1969 survey of Western art, “Civilization.”


Led by Columbia University professor of history and art history Simon Schama, University of Cambridge professor of classics Mary Beard, and British-Nigerian historian and writer David Olusoga, the show peers through the lines of history to see the many ways that art of ancient peoples shaped their view of the future, as well as our own view of the past.

In an ostensibly enlightened era that finds images of the Venus of Willendorf getting censored on Facebook for nudity, this is a series rich with lessons worth revisiting (with a fair share of fresh revelations that may have you looking at old art anew. On that front, tonight’s episode examines how art through the millennia has captured (and freed) the human body.

Immediately following that is the series premiere of “First Civilizations,” which takes a more anthropological/archeological dig through the ages to our very beginnings as a complete mess. Trigger warning: There will be cheesy dramatizations. Tonight’s episode starts where most civilizations do, with “War” and goes uphill/downhill from there, depending on your perspective.

Once you’re ready to return to modernity, there’s a cold shower in the form of four straight episodes of “House Hunters” on HGTV starting at 10. The world may be falling apart, but that farm sink is gorgeous.


Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at mbrodeur@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.