The last time an epic fantasy miniseries came along, it was NBC's exercise in stamina "The 10th Kingdom." We suggested then that you wait until the next sweeps period for impresario Robert Halmi Sr.'s more promising "Arabian Nights" (8-10 p.m., tonight, and 9-11 p.m., Monday, ABC). Well, the sweeps are here again, and "Arabian Nights" has been worth the wait. Filmed in exotic Turkish and Moroccan locations, it features very cool and moody visual effects, and most importantly, a great story, er, stories, as "The Thousand and One Nights" of Middle-Eastern folklore has provided some of the most bulletproof material in entertainment for about 1,000 years now. The cast is strong and looks like they were having a lot of fun throughout, with Jason Scott Lee ("Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story") as Aladdin and John Leguizamo as the genie. "Arabian Nights" also features a very sexy narrator in Mili Avital as Scheherazade, the sultry weaver of the ancient tales. Fortunately, first-choice James Earl Jones was already booked. (He couldn't have pulled off wearing her outfits, anyway.)
In other highlights:
-- For anyone who was alive during the 20th century's most embarrassing decade, we all know that the last thing we need is to have any of the 1970s documented in an epic miniseries. Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened in "The '70s" (9 p.m., today and Monday, NBC). It's the sideburn-heavy sequel to last year's mini "The '60s." Some of "The '70s" is, as you might expect, pretty "mellow," but much of drama in this film comes from an extended series of "hangups" and "bummers" ranging from Watergate to disco. Amy Smart ("Felicity") stands out as a possible breakout performer.
-- As the venerable "X-Files" (9 p.m., Sunday, Fox) perhaps winds down, the show proves it's still very capable of giving us a special episode. This week's installment might sound like a recipe for self-indulgence and disaster as star David Duchovny not only wrote and directed (remember what eventually happened to "M*A*S*H?"), but cast his wife (Tea Leoni) and his friend (Garry Shandling) in major roles. But you know what? It's a lot better than it sounds. "The X-files" has always been smart, even when it's being funny, and with Leone and Shandling guest starring as actors in a movie based on the work of Scully and Mulder, this pip of an hour continues the tradition.
-- Finally, two staples of quality teen/twentysomething programming deliver series farewells this week. In a satisfying two hours of closure, Fox's engaging study in angst, "Party of Five" (8 p.m., Wednesday), finally sees the Salingers go their separate ways after six seasons. Somewhere among the tears, alcoholism, terminal illness and more tears, "Party" also provided the launching pad for several present and future stars, including Neve Campbell, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Scott Wolf. We're sorry to see them go here but suspect we'll be seeing them all again. Meanwhile, "Boy Meets World" (8 p.m., Friday, ABC), the always warm and surprisingly intelligent teen comedy, ends its seven-year run with a special one-hour finale. Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) are all grown up, married and moving to New York. It almost sounds like they are ready to start their own little spin-off.