TV column for Thursday, Aug. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football, 8 p.m.
ET, Fox.

Pre-season games are filling networks'
prime time – tonight and Friday on Fox, then Sunday on NBC.

This could be the best of the three. It
has intrastate rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia
Eagles, each fresh from a division title; it also has well-known
quarterbacks.

The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger,
who appeared only briefly in their 16-7 opening loss to the Redskins;
he's backed by Byron Leftwich. The Eagles have Michael Vick, who was
sharp in a short stint during the 13-6 win over the Ravens; he's
backed by Vince Young and Mike Kafka.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Office,”
9 p.m., NBC.

Here's a rerun of the episode that
wrapped up Will Ferrell's four-episode run.

As Deangelo Vickers, he's just taken
over as branch manager. He promptly reveals his management style,
with an all-male “inner circle.” That does not go well.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Wilfred,”
10 and 10:30 p.m., FX; repeating at 11:30 and midnight.

There's a bittersweet feel to the smart
humor of this show.

Ryan (Elijah Wood) is a solemn loner, a
former lawyer with no job and no life. That may be why he imagines
that Wilfred, the neighbor's dog, is talking to him; tonight, both
episodes view the dark side.

In the first, Ryan takes his mother
(Mary Steenburgen) back, after years in a mental institution; alas,
mom likes Wilfred best. In the second, Wilfred wants him to be known
by the neighbors; he starts, oddly enough, by making everyone think
Ryan's a thief.

Other choices include:

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Sheldon and Amy spread rumors; also, Howard takes a
big step with Bernadette.

– “Jersey Shore,” 8-11 p.m., MTV.
First, you can catch up on the start of the season, as the gang
arrives in Italy. Then the 10 p.m. episode (rerunning at 11) has
drama revolving around Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. He tells
everyone he hooked up with Snooki; also, Deena uses female twins to
“rob” him.

– “Expedition Impossible,” 9
p.m., ABC. A week from the finale, only five teams remain in this
Moroccan adventure. Tonight, they face river crises, with water
rushing and boats sinking.

– “Project Runway,” 9-10:30 p.m.,
Lifetime, following a rerun at 8. Nina Garcia usually sits back in
judgment. Colombian-born and Boston-educated, she's the fashion
director of Marie Claire magazine and she's been a “Runway” judge
since the show started in 2004. Tonight, however, she's in the
foreground; designers compete to make clothes for her to wear at an
important event.

– “Rookie Blue,” 10 p.m., ABC.
After learning of a killing planned for that night, Dov and Gail are
on stake-out. He's been sick, however; heavily medicated, he's
getting groggy. Meanwhile, Andy has some second thoughts, when she
gets to ride a police horse in a contest.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
In a rerun, prison guard has been killed outside a jewelry story and
Patrick Jane suspects one of the inmates maneuvered this. Also,
Rigsby questions his father about it.

TV column for Wednesday, Aug. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Love
in the Wild” finale, 10 p.m., NBC.

This well-conceived series
started with 20 attractive singles meeting in Costa Rica. They tried
perilous adventures, while sometimes trading partners.

Now two couples remain,
facing an overnight task. We'll learn who won – and whether they're
in love.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II:
“Rescue Me,” 10 p.m., FX.

During its seven-season run,
this show has sometimes given its characters rich monologues. Often,
those go to Denis Leary, the star, but tonight two others have their
moments.

First is Jerry Adler, 82, as
Chief Sidney Feinberg, after visiting the World Trade Center site.
Then is John Scurti as Lt. Kenny “Lou” Shea; in an eloquent
stretch, he reflects on all the victims among the living. Don't
expect much humor tonight; do expect a great series, down to its
final five episodes.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “To
the Mat,” 8-10 p.m., CMT.

A slick New Yorker, nearing
her wedding, goes to small-town Georgia to help a man save his
wrestling school. She thinks he's a rural rube; he thinks she's a
homeless snob. The rest will surprise no one.

Up until its absurd finish –
wrestlers having a real (not fake) battle – “Mat” is mildly
pleasant. It has a decent script and talented (if wildly miscast)
stars: Laura Bell Bundy, a true Southerner, plays the Northern snob;
Rick Schroder, a Northerner, plays the Georgia wrestler.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Situation comedies thrive on Thanksgiving episodes. In this rerun,
Mike reluctantly invites his brother (Norm MacDonald), who's been
living in a tent, and their dad (John Cullum), who broke his hip.
Frankie is startled by their non-communication.

– “Modern Family,” 8:30 and 9
p.m., ABC. In the first rerun, Phil heads off to the spa while Claire
has a hectic day. In the second, Jay goes way too far to avoid a
symphony concert; he ends up on a mismatched night out with Mitchell,
Cameron and Pepper (the Emmy-nominated Nathan Lane).

– “House,” 9 p.m., Fox. Two
terrific actresses trade places in this rerun: Dr. Remy “Thirteen”
Hadley (Olivia Wilde) is back at the hospital; Dr. Martha Masters
(Amber Tamblyn) considers moving on to her surgical specialty.
Meanwhile, the patient is a 16-year-old girl, preparing to sail
around the world.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS. This rerun has staffers betting on whether they have
all four possibilities – murder, suicide, accidental death and
natural death – in one day.

– “Pint-Sized Preachers,” 10
p.m., National Geographic. At a Mississippi pulpit, Kanen Tipton
shouts, waves his hands, stirs the congregation; he's 4 years old.
This hour profiles him and two 12-year-olds: One, in Florida, has
been ordained half his life; another, in Rio de Janeiro, has made
CD's and DVD's.

– “Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m., TV
Land. Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli) writes a column, asking if women
can have no-strings-attached sex; then the women decide to find out.

– “Happily Divorced” season
finale, 10:30, TV Land. In a “Nanny” reunion, an author (Charles
Shaughnessy) seems attracted to Fran (Fran Drescher) or her
ex-husband; they aren't sure which one.

TV column for Tuesday, Aug. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “MasterChef,”
8-10 p.m., Fox; and “America's Got Talent,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Two major reality competitions, each at
a key point, collide tonight.

On Monday, “MasterChef” planned to
trim one person, leaving three gifted amateur chefs. Tonight, one
will be named champion.

Meanwhile, “America's Got Talent”
brings back 12 ousted acts. On Wednesday, four will become “wild
card” additions, rounding out the top 24.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Nine Lives
of Chloe King” summer finale, 9 p.m., ABC Family.

On one hand, this is a supernatural
thriller, peppered tonight with deaths and a fierce fight scene.

Like many teen dramas, however, this
hour is also about fractured families. Brian might finally get to
meet his grandmother; Chloe might finally meet her dad.

There's a soap-opera approach and a
basic flaw – people are way too casual and cavalier, despite
knowing that Chloe is an assassination target. Still, this pivotal
episode is solidly filmed and acted.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Downsized”
season-opener, 9 p.m., WE.

Teens really should be able to make
silly, rash decisions sometmes. For this family – coming back from
bankruptcy and foreclosure – that brings complications.

Bailey – the diligent waitress –
spends her life savings on a car … triggering reactions that lead
to the family looking for a new house. The boys take an ill-advised,
$50 job – possibly the trigger in Rex's severe asthma attack. A
good hour centers on likable kids, grasping for normalcy.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's the
start of a two-week rerun that's key for Ziva (Cote de Pablo). The
team is assigned to protect her father (Michael Nouri), head of the
Mossad.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. This rerun starts with three Marines disappearing, after their
Humvee is ambushed; Deeks and Kensi (Eric Christian Olsen and Daniela
Rush) are sent to the field. And Nate, the psychologist, returns from
his mystery assignment.

--”Memphis Beat” season-finale, 9
p.m., TNT. The cops are wedged into a Southern-style feud.

– “Combat Hospital,” 10 p.m.,
ABC. This oft-solid show has two major problems tonight – an
overwrought plot, riddled with coincidences, and two guest roles (a
warrant officer and a general) that are horribly written and played.
The show has had guest-star trouble before, accenting the opposite –
how subtly perfect Elias Koteas is as Col. Marks.

– “Hawthorne season-finale,” 10
p.m., TNT. Christina finally returns to work at the hospital.

– “Family Restaurant”
season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m., WE. In Edmonton, Canada, the
Lingnan restauarant has thrived for 64 years. Now its fierce force is
Amy Quon; the wife of the calm owner, she's the mother of the intense
manager, his quiet brother and their beautiful sister. It's easy to
dismiss her as a silly, frilly meddler – she even makes her son
switch his wedding to April Fool's Day – except that she runs
another successful food spot on her own. Consider her a great
reality-TV character.

TV column for Monday, Aug.15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Gloria: In Her
Own Words,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Gloria Steinem's journey has been epic
– from Toledo, Ohio, to Smith College and New York. People
commented first on her good looks (this was the mid-1950s), later on
her sharp writing.

Then she became a centerpoint of the
women's rights movement. She launched Ms. Magazine, wrote books, did
interviews. Now, at 77, she discusses her life, in a documentary
mixed with vintage clips.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “MasterChef,”
9 p.m., Fox.

Four amateur cooks remain. One will be
dumped, with the others propelled into Tuesday's finale.

Suzy Singh is a neural engineer, a
first-generation American who includes the flavors of her parents'
Punjabi region of India. Adrien Nieto is a server from Ventura,, Cal.

Christian Collins – a stay-at-home
dad from Gloucester, Mass. – made a quick impression with his
cooking and his temper. Jennifer Behm, a former Miss Delaware USA and
a real-estate agent in Wilmington, Del., made an impression with her
cooking and personality, she calls both “spicy.”

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Most Eligible
Dallas” debut, 10 p.m., Bravo.

Yes, this could have been shallow and
glitzy. We meet people who are rich and single and pretty; they also
make big money, often via family businesses. Stick around, though,
and you'll find some appealing quirks.

Courtney Kerr, 29, has a quick wit; she
tells stories – including being dumped during a New Year's Eve
countdown – beautifully. Drew Ginsburg, 29, is a gay guy who likes
muscle cars, not fashion.

There's also a big-haired belle (Tara
Harper, 36, who rescues dogs) and a macho touch. Matt Nordgren,
6-foot-5, was a back-up quarterback to Vince Young on University of
Texas championship teams; Glenn Pakula, 31, was a punter briefly for
two NFL teams and has been signed by seven others.

Other choices include:

– “Bachelor Pad,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.
On the night when Gloria Steinem discusses social progress on HBO,
“Pad” slides to an awful moment: The women, in white bikinis, are
lined up and blindfolded . Then men shoot paintballs at the ones
they're least attracted to.

– “The Lying Game” debut, 9 p.m.,
ABC Family. Imagine you just met your twin sister and she has a
request –take her place for a few days in high school and at home;
no one will notice. Then she departs, skipping all the key details,
including her secret boyfriend. That's an absurd notion, but
Alexandra Chando sometimes makes it work. At 25, she's convincing as
a teen, lost in a new world.

– “Warehouse 13,” 9 p.m., Syfy.
Douglas Fargo, from “Eureka,” is trapped in a video game; he
summons his friend Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) to rescue him. It's a
great episode for Scagliotti, who even sings. There's sly humor, odd
costumes and a sub-plot that brings back Ashley Williams as an FBI
agent with a sweet manner and an icy soul.

– “Millionaire Matchmaker,” 9
p.m., Bravo. In Los Angeles, Patti Stanger tries to find someone for
a fast-talking Internet person and for a production-company head who
seems to be good-hearted.

– “Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. In a
rerun, a juror suddenly dies in the midst of a high-profile case.
Foul play is suspected – especially after a look at the juror's
past.

TV column for Sunday, Aug. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “CMA Music
Festival: Country's Night to Rock,” 8-11 p.m., ABC.

This is when Nashville stretches out to
lure rock fans. Ballads are rare; uptempo tunes are common. Sugarland
even has a drum corps for “Feel the Beat Again.”

We see some people – Kid Rock, Sheryl
Crow, Darius Rucker, Keith Urban – with rock roots. We also see
mainline country people – Brad Paisley, Zac Brown, Lady Antebellum,
Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift,Miranda Lambert and her husband, Blak
Shelton.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Next Food
Network Star” finale, 9 p.m., Food Network.

First, catch last week's episode at 7
p.m. and a 15-contestant reunion at 8. Then the final three compete.

Two are chef-school grads, even if they
got there the long way. Jeff Mauro, 32, was a comedian in Los
Angeles; then he returned home to Chicago, where he's a private chef
for a corporation. Susie Jimenez, 31, used to go from Mexico to
California to pick fruit; now she has a California catering company.

Vic Moea is self-taught. He moved from
Brooklyn to Las Vegas at 13, working his way up; at 35, he's a
restaurant's executive chef, mixing Vegas flavor and Italian
traditions of his mother and grandmother.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “True Blood,”
9 p.m., HBO.

Two fierce forces – vampires and
witches – have been nearing a collision. That comes at the end of
this hour, spectacular and violent; it continues unext week, with
lives in limbo.

There are other great moments along the
way. Jessica finds herself like any teen whose boyfriend problems
leaves her homeless. Inhabited by an old spirit, Lafayette does
something drastic. Also, there are gorgeous moments in the romance of
Eric and Sookie.

Other choices include:

– “i.am.FIRST – Science is Rock
and Roll,” 7 p.m., ABC. For two decades, Dean Kamen has held a
robotics competition to boost science. Now will.i.am, the pop star
and techno-buff, is turning the 20th one into a TV
special. His group, Black Eyed Peas, will perform; so will Willow
Smith.

– “Battle for Blair Mountain,” 8
p.m., CNN; reruns at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. In West Virginia's coal
country, jobs are fading and people are desperate; now the new battle
involves a coal-company proposal to remove the top of a historic
mountain. Workers say this is needed to save jobs and the community;
opponents say the mountaintop method means less jobs and a shattered
environment. Soledad O'Brien offers a balanced report, finding
likable and articulate people on both sides.

– “Same Name,” 9 p.m., CBS. One
Reggie Bush is a star running back in pro football; the other juggles
jobs in Danville, Ill. – rehabbing houses, coaching football,
chasing pigs. Now the two trade places. It's during the off-season,
so the the Danville guy lives in Los Angeles, working out and
socializing.

– “Leverage,” 9 p.m., TNT. The
story – about a crooked funeral director – is so-so, but it sets
up some strong moments when Hardison (the talented Aldis Hodge) is
buried alive. There's another new episode at 10 p.m.; then both rerun
at 11 p.m. and midnight.

– “The Marriage Ref,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Three actor-comedians – Nick Cannon, Caroline Rhea and Jim
Breuer – are on tonight's panel.