TV column for Thursday, Jan. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

“Big Bang” will have a new episode
next week, but here's a terrific rerun.

Raj's sister visits and soon starts a
romance with Leonard. Naturally, Leonard tries to keep it a secret
from everyone; just as naturally (for this clever show), he fails
thoroughly.

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

After last week's gunman, the show gets
back to the emotional issues it does best.

New interns arrive and Cristina has no
patience for their ineptitude. Still, the Chief keeps mentioning
he'll choose a chief resident soon; Cristina has to seem calm and
leader-like.

Meanwhile, Arizona goes to extremes to
get back with Callie – who rejects her flatly. And Wilson Cruz –
who brilliantly played one of TV's best-crafted gay characters on
“My So-Called Life” – plays someone who has trouble on the day
of his commitment ceremony.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Star Trek IV”
and “Star Trek VI,” 6:25 and 9 p.m., Syfy; or “Star Trek: The
Next Generation” and “Goldfinger” (1964), 8 and 9 p.m., BBC
America.

When in doubt, simply add another round
of “Trek” or James Bond; both thrive on cable.

Syfy starts with the lightest and
brightest of the “Trek” movies; that's the fourth one, a clever
time-travel tale, nimbly directed by Leonard Nimoy. It follows with
the last film to use only the original cast; that's the sixth, with
the team transporting a Klingon official to peace talks.

Meanwhile, BBC America has the TV
episode in which the crew is rendered unconscious; Picard suspects
Data is lying about what happened. That's followed by the third Bond
film, the one that made the change from gritty to glittery, setting
the tone for bigger-than-life epics ahead.

Other choices include:

– “Community,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.,
NBC. In the first rerun, Jeff claims to take a conspiracy class that
doesn't seem to exist – except that a mysterious Professor
Professorson claims it does. In the second, the gang has mixed
adventures when taking Troy to a bar for his 21st
birthday.

– “The Office,” 9 and 9:30 p.m.,
NBC. Here's a rerun of the two-parter that had everyone going to
Niagara Falls for the wedding of Jim and Pam – whose pregnancy must
not be mentioned. Several of the guys – Michael, Dwight, Andy –
see this as a dating opportunity.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. Shark attacks are rarely a concern in Las Vegas. So when
a shark kills someone in a Vegas pool, foul play is suspected, in
this rerun.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This rerun was scheduled for last week, then delayed. A prominent
lobbyist has been killed and Patrick Jane has been asked to work on
the case. Still, he's not sure of his future with the unit, after his
last encounter with Red John.

– “30 Rock,” 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
NBC. Both reruns focus on Jack (Alec Baldwin). In the first, his day
is going so perfectly that he decides to mend Liz's relationship. In
the second, he frets that GE's microwave division is doing fine
without him; he searches for a flaw in the product.

– “Private Practice,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. Addison is busy planning a wedding for her mother (JoBeth
Williams) and Susan Grant (Ann Cusack). Meanwhile, she tries to keep
her distance from Dr. Rodriguez (Cristian de la Fuente), who keeps
pursuing her.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Off the Map”
debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

Imagine “Grey's Anatomy” with great
scenery. That's what this drama aims for, with mixed success.

The setting is a clinic in rural South
American; that explains why all the doctors are young and most have
complicated pasts. The show is from the “Grey's” people; that
explains why all are attractive.

Early in this hour, the emphasis is on
the cases and the stunning scenery. We see doctors leaping off
cliffs, doctors rescuing while attached to high wires.

Only gradually do we learn these are
interesting people, played by gifted young actors. One (Mamie Gummer)
shows flashes of her mom, Meryl Streep; another (Zach Gilford) was
brilliant as the quarterback in “Friday Night Lights.” This one
is nowhere near that quality, but it's an OK start.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “American
Masters,” 8-9:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Don't expect the wild roller-coaster
you get from many star biographies. Jeff Bridges is an easygoing guy
who sort of fell into the family business, then became very good at
it.

“Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides”
matches the tone of its star. We meet a man who paints, sings, takes
photos and (sometimes reluctantly) acts. He does them casually, the
dude-next-door at 61.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Luise Rainer”
and “The Good Earth” (1937), 8 and 8:30 p.m., Turner Classic
Movies.

Almost 74 years ago, Rainer won an
Academy Award for “Good Earth”; it was her second straight Oscar,
after “The Great Ziegfeld.” Soon, she would mostly drop out of
acting.

Still, her memories are vivid. On her
101st birthday, here's an interview from TCM's film
festival. With her hearing-aid broken, Rainer, 100, takes written
questions and offers compelling stories, including refusing to wear
a “Good Earth” mask: “I work from the inside-out; I don't
believe in masks.”

Other choices include:

– “Human Target,” 8 and 9 p.m.,
Fox. In two new hours, Chance tries daring rescues. In the first,
Ilsa's sister has been kidnapped; in the second, Guerrero has been
framed and imprisoned.

– “Live to Dance,” 8 p.m., CBS.
The show announces its 18 acts and advances two to the next round.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. When
Frankie inadvertently buys $200 facial cream – hey, she thought it
was $20 – Mike becomes bitter. Also, Axl turns out to be bad in
raising-a-baby class.

– “Iron Man” (2008), 8-11 p.m.,
FX. Alongside all the whiz-bang action, a great cast brought bonuses.
Robert Downey Jr. added humor; an underused Gwyneth Paltrow added
class.

– “Better With You,” 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. Here's a tricky moment for Casey and his fiance: His former
girlfriend wants the couch back.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Mary Kay Rajskub – a gifted comedy actress before becoming a “24”
co-star – plays Mitchell's girlfriend from his straight days.

– “American Masters,” 9:30-11
p.m., PBS (check local listings). After the low-key Bridges portrait,
“Masters” reruns last year's more-intense rock profile: “The
Doors: When You're Strange.”

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “V,” 9 p.m.,
ABC.

A quarter-century ago, the original “V”
stirred attention when Diana (played by Jane Badler) – leader of
the lizard-like aliens, encased in human facades – ate a live rat.

Now Diana and Badler are back, setting
up a three-generation battle. Anna, her daughter, has kept her
hostage for 15 years; both are grasping to understand the Earthling
soul … and neither realizes that Anna's daughter works for the
Earthling underground. It's a fierce episode, well-played.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Frontline,”
“Independent Lens,” 9, 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Four years ago, police and UN forces
assaulted Haiti's gangs. “Kidnappers were behind bars …. There
was calm,” Mario Andresol, the Haitian police chief, says here.
“People felt safe.”

Then the earthquake set everyone free.
Escapee rule many tent camp, “Frontline” says.

On the eve of the quake's first
anniversary, this is a disturbing view. It's followed by a “Lens”
film, “Children of Haiti”; made primarily before the earthquake,
it follows teens who lack homes or schools.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Onion
Sportsdome” debut, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central.

LeBron James and his teammates have
mandated changes in basketball rules, we're told. Dribbles will not
be required if someone does a really cool dunk; all games must be
played in Miami or some equally awesome place. And Kobe Bryant is
banned for just not being cool.

That's a great start to a half-hour
that ends wonderfully – but stumbles in the mid-section. Barring a
late change, the middle piles up violent elements that get
repetitious.

Other choices include:

– “No Ordinary Family,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Jim's ne'er-do-well accidentally learns about the family's
superpowers. Soon, he wants JJ to help him make horse-race bets.

– “The Haney Project”
season-opener, 9 p.m,, Golf Channel. Fresh from molding Ray Romano,
Hank Haney starts work on Rush Limbaugh. The talk-show conservative
(who turns 60 on Wednesday) is an amiable student; golf is the one
world, he says, where he assumes others knows more than he does.

– “Pipe Dreams” debut, 9:30 p.m.,
Golf Channel. Once a pro golfer, Mark Burk saw his family finances
crash. This involving show finds him living in a large drainage pipe
and hoping to join the seniors tour.

– “Lights Out” debut, 10 p.m.,
FX; reruns at 11:03. Facing the prospect of a head injury, a boxer
retired. Five years later, his money dwindling, he considers a
rematch. Like all FX dramas, this has great performances (led by Holt
McCallany) and direction. Still, it's tough to watch, tougher to
enjoy.

– “The Game” return, 10-11 p.m.,
BET. After a two-year lay-off, a CW show jumped to cable. The bigger
change was gradual: A situation comedy has become a drama (with some
laughs) about football players and their women. The so-so result is
like “Footballers' Wives,” the too-soapy) British show.

– “Teen Mom 2” debut, 10 p.m.,
MTV. Four former “16 and Pregnant” teens get their own show.

– “Detroit 1-8-7,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. For a show that usually has two cases, here's a detour – one
case that hangs in limbo until next week. The story is overwrought
and melodramatic, but stirs emotions.

– “Let''s Stay Together” debut,
11 p.m., BET. The jokes are fairly good, but they surround a silly
plot: An otherwise-bright heroine rages that her engagement ring was
previously offered to someone else.

 

TV column for Monday, Jan. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: BCS championship
gamr, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN.

For the first time, college football's
most important game will be on cable-TV.

ESPN will make if feel like a Super
Bowl coverage. It's adding a couple coaches (Nick Saban, Urban Meyer)
to a line-up that includes Lee Corso, Chris Fowler, Reece Davis and
Desmond Howard.

All that commentary is needed for
pre-game coverage (starting at 3 p.m.), halftime and post-game. The
game ihas Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit in the booth, with Erin
Andrews on the Oregon sideline and Tim Rinaldi on the Auburn
sideline.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Lie to Me,” 8
and 9 p.m., Fox.

Here's a tough one for Lightman, the
human lie detector: His daughter's friend has a dad who has been in a
private mental home for way too long.

Soon, Lightman is descending into his
own mental morass; there's an odd explanation that sort of makes
sense. In a second episode, a rich woman wants Lightman to see if her
husband is cheating.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Men of a
Certain Age,” 10 p.m., TNT,

You hardly ever see a drama-comedy
episode about three guys taking a weekend vacation to have their
colons examined. That's part of this show's odd charm, as we catch
all three in transition.

Owen fumes that his dad left the
business with a huge debt. Terry finds his just-fooling-around
romance wobbling. Joe (Ray Romano) makes bets with himself. This
explodes in odd (and funny) ways; then the show rests until summer;
producer Mike Royce promises big things then.

Other choices include:

“The Gayle King Show” debut, 10
a.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Here – a week later than originally
planned – is the TV edition of King's satellite-radio show.

– “The Game,” 3:30-11 p.m., BET.
After three years and 64 episodes, this comedy is moving to cable.
New episodes start Tuesday; for now, here are 15 reruns.

– “The Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m.,
ABC. Brad takes one woman to a carnival, another to a Train concert.

– “Pretty Little Liars,” 8 p.m.,
ABC Family, rerunning at 10. Recovering from the attack, Hanna mends
at home in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, Aria frets that someone knows
about her affair with her teacher.

– “American Experience,” 9-10:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Last week, PBS had a compelling
portrait of Robert E. Lee. Now we see his rival, U.S. Grant.

– “The Cape,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.
Here's an instant rerun of Sunday's pilot film. A framed cop is
rescued by a circus troupe, where he gets a cape, a mask and a knack
for magic tricks. The result mixes splendid music and visuals, a
so-so plot and superb support from Keith David, as the circus leader.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In a night of CBS reruns, here's the funny season-opener. Jake
learns his dad has been secretly dating the mom (Courtney
Thorne-Smith) of his best friend.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. A
magic-shop owner is found dead inside Houdini's old magic trick.
Giles Marini, of “Brothers & Sisters” and “Dancing With the
Stars,” plays a magician.

 

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 9


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

The outside world is changing in 1912,
with talk of world war and women getting the vote. Still, the Earl of
Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) clings to traditions.

He's a decent man, with none of the
nastiness of his mother-in-law (Maggie Smith). But some day, his
family may be nudged out of the estate – unless his strong-willed
daughter marries for convenience.

“Downton Abbey” offers richly
layered portraits of the privileged people and their servants. Its
lone flaw is that it behaves too much like a series: At the end of
these four weeks, too many things will be in limbo until next year.
Still, “Abbey” has been written, acted and directed with elegance
and skill.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Cape”
debut, 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Here is the opposite of “Downton
Abbey.” The visuals are strong, the dialog intense, the music
strident.

As an evil businessman takes over the
police force, an honest cop is framed. Linking with circus people, he
becomes a masked-and-caped hero, complete with magic tricks for
escapes.

This feels like a dumbed-down “Heroes,”
with plot flaws. (Why are villains quick to divulge their plans and
slow to finish anyone off?) Still, there are strengths, including
Keith David as the circus leader.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Bob's
Burgers” debut, 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Even on a good day, this burger shop
does so-so business. Now comes a very bad day, complete with health
inspectors and a rumor that Bob uses human flesh for his burgers.

This is done in a droll, dry style.
Compared to some of Fox's overwrought cartoons, that's welcome .

Other choices include:

– Football, 1 p.m. ET CBS, 4:30 p.m.,
Fox. In the first game, the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) visit the Kansas
City Chiefs (10-6). In the second, two 10-6 teams collide, with the
Green Bay Packers at the Philadelphia Eagles. They met in their first
game of the season, with the Packers winning, 27-20.

– “Sarah Palin's Alaska,” 1-10
p.m., TLC. This was originally planned as an eight-hour run. Today,
the first seven episodes start rerunning at 1 p.m. The eighth –
gold-mining near Nome – is at 8; then the series concludes with
previously unused footage at 9 p.m., rerunning at 11.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Susan has enough trouble with her dialysis; now she must deal
with her flaky mom (Lesley Ann Warren) and aunt (Valerie Harper).

– “Californication,” 9 p.m.,
Showtime. Hank (David Duchovny) skidded after learning his lover is
16. Now – in a good (and very adult) season-opener – that leads
to new opportunity and to bigger troubles.

– “My Fair Wedding,” 9 p.m., WE.
This month has brides with theatrical flair. Rerunning at 8 p.m. is
last week's fun season-opener, complete with a runway; at 9 is a
“Phantom of the Opera” theme.

– “Episodes,” 9:30 p.m.,
Showtime. Hollywood crunches a writing couple, turning their clever
British comedy into a mainstream show for Matt LeBlanc (who plays
himself). This opener is funny and smart; next week's episode is
merely OK.

– “Shameless” debut, 10 p.m.,
Showtime. In a fairly good comedy-drama, Emmy Rossum plays the oldest
sibling, keeping her family together despite their shamelessly
drunken dad.

– “Brothers & Sisters,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. An event from Nora's past triggers some of Holly's missing
memories. Meanwhile, Sarah has parenting trouble; Kevin and Scotty
have adoptive-parenting woe.