TV column for Thursday, Feb. 21

Recreation,” 8:30 and 9 p.m., NBC.

This show loves surprises – even
surprise weddings. Two years ago, Andy and April suddenly married;
last week, Ben (Adam Scott) proposed that he and Leslie (Amy Poehler)
marry at an annual fund-raiser.

Now comes the scramble to make it
happen in two hours. They have no ring, cake, minister or marriage
license. Another episode follows, with Leslie panicking when someone
swipes her speech.

p.m., ABC.

Last week's opener launched a tale that
is far-fetched, but ambitious and (at times) compelling. Linking with
an FBI agent (Carmen Ejogo), Hank (Anthony Edwards) sought clues
about his kidnapped wife.

That took him to the Arctic Circle –
and to a corpse that looks like him. Tonight, he has a perilous
encounter with the kidnapper; he also seeks clues in India, while two
reporters dig through a journal.

Hounds,” 8-10 p.m., Animal Planet.

Stick with this documentary. After
starting slowly, it offers rich waves of emotion.

Camera crews were embedded into units
that use dogs to sniff out explosive devices in Afghanistan. Viewers
will have a quick affection for two soldiers with newborn babies back
home, and for Len Anderson, who could have stayed in safety as a
kennel master.

These stories involve heroics for
soldiers, dogs and one of the cameramen, an ex-Marine. “Glory
Hounds” is a self-contained movie, with a so-so beginning and a
strong ending.

Other choices include:

– “Community,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Everyone heads to a science fiction convention, in an
erratic-but-funny episode. Even skeptics are involved: Pierce (Chevy
Chase) is in a focus group; Jeff (Joel McHale) is mistaken for a star
and attracts an admirer (Tricia Helfer, the “Battlestar Galactica”

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Last week's terrific episode brought some home for Raj's vacant
love life; he met a quirky sort (Kate Micucci of “Raising Hope”)
at the comic-book store and went to coffee with her. Tonight, alas,
things go badly and he vows to never leave his apartment.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. At a singles mixer for wealthy people, Walden (Ashton
Kutcher) meets a logical match – his ex-wife Bridget (Judy Greer).

– “Grey's Anatomy,”9 p.m., ABC.
Reports of the financial crisis are spreading. Interns fret about
their jobs, Catherine (Debbie Allen) urges Jackson to move to Boston
and doctors try to lure a new investor.

– “Suits” season-finale, 10 p.m.,
USA. The firm might merge, but Mike has another problem: Rachel wants
him to sign a letter to Harvard; that might expose the fact that he
fakes being a Harvard grad.

– “Scandal,” 10:02 p.m., ABC. A
promising politician (Eric Mabius of “Ugly Betty”) hires the firm
for some high-powered matchmaking. Also, the president isn't sure
whom to trust in a kidnapping crisis.

– “Upload With Shaquille O'Neal,”
10:30 p.m., Tru TV. This is mostly a way to show funny video clips;
the fun comes from the comments of O'Neal and friends. One dandy
moment has grown-ups (dancing to electronic music) looking truly odd
and a kid (who happens to be black) looking dumbfounded. Shaq's
comment:”You never forget the first time you see white people.”

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 20

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

With 40 contestants still in the mix,
“Idol” finally has nights of performing and sifting.

Tonight, 10 males perform and five will
be sent home; on Thursday, 10 females have their turns. It all
happens again next week, leaving “Idol” with 20 people … and,
still, a long way to go.

8 p.m., CBS.

At the end of last week's opener,
Francesca Hogi decided she really isn't very good at “Survivor.”
Viewers said a collective, “Duh!”

Two years ago, Hogi was the first
person eliminated. She returned now – 38, a Brooklyn lawyer – and
was again the first person ousted. There were six votes against her;
Andrea Boehlke, 23, had four.

Now Boehlke has to worry about her own
vulnerability – and the fact that the “Survivor” veterans lost
the first elimination challenge to a bunch of newcomers.

10 p.m., TNT.

Stern and stoic, John Cooper (Michael
Cudlitz) has become one of TV's best characters.

He's a secretly gay cop whose lover has
left him; he's finally overcome back problems (through surgery) and
pill addiction (through rehab). At work, he keeps pushing quietly

Tonight, Cooper has powerful moments
involving his new police partner, a veteran of two hitches in
Afghanistan. Then come fierce extremes for Lydia (Regina King), a
veteran cop and new mom.

Other choices include:

– “Gladiator” (2000), 7-10 p.m.,
TNT. A strong movie night starts with this winner of five Oscars,
including best picture and actor (Russell Crowe). At 8 p.m., Lifetime
Movie Network has “The Blue Lagoon” (1980); Showtime has “The
Iron Lady” (2011), with Meryl Streep winning her third Oscar.

– “Whitney,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Whitney's wayward father has suddenly given her $5,000. Should she
use it to have a gallery showing or her photos? Or should she give it
to a needy friend?

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Frankie wants to obsess on the Oscars, but has other things to worry
about: Axl has a class trip to Chicago; Sue's gaga for one of Axl's

– “Nova” and “The Path to
Violence,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This is the
second of two primetime nights looking at the roots of violence.
Reports also continue all week on “Newshour.”

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
At her college reunion, Claire meets a professor she dated. He's
played by Maxwell Caulfield, one of the “Dynasty” and “Colbys”

– “20/20,” 10 p.m., ABC. Four
days before the Oscars, Katie Couric takes a light overview. She'll
talk to current nominees – Bradley Cooper, Sally Field, Denzel
Washington, Jennifer Lawrence – but also have highlights from past
monologues and acceptance speeches.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
10 p.m., CBS. A man dies after a brief encounter with Sara.

– “Necessary Roughness”
season-finale, 10 p.m., USA. Life may be changing, this episode says,
but a hurdle remains: In major U.S. professional sports, no active
athletes have said they are gay. Now the Hawks' quarterback may be
ready. That's in an hour with several lame stories and this strong

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 19

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Cougar Town,”
10 p.m., TBS.

Viewers have always known Jules and
Ellie (Courteney Cox and Christa Miller) as close pals and
wine-drinking buddies. This episode – one of the best – flashes
back to a time when they were opposites.

Cox, who grew up in a prosperous
Alabama family, has fun playing Jules as a redneck. She's as crude as
her then-husband Bobby; moving into the neighborhood, they leave
Ellie fuming.

Proof” season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC.

This was already an above-average show,
with a terrific central character – Dana Delany as Dr. Megan Hunt,
a steel-willed medical examiner – and solid mysteries. Still, it
was on the shelf for 10 months, getting a makeover that makes things
more personal.

Short-term, a kidnapping strikes Megan
directly. That propels a strong story that concludes next week.

And long-term? Her former investigator
is dead; the previous cops are gone. Now she's reluctantly working
with a handsome police detective (Mark Valley) from her past.

p.m., NBC.

It's a busy night for our recording
devices, with all of the best shows at 10 p.m.

This one catches “Bombshell” in
limbo, waiting for a Broadway go-ahead. Julia keeps rewriting it,
aided by a teacher (Daniel Sunjata of “Rescue Me”). Derek uses
the interlude to direct a concert special for a star (Jennifer
Hudson), with a young songwriter (Jeremy Jordan) scrambling for a

Some of this seems contrived, but there
are sensational moments for Hudson and others.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Mourning
the shooting death of his wife, Vance (Rocky Carroll) tries to return
to work as division chief. He soon learns devastating personal

– “New Girl,” 8:30 and 9 p.m.,
Fox. In a rerun, Jess and Nick discuss their no-sex relationship.
Then a new episode has roommates battling for a parking spot and
Winston searching for a condom.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Probing the lone survivor of a terrorist group, Kensi and Deeks
go deep into a woods.

– “Guns in America” and
“Frontline,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Over the
next two nights, PBS will have four prime-time hours looking at
violence. Tonight's first hour takes a historic look, from frontier
justice to the Newtown tragedy. The second views the childhood of
Adam Lanza, the alleged Newtown shooter.

– “Cult” debut, 9 p.m., CW. A
reporter probes a sticky question: Is a fictional TV show linked to
murders outside the show? This is a complex hour for viewers, but it
has some talented people: Rockne O'Bannon (“Farscape”) is the
writer-producer; Robert Knepper (“Prison Break”) is the prime

– “The Mindy Project,” 9:30 p.m.,
Fox. Mindy gets a one-minute medical spot on TV.

– “Vegas,” 10 p.m., CBS. A
hot-shot producer has roared into town with a gorgeous starlet. That
creates problems for Savino, who runs the Mob's casino, and his young
assistants, Mia and Tommy.

– “Justified,” 10 p.m., FX. Yes,
this 10 p.m. spot is thoroughly overcrowded. Here, Raylan faces two
problems – a beautiful grifter and a vengeful enemy from the past.
Also, Boyd and Ava seek ways to make money from some of Harlan
County's wealthy.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 18

Mornings,” 10 p.m., TNT.

This episode, like the first two, has
it all: Brilliant dialog flows out of great actors.

The key addition now is Anthony Heald,
who has done other David Kelly shows. He was the assistant principal
in “Boston Public,” a judge in “Boston Law”; now he plays a
cunning malpractice lawyer.

That puts a shadow on everything else –
a restaurant rescue, a heart-attack, a homeless man. The closing
moments remind us that “Monday Mornings” is one of the best new
shows in years.

Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

It's imposing enough to visit a
girlfriend's home town and meet her father. Now imagine that he has
two stars on his shoulder and runs the place.

That's the situation when Sean Lowe
visits Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where Lindsay's dad is the commanding
general. To prepare Lowe, she runs him through some basic-training

The other visits should be less
stressful – especially now that Tierra is out. Lowe visits
Catherine in Seattle, AshLee in Houston and Desiree in a Los Angeles

Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Black History Month films tend to focus
on the verbal flame-throwers. This one views a quieter figure.

Whitney Young grew up comfortably in
Kentucky and became head of the Urban League in 1961. Working with
three presidents, he coaxed changes that brought thousands of jobs to

There were costs: He remained silent on
Vietnam; at one point, militants had a plan to kill him.

But the influence grew. When he died
(at 49) in a Nigerian swimming pool, President Nixon sent a plane to
bring his body home, then gave the eulogy at his funeral.

Other choices include:

– “Dinosaur Train,” 9 a.m, PBS
(check local listimgs). For this hourlong special, the dinosaurs need
more than a train. They hop in a submarine, for four stories about
underwater creatures in the dino-era.

– “PBS Newshour,” 7 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). This launches a five-day emphasis on gun
violence and its aftermath. PBS will also have prime-time shows
Tuesday and Wednesday.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. After an odd call from The Captain (Kyle McLachlan), the
friends recall their previous time with him.

– “Rules of Engagement,” 8:30
p.m., CBS. Liz and Russell are a mismatch – as proven during their
brief marriage, after a drunken, shipboard wedding. Now, however, she
wants him to father her baby.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m., CBS. A
street performer (Andy Dick) puts his puppet show in front of the
cupcake shop. When Max and Caroline try to move him, he strikes back.

– “The Following,” 9 p.m., Fox.
Claire gets a surprise phone call that may help her find her son.
When the FBI makes a move, there's panic among kidnappers in the
farm house..

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This story is set during the Pro Bowl game in Hawaii. Danny obsesses
on the game; a player helps with a case. Guest stars include Houston
running back Arian Foster, Pat Monahan of “Train” and Larry
Manetti of “Magnum, P.I,”

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. In
the start of a two-parter, kidnappers are scheming to take the
daughter of a rich Middle Eastern businessman.

-- "Inside Comedy," 11 p.m., Showtime. David Steinberg has amiable chats with two gifted writer-producers, Tina Fey and Judd Apatow. It turns out that both were young fans of "SCTV" ... the Canadian show created by a troupe that formed during the short-lived "David Steinberg Show."

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 17

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Downton Abbey”
season-finale, 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

This show's soaring popularity has been
built on a mismatched blend of refined drama and brash soap opera.
That was never more obvious than here.

The Crawleys are vacationing at a
Scottish estate that is even grander than their own, bringing some
staffers. Back home, others visit the town fair. New romances are
formed, suggested and in some cases crushed. This is light, bright,
brittle … then packs a punch bigger than most soaps would dare.

Race” opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

Things will start fast, CBS says, as 11
duos skydive in Bora Bora. Soon, three of them will be gone.

Expect colorful players. There are
brothers who are hockey players and brothers (twins, no less) who are
obstetricians. There are two married couples (one of them newlywed)
and a dating couple. There are fives sets of friends, including
firemen, roller-derby women and country singers who are descended
from John Wayne and Daniel Boone. Also, there are father-and-son
cancer survivors.

Simpsons,” 7 and 8 p.m., Fox.

At 7 p.m. is a rerun of the family trip
to New York. At 8, Bart and Milhouse sample the grown-up life.

The real pleasure, however, is the
six-minute short that runs with that new episode. In a wordless gem,
we see Maggie's visit to a daycare center. The result aired before
an “Ice Age” film last summer and now has a well-deserved Academy
Award nomination.

Other choices include:

– Basketball, 7 p.m. ET, TNT. The
NBA's all-star weekend wraps up, with the game starting at 8.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. “Why is everybody yelling?” young Henry asks. This hour
does, indeed, have too many high-decibel moments, as Emma helps
Mr.Gold search for his son in Manhattan, Still, it emerges with
important revelations for Gold, Emma and Henry.

– “Killing Lincoln,” 8 p.m.,
National Geographic, repeats at 10. Mixing re-enactments with some
narration by Tom Hanks, this offers rich detail. Jesse Johnson (Don Johnson's son) gives us a fresh vision of
John Wilkes Booth as a man who mixes charisma with a zealot's
obsession. He envisions three murders and a coup;instead, he has one
and infamy.

– “Saturday Night Live in the
'90s,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. After barely surviving in the 1980s, “SNL”
began developing talented people who could thrive elsewhere. This
fun documentary interviews Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, Dana Carvey,
Mike Myers and Tina Fey, who was hired as a writer in 1997 and became
head writer in 1999. She found on-camera fame in 2000 … which, of
course, is another story.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Now that their firm is profitable again, the partners rescind the
partnerships offered to Alicia and Cary – who are preparing a
rugged mock trial against Will and Diane. It's a strong episode,
brightened briefly by Carrie Preston's work as the cheery-but-fierce

– “Girls,” 9 p.m., HBO. Last
week's episode was almost all-Hannah, so this excellent one goes the
other way. One strong pairig involves Marnie and her maybe-boyfriend;
another is an unexpected field trip involving Adam and Ray.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A museum investigation indicates the academic world can be nasty.