TV column for Thursday, June 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Wilfred”
debut, 10 p.m., FX.

Here's the best surprise of the summer
– or maybe the whole year. It starts with a suicide attempt, adds a
talking dog and somehow works wonderfully.

Elijah Woods – star of the “Lord of
the Rings” movies – is perfect as Ryan, a morose chap who wants
to end it all … except that a beauty wants him to watch her pet. To
the rest of the world, this is an ordinary dog; in his pill-driven
fog, Ryan sees a guy in a dog suit, speaking in an Australian accent.

Why Australian? Because Jason Gann, who
co-created the original version in Australia, repeats the role here.
This is what life would be like if your dog talked to you –
assuming you had a truly perverse dog.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Rookie Blue”
season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC.

A year into their jobs, these young
cops seem fine. Andy (the wonderful Missy Peregrym) is living with
Luke, a police detective; Gail seems to be living with Chris.
Everyone is happy.

Except, of course, for Luke's ex-lover,
who has just transferred to the precinct. And for Dov, who doesn't
like having Gail as a non-paying roommate. And soon everyone will be
miserable, when a concert shooting turns personal for Andy; it's the
return of a solid, Canadian show.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Expedition
Impossible” debut, 9 p.m., ABC.

Carefully copying “Amazing Race,”
this adds only a few twists. There are teams of three people, not
two; they stay in one country (Morocco) instead of traveling the
world.

Still, this is from producer Mark
Burnett, with his extremes. There's great camerawork and interesting
people, including cops, former football players and a blind mountain
climber; there's also Burnett's sadistic touch, virtually torturing
people in the Sahara sun.

Other choices include:

– “So You Think You Can Dance,” 8
p.m., Fox. After failing to dump anyone last week, the judges are
supposed to crop four dancers tonight.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. This rerun focuses on a man who fell to his death.

– “Burn Notice,” 9 p.m., USA. For
four years, Michael is finally chasing the last of the conspirators
who ruined his life. He brings his friends, in an hour that's long on
action, short on closure.

– “Suits” debut, 10 p.m., USA. A
lawyer, hard and harsh, piles up successes and enemies; a phenom is
so smart he can fake an education. With the right people (Hugh Laurie
and Matt Damon, for instance), this might have worked. With Gabriel
Macht and Patrick Adams, it's fairly flat and uninteresting.

– “Futurama” season-opener, 10
and 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central. In “The Simpsons,” Matt Groening
has one episode a year (“Treehouse of Horror”) when his
imagination can soar. “Futurama,” however, is like having 13
treehouses a year – futuristic tales with endless possibilities.
Tonight's first story has genders switched; the second has robots
reproducing. Both are erratic, with great moments.

– “Louie” season-opener, 10:30,
FX. Raw and ragged, this series juggles witty stand-up bits by Louis
C.K. and fictional scenes from his life. Tonight, a pregnant sister
brings a crisis.

TV column for Wednesday, June 22


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: News coverage
and/or reality shows, 8 p.m.

This was already a big night for
reality at 8 p.m.: A one-hour “The Voice” (NBC) planned to reveal
the final four singers; next week, one will be champion. A two-hour
“So You Think You Can Dance” (Fox) planned to have all 20 dancers
perform in duos; on Thursday, judges expect to dump four of them.

Now, however, comes another form of
reality. President Obama plans a talk at 8 p.m. ET, discussing his
plans for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

You can catch that on the news channels
– and, presumably, on the networks, with “Voice,” “Dance”
and others moved back to make room.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Hot in
Cleveland,” 10 p.m., TV Land.

Elka (Betty White) is no longer on the
lam, but Victoria (Wendie Malick) has created new trouble. Open to
flattery, she began writing to a serial killer; now escaped from
prison, he's looking for her.

The script is slick and silly; four
pros – Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, White, Malick – make it
work.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Beyond
Belief” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

Launching a 13-week “Primetime
Nightline,” there will be five weeks of “Beyond.”

That starts with Juju Chang viewing the
links between twins – including claims that some share a separate
language, know what each is thinking and can sense each other's
phusical pain.

The following Wednesdays will consider
Virgin Mary sightings, Satanic possession and psychics. On July 20,
Bob Woodruff ponders his near-death, out-of-body feelings and similar
ones felt by others.

Other choices include:

– “Modern Love,” 9 p.m., ABC. In
a rerun, no one shares Claire's zest for Halloween.

– “America Sings,” 9 p.m., GMC.
More than 100 groups sent in videos. Over the next eight weeks, Drew
Lachey will introduce tapes and background stories. GMC used to be
the Gospel Music Channel, but “Sings” includes barbershop, doo
wop and more. Tonight's contestants range from a flash mob to women
in a maximum-security prison.

– “Happy Endings,” 9:31, ABC. In
a rerun, Dave wants to quit his job and open a restaurant.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. In
the transplanted rerun of a strong episode, the entire police force
masses to find someone who killed an off-duty cop.

– “Men of a Certain Age,” 10
p.m., TNT. After the light fun of last week's softball episode, “Men”
darkens. A date turns bad; some spying-on-employees turns serious.
And after kicking his gambling habit, Joe (Ray Romano) is getting in
deeper as a bookie. “Men” does find flashes of hope, but for this
episode, Romano has set his comic instincts aside.

– “Jon Benjamin Has a Van,”
10:30, Comedy Central. Oddly, this show started with its weakest
episode and keeps getting funnier. Each week it pretends to be a
magazine show, but focuses mainly on one wonderfully odd story.
Tonight, Jon must crash through the door to outer space. He ends up
in the middle of another planet's court case; the result is often
bizarre and sometimes hilarious.

TV column for Tuesday, June 21


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

Rebecca (Michelle Borth) finds her
first day of work tough. With zero sleep, must save lives and master
social protocol; also, there are pistols and a snake in the operating
room.

Dr. Gordon (who is also Major Gordon)
is diligent, dutiful and Canadian; she's also worried about a bad
ex-boyfriend and a possible pregnancy. Here in 2006 Afghanistan, more
worries are coming.

“Combat” is a Canadian-British
co-production, based on a real-life field hospital staffed by both
countries plus Americans. Borth (“The Forgotten”) isn't Canadian,
but Elias Koteas (playing the surgeon in charge) is; both create
decent, layered people in a complex world.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Memphis
Beat,” 9 p.m., TNT.

Thomas Lennon is a writer-actor who
varies from weird delights (“Viva Variety,” “The State,”
“Reno 911”) to “Night at the Museum.” Now he has a dandy
moment as an actor.

Lennon plays an accountant who's an
expert on a safe-cracking spree. Is he a weird fan …. a great asset
… or a crooks? In the “Beat” style, the result is delivered
with humor and warmth and a good plot.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Staten Island
Cakes” debut (9 p.m., WE) and “POV” season-opener , 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings).

Who would have guessed that pastry
chefs would fuel TV drama. Now we see two variations.

“Cakes” is an OK show centering on
Vinny Buzzetta, who was still a teen when he opened his cake shop.
Now his mom – who clearly hasn't seen “The Hangover” –
foolishly gets a party suite for his 21st birthday. We
also see him to to repeat as a contest champion.

A contest also looms in “Kings of
Pastry,” which views a likable Chicago chef, trying to win a top
title. This is from Chris Hedegus and his “War Room” colleague
D.A. Pennebaker – who goes back to the 1968 classic “Monterey
Pop.” Back then, his style stood out; now it seems like a standard
reality show.

Other choices include:

– “History Detectives”
season-opener, 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A Civil War story
is so-so, but a Pearl Harbor one is compelling: A Japanese plane
crashed on Hawaii's tiniest island, where natives – unaware of the
attack – captured the pilot, lost him, then made a heroic effort to
recapture him.

– “The Voice,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.
The final eight singers perform and viewers vote. On Wednesday, we'll
learn which four will be in next week's finale.

– “101 Ways to Leave a Game Show”
debut, 9 p.m., ABC. Other shows simply ask losers to leave – this
one (with the help of safety wires ) has them plunge over a mountain
or be hauled away while standing on an airplane wing. Beyond that,
it's a mildly interesting game show.

– “Hawthorne,” 10 p.m., TNT. In
last week's overcrowded opener, the pregnant Christina (Jada Pinkett
Smith) married Tom, then was attacked; she barely survived, the baby
didn't. Tonight, she and Tom deal with their grief, while she's also
angry about her friend Bobbie getting her chief-nurse job.

– “Nail Files” debut, 10 and
p.m., TV Guide Channel. Speaking of standard reality shows, this
portrays Katie Cazoria, whose Los Angeles nail salon caters to the
rich and famous. Tonight, she heads to the Sundance Film Festival as
things going wrong; she screams, she cries, we shrug.

TV column for Monday, June 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “MasterChef,” 9
p.m., Fox.

Last week's episode (rerunning at 8
p.m.) chose the 18 finalists. Now they face two tough challenges.

The first gives them an hour to cook
from a box that includes salmon, strawberries, pistachio and more.
The judges admit they would have skipped the strawberries; most
contestants are more daring.

Then comes the notion of making a
French dish with specific ingredients. There are plenty of mistakes
– one person seems genuinely surprised that carpaccio isn't French
– and a close finish. With likable amateurs and outspoken judges,
this is much better than other Gordon Ramsay shows.

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

Even when they're re-reruns, some “Men”
episodes can be great fun. Here's a prime example.

Charlie had celebrated when his brother
Alan finally moved in with Lyndsey. Then, alas, Alan burned the place
down; tonight, he returns to Charlie's place with Lyndsey, her teen
son and much commotion.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Countdown
with Keith Olbermann” debut and “Vanguard” season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m., Current TV.

After stumbling with an Internet-style
format, Al Gore's network moves to standard TV – Olbermann (the
former MSNBC star) followed on Mondays by smart, assertive
documentaries.

Earlier, “Vanguard” won a Pulitzer
Prize for Mariana van Zeller's report (rerunning at 7 p.m.) on
lightly regulated clinics in Florida, the state that reportedly
prescribes 85 percent of the nation's oxycontin.

Now her compelling follow-up views the
rush from that drug to heroin. We meet two people – one of them a
high school star whose life crumbled after a football injury – who
remain addicted. We also meet a cop, a courier, a former dealer and
more.

Other choices include:

– “Sid the Science Kid,”
afternoon (check local listings), PBS. In a fun, musical episode, Sid
camps in his yard with his dad and his friend Gerald. Directed by
Brian Henson, this has songs by Mike Himelstein, including a zesty
one about bees.

– “The Bachelorette,” 8-10:01
p.m., ABC. Ashley Hebert takes the final 11 guys to Thailand, where
she goes rafting with two of them (Ashley and Ben C.) and struggles
with another (Ben F.) to follow a restriction not to kiss in front of
an ancient temple. In the show's most ludicrous twist, the other
eight try muay thai fighting – and one ends up in an ambulance.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS. In the first rerun, Ted meets Zoey's wealthy
ex-husband on Valentine's Day. In the second, everyone rushes to a
downtown restaurant.

– “Law & Order: Criminal
Intent,” 9 p.m., NBC. Now that the hockey season has ended, this
solid show can settle into Mondays and Saturdays. Tonight, Goren and
Eames probe security firms.

– “Mike & Molly,” 9:30, CBS.
In the rerun of a funny episode, Mike is planning a great Valentine's
Day – until the baker turns out to be Molly's former boyfriend.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This rerun starts with a fierce bomber, then diverts to an episode
that stretches credibility. Danny (Scott Caan) seems out of character
when his brother (Dane Cook) visits.

– “Law & Order: Los Angeles,”
10 p.m., NBC. They're just trying to confuse us: Here's an episode,
not shown previously, in which Winters (Skeet Ulrich) is still alive.
Next week, he's killed anew.

TV column for Sunday, June 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Falling Skies,”
9-11 p.m., TNT.

The world is crumbling (again), this
time from brutal, outer-space aliens. Heroes emerge.

Most Earthlings are already dead, but
some have split into rag-tag military-civilian units. On the run,
they forage for food and weapons, sometimes fighting back.

As we expect from a Steven Spielberg
production, “Skies” has superb action and rich character
portraits, centering on Noah Wylie as a widowed professor and dad and
Moon Bloodgood as a doctor.

“Skies” says, accurately, that
humans tend to act nobly during crisis. In the second hour, however,
it also adds a fierce villain, sharply played by Colin Cunningham.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Daytime Emmy
Awards, 8-10 p.m., CBS.

Soaps have been stumbling, but this
show plans a Las Vegas party. That includes music by Gladys Knight
and Marie Osmond and performances by Cirque de Soleil, Blue Man Group
and Jabbawockeez dancers. Wayne Brady hosts, with career awards for
game-show hosts Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak.

“All My Children,” which ends in
September, has 13 nominations, including best daytime drama, where it
faces “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “The Young and the
Restless” and “General Hospital.” Its star, Susan Lucci, isn't
nominated, but will be a presenter; in her 41 years on the show,
she's had 21 nominations and one win. There are also nods for talk
shows, kid show (led by PBS) and games.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Game of
Thrones” (9 p.m., HBO) and “The Killing” (10 p.m., AMC) season
finales, cable.

For the steeply ambitious “Thrones,”
there are fierce clashes tonight. Also, Arya tries to escape, Tyrion
heads south and Catelyn demands the truth about the fall that left
her son partly paralyzed.

And the superb “Killing”? Last week
ended stunningly, when a villainous message was traced to a mayoral
candidate's computer. Tonight, we may learn who killed Rosie; AMC
makes no guarantee.

Other choices include:

– “The Shawshank Redemption”
(1994), 7 p.m., AMC; or “The Majestic” (2001), 8 p.m., Ion.
Choose between two period dramas by gifted diretor Frank Drabont.
“Shawshank” has Tim Robbins wrongly imprisoned in the 1940s;
“Majestic” has Jim Carrey wrongly considered a war hero in the
'50s.

– “Masterpiece Mystery” opener, 9
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Hercule Poirot (David Suchet)
usually does fine on his own, but now two enthusiastic amateurs tag
along, forming an age-gap romance. One is an actor, played by Martin
Shaw, 66; the other is a beauty played by Kimberley Nixon, 25. “Three
Act Tragedy” is superbly acted and filmed; its so-so story,
however, is an extreme stretch.

– Miss USA, 9-11 p.m., NBC. Viewers
could reach Las Vegas overload tonight, with this one and the daytime
Emmys. For hosts, NBC has people from its cable networks – Andy
Cohen from Bravo and Guiliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne from E.

– “Finding Sarah” and “Ryan &
Tatum,” 9 and 10 p.m., OWN. Oprah Winfrey's Network is working on a
Sunday reality block. First, Sarah Ferguson tries to revive her
writing career; then, in the series opener, Ryan O'Neal tries to
patch his long falling-out with his daughter Tatum.

– “Amsale Girls,” 10 p.m., WE. In
an OK second episode, Kori tries to move up to a sales job and Debbye
learns how tricky online dating can be.