TV column for Friday, Jan. 11


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

For eight years and 203 episodes,
Richard Karn was part of a ratings giant. He was Al on “Home
Improvement,” the show that went as high as No. 2 in the annual
Nielsen ratings.

In the 13 years since the show ended,
Karn has stayed moderately busy, hosting (a few seasons of “Family
Feud,” one of “Bingo America”) and acting. Now he guests on
Allen's new show.

Karn plays the architect for Outdoor
Man, learning he may be replaced by an attractive young woman.

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

Over the past five years, this show has
had high quality and low ratings. Next week's two-hour finale should
be a big deal; this episode is OK, but surprisingly muted.

Walter (the brilliant John Noble) heads
into a deprivation tank, so he can search his mind for details about
Donald, a key part of this mystery. It's a quiet episode in which
everyone seems to move slowly – followed by close calls in which a
few seconds would have been vital. Still, it sets up a crucial
finale.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Portlandia,”
10 p.m., IFC.

People in Portland – or, at least,
this fictional version of it – seem obsessed with partying.

Nina is planning her birthday, complete
with tapas, horseback riding and yoga at sunset. The problem is that
Kath and Dave are back from Spain and consider themselves experts on
the culture.

Meanwhile, another couple needs a loan
to go to the party. There are some dryly hilarious scenes with Kumail
Nanjiani (“Franklin & Bash”) as a bank official who's in
charge of party loans.

Other choices include:

– “1600 Penn,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.
Here's an instant rerun of Thursday's funny episodes, as the
president's kids bring problems. In the first, his son causes a fire
at college; in the second, his daughter tells him (and the world)
she's pregnant.

--Movies, 8 p.m., cable. Here's
splendid entertainment from three decades – “Goldfinger” (1964)
on G4, “Big” (1988) on WE and “The Fugitive” (1993) on AMC.

– “Malibu Country,” 8:30, ABC.
Planning a baby shower for her brassy neighbor Kim, Reba makes unkind
remarks … while Kim's son is taping preparations.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. When an
off-duty cop is killed, the team needs the art of interrogation.

– “True Justice,” 9 p.m., Reelz.
In last week's hour (rerunning at 6 p.m.), Kane (Steven Seagal) left
the police force to assemble his own CIA team. That's a good thing;
the newcomers do things – talk, emote – Seagal can't. There are
some slow parts tonight and then a messy, “Scarface”-style
shoot-out.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Here are tough moments for two of the police commissioner's kids.
Jamie struggles with the emotional aftershocks of his actions; Erin
has the mayor on the witness stand, with a tough judge (Susie
Essman) in charge.

– “Banshee” debut, 10 p.m.,
Cinemax;repeats at 11:05. Writers love the notion of taking over
someone else's life. It happen in classic fiction; it even happens in
the Internet age, in “The Riches” and the upcoming “Continuum.”
And now an ex-convict pretends to be the sheriff. This is a serious
drama from “True Blood” creator Alan Ball; it has solid
characters, sharp action and a plot that's a real stretch.

TV column for Thursday, Jan.10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “1600 Penn,”
8:30 and 9:31 p.m., NBC.

The first episode – a good one –
reruns the pilot film, which had a sneak preview last month. After
his latest college mis-adventure, the president's (Josh Gad) is
brought back to the White House.

The second episode – an even better
one – has his sister hesitantly tell their parents – and the
world – that she's pregnant. Both bring big laughs and more. Gad
(star of Broadway's “Book of Mormon”) is one of the show's
creators and producers; each character is invested with surprising
depth.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang
Theory” and “Two and a Half Men,” 8-9 p.m., CBS.

First, the “Big Bang” guys take a
road trip to a comic-book convention, while wearing costumes. Things
turn iffy when their car is stolen.

Then comes a “Men” turning point.
For three episodes, Walden (Ashton Kutcher) lied to Kate (Brooke
D'Orsay) about his life. Now he admits the truth: He's not really
broke; he's an Internet billionaire.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Elementary,”
10 p.m., CBS.

Here's a jolting detour. This Sherlock
Holmes series – usually smart, sometimes funny – turns dark; we
see a sadistic streak by a killer and (worse) by Holmes himself.

This story wraps up, but also nudges
“Elementary” toward the possibility of more darkness ahead. This
is skillfully filmed and acted, but we'll hope Sherlock has fun
again.

Other choices include:

– “30 Rock,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Desperate to discredit the teen who will take over the cable company,
Jack (Alec Baldwin) links with his nemesis (Will Arnett). Meanwhile,
Liz ponders options for motherhood.

– “Last Resort,” 8 p.m., ABC.
After a brilliant start, this show sagged in the ratings. With only
three episodes left, we see a coup in Washington,D.C. and beyond.
Will islanders get the needed supplies? Will the captain risk his
life? And will the first officer, twisted by grief, remain loyal?

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
An accident fills the hospital with bikers, during a time when
relationships are in limbo. Bailey delays her wedding, while trying
to save Adele. Cristina and Owen put their divorce on hold; Callie
and Arizona try to re-spark their romance.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. The
office's lice problem is Pam's fault, but she lets Meredith take the
blame. Dwight launches a clean-up crusade. Meanwhile, Jim lands
former basketball great Julius Irving as a business associate.

– “Deadliest Space Weather”
debut, 9 p.m., Weather Channel. After spending so much time showing
bad weather on Earth, the channel now shows horrible things elsewhere
in the galay.

– “Scandal,” 10:p.m., ABC. Huck
(Guillermo Diaz) is being held under the Patriot Act. Now the team
gets some unexpected help from an old friend. Meanwhile, Olivia helps
Mellie and reaches a boiling point with Edison.

– “Kathy,” 10 p.m., Bravo. The
season starts with three people who are good at talking – host
Kathy Griffin, plus Jane Lynch and Liza Minnelli.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Middle," 8 p.m., ABC

For its first new episode in a month,
this show has three hilarious stories.

At home, the parents battle an
insurance company. That brings a grand Frankie meltdown.

At school, Brick has a life coach –
wonderfully played by Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall – with no
life skills. And Axl is forced to do a project with his sister,
creating the ultimate mismatch.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY: “Stars in Danger:
The High Dive,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

A week before “American Idol” takes
the time slot, Fox borrows a German idea: Have some stars – well,
semi-stars – take lessons and try the high dive.

You'll see actors (Antonio Sabato Jr.,
Alexandra Paul, David Chokachi) and athletes (Bethany Hamilton, who
returned to surfing after a shark took her arm, and Terrell Owens).
You'll see a dancer (Twitch), a reality star (JWoww) and people who
cross categories. Kim and Kyle Richard are sisters who were child
stars and now are in “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

TONGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: People's Choice
Awards, 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Here's the annual blend of genuine
talent and meaningless awards.

The talent? Kaley Cuoco (“Big Bang
Theory”) hosts; there's music by Alicia Keys, Jason Aldean and
Christina Aguilera – who wins a special “people's voice” award.

The awards? They include categories for
“favorite fan following” – Twihards, Gleeks, KatyCats and such
– in movies, TV and music. There's reality judge; Britney Spears is
nominated, Simon Cowell isn't. Among 11 nominees for “favorite new
drama,” four have been canceled for low ratings.

Other choices include:

– “The Pirates: Band of Misfits”
(2012), 7:20-9 p.m., Starz. American cartoons can be a tad frantic;
for counterpoint, there's the quietly clever British work of Peter
Lord (“Wallace & Gromit,” “Chicken Run”). Hugh Grant
voices a captain desperate to win Pirate of the Year. We soon meet
Charles Darwin, Queen Victoria, The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate
and The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens.

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS. Cuba's
stagnant economy has brought one plus – an unspoiled wilderness.
This rerun – the 2010 season-opener – catches some of the
island's natural beauty.

– “The Neighbors,” 8:30, ABC.
These neighbors (aliens from another planet) are trying to help Marty
and Debbie with school projects. They're helpful with PTA politics,
not so good with soccer.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Jay plans a New Year's Eve in Palm Springs for the grown-ups. Things
go terribly wrong … until he meets actor Billy Dee Williams.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Two ambitious prosecutors (Jane Kaczmarek and
Raul Esparza) have different suspects for the same murder. The trials
are held simultaneously.

– “Chicago Fire,” 10 p.m,, NBC.
Severide finally admits to the injury that damages his work.

– “Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC.
Neither singer is happy about it, but now Rayna and Juliette are set
to start their tour together. Then Juliette surprises everyone by
eloping with Sean.

– “Top Chef,” 10 p.m., Bravo.
Contestants must come up with new restaurant concepts.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Justified" season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

A couple of gun-wielding teens just
want to do a home burglary, simple and uncomplicated.

Alas, the home (Raylan's father's) has
a bag that everyone seems to want. And the car they steal (Raylan's)
has a felon in the trunk. And then things get worse.

Yes, this requires great coincidence.
Still, it's so well-done – with great characters an clever dialog –
that all is forgiven. At terrific show is back.

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

They came from different worlds:
Angelina Grimke's dad was a rich slaveholder; Harriet Beecher's was
an earnest clergyman. William Garrison was a newspaper man; Frederick
Douglass was a slave.

Then changes began. Grimke moved North,
Douglass fought a brutal foreman, Garrison created an anti-slavery
newspaper and faced mob attacks. All became part of the abolition
movement. This well-made hour – starting a three-week series –
views the early days of a crucial change in America.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Joe Schmo
Show” debut, 10 p.m., Spike.

Back in 2003-4, there were two quick
editions of this sly prank: A guy thought he was on a reality show;
he didn't know that the other contestants were actors, getting
increasingly outrageous.

Some of those actors (Kristen Wiig,
David Hornsby) would go on to fame; the show would be set aside. Now
it's finally back, this time sprinkling in two familiar faces.

One is a foolish gamble: A “contestant”
is played by Michael Weaver, who starred in 23 episodes of “Notes
From the Underbelly.” He's almost recognized the first day.

The other idea works well: Lorenzo
Lamas plays himself – or a wonderfully exaggerated version of
himself. The result is fun, a clever satire of a genre that demands
to be mocked.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m.. CBS. In the
midst of a murder probe, Ziva has a new worry: Her dad (Michael
Nouri), the head of Mossad, has just reached town for mysterious
reasons.

– “Modern Family,” 8 p.m., ABC.
The show returns to new episodes Wednesday, but first it reruns a
dandy episode: When Haley is arrested for underage drinking, the
entire family gets involved.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. A great
night is led by two best-picture Oscar nominees – “Jerry Maguire”
(1996) on AMC and the delightful “Little Miss Sunshine”(2006) on
IFC. Others range from two animated films – “The Lion King”
(1994) on Disney and “Puss in Boots” (2011) on HBO – to Martin
Scorsese's intense “Shutter Island” (2009) on Syfy.

– “The Middle,” 8:31 p.m., ABC.
This reruns the return of Brooke Shields as Rita, the trashy neighbor
who towers over Frankie. Also, Brick is shocked by Axl's
birds-and-the-bees lecture.

– “Go On,” 9 p.m., NBC. Bob
Costas arrives to offer Ryan (Matthew Perry) a spot on a TV show.

– “NCIS: Los Angele,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Nate Getz, the team psychologist, is back. Meanwhile, the team
probes the circumstances of a Marine's last battle.

– “Private Practice,” 10 p.m.,
ABC. Two weeks before the series finale, we catch Amelia (Caterina
Scorsone) in transition. Sober for more than a year, she's trying to
avoid relationships.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, ESPN, with pre-game at 8.

After lots of bowl-game names we didn't
know, played by teams we'd soon forget, this is the big one.

The nation's two top-ranked teams
collide in Miami. Undefeated Notre Dame faces Alabama, 12-1.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Bachelor”
debut, 8-10 p.m., ABC.

Sean Lowe is described by one woman as
“the perfect beach-blonde hottie.” This is verified early, by
four bare-chested views. But we also see him as a God-loving Texan
from a warm family.

And the 25 women seeking his love? One,
a fan of “Fifty Shades of Gray,” presents him with bondage
ribbon; he seem forlorn.

One woman screams with delight when she
hears the bachelor is Lowe, who finished third in Emily Maynard's
“Bachelorette” season; another tells him she never saw the show.
One plants a bright red kiss on his cheek, another promptly wipes it
off. It's a promising start.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Bunheads”
return, 9 p.m., ABC Family.

The first season brought a neat mix of
comedy and drama. Michelle ditched her sagging dance career to marry
a guy who promptly died. She found herself in a small town, with his
mom's dance studio.

That crumbled when she accidentally
maced the dancers during the “The Nutcracker.” Now she's an
assistant for an awful magician; the girls are floundering and the
dance studio is closed. “Bunheads” has a stupid title and smart
scripts, from the producer-writer of “Gilmore Girls.”

Other choices include:

– “Switched at Birth”
season-opener,11 a.m. to 9 p.m., ABC Family. First are the final nine
episodes of this above-average show about two teens (one deaf) who
were switched at birth. That peaks in the 7 p.m. episode with a
startling court decision. The new episode, at 8, find both girls in
trouble.

– “The Biggest Loser,” 8-10 p.m.,
NBC. After the Sunday debut, the show takes its regular spot.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Kevin (Kal Penn) realizes people may be too
involved with each other: Theu intercede, when Ted dares to date
someone he hasn't researched.

– 2 Broke Girls, 8:30 and 9 p.m.,
CBS. The first rerun has Max and Caroline disagreeing on how to use a
new credit card; the second has Caroline being humiliated at a
great-looking guy's candy store.

– “Mob Doctor,” 9 p.m., Fox.
After being banished to Saturdays, this show returns to Mondays for
its final episode. Squeezed by two Mob chiefs, Dr. Grace Devlin takes
a desperate step.

– “Deception” debut, 10 p.m.,
NBC. An heiress' death is considered an overdose, but police have
doubts. Now a former family friend (Meagan Good) wedges back into the
home to find secrets. It's a well-made show, but requires viewers to
stick around as it slowly unwinds.

– “True Crime with Aphrodite Jones”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery. Moving to the
prosperous Orange County, a young beauty advertised for a rich man.
She found one, who was killed three years later; Jones, a true-crime
writer, digs through a fascinating tale.

– “The Staircase,” 10 p.m.,
Sundance. In 2001, novelist Michael Peterson said he'd found his
wife's body at the base of the staircase. Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
filmed preparations, the trial and the jury. The result became an
eight-hour, Peabody-winning documentary. A cable movie followed; now
de Lestrade has two more hours, showing new evidence and a retrial.
All 10 hours air as a weeky series.