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Broken Trail

AMC Sunday, June 25, 8 p.m. ET

AMC continues cable's Western expansion with its first original telefilm, Broken Trail.

Starring and executive-produced by Robert Duvall, the miniseries lacks the sweeping scope and didactics of Turner Network Television's Into The West or the profanity quotient of Home Box Office's Deadwood.

But this is a smaller story of innocence lost, virtue and cultural bridging. Gruff Print Ritter (Duvall) and his laconic nephew Tom Harte (Thomas Haden Church) lead 500 horses on an 800-mile journey from Oregon to Sheridan, Wyo. En route, they encounter a ruthless mercenary, Billy Fender (James Russo), with five “exotic virgins” in stow. Harte jokes with his uncle about leaving his rope behind after he strings up the prairie pimp, who has raped one of the girls. The party seeks a safe haven for its Chinese-speaking cargo, but lawless Cariboo is home to trouble in brothel owner Big Rump Kate (Rusty Schwimmer) and Big Ears Bywaters (Chris Mulkey). The hulking horse thief still has a taste for one of Kate's workers, Nola (Greta Scacchi), who joins Print's party in setting up the story's second half.

Complaints center on the occasional integration of modern language and an extraneous Indian encounter. Campfire confessions serve as the device for character back stories that might have been more useful in the first half.

Still, there's enough western wisdom dispensed by Print, shoot-'em-up action from Tom, the exquisite beauty of the Canadian Rockies and Calgary and a non-Hollywood ending to entice many AMC watchers to meander on this trail.

Blade: The Series

Spike TV Wednesday, June 28, 10 p.m. ET/PT

There is no shortage of Marvel Comics characters making it to screens — large and small — lately. With the third X-Men installment currently ruling at the box office and Ghost Rider ready to hit the silver screen this summer, Marvel and New Line Television have turned their attention to cable with Spike TV's Blade: The Series.

Based on the comic book and the film series starring Wesley Snipes, the TV version follows the half-vampire, half-human superhero as he battles the undead in the streets of Detroit. Blade (Kirk “Sticky” Jones) teams up with Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), who is on a quest to avenge the death of her twin brother. The main villain here is the oily and affluent vampire Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson) who heads a league of the undead known as the House of Chthon.

From its two-hour debut, Blade looks to be a far better product than cable's last big comic-book series, Turner Network Television's Witchblade. The series is also darker than most comic-book fare that makes it to the small screen. Devoid of the campiness of recent superhero shows like Lois & Clark, Blade nails the comic-book action, though it does get a bit gruesome in spots. Those who can stomach the gore will find that the story, though trite in spots, is enough to stay tuned in.

A no-prize goes to comic book aficionados who catch the fleeting reference to another superhero, Moon Knight, in the debut episode.