TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Suburgatory,”
8:30 p.m., ABC.

Sure, TV can conjure a warm
Thanksgiving in small towns or suburbia. That's not for Tessa, who
longs for a big-holiday; now we see two suburban dinners collapse in
funny ways.

One, at the home of Dallas (Cheryl
Hines), has a hilarious scene. The other is at the home of Lisa,
whose parents (“Saturday Night Live” alumni Ana Gasteyer and
Chris Parnell) soon lose control.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “In
Performance at the White House,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Even for someone who's not a country
fan – including, perhaps, Barack Obama – this should be fun.

There's lots of crossover appeal, with
James Taylor and country stars who have also been big in rock (Darius
Rucker, of Hootie and the Blowfish fame), bluegrass (Alison Krauss),
movies (Kris Krisofferson) and “American Idol” (Laura Alaina).
Also scheduled are Dierks Bentley, Lyle Lovett and – fresh from
three Country Music Association awards – the Band Perry.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Gone With the
Wind” (1939, AMC), “Inception” (2010, HBO), 7 p.m. As a holiday
weekend begins, we can try a mega-movie. There's “Wind,” a
classic, and “Inception,” Christopher Nolan's special-effects
giant that has Leonardo DiCaprio entering people's dreams.

“Wind” piled up eight Oscars –
including best picture, actress (Vivien Leigh) and supporting actress
(Hattie McDaniel) – and was nominated for five more. “Inception”
won four for its technical touches and was nominated for four more,
including best picture.

Other choices include:

– “Curious George” marathon, 8
a.m. to noon, PBS (check local listings). It's a whole morning with
the bumbling monkey. That starts with his movies at 8 a.m. (2006) and
9:30 (2009); then “A Very Monkey Christmas,” the 2009 TV special,
is at 11.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. It's
the third annual Thanksgiving episode for this show, which
specializes in family chaos. This time, that includes Frankie's
parents (Jerry Van Dyke and Marsha Mason), her sister (Molly Shannon)
and more.

– “The X Factor,” 8 p.m., Fox. A
night earlier than usual (to avoid Thanksgiving), here's the results
show, with the field trimmed to eight.

– “November Christmas” (2010)
Hallmark, or “The 12 Men of Christmas” (2009), Lifetime, 8 p.m.
Here's proof that all Christmas films aren't created equal. The
Lifetime one – with Kristin Chenoweth planning a calendar of hunky
firemen – is empty and inept; the Hallmark one – originally a
“Hall of Fame” film on CBS – is beautifully crafted, reaching
depths of emotion in a quiet, small-town drama.

– “Mobbed,” 9 p.m., Fox. A “flash
mob” is usually quick and spontaneous. This special alters that
with music, plus choreography by Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo of “So
You Think You Can Dance.”

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Phil's classmate, an Internet billionaire, arrives. Soon, Phil
ponders his shortcomings; a Thanksgiving dinner splits the family
between “dreamers” and “Pritchetts.”

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS. Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Galactica”) plays a
tough cop in this rerun that has two men killed before they can
accuse a company.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Dancing With the
Stars” finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

“Stars” has had a big season in the
ratings, thanks to some clever and quirky casting.

Among the pros, tonight could bring the
fourth title for Derek Hough (paired with Ricki Lake), the third for
Cheryl Burke (with Rob Kardashian) or the first for Karina Smirnoff
(with J.R. Martinez).

First, there will be music and more.
Lady Antebellum performs its past hit “Need You Now” and debuts,
appropriately, “Dancing Away With My Heart.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Tim Allen, 8 p.m.,
ABC and Hallmark.

Critics seemed sure Allen's “Last Man
Standing” – too dated, too jokey – wouldn't last long..

It's done fairly well in the ratings,
however. In the parts we've seen, tonight's episode looks good.

In a funny scene, Mike (Allen) learns
that Kyle spent the night in his daughter's room. It was all quite
innocent – Kyle fell asleep – but Mike decides it's time for some
rules. That airs at the same time that Hallmark has “The Santa
Clause” (1994), a funny film that has Allen becoming a reluctant
Santa.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Sons of
Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX.

Forces are crashing against the Sons
biker club now, from outside – a relentless federal attorney has
key informants – and from inside.

Clay, the Sons president, beat his wife
brutally and hired people (unsuccessfully) to kill the wife of her
son, the club's vice-president. He also killed the father of Opie, a
club member.

Now that builds. A morose hour ends
with jolting action, setting up a two-parter that starts next week.

Other choices include:

– “Live With Kelly,” 9 a.m.,
stations vary (check local listings). It's the second of three days
with Jerry Seinfeld as Kelly Ripa's co-host. There will be other
big-deal co-hosts, mixed in with people who are trying out to be
Regis Philbin's permanent replacement.

– “Surf's Up” (2007) ad “Happy
Feet” (2006), 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., ABC Family. The long Thanksgiving
weekend will be filled with animated movies and specials, but you can
get an early start with this penguin double feature. “Feet” – a
penguin who dares to dance – is a gem for all ages.

– “The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.
To avoid Thanksgiving, Fox is moving “X Factor” up a day (to
Tuesday-Wednesday) and resting “Glee” for a week. Tonight, the
final nine acts perform.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Robert
Wagner has played Tony's dad in a couple previous episodes. Now, he's
found in a car, with no idea what happened. Also, there's a body in
the trunk; police are suspicious..

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. It's a tough tme for Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen). He botches a
stake-out, is fired by Hetty and ends up in bigger trouble at his old
job with the Los Angeles police.

– “Unforgettable,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Carrie's at a crime scene when a second murder occurs. She's got a
great memory, but now she must try to remember the hundreds of people
who were there.

– “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC.
After some flirting at work, Adam finds his marriage in wobbling. His
brother Crosby has better luck, with a chance to re-connect with
Jasmine.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “How I Met Your
Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Two funny ideas bounce back and forth.
One has Ted and Barney deciding they can do parenthood without the
complications of marriage; naturally, Barney pushes this to a quick
(and funny) extreme.

The other is basic: Once you see a
sprawling, suburban home, your New York apartment keeps looking
smaller. These ideas merge for Thanksgiving – followed by a jolt
that will propel future episodes.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Dancing With
the Stars,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Now the show is down to its final
three. There's J.R. Martinez, 28, was a soldier who overcame brutal
injuries; he's now an actor. And Ricki Lake, who was the chubby star
of the original “Hairspray”; now she's non-chubby at 43. And Rob
Kardashian, 24, who has lots of sisters.

In tonight's episode, trimmed to an
hour, they dance and viewers vote. On Tuesday,we'll have a winner.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Saved,” 8
p.m., Animal Planet.

Michael Bosch was heading toward town,
to trick-or-treat with his grandchildren. The sun blinded him and his
car tipped off the road; he found himself upside down in a ravine,
pinned by a tree.

Helpless and hopeless, he could have
died there. But his puppy scurried to a neighbor and insisted on
help. It's a charming tale, paired with one about a pup helping a
kidney-dialysis patient. With strong, true-life stories and skilled
filmmaking, “Saved” is emerging as a delight.

Other choices include:

– “The Sing-off,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.
This show is running just a week behind the “Dancing With the
Stars” schedule. Tonight, it trims from four finalists to three;
next Monday, it chooses a champion.

– “American Masters,” 9-11 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). The first half of this terrific film saw
Woody Allen in triumph. Now comes the down side. Some films were too
arty, one (“Stardust Memories”) seemed to mock his fans. A
controversy shattered his personal reputation. Yet Allen kept coming
back; he's made one movie a year since 1977, drawing praise often and
profits almost always.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Walden falls for a British beauty. Sophie Winkleman, who plays
her, is definitely British; her husband, Lord Frederick Windsor, is
31st in line for the throne.

– “The Layover” debut, 9 p.m.,
Travel. Given 30 hours between flights in Singapore, most of us might
waste our time or worse. Not Anthony Bourdain, the chef and author.
In this opener, he scurries about, eating with the local. The food
here doesn't look tasty, but the people and places are appealing.

– “Bored to Death,” 9 p.m., HBO.
Jonathan has a partner now – played by the gorgeous Isla Fisher –
in pursuit of his sperm-donor dad. It's a fun episode that leaves a
big crisis for next week.

– “You Deserve It” debut, 9:01
p.m., ABC. The twist is that someone is winning money for a friend or
relative in need. That's overplayed at times, with excessive clapping
and perkiness. What saves it is what “Deal or No Deal” and others
lack – a well-conceived quiz game that's fun to play along with.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The good news is that this is a big, busy episode. There are jungle
shoot-outs, escapes, chases; there's even Jimmy Buffett (really) as
the crusty pilot of a military-style helicopter. The bad news: To set
that up, the hour requires CIA operative Jenna Kaye (well-played by
former teen star Larisa Oleynik) to take some extremely unlikely
steps.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American
Masters,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

As a teen-ager, Allan Konigsberg typed
jokes and sent them to New York columnists. He made up the name
“Woody Allen,” so classmates wouldn't mock him.

Then managers convinced this painfully
shy guy to do stand-up comedy in clubs and do anything – fight a
kangaroo, sing to a dog – on TV. He became a star who could then
retreat and make movies.

Now – approaching his 76th
birthday – he's still making them … and still writing them on the
same manual typewriter. This portion of a superb biography follows
him through his early movie triumphs; the second half, on Monday,
follows two declines and two comebacks in a remarkable life.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: American Music
Awards,” 8-11 p.m., ABC, with preview at 7.

Stuffed with stars, this will have lots
of music, occasional awards and several duets.

Jennifer Lopez links with Will.i.am,
her estranged husband Marc Anthony with Lil Jon. Also: Chistina
Aguilera with Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj with David Guetta, Adam Levine
with Gym Class Heroes.

Also performing: Justin Bieber, Katy
Perry, Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige,
Chris Brown, Pitbull and the newest country stars, the Band Perry.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Boardwalk
Empire,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Squeezed out of his liquor supply,
Nucky takes a desperate step: He wants to sell repeater rifles to the
Irish revolutionaries, in exchange for whiskey.

In a powerful hour, there are more
problems back home. They include a family tragedy, a labor crisis
and, in the final minutes, the emergence of what could be a new
enemy.

Other choices include:

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
With fortunes being made by fantasy books aimed at teens and younger,
Homer launches a group effort to write a “tween lit” book.

– “America in Primetime,” 8 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). For a few moments, we see the heroes of
early TV – towering men like James Arness in “Gunsmoke,” with a
clear sense of right and wrong. Mostly, however, this hour catches
the tortured (and sometimes torturing) heroes of modern times. From
“NYPD Blue” to “The Shield,” from “24” to “Dexter,”
they focus pain and rage on the bad guys.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
There's big trouble everywhere: Eli has a new competitor (Amy
Sedaris) and is shaken, Diane issues an ultimatum; also, Alicia and
Will argue in front of a tough judge.

– “My Fair Wedding,” 9 p.m., WE.
In a fun hour, David Tutera meets a “fashionista bride.” He loves
her (you will, too) and the dress she's chosen, but does a makeover
on everything else.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Convicted killers, let out of prison, are being murdered one by one.

– “I Do Over,” 10 p.m., WE. This
series has event-designer Diann Valentine provide a second chance for
people whose first wedding went bad. In this second episode we meet
Wes and Tasha Owens, who were undone by sweltering heat. He fainted;
the cake melted.

– “Hell on Wheels,” 10 p.m., AMC.
Durant, the corrupt railroad mogul, sends a search party after Lily …
mostly hoping for the maps her husband finished before he was killed
in an Indian raid. He doesn't know she's in the hands of Joseph Black
Moon, who disagrees with the raid strategy.

 

 

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS; “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29, NBC.

The night starts with some crackling
good humor; it might end the same way.

In a terrific “Big Bang” rerun.
Howard needs a security clearance, so an FBI agent (Eliza Dushku)
does interviews. Raj can't talk, because she's beautiful; Sheldon
talks too much, because he's Sheldon.

Later, there's a new “SNL.” Jason
Segel hosts, with Florence and the Machine as music guest.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Case for
Christmas,” 8 and 10 p.m., Hallmark.

As a publicity stunt, a businessman
sues Santa for failing to deliver the requested presents. He even
goes through the motions, sending a process server to the North Pole
to deliver the summons.

Except the guy finds “a toy-making
facility” and Kris Kringle. That offers a funny start to a film
that slumps slightly, then bounces back. The script is clever and the
cast is perfect, including Dean Cain as Santa's lawyer and Rachel
Blanchard as the blindingly obvious love interest he somehow
overlooks.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Vietnam in
HD,” 6 p.m. to midnight, History.

Here's a chance to watch or tape the
entire series in one burst.

That starts with the confidence of what
some Americans felt would be an eight-week war. It brings the initial
shock of being overwhelmed by massive guerrilla forces.

By the third hour, the North Vietnamese
are in the streets of Saigon, during the Tet offensive. In the final
two hours, Americans seek an exit strategy and deal with the
aftermath at home.

Other choices include:

– “A Christmas Wedding Tail,” 6-8
p.m., Hallmark. Everything about this movie is visually lovely –
the stars (Jennie Garth, Brad Rowe), the setting (California wine
country) and the dogs sort of mentioned in the title. We might
forgive the fact that the script is vacant and the lone complication
is contrived.

– Football, cable. At 7 p.m., ESPN
has top-ranked Louisiana State at Mississippi; at 7:30, ESPN2 has
Virginia at Florida State. At 8, it's Kansas State at Texas on FX,
Colorado at UCLA on Versus.

– Football, 8 p.m., ABC. Some areas
will see No. 4-ranked Oregon host Southern California; others will
see No. 5 Oklahoma at Baylor.

– More movies, 8 p.m. The new one is
Lifetime's “Salem Falls,” based on a Jodi Picoult novel about a
teacher (James Van Der Beek) accused of sexual misconduct. Also, E
has the superbly crafted “Pride & Prejudice” (2005); Turner
Classic Movies has “Splendor in the Grass” (1961), with William
Inge's Oscar-winning script and Natalie Wood's Oscar-nominated
performance opposite Warren Beatty.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Caroline nudges along Max's break-up with Robbie.

– “Terra Nova,” 9 p.m., Fox. At
an outpost, a virus has caused memory loss, paranoia and death. Now
Elisabeth must find a solution before it spreads.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. Sofia Vassilieva has been a young TV star,
making the “Eloise” movies at age 10 and then co-starring on
“Medium.” She's 19 now and plays a rape victim; Emmy-winner Andre
Braugher plays the suspect's big-time lawyer.