TV column for Sunday, Feb. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Academy Awards,
8:30 p.m. ET, ABC.

For the first time since 1989, the
Oscars don't have a stand-up comedian in charge. James Franco and
Anne Hathaway – actors, sometimes in comedies – host.

There may be fewer laughs, but there's
more music, with nominated songs performed by Gwyneth Paltrow, Randy
Newman, Florence Welch and Mandy Moore with Zachary Levi. And there
are popular films at the top: “The King's Speech” and “The
Social Network” are leaders for best picture and (Colin Firth,
Jesse Eisenberg) best actor; Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) leads
for best actress.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Amazing
Race,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Last week's opener brought back 11 duos
from previous seasons. None had won; three were runners-up.

Surprisingly, one of those three, the
cowboy brothers, is already in trouble, perplexed by a puzzle. The
race continues tonight, with contestants dressing as kangaroos and
with one team breaking down.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE:

– “Masterpiece Classic,” 9-10:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Oddly, PBS is throwing the conclusion
of “Any Human Heart” – its richly crafted, if frustrating,
mini-series – against the Oscars.

In the first two rounds, we met the
bland Logan, primarily played by Matthew Macfayden. He had affairs
and marriages, but lost his one true love in a World War II bombing.

Now he's hitting 60, with Jim Broadbent
(an Oscar-winner from “Iris”) taking over the role. Penniless, he
lives in France, near an attractive neighbor. “Heart” manages to
find closure in a meandering tale.

ALSO TONIGHT:

– Red carpet, 6-8 p.m., E and TV
Guide. The cable networks get the first looks at Oscar glamor. ABC
has its own expanded version, from 7-8:30 p.m.

– “The Simpsons,” 7 and 8 p.m.,
Fox. The first rerun sees Moe's pub turned into a trendy gay bar. The
second has Homer go undercover to investigate Fat Tony.

– “Brick City,” 7-11 p.m.,
Sundance. This well-made documentary series pauses for a week,
rerunning the season's first four episodes. We follow Cory Booker,
the charismatic mayor of Newark, NJ, a city staggered by poverty and
crime; we also meet people trying to rebuild their lives.

– “Minute to Win It,” 8-11 p.m.,
NBC. The first two reruns have a family of five playing the games.
The final one (starting at about 10:06 p.m.) has Aaron Ralston –
the mountain-climber portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie “127
Hours” – playing for charity.

– “Bob's Burgers” (8:30) and
“Family Guy” (9-10 p.m.), Fox. An all-rerun night for Fox
cartoons concludes with these two: “Burgers” reruns its fairly
good pilot film, with a rumor circulating that Bob serves human
flesh; then “Guy” has Stewing confronting Santa at the North
Pole.

– “Big Love,” 9 p.m., HBO. Last
week, two young females – Cara Lynn and Rhonda – took romantic
leaps. Tonight, those stories continue, but the main focus is on
Bill's wedding with Nicki; stick around, because there are some big
moments – one warm, one jolting – near the end.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS. A
mean-girl teen-ager has been stoned to death. The prime suspects are
the nerds she bullied.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Pursuit of
Happyness” (2006), 8-11 p.m., ABC.

This is the kind of well-made movie
audiences sometimes ignore. There are no big plot twists, just the
true story of an earnest guy – battered by financial setbacks –
who wouldn't quit.

Still, it was a hit, propelled by a
gifted director (Gabriele Muccino) and cast. Will Smith received an
Oscar nomination, with his son Jaden in support. Back then, Jaden was
7 and unknown; now he's the “Karate Kid” star, in a four-star
family that includes his mom (Jada) and sister (Willow).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Saturday
Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC; also, Independent Spirit Awards, 10
p.m., Independent Film Channel.

On the eve of the Academy Awards, this
“SNL” rerun sets the mood. Its host is Anne Hathaway, who will
also co-host the Oscars (with James Franco). Its musical guest is
Florence and the Machine; on Sunday, Florence Welch will sing one of
the Oscar-nominated songs.

For more Academy Award flavor, the
Spirit awards honor independent films, often Oscar-worthy.

Four of the top Spirit nominees –
“Black Swan,” “Winter's Bone,” “The Kids Are All Right”
and Franco's “127 Hours” – are also up for best-picture Oscars.
And all five nominees for the best-actress Oscar are also up for
Spirit awards. Joel McHale (“Community” and “The Soup”)
hosts.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Being Human,”
9-10:30 p.m., BBC America.

Last week's terrific season-opener
(rerunning at 8 p.m.) focused on Mitchell the werewolf. Torn by guilt
for his subway massacre, he rescued Annie the ghost from Purgatory.

Tonight, in a fairly good episode, we
learn that not all vampires have charisma. Adam was protected by his
parents, who providing blood. As his dad dies, he finds himself in
arrested adolescence.

Other choices include:

– “Amazing Race,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of Sunday's season-opener, a fun one that sent the
duos – all former contestants – racing to Australia, where they
swam with sharks (literally) and solved a puzzle. This nudges a
“Hawaii Five-0” rerun to 9 p.m. and dumps a “Mentalist”
rerun.”

– “Harry's Law,” 8 p.m., NBC. In
a rerun, Harry and Malcolm try to mediate a gang dispute. Meanwhile,
Adam and his former fiancee link on an age-discrimination suit.

– Movies, 8 p.m., Turner Classic
Movies. Only three films have swept the Oscars for best picture,
director, actor, actress and script, TCM says. Here they are: “It
Happened One Night” (1934) at 8, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
Nest” (1975) at 10 and “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) at
12:30 a.m.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Gang violence erupts at a high school football game.

– “Area 51,” 9-11 p.m., Syfy. If
the Air Force has outer-space aliens in its Area 51 compound,
wouldn't it also have great weapons? In this movie, the place is
protected by rifles, pistols and shaky soldiers; when a shape-shifter
gets loose, it's a mismatch. “Area 51” has decent actors (John
Shea, Bruce Boxleitner, Rachel Miner) in a film that starts slowly,
picks up in the second half and ends fairly well.

– “Breaking the Myth: Waylon
Jennings,” 9 p.m., GAC. This follows the making of a tribute album
by Jennings admirers – Kris Kristofferson, Dierks Bentley, Jamey
Johnson, Hank Williams Jr. and more.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. A tough case involves a rape accusation at the
college Stabler's daughter attends.

TV column for Friday, Feb. 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Fringe,” 9
p.m., Fox.

In a powerful episode last season, we
met Walter's wife (Orla Brady) during a tough time. Their son Peter
was dying; Walter went to the alternate world and stole the other
Peter.

Now comes a return to that time and
what was happening to Olivia.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Your OWN
Show” finale, 9 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network; rerun, 10:30.

For the young network, this is a big
night. Someone will win a six-episode series.

One finalist is Zach Anner, 26. Born
with cerebral palsy, he linked with other University of Texas
students to create a Web comedy series. His series, he told
reporters, would be a travel show for the physically or financially
challenged. “It's going to show you everything that can possibly go
wrong and prove to people that the adventure is really in your
attitude.”

The other is Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco,
31. Fleeing Croatia at 15, she moved to Boston and later Alhambra,
Cal.; four years ago – divorced, with two young children – she
became a waitress.

She's remarried, her kids are 7 and 5,
and she has a cooking Web site. “I'm going to drag everybody's butt
out of the drive-throughs. I want … everyone having the time of
their lives in their kitchen.”

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “On the
Waterfront” (1954), 8 p.m., Turner Classic Movies.

Nine movies have had five Oscar
nominations for acting, TCM says. This one – a best-picture winner
– is superb. Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint won for best actor
and actress; Rod Steiger, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb split
supporting votes, losing to Edmond O'Brien in “The Barefoot
Contessa.”

Three other great films, each with five
acting nominations, follow – “From Here to Eternity” (1953) at
10 p.m., “Tom Jones” (1963) at 12:15 a.m., “Bonnie and Clyde”
(1967) at 2:30 a.m.

Other choices include:

– “Bolt” (2008), 7 p.m., Disney.
A TV star his whole life, a dog assumes he has super powers; real
life is a disappointment. This is a delight, especially with Rhino,
a hamster forever rolling inside his ball.

– “Who Do You Think You Are?” 8
p.m., NBC. Kim Cattrall was born in England and grew up in Canada,
where she was a movie star long before “Sex and the City.” She's
known little about her grandfather, who abandoned her mother and two
aunts when they were young. Now her search brings unsettling answers
and a new respect for the women who survived tough times.

– “The Defenders,” 8 p.m., CBS.
When two people overdose on a drug, Nick and Pete accuse a giant

pharmaceutical company of shoddy
packaging.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. Opposite
audiences will be pleased here. On one side are “Goodfellas”
(1990, AMC), Martin Scorsese's Mob film or “Air Force One” (1997,
TNT) with Harrison Ford as a macho president fighting back. On the
other are the pretty-and-prickly “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006,
FX) or the moving “The Notebook” (2004, Oxygen).

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. A woman
who was obsessed with conspiracies has been killed. Now people start
to suspect some of those conspiracies were real.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. On
a ride-along with her uncle Danny, Nicky sees her first murder
victim. The murder, at a debutante ball, may be linked to a
prostitute who gave the victim a hard time.

 

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Thurgood,” 9
p.m., HBO.

Born with the imposing name
Thoroughgood, Thurgood Marshall was pointed toward a thoroughly good
life. His mother secretly sold her rings, to help pay for his law
school; his wife secretly sold her earrings when the NAACP needed
cash.

He would soon win a case that brought
black teachers – including his mom – equal pay. And in 1954, he
won the big one: The Supreme Court unanimously squelched “separate
but equal” schools.

“Thurgood” – with Marshall
speaking at his law school, after retiring from the Supreme Court –
is a one-man show that never feels confined. It's superbly acted (by
Laurence Fishburne), written (by George Stevens Jr., who made
“Separate But Equal” in 1991) and directed (by Stevens' son
Michael).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Levar Burton suddenly has a mini-career
playing himself.

Many people remember him from “Roots,”
but last week on “Community,” Troy was gaga over meeting the
former “Reading Rainbow” host. Now “Big Bang” has a different
twist.

After everyone starts hanging out at
Raj's place – Raj's sister is a prime attraction – Sheldon
decides to form a new social group. He invites Burton, whom he's
liked since “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Other choices include:

– “Bruce Almighty” (2003) and
“Liar Liar” (1997), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family. Both films have
stories strong enough to control's Jim Carrey's excesses. In the
first, God (Morgan Freeman) temporarily puts him in charge; in the
second, he's a lawyer cursed (temporarily) with the inability to lie.

– “American Idol,” 8-10 p.m.,
Fox. In theory, this is the night “Idol” strips down to its final
20 people. The show has been struggling with a bloated field, though,
so it might not quite make it.

– “Community,” 8 p.m., NBC. With
the vice-president visiting, Abed forms a friendship with a Secret
Service agent (Eliza Coupe of “Scrubs”) and the school prepares
its first student election. Annie and Jeff are going against each
other.

– “Rules of Engagement,” 8:30
p.m., CBS. This above-average comedy moves to Thursdays (where
“(Bleep) My Dad Says” has finished its new episodes), loaning its
Monday spot to “Modern Love.” Tonight, Jeff proclaims a Jeff Day.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. Laurence Fishburne competes with himself, as his
brilliant “Thurgood” faces this CBS show. Two bodies, declared
dead, come to life tonight.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
April learns there is more to Dr. Stark (Peter MacNicol) than she had
expected. Also, Meredith's fertility treatments bring a new crisis.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC.
Michael annoying friend Todd Packer is ready for office work.

– Movies, 9 p.m., cable. Hre are two
terrific ones. CMT has “Airplane” (1980), with its blitz of
offbeat humor. BBC America has “Excalibur” (1981), John Boorman's
gorgeous view of King Arthur.

– “Parks and Recreation,” 9:30
p.m., NBC. Andy is dating April – and remembering that this
requires money. Meanwhile, Leslie is in Indianapolis, to figure out
if Chris (Rob Lowe) is cheating on Ann. It's an erratic episode, but
there are some hilarious moments involving the tenuous art of a
break-up.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A member of the team is a suspect in the death of an antiques dealer.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American Idol,”
8-10 p.m., Fox.

As the Las Vegas round begins, the show
is still plowing through its contestant overload.

The new judges sent 327 singers to
Hollywood, almost double the usual number. The plan was to be down to
40 tonight, singing Beatles songs alongside a Vegas show; that turns
out to be 61.

With the age range lowered a year,
there are five 15-year-old, including cherub-voiced Jacee Badeaux.
There are six 16-year-olds, including Scotty McCreedy, the
deep-voiced Texan..

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “America's Next
Top Model” opener, 8 p.m., CW.

This show starts with zip and fun. Tyra
Banks satirizes typical “Model” contestants, then pulls a trick
on this batch: The ones who think they are out are in, and vice
versa.

It's a cruel thing to do to half the
women, but we don't see that. Instead, we meet the colorful
survivors.

Dominique, with a sea of freckles,
worries a lot; Alexandria is confident, proclaiming, “I have
natural swag.” Brittani has jumped from trailer park to penthouse;
Jaclyn – one of five Texans among the 14 – has a baby face. They
face instant challenges, including strutting inside a plastic bubble.

Other choices include:

– “Minute to Win It,” 8-10 p.m.,
NBC. Aron Ralston is the adventurer whose ordeal – costing him his
forearm – is portrayed in the movie “127 Hours.” Here, he tries
to win $1 million for charity.

– “Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Francesca Hogi was the first person voted out. Now we'll see who is
second – getting a chance to battle her on Redemption Island, for a
possible return to the show.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Here's the lone scripted show at 8 on the five big networks. Sue has
won a plane trip and vacation for four to New York. For the five
Hecks, that brings potential and crises.

– “Better With You,” 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. Last week, we saw how Ben became a pariah by accidentally
dropping a blanket on Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher. Now Swisher –
married to series star JoAnna Garcia – is back for a second
episode; Ben hopes he won't be recognized by him.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Cameron obsesses on a big fund-raiser at the house. Meanwhile, Phil
doesn't know what his big fight with Claire was about.

– “Shedding for the Wedding”
debut, 9 p.m., CW. The concept is solid – nine engaged couples
losing weight together, with the winner getting a Malibu wedding.
Alas, the show copies large parts of “The Biggest Loser” and
botches the rest. Sara Rue is stiff as a host; medical experts will
be appalled by a challenge that requires couples to accelerate their
combined heart rate to 350 beats a minute.

– “Ghost Hunters” season-opener,
9 p.m., Syfy. The team probes three gorgeous spots in Alexandria, La.
There's a lot of the usual – people claiming they just saw or heard
something.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. LuAnn de Lesseps – the “Real Housewives of
New York” countess – plays an art patron making a gruesome
discovery. Adult bullying is probed.

– “Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m., TV
Land. Last week, Victoria injured Susan Lucci (who plays a perverse
version of herself). Now Lucci sabotages Victoria's “All My
Children” scene; also, Elka (Betty White) wanders the studio lot,
in search of Robert Redford.