TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 18


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

Nothing about “Star Trek” turned
out as planned. Jeffrey Hunter starred in the first pilot, Jack Lord
turned down the job in the second; William Shatner got it. Martin
Landau turned down the emotionless Spock role – “It was the
antithesis of why I became an actor” – and Leonard Nimoy took it.

CBS rejected the show and chose “Lost
in Space” – which kept getting worse as “Trek” got better.

The first “Pioneers” season was
so-so, but this four-week burst is fresh and sharp. The opener
(viewing science fiction) even shows Shatner in “Howdy Doody” and
Nimoy in “Zombies of the Stratosphere.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Life
Unexpected,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

In the season finale, Baze is ready to
settle in with Emma – unaware that she's been his dad's lover.

Also, Lux plans a dinner alone with
Eric; then her parents (Baze and Cate) burst in and complicate
things. After that, an above-average series ends its season and maybe
its life.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Lights Out,”
10 p.m., FX.

After a fairly good opener, “Lights
Out” adds depth and subtlety tonight.

Holt McCallany is superb as a former
boxing champion, entangled in secrets. People don't know he's out of
money … and the brain damage from his fighting days could become
fatal … and he's considering a big-money rematch, five years into
retirement.

Now he has one one more secret – he
broke a rich man's arm, while collecting money for a bookie. As the
cover-up builds, there's a deeper look at his wife (Catherine
McCormack) and his dad (Stacy Keach). We get a complex portrait of a
good man who could be going very bad.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a
youth-obsessed TV world, it's been fun to see David McCallum, 77, as
Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard. Now comes a bonus: Bob Newhart, 81,
plays Ducky's mentor.

– “The Walking Dead,” 8 p.m. to 3
a.m., AMC. Skillfully crafted, this zombie series has become a
ratings hit;now its six-episode season reruns. The excellent opener
is 8 p.m. today, with the next two episodes at 9:30 and 10:30. They
rerun at 11:30 p.m. and 1 and 2 a.m.; the others air Wednesday.

– “Frontline.” 9 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). Ever since 2001, we're told, the
intelligence-gathering industry has grown hugely. Generic buildings
near Washington, D.C., house anonymous people doing unstated tasks.
This hour, partly from a Washington Post report, asks: “Are We
Safer?”

– “V,” 9 p.m., ABC. Last week's
episode ended with Erica battling an alien who had infiltrated the
FBI; their car crashed and overturned. Tonight, the fierce fight
continues. It's a strong start, but “V” quickly reverts to two
things TV overdoes – hostage-taking and torture.

– “20/20,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. In a
late change, “Detroit 1-8-7” is delayed a week, making room for
Diane Sawyer's interview of Capt. Mark Kelly, the astronaut who is
married to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He describes their romance
and the days after she was critically wounded by a gunman.

– “Onion SportsDome,” 10:30 p.m.,
Comedy Central. The second episode, like the first, ranges from
brilliance to excess. There's a hilarious bit about a sick little
girl, kept alive by her hatred of baseball star David Wright; there's
also a cruel and pointless one, in which a jealous coach throws acid
on football star Tom Brady's handsome face.

 

TV column for Monday, Jan. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Harry's Law”
debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

For 18 months, one of TV's great
writers was off the air. David E.Kelley had created and led “Boston
Legal,” “Boston Public,” “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice,”
“Picket Fences” and more. His writing is sharp, funny and
passionate; the bland TV landscape ignored him.

Now he's back, with a loose mix of
humor and drama.

Harriet (Kathy Bates) is a patent
lawyer, rich and disillusioned. Fired, she works in a low-income
neighborhood, where her law office doubles as a shoe store.

Bates is perfect; so are Brittany Snow
and Nate Corddry, as a shoe-savvy aide and a socially clumsy lawyer.
The most important force, however, is Kelley; despite occasional
overkill, this is a delight.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Piers Morgan
Tonight” debut, 9 p.m., CNN.

Two strong, confident forces combine
tonight.

One is Piers Morgan, a former British
newspaper editor who has made a splash as an “America's Got Talent”
judge and a “Celebrity Apprentice” winner. He takes over Larry
King's old spot.

The other is Oprah Winfrey, his first
guest. It should be interesting.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Being Human”
debut, 9 p.m., Syfy; reruns at 10:02.

In modern-day Boston, a vampire and a
werewolf share a friendship and an apartment. What they don't know,
at first, is that a ghost is also there.

Don't expect doe-eyed teens in love.
This hour – based on a strong British show – starts with a sexual
tryst turned bloody and ends with a horrific crisis. In between,
three people grasp for normality,.

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

The late 1800s were spectacular years
for American dinosaur hunters.

In the sparsely populated West, Charles
Marsh and Edward Cope found thousands of specimens and discovered 130
species. They advanced science greatly – and fought each other so
fiercely that careers and lives would be ruined. It's a huge story,
beautifully told.

Other choices include:

– “The Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m.,
ABC. Ever since he rejected everyone on this show three years ago,
Brad Womack says, he's been miserable and has been seeing a
therapist. Now he pauses during the show, for a session. Also, one
woman is serenaded by Seal; the field is trimmed from 17 to 14.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. After his dad's death last week, Marshall returns to his
Minnesota home town. He meets an old bully; also, Ted and Barney are
determined to make him laugh.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. For years, Rose stalked Charlie. Now she claims she's married
and Charlie stalks her. Also, Jake and his friend tape dangerous
stunts.

– “The Cape,” 9 p.m., NBC. Last
week's debut was, for good or bad, sort of like a loud comic book. By
the end, an honest cop had been framed and assumed a cape-wearing
identity. Tonight, a former circus man wants to retrieve the cape.

--”After the Wall,” 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). When the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, a
mega-makeover began. Refusing to gloat, Western leaders quietly
worked on a re-unification. This detailed documentary ranges from
leaders, including then-President George H..W. Bush, to ordinary
East Germans, who ranged from joy to their first experience with
joblessness.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Golden Globe
awards, 8-11 p.m., NBC.

Last year, this semi-silly show
improved mightily by having Ricky Gervais as host. His casual, ragged
approach fit the mood; now he's back, promising more comedy.

The drama-movie category is strong in
true stories – “Social Network,” “The King's Speech,” “The
Fighter” – alongside “Inception” (no, it's not a true story)
and “Black Swan.” The comedy-or-musical nominees are “The
Tourist” (which, oddly, is neither a comedy nor a musical), “Red,”
“Burlesque,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Kids Are
Alright.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Desperate
Housewives,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Back in the “Dallas” days, Larry
Hagman dominated a ratings powerhouse. He hasn't done American TV in
five years, but now he's back at 79, playing an apparent jerk who's
about to marry Stella.

Her daughter, Lynette, is stunned.
Also, Bree learns about Keith's past from his ex-girlfriend. Bob and
Lee reluctantly let Renee – who has no maternal instincts –
design their adoptive daughter's room.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Big Love,”
9 p.m., HBO, rerunning at 10:05.

The final season begins in chaos: Bill
has been elected, but his bigamy is public. Aftershocks grow.

The result is overwrought, stretching
believability at every turn. It's also repetitious. Some people will
still love “Love”; others will think it should have left a few
seasons ago.

Other choices include:

– Football, 1 p.m., Fox, and 4:30
p.m., CBS. First, the Seattle Seahawks – still with a losing
record, but only two steps from the Super Bowl– visit the Chicago
Bears (11-5). Then the New York Jets (12-5) visit the New England
Patriots (14-2).

– Golden Globe previews. On cable, E
has a preview at 5 p.m. and is on the red carpet at 6. NBC's own
red-carpet show starts at 7.

– “Masterpiece Classic,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). In last week's opener, the master of
Downton Abbey learned of the death of a distant nephew, who had been
set to inherit the estate and to marry his eldest daughter, Mary. Now
the new heir-apparent brings change. He holds a job, avoids being
served by the household help and verbally spars with Mary. There are
more plot twists, some of them soapy and melodramatic; overall,
however, this four-week series is beautifully crafted.

– “My Favorite Wedding,” 9 p.m.,
WE. The start of this season has focused on brides with epic plans.
The first two rerun at 7 and 8 p.m.; then we meet one whose “Alice
in Wonderland” vision is so strong that she wants dwarves holding
up the train of her black dress. David Tutera brings some big changes
(including stilt-dancers), but also makes some surprising
compromises.

– “Californication,” 9 p.m.,
Showtime. Last week's season-opener (rerunning at 8:30 p.m.) left
Hank facing statutory rape charges, after he learned his former lover
is 16. Tonight, in a good episode, he sinks further, but also starts
to second-guess his life.

– “Episodes,” 9:30 p.m.,
Showtime. After last week's terrific opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.),
this is so-so. The writing duo tries to adjust to the fact that its
show has been hugely changed to fit Matt LeBlanc.

– “Brothers & Sisters,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. Tommy (Balthazar Getty) visits, bringing a
girlfriend who seems too interested in the family's offbeat history.

 

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 15


TODAY'S MUST-SEE: Football, 4:30 p.m.
ET, CBS; then 8 p.m. ET, Fox.

The second playoff round begins, with
pro football's best defenses colliding.

First, the Baltimore Ravens visit the
Pittsburgh Steelers, each 13-4. Then the Green Bay Packers (11-6)
visit the Atlanta Falcons (13-3).

Those teams have four of the five
lowest points-allowed totals in the NFL. Don't expect any soaring
scores today, but do expect some solid football.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Miss America
pageant, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

After years of wandering through the
cable wilderness, this show returns to a broadcast network.

Chris Harrison hosts, just as he does
for “The Bachelor.” Brooke Burke – who has hosted “Rock Star”
and won “Dancing With the Stars” – joins him.

Don't worry, neither has to sing.
Because this is the 90th pageant, it will use a Bert Parks
recording.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Erin
Brockovich” (2000, Lifetime) or “An Education” (2008, Starz),
both 9 p.m.

Two gifted actresses lead superb films
that drew Academy Award nominations for best picture.

Julia Roberts won a best-actress Oscar
as the real-life Brockovich, who took on the utility companies, armed
mainly with persistence, intelligence and sex appeal. Carey Mulligan
was nominated for her beautifully layered role of a smart British
teen in the early '60s, suddenly caught up in bigger things.

Other choices include:

– “Chuck,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a
previous episode, Chuck met the Soviet spy (Timothy Dalton) who works
with his mom (Linda Hamilton). In this rerun, both arrive during
Thanksgiving.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. This rerun
starts with an attack on a bomb tech. Trying to learn why, the team
digs into her personal life, including a possible link to a murder.

– “Celine: Through the Eyes of the
World,” 8-10:30 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. This documentary
follows Celine Dion on her 2008-9 tour, with personal glimpses of her
and her family.

– More movies, 8 p.m., cable. The
delightful “Juno” (2007) is on Oxygen, rerunning at 10 p.m.; it's
an Oscar-winner for its witty script and drew nominations for best
picture, Jason Reitman's direction and Ellen Page's performance as a
witty and pregnant teen. “Meet the Parents” (2000, TBS) is fairly
good; “Valentine's Day” (2010, HBO) makes so-so use of a great
cast, entangling many stories.

– “The Defenders,” 9 p.m., CBS.
This rerun has Lana Parrilla – the terrific star of “Boomtown”
and “Miami Medical” – as the mistress of a Las Vegas star. Now
she's the prime suspect in his murder.

– “Law & Order: Los Angeles,”
9 p.m., NBC. A young star (Danielle Panabaker) and her mom (Shawnee
Smith) are the latest victims of a string of home invasions.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. A rape victim disappears from the hospital.

– “Brooklyn Kinda Love,” 10 p.m.,
Playboy TV. Stretching for a broader audience, Playboy – a
pay-extra channel on many cable and satellite systems – focuses on
four Brooklyn couples (one lesbian, three boyfriend-girlfriend) in
the bedroom and beyond. The people are fairly likeable; their worlds
are moderately interesting, ranging from warmth to petty jealousies.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p..m., NBC. Gwyneth Paltrow hosts, with music from Cee-Lo Green.

 

TV column for Friday, Jan. 14


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

After seven seasons of fairly good
drama – including a best-actress Emmy for Patricia Arquette –
this show is a week from its finale.

Tonight's episode is directed by Miguel
Sandoval, who also plays Devalos. A man desperately wants Allison's
help in finding the truth behind his wife's disappearance; also,
Allison and Joe worry when their daughter Marie breaks down in the
middle of a spelling bee.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Anderson
Cooper 360: Hope Survives,” 9 p.m., CNN.

It was on June 5, 1981, that the first
scientific report pointed to what's now known as AIDS. Almost 30
years later, the media sometimes ignores a still-deadly disease.

Now Cooper offers an elaborate look. He
talks to Elton John, whose foundation helps fund the search for a
cure; he also talks to the mother of the late Ryan White, the teen
who brought an early focus.

Others describe the cases that stirred
them personally. That includes comments from Maya Angelou, Susan
Sarandon, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Margaret Cho, Sharon Stone and more.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Ricky
Gervais Show” return, 9 p.m., HBO; repeats at 9:30.

At the core, this simply has Gervais
and Stephen Merchant (creators of “The Office”) chatting with
Karl Pilkington, a former radio producer. The chat and Pilkington's
ideas are turned into animation.

Many people love this show, as Gervais
and Merchant mock their friend and whatever he says. We have our
qualms, partly because the ideas really aren't that silly. Tonight,
Pilkington offers a science-fiction movie idea that has potential;
the others find it hysterical, in a fairly fun show.

Other choices include:

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. It's a night
for comedy, often with serious touches around the edges. The best is
“Jerry Maguire” (1996) on Bravo, with a witty script about a
sports agent and a great cast, led by Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger and
Oscar-winning Cuba Gooding Jr. The silliest (but still fun) is Will
Ferrell's “Anchorman” (2004) on TBS. In between is “Hope
Floats” (1998) on WE; it's a fairly good comedy-drama, with Sandra
Bullock returning home after her marriage collapses.

– “CSI:NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. The
owner of a Spanish club has been killed. Before he can solve the
case, Mac has a dispute with the head of the crime lab in Barcelona.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
In this rerun, a math genius has been killed by someone dressed as a
clown. Lucy Davis – whose husband, Owain Yeoman, plays Rigsby –
plays the widow.

– “Gold Rush: Alaska,” 10 p.m.,
Discovery. There are still six new episodes in this first season, as
Oregon guys search for riches. Tonight, troubles pile up: A key piece
of equipment breaks down, James Harness collapses and Jimmy Dorsey
draws criticism when he takes an outside job.

– “Merlin,” 10 p.m., Syfy. In
last week's season-opener, a villain disguised as a beauty and
charmed King Uther into insantiy. (Hey, it happens.) Now his son,
Arthur, must lead the defense; meanwhile, a poisoned Merlin tries to
save Morgana.