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TODDLERS AND TIARAS
9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19
Everybody thinks their kid is beautiful, right? Some parents, for whatever reason, need to prove that fact with prize money, big trophies and sparkly tiaras. For those parents — usually the parents of little girls — the world of kiddie pageants is a siren's song. And just to take that metaphor a little further, they often end up on the rocks. Little girls, some as young as 5 or 6, are made up, tanned, airbrushed and primped until they look like a cross between a doll and a tiny, tiny Hooters waitress. Shuttled to pageants in hotel ballrooms all over the country, these girls and their mothers often end up in what seems to be a weird “Mommy Dearest”-style relationship, with the moms obviously fulfilling their dreams of pageant royalty through their daughters. Yep, it's odd. In this reality show from TLC, cameras follow several young beauty queens and their parents as they weather the slings and arrows of pageant life. If the girls involved are getting paid for all this, we hope they're putting something back for extensive therapy later on.
8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19
The History Channel
If you think about it too much, the universe is — simultaneously — amazing and a real downer. The earth, by any standard, is a tiny speck; a grain of sand on an infinite beach, floating in the void. If you're not one to believe in religion, it's easy to speculate why man came up with the concept of God: On the face of so much vastness, we need to feel like we matter to somebody out there. I'm not going to venture too far into that thorny bramble, but we will give a great big thumbs up to the History Channel show, “The Universe.” Week to week, “The Universe” boils down the complicated physics and unimaginable distances involved to a level where the average person can get it. Drawing on interviews with some of the world's greatest scientists and thinkers and featuring amazing digital recreations, the show looks into everything from Black Holes, to parallel dimensions, to the idea that there might be life out there somewhere. The result is stunning in every respect — fun to watch, informative and generally awe inspiring. Here, the show comes back for a new season. On the agenda: a look into the weirdest features of the universe, including pulsars, a hypothetical planet in our own solar system, and whole galaxies made of nothing but ethyl alcohol. It's always a treat.