TV column for Saturday, Feb. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Hairspray”
(2007), 9-11 p.m., ABC.

This buoyant film came at the right
time. “High School Musical” and other Disney Channel films had
shown that musicals can be fun; “American Idol” and “So You
Think You Can Dance” had helped.

Then came “Hairspray,” which had it
all: John Waters' tale of a 1950s dance show in Baltimore … the
wonderful Broadway songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman … the
direction of Adam Shankman (a “Dance” judge) … the clever
casting of Zac Efron and newcomer Nikki Blonsky.

Casting John Travolta was pointless,
but everything else about “Hairspray” works wonderfully.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Movies, 8 p.m.,
cable.

The great films of three generations
are packed together tonight.

The 1930s? Families can catch “The
Wizard of Oz” (1939) on Turner Classic Movies or “Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) – the first animated feature, spiced
with great songs – on ABC Family.

The 1970s? “The Godfather” (1972),
Francis Coppola's triumph, is on AMC.

The new century? “Pride &
Prejudice” (2005) proved that few words are needed, when a great
director (Joe Wright) has a richly expressive star (Keira Knightley).

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Sunset
Limited,” 9 p.m., HBO.

One man (Tommy Lee Jones) is forlorn,
for little reason. Another (Samuel L. Jackson) is optimistic, for
even less reason. He has just saved this stranger's life; now, they
talk.

Don't expect any more. “Sunset
Limited” doesn't offer explanations, an ending or names for the
characters. It just talks. But the words (from Cormac McCarthy) and
the actors are superb.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II: “Accidentally
in Love,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark.

Here's the opposite of “Sunset
Limited.” It's forced and frenetic; it's also bright and fairly
likable.

A car accident involves a waitress
(Jennie Garth) with a big heart and an actor (Ethan Erickson) with a
big ego. Contrivances pile up, some pleasant and one (a little girl
going blind) excessive. Still, there's just enough wit here to keep
up tolerating the rest.

Other choices include:

– Auto racing, 8 p.m. ET, Fox. The
NASCAR season starts with the Budweiser Shootout. It isn't long
(187.5 miles) and doesn't offer championship points, but it suggests
longer, louder things ahead.

– “Harry's Law,” 8 p.m., NBC. In
a rerun, Tommy Jefferson (Christopher McDonald) tries to tone down
his courtroom antics and Adam is comforted by his ex-fiancee (Jordana
Spiro of “My Boys”).

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. An “agent needs assistance” brings a crisis, in this rerun.

– “CSI: Miami,” 9 p.m., CBS. The
man who killed Horatio's wife has broken out of prison and gone on a
rampage. In a rerun, team members scramble to figure out where he'll
be next.

– “Law & Order: Los Angeles,”
9 p.m., NBC. Rebecca Mader of “Lost” guest-stars in this rerun,
as a pregnant hit-and-run victim who may be linked to a married
politician.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. This rerun has Maria Bello as a drug-addicted
woman who is missing. Benson, caring for the woman's son, obsesses on
the case.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Russell Brand – who makes things interesting when
working live – hosts, with Chris Brown as the music guest.

 

TV column for Friday, Feb. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS.

The good news, for Friday viewers:
“Blue Bloods” is finally back on this night, where it dominates
ratings. That follows a successful, four-week experiment on
Wednesdays.

The bad: This Wednesday-Friday thing
used up lots of new episodes; now CBS reruns one from mid-November:
When DNA evidence is compromised, three men are released, putting a
Reagan in danger.

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

When Olivia finally escaped from the
alternate world, some viewers assumed that part of the story was
done. Tonight's hour, however, is set there, where things have
changed.

The alternate Broyles was killed, after
helping Olivia escape. The alternate Olivia is back with her beau.
And the alternate Walter (yes, Walternate) tries to protect his world
from a bio-terrorist.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Onion News
Network,” 10 p.m., IFC.

This fake newscast pauses to celebrate
what it claims is its fifth anniversary. Here are greetings from Mike
Huckabee (“I know you could crush me like a folksy eggshell”),
Rachel Maddow and more.

We learn of new chaos, ever since
someone noticed that the Constitution had a 1987 expiration date. And
that 90 per cent of things are popular because people are bored .
Some of the bits go too far, but much of this is hilarious.

Other choices include:

– “Clifford's Puppy Days,”
daytime (check local listings), PBS. Here are two charming, Valentine
stories. In the first, Clifford and Daffodil struggle to get Emily
Elizabeth the best holiday card and present; in the second, Emily
frets that a big event is coming up and she doesn't know how to
dance.

– “Reagan,” 7-9 p.m., HBO. Here's
a second chance to see this richly detailed view of Ronald Reagan,
who was born 100 years ago last Sunday. Especially insightful are the
comments of his son Ron.

– “The Defenders,” 8 p.m., CBS.
The current stars of the Blues Brothers battle each other in court.
Dan Aykroyd plays a crabby judge; Jim Belushi is defending a young
man who was arrested with 30 bricks of cocaine … maybe after being
manipulated by a woman he met on spring break.

– “Who Do You Think You Are?” 8
p.m., NBC. Tim McGraw was 11 before he learned his father was Tug
McGraw, the baseball pitcher; he didn't really know him well until
much later. Now the country music star studies his late father's
roots, going back to the early days of America.

– “The Graduate” (1967), 8 p.m.,
and “Forrest Gump” (1994), 10 p.m., Turner Classic Movies. The
Oscar preview continues with two great films. “The Graduate” was
nominated for seven Oscars, with Mike Nichols winning as best
director; “Gump” won six Oscars, including best picture.

– “CSI:NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. Ne-Yo,
the music star, plays a suave and charming hit man.

– “Your OWN Show,” 9 and 10 p.m.,
Oprah Winfrey Network. In the first hour, the final five conrestants
work with Suze Orman. In the second, the final three face a press
outing.

– “Gold Rush: Alaska,” 10 p.m.,
Discovery. The novice miners are digging deeper than ever, leading to
problems with flooding and cave-ins.

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Office,” 9
p.m., NBC.

Even on a holiday, it seems, many
people dislike public displays of affection. Now Holly – doing
temporary duty at the Scranton branch – and Michael are ga-ga; that
leads Gabe to call a Valentine's Day meeting to discuss PDA policy,
with hilarious results, in an excellent episode.

Gabe has a subtler approach with Erin –
a clue hunt … which gets complicated when her ex-boyfriend Andy
helps. Also: Even with a marital bed waiting at home, Jim and Pam
consider sex at the office.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Perfect
Couples,” 8:30 p.m., NBC.

Dave was innocent enough: While
dog-walking, he was joined by a cheery and attractive stranger.

He didn't tell his wife Pam about it,
though – and his subsequent excuses soon have Vance and Amy
entangled in the schemes. Those stories provide some very funny
moments, in NBC's pre-Valentine comedy blitz, from 8-10 p.m.; another
story – Rex covering up his financial woes – is weaker.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Grey's
Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Thatcher Grey – the recovering
alcoholic and oft-missing father of Meredith and Lexie – is back in
the hospital. This time, he has a tattooed girlfriend in her 20s.

Meanwhile, Mark has a new scheme for
keeping an eye on Lexie. And Alex battles with Dr. Lucy Fields, the
new obstetrician; she's played by Rachael Taylor, a Tasmanian beauty
who was Maggie in “Transformers” and has been chosen for ABC's
“Charlie's Angels” remake.

Other choices include:

– “Mad Hungry,” 10 a.m.,
Hallmark. Lucinda Scala Quinn makes a Valentine dinner with her
husband's favorite food, from tender black pepper sirloin steak to a
chocolate dessert.

– “Clifford the Big Red Dog,”
times vary (check local listings), PBS. The network is loading up
with Valentine cartoons. In this one, T-Bone has well-meaning plans
to baby-sit … until the tempting Mimi arrives; in a separate
episode, Cleo overdoes a Valentine surprise for Clifford and T-Bone.

– “American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox.
The month-long auditions marathon finally ends.

– “The Big Bang Theory,”8 p.m.,
CBS. At 70, Jessica Walter seems to be everywhere. She's a regular on
“Retired at 35” and in the animated “Archer”; tonight, she
guests as a wealthy woman who will give the college money … if
Leonard is romantic with her.

– “Community,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Valentine's Day brings crises: Troy and Abed lust for the same sexy
librarian; Britta pals with someone she assumes is a lesbian; Jeff
tries to be a loner – with an extreme lack of success. And Pierce,
overloaded on pain pills, keeps seeing a little man (Andy Dick).

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. A body is found in a box donated to a thrift shop.

– “Parks and Recreation,” 9:30
p.m., NBC. Megan Mullally returns as the ex-wife of Ron Swanson –
played by her real-life husband, Nick Offerman. They drive each other
to lust and rage, in an episode that is sometimes very funny and
sometimes just overwrought.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A witness is killed while under Van Pelt's protection.

– “Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy,”
10 p.m., Sundance. It was 58 years ago that de Givenchy started his
fashion business. He would quickly become a superstar, best-known for
dressing Audrey Hepburn. As his 84th birthday nears, this
stylish film offers his memories, with English sub-titles.

– “Archer,” 10 p.m., FX. In a
so-so episode, Sterling Archer faces a paternity test.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 9


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

Some shows can get big laughs without
leaving a room; “Sunshine” must work much harder.

Matthew Perry plays an arena manager.
Director Thomas Schlamme skillfully patrols the arena expanse, just
as he did the “West Wing” White House; we meet jugglers, an
elephant, clowns with axes.

Working twice as hard, “Sunshine”
is maybe half as funny as Perry's “Friends” … but that still
puts it well above average. It gets strong support from Andrea
Anders, James Lesure, Jorge Garcia of “Lost” and Allison Janney
of “West Wing” – who gets the broadest role in a show that
labors hard for its fun.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Nova,” 8-11
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Here are three separate hours, each
mixing intelligence and fun.

At 8 p.m., a “ScienceNow” edition
asks how smart animals are. We meet a parrot who learned vast words
and concepts, a dog who can choose from 1,000 stuffed toys.

At 9, the “Making Stuff” series
views changes learned from studying animals. Climbers' adhesives are
patterned after geckos' feet, planes' wings can change shape
bird-style. Military vehicles even have a skin that can repairs its
own bullet holes.

And at 10, we see the development of
the IBM computer that next week will challenge “Jeopardy”
champions. After funny flubs – identifying Richard Nixon as a First
Lady – it's become impressive.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Friday Night
Lights” conclusion, 9 p.m., 101 Network, DirecTV.

Growing week after week, “Lights”
has become perhaps the best drama series so far in the 2000s. It
captures the rhythms of blue-collar, small-town America, staying true
to its characters.

Now it all peaks: Coach Taylor has a
shot at his second state football championship – just as his wife
is offered a dream job. Their daughter reaches a turning point; so do
many of the players on his team.

These characters make mistakes – big
ones, sometimes – while bringing a sense of decency and purpose.
They are, in short, a lot like real-life people.

Other choices include:

– “Live to Dance” (CBS) or
“American Idol” (Fox), both 8 p.m. The “Idol” auditions
finally end Thursday. First, we learn which act is the champion of
Paula Abdul's short-run dance show.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Three straight ABC shows have new Valentine episodes tonight. That
starts here, with Frankie excited that her teen son wants advice on
clothes and a restaurant.

– “Better With You,” 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. Casey wants to do Valentine's Day big … the exact opposite of
the approach by Ben and Joel. Soon, the guys get competitive.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Phil and Claire again pretend to be a cheating couple. Meanwhile, Jay
has a Valentine scheme that keeps failing; Mitchell's aide may have a
huge crush on him.

– “Human Target,” 9 p.m., Fox.
The second season of this fast-improving show concludes with Chance
learning revelations about his boss' late husband.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The show wraps up its four-Wednesday stay, before returning to
Fridays. Tonight, a drug-addicted boyfriend is a prime suspect in a
missing-persons case.

– “Justified” season-opener, 10
p.m., FX. This superb series starts with the shoot-out that wrapped
up the first season. Then Raylan Givens tackles a new case that has
great characters, as usual; they include a resilient 14-year-old girl
and the no-nonsense matriarch of a moonshine family.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Traffic Light”
debut, 9:30 p.m., Fox.

Some comedies leap out and grab us with
quick jokes, familiar stars, more-familiar situations. “Traffic
Light” does none of that; it takes a while, but it's worth it.

Here are three friends since college,
at different phases. One is a married dad, one is moving in with his
girlfriend, one thinks three weeks is a long-term relationship. They
have deep-ingrained habits – semi-adjusting them to the changes in
life.

Few of these actors are familiar.
(David Denman played Roy, Pam's oafish boyfriend, in the early years
of “The Office.”) They bring a slow-simmering humor and charm
that will grow on you.

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

After a long break, this show is ready
for a second-half spurt.

First was Sunday's post-Super Bowl
special; now new episodes resume in the regular spot. That starts
with this Valentine episode: There's a kissing booth, romantic woe
and some love songs.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Pioneers of
Television,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In their early days, TV stations
scrambled to fill their daytime slots. They created local kid shows,
with cartoons and puppets and clowns that may or may not have been
humorous.

Some shows launched individuals toward
(Merv Griffin, Adam West., Ted Knight, Willard Scott, Stan Freberg);
some (“Bozo,” “Romper Room”) became re-packaged at other
stations.

And sometimes, the shows produced
something that would become big nationally. Fred Rogers started with
puppets in Pittsburgh; Jim Henson had his Muppets in Washington, D.C.

The best shows aimed for grown-ups,
too. Steven Spielberg savored “Wallace and Ladmo”; Albert
Einstein confessed a passion for “Time For Beany.” This is a fun
history, neatly told.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. This is a
tough way to work: The team probes a murder, while being shadowed by
a woman doing mandatory psych evaluations.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Someone makes the mistake of breaking into Callen's home. Soon,
that leads to a cache of counterfeit computer chips.

– “Only in America” debut, 9
p.m., History. Larry the Cable Guy pays amiable visits to opposite
pieces of America. In Georgia, he meets the roots of NASCAR –
moonshiners and drivers re-creating the backwoods rides of old. In
Vermont, he learns from the descendants of etiquette expert Emily
Post. And in California, he visits the county fair that continues a
frog-jumping tradition Mark Twain described.

– “Raising Hope,” 9:01 p.m., Fox.
This comedy has been plagued by inconsistency, as we see tonight.
There are a few fun moments, as Jimmy finds a potential friend –
another single guy with a baby.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Michael J. Fox returns as a lawyer who uses his disability to get
courtroom favor. Now he and Alicia race to see who can round up more
clients for a class-action suit.

– “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). Barbara Smith Conrad grew up in a small,
East Texas town founded by freed slaves. She was in the first, tiny
class of black University of Texas students in 1956. When she was
cast in an opera's romantic lead, there was controversy and a
national focus. This beautifully crafted film tells the story of a
country kid who became an opera star.