TV column for Thursday, Feb. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Mentalist,”
10 p.m., CBS.

In a terrific episode last season,
Patrick Jane met a cunning foe. As played by Morena Bacccarin
(formerly of “V,” now of “Homeland”), Erica Flynn was a
beautiful matchmaker who almost got away with killing her husband.

Now Jane needs her. He has her
furloughed from prison, in exchange for information on a case.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Grey's
Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

“Grey's Anatomy” is often at its
best during special episodes timed to “sweeps” ratings months.
Now – two weeks after its terrific what-if-everything-was-different
hour, here's a crossover night.

In the first hour, Amelia (Caterina
Scorsone) of “Private Practice” character, arrives in Seattle to
beg her brother Derek to help treat Erica's gliosarcoma. In the
second, Cooper, Charlotte and Erica arrive.

There's more. In the first hour, Owen
and Cristina battle in front of a marriage counselor. In the second,
Addison ends up in the middle of a dispute between Sam and Jake.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Remembering
Whitney,” 9-11 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network.

The first wave of Whitney Houston
specials has aired, but here are some key memories. At the core is
the hour that opened the “Oprah Winfrey Show” season in September
of 2009.

Houston talked about her drug abuse,
her troubled marriage to Bobby Brown, her mourning of Michael Jackson
and her reasons for retreating from the spotlight. She also gave an
intimate performance of “I Didn't Know My Own Strength.”

Other choices include:

– “American Idol,” 8-10 p.m.,
Fox. The three-part Hollywood round concludes. There will be a
performance challenge next Wednesday, with semi-finalists named the
next night.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. At work, Sheldon's nemesis has been the mocking Kripke. Now a
corner office opens up and they both want it. It may be settled by a
series of sports challenges – clearly not Sheldon's forte. Also,
Penny is uncomfortable about a gift from Amy.

– “Parks and Recreation,” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Leslie's city-council campaign booms ahead, with Andy
working on a campaign song. Meanwhile, she bumps into the cop (Louis
C.K.) she dated briefly.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. In a
funny episode last week, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) was told to go to the
Florida headquarters, to plan a retail project. He had to bring Jim
and some people Andy considers … well, expendable. Tonight, he's
trying to impress the special-projects president (Catherine Tate).

– Grimm, 10 p.m., NBC. Shows have
been dying quickly in this slot – first “Prime Suspect,” then
“The Firm” (which was moved to Saturdays, then had its first
episode there bumped at the last minute). Now “Grimm” reruns will
fill in for a couple weeks; the superb “Awake” debuts March 1.

– “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). This show wraps up its run of three Black
History Month special with – ironically – one that questions
whether it's demeaning to stuff everything into an arbitrary month.
It's a contrived and pointless argument, but filmmaker Shukree
Tilghman uses it as a springboard for some fun moments.

– “Inside Comedy,” 11 p.m.,
Showtime. This amiable half-hour has Billy Crystal, Brad Garrett and
Martin Short telling funny stories about Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles,
Sammy Davis and more.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 15


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

The contestants are instantly split
into tribes – nine men and nine women – but must share a beach.

The men range from a 21-year-old
student to a 64-year-old plastic surgeon. They also include a lawyer,
a banker, a comedian and a phlebotomist.

The women range from a 22-year-old
sales rep to a 51-year-old retired cop. They include a motorcycle
repair person, a bridal-shop owner and Monica Culpepper, 41. She was
homecoming queen at the University of Florida, where she met her
husband Bradm who was named the country's top scholar athlete. He
became a pro defensive tackle for nine seasons and now is a lawyer;
they have three kids.

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

The auditions dragged on for eight
episodes over four weeks, but we're now near the parts that count.

Tonight and Thursday bring the end of
the three-part Hollywood round. Semi-finalists will be chosen Feb.
23, finalists a week later.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Hour,”
10 p.m., BBC America.

If you missed this excellent, six-week
series, catch this rerun before the second season begins.

It's set in 1956, when British
newscasts were dry and stiff. Freddie and Bel get a crack at an
ambitious weekly hour, but have their doubts about Hector, the
upper-class chap chosen to anchor.

That's the backdrop for a murder
mystery, espionage, affairs and the Suez Canal crisis.It's
beautifully acted, with Ben Whishaw and Romola Garai as Freddie and
Bel, Dominic West as Hector and Oona Chaplin (Charlie's
grand-daughter, Eugene O'Neill's great-grandaughter) as his wife.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. Sue
desperately wants to go to the Justin Bieber concert; her brother
Brick leta his dad train him for the spelling bee.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Tessa finally has a good reason to jump into school activities:
Failing in gym class, she's running for student-body present, with a
platform opposing sports emphasis.

– “Camp Rock 2” (2010), 8:30
p.m., Disney. Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato try to save the music camp.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
When Phil closes a big sale, he and Claire go out to celebrate. They
drink too much, share too much information and regret it the next
morning.

– “Happy Endings,” 9:31 p.m.,
ABC. Last week, Max hooked up anew with Grant (James Wolk), his
former boyfriend. Un the second of Wolk's three episodes, most people
considers Grant to be perfect.

– “Revenge,” 10 p.m., ABC. This
series began with a flashforward to a party punctuated by tragedy.
Now we may be up to that point, as the engagement party for Emily and
Daniel turns bad.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS. Now that Marg Helgenberger has left, Elisabeth Shue
becomes a CSI agent. Shue, 47, soared in the 1980s with “Call to
Glory,” “Karate Kid,” two “Back to the Future” films and
“Adventures in Babysitting.” She also drew an Oscar nomination
for the 1995 “Leaving Las Vegas.” Her first case involves the
death of a man's former girlfriend.

– “Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m., TV
Land. Here's one more episode geared to Valentine's Day. The women
look for lost loves – including the guy who left Joy (Jane Leeves)
at the altar.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Cougar Town”
season-opener, 8:30 p.m., ABC.

At its mildest, this show has a
tendency to bounce between lots of odd-and-amiable stories.

It does som of that tonight: Jules
(Courteney Cox) frets that her boyfriend considers her predictable.
Meanwhile, her ex-husband tries to convince their son to take an
enormous dog into his college apartment. Also,Ellie fears she has a
“devil child” who will turn out like Laurie.

And at its best? You'll see that
tonight; this half-hour wraps up in a way that's fun, funny and
surprising.

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

Now that Sabrina is moving in with her
dullard boyfriend, Jimmy is in despair. His mother has the logical,
situation-comedy solution – get her jealous by creating a fictional
girlfriend.

He finds one (played by Disney Channel
favorite Ashley Tisdale) at a theater group – where his parents
soon become eager actors. That sets up some funny moments.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Loving
Story, 9 p.m., HBO.

At first glance, his attorney said,
Richard Loving was your typical redneck. He was a stocky guy from
small-town Virginia; he talked rarely and raced cars a lot.

In 1958, he married a neighbor, Mildred
Jeter. He was 25 and white; she was 18 and black. Six weeks later,
they were arrested under Virginia's law against mixed-race marriage.

It would take almost a decade for a
historic Supreme Court ruling. This documentary was assembled from
old footage, photos and interviews. There are painfully slow moments
in a compelling story.

Other choices include:

– “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and
“Wordgirl,” daytime (check local listings), PBS. Here's a
pleasant start tp Valentine's Day. In one cartoon, Clifford knows
Emily wants something big and red. (You might be able to guess what
happens.) In the other, Victoria Best assumes she's best and grabs
all the valentines; it's a fun episode, complete with a massive robot
battle.

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. For
Valentine's Day, Will wants glee-clubbers to do love songs. Also,
Rachel's two dads visit; they're played by Jeff Goldblum and
Tony-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell.

– “Frontline,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.
Stunned by youth murders, Chicago turned to “violence interrupters”
– ex-cons who tried to talk people into change. This film has too
many moments that are bureaucratic, chaotic or meandering; still,
other moments pack emotion. They range from a cheerful skate-rink
party to a stark moment when an interrupter describes gunning someone
at close range.

– “Joan & Melissa,” 9 p.m.,
WE. Joan Rivers really doesn't feel comfortable outdoors. To be with
her grandson, she agrees to a Wyoming caming trip in Wyoming, with
fishing, shooting and horse-riding.

– “The Real Housewives of Orange
County,” 9 p.m., Bravo. Last week's season-opener saw one feud
being soothed, while others lingered. Tonight, Vicki's party brings
some of the people together.

– “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Sarah's son reacts sharply to her plan to have a baby with Mark
(Jason Ritter); Amber's mom reacts to her plan to go on a weekend
business trip with Bob Little.

– “Justified,” 10 p.m., FX.
Sprung from prison, Dewey Crowe needs to grab $20,000 in hours.
There's perverse humor here, propelled by Dewey's ignorance; there
are also fierce moments late in the hour.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Smash,” 10
p.m., NBC.

In last week's splendid opener,
songwriters considered a musical about Marilyn Monroe. A producer
(Anjelica Huston), needing a quick success, rushed them along, even
landing a talented director.

Now they must cast it for a showcase.
They could choose Ivy (Megan Hilty) – blonde, eager, experienced;
or Karen (Katharine McPhee), inexperienced, introspective, incredibly
talented.

We'll find out tonight, after some
stunning music moments. It's another great hour.

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

“House” has now made it official:
This season – its eighth brilliant year – will be its last.

Starting with a great character –
perfectly played by Hugh Laurie – “House” has put layers of
dark humor alongside medical mysteries. Tonight, it detours to Dr.
Chase; his relationship with a patient – a cloistered nun who is
ready to make her vows – compromises his judgment.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Slavery By
Another Name,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In the decades after the Civil War,
this strong documentary says, a subtle slavery re-emerged.

Jails and prisons began leasing
prisoners to plantations. Young black men found themselves being
arrested for slim reasons – or none at all. It's a chilling story
that includes descendants on both sides.

Other choices include:

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. On the eve of Valentine's Day, you can catch four straight
CBS comedies about the holiday. This one has Marshall and Lily on a
Valentine getaway; they invite Robin and Kevin (Kal Penn)..

– “Bringing Ashley Home” (2011),
8-10 p.m., Lifetime. Between her old series (“House”) and her new
one (“Once Upon a Time”), Jennifer Morrison gave a strong
supporting performance here. She plays a troubled woman who
disappears; her sister (A.J. Cook) searches for her.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. Here's an odd Valentine twist: Earl (Garrett Morris) sees Sophie
(Jennifer Coolidge) dressed up and promptly has a heart attack.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Proximity doesn't always make the heart grow fonder. A storm
traps Walden, Alan, Zoey and Lyndsey in the house; tempers soon
bristle.

– “BET Honors,” 9-11 p.m., BET.
The Tuskegee Airmen – pioneering World War II pilots, depicted in
the current movie “Red Tails” – are honored. Other awards go to
Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, Mariah Carey, poet Maya Angelou and coach
Beverly Kearney.

– “Mike & Molly,” 9:31 p.m.,
CBS. Mike forgot to make Valentine plans. His solution is to wedge
into the plans his police partner Carl has for a romantic dinner with
Christina.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. This
only happens in Hollywood, we think: Castle is working with a cop and
a CIA agent. Each is sleek, smart and beautiful; each has already
been turned each into a character in one of his novels. As they probe
an international conspiracy – in the start of a two-parter –
Kate (Stana Katic) seems jealous of Sophia (Jennifer Beals).

TV column for Sunday, Feb.12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Grammy awards, 8-11
p.m., CBS

We can expect emotional moments. The
surviving Beach Boys re-unite for a live performance (with Maroon 5
and Foster the People) for the first time in 20-plus years. Glen
Campbell – who has been touring during early stages of Alzheimer's
disease – performs with BlakeShelton and the Band Perry.

There will be duets – Rihanna and
Coldplay, Carrie Underwood and Tony Bennett, Kelly Clarkson and Jason
Aldean – and an electronica tribute with Chris Brown, Foo Fighters,
David Guetta and more. Also performing: Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Nicki
Minaj, Taylor Swift, Maceo Parker and Diana Krall.

TODAY'S MUST-SEE: “The Walking Dead,”
1:30-10 p.m., AMC.

If you missed some previous zombie
action, don't fret. The second season reruns, starting at 1:30 p.m.

Then comes the third-season opener at 9
p.m., rerunning at 11:01 p.m. Rick tries to calm people after a
horrific discovery; then he and Glenn search for Hershel, who
wandered into town.

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

A week before the season-finale, this
week is filled with life-and-death moments. There are major changes
for the paraplegic Matthew and others; a Spanish flu rushes through
the mansion.

Thomas has a hoarding scheme, Mary's
fiance has a spying scheme, Sybil and Tom Branson (the chauffeur)
ponder a new life. Bates' troubles build … and two kisses come as
stunning surprises.

Other choices include:

– Grammy preview, 6-8 p.m., E and TV
Guide Network. Both channels will be on the red carpet.

– “60 Minutes,” 7 p.m., CBS. This
include an interview with Adele, whose Grammy performance will be her
first live one since her throat surgery.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. On Valentine's Day, the Storybrooke folks have a
women's-night-out. In fairy-tale land, there's a beauty-and-the-beast
tale, with Emilie de Ravin (“Lost”) as Belle.

– “Wild Mississippi,” 8-11 p.m.,
Nat GeoWild. Filmmakers spent a year on the Mississippi River.

– “The Man Who Can Fly,” 8 p.m.,
National Geographic. This guy doesn't fly, but he climbs mountains
and leap off with a soaring suit and parachute. Alongside dull
moments are ones of immense beauty.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Think of this as the anti-Valentine, with love gone bad. Julie
returns, six months pregnant. Bree spirals into lust and alcohol.
Lynette, tries her first affair since separating from Tom; it doesn't
go well.

– “MLK: The Assassination Tapes,”
9 p.m., Smithsonian; repeats at midnight. Back in 1968, University of
Memphis professors wisely saved everything relating to the
sanitation-workers' strike and the assassination of Martin Luther
King. Now those have been woven into a compelling hour.

– “Luck,” 9 p.m., HBO. In an OK
episode, the gambling team – with its secret winnings – conspires
to buy the horse that Escalante inexplicably risked and lost in a
claim race.

– “Comic Book Men” debut, 10
p.m., AMC. With an ideal lead-in (“Walking Dead”), this reality
show follows the guys in Kevin Smith's comic-book store in New
Jersey.

– “Full Metal Jousting” debut, 10
p.m., History. In its effort to be increasingly macho, cable has
real jousting – not the theatrical stuff – with painful clashes.
It's maximum fierce, moderate interesting.