TV column for Sunday, Feb. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live Backstage,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Previous specials traced “SNL”
decade-by-decade. Now here's the 36-year history in one gulp.

It includes the low points. There's
Norm Macdonald being fired in mid-season, with an ill-suited Colin
Quinn inserted as anchor. There are early detours into films. There
are gifted people – Larry David, Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofolo,
Robert Downey Jr. – who didn't shine until they left the show.

Sinead O'Connor pulled a surprise on
live TV; so did Damon Wayans, who was fired instantly. And through it
all, “SNL” remained successful and (sometimes) quite funny.

WEEKEND'S MUST-SEE II: “The Amazing
Race” opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

Eleven duos return for a second chance.
Some finished as high as second (Oklahoma cowboys, Florida
cheerleaders, Ron Hsu and daughter), some as distant as 9th.
Many – including the hearing-impaired Luke Adams and his mom –
became audience favorites.

Tonight's opener brings quick twists.
It's fast, fun and thoroughly entertaining.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Episodes”
season-finale, 9:30 p.m., Showtime.

After some slow spots, this comedy
wraps up its season wonderfully.

That peaked last week (rerunning at 8)
with a split between Bev and Sean, who are turning their show into an
American comedy starring Matt LeBlanc. She drove off on the wrong
side of the road (a British thing) and crashed into LeBlanc (playing
a perverse version of himself); they fought, then had sex.

Now comes the morning after. There are
revelations plus a wonderfully wayward fight between an Englishman
and an actor, neither with any recent street-brawling experience.

Other choices include:

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). This so-so film traces the last year of a tiger in
India.

– “Pictures Don't Lie,” 8
p.m.,repeating at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., CNN. Ernest Withers, a
photographer, was considered a civil rights hero. Now documents imply
he was also an FBI informant. Soledad O'Brien's nuanced report
mingles one man's tarnished memory and an era's heroism.

– “Secret Service Files,” 8-10
p.m., National Geographic. This two-night, four-hour portrait continues Monday. It starts with a sharp, no-nonsense look at counterfeiters in Bogota, Colombia.

– “Brick City,” 8 p.m., Sundance,
repeats at 9. In a scrambling Newark, triumphs are selective. Now the
city hopes to celebrate a murder-free March; everything else crumbles
amid a budget crisis.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Tom and Lynette want their sons to move out; Keith wants Bree to
move to Florida. Also, Paul and Mike want Zach to move into a rehab
center.

– “Masterpiece Theatre,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). At the mid-section of the three-part “Any
Human Heart,” Logan has found peace with Freya (the terrific Hayley
Atwell) and their daughter. Then come wartime duties. This is that
rare show in which only the central character is uninteresting.

– “Big Love,” 9 p.m., HBO. In no
surprise, Bill's family continues to wobble. In a huge surprise,
there are two major changes involving young romance.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS.
After a five-week break, this is back to new episodes, starting with
a big one. The man who killed Horatio's wife is back, on a crime
spree to take control of the city.

 

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Patrice O'Neal:
Elephant in the Room,” 10 p.m., Comedy Central.

Great comedy often has a kernel of
unsettling truth. So we both cringe and laugh when O'Neal offers his
way of measuring a white woman's beauty: How long would they look for
her when she's missing?

People were still looking for Natalee
Holloway, he said, five years after she vanished. When black guys
disappeared off the coast of Miami, the search ended after nine
minutes because it was too sunny.

O'Neal tends to stick with a joke too
long and occasionally slip into too-easy sexual humor. Still, his
best bits – including the need for an annual Harassment Day –
zing with cringe-worthy wit.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Over the Hedge”
(2006), 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Emerging from a comfy hibernation,
creatures find most of the woods replaced by suburbs. Along comes a
scheming raccoon with hidden reasons for leading a raid on the
humans.

That's the set-up for a story that –
like “Shrek” and other animated Dreamworks tales – pleases.
Kids will find wild characters and action scenes (plus, alas, many
threats of violence); grown-ups will enjou the occasional witty
dialog, Ben Folds songs and suburban satire.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Being Human”
season-opener, 9-10:30 p.m., BBC America.

Forget (for now) the Syfy Channel
adaptation. The original starts its third season at emotional peaks.

George has found love with Nina, now
that both are werewolves. Mitchell, a vampire, has found agony; he
committed a subway massacre. And Annie the ghost is missing, stuck in
Purgatory.

Now Mitchell searches for her and
George faces a full-moon crisis. There are great guest performances,
including Lacey Turner as a Purgatory guide with an agenda, Robson
Green (“Wire in the Blood”) as the fierce, older half of a
father-son werewolf team and Paul Kaye as his perverse captor.

Other choices include:

– “Trailblazers of Gospel Music,”
7 and 8:30 p.m., GMC. If you can get this channel (via satellite or
digital cable), settle in for astonishingly good music. Honoring
Shirley Caesar and the group Commissioned, we hear Kim Burrell,
Ledisi, The Clark Sisters, Men of Standard, Marvin Sapp, Beverly
Crawford, Lucina Moore and more, including a BeBe and CeCe Winans
duet.

– “Harry's Law,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Learning that her client really is guilty, Harriet tells the jury –
and promptly faces disbarment – in this rerun.

– “CSI: NY,” 8 p.m., CBS. A
killer who targets health workers mention's Mac's father, who died
almost two decades ago.

– “Gigi” (1958), “The Lord of
the Rings: Return of the King” (2003) and “The Last Emperor”
(1987), 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., Turner Classic Movies. Here
are the leaders among films that won every Academy Award they were
nominated for. There were 11 wins for “Lord,” nine for the other
two.

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
The team searches for a killer who strikes on the night before
Halloween. Guest stars in this rerun include Ernie Hudson, Carl
Lumbly and Michael Warren.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. This rerun finds men attacked and branded.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Paul Rudd hosts this rerun, with music by Paul McCartney.

 

TV column for Friday, Sept. 18


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

Dan Aykroyd has been underused lately.
He's done voice work (as Yogi Bear and in “Ghostbusters”
projects) and a few small roles, often with Jim Belushi, his
occasional Blues Brothers colleague.

Now they're back, with Aykroyd doing
what he's best at – pouring out great waves of dialog.

Last week, we met him as Max Hunter, an
arrogant judge. Now he faces drug charges and wants his courtroom
enemy Nick Morelli (Belushi) to defend him. Actually, he wants to be
the judge, jury and lawyers; it's a dandy, Aykroyd-octane
performance, moderated by small bursts of humanity.

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

Rosie O'Donnell was 10 when her mom
died of cancer at 39. The family never talked about her again, she
said. “That's very much what Irish people did – never talked
about their feelings and emotions.”

Now, almost 40 years later, she plunges
into the subject. O'Donnell met long-ago friends of her mother (who
was an only child) and received a lesson in Irish history.She had
felt her own childhood was tough, she said, but this was a jolt. “I
had it pretty easy and hadn't realized it.”

Other choices include:

– “Wizards of Waverly Place,” 8
p.m., Disney Channel. Alex (Selena Gomez) feels her brother's
girlfriend is evil. In an hour-long episode, she works with a novice
guardian angel to convince him.

– “The Hospital” (1971), “Marty”
(1955) and “Network” (1976), 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight, Turner
Classic Movies. Here are the three Oscar-winning scripts by Paddy
Chayefsky, mixing dark humor (especially in “Hospital”),
poignancy (“Marty”) and rage (“Network”). Chayefsky died in
1981 at 58, but Ernest Borgnine – who won an Oscar for “Marty”
– is thriving and working at 94.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. A woman
grieving for her husband seems linked to other events. Meanwhile,
Peter – who slept with the alternate-world Olivia – tries to
repair his relationship with the real one.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. A
serial rapist was restrained in the same way his victims were, then
was killed. Lindsay Price, one of the “Lipstick” and “Eastwick”
stars, plays a victim.

– “Supernatural,” 9 p.m., CW.
Several men have died, after playing a cruel joke on a female
co-worker. Sam investigates; Dean races to rescue Lisa.

– “Injustice Files” debut, 9
p.m., Investigation Discovery. This series re-opens cases from the
civil rights era. The opener views Wharlest Jackson, 36, the
treasurer of the NAACP branch in Natchez, Miss.; he was killed in
1967 by a bomb, after being promoted to a job that had been
whites-only.

– Basketball, 9 p.m. ET, TNT. The
all-star weekend begins. Tonight's game has first-year and
second-year pros. The contests (slam dunks, three-point shots, etc.)
are Saturday, the all-star game is Sunday.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. An
assassin almost killed Frank (Tom Selleck), the police commissioner.
Now his son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), a police detective, works the
case.

– “Gold Rush: Alaska,” 10 p.m.,
Discovery. In last week's episode (rerunning at 8 and 11 p.m.), Todd
and his father Jack kept pushing the mine deeper; floods and cave-ins
followed. Now the mine becomes more flooded and Jack has trouble
getting out.

 

 

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Community,” 8
p.m., NBC.

If freshness counted for everything,
“Community” would win all the prizes. It has done comic versions
of action-adventure, a Christmas special, an astronaut tale and now a
psychological mystery.

Tired of being ignored, Pierce (Chevy
Chase) announces he's dying and hands out odd gifts. Mind games are
at work here, in an episode that is sometimes funny and always fresh.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “CSI: Crime
Scene Investigation,” 9 p.m., C BS.

Two previous stories return, boosted by
two strong guest roles.

In one, Bill Irwin is superb as Nate
Haskell, the “Dick & Jane killer.” He's his own lawyer at the
trial.

In the other, teen pop star Justin
Bieber has a small but perfectly played role. He returns as the
cold-eyed kid who saw Nick shoot his brother in this season's opening
episode.

There are flaws here – the lethargic
pace during a warehouse scene, a wildly unbelievable conclusion. Even
with them, this “CSI” has good moments.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Office”
and “Parks and Recreation,” 9-10 p.m., NBC.

First, “The Office” finds a way to
re-use old co-stars. Michael has been working on his movie for 11
years. He's finally ready to screen it; various scenes bring back Roy
(David Denman, now of “Traffic Light”), Karen (Rashida Jones, now
of “Parks and Recreation”) and more.

Then a new “Parks” has some great
moments with April and Andy, some OK ones with Ann (Jones) and Chris
(Rob Lowe). Also, we learn that Ben (Adam Scott) gives the world's
worst TV interviews.

Other choices include:

– “American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Judges trim the massive field that reached the Hollywood round.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Can Howard live with Bernadette without angering his noisy mom?
We'll see; also, Leonard is renewing his relationship with Raj's
sister.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. This is a
huge movie night. On the light side are Lindsay Lohan's “The Parent
Trap” (1998, ABC Family) and Miley Cyrus' “Hannah Montana: The
Movie” (2009, Disney). More serious are films that drew Oscar
nominations for best picture – “The Shawshank Redemption”
(1994, AMC) and “12 Angry Men” (1957, Turner Classic Movies).

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Running the emergency room, Meredith finds that extreme things can
happen in an hour. Also, the Chief's wife (Loretta Devine) shows up
as a patient.

– “Bones,” 9 p.m., Fox. A wedding
planner's body is found in her home tanning bed. Cam (Tamara Taylor)
wants this settled quickly, so she can spend Valentine's Day with her
boyfriend.

– “Man vs. Wild” season-opener, 9
p.m., Discovery. Bear Grylls faces extremes of both heat and (on a
mountain) cold, on Arizona's Sky Island.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Lisbon is injured while investigating a prospector's death. That
requires Hightower to work in the field with Patrick Jane for the
first time.

– “Archer,” 10 p.m., FX. In one
of the show's better episodes, Archer and his ex-lover Lana can't get
out of a dangerous Louisiana swamp. We also learn how Lana started at
ISIS.

 

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 16


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

In Nicaragua, each tribe has a former
pro football player. Grant Mattos, 29, played just six games; Steve
Wright, 51, was an offensive lineman for a dozen seasons, one (1991,
the Raiders) as a starter.

And each has a schemer from past
editions. Russell Hantz finished second and third; Rob Mariano
finished 13th, 10th and second … losing to
Amber Brkich after she accepted his marriage proposal.

Other contestants range from the show's
first teen (Natalie Tenerelli, 19) to three people in their 50s. And
anyone voted off can retreat to “Redemption Island,” competing
for a chance to return.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Mr. Sunshine,”
9:31 p.m., ABC.

This episode, like the opener,
sometimes strains hard for laughs. Its main plot – a phony contest
held by the arena's ditzy owner (Allison Janney) – has some funny
moments and some that are merely odd.

Salvaging this is a terrific little
guest role by Nick Jonas, as a demanding and insecure rock star. His
scenes with star Matthew Perry turn a silly episode into a fairly
good one.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Nova,” 9
p.m., PBS (check local listings)

When an Air France jet disappeared in
the Atlantic in 2009, it defied logic. There had been no previous
crashes from that state-of-the-art model (with 700 in service), no
troubles with the crew.

In a balance and richly detailed hour,
experts assemble the possibilities: A smaller storm may have blocked
the radar's view of a bigger one …. tubes may have failed …. a
crew, accustomed to an automated plane, may have failed to react
quickly when things went wrong.

Other choices include:

– “Jeopardy” (check local
listings). Here's the finale of a three-night collision between the
show's two top winners – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter – and an
IBM computer named Watson.

– “American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox.
The auditions went too long and sent too many people to Hollywood.
Today and Thursday, that field is trimmed from 325 to 40; next week's
Las Vegas round cuts it to 20.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Axl's rock band figures it needs a hot-looking woman for its video;
it chooses to secretly film the biology teacher (Kristin Cavallari of
“The Hills”). In another funny scene, Sue and a friend pose as
grown-ups, to get into an R-rated movie.

– “Better With You,” 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. Casey goes to a job interview wearing what the others consider
an unlucky jacket. How unlucky? In a flashback, we see that Ben was
wearing it the day he accidentally stopped Yankee outfielder Nick
Swisher from catching a fly ball. Swisher – married to JoAnna
Garcia, who plays Casey's fiancee – plays himself.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Little Lily has a princess theme for her birthday, but her adoptive
dad Cameron still wants to dress as Fizbo the Clown. Meanwhile,
Claire's mother (Shelley Long) is back … and brings Claire's old
high school boyfriend (Matt Dillon).

– “Criminal Minds: Suspect
Behavior” debut, 10 p.m., CBS. Be wary here. We haven't seen this
episode, but the pilot (currently set for March 2) was wretchedly
gory. The show does, however, have a terrific star (Forest Whitaker).
Maybe this hour, involving child abductions, will be better.

– “Justified,” 10 p.m., FX. Last
week's excellent season-opener introduced Loretta, a gutsy girl in a
tough world, and Mags Bennett, matriarch of a backwoods crime family.
Tonight, the orphaned Loretta moves in with Mags. Also, Raylan's
transport mission hits trouble.

– “Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m.,
TV Land. Last season, we saw Victoria (Wendie Malick) top Susan Lucci
for a daytime Emmy. Now Lucci appears as a perverse version of
herself, wreaking revenge.