'Steps' In The Right Direction

Remaking an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece can always present a dilemma to a filmmaker.

Just ask Gus Van Sant how good an idea it was to do a shot-by-shot remake of "Psycho" with Vince Vaughn a few years ago. That version got blasted by the critics.

I'm happy to say the new version of "The 39 Steps," however, is well worth watching when it's presented Sunday night on "Masterpiece Theatre" (PBS, 9 p.m.)

Rupert Penry-Jones ("MI-5") takes over the Robert Donat role as Richard Hannay, a gentleman who has a run-in with a British agent on the eve of World War I. Framed by German spies for the agent's murder, the man must decipher a mysterious journal written in code and complete the agent's mission in order to clear his name, with the fate of Britain possibly riding on the outcome.

It's been several years since I've seen the original "39 Steps," so long in fact that I was able to look at the remake with a fresh pair of eyes. The movie, based on the book by John Buchan, has been remade a couple of times before and is scheduled to be remade again in 2011 as a big-screen production.

I'm not sure how many times you can reinvent the wheel, but the current version, originally made for British TV in 2008, is a good version to catch, especially if people haven't seen the original. Penry-Jones displays a real debonair quality, and has great interaction with Lydia Leonard, who plays a suffragette caught up in Hannay's attempt to elude both the Germans and the police.

R.I.P. ANDREW KOENING: The former "Growing Pains" actor and son of "Star Trek's" Walter Koening was found dead in a Canadian park, having killed himself. The actor long suffered from depression and had stopped taking his medication, his father said.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: The Olympics are finally winding down, though Friday's schedule is still mostly reruns. On the networks, only "Smallville" (CW, 8 p.m.) is new. Cable has new offerings of "Caprica" (SyFy, 9 p.m.) and "Spartacus" (Starz, 10 p.m.)

On Saturday, "Survivors" (BBC America, 9 p.m.) is new.

On Sunday, it's the closing ceremonies of the Olympics (NBC, 7 p.m.), followed by a preview of the new reality series "The Marriage Ref," (NBC, 10:30 p.m.) Produced by Jerry Seinfeld, it's a series in which celebrities act as a jury as couples argue their problem before a referee, such as whether a husband should park his motorcycle in the living room. Joining Seinfeld on the jury are Kelly Ripa and Alec Baldwin, because if it's one person you want on a jury about marriage, it's Alec Baldwin.

Also new are "The Amazing Race" (CBS, 8 p.m.), followed by "Undercover Boss" and "Cold Case." ABC has new installments of "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers & Sisters," beginning at 9 p.m.

HBO has a new episode of "Big Love" at 9 p.m.