TV column for Wednesday, May 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC.

Alex – valedictorian of her
middle-school class – plans a commencement speech that will blast
all of the popular kids. What could go wrong?

For starters, her grandfather has had a
Botox accident, making people cringe; he had an electronic-gate
accident, trapping people in his driveway. Also, her sister – one
of those popular kids – says this is no time for a thoughtful
speech: “It's a graduation, a celebration of being done with
thinking.”

The result is a rich brew; it starts
fairly well and builds wonderfully.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Amercan
Idol,” 8-9:30 p.m., Fox.

Earlier this season, “Idol” had its
most distinctive contestants ever, filled with specialties.

And now? It's kind of like previous
seasons – two cute Southern teens and a belter.

Last week, the show's epic-rock guy
(James Durbin) was ousted. Before that, the show lost its gospel guy,
its jazz guy, its just-really-odd guy, its powerhouse female. It now
has people cozily near the mainstream – Scotty McCreery, Lauren
Alaina and Haley Reinhart. Tonight, they visit their home towns; then
each sings three songs, two chosen (by judges and by mentor Jimmy
Iovene) for them.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Happy
Endings,” 10 and 10:30 p.m., ABC.

Amid a mountain of cancellations –
“Brothers & Sisters,” “V,” “Better With You,” more –
ABC had one bit of leniency, renewing this crisply funny show. Now we
can catch two new episodes.

The first finds Dave fuming about the
guy who roller-bladed into his wedding and convinced the bride (Alex)
to run away with him. The second finds Dave and Alex trying to prove
they can be civil together; they join the others at a concert of
their favorite band during their college years.

Other choices include:

– “America's Next Top Model,” 8
and 9 p.m., Last week's hour (rerunning at 8 p.m.) gave “Model”
its final two contestants; both are students – Brittani Kline, 19,
of Beech Creek, Pa.; and Molly O'Connell, 22, of Charleston, S.C.
Tonight, they have a commercial and a runway; then one will be the
winner.

– “The Middle,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. In a new episode, swimming season is no day at the beach; Axl
competes for a lifeguard job, Sue hates herself in swim suits. Both
make life difficult for Frankie – who has enough trouble with
Brick's fear of bridges. Then is a rerun, with spring cleaning
bringing woe.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. Some people
will want the Emmy-nominated “Coco Chanel” (2009, Lifetime Movie
Network), with its lush look and solid casting; Barbora Bobulova and
Shirley Maclaine share the title role. Others will like the clever
thriller “The Sixth Sense” (1999, FX) or one of the sequels –
the vibrant “High School Musical 2” (2007) on Disney, “The
Matrix Revolutions” (2003) on AMC.

– “The Real Housewives of New
Jersey,” 8:30-10 p.m., Bravo. If you missed this rowdy
season-opener Monday, here's a rerun. It may be your only chance to
see a real-life baptism brawl.

– “Cougar Town,” 9:31 p.m., ABC.
Heart-broken by an ended romance, Travis is ready to quit college.
Meanwhile, his dad – already a drop-out – may make mony from a
game he created.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit” season-finale, 10 p.m., NBC. A woman has been killed, shortly
before she was to testify in a controversial rape case.

TV column for Tuesday, May 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Dancing With the
Stars” (ABC) or “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), 8-10 p.m.

Two shows – each down to the final
four – trim for next week's finales.

“Stars” has football player Hines
Ward and actors Kirstie Alley, Ralph Macchio and Chelsea Kane. One of
them departs in the second hour, after a special at 8.

“Loser” will choose two of its
finalists and place the other two in limbo, with the viewers choosing
one for the finale. Before tonight's weigh-in, the four people cook
turkey burgers. They also race through a golf course, shedding
weights that represent how much they've lost so far.

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

Ducking next Tuesday's reality
overload, CBS has three straight season finales, concluding here.

Things have been tense since Alicia
learned that her husband slept with her trusted detective, Kalinda.
Now that must be set aside while the women work on a murder trial.

Kelli Giddish (“Chase”) returns as
Sophia Russo, from Kalinda's past. Also, Alicia must sort out her
feelings for Will … who is doing the same with Tammy.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Secrets of
the Dead,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

When the U.S. exploded its first
hydrogen bomb in 1954 at Bikini Atoll, the blast (15 megatons) was
triple the expectation. Three coral islands were vaporized, fishermen
were killed and injured 82 miles away; soldiers improvised bed sheets
– like kids' Halloween costumes – to try to escape radiation.

Seven years later, Soviets had a
50-megaton blast. Its creator soon became an anti-nuclear activist.

The nations would sign a 1963 treaty
banning above-ground testing. This well-crafted documentary visits
some of the key people; it also follows a man's visit to Bikini Atoll
– once his people's home, but now uninhabited for 57 years.

Other choices include:

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Glee-clubbers are obsessing on their set list for the nationals, with
some outside help from Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff). The a death
changes things.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Lives are
in danger when the team finally confronts the “port-to-port”
killer.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Hettty (Linda Hunt) has suddenly resigned and disappeared.

– “Raising Hope,” 9:01 p.m., Fox.
We flash back five years, to a time when Jimmy was 18 and Goth –
and when his grandmother (Cloris Leachman) was sharp in mind and
body.

– “Traffic Light,” 9:31 p.m.,
Fox. This clever show won't be back next season, so we might as well
enjoy it now. Tonight focuses on clothes, or lack thereof: Mike and
Lisa have a skimpily clad teen babysitter; Callie has a naked dance
party, interrupted by a delivery man.

– “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). Japan's fascination with bugs is captured
in many ways here. Beautifully filmed, “Beetle Queen Conquers
Tokyo” ranges from city streets to nature preserves, art museums
and Zen temples.

– “Body of Proof,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. As the funeral nears for a philanthropist and socialite, Megan
intervenes. She suspects foul play … but has trouble proving it
after the body has been embalmed.

TV column for Monday, May 16


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

For starters, we need the world's
biggest “DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME” sign.

Don't try medical procedures in your
bedroom, or self-surgery in your bathtub; also, don't attempt a
diagnosis during a lap dance. Characters do that tonight, in ways
that make sense for “House.”

All you need to know is that Dr. Remy
“13” Hadly was briefly in jail, after assisting her brother's
suicide. And that House stole an experimental drug, hoping it would
cure his leg. Then catch an episode that is sharply painful, but is
written and acted with rich depth of characters.

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

On the eve of a new phase in the 1961
“freedom rides,” an official warned a leader of the danger. Her
response, John Siegenthaler says, was direct: “We all signed our
last wills and testaments last night.”

This was no mere protest. It was
plunging into the deep South by bus, defying segregation laws; it was
facing violent mobs, while police stood by.

Here is an epic story that seems even
bigger after 50 years. “Freedom Riders” tells it beautifully,
blending first-person accounts of 20 riders, and thee other
organizers. It also has key people along the way, including John
Patterson (then Alabama's governor) and the woman who – at age 12 –
defied elders and aided riders when their bus was bombed near her
dad's store.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Real
Housewives of New Jersey” season-opener, 9 pm., Bravo.

If you think your life is complicated,
consider Teresa Giudice. Last year, her husband's construction
business went bankrupt; she went into overdrive, via this show and a
cookbook.

Now she and her husband are key factors
in turning a lush reception (for her nephew's baptism) into a brawl.
Other factors include her brother and alcohol.

Yes, a baby's baptism has a 150-person
reception and a brawl. Even by reality-TV standards, this 90-minute
opener is big and bizarre.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, rap star Romeo was ousted. Now the
final four has three actors (Kirstie Alley, Ralph Macchio and Chelsea
Kane) and football star Hines Ward.

– “How I Met Your Mother”
season-finale, 8 p.m., CBS. Ted is best man at a wedding, while Robin
and Barney try to intervene in his romance life.

– “Mad Love” season-finale, 8:30,
CBS. Kate's ex-boyfriend reveals information that may complicate her
romance with Ben. Also, things get too real on the fake-date of
Connie and Larry.

– “Gossip Girl,” 9 p.m., CW. It's
a night of season finales for CW – first a “90210” graduation,
then this hour, with the return of Georgina Sparks (Michelle
Trachtenberg), Isabel Coates and Kati Farkas.

– “Hawaii Five-0” season-finale,
10 p.m., CBS. Wo Fat moves to destroy the team, when it gets too
close. This time, McGarrett can't turn to the governor for help.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.
There are taut and well-played moments, as Beckett obsesses on
someone with links to her mom's murder. Rick Castle and her dad worry
that her own life is also in danger.

TV column for Sunday, May 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Desperate
Housewives” season-finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Last week, Paul learned that he was
being slowly poisoned through Susan's food; now she's under house
arrest. Also, Tom and Lynette realized they need time with each
other.

Viewers know that Felicia is the real
poisoner … and know there really is someone stalking Gabrielle's
family. Tonight, Gaby wants a gun; also, a fund-raising dinner for
Susan turns deadly. There's more: Michelle gets a report about her
ex-husband, Bree hears a rumor about her new boyfriend.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Survivor”
finale, 8-11 p.m., CBS.

In most seasons, “Survivor” would
now have its final four. This year, alas, the “Redemption Island”
format leaves eight people in the running. They'll vie to get the
final spots and be interviewed by the jury; late in the second hour,
the show will have its 22nd million-dollar winner.

And at 10 p.m., everyone will be back
for the reunion. It will be one more chance to hear from two foes –
Russell Hantz, who was ousted early, and Rob Mariano, who stuck
around.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Celebrity
Apprentice,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Last week found a revolving door: NeNe
Leakes quit because she was mad at Star Jones … who was soon fired.
LaToya Jackson, the only contestant every fired and rehired, was
fired anew.

That leaves people from rock (Meat
Loaf), rap (Lil John), country (John Rich) and acting (Marlee
Matlin). With help from past winners (Piers Morgan, Joan Rivers, Bret
Michaels) Donald Trump chooses his final two, then gives them a 7UP
Retro project that concludes next week.

Other choices include:

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS. The
mid-section of this excellent, three-parter watches bears scavenge in
Anchorage suburbia, nimbly managing fences, trees and bird-feeders.
Then it heads north to the stark beauty of Denali National Park and
then to a bay, transformed into an oil-worker community.

– “Don't Fail Me,” 8 p.m., CNN.
Against the backdrop of a robotics competition, Soledad O'Brien shows
stark differences. One teen has a lush science program; another
fought just to get after-school calculus. It's an OK report, with one
jolting moment: Former Gov. Phil Bredesen says Tennessee lied about
math tests by saying 80 per cent of students were proficient; barely
20 per cent were.

– “Masterpiece Classic,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). The excellent “South Riding”
concludes with Sarah fretting about two students who are brilliant
and motherless – Lydia (who lives in poverty) and Midge (from
land-owning gentry). She also worries about her own near-romance with
Midge's dad. Tonight mixes tragedy, triumph and surprise, all of it
beautifully done.

– “Game of Thrones,” 9 p.m., HBO.
Last week, Lady Stark's forces kidnapped Tyrion Lannister, the “imp”
prince. Tonight, two master fighters – Tyrion's brother and Lady
Stark's husband – collide. That's part of an hour filled with
violence and palace intrigue; after a so-so start, this “Game” is
getting good.

– “Treme,” 10 p.m., HBO. Antoine
is starting to realize his dream (a great jazz band) and his
nightmare (an unrelenting day job). Meanwhile, Annie jams with Shawn
Colvin and Janette reaches a turning point as a New York City cook.
It's a good hour, spiced by great music.

– “The Storm that Swept Mexico,”
10 p.m. to midnight, PBS (check local listings). This documentary
views the 1910 Mexican Revolution and its aftershocks. It's an epic
story, adequately told.

 

TV column for Saturday, May 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Last week's show was terrific – which
you kind of expected with a clever host (Tina Fey) and a big-news
week (Osama bin Laden).

Now Ed Helms – best known as Andy on
“The Office” and Stu in “The Hangover” – hosts. Paul Simon
– who hosted and sang in the second “SNL,” almost 36 years ago
– is the music guest.

The season concludes next week with a
star surplus – Justin Timberlake hosting, Lady Gaga singing.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Edge of the
Garden,” 9 p.m., Hallmark.

Kindly suspend all disbelief tonight.
That's what the lead character (Rob Estes) does, avoiding any
time-wasting oh-it-couldn't-be scenes. He's rewarded with a rich
experience.

Estes plays an executive who works when
he should be attending key events – including his engagement party.
His fiancee (Kelly Monaco) doesn't take well to this, leaving him
alone when he takes over a company in a folksy section of Maine.
There ….

Well, we won't spoil any plot twists.
Settle back, discard disbelief and enjoy the waves of emotion.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Movies, 8 p.m.,
everywhere.

Two big adventures collide – the
third “Pirates of the Caribbean” film (“At World's End,”
2007) on ABC and the delightful “Speed” (1994) on E. And there's
more.

That includes two animated films –
“Monsters, Inc.” (2001) on ABC Family and “How to Train Your
Dragon” (2010) on HBO. It also includes “East of Eden” (1955)
on Turner Classic Movies; James Dean received the first posthumous
Oscar nomination, on Turner Classic Movies.

Other choices include:

– “Chase,” 8 p.m., NBC. Eddie
Cibrian plays a bounty hunter who helps search for someone who uses
family and friends to avoid capture. Also, Annie has strange dreams.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a woman has newly become a suspect in the
deaths of family members, three years ago.

– “Doctor Who,” 8 and 9 p.m., BBC
America. First is a rerun, with the Doctor and colleagues stranded on
a 17th-century pirate ship. Then a new hour finds him endangering
lives to rescue a time lord.

– “The Mentalist,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Last year's season-finale reruns. Patrick Jane and Kristina Frye are
on their first date, when they get word of what appears to be another
Red John killing.

– “Law & Order: Los Angeles,”
9 p.m.,NBC. In a rerun, a college freshman is killed and police find
a surprise after interviewing people at her sorority.

– “Con Artist,” 9 p.m., Ovation.
Mark Kosabi hired artists to make paintings, signed them himself and
boasted “modern art is a con and I am the world's greatest con
artist.” Soon, he fell out of fashion and into bankruptcy; this
documentary follows his extremes.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs”) plays a
suspect in this rerun, which has a woman found dead in a fountain,
after a wild night that conflicts with her straight-arrow past.