TV column for Thursday, Feb. 23

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “E.T.” (1982),
8-10:30 p.m., AMC.

As the Academy Awards near, it's time
to settle back with a truly great movie.

Currently, Steven Spielberg's “War
Horse” is up for best picture; composer John Williams is nominated
for it and for “Tintin.” Here's a chance to see them at their
best, 30 years ago.

The story of a boy and his outer-space
alien, “E.T.” manages to be warm, funny and exciting, almost
simultaneously. It won Oscars, for Williams' score, plus the sound,
sound effects and visual effects, and was nominated for five more,
including best-picture and Spielberg's perfect direction.

Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” 9 and 10:02 p.m., ABC.

From its first episode, with Ellis Grey
(Meredith's brilliant mom) shattered by Alzheimer's disease,
“Anatomy” has faced the pain of family members' illnesses. Now
both these shows are there.

On “Anatomy,” Richard Webber sees
the impact for the second time. He was Ellis' lover; now his wife
Adele (Loretta Devine) sinks deeper into Alzheimer's. And on
“Practice,” Sam's sister (the superb Anika Noni Rose) is crushed
by mental problems.

p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Before NASCAR, some kids try the 70-mph
blur of the World Karting Association. “Racing Dreams” follows
three of them, with mismatched lives.

Josh Hobson is an A student in
Michigan, financed by family, friends and a golf fundraiser. Annabeth
Barnes and Brandon Warren are in North Carolina; her blue-collar
parents love racing, his grandparents have much love, little money
and some shielding from his alcoholic father.

Fans know this was shot five years ago.
Josh and Annabeth now have Web sites; her first stock-car season was
a reality show. Still, this offers a deep look at the fast life from
contrasting perspectives.

Other choices include:
– “The
Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,CBS. Astronaut training is tough and
Wolowitz has second thoughts. Sheldon feels he has a much bigger
problem: His barber is sick.

– “Parks and Recreation,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Jerry has been forgotten again. This time, it's his birthday.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. With
many of the people gone to Florida – where Dwight is fighting for a
vice-presidency – the people back home are strained and have to
work late.

– “Filthy Rich,” 9 p.m., CNBC. In
Malibu and other playgrounds, we see $10 million homes; we hear of
people paying even more for yachts and planes. Then comes the
disturbing part: These are officials in countries – from Africa to
the former Soviet Union – plagued by poverty. They loot the wealth
from oil and other resources, then live big in the U.S. It's a
disturbing report.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The leader of an anti-cult group had been killed. Now Patrick Jane
again investigates Bret Stiles (Malcolm McDowell), a cult leader.

– “Archer,” 10 p.m., FX. The
urbane Ray, it seems, is from backwoods West Virginia, where his
brother is a violent drug farmer. That sets up a fun episode, with
Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”) as guest voice.

– “Inside Comedy,” 11 p.m.,
Showtime. Last week's half-hour zipped between three comedians, with
little content. This is the opposite: The entire half-hour is Larry
David chatting with David Steinberg (who sometimes directs his “Curb
Your Enthusiasm”); it's droll and funny.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 22

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

Five weeks after auditions began,
“Idol” is finally ready to have a workable group.

Tonight, survivors of the Hollywood
round get one more chance to perform. Then judges start announcing
the semi-finalists.

The others will be named Thursday. Next
week has three nights and the choice of finalists.

8 p.m., CW.

When this show debuted in 2003 on the
WB, it focused on half-brothers: Nathan (James Lafferty) was rich;
Lucas (Chad Michael Murray), raised by a single mom, wasn't. They had
the same father, the same sort of basketball talent and the same
TV-style good looks.

Many of the characters have departed
since then; so has the WB network. Now “Hill” is at the mid-point
of its final, 13-episode season. Lucas returns, to help Haley search
for Nathan.

8-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Whales have nature's biggest brains
and, alas, biggest penises. This excellent, three-part documentary
briefly mentions the latter (which can be nine feet long); more
often, it shows results of the former.

We see stunning footage of whales
scheming an elaborate fish round-up; under a “sea giants” theme,
we also see similar smarts from dolphins.

Dolphins slyly let other creatures do
their work, then swoop in to grab the prey. They even send sound
signals to humans, so we can link with them for a mutual fishing

Other choices include:


– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. In
an intervention of sorts, the Heck children say Frankie micro-manages
and Mike has bizarre punishments. When the parents step aside, the
kids find new trouble.

– Debate, 8 p.m. ET, CNN; rerunning
at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. After a flurry of 23 full-scale Republican
debates, there's been a lull. This one – in Mesa, Ariz. – is
expected to be the final debate before the Michigan and Arizona
primaries Tuesday and the “Super Tuesday” a week later. Avoiding
the podium format, John King will be at a table with Mitt Romney,
Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30, ABC. The
“That '70s Shows” stars keep returning to TV. Laura Prepon has
“Are You There, Chelsea?” (8:30 p.m. today on NBC) and Ashton
Kutcher has “Two and a Half Men”; now Wilmer Valderrama guests as
the younger brother of Cheryl Hines; he also co-stars in “Awake,”
which will start March 1 on NBC.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Mitchell manages to ruin one of his dad's finest golf moments.

– “Rock Center,” 9 p.m., NBC.
Medical myths keep endangering the globe's great animals; Harry Smith
reports on poaching done for the sale of rhinoceros horns. Also,
Brian Williams talks to Charles Murray (“The Bell Curve”) about
his new book about widening money gaps. Kate Snow profiles Svante
Myrick, once homeless and now, at 24, an Ivy Leaguer and mayor of
Ithaca, NY.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. Benson and Haden (Mariska Hargitay and Harry
Connick Jr.) plan a weekend together. It's soon detoured by the
search for an underage prostitute.

– “20/20,” 10 p.m., ABC. Robin
Roberts tries a different sort of Oscar preview. Four days before the
ceremony, she uses old footage and interviews, to show what the
nominees did before being famous.

– “Royal Pains” season finale, 10
p.m., USA. As a doctor, Hank tries to remain calm; now he feels
crushed by the illness of his friend Jack (Tom Cavanagh). In a
lighter story, kids try daredevil videos.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 21

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Glee,” 8 p.m.,

Here's the winter finale for this show,
which tends to avoid reruns. At the regional competition, the glee
club faces the Dalton Academy Warblers.

Afterward, a four-comedy night takes
over. “Glee” finally returns April 10 for its spring stretch.

Experience” conclusion, 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Monday's opener ended with Bill
Clinton's presidency wobbling. Clinton was too bold domestically –
his health-care plan was too complex to get approval – and too
timid overseas; he hesitated while genocide shattered Rwanda.
Democrats lost the House and gained a new enemy in Newt Gingrich.

Now a comeback begins, nudged by
advisor Dick Morris. Clinton finds new strength after the Oklahoma
City bombing and belated resolve in Bosnia. He wins the Gingrich
face-off, survives his sex scandal and manages to leave amid
prosperity. It's a fascinating story, beautifully told.

10 p.m., FX.

Last week ended with Winona –
Raylan's former wife and current love – has left him.

He wants to take take time to find her,
but can't: Harlan County is a new battleground.

A slick Detroiter plans to use it as a
base for indiscriminate peddling of prescription drugs. Boyd Crowder,
however, wants to control all Harlan crime; violence erupts early and
often, in a strong hour.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A
reservist with a high security clearance is dead, in what's called a

– “Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Mike Rowe – known for “Dirty Jobs” and endless commercials
– seems logical to play Mike's macho brother. Now he may get the
contract to build the newest store.

– “Injustice Files,” 8-10 p.m.,
Investigation Discovery. A dozen years ago, 17-year-old Raynard
Johnson's body was found hanging from a tree in Mississippi. It was
ruled suicide, but some people thought it was retribution for his
romances with white girls. Keith Beauchamp points to small-town
bumbling of the investigation. Adding three other cases, he shows
that lynching may still exist.

– “Cougar Town,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Last week, Grayson stunned Jules – and viewers – with a proposal.
She said yes; now he asks her father (who toys with him) and she
tries to choose a maid-of-honor.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Kensi (Daniela Ruah) is the prime suspect in a murder case.

– “New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox. This
comedy rarely visits Jess' teaching job. Tonight, she confronts a

– “Joan and Melissa,” 9 p.m., WE.
This hour starts light, with Joan Rivers overdoing party-planning.
Then it turns serious, with a rumor about her daughter's live-in

– “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC. Big
changes are possible for Crosby, involving work (a sudden chance to
sell the studio) and romance (a camp-out with Jasmine and their son).
Meanwhile, Julia and Joel head to the hospital for the birth of the
boy they'll adopt; Sarah considers a life in New York with Mark.

– “White Collar,” 10 p.m., USA.
As a longtime baseball player and fan, Tim DeKay gets a dream job –
acting and making his directing debut in a story set at Yankee
Stadium. This week's scam seems way too easy, but there are some neat
moments with Neal, the semi-reformed con man.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 20

Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In the resort town of Hot Springs,
Ark., Bill Clinton gave no signs of his troubled home life and
alcoholic stepfather. He was an honor student and the first-chair
saxophonist in the state band; he had so many offices and awards that
the principal banned him from running for senior-class president.

He was a political natural, people say
in this superb documentary (which concludes Tuesday). It came so
easily that he seemed to create his own obstacles.

Tonight's film, going through the first
two years of his presidency, sees him stumble and recover often.

9 p.m., Syfy.

This hour might seem drenched in
darkness. Sally, the ghost, sees her mother die. Josh, the werewolf,
can't find his lover Nora and is questioned by police. Aidan, the
vampire, is visited by the image of Bishop (the mentor he killed),
who wants him to kill a colleague.

For all of that, however, this ripples
with surprising humor. Bishop (Mark Pellegrino, who was Jacob on
“Lost”) brings cheeky fun; Sally's surprises bring offbeat

p.m., NBC.

Many viewers rooted for the immensely
talented Karen (Katharine McPhee) to dyst in the Marilyn Monroe
musical. Instead, that went to the easier choice – Ivy (Megan
Hilty), blonde, big-voiced, sexy.

Now Karen heads home to Iowa for a
friend's bridal shower and learns more about her future. And an
experienced pro – played by Will Chase, who's done eight Broadway
musicals – is the front-runner to play Joe DiMaggio. It's another
great episode.

Other choices include:

– “The Voice” (NBC) and “The
Bachelor” (ABC), each 8-10 p.m. “Voice” is still assembling its
teams, but “Bachelor” is down to its final four, with Ben heading
South to visit their home towns. It's Fort Worth for Nicki,
Scottsdale, Ariz., for Courtney, a Florida horse farm for Lindzi. And
in Clarksville, Tenn., he picnics on a football field named for
Kacie's grandfather.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Back in the show's first episode, Ted had an instant love
of Robin. Now, seven years later, he tries to win her back after her
break-up with Kevin.

– “Fred: The Show” debut, 8 p.m.,
Nickelodeon. Fred is the 6-year-old portrayed by Lucas Cruikshank,
now 18. Originally an Internet phenomenon, he's been in two Nick
movies and now starts a weekly series, with two episodes in each
half-hour. Fred's a manic sort viewers will love or (often) hate.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. Max and Caroline claim their Bar Mitzvah cupcakes are kosher.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. During a near-death experience, Walden utters words to Sophie
that he soon regrets. Also, Alan wonders if Lyndsey has a drinking

– “Bethenny Ever After”
season-opener, 9 p.m., Bravo. Things should be easy for Bethenny
Frankel now. She sold one of her businesses, Skinnygirl Cocktails,
for a fortune; for the first time, she's becoming a home-owner. For
now, however, her workspace is too crowded and her life is too

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.
Wrapping up a two-parter, Rick tries to stop what could explode into
a world war. He's working with two women he's fictionalized as sexy
characters in his novels.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 19

Race” opener, 8 p.m. CBS.

Eleven duos start the race, ranging
from twins to ex-spouses who have resumed dating each other. There
are cops, clowns (married to each other) and more.

In the fun opener, they skydive (with
professional help) and cook. They also make big blunders – getting
lost, getting stuck in the sand … and simply not seeing the finish

Classic,” 9-11 p.m. Sunday, PBS (check local listings).

As the “Downton Abbey”
season-finale begins, there are big troubles upstairs: Lady Mary is
engaged to a cruel mogul. Hef sister (Sybil) has fled to Ireland with
the chauffeur; Matthew mourns his fiancee.

And downstairs? Bates is charged with
killing his vindictive wife. Daisy feels her war-widow status is a
cheat. William – whose hoarding scheme collapsed – has a new

More twists appear – an old suitor
for Edith, a new one for Rosamund. Some things will be left hanging
(there will be a third season) and some will go bad; overall,
however, fans will be delighted.

Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.

For its 500th episode, this
show brings out some extra touches. There are marathon opening
credits (spanning the decades), a big story (the Simpsons are
banished from Springfied) and even, briefly, Julian Assange and his
Wikileaks headquarters.

In the usual “Simpsons” style, this
is erratic, with fairly good humor and terrific originality.

Other choices include:

– “Jerseylicious” season-opener,
8 p.m., Style. Against the noisy backdrop of competing New Jersey
beauty salons, there are likable young workers. Olivia is trying to
upgrade from make-up to hair assistant; Gigi is jobless and broke,
while waiting for the new place to open. You'll root for both.

– “Celebrity Apprentice” opener,
9-11 p.m. Sunday, NBC. Strong forces collide, with reality-show
people (Teresa Giudice, Victoria Gotti, Paul Teutel Sr.), performers
(Arsenio Hall, Penn Jillette, Clay Aiken) and pretty faces. The first
battle involves making the best sandwich shop; it's fun along the
way, but reflects the show's persistent flaw: It can all come down to
one big-money contributor.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Propelled by powerhouse performances by Rita Wilson (as an opposing
lawyer) and Parker Posey (as Eli's ex-wife), this strong hour finds
the firm facing a tough case and Will facing a career crisis.

– “Big Rich Texas” season-opener,
9 p.m., Style. Unlike “Jerseylicious,” this gives us no one to
root for. Well-coiffed women fight a lot, sometimes while holding
weapons. The extreme comes when Leslie suddenly decides her
god-daughter will be Miss America and must enroll in college.

– “Pan Am,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. The
final episode of the season – and maybe forever – finds
everyone's lives in flux as 1963 ends.

– “Eastbound & Down”
season-opener, 10 p.m., HBO. His big-league days far behind him,
Kenny seems happy partying and pitching for a minor league team in
Myrtle Beach, S.C.; he also hesitantly visits his son's first
birthday party. The result is loud and semi-funny, but ends with a
sobering moment.

– “Life's Too Short” debut,
10:30, HBO. Droll, dry and witty, this pretends to be a reality show,
with a twisted version of Warwick Davis, the “Willow” and “Jedi”
star. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant – the “Office” and
“Extras” duo – wrote it and co-star; Liam Neeson has a
hilarious scene.