TV column for Thursday, Jan. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

This is the 100th episode of
a show that had consistently had clever writing, perfect acting and
great characters. Now two of those characters nudge closer together.

Earlier, there was romance between
Leonard (Johnny Galecki), a physicist, and Penny (Kaley Cuoco), a
waitress and would-be actress. They slept together, a fact that
surprised and delighted him. Now they're just friends, but tonight he
suddenly invites her to a romantic dinner for two..

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American Idol”
and “The Finder,” 8 and 9 p.m.,Fox.

“Idol” settles into its regular
slot now. It will have two hours each Wednesday and one each
Thursday, plus a post-football hour this Sunday.

And now “Finder” starts to savor
its “Idol” lead-in. The show borrows the “Bones” slot and
tonight borrows one of its characters. Dr. Lance Sweet is brought in,
to see if Walter is suitable for handling federal cases. Also, a
death-row inmate (Mitch Pileggi of “X Files”) needs Walter to
find a bullet.

TONIGHT'S ALTERATIVE: “Archer”
season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

Brooding in a bar, Archer bumps into
Burt Reynolds. (Yes, that's Reynolds providing the voice.)

This actor turns out to be as tough as
the characters he plays. Soon, they're enmeshed in an adventure and
Archer is overshadowed. The result is an enjoyable blend of animated
action and humor.

Other choices include:

– “30 Rock,” 8 p.m., NBC. Fresh
from his latest Golden Globe award – for “Boss,” a blistering
drama that has finished its first season – Kelsey Grammer returns
briefly to comedy. He plays himself, helping with a crisis. Also, Liz
does damage control after Tracy's outburst and she frets because Jack
doesn't approve of her boyfriend.

– “Parks and Recreation,” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Leslie dislikes the ad Ben plans for her city council
race.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC.
There's a pool party at the house of the boss, Robert California.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Richard performs his 10,000th surgery.

– “The Tourist” (2010), 9-11
p.m., Starz. Here's the movie that Ricky Gervais has managed to mock
for two consecutive years at the Golden Globes. Actually, it's a
fairly stylish film that puts two top actors (Johnny Depp, Angelina
Jolie) into Italian intrigue in Venice. Her character is too stiff
and the ending is too contrived, but this is still a dandy adventure.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A mobster's son has been killed. Working the case, Van Pelt (Amanda
Righetti) is haunted by memories of O'Laughlin's shooting.

– “Unsupervised” debut, 10:30
p.m., FX. Gary and Joel exist in a shaky turf at the edge of
adulthood. At 14, they're friends whose parents rarely show up.
They could be cool – if they could just figure out what that is.
They're sort of Beavis and Butt-Head with the potential to be real
people. The result is a mixed blessing, an animated show with some
fairly good moments of humor and even sweetness.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 18


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

The big makeover came last year –
two new judges and a new, cheery attitude. This year, everyone is
back – Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest –
and changes are slight.

Tonight, the auditions start. They'll
continue Thursday, and Sunday, then three more Wednesdays and two
Thursdays; this will take a while.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “CSI: Crime
Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS.

This hour starts fiercely, murder at an
upscale office building. Stick around; it's a key “CSI” episode.

FBI agents – played by Matt Lauria of
“Friday Night Lights” and Grant Show of “Melrose Place” –
have a special duty for Catherine (Marg Helgenberger). The result
sets up next week's episode, when Helgenberger leaves the show shes's
been with for all 12 seasons.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Royal Pains”
(USA) or “Mistresses” (BBC America), both 10 p.m.

Two dramas return, as cable beefs up
its mid-season push.

“Mistresses” – with four strong
actresses doing solid drama – is much better than its name
suggests. Tonight, there are surprise visits from Katie's mother and
from the father of Sibohan's daughter; Trudi wants a business loan
and Jessica (the terrific Shelly Conn of “Terra Nova”) wants a
baby.

“Royal Pains” eyes medicine for the
wealthy. As the summer season ended, Divya – with too much work and
too little sleep – accidentally gave the diabetic Kassibian some
potentially fatal drugs; Hank found him near death. Tonight, in a
fairly good episode, Hank tries to learn who's at fault.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
National events do sometimes come to Indiana, where this show is set.
This year, it will be the Super Bowl; tonight, Frankie volunteers so
she can see the game for free.

– “Whitney,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Planning the perfect wedding for Lily, Whitney is surprise to learn
that her friend wants a traditional ceremony. Also, Alex frets that
he only had one good Internet idea.

– “Are You There Chelsea?” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Chelsea sleeps with her sister's old high school
boyfriend, then suffers in the comparison. It's a promising idea,
done with much noise and little wit.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Claire prepares for a debate, in her city council race. Meanwhile,
her niece Lily chooses an inopportune time for her first bad word.

– “Oprah's Next Chapter,” 9 and
10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Here are reruns of Winfrey's two
most-recent hours. She visits the Rev. Joel Osteen and Gov. Chris
Christie (R, New Jersey).

– “Happy Endings,” 9:31 p.m.,
ABC. Jane says she remade her husband Brad to suit her tastes; Penny,
she says, should do the same to her guys. Penny is pleased; Brad –
who overhears this – isn't.

– “Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m., TV
Land. Elka celebrates her 90th birthday – one day after
the 90th birthday of Betty White, who plays her.

– “The Manchurian Candidate”
(1962), 10 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Long and black-and-white,
this tale of intrigue was brilliantly directed by John Frankenheimer.
Laurence Harvey plays a former POW with perplexing memories.
Co-starring are Frank Sinatra and a deeply evil Angela Lansbury.

 

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “New Girl” and
“Raising Hope,” 9 and 9:31 p.m., Fox.

After a month-long break, one of the
best new comedies is back to new episodes. This “New Girl”
centers around Schmidt's 29th birthday: Jess gets a
party-prone vice-principal (Rachael Harris) to help organize it; Jake
reluctantly dates a lawyer (Lizzy Caplan), his first date since his
break-up.

Then a funny “Hope” has Jimmy
trying to get his GED. Alas, he has the same teacher (Fred Willard)
who flunked his parents, bringing some funny flashbacks.

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

There's a polar-opposite sort of
villain now.

Last year was Mags, a backwoods
matriarch, done to Emmy-winning perfection by Margo Martindale. This
time, it's a businessman (Neil McDonough) – well-dressed,
well-spoken, blond and brutal.

He reaches Kentucky at a tough time.
Raylan is recovering and on desk duty; Boyd is scheming to make
money from a marijuana stash. It's a good (if quite violent) start.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “American
Experience,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

There was a show-business flair to
George Custer. He rode into battle with his hair – long, blondish,
scented with cinnamon – flowing. He wrote for magazines and posed
often for photos; he loved theater – his best friend was a Broadway
star – and music.

Custer was also a romantic and a rebel.
He finished last in his West Point class. He was disciplined once for
a one-day tryst with his wife; later, he enraged President Grant and
was suspended for a year.

Then the suspension was lifted so he
could lead a brutal attack on Indians. The result was the defeat that
would make him famous; this is a fascinating story, beautifully told.

Other choices include:

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. Looking
for a big gesture to impress Emma (Jayma Mays), Will asks the
glee-clubbers to help with a surprise. Meanwhile, Becky eyes Artie;
Finn has a surprise about his post-graduation plans. NeNe Leakes
(“Real Housewives of Atlanta”) plays Coach Roz Washington.

– “NCIS, 8 p.m., CBS. This show
pauses to rerun its season-opener. Tony's special assignment from the
secretary of the Navy leaves an NCIS agent dead; Gibbs tries to learn
what happened.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Another season-opener reruns. Traveling to Romania to find
Hetty, Callen discovers pieces of his foggy past.

– “Remodeled” debut, 9 p.m., CW.
Paul Fisher, a big deal in the modeling world, launches a scheme to
remake smaller agencies around the country and link them into a
superagency. He starts here with a Minneapolis firm that seems to
line up lots of clients and little work. “Remodeled” is a so-so
idea, scarred by the fact that the Fisher and this agency head are
exceptionally unlikable.

– ““Southland” season-opener,
10 p.m., TNT. Last season ended with John Cooper reluctant agreeing
to fix his back and his pill habit. Now he's back and in good shape,
with a tough new partner (Lucy Liu).

Relations are frosty with his old
partner Ben – who, alas, has a much-worse partner now. A sharply
crafted hour includes chasing a gunman into an elementary school.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 16


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

For too long, one of TV's most pleasant
faces has been semi-obscured by hair.

Now things change. Walden is urged by
Zoey (Sophie Winkelman) to lose the beard.

It's a funny episode, Ashton Kutcher
(who plays him) assures us. We have no reason to doubt him; with
occasional glitches, “Men” has been off to a strong start in the
Kutcher era.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Alcatraz”
debut, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Rebecca (Sarah Jones) is your typical
TV cop – tough, solid and (this is TV) attractive. She's chasing
the man who killed her partner, when she finds a bigger case: The
prisoners of Alcatraz are back, unchanged after 50 years; smart
people (Sam Neill, Parminder Nagra) try to round them up.

It sounds odd, but it's from the “Lost”
producers. (Jorge Garcia is back, this time as a professor.) Like
their previous series, “Alcatraz” is so sharply written and acted
that we'll believe the bizarre; and alongside the epic story, it
promises to do some case-of-the-week crook-catching.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Betty White's
90th Birthday,” 8-9:30 p.m., NBC.

On the eve of her birthday, we see much
of Hollywood celebrate White.

Her “Hot in Cleveland” colleagues
will be there; so will many of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” people
– Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod and Moore. Also: Ray
Romano, Ellen Degeneres, Tina Fey, Jay Leno, Morgan Freeman, Carol
Burnett, Hugh Jackman, Tracy Morgan, Amy Poehler, more.

Other choices include:

– “'Roots 35 Years Later,” 8
p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. In 1977, “Roots” drew huge
audiences, high praise, nine Emmys and a surge in black history. This
Martin Luther King day special has Winfrey meet six stars – LeVar
Burton, Cicely Tyson, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Lou
Gossett Jr.

– “Being Human” season-opener, 9
p.m., Syfy. In the first season, we met the jumbled household of a
vampire (Aidan), werewolf (Josh) and ghost (Sally). Now that has been
boosted by adding Josh's girlfriend Nora, who's merely human. There
are some funny moments early, because she literally can't see Nora.
There's also a darker core: In the first-season finale (rerunning at
8 p.m.), Josh accidentally scratched Nora; now she frets that she
might turn into a werewolf.

– “Off Their Rockers,” 9:30 p.m.,
NBC. A frail woman grabs some balloons and starts to float away. A
blind man gets into his car and drives away. In any case, these would
be funnyhidden-camera tricks; the gimmick here is that they're done
by the elderly. We've only seen bits of this, but it's promising.

– “Rock Center,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Ted Koppel returns to the show, this time reporting on the election
power of the “super PAC's.” Also, Kate Snow reports on the
success of the Zynga social gaming site. Harry Smith views
“re-shoring” – bringing jobs back to the U.S., after costs rise
in China.

– “In Performance at the White
House,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The music of the civil
rights movement fills this hour. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez perform; so
do Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, John Mellencamp. Yolanda Adams,
the Freedom Singers and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. In
th first episode, we learned that Rick Castle is a friend of the
major. Now his friend needs help, after a body is found in a car from
his motor pool.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 15


PLEASE NOTE: One of the weekend's top shows debuts at different times in different markets. That's the debut of “Moyers & Company,” with one of TV's great newsmen, Bill Moyers, returning to what does best: dead-serious reporting.

In the opener, Moyers
focuses on economic disparity – the growing gap between the richest
one percent and the others. He interviews authors who say moves in
recent decades, trimming taxes for the wealthy, have built that gap.

Today (Sunday) that's at 5 pm. on Oregon Public Broadcasting and KQED in San Francisco and 6 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television and WVIZ iin Cleveland. It also aired at 5 p.m. Saturday on WKAR World in East Lansing.

 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Golden Globes, 8-11
p.m., NBC; red carpet, 6 p.m. on E; 7 p.m. on NBC.

Last year, Ricky Gervais drew some big
laughs – and big complaints – for his acerbic comments. Now he's
back, for his third time as host, alongside, a cascade of awards for
TV and movies.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Undercover Boss”
season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

In the first two seasons and 31
episodes, CBS says, no one broke cover early to upbraid an employee;
also, no one accidentally started a fire. Now the Diamond Resorts
head does both.

That comes as CBS tries to give this
reality show a strong start. It will borrow the “Amazing Race”
time slot for a few weeks – taking advantage of promos during
football – and then jump to Fridays.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Downton
Abbey,” 9-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In the second week of the second season
of a terrific series, World War II has transformed life.

The manor is turning into a
convalescence home, giving Lady Edith a fresh purpose and Ethel a
secret romance. Meanwhile, William – going to war as Matthew's aide
– proposes to wide-eyed Daisy; she frets, feeling (with good
reason) that she's too young.

Also, Bates is found working in a
tavern. We learn whether Matthew's fiance has betrayed him. And there
are some jolting by the end of the hour.

ALSO TODAY:

– Football. 1 p.m., CBS; 4:30 p.m.,
Fox. Today's survivors will be one win from the Super Bowl. First,
the Houston Texans, 11-6, visit the Baltimore Ravens, 12-4. Then the
New York Giants – 10-7, but big winners last week over Atlanta –
visit the Packers, 15-1.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Lacing any real friends, Lisa creates the SpringFace social network;
he causes local hysteria and faces a court suit. Yes, it's a take-off
of “The Social Network”; Armie Hammer, who played the Winklevoss
twins in the movie, does their voices here.

– “Napoleon Dynamite,” 8:30 and
9:30 p.m., Fox. The 2004 movie has been turned into a comedy –
rather badly. The first episode has an acne cream brings super
strength to Napoleon and his friend; the result is heavy-handed and
un-clever.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Jason Biggs plays Alicia's new client. He's a lawyer whose anonymous
client is accused of a computer crime; now he's arrested for refusing
to reveal the client.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS. In
a rerun, a murder investigation involves male gigolos.

– “Pan Am,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. The
first U.S. commercial flight to Moscow brings quick complications.
Dean gets bumped to co-pilot; Kate has trouble with a spy mission …
then must help two other stewardesses who were mistakenly arrested as
spies.