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.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Two and a Half
Men” season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS.

For seven months, viewers have had no
new “Men” episodes and many new Charlie Sheen rants.

Now Charlie (the character) is dead and
Charlie (the Sheen) is getting a cable comedy roast. “Men”
introduces Ashton Kutcher as a lovelorn Internet billionaire who buys
the Malibu house.

Our guess is that “Men” will
continue to be worth watching. Over eight years, its writing has been
sharp (and occasionally juvenile) and its cast has been perfect. With
onr change, it pushes on.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “2 Broke
Girls” debut, 9:31 p.m., CBS.

Smart and sarcastic, Max (Kat Dennings)
has two jobs and a boyfriend with a tight torso and loose morals. Her
fellow waitress is a blonde beauty with no skills and – after her
dad's arrest – no money.

They are opposites, battling each other
or common foes. Some side characters are only tolerable in brief
stretches, but the two central characters that can last for years.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Playboy
Club,” 10 p.m., NBC.

As the 1960s began, the Playboy Club
was a fantasy land for guys, a career choice (among limited
possibilities) for women, a stage for performers. There's great
potential here, but NBC mostly misses.

Yes, it has macho men, beautiful women
and great, '60s-style music. Attached to this, however, is a mobster
murder and a mountain of cynicism. Fantasyland becomes a B gangster
movie.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars”
opener, 8-10 p.m., ABC. Maybe this is“Dancing With People Who Know
Stars.” Its people have been overshadowed by sisters (Rob
Kardashian), wife AND sisters (David Arquette), parents (Chaz Bono),
boyfriend (Elisabetta Canalis, of George Clooney fame), teammates
(Ron Artest) and more. Others range from soccer star Hope Solo to
angry TV lawyer Nancy Grace.

– “The Sing-Off” opener, 8-10
p.m., NBC. As a short-term. December show, this worked well, with
smart judges and talented vocal groups. Now it gets a fall run; Ben
Folds and Shawn Stockman return as judges, with singer Sara Bareilles
replacing Nicole Scherzinger, who went on to “The X Factor.

– “Hell's Kitchen” finale, 8-10
p.m., Fox. The final four take turns running a kitchen, before one
wins a head chef job. The finale has two 31-year-olds – Will
Lustberg of New Jersey and Tommy Stevens of Brewster, NY, and two
26-year-olds, Paul Niedermann of Florida and Elise Wims of Pittsurgh.

– “How I Met Your Mother”
season-opener, 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS. First, the guys recall a recent
wedding, while Barney prepares for his ceremony with a secret bride.
Then Marshall gets a dream job – unless an old video resurfaces.

– “Eureka” summer finale, 8 p.m.,
Syfy. Preparing for its million-mile space trip, the show has a lot
of bland moments and two great ones – the Fargo-Holly romance and a
big, cliffhanger finish.

– “Hawaii Five-0” (CBS) or
“Castle” (ABC), 10 p.m.. Both shows start their seasons with lead
characters in jeopardy. McGarrett's been jailed; Beckett's been shot.

– Comedy roast, 10 p.m. Comedy
Central. Charlie Sheen gets a well-deserved roast. Samples indicate
that the bits will, as usual, range from loudly hilarious to merely
loud.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Emmy Awards, 8-11
p.m., Fox.

With Jane Lynch (“Glee”) hosting
and Mark Burnett (“Survivor”) producing, we can expect this to be
fast and fun, including lots of short comedy bits. Even “in
memoriam” will be upbeat, Burnett says.

HBO has the newest drama challengers
(“Boardwalk Empire” and “Game of Thrones”) and many of the
top movies and mini-series (“Mildred Pierce,” “Too Big to
Fail,” “Cinema Verite”).

Meanwhile, this is the final chance for
“Friday Night Lights” and its two stars to get a well-deserved
Emmy; it's also the final chance for Steve Carell on “The Office.”
And it's a bigger chance for drama actors; Bryan Cranston isn't
eligible because “Breaking Bad” didn't fit this season's time
structure.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Good Wife,”
8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

At the Emmys, this has nine
nominations, including best drama series, best actress (Julianna
Margulies) and supporting actress (Archie Panjabi, who won last
year). Here, people can see their work.

The first rerun has Alicia (Margulies)
raging at Kalina for her one-night stand with Peter. The second, the
season-finale, sees them trying to set that aside so they can focus
on a murder case.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Breaking
Bad,” 10 p.m., AMC.

Battered and weary, Walt misses his
son's birthday. He leaves his wife on her own, with her strange
scheme for handling the money. And he leaves Jesse almost alone, with
the cartel.

Stick with this one. It starts slowly
and ends with a power punch.

ALSO SUNDAY:

– “Love Begins,” 1 and 9 p.m.,
Hallmark. Here are two chances to see this OK film about a quiet
cowboy (Wes Brown) and an overworked farm-owner (Julie Mond). This is
a prequel to the seven “Love Comes Softly” movies. You can catch
the final three of those at 3, 5 and 7 p.m.

– Emmy previews. The E channel does
this big, with a preview at 5 p.m. and Ryan Seacrest's red-carpet
show from 6-8 p.m. There's more, at 7: Fox is on the red carpet; the
TV Guide Network has a preview.

– “Kung Fu Panda” (2008), 6 p.m.,
and “Monsters vs. Aliens” (2009), 8 and 10 p.m. The kids aren't
planning on seeing the Emmys, so here are some animated movies.
“Monsters,” for instance, has enough witty moments to keep the
grown-upswatching.

– Football, 8:20 p.m., NBC. Michael
Vick has his first return to Atlanta, with the Eagles. They had a
10-6 record in the regular season last year and opened this year
31-13 over St. Louis. Atlanta had a 13-3 record (the NFC's best), but
lost this year's opener to the Bears, 30-12.

– “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9-10:30
p.m., PBS. Who knew that religious colleges were so deadly? As one
prepares to elect a leader, there' jealousy and murders. For
Inspector Lewis, not that big on higher education, it's a tough case.
This movie is fairly stagnant, then leaps into all-out melodrama.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Horatio has finally captured the last of the prison escapees. Then a
plan crashes and he escapes anew, in this rerun, with a dangerous
plan.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 17


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

Two stars showed their range in this
season-finale, rerunning here.

Justin Timberlake was the host, not the
music guest, but he still sang three times – once while encased in
a beer-bottle costume. Lady Gaga was the music guest, but she also
did well in comedy sketches.

It was a strong finish to a shaky
season. Next week, Alec Baldwin hosts the season-opener.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Rules of
Engagement,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

Next month, CBS will start putting new
episodes of this funny-enough show on Saturdays. It will be a welcome
addition to a weak night; here are two reruns, to get us in the mood.

In the first, Russell (David Spade)
thinks he's booked a cruise with “red hot ladies”; it's “red
hat ladies” over 50, In the second, he throws Timmy a citizenship
party to impress a woman; also, Jeff and Audrey learn their surrogate
might be having twins.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Love Begins,”
9-11 p.m., Hallmark; repeats Sunday.

Hallmark made seven movies, some of
then fairly good, from Janette Oke's frontier novels. You can them
today, starting with “Love Comes Softly” (2003) at 1 p.m.,
showing how Marty (Katherine Heigl) met Clark (Dale Midkiff); the
others are at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. today, then at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Now Hallmark adds two movies – one
now, one Oct. 1 – that traces Clark's earlier life. We see him (Wes
Brown) as a quiet cowboy with the wrong companion; then he meet an
earnest woman (Julie Mond), farming with her little sister. There are
no surprises, just some slow and diligent drama.

Other choices include:

– Football, 8 p.m. ET, ABC. This is a
big one – top-rated Oklahoma visiting No. 5-rated Floriday State.
Also tonight: Ohio State at Miami (7:30 p.m., ESPN), Syracuse at
Southern Cal (8 p.m., FX).

– “Who Do You Think You Are,” 8
p.m., NBC. This show often has celebrities learn good things about
their ancestors. Not this time: Kim Cattrall (“Sex and the City”)
studies the grandfather who abandoned his wife and daughters
(including Cattrall's mom); she learns he had more troubles
afterward.

– “Cops,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox.
First is a new episode, filled with chases. Then is a rerun of the
800th episode, which includes a call that a boa
constrictor is loose.

– “Defiance” (2008), 8-11 p.m.,
AMC. Edward Zwick – who has ranged from TV's “thirtysomething”
to the movie “Glory” – directed and co-wrote this true story of
Jewish brothers who led a resistance movement in the woods of
Belorussia, Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber star.

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
In a reru, young lovers are on a cross-country killing spree. Also,
Prentiss (Paget Brewster) gets disturbing news about her former
Interpol boss.

– “Up All Night” and “Free
Agents,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., NBC. For the third time this week, NBC
shows the pilot films of these two comedies. “Up All Night”
(Christina Applegate and Will Arnett coping with a new baby) does
have some good moments; “Free Agents” doesn't

 

– “Killer Instinct” debut, 9
p.m., Cloo. This channel (previously called Sleuth) has been offering
reruns of crime dramas. Now comes a slight change – a non-fiction
show, tracing cases that included former FBI profiler Mark Safarik.
This opener – a serial killer in Washington state – is fairly
interesting; an Oct. 1 episode (one murder, no body, a cunning
killer) is the opposite and more interesting.

 – “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. A murder probe requires Benson and Stabler to
go undercover at a swingers' club, in this rerun. Rose McGowan plays
the popular Cassandra Davina.