TV column for Sunday, Jan. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Downton Abbey”
season-opener, 9-11 p.m., PBS.

Last season ended with Mary set to
marry Matthew, the heir to her family's estate. All was settled.

Except for the constant flux of new
questions and controversies. Will Lady Sybil arrive with her husband,
an Irish militant and ex-chauffeur? Will Lady Edith marry the
much-older neighbor? Has Robert blown the family fortune? And what
about Bates, in prison on a shaky murder conviction?

The plot is rushed and flawed, but the
elegant writing and acting make this eminently entertaining. It's at
its best when two dowagers (Maggie Smith and a visiting American,
Shirley MacLaine) collide.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Football, 1
p.m., CBS, and 4:30 p.m., Fox.

This year has brought a rarity –
three top rookie quarterbacks in one season. Now you can catch all
three in one play-off afternoon.

At 1 p.m. on CBS, Andrew Luck and
Indianapolis visit Baltimore. At 4:30 p.m. on Fox, Russell Wilson and
Seattle visit Robert Griffin III and Washington.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Biggest
Loser” opener, 9-11 p.m., NBC.

After two years away from the show,
Jillian Michaels is back and seething. She soon has contestants
vomiting, collapsing and possibly quitting.

Fortunately, she and the others are
much gentler on three teens –ages 16, 13 and 13. Those immensely
likable kids are an auxiliary part of this edition, putting some
focus on childhood obesity.

There are some other worthy moments
here – plus, as usual, many loudly repetitious ones

Other choices include:

– “Emeril's Florida,” 10:30 a.m.
ET, Cooking Channel. Emeril Lagasse opens his new series in Orlando.
He visits a spot called “The Ravenous Pig” and surprises the
staff at Emeril's Orlando.

– “District 9” (2009), 7 and 9:30
p.m., BBC America. Here are two chances to see this film about aliens
from outer-space, confined to a ghetto. It drew praise, plus Oscar
nominations for best picture and for its script, editing and special
effects.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 7 and 8
p.m., ABC. First is a rerun, with Emma and Mary Margaret scrambling
for the magic compass, atop a beanstalk ruled by a giant (Jorge
Garcia). Then a new episode finds Emma doubting a murder charge
against her nemesis, Regina.

--”The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Homer joins a survivalist group that has set up camp outside
Springfield, waiting for the end of the world.

– “Revenge,” 9 p.m., ABC. After a
month-long break, this show is back with a new episode. Emily is
focusing on her next villain to ruin; Victoria, however, has a scheme
that includes Emily.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Will has a case that could bring millions to the financially troubled
firm. He also has a problem: Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox) is on the
other side.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The team probes a murder at an upscale rehab center.

– “666 Park Avenue,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. With only four episodes left, producers say they're setting up a
big finish. Tonight, Jane finds her dark dreams merging with reality;
she studies the building's history.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), NBC.

After all those years seeming
overworked, underappreciated and weary, Louis C.K. is suddenly a big
deal. Last year he received seven Emmy nominations – winning two,
for writing his cable series and his stand-up special – and the
Television Critics Association's award for individual comedy.

Then he wrapped things up on Nov. 5
with one of the best “SNL” episodes in years; it reruns tonight.
C.K. hosts and has a brilliant Lincoln-in-a-bar sketch; Fun is the
music guest.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Football, 4:30
and 8 p.m. ET, NBC.

The bowl barrage steps aside for two
days while the pros take over, with playoff double-headers.

Each game has a division leader hosting
a wild-card team. Today, it's Cincinnati (10-6) at Houston (12-4).
Then Minnesota (10-6) visits an oft-frozen Green Bay (11-5).

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Once Upon a
Time,” 8-11 p.m., ABC.

This terrific show reruns three key
episodes. There's another at 7 p.m. Sunday; then new ones resume.

Tonight starts with the season-opener:
As Regina's spell wears off, people in Storybrooke realize they're
from fairytale land – and they can't get back there. Mr. Gold
introduces dangerous magic to our world.

In the second episode, Gold has two
worlds of trouble. In one, Belle may leave him; in fairytale land
(where he's Rumplestiltskin), his wife may be kidnapped. And in the
third, Emma has a risky mission – steal a magic compass atop the
beanstalk of a stern giant, played by Jorge Garcia of “Lost.”

Other choices include:

– More football, 1 p.m.ET, ESPN. The
BBVA Compass Bowl, in Birmingham, Ala., has two 6-6 teams, Pittsburgh
and Mississippi. It may have trouble drawing fans who aren't sure
what a BBVA Compass is.

– “The Mentalist, 8 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, an anti-cult activist has been killed. Patrick Jane turns to a
cult leader (Malcolm McDowell) he confronted in the past.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. “Bolt”
(2008, Disney) is an animated delight, as a dog who played a TV hero
flees into the real world, thinking he really is heroic. And if you
prefer movies for grownups? “The Notebook” (2004, ABC Family) is
warm and moving. “Signs” (2002, AMC) has M. Night Shyamalan at
his quirkiest; it's a crop-circle tale with strong moments and a weak
finish.

– “Mob Doctor,” 9 p.m., Fox. Dr.
Grace Devlin finds herself in the precarious situation of secretly
taking care of a mobster's girlfriend who has a secret.

– :Bridesmaids” (2011), 9:30 p.m.,
HBO. Kristen Wiig alternates between moments that are funny and ones
that are simply overwrought … which is what she used to do in
“Saturday Night Live.”

– “Leader of the Pack” debut, 10
p.m., Nat Geo Wild. Cesar Millan's amiable approach – helping
people and their dogs – apparently wasn't enough for our new world.
In this series, he soothes one dog, then tests three families … one
of which gets the dog. Millan seems uncomfortable as a reality-show
host, more comfortable being pulled by the dog for high-octane
skateblading.

– Wedding Band, 10 p.m., TBS. This
isn't the way to stir up business: After being hired to play at a
divorce party, the guys in the band are trying to get the couple back
together.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football, 8 p.m.
ET, Fox.

The bowl season has plenty of odd-named
games, airing on cable .Here's an exception on both counts.

The network is Fox and the game is the
Cotton Bowl, which has been around since 1937. Texas A & M and
Oklahoma each have 10-2 records; they're ranked No. 9 and 11
respectively in one national poll, No. 10 and 12 in the other.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS.

This solid show keeps finding ways to
mix crime stories with family drama. Here's a prime example.

Danny (the excellent Donnie Wahlberg)
has a big case, involving a sniper has killed two drivers of
gas-guzzler cars. Then Danny's son – out biking with an aunt and a
teen sister – is hit by a car.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Great
Performances,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

It all started when someone gave Paul
Simon an obscure South African tape, “Accordion Jive Hits.” Soon,
he says here, it was his favorite album.”

He traveled to South Africa to jam with
great musicians, then brought them to London and New York. The
result, “Graceland,” sold 14 million albums, won the
album-of-the-year Grammy and launched a mega-tours. It also brought a
backlash, because Simon had ignored a cultural boycott.

This documentary recalls all of that
while following Simon to a 25th-year “Graceland.” It could have
used more music and less verbal repetition, but is still fascinating.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY: “True Justice”
season-opener, 8 p.m. ET, Reelz.

“In case you haven't notice,” a
deputy sheriff says, “Kane isn't the talkative type.”

We noticed and we're grateful. Steven
Seagal, who also produces the show, plays Kane mid-way between stoic
and catatonic; he barely mumbles the the lines.

Fortunately, that's rarely an issue.
Before the opening credits, he's said six words and several people
(with the help of flashbacks) are shot or maimed. It's an episode
that sends the series in a fresh direction – while continuing its
fierce violence and wooden drama.

Other choices include:

– “Merlin,” 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,
then 10 p.m., rerunning at 11, Syfy. First, the show's entire fourth
season (minus one episode) reruns. Then – after a wrestling break –
the final season begins with the start of a two-parter.” Sir
Percival and Sir Gwaine are captured by Morgana; Arthur and Merlin
try a rescue.

– “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
(1981) and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”(1984), 7 and
9:30 p.m., Spike. First is a truly great movie adventure. George
Lucas' idea was sharply written by Lawrence Kasdan; Steven Spielberg
directed it beautifully, with great help from composer John Williams
and star Harrison Ford. Then is the sequel, which is fairly good.

– “Go On,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.
Ever since his wife's death, Ryan (Matthew Perry) seems to be burying
his grief. In the first rerun, he's channeling the pain into
compulsive eating. In the second, people try to liven his birthday
with a scavenger hunt.

– “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993),
8 and 10 p.m., Bravo. Already a successful screenwriter, Nora Ehpron
added directing. This is her second film and her first success, a
nimble drama-comedy with Meg Ryan as a radio personality and Tom
Hanks as the lonely widower who phones her show.

– “Shark Tank.” 9 p.m., ABC. One
guy has created miniature tents to go on the picnic table, keeping
each plate bug-free. Two others have combined to make Arkeg, which
conveniently puts a refrigerated beer keg alongside an arcade-type
video machine. There's much more in a fairly interesting hour; one
idea even gets a million-dollar offer.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. Two
victims are linked to the same unusual weapon.

– “Portlandia”season-opener, 10
and 10:30 p.m., IFC (Independent Film Channel). Watching TV for the
first time in years, Spyke is shocked to see that his beloved MTV
showing reality shows instead of videos..He and Iris gather past MTV
stars (Kurt Loder, Tabitha Soren) for a takeover. That provides a
clever start for the return of this witty show, starring its
creators, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Scandal,” 9
and 10 p.m., ABC.

The first rerun is a strong hour –
written by Shonda Rhimes, the “Grey's Anatomy” and “Scandal”
creator – that pushed “Scandal” in fresh directions.

Fitz, the president, has been shot and
Olivia returns to the White House. Soon, we see flashbacks to their
affair and to the betrayal that left Vice-President Langston (Kate
Burton) bitter at Fitz.

The second rerun finds Olivia leading a
search for the shooter, while hesitantly linking with Langston, who
is now the acting president.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang
Factor” and “Two and a Half Men,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

Others networks are in their rerun
mode, but CBS has an all-new night. That starts with the neatly
off-kilter notion of Sheldon being accused of sexual harassment;
soon, the controversy encompasses Leonard, Raj and Howard.

Then “Men” continues a story that
has Walden pretending to be poor, to see if Kate likes him for
himself. That leaves Alan pretending – not reluctantly – to he's
the rich guy with the Malibu beach house; tonight, he invests
Walden's money in Kate's fashion line.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Football, 8:30
p.m. ET, ESPN.

There's an odd-duck appeal to the
Oregon Ducks, drawing fan appeal. The name and the uniforms are
quirky; the hurry-up offense is fresh, frenzied and effective, the
fourth best in national statistics.

That makes football fun. Tonight, the
Fiesta Bowl has Oregon and Kansas State, each with an 11-1 record.
Oregon is ranked No. 3 in one national poll, No. 5 in the other;
Kansas State is No. 6 and 7.

Other choices include:

– “Nashville,” 8 p.m., ABC. “Last
Resort” gets one more week off, before returning for its final
three episodes. Meanwhile, here's a fresh chance to see the
“Nashville” pilot, with its deeply layered portrait of two
country singers – one (Hayden Panettiere) young and soaring, the
other (Connie Britton) hanging on. There's great music along the way,
especially by a newcomer in the final minutes.

– “30 Rock,” 8 p.m., NBC. Here's
a rerun, four weeks before the series finale. After running into her
old boyfriend Dennis Duffy, Liz is ready to take drastic measures to
start a family.

– “Up All Night,” 8:30 p.m., NBC.
It's wild-party time – Chris with an obnoxious roommate from his
college days, Reagan with her brother, who's organizing a sleepover
for his son.

– “Mr. Cao Goes to Washington,” 9
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Joseph Cao's election defied most
political rules. The first Vietnamese-American congressman, he was a
Republican, elected in 2008 when his district gave Barack Obama 75
percent of its votes. This excellent film follows him through
controversies – health care, oil spill – and into a tough
re-election campaign.

– “Rock Center,” 10 p.m., NBC.
For the second straight week, this news magazine plans a rerun. This
includes Meredith Vieira's interview with Mimi Alford, who says she
was a 19-year-old White House intern when she began an 18-month
affair with President John Kennedy.

– “Elementary,” 10 p.m., CBS. At
an upscale hotel, the manager's body has been found in a washing
machine. Sherlock Holmes seeks clues … and a way to keep Dr. Watson
around.

– “What Not to Wear,” 10 p.m.,
TLC. This show opened one season by finding a new look for Mayim
Bialik. Now it turns to another former teen star, Tiffany.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC.

Over its first eight episodes, this
well-crafted show has tried to do everything. There's drama, romance
and politics, all backed by a terrific modern-country soundtrack.

Layered dramas like this are tough to
follow if you've missed a few episodes, but now it's time to catch
up: Tonight offers highlights from the first eight episodes; at 8
p.m. Thursday, the pilot film will rerun.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Mike &
Molly,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

While waiting for “Survivor” to
return, CBS is filling this hour with reruns. Tonight, this fun show
is boosted by a couple of side characters.

In the first episode, it's Christina
(Holly Robinson Peete); Carl considers her way out of his league. In
the second, it's Mike's mom (Rondi Reed); she's nudged into the work
force.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Willy Wonka
and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) and “Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory” (2005), 6 and 8:30 p.m., ABC Family.

At a time when family films were kind
of bland, “Willy Wonka” was a delight. Roald Dahl adapted his
book about greedy kids and a quirky adult; there was a talented star
(Gene Wilder) and zesty music.

The surprise is that its remake is even
better. Three brilliant talents – director Tim Burton, actor Johnny
Depp and composer Danny Elfman – combined for a film that's sharp,
clever and visually gorgeous.

Other choices include:

– “Mobbed,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.
This trend – using social media to create instant “flash mobs”
– is interesting, but not something to turn into a TV show. Fox
will air four new episodes over the next two nights, when they should
be easy to ignore.

– Football, 8:30 p.m., ESPN. It's
time for the Sugar Bowl, one of the bigger ones. Florida is 11-1 and
ranked fourth in both national polls; it faces Louisville (10-2),
rated 18th in one and 22nd in the other.

– “Nova,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). In 2010, a volcano in Iceland created international
crises. Now – with the potential for bigger Icelandic blasts –
these hours look at what could happen and what can be done to prepare
for it.

– ”Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Yard sales should help people get rid of things, it doesn't work that
way in this rerun. Phil buys something he doesn't want; Manny learns
a secret about his mom.

--”Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Back in 2008, Denis O'Hare played a priest who
heard a key death-bed confession. Now he's back as the same
character, this time brutally beaten; Tutuola's former brother-in-law
has been arrested.

– The Hour, 9 p.m., BBC America. The
six-episode season of this smart British drama ends with big-time
crises. The nightclub has been raided and Cilenti has been arrested
for murder. The news show is eager to report about it, but there's a
catch: Word gets out that its star anchor (Dominic West) has been
nabbed in the raid and was accused by Kiki of beating her.

– “CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation,”10 p.m., CBS. Trouble seems to follow the CSI
people. In this rerun, they go to their favorite diner and find eight
people have been killed.