TV column for Tuesday, Aug. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “America's Got
Talent,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

After endless auditions, “Talent”
came up with its top 24 acts.

Tonight, half of them perform and
viewers vote; on Wednesday, five acts will be nudged ahead. The same
thing happens next week, finally giving “Talent” its top 10.

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

TV is like this sometimes: Last week's
episode was heavy-handed and clumsy; tonight's is terrific. And
somehow, both were crafted by Helen Shaver, the
actress-turned-director.

Tonight, Camille Sullivan (Det. Rosati
in “Rookie Blue”) plays a chaplain with a crisis in faith. She
clashes with the cynical Dr. Simon Hill (Luke Mably), in two
brilliant performances.

Sullivan, Shaver and Elias Koteas
(superb as the colonel) are Canadian, as is the series. Mably is
English, Michelle Borth (as Rebecca) is American, “Hospital” –
tonight, at least – is superb.

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

Changing pace, “POV” offers a
varied and interesting batch of short films.

Two are from the “StoryCorps”
project on public radio, with everyday people talking; for the
delightful TV version, animation is added. A similar film has a woman
discussing a much-disputed lamp.

Drawings are also key to “Flawed,”
a lovely, 12-minute reflection on plastic surgery and love. The
others? “Big Birding Day,” also 12 minutes, has birdwatching
friends; appropriately, perhaps, it's both gorgeous and dull. “Six
Weeks” is a heart-rending, 16-minute look at a baby's adoption.

Other choices include:

– “Glee,” 8-9:30 p.m., Fox. This
fall, “Glee” plans to skip guest stars and theme shows, instead
focusing on the main characters as they near graduation. If you
really prefer the big-theme episodes, savor this one, which has Lady
Gaga songs. Also, Lauren and Quinn compete to be prom queen.

– “NCIS,” 8 and 10 p.m., CBS. The
first rerun catches the aftershocks of an attack on the team, which
was protecting Ziva's father, the head of the Mossad. The second has
a key murder witness disappear.

– “Pretty Little Liars,” 8 p.m.,
ABC Family. The girls face increasing pressure from “A,” the
mystery person who knows their secrets. With Emily starting to
crumble, they tell Dr. Sullivan (Annabeth Gish).

– “Circle of Friends” (1995),
8-10 p.m., TV Guide. Maeve Binchy, a gifted Irish author, has had
seven stories made into movies or miniseries, but this is the only
one to draw American audiences. Minnie Driver is superb as the
villager, trying college in Dublin; Chris O'Donnell is the handsome
city guy.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a Marine's body has been found near Beverly Hills'
lush Rodeo Drive. That may be linked to his recent tour in Iraq.

– “The Lying Game,” 9 and 10
p.m., ABC Family. If you missed the first two episodes of this Monday
series, you can catch them now. Once you get past the absurd notion –
a teen successfully pretending to be her rich twin sister – it's
sort of fun.

– “Raising Hope,” 9:30 p.m., Fox.
The show settles into what will be its time slot this fall, with this
rerun. Previous family photos have been disastrous, but Jimmy wants
one with Hope.

TV column for Monday, Aug. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Closer,” 9
p.m., TNT.

This show is at its best when the
stakes are high and the stories are personal.

That's true tonight, when a Phoenix cop
(Roxann Dawson of “Star Trek: Voyager”) comes to town. Her
daughter's death has been called a drug overdose; that simply can't
be, she says.

Like most rounds of “Closer,” this
centers on intense interrogation. Jonathan Scarfe (who co-starred in
TNT's “Raising the Bar”), is especially good as a suspect.

Unlike most, it also includes a fierce
shoot-out. Think of this as a thinking person's action-adventure.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “American
Ninja,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

For four weeks and eight hours,
contestants faced ninja challenges on cable's G4 network. For this
finale, the show moves to NBC and they contestants go to Japan.

There, they tackle a course on Mt.
Midoriyama. Only three people – none Americans – have passed the
test since it started in 1997. If anyone does tonight, there will be
a $500,000 endorsement deal.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Top Gear”
season-opener, 9 p.m., BBC America.

Sure, the American version of this car
show is fun. Still, nothing matches the British original.

At the core is Jeremy Clarkson, a
wonderfully witty guy who hosts, writes and does interviews. Tonight,
he has a wonderful piece on an $800,000 Jaguar and a first-rate Alice
Cooper interview.

But James May and Richard Hammond also
contribute great pieces. Tonight's best moment profiles a

South African car that makes the Hummer
seem tiny and tidy.

Other choices include:

– “Bachelor Pad,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.
Vienna and Kasey do some scheming and weeping and other creepy
things. Also, there's a synchronized swimming competition.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS. In the first rerun, Barney tries to impress his dad
(John Lithgow) by having his friends lie about their lives. In the
second, he pretends he's Ted on a date with Zoey's cousin (singer
Katy Perry).

– “The Lying Game,” 9 p.m., ABC
Family. Emma, who's been living in foster homes, learned last week
that she has a rich twin, Sutton. She was supposed to briefly pretend
she was her sister – except Sutton promptly disappeared. Now Emma
is navigating a high school and a family filled with strangers. Only
Ethan (Sutton's secret boyfriend) has figured this out; tonight, he
teaches her how to dance.

– “Hawaii 5-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Comedian Dane Clark plays the brother of Danny (Scott Caan). He's
seemingly a successful, fun-loving guy – except that something
sinister is going on. Caan and Clark are both excellent in this
rerun, but the story leaves Danny's credibility shattered.

– “Most Eligible Dallas,” 10
p.m., Bravo. Last week's opener introduced us to five likable
friends. Tonight, Drew – the one gay person in the group – gets a
matchmaker. Matt continues to see a single mom, Courney tries to make
a better second impression on Neil and Tara gets closer to a radio
host.

– “The Big C,” 10:30 p.m.,
Showtime. Two terrific actresses link. Park Posey – whose “Weeds”
precedes this at 10 p.m. – plays Poppy, who meets Cathy's son on an
Online cancer-support group for teens. Poppy is no teen-ager and
Cathy (Laura Linney) disapproves of their relationship.

TV column for Sunday, Aug. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife,”
9 p.m., CBS.

After disappearing for seven weeks,
“Good Wife” settles into what will be its slot next season.

That starts with a rerun that has
Alicia battling a convict (Sam Robards) who is making money on a song
about the murder he committed. Meanwhile, her husband's advisor (Alan
Cummings) is secretly using the firm to help Natalie Flores (America
Ferrera), the former nanny of a political opponent.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Glee
Project” finale, 9 p.m., Oxygen.

Last week, producers couldn't decide on
dumping any of the final four. Now all off them have a chance for the
prize – a seven-episode “Glee” contract.

Some are pros. Damian McGinty, 18, from
North Ireland, has been a member of Celtic Thunder for four years;
Sam Larsen, 19, from Los Angeles, sings in his band and plays guitar,
keyboards and more.

The others? Alex Newell, 18, from Lynn,
Mass., sings in school and church choirs. Lindsay Pearce, 19, from
California, was deaf for her first six months; she's sung at amateur
nights since she was 13.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Liquid
Bomb Plot,” 9-11 p.m., National Geographic.

In 2006, a plan was unfolding that
could have exploded seven planes over the Atlantic. The British,
however, were on top of it; they had even overheard the recording of
suicide videos.

That story is related with British
restraint. This slow-but-compelling film includes Lord John Reid
describing a suspect's trip to Pakistan: “His visit there had not
been entirely for leisure purposes.”

Even the arrests (despite an American
complication) were done smoothly – and without weapons.

Other choices include:

– Football, 8 p.m. ET, NBC. The
Dallas Cowboys – trying to come back from Tony Romo's injury and a
6-10 season – host the San Diego Chargers, 9-7 last year. In last
week's pre-season opener, the Cowboys beat the Broncos 24-23; the
Chargers lost to the Seahawks, 24-17.

– “The Last Heart Attack,” 8
p.m., CNN; repeats at 11. Even with White House medical care, Bill
Clinton's health deteriorated; at 58, he had a quadruple bypass. In
an excellent report, Sanjay Gupta shows how much doctors have learned
lately – and how much can be changed, late in life. Once known for
gobbling Big Macs, Clinton describes how he became a vegetarian,
slimmer and hardier.

– “Origins,” 8 p.m., GAC (Great
American Country). Don't expect a cliché country story of hard times
and heartbreak. Chris Young was a presidential scholar in
Murfreesboro, Tenn.; he studied all types of music – jazz,
Broadway, even classical – but says it was always to prepare for
country. By college, he was doing 150 concerts a year; once, he fell
asleep during a finals essay, woke up and passed. These stories are
told with charm by Young – who has now had three No. 1 hits – and
his friends.

– “True Blood,” 9 p.m., HBO. This
hour begins and ends in crisks. At the start, Sookie teeters near
death; at the end, a Festival of Tolerance may explode. In between,
“Blood” shows its quirky humor.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS. In
a rerun, Ryan is undercover, probing a matchmaker for millionaires.

– “Breaking Bad,” 10 p.m., AMC.
Walt's wife has never understood the ferocity of his new life. She
starts to tonight, in some terrific scenes; her varied reactions are
fascinating.

 

TV column for Saturday, Aug. 20


 

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Gymnastics, 8-10
p.m., NBC.

A year from the Olympics, here are the
national championships. The men (who will be shown from 4:30-6 p.m.
Sunday) have few returning stars, but the women have plenty.

That includes Shawn Johnson, who won
the all-around silver medal at the 2008 Olympics and went on to be a
media favorite and a “Dancing With the Stars” champion. It also
includes two of her teammates from that silver-winning 2008 team,
Alicia Sacramone and Chellsie Memmel.

They'll be underdogs this time,
however. In all-around competition, Rebecca Bross is the defending
U.S. champion and took the bronze medal in the world event.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Phineas and
Ferb: Across the 2nd

Dimension,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

We probably should distrust Dr.
Doofenshmirtz's company, which is called Evil Inc. Still, Phineas
Flynn and his step-brother Ferb Fletcher end up there one day;
trouble begins.

This is the movie version of a witty,
animated Disney Channel series. The guys find a portal to an
alternate universe, where Doof(etc.) has eliminated all things fun
and all things summer. They escape, but are followed by a sentinel of
robots; this is ominous.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Battle For
Blair Mountain,” 8 p.m., CNN; reruns at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

This weekend vividly shows CNN's skill
at documentaries. On Sunday, Sanjay Gupta has an excellent look at
heart health; first, here's a rerun of last Sunday's film.

As the government pondered a
coal-mining proposal to lop the top off a West Virginia mountain,
both sides fumed. One said this was needed to keep jobs and to keep
the community from dying; another said the mountain-top method brings
fewer jobs and ruins the environment. Neighbors remained friends,
while stridently disagreeing; Soledad O'Brien skillfully captured
both sides.

Other choices include:

– “Master and Commander: The Far
Side of the World” (2003), 8-11 p.m., Ion. Visually, this story of
sea warfare in the Napoleonic era is sweeping and splendid. It won
Oscars for cinematography and was nominated for eight more, including
best picture and director (Peter Weir). Alongside all those great
pictures is the subtly perfect work of Russell Crowe, as an
unflinching British captain.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
8 p.m., CBS. Katee Sackhoff, who was so good in “Battlestar
Galactica,” plays a police detective who helps a missing-persons
investigation. Also in this rerun, someone has been killed – maybe
by accident, maybe not – at a “Walking With Dinosaurs” exhibit.

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
In this rerun, a serial killer attacks married couples.

– “Trinity Goodheart,” 9-11
p.m.,GMC; repeats Sunday and Monday. Good intentions and so-so
execution combine here, as GMC tries one of its first TV movies. A
young girl feels an angel has told her to re-unite her fractured
family. Singer Eric Benet is excellent as her dad and two of his
songs work wonderfully here. Still, the rest of the cast is woefully
inconsistent and GMC (formerly Gospel Music Channel) makes
surprisingly little use of music or emotion.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. Jeremy Irons plays Capt. Jackson, a therapist
whose daughter has been raped. AJ Cook (Jennifer on “Criminal
Minds”) plays the daughter's partner.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Anne Hathaway hosts this rerun, with music by Florence and
the Machine.

TV column for Friday, Aug. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Flashpoint,”
8 p.m., CBS.

Let's give this show some credit: In
TV's black hole – summertime Fridays and Saturdays – it offers a
new, scripted hour, done to solid, Canadian standards.

Tonight centers on Mike “Spike”
Scarlatti (Sergio Di Zio). Leaving his father's deathbed, he tries to
dis-arm a bomb; he soon decides he can't do it without figuring out
what the bomber was thinking.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Torchwood:
Miracle Day” (Starz) or “Strike Back” (Cinemax), 10 p.m.

For some cable-viewers, this gets
crowded: Starz has the brilliant “Miracle Day,” in the seventh of
its 10 weeks, with Gwen near a breakthrough; also, “Strike Back”
is much better than expected.

Filled with macho posturing, the opener
had strong action and a weak script. This second episode, however,
rounds out the characters. A British sergeant (Philip Winchester) and
a dishonorably discharged American (Damien Scott) are trapped in a
hotel under siege. Except for one too-easy escape, this is a strong
action drama, sharply filmed and subtly acted.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Tanked”
debut, 9 p.m., Animal Planet.

Las Vegas used to stridently avoid its
Mob roots. Not any more; as this reality show (about an aquarium
company) starts, the Copacabana Hotel is planning its exhibit, “The
Las Vegas Mob Experience.”

The aquarium guys, Wayde King and Brett
Raymer, come up with an impressive tank for the exhibit. They also
build a stunning, New York-themed tank for a private home. And they
try to persuade Heather King – Wayde's wife, Brett's sister – to
work inside a shark tank, simply because she fits. They insist she's
4-foot-11, despite her strident claims that she's 5-foot.

Other choices include:

– Football, 8 p.m. ET, Fox. The
second straight night of pre-season football has the Atlanta Falcons
and Jacksonville Jaguars. Both teams lost their openers, but the
Falcons – 13-3 during the regular season last year – got a great
start from quarterback Matt Ryan.(PLEASE NOTE: In Lansing, this will be pre-empted by the Lions-Browns game, starting at 7:30 p.m.) 

– “Friends With Benefits,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., NBC. In the first episode, Sarah wants a real
relationship, not just sex; Ben thinks a just-sex situation with his
girlfriend would be just fine. In the second, Sarah is desperate to
avoid a date with a co-worker; she asks Aaron to bid on her in the
charity auction.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. Three
mega-movies collide. There's warmth in HBO's “The Blind Side”
(2009), ferocity in HBO's “The Dark Knight” (2010) and both in
Showtime's “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” (2010, starting at 7:55
p.m.).

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. Gregory
Harrison plays a big-deal lawyer. After a jewelry heist in his
penthouse, there are suspicions that this might be linked to a case
that's in the morgue.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
One story in this rerun has Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) probing the
murder of a high-priced escort. Another has his father (Tom Selleck)
on a personal case from long ago.

– “Against the Wall,” 10 p.m.,
Lifetime. Here's a rerun of the third episode of this Sunday series.
It somehow mixes strong acting with the bludgeoning of clumsy,
anvil-heavy writing.