CHANNEL SURFER: Fun With Manuel Noriega!

What do former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and managed health care have in common? Well, let’s see, they’re both a little more dangerous than you might think at first look. Neither one of them looks particularly good in white, yet it seems like that’s all they ever wear.

There’s that thirst for human-blood thing. They both ‘deal’ in drugs in one form or another. They can both claim to have “seemed like a good idea at the time.” And, perhaps most importantly of all, they both have shows on TV this week.

“Noriega: God’s Favorite” (8 p.m. EST/PST, Showtime) is a made-for-cable original movie — a creepily funny satire about a disturbed and dangerous little man (uh, that would be Noriega). As directed by Roger Spottiswoode (“Under Fire“), Bob Hoskins has an actor’s field day starring as someone who would be a perfect parody of a wacky dictator, if he weren’t, so tragically, an actual person. It’s that “based in reality” aspect that makes this character study so fascinating. The film is not rated, but it’s Showtime, so be prepared for violence, nudity, strong language and all the other stuff you have to pay $10 a month for.

Here’s your chance to see one of this year’s Oscar-nominated movies for free (well, for the cost of “basic cable,” anyway), as The Learning Channel airs the feature-length documentary, “On the Ropes” (9 p.m. EST/PST, Tuesday). “On the Ropes” evokes another powerful doc from a few years back, “Hoop Dreams,” as it chronicles two years in the lives of a woman and two men who try to use boxing as a springboard to a better life. This is probably the best thing on TV on Tuesday, but it does have some competition.

Meet the competition: “Falcone” (9 p.m. EST/PST, Tuesday). CBS is launching its new crime drama (inspired by the movie “Donnie Brasco“) with a pretty big programming stunt. It’s airing eight episodes in nine days. Jason Gedrick stars as Joe Pistone, an FBI agent who struggles to maintain his normal family life at home while going to work posing as young-mobster-on-the-fast-track Joe Falcone. It gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, and CBS is throwing it at you all at once. But it’s also pretty good. So if you don’t want to get left behind, it all starts Tuesday.

We’ve all heard the horror stories, but how scary is managed health care, really? The venerable PBS investigative series, “Frontline” (10 p.m. EST/PST on most stations, Tuesday) has some answers. And they probably aren’t the ones you were hoping for. We follow Dr. Martin Solomon, a member of a conscientious physician-run health-care network, which, operating outside of the HMO umbrella and trying to care for people the old-fashioned way, lost $100 million last year. The scary part is in the detailing of how real HMOs manage to not lose money.

This week marks either a new lease on life or maybe just a last chance for rock-bottom-rated “Felicity” (9 p.m. EST/PST, Wednesday, WB). The WB is being very patient with this slumping sophomore, and here it serves up a new episode in a new time slot (positioning it after “Dawson’s Creek”). Since apparently very few of you have ever seen this show, it’s a clever romantic soap/comedy which you might agree deserves to stick around for a while. (That is, if you ever actually watched it once or twice.) Of course, the strategy of being a really good show didn’t work very well for “Freaks and Geeks” on NBC. And “Felicity” doesn’t really lend itself for ratings-spiking guest appearances by WWF superstars, so …

You know, we’ve been thinking about this a lot since the top of the column, and … you never see Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and managed health care in the same room together. It’s just an observation, but … Hmmm.