TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 11


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

At first, Rex Lee was just hired for
the pilot film, to play Mr. Wolfe, the guidance counselor. There was
no guarantee he'd be back.

Now Lee – who was so good as Lloyd in
“Entourage” – has become a regular, with some great moments
tonight. Tessa is sure he's gay; then again, she feels the same about
the new kid (Dan Byrd of “Cougar Town”) and the quarterback. It's
another clever and surprising episode.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: People's Choice
awards, 9-11 p.m., CBS.

The awards are wildly insignificant.
Katy Perry for best voice (as Smurfette) and as best guest? “Soul
Surfer” for best book adaptation? Kim Kardashian or Gene Simmons
for best reality-show celebrity? The “Thor” and “Captain
America” guys for best superhero? These aren't exactly the Academy
Awards.

Still, there should be fun. Kaley Cuoco
(“Big Bang Theory”) hosts; Faith Hill and Demi Lovato sing.
Guests include Ellen Degeneres, Lea Michele, Vanessa Hudgens, Jason
Segel and Liam Neeson.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Whitney”
and “Are You There, Chelea?” debut, 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

At first glance, these shows fit
perfectly. Both are comedies about brash young women; both are taped
in front of an audience, not in the movie style of NBC's Thursday
shows.

Still, there's a difference: Fueled by
Whitney Cummings' wit, her show is sharp and funny; “Chelsea,”
however, is so-so. Laura Prepon (“That '70s Show”) plays a young
Chelsea Handler, fond of liquor and guys; the real Handler plays her
sister. There are some good moments, but not nearly enough.

Other choices include:

– “One Tree Hill,” 8 p.m., CW;
rerunning at 9. In a burst of logic, networks are giving long-running
series an exit strategy. Now “Hill” has 13 episodes to conclude
its series. Sophia Bush is still around after nine seasons as Brooke;
she and Julian are planning the baptism of their twins.

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). In Canberra, Australia, kangaroos aren't just cute
and bouncy. A drought has forced them to scavenge in the
neighborhoods; the result has brought thousands of car-kangaroo
crashes. Despite tragedies, it's fun to watch this hour's merger of
nature and suburbia.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. It's
one thing when your dog eats your homework, another when your brother
does. Axl accidentally eats the map Brick made out of dough.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Claire and Jay get too involved in their boys' classroom project.

– “Nova,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). This views a plan to bomb two dames key to Hitler.

– “Harry's Law,” 9 p.m., NBC.
It's wacky-case time again. Erica Durrance (“Smallville”) plays a
vigilante who's convinced she's Wonder Woman – and has the costume
to prove it.

– “State of Play,” 10 p.m., BBC
America. This brilliant, six-week series concludes with high stakes.
A Parliament member knows that the oil industry planted Sonia in his
office; she became his lover and then a murder victim. With his
marriage shattered and his career crumbling, he looks for revenge.
Cal – once his friend, now his wife's lover – scrambles to get
the news in print.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan.10


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

The 24th season of this
splendid documentary series opens with a new night and an old-West
emphasis. Custer is next week; tonight is a richly detailed portrait
of Billy the Kid.

A city kid from New York, he moved to
New Mexico at 14 with his mom, who soon died. Then he

became tangled in a rancher's fight
with cattle barons who had political connections.

His boss was slain; Billy killed the
sheriff in retaliation. As a teen – literate, likable, small and
resourceful – he led a band of renegades; at 21, he was dead, a
symbol of the West's most colorful era.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Mike (Tim Allen) has female
frustrations everywhere.

At home, his wife and daughters want to
adopt a fluffy little dog. At work, his boss – long an absentee
father – hires his daughter (Jamie-Lynn Sigler of “The Sopranos”)
as marketing director. Battles follow.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Glee,” 8
p.m., Fox.

Maybe you missed the show's post-Super
Bowl episode. (Hey, it was a long day.) Here's a rerun.

After warring with Coach Beiste, the
glee-club kids link with the football team. The result is an epic
performance of Michael Jackson's “Thriller.”

Be warned, however, that bigger isn't
always better. By “Glee” standards, this is merely so-so.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. The
investigation of a Navy officer's death is distracted by her angry
husband ... and by Ziva's future, now that Ray Cruz (Enrique
Murciano) is back.

– “Switched at Birth,” 8 p.m.,
ABC Family. As Emmet's new girlfriend, Daphne (Vanessa Marano)
struggles for approval from his mom (Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin). She
tries to impress her with sign-language skills or entertain her on
game night; nothing seems to work.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Jada Khaled's transport vehicle has been ambushed. Now the team
must rescue her and save its case.

– “Celebrity Wife Swap,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. People know Dee Snider and Favor Flav as rockers with Twisted
Sister and Public Enemy. At home, however, they have opposite
approaches: Snider's wife focuses full time on parenting; Flav's
fiancee has a casual approach. Now they briefly switch homes.

– “Jane by Design,” 9 p.m., ABC
Family. In last week's opener, a clerical mistake gave teen-aged Jane
a job with designers who think she's a grown-up. Now her worlds
collide: The fashion show is at the same time as the high school's
winter formal.

– Parenthood, 10 p.m., NBC. Her
daughter is already in the work force, trying to figure out her job;
now her mom (Lauren Graham) obsesses on having a baby. Meanwhile,
Crosby fumes when his brother Adam gets all the attention in a
newspaper story about their music business.

– Flashpoint, 10 p.m., Ion. This
solidly crafted Canadian show has already been renewed for next
season, its fifth. Tonight – in a new episode to the U.S. – a
mental patient escapes and has a hostage.

 

TV column for Monday, Jan. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, ESPN; pre-game show at 7:50, festivities at 8:20.

For one more day, college teams
dominate. That's why most networks stick to reruns tonight.

This is the Bowl Championship Series
finale, with Louisiana State and Alabama – ranked No. 1 and 2 in
the nation. Then it networks will start airing new episodes.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Rock Center,”
10 p.m., NBC.

Yes, Mitt Romney is linked to Michigan,
Utah and Massachusetts. But there's also Mexico.

Mormons started colonies there in the
late 19th century, this report says. His father George
Romney was born there (to American parents) in 1907; more than
four-dozen relatives still live in Colonia Juarez.

Also: A teacher's stories to his
dyslexic son became the “Percy Jackson & the Olympians”
best-sellers; a man rescues two orphans from Haiti. George Clooney is
the in-studio interview.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Movies, 8 p.m.,
cable.

On a night when football dominates,
three terrific films also show up.

The classic is “Blazing Saddles”
(1974), Mel Brooks' cowboy satire, on AMC. It reruns at 10 p.m.

There's also “Little Miss Sunshine”
(2006) on Independent Film Channel; it's an offbeat gem about a
family's road trip so a girl can compete in a talent pageant. And
there's “Julie & Julia,” wonderfully bouncing between Julia
Child (Meryl Streep) and a blogger (Amy Adams) using her recipes
daily.

Other choices include:

– “The Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m.,
ABC. Ben Flajnik, 29, takes the 18 women to his home and vineyards in
Northern California. Many audition for a play written by kids; two
have one-on-one dates: Kacie B., 24, an administrative assistant from
Tennessee, visits the Sonoma downtown; Kacie B., 28, a model from
Santa Monica, Cal., has a picnic in the redwoods.

– “House,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. In
the first rerun, a man falls sick after making a big donation. In the
second, health troubles begin for someone who's about to send his
company's jobs to China.

– “Mortified,” 8 p.m., Sundance.
“I can't remember a time before fame,” Rick Schroder says here. A
child star, he found tears came to him easily; they still do. “It's
a tough way to live life, to have that kind of emotion,” he says.
At 8:30 p.m. is a rerun split between Cheryl Hines and Margaret Cho.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Caroline and Max take a cake-decorating class, to
help their cupcake business.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Walden is depressed about his wife giving him divorce papers –
until he meets her lookalike. Judy Greer handles both roles, with
Jane Lynch returning as a therapist.

– “The Lying Game,” 9 p.m., ABC
Family. Emma tries to be casual after receiving a death threat. She
visits the college her dad went to.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The season-opener reruns, with McGarrett facing trial for murder.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. This
is supposed to be the wedding of Det. Ryan and Jenny – played by a
married couple in real life, Seamus and Juliana Dever. A murder case
gets in the way.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Downton Abbey,
Season 2” debut, 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

As World War I begins, Matthew
(destined to take over the estate) is an infantry officer, with
William (in love with Daisy, the kitchen maid) as his aide. Thomas
is a medic, scheming for light duty.

Back home, the manor is transformed;
bodies and hearts are broken and (sometimes) mended.

Much happens – too much, maybe.
“Downton” is just an evil twin away from being a soap opera;
still, its acting, direction and dialog are so superb that all
excesses are forgiven.

WEEKEND'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Firm,”
9-11 p.m., NBC.

Mitchell (Josh Lucas) is a decent
lawyer who was in witness protection after bringing down a mobster.

A decade later, the mobster is dead and
he's starting a tiny law firm. His brother (an ex-con) is his
investigator; the receptionist and his wife help out. Then a big-deal
law firm wants to absorb him.

“The Firm” tries a difficult
balancing act – telling individual court cases, while slowly
unwinding John Grisham's novel about schemes and greed. Tonight's
case is excellent; the rest is so-so.

TONIGHT'S ALTERATIVE: “House of Lies”
debut, 10 p.m., Showtime.

Don Cheadle stars as the head of a firm
that polishes the images of bad people.

Tonight, he has financial people who
got big bonuses amid ruin. That's sandwiched by two season-openers –
“Shameless” at 9 p.m. and “Californication” (which jumps
ahead a few years) at 10:35.

Other choices include:

– Football, 1 p.m., Fox; 4:30 p.m.,
CBS. The second day of the pro playoffs has the Atlanta Falcons,
10-6, at the New York Giants, 9-7. Then it's the Pittsburgh Steelers,
12-4, at the Denver Broncos, 8-8.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. As deputy, Emma assumes she'll take over the top job, now that
the sheriff is gone. Alas, the scheming mayor wants a lackey as
sheriff. Meanwhile, we see sensitivity in Rumplestiltskin (in
fairy-tale land) and in Mr. Gold, his equivalent in our world.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Here's the perfect place for Homer – ranting as a radio talk-show
host. – “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m., ABC. As the second half
of the final season begins, there are more aftershocks from Carlos
saving Gabrielle by killing her stepfather. Now she suspects he also
killed the police detective. Lynette tells Tom of her involvement in
the cover-up; Bree is feeling suicidal.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. A
lawsuit accuses the firm of encouraging a marriage to fall apart, so
it could make money off the divorce.

– “Oprah: The Next Chapter,” 9
p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. After last week's two-hour debut, the
show settles into its one-hour slot, with Winfrey meeting the Rev.
Joel Osteen. That's followed at 10 p.m. by a “Master Class”
profile of Jane Fonda.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Ingenuity in conflict: An eccentric genius is killed by a bizarre
weapon.

– “Pan Am,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.
After disappearing for five weeks, this show plans five straight new
episodes. That starts here, with the romance of Dean and Colette
crumbling. Also, Kate faces the repercussions of her latest spy
assignment and must pass a lie-detector test.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football, 4:30 and
8 p.m. ET, pre-game at 4, NBC.

The pro play-offs begin with
doubleheaders today and Sunday.

Today's opener has the Cincinnati
Bengals, 9-7, at the Houston Texans, 10-6. The second game has the
Detroit Lions, 10-6, at the New Orleans Saints – who are 13-3,
undefeated at home and boasting a quarterback (Drew Brees) who set
the season record for pass yardage.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Dog Whisperer,”
9 a.m. to noon and 7-10 p.m., Nat Geo Wild.

For seven years, this show brought
attention to the National Geographic Channel. It drew praise for
Cesar Millan's gently firm transformations; it also drew three Emmy
nominations for best reality show. Now it moves to a sister channel,
with five reruns and the 8 p.m season-opener. After being peaceful
for years, two Jack Russell terriers began fighting so fiercely they
can't be together; Millan intervenes.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Fixing Pete,”
9-11 p.m., Hallmark.

Brooke Burns plays someone who is
bright and beautiful, which happens to be typecasting. Dylan Bruno
plays a hunky guy with a lunky, sports-clogged mind.

She's supposed to give him a makeover
for a newspaper story and a book tour. And from there? In the
Hallmark Channel style, the film offers no surprises … but also no
disappointments. It has a few jerky, hard-to-believe moments, but
also gives viewers what they want to see.

Other choices include:

– “Braveheart” (1995), 7-11 p.m.,
Bravo. Wipe aside Mel Gibson's personal flaws and admire his skill as
an actor and director. This epic about a Scottish brought him Oscars
for best picture and director.

– “Wipeout,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a
rerun from last winter, cold air is blasted at contestants who bear
such names as Mr. Grinch, Hockey Hottie and Ripped Rhino.

– “Rules of Engagement,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS. With its Thursday slot now spoken for, “Rules” is
back to airing on some Saturdays. Here are two reruns from last
season: In the first, Audrey is thinking about quitting her job; in
the second, Jeff learns that her at-home Pilates teacher is a guy.

– “Up” (2009), 8 and 10 p.m., ABC
Family. Pixar keeps surprising us with its animated gems. This one
has a prologue that is tender, poignant, lovely and heart-breaking;
then it soars into a sweet comedy.

– “Talladega Nights” (2006),
8:30-11 p.m., Comedy Central. Often loose and sometimes silly, this
Will Ferrell movie has enough goofy-fun moments to be worth catching.

– Debate, 9-11 p.m., ABC. Iowa has
finished its time in the spotlight; now it's New Hampshire's turn.

– “Terra Nova,” 9 p.m., Fox. As
the colony prepares for war in this rerun, Jim and Col. Taylor
confront the mole. Meanwhile, Lucas races to finish his mystery
device before the 11th group of pilgrims arrives.

– “The Mentalist,” 9 p.m., CBS.
This rerun finds Patrick Jane and the team probing a death. Then
there's an explosion and everyone barely escapes.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC, or later with a football overrun. Charles Barkley hosts,
with Kelly Clarkson as music guest.