TV column for Saturday, July 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Who Do You Think
You Are?” return, 8 p.m., NBC.

This surprisingly good series follows
celebrities as they learn of their roots. The results often offer
rich glimpses of history and human behavior; now the reruns settle
into summer Saturdays.

That starts with singer-actress Vanessa
L. Williams. She grew up comfortably as the daughter of two music
teachers in upstate New York, but two of her great-great-grandfathers
faced huge hurdles.

One was born a free man and fought in
the Union army. The other was born a slave; after the war, he became
a teacher and – until South Carolina laws stopped progress – a
state legislator.

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

Here's a rerun of the season-finale,
which was one of the year's best episodes.

The host was Justin Timberlake, who is
always game for anything from sketches to films to comic songs. The
music guest was Lady Gaga, who also was in a funny sketch, as a
game-show contestant.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Keeping Up
With the Randalls,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark (reruns Sunday).

Imagine the first time Jacqueline
Bouvier learned that games are mandatory at the Kennedy compound. Now
you understand the woe of the central character here.

Alicia is a city kid, a Los Angeles
fashion designer. Her boyfriend has taken her to his family cottage,
where life is full of outdoor games.

Like most Hallmark Channel films, this
is terribly predictable, but pleasant along the way. Roma Downey and
Marion Ross have small roles as the guy's mother and grandmother;
most of the focus, however, is on the exceptionally attractive Kayla
Ewell (“Vampire Diaries”) as Alicia.

Other choices include:

– “CHAOS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A former
agent, long considered dead, is being held captive. Now the team goes
on a rogue mission to rescue him; that will be followed by an
unspecified “Mentalist” rerun.

– “The Indestructibles,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. This series – which debuted last Sunday on the National
Geographic Channel – shows fierce events, then tries to explain why
they happened and how people survived. Tonight, a car goes airborne,
then explodes into pieces; also a man is mauled by young lions.

– “Super Eruption,” 9 p.m., Syfy.
Disaster always seems just under the surface when Syfy has a new
Saturday movie. This time, it's a deadly volcano in Yellowstone Park.

– “Primetime,” 9-11
p.m., ABC. In a change, ABC is dropping two other reruns and inserting this rerun. It's Diane Sawyer's two-hour interview and profile of Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped at 11 and re-surfaced 18 years later.

– “Law & Order: Criminal
Intent,” 9 p.m., NBC. Andrea Roth, who is superb as Denis Leary's
wife in “Rescue Me,” is a guest star in this rerun about a murder
the follows a wine-tasting party.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. LuAnn de Lesseps, the “Real Housewives of
New York City” countess, os an art patron in this rerun. She finds
gruesome art; then a body is found.

TV column for Friday, July 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Friday Night
Lights,” 8-9:30 p.m., NBC.

One of TV's finest shows concludes with
its best episode. Even if you've never seen “Lights” before, you
can savor great, characters – blue-collar Texans, perfectly
written, directed and acted.

Tonight's best moments involve Eric and
Tami Taylor. He's been offered the coaching job next year, when the
Dillon and East Dillon football teams merge; she's been offered a job
as college admissions chief in Philadelphia. Now their daughter and
Matt bring a new complication.

Matt is one of many people from the
first season, back for this finale. It's a pleasure to see his friend
Landry, their former teammate Tim (back from prison, after taking the
rap for his brother) and Tim's former girlfriend Tyra. Gifted young
actors bring understated depth to a stunning show.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Torchwood:
Miracle Day,” 10 p.m., Starz.

In last week's opener, no one on Earth
was dying – not even the convicted child-rapist and killer (Bill
Pullman) who was given a lethal injection. Now the only immortal man
may be the one in danger.

That's Captain Jack. A federal agent
(Mekhi Phifer) arrests him and takes him to the U.S. with his two
Torchwood Institute colleagues. What follows is a sleek, tense
adventure on the plane and another in Washington, D.C. As
overpopulation looms, a superb, 10-week adventure continues.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Haven,”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Syfy.

It's a kind of bad day when the heavens
unleash hail and locusts, a worse day when frogs pour down.

Those crises and more are explained and
solved, but there's something more strange. (Really.) Someone has
arrived bearing FBI Agent Parker's name and memories. It's a busy and
interesting start.

Other choices include:

– “Smallville,” 8 p.m., CW.
Here's a second chance to see the series finale. It wraps up a show
that began 10 years ago, with a Clark Kent, a teen-aged farm kid,
suddenly learning of his powers.

– “Flashpoint,” 8 p.m., CBS. A
cop accidentally shot and killed a young boy. When he's cleared, that
leads to confrontations with an angry crowd and the grieving father.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. A strong
movie night is led by the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin's script in “The
Social Network” (2010, Starz, actually starting at 7:59 p.m.);
other good choices include Billy Crystal's “City Slickers” (TV
Guide, 1991) and Al Pacino's seething “Scarface” (1983, Bravo).

– “PrankStars” debut, 8:05,
Disney. Disney Channel stars, in disguise, play tricks on regular
teens. The opening stunts involve Selena Gomez and Debby Ryan.

– “House,” 9 p.m., Fox. This
rerun, with Cuddy in crisis, includes a “House” first: A dream
scene has a musical number choreographed by “So You Think You Can
Dance” favorite Mia Michaels.

– “CSI:NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. After a
conspiracy-obsessed woman is killed in this rerun, police learn that
some of her theories may have been correct.

– More movies, 9 p.m. cable. For
“Jerry Maguire” (1996, Bravo) Cameron Crowe did a terrific job as
writer-director and gave Tom Cruise a splendid supporting cast.
“Confessions of a Shopaholic” (2009, TBS) has a so-so script,
semi-salvaged by an appealing star (Isla Fisher) and a bright look.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Danny's wife has a niece who's a runway model. After she and a
reporter collapse in this rerun, police investigate the seedy side of
the fashion world.

 

TV column for Thursday, July 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “So You Think You
Can Dance,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Nicole Scherzinger definitely knows
about music and dance. She's been the Pussycat Dolls lead, a solo
star and a “Dancing With the Stars” champion.

She'll sing on “Dance” tonight; so
will Jason Samuels Smith. Then two people will be sent home, getting
the show to the final 10 who will – starting next week – be
paired with past contestants.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Big Brother”
(CBS) or “Expedition Impossible” (ABC), 9 p.m.

Which is more difficult – being stuck
indoors or way, WAY outdoors? You can sample both tonight.

The indoor show is “Big Brother,”
which airs at 8 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays, then has a live hour at
9 p.m. Thursdays. Tonight, it has the season's first ouster.

The outdoor one is “Expedition
Impossible,” which has three-person teams racing through demanding
parts of Morocco. The first week brought desert heat, with
contestants wishing things would cool down; now they get that to
excess in the High Atlas Mountains. Illness and ill-spirits follow.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Rookie Blue,”
10 p.m., ABC.

Andy (Missy Peregrym) gets two views of
the dangers of her police job.

One is second-hand; a loved one is
wounded and she's a caregiver at the hospital. Then it's first-hand;
her own life is endangered, after she's trapped in a burning
building.

That fire leads to a young arson
suspect … and the possilbiity that this is a much bigger case.

Other choices include:

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Howard and Bernadette – small, quirky, brainy in odd ways –
have always seemed like a logical match. In this rerun, alas, he
meets her ex-boyfriend – played by towering Rick Fox, a former pro
basketball star.

– “Parks and Recreation,” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Here's a rerun of one of the best episodes. Leslie's pet
project, the Harvest Festival, is here, but problems build. The tiny
horse has escaped, the Wamapoke tribe is rumored to have a curse on
the site … and an April-Andy feud brings great moments.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC.
Michael is missing, in this rerun, and a search begins.

– “30 Rock,” 9:30, NBC. In a
rerun, Jack tries to get friendly with his new cable boss.

– “Love Bites,” 10 p.m., NBC. Two
former “Ugly Betty” co-stars – Becki Newton and Christopher
Gorham – guest in this rerun. He plays her brother-in-law,
distracted by a flirty receptionist when he should be focusing on the
upcoming birth of his baby.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
With Lisbon injured, Agent Hightower has her first time working in
the field with Patrick Jane. It's a rerun, involving the murder of a
prospector.

– “Wilfred,” 10 p.m., FX. Always
fresh and clever, this show slumps a bit when it goes too dark. It
does that tonight, when Wilfred – he's a dog, but we see him as a
guy in a dog suit – goes to doggy day care.

– “Louie,” 10:30, FX. Here's one
of the strangest episodes of an odd (and oddly interesting) show.
Louis C.K. has a rough stand-up comedy night, attacks his Las Vegas
audience, quits – then has a long talk with Joan Rivers. One moment
– when he must guess what Rivers did to get her fame – is a gem.

TV column for Wednesday, July 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Middle”
and “Modern Family,” 8:30 and 9 p.m., ABC.

Even as reruns, these comedies make
great summer fun. Tonight, each has an exceptional episode.

On “Middle,” Frankie obsesses on
the royal wedding, Sue becomes a school news reporter and Mike has
the audacity to deprive his workers of free pretzels. There's a funny
(and oddly touching) finish.

“Modern Life” has one of its
funniest scenes, when the kids surprise their parents with an
anniversary breakfast in bed. It's a bigger surprise, because the
parents are celebrating intimately.

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

For six seasons, “Rescue Me” has
been one of TV's most varied shows. Focusing on firemen in the
aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, it spirals into alcoholism, divorce,
death and despair; written by comedy people Denis Leary and Peter
Tolan, it's also sneaky funny.

As the season begins, Tommy (Leary) is
surrounded by two brilliant actresses. He's back with his wife
(Andrea Roth), but helping his ex-lover (Callie Thorne) – whose
husband (Tommy's cousin) died on 9/11 and son was brain-damaged in a
fire. Tommy's daughter, struggling with alcoholism, works at a bar.
Tonight's hour starts slowly and somberly, then ends sensationally.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Who the
(Bleep) Did I Marry?” season-opener and “I Married a Mobster”
debut, 10 and 10:30 p.m., Investigation Discovery.

Tammi McCreary and Cheryl Caruso seemed
to marry interesting guys – a doctor, warm and fragile; a
businessman, so forceful that he threw away her engagement ring on
their first date.

Then both learned who these guys really
are. Mixing first-person accounts and re-enactments, these stories
have a tacky feel … yet remain thoroughly involving.

Other choices include:

– “So You Think You Can Dance,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. Last week, another gifted hip-hopper (Chris Koehl)
was ousted, along with contemporary dancer Ashley Rich. Now the final
12 perform.

– “America's Got Talent,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. On Tuesday, a dozen acts performed and viewers voted. Now – in
the first results show – eight are ousted and four move on.

– “BMW: A Driving Obsession,” 9
p.m., CNBC. After barely surviving the years after World War II, BMW
built its image carefully. It lets some buyers spend a day at the
Munich factory; its Rolls Royce brand has 13 shades of black. This
hour includes a few gripes – a Consumer Reports chief finds BMW's
reliability spotty and the radio way too hard to operate – and much
praise.

– “Damages,” 10 p.m., DirecTV.
Remember when there was nothing new on TV in the summer? Now, oddly,
two of TV's smarted dramas (“Rescue Me” and “Damages”) open
their seasons simultaneously. “Damages” has its hero-villain
lawyer (Glenn Close) tackle a complex case each season. This one
centers on John Goodman as a military contractor.

– “Dance Moms,” 10 p.m.,
Lifetime. The moms are bizarre – one spends $16,000 a year on
dance, another says “pink is a way of life” – and the teacher
is immensely unlikable. Most viewers will find it grating and
disturbing; it follows “Roseanne's Nuts” (9 and 9:30), with
Roseanne Barr in Hawaii.

– “One Man Army,” 10 p.m.,
Discovery. Think of this as war games for individuals. Four tough
guys race, shoot and improvise; there is, at least, lots of action.

 

 

TV column for Tuesday, July 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Baseball All-Star
game, 8 p.m. ET, Fox.

For the 77th year (and the
82nd game), baseball's best collide. This time, the
National League is on a one-game winning streak, something it's not
used to; before last year, it hadn't won since 1996.

Fans didn't do the American League any
favors this time. They chose three-fourths of the Yankees' infield,
added one Yankee outfielder and almost included the light-hitting
catcher. Further hurting is the league is the fact that Justin
Verlander can't pitch, after starting Sunday.

Still, the Americans bring the talent
of Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzales, Josh Beckett and Jered Weaver. The
Nationals have Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder, RoyHalladay, Jair Jurrjens
and more. It should be fun.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Combat
Hospital,” 10 p.m., ABC.

The first half of this hour seems
forced, but we'll forgive it. It leads to quietly powerful moments.

The civilian neurosurgeon has gone on a
helicopter trip, just as he's desperately needed at the hospital.
People improvise and get by; as usual, many of the best moments come
from Elias Koteas as the colonel in charge – stern, silent, skilled
and, in interest little gaps, quite human

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “POV,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Thet Sambath, a Cambodian news
reporter, spent his spare time for a decade, studying past horrors.
In three years (1976-79), a reported 1.7 million people – including
his father and brother – were killed.

He met some men who are frank about
their murders – “after I slit so many throats like this, my hand
ached” – and their shame. “All the things I did are flashing in
my mind,” one says.

In 2001, he met Nuon Chea, then 75, who
had been No. 2 only to Pol Pot. Three years later, Chea slowly began
to explain the killings as an obsession with ridding Cambodia of
Vietnamese sympathizers. “We had to solve the traitor problem in
the way that we did.”

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a
rerun of the cliffhanger that had drug boss Paloma Reynosa on the
loose, with people close to Gibbs – including his dad (Ralph Waite)
– in danger.

– “America's Got Talent,” 9-11
p.m., NBC. Last week, “Talent” announced the final 48 acts. Now
12 of them will perform on each of the next four Tuesdays; viewers
will vote and, each Wednesday, four will be advanced. Rerunning at 8
p.m. today, for no apparent reason, is one of the audition episodes.

– “Memphis Beat,” 9 p.m., TNT.
This excellent show is filmed in New Orleans, which pretends to be
Memphis. Now Dwight heads to the real New Orleans, to talk to the man
who killed his dad.

– “Great Escape,” 9 p.m., BBC
America. Here's a sharp contrast: Just before viewing the “POV”
that captures the horrors of Cambodia, we see Gordon Ramsay visit
modern Vietnam. He offers a warm portrait of a country filled with
“fearless foodies.” And after all the pain he's caused others,
it's refreshing to see Ramsay struggle with exotic food (snake's
heart) and impatient diners.

– “Staten Island Cakes,” 9 p.m.,
WE. Whatever happened to punctuality? Vinny's mom is late bringing
with his clothes for an important photo shoot. Angelina Pivarnick
(“Jersey Shore”) is two-and-a-half hours late for her her hair
appointment with Kristin. “I've been busy,” she semi-explains.

– “Hawthorne,” 10 p.m., TNT. Mark
Anthony has been excellent as Nick Renata, a police detective. Now
Bill Engvall, better known as a comedian, is an internal-affairs cop,
investigating him.