The challenge, of course, is how to illustrate Hughes' soothing narration, which is accomplished through a mix of footage as she travels to historic locales, cheesy-looking re-creations and pictures of Bronze Age art, all set to dramatic music. So the camera pans across trees or countryside or the Mediterranean before settling on Hughes, often with her tousled hair waving in the breeze, highlighted by the moment when she wades chest-deep into a mineral spring near the end.
Take that, Indiana Jones.
Although Hughes puts an attractive countenance front and center, "Helen" reinforces an image that PBS has labored to shed -- a stodgy, boring haven for British accents and programs more likely to be written about than viewed. Somehow there has to be room for historical discussion that isn't bastardized, but also doesn't recall every sleep-inducing film students nap through in class.
PBS still has a strong reason for existing in its ability to serve children and older viewers being disenfranchised by commercial TV's lockstep emphasis on young-adult demos. Yet much as I wanted to like "Helen," it was a Herculean feat to stay planted on the couch for its duration. And while this kind of exercise is sure to offend no one -- including conservatives who would transform public broadcasting into theAbstinence Channel -- after a half-hour or so of "Helen," even they might begin surfing cable for the R-rated version starring Brad Pitt.