TV column for Friday, March 20


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

Even with a tiny audience, “Fringe”
has persisted. Science-fiction shows – especially smart ones like
this – do well overseas, so the studio can get by with less money
from Fox.

If this fourth season is the last,
producers promise, the two-week finale (called “Endgame”) will be
satisfying. First, comes a “Fringe” tradition – the 19th
episode (in 22-episode seasons) is a mind-bender.

This one jumps ahead to the year 2036.
The Fringe team and the Others are in a crucial battle.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Rules of
Engagement,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.

This show refuses to die. It has
returned to its plush Thursday slot, plus occasional weekend reruns.

Tonight we get the season-opener, after
Russell (David Spade) realized he had married the loopy Liz (Wendy
McClendon-Covey) during a drunken cruise. He tries to get out of it;
she won't budge.

That part is quite funny, in a broad
way. The rest, including Jeff trying to talk dirty, is mostly lame.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Magic City,”
10 p.m., Starz.

By the end of this third episode, we
see Ike Evans as one of TV's classically flawed figures.

He's often a decent guy, struggling to
maintain his hotel in 1959 Miami Beach. But his silent partner is the
brutal Ben Diamond. When his boyhood friend led a labor strike, Ike
asked Ben to take care of it.

Now Ike suspects that Ben went too far;
so does the FBI. The result is strong and bittersweet drama.

Other choices include:

– “A Cinderella Story” (2004) and
“Another Cinderella Story” (2008), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family. He
are two modern variations on the classic tale: Regular teens –
played by Hilary Duff in the first film and Selena Gomez in the
second – have regal and romantic encounters.

– “Who Do You Think You Are?,” 8
p.m., NBC. This rerun has Reba McEntire tracing her roots. That
includes an ancestor's painful journey to America and a dark moment
in U.S. history.

– “Mike & Molly,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Mike and Carl have had an annual pilgrimage to the Chicago Cubs'
home opener. In this rerun, Mike tarnishes the tradition by bringing
Molly.

– “Need to Know,” 8:30 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). Ray Suarez looks at the border patrol.

– “Art in the Twenty-First
Century,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). One artist, David
Altmejd, admits he paints a lot better than he talks. That should
have been a clue to this show, which simply has the artists talk,
with little structure. The work – by Altmejd, Lynda Benglis, the
animator-artist Tabaimo and the duo called “assume vivid astro
focus” – is great; the talk isn't.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun from a year ago, the body of a beautiful woman is found in the
trunk of a stolen Ferarri. That leads to a family of car thieves –
and a rush to find the killer.

– “The Ricky Gervais Show”
season-opener, 9 p.m., HBO. Gervais and Stephen Merchant (the
“Office” co-creators) chat with a friend, Karl Pilkington,
mocking his ideas mercilessly; then the chats and ideas are turned
into cartoons. Tonight's opener has some scattered fun, plus the
usual problem: Pilkington isn't as daft (and they aren't as clever)
as Gervais and Merchant seem to think.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This rerun has Danny trying a romantic weekend with his wife,
despite a murder case. Meanwhile, his younger brother Jamie goes
undercover in a Mob family.

TV column for Thursday, April 19


 

TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE: “Scandal,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Yes,
“Scandal” has all the best “Grey's Anatomy” qualities –
sharp, ricochet dialog in tough situations. But it adds one extra
element: At times, these people are on the wrong side.

In
the opener, they stifled someone who claimed an affair with the
president – then learned she might be telling the truth. She
returns tonight, along with the complex case of a suspected rapist.
Beautifully acted and written, “Scandal” puts smart people onto
shaky ethical turf.

TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE II: “American Idol,” 8-9 p.m., Fox.

A
week after viewers almost ousted Jessica Sanchez, we'll see if
they've become more reasonable. That time, judges were able to rescue
Sanchez; now their only “save” is gone and any ouster is final.

Before
that, there's music: LMFAO sings “Sorry For the Party Rocking”;
Kris Allen, the 2009 winner, sings “The Vision of Love.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings; in East Lansing, Mich., for instance, this runs at 8 p.m. on WKAR World, 23.4 digital.)

Back
in 2006, Chris Paine's documentary asked, “Who Killed the Electric
Car?”

Then
everything changed again. Gas prices soared; so did imagination and
invention.

Paine's
“Revenge of the Electric Car” meest small-scale individuals: Elon
Musk made an Internet fortune from PayPal, then risked much of it
making the Tesla. Greg “Gadget” Abbott does conversions.

And
we meet giants. Nissan's Carlos Ghosn plunged $6 billion into the
Leaf; General Motors' Bob Lutz, who helped kill electric cars,
championed the Volt. It's a big story, told with zest and fun.

Other
choices include:

– “The
Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from Halloween time,
Sheldon tries to scare people.

– “Beach
Party” (1963) and “Muscle Beach Party” (1964), 8 and 10 p.m.,
Turner Classic Movies. The four-day beach spree ends with the first
in movies a string of films that had Annette Funicello and Frankie
Avalon. The first one has occasional wit, the second doesn't, but
both are bright and harmless.

– “30
Rock,” 8:30 p.m., NBC. Desperate to get Paul (Will Forte), Jenna
plans a public breakdown. Meanwhile, Jack arranges a blind date for
Liz and finds trouble with his plan to manufacture couches.

– “The
Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. Returning from his romantic mission, Andy is
soon at war with Nellie (Catherine Tate). Also, Kelly is torn between
regular-guy Ryan and a seemingly perfect hunk, played by Sendhil
Ramamurthy of “Heroes” and “Covert Affairs.”

– “Grey's
Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC. As the doctors scramble for post-residency
positions, Cristina is in demand and some others aren't. Meanwhile,
Richard faces a harsh reality when he visits his wife at a home for
people with Alzheimer's disease. And a teen – played by the
terrific Vanessa Marano of “Switched at Birth” – has lost her
memory, leading to a national search for her identity.

– “Parks
and Recreation” return, 9:30 p.m., NBC. The next three Thursdays
wrap up Leslie's run for city council. That starts with a quick
obstacle: Pushing for the parks budget, she may have doomed the
animal shelter. It's an erratic episode, with funny moments when
April is in charge.

– “The
Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS. There's been a murder on an odd island
off the coast of California, Now the team probes a batch of strange
suspects.

– “Kathy”
debut, 10 p.m., Bravo. Already a Bravo star via comedy specials and
her reality show, Kathy Griffin takes the next step: This is a
weekly, prime-time talk show.

TV column for Wednesday, April 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American Idol,”
8-10 p.m., Fox.

Last week, viewers gave this a nasty
spin. They put the show's best singers – Jessica Sanchez and Joshua
Ledet – in the bottom three, with a good singer, Elise Testone. And
they put Sanchez last.

Fortunately, the judges get one “save”
a season and used it. Past history, however, is ominous.

The first person saved (Matt Giraud in
2009) would have finished seventh, he was ousted at No. 5. The
second, Michael Lynch, would have been eighth, he was No. 4. The
third, Casey Abrams, would have been 11th; he was No. 6.
Now we'll see if the gifted Sanchez can leap to the top.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Don't Trust
the B in Apartment 23,” 9:31 p.m., ABC.

In last week's dandy opener Chloe
bedeviled her new roommate June. Now that she knows June won't budge,
she actually sets hr up with a smart, handsome guy who's a good
listener.

Yes, there's a catch – a funny one.
Also, James Van Der Beek has great moments playing himself, trying to
escape everyone's “Dawson's Creek” memories.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Law &
Order: Special Victims Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC.

A Wall Street executive is chatting
with his wife by camera phone, when an intruder kidnaps her.

The husband is desperate; the police
are skeptical. From here, the story takes sharp twists.

This isn't nearly as good as last
week's episode, which saw Benson discover she'd helped convict the
wrong man. There's no mention of the aftermath here; it's an OK
story, boosted by great work from Chloe Sevigny, known for lots of
independent films (including “Boys Don't Cry”) and “Big Love.”

Other choices include:

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). Isaac Babcock called it a “honeymoon”; his new
wife Bjornen called it an “adventure.” They spent a year in the
2.5-million-acre River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. They faced
problems – from wolves to her rheumatoid arthritis – and emerged
with great footage. With the auction starting at 5 p.m. on WCET, the
PBS shows move to this channel.

– “Best Friends Forever,” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Jessica's belongings have been sent cross-country. Now she
must accept the fact that she's divorcing … and Joe must accept the
fact she'll be around for a while.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Alicia Silverstone begins what will be at least a four-episode stay.
She plays the radiant Eden, a health-food buff who – in funny
scenes – puts George in the hospital.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
There are some clever moments here, as Phil and Claire decide how to
tell their son that the kindly old neighbor is dead. Also, Barry
Corbin – forever playing tough Texans – is Cam's visiting father,
promptly annoying Mitchell's dad.

– “Revenge,” 10 p.m., ABC. Fresh
from a seven-week break, this show finds life in chaos. Daniel is in
jail under murder charges. His mother is distraught – but also
distracted by a former lover. He's played by James Purefoy – who
played regal leaders in the “Rome” and “Camelot” series

– “America Revealed, 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). A huge network gets us around the country,
including four million miles of roads, 200,000 miles of railroads and
5,000 airports. In an excellent hour, Yul Kwon visits control centers
and views Los Angeles' rush-hour crawl from a helicopter.

TV column for Tuesday, April 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Raising Hope”
season-finale, 9:31 p.m., Fox.

Last week brought a jolt: Hope's
mother, a convicted serial killer, survived her execution.

Now she seeks custody. There's plenty
of damning information about Jimmy's parenting skills.

The trial brings a string of witnesses,
including the three stars – Jason Lee, Jaime Pressly and Ethan
Suplee – of “My Name is Earl,” which was from the same
producers. A few jokes seem forced, but many click; “Hope” – a
clever but inconsistent show – ends its season on a high note.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Glee,” Fox or
“Gidget” (1959), Turner Classic Movies, both 8 p.m. ET.

Choose your youth-flashback era. “Glee”
eyes 1977, when disco ruled; the kids do numbers from “Saturday
Night Fever.” TCM goes even further back.

Sandra Dee plays Gidget, a sweet and
slender teen in the brassy world of bikini beaches; she falls for
Moondoggie (James Darren) and Big Kahuna (Cliff Robertson). It's an
OK film; “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961), at 9:45 p.m., is less OK,
but Deborah Walley and Hawaii are appealing.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Woman Who
Wasn't There,” 8-9:30 p.m., Investigation Discovery.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the public
was fascinated by Tania Head's story.

She told of her fiance's death in one
tower, her own near-death in the other. She told of being rescued by
a hero who died; she guided tourists, led the survivor group, worked
tirelessly without pay.

And then the story took some stunning
twists. We won't spoil anything here; this Meredith Vieira production
lets the surprises roll out at just the right times.

Other choices include:

– “The Biggest Loser,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. Reality shows often offer cruel twists. This time, the final
five reportedly rebelled, walking out and shutting down production.
“Loser” managed to retain some of them; tonight, after the
walk-out, two people advance to the finale, with the third added next
week.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Gaius
Charles, one of the talented young “Friday Night Lights” stars,
guests. He plays a Baltimore detective who works with Tony after a
fire reveals classified Navy documents.

– “Ringer” season-finale, 9 p.m.,
CW. The truth may emerge. Bridget considers telling Andrew that she's
not really her rich twin Siobhan; Henry considers telling Bridget
what really happened to Siobhan. And others – cops and crooks –
close in on her.

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 9
p.m., ABC. In a change, the judges will decide who's going home; the
bottom two in viewer votes will dance to the same cha-cha numbr.
Earlier, Train sings “Drive By” and Selena Gomez sings “Hit the
Lights.” There's also a Latino number, with Sheila E as
percussionist.

– “New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox. Age
differences are key here: Nick's new girlfriend may be too young;
Jess' boyfriend may be too old for her. Jess struggles with
babysitting for his pre-teen daughter.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,”9:01 to
10:02 p.m., CBS. A murdered Navy officer was leading a double life.

– “Private Practice,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. Now that “Scandal” has taken this show's spot on Thursdays,
“Practice” borrows Tuesdays from “Body of Proof,” which ended
its season early. Tonight, Erica is near death; also, Pete and
Violet, both newly single, may have feelings for each other.

TV column for Monday, April 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Eureka”
season-opener, 9 p.m., Syfy.

Last season saw this genius-filled town
prepare the Astraeus craft on a journey to Titan. Then the ship
disappeared with Allison Blake – not an astronauts – still on
board.

Now come two big surprises, one early
in the hour and the other at the end. Both reflect the “Eureka”
knack for mixing humor, character drama and science-fiction twists;
its a great start to the final season.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Dancing With
the Stars” (ABC) and “The Voice” (NBC), 8 p.m..

“The Voice” has reached its
quarter-finals now, with 16 people left. They have more face-offs,
pointing to the May 8 finale.

And “Stars”? Last week, Sherri
Stringfield was eliminated, cutting the field to nine. Melissa
Gilbert was rushed to the hospital after bumping her head, but her
dance partner said that was exaggerated.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Where the
Boys Are” (1960), 8-10 p.m., Turner Classic Movies.

As the weather warms, TCM starts four
nights of beach double-features. That includes double-Gidget on
Tuesday and the first two “Beach Party” films on Thursday.

First are two spring-break films: “Palm
Spring Weekend” (1963), at 10 p.m., drew shrugs; “Where the Boys
Are” drew attention with its hit song and its appealing newcomers –
Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Hutton, George Hamilton and the
immensely likable star, Dolores Hart. She's now known as Mother
Prioress, some 49 years after leaving Hollywood to be a nun.

Other choices include:

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Ted is settling into a quieter life, living alone in his
apartment. Barney, however, says he should be out partying, making
every night “legndary.”

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. On the night before the federal income-tax deadline, CBS airs
this handy reminder: Max, it turns out, has never filed a return.
This shocks Caroline, who knows about finance, what with her dad
being in prison for bilking people out of billions.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Alan is moving in with Lyndsey, despite his poor track record.
(Last time he did that, he burned her house down.) Also, Zoey and her
daughter move in with Walden.

– “House,” 9 p.m., Fox. Here's
more bad behavior from Dr. House: He's upset that his favorite hooker
is marrying and retiring; his solution, of course, is to sabotage her
romance.

– “Smash,” 10 p.m., NBC. A movie
star (played by Uma Thurman) has the lead in the musical; now Ivy and
Karen – former competitors – are reluctant allies. Meanwhile, the
songwriters have opposite fates: Tom's romance heats up; Julia and
her estranged husband must link to deal with a crisis.

– “Crash Course” debut, 10 p.m.
ET, BBC America. Richard Hammond, a modest-sized Englishman, travels
the U.S. to drive mega-sized vehicles. That starts with Army tanks at
the misnamed Fort Bliss. The result is fairly blah, letting us
appreciate the brilliant writing of Jeremy Clarkson, who makes sure
“Top Gear” (8-10 p.m. on BBC America, with Hammond and James May)
is thoroughly entertaining.

– Castle, 10:01 p.m., ABC. In his
novels, Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) gives tough-cop names –
Derrick Storm, Nikki Heat – to his heroes. Naturally, he can't
resist a chance to work with Ethan Slaughter, a hard-nosed cop.
Slaughter is played by Adam Baldwin, Fillion's old “Firefly”
co-star.