TV column for Saturday, Sept. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live” season-opener, 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Yes, we've been here before. This
starts the 37th season for “SNL” and will be the 16th
time Alec Baldwin has hosted, putting him one ahead of Steve Martin.

There are no cast changes this year, so
expect more of the same. “SNL” can be as bad as a pointless
sketch, as clever as an Andy Samberg film or a Seth Meyers newscast.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Prime Suspect,”
9 p.m., NBC.

A lot changed when the 1991 British
classic became an American series. Jane Tennison – bedraggled,
bedeviled, alcoholic – became Jane Timoney, blonde and beautiful.

What remains is her smoking and her
rage. If you forget the old “Suspect” – and overlook the
cartoonish portrayals of most of the guys here – you'll find a
pretty good cop show, starring Maria Bello. It's part of a
second-chance night in which three premieres and two season-openers
rerun.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Person of
Interest,” 8 p.m., CBS.

You really shouldn't mess with a
scruffy stranger on a subway; he might turn out to be a brooding
former CIA agent. That happens at the start of this rerun; the guy
promptly beats up the thugs – then is tracked down by someone with
a machine that can tell who will be involved in a future crime.

The result is an uncomfortable blend of
science-fiction and straight-ahead cop drama. It works, however,
because of a perfect cast (Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Taraji
Henson) and the sharp look we expect from producer J.J. Abrams and
director David Semel.

Other choices include:

– Football, 8 p.m. ET, ABC. LSU,
ranked No. 2 in the nation, visits West Virginia, ranked No. 16.
That's part of a busy day that includes two strong choices at 3:30
p.m. ET: CBS has Alabama (No. 3) hosting Arkansas (No. 14); ABC has
Oklahoma State (No. 7) visiting Texas A & M. (No. 8).

– “Harry's Law,” 8 p.m., NBC.
This show started with a fired lawyer (Kathy Bates) starting a law
office inside a shoe store. It was quirky, clever, a ratings hit; now
most of the unusual touches are gone. The shoe store is still there,
but Harriet has a big law office above it. The result looks a lot
like “Boston Legal” (also from producer David E. Kelley) and has
only a smidgen of the “Harry's Law” charm.

– “Unforgettable,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Poppy Montgomery plays an ex-cop who remembers everything. This
reruns the so-so opener, which uses a neat visual trick to have her
walk through scenes from her life.

– “Morlocks,” 9-11 p.m., Syfy.
Maybe we should be careful about this time-travel thing. It works
fine in “Terra Nova,” but in this one it lets semi-human monsters
into our world. They're quite nasty.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. The good news is that Kelli Giddish (“Chase”)
joins the show now and Danny Pino (“Cold Case”) is coming. The
bad: Christopher Meloni is gone; this rerun of Wednesday's opener is
a weak variation on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

– “48 Hours Mystery,” 10 p.m.,
CBS. Filmgoers already know the rugged life of Mickey Ward, portrayed
in “The Fighter.” Now here's a look at his friend and opponent
Arturo Gatti, a world champion who made a fortune, then died
mysteriously, two years after retirement.

 

TV column for Friday, Sept. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “A Gifted Man”
debut, 8 p.m., CBS.

Dr. Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) is
your standard TV doctor – handsome, talented and, of course,
arrogant. Then he's jolted by meeting his wife – especially
jolting, because she had recently died.

If this is merely another ghost story
(in the “Ghost Whisperer” and “Medium” slot), then it's
so-so. Let's assume, however, that this is Holt's sub-conscious,
nudging his dormant humanity.

And let's credit a great cast. Wilson
has two Tony nominations, Jennifer Ehle (as his late wife) has two
Tony wins … and Margo Martindale, in the tiny (so far) role of his
secretary, is fresh from her Emmy.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Modern
Family,” 8-9 p.m., ABC.

We could grumble about getting reruns
on a night full of new episodes. Still, these are reruns of “Modern
Family,” fresh from its Emmys for writing, direction, best comedy
and more. This season, all six adults got supporting nominations and
two (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen) won.

Here's the season-opener. First, the
family goes to a dude ranch, where Mitchell is dangerous during
target practice. Then Cameron and Mitchell may be ready to proclaim
they want to adopt again.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Fringe”
season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox.

Last season ended with a wallop –
Peter dying to save both worlds. The new one starts with a shrug, a
moderately good episode that could lead to bigger things ahead.

The two worlds are reluctantly linked.
Our Olivia (cool, reserved) spars verbally with the alternate-world
one (zestful, emotional) – both perfectly played by Anna Torv.
Also, FBI agent Lincoln Lee (played by Seth Gabel, who is Bryce
Dallas Howard's husband) joins the team, in search of shape-changing
killers with see-through skin.

Other choices include:

– “Nikita” season-opener, 8 p.m.,
CW. Nikita and Michael now have the black box and power.

– “Supernatural” season-opener, 9
p.m., CW. The brothers are dealing with some heavy hitters these
days: Castiel has the power of the world's monsters inside him; Dean
asks Death to intervene.

– “CSI:NY” season-opener, 9 p.m.,
CBS. On the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, team
members recall that day. Jaime Ray Newman (“Eastwick”) plays
Mac's late wife in the flashbacks.

– “Great Performances,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings; this doesn't air today in Lansig, for instance, but does air in Cincinnati). Placido Domingo recalls his favorite roles. Those are
illustrated by clips, many of them stunning. There were operas taped
live, ones filmed movie-style and hybrids. One was shown live at
three different times – with each of the three acts done at a
different time and place, appropriate to the story).

– “Ghost Adventures”
season-opener (9 p.m.) and “The Dead Files” debut (10 p.m.),
Travel Channel. The first hour visits Illinois for the spooky Ashmore
Estates – once a “poor house” and psychiatric hospital. The
second pairs a retired New York homicide detective and a “psychic
communicator.”

– “Blue Bloods” season-opener, 10
p.m., CBS. Things are festive, at first, for the mayor-elect; Tony
Bennett and Carrie Underwood sing at the fundraiser. Then a supporter
is killed and the police commissioner (Tom Selleck) is being
pressured to call this a random act.

– “Strike Back,” 10 p.m.,
Cinemax. Tahir escapes to the desert, with Clare (daughter of a
former arms dealer) as hostage. The team prepares for an assault.

TV column for Thursday, Sept. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Grey's Anatomy”
season-opener, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Here's a huge surprise.: On a night
when attention should go to four series premieres, “Grey's”
reminds us how good it used to be. These hours have high drama, odd
humor, adventure and deep emotion.

Yes, the show stretches believability;
that's true of the events that set up tonight – Meredith tampered
with the clinical trial, Alex reported on her – and of more
tonight. But those lead to richly human moments, beautifully directed
(by Rob Corn), written and acted; they're classic “Grey's Anatomy.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Whitney”
debut, 9:31 p.m., NBC.

This is Whitney Cummings week on TV. On
Monday, CBS debuted the season's best new comedy, “2 Broke Girls,”
which she helped create and produce; now here's the one she created
and stars in.

Cummings plays someone who's bright,
but socially clumsy; tonight, she botches a wedding and a sensual
evening. “Whitney” lacks the big set-up of “2 Broke Girls,”
but it remains fun and likable.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Prime
Suspect” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

We'll permit a moment of grousing: No,
this show is no match for the brilliant British version about a lone
female police detective. What worked in 1991 London seems absurd in
2011 New York City; most of the men here are silly cartoon
characters.

On its own, however, this “Suspect”
is solid. Maria Bello is excellent as a sharp cop, ranging from warm
to abrasive. Her opening case holds our attention.

Other choices include:

– More comedies, 8-9:30 p.m., NBC,
Three shows open their seasons. “Community” (8 p.m.) adds John
Goodman as the vice-dean. “Parks and Recreation” (8:30) has a
funny episode, with Leslie needing to break up with her boyfriend
before running for city council. “The Office” (9) names its
general manager and brings back James Spader – now as the company's
CEO.

– “Charlie's Angels” debut, 8
p.m., ABC. The three new “Angels” – Rachael Taylor, Minka Kelly
and Annie Ilonzeh – are merely OK; their acting is inconsistent,
their charisma is so-so. Still, they've been given all the right help
– a splendid Miami backdrop and a decent script, involving
human-trafficking.

– “The Big Bang Theory”
season-opener, 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS. Last season ended with a drunken
Penny and Raj in bed; then everyone found out. Now Penny – who
hasn't admitted to herself that she still loves Leonard – is
bummed. Meanwhile, Leonard tries to keep up his romance with Raj's
sister, who is back in India. More complications pop up, including a
Sheldon-Penny feud.

– “Person of Interest” debut, 9
p.m., CBS. First, we have to accept the notion that a rich man
(Michael Emerson) has a machine that can tell who will be involved in
a crime, but doesn't know if this is the victim or the perpetrator. A
former CIA guy (Jim Caviezel), broken and battered, is supposed to
intervene. If you can buy all of this – it's not easy – you'll
get a slickly crafted, compelling hour.

– “The Mentalist” season-opener,
10 p.m., CBS. In prison, Patrick Jane must prove he killed a killer.

– “It's Always Sunny in
Philadelphia” and “Archer,” 10 and 10:30 p.m., FX. Complicating
a busy night, these comedies have two of their best episodes. For
“Sunny,” it's a varied romp on the Jersey shore; then the middle
of a three-parter has Archer taking over for the pirate king he
killed.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 21


TONIGHT'S CAN'T AVOID: “The X Factor”
debut, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

For all of the “American Idol”
popularity last season, the show was flawed. It had no perspective,
no real judgment; it had no Simon.

Now Simon Cowell is back with his own
show. He produces it and is a judge, alongside Paula Abdul, Nicole
Scherzinger and music producer L.A. Reid. This one is open to any age
(12 and older) and to groups; tonight has auditions, which will let
Cowell be his most Simon-esque.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Middle”
season-opener, 8-9 p.m., ABC.

As the school year nears, Frankie
(Patricia Heaton) decides her family needs a burst of togetherness.
Mike disagrees, but he's willing to try a camping trip.

Then the complications begin – lost
food, a jumbled board game and a bear. Also, we flash back to the
Mike-Frankie honeymoon – yes, Mike chose camping for that, too –
spoiled by a sad sack interloper. He's played by Ray Romano, Heaton's
“Everybody Loves Raymond” husband. This hour builds slowly, then
has some great moments, especially with the board game.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Revenge”
debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

Amid the big-money beauty of the
Hamptons, a newcomer (Emily VanCamp) fits neatly. She's slender,
smart, beautiful and terribly rich.

No one realizes that these people
ruined her father and her life. Now she's back, under a new identity,
for revenge. Beautifully crafted by movie director Phillip Noyce
(“Salt,” “Patriot Games”), this looks great. Still, viewers
will have trouble feeling attached to any of the characters.

Other choices include:

– “Up All Night,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Reagan and Chris envy the “cool” new couple across the street.

– “Modern Family” season-opener,
9 and 9:30 p.m., ABC. Fresh from winning five more Emmys (including
best comedy), this opens with two episodes. The first is at a dude
ranch; the second has Mitchell and Cameron ready to adopt another
baby … until they have doubts about Lily's reaction.

– “Harry's Law” season-opener, 9
p.m., NBC. Here's a bizarre change: This show was a surprise hit its
first year, as a quirky tale of a tiny, storefront law office in a
shoe store. Now that notion is virtually scrapped. Above the store,
Harriet (Kathy Bates) suddenly has a big, robust office. Producer
David Kelley has virtually re-created his “Boston Law,” even
adding one of that show's lawyers, Mark Valley. The opener –
starting a three-parter – is merely OK.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”
season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS. It's changeover time. Ray (Laurence
Fishburne) is gone; also, Ted Danson is the new supervisor. He has a
lot to deal with, after multiple shootings and stabbings on a Las
Vegas tram.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit” season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. The rape charges against
Dominique Strauss-Kahn are barely fictionalized here, with Franco
Nero as the accused and the gifted Anika Noni Rose as the
complainant. This introduces a new “SVU” world, with Christopher
Meloni gone; Kelli Giddish (“Chase”) is a good addition, with
Danny Pino (“Cold Case”) coming soon..

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “New Girl”
debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

This starts with a stark close-up. It's
Zooey Deschanel, simply talking, being Zooey, being oddly charming;
we're sold instantly.

That's important, because the other
three characters are, at first, TV-cliche guys. One of them gradually
gains depth after she becomes their roommate; the others are
sitcom-standard.

Not to worry, because Zooey – the
sister of “Bones” star Emily Deschanel – is in most scenes. She
makes Jess fragile, funny, weepy, zesty and just plain likable.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Body of Proof”
season-opener, 10:01 p.m., ABC.

“I used to live on a cul-de-sac,”
Megan Hunt (Dana Delany) says. “Nothing is ever what it seems.”

On “Desperate Housewives,” Delany
lived in a neighborhood filled with secrets. Now this murder is in a
similar upscale, secret-life world. It's a fairly good crime story
with neat twists. Wound through it are Megan's struggles with her
daughter and her ex-husband, now having an affair with her boss.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Unforgettable”
debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

Imagine you remember every detail of
your life. That real (and rare) skill merges into a crime show.

Poppy Montgomery plays an ex-cop,
pulled back in to solve a neighborhood murder. The story works here,
with the help of a neat video trick that lets her stroll through
scenes in her life. Even this hour is merely OK, however; the tougher
part will be to work her memories into every case.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 8 and
9 p.m., ABC. After a rerun of Monday's daces, someone is ousted.

– “The Biggest Loser” opener,
8-10 p.m., NBC. Hugely obese people – several in their 60s – are
told to run a mile in the desert. Then things get worse. Contestants
split by age, each with a trainer. Jillian Michaels is gone; Bob
Harper is back, with Dolvett Quince and tennis star Anna Kournikova.

– “Glee” season-opener, 8 p.m.,
Fox. As their senior year starts, the glee-club kids are still bummed
about losing the nationals. Also, Sue Sylvester is running for
Congress.

– “90210,” 8 p.m., CW. In last
week's opener, Naomi started her college years in style. It turns out
that she isn't pregnant; also, she bought a spectacular house that
beats dorm rooms. Now she battles her new enemy (Dixon's roommate)
and rushes a sorority. Also, Navid needs Adrianna to help find his
sister.

– “Raising Hope,” 9:30, Fox.
There are some fairly funny moments, flashing back to a time when
Jimmy had real music talent.

– “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Last week ended with Haddie drunk and her boyfriend arrested. The
good news: Sarah, Haddie's aunt, re-met the young teacher (Jason
Ritter) she likes. Tonight, their relationship grows; also, Haddie's
brother Max enters a mainstream high school.

– “Sons of Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX.
The Mayan gang saved Jax last week and wiped out the Russian gang.
Now Clay builds support for his scheme to move drugs for the Mayans –
which Jax agreed to, so he can then get out of the Sons. Built on a
web of lies, this could have huge repercussions.

– “Workaholics” season-opener,
10:30 p.m., Comedy Central. The guys are offended that teens have
stolen the statue they stole. That leads to some fairly funny
moments, going undercover in high school.