The Alzheimer's Project -- TV Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Only a curmudgeon of the highest order would find anything bad to say about HBO's four-part series "The Alzheimer's Project."

This is not merely a series of short documentaries; there are supplemental short films, a Web site and community outreach information -- a real 360-degree approach. It's a massive undertaking, made with a great deal of earnestness and hope for a future in which this slow death of the mind is eradicated.

That said, parts of this documentary will try the patience of saints, even saints involved with Alzheimer's on a daily basis. For sheer watchability, the four segments are hit and miss: The first, "The Memory Loss Tapes," is the most accessible and riveting as it homes in on several patients' lives and how they cope (or fail to cope) with their disease. It's heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time but goes on too long. The subject might not be exhausted, but it is exhausting.

The other segments are an entry hosted by Maria Shriver (whose father is stricken) geared at children, a segment devoted to the caregivers and a massive two-part entry covering the science of the disease.

It's this last one that features most of the hard data on Alzheimer's, but the clinical presentation gets teeth-grindingly dull, even when accompanied by terrific graphics. This might be stuff everyone should know, but the medium is television -- not a lecture hall -- and like virtually all of the segments, it just goes on too long.

"Alzheimer's" is a noble effort. We like noble efforts. But we tend to like them better on television when they're accompanied by a sense of pacing and entertainment value. (If things were otherwise, PBS would rule the universe.) In this case, a few more spoonfuls of sugar might have helped this medicine go down.

Airdate: 9-10:30 p.m., Sunday, May 10-Tuesday, May 12 (HBO)
Production: HBO Documentary Films and the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health in association with the Alzheimer's Assn., Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and Geoffrey Beene Gives Back Alzheimer's Initiative
Executive producers: Sheila Nevins, Maria Shriver
Series Producer: John Hoffman
Producers: Shari Cookson and Nick Doob, Eamon Harrington and John Watkin, John Hoffman and Susan Froemke
Directors: Shari Cookson and Nick Doob, Eamon Harrington and John Watkin, Bill Couturie