TV column for Sunday, April 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Beyond the
Blackboard,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

For the third time, “Hallmark Hall of
Fame” has a superb story of a real-life teacher.

Like the previous ones – “Front of
the Class,” “The Water is Wide” – we meet a young person in a
nearly impossible situation. In this case, Emily VanCamp (“Brothers
& Sisters”) is excellent as a newcomer in a tattered classroom
for migrant kids. Emmy-winner Jeff Bleckner directed beautifully.

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

In the finale (for now) of this
“Upstairs Downstairs” sequel, it's 1936. Agnes (the superb Keeley
Hawes) is pregnant; her shallow sister and the chauffeur are drawn to
Fascism.

Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard),
Agnes' husband, loses his cool exterior as he raises a Jewish orphan
and finds a secret in his family. Some of this is rushed and
melodramatic, but most is beautifully done.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Royal
programming, cable.

Diana Spencer grew up with a photo of
Prince Charles on her wall, we're told in “The Women Who Would Be
Queen” (8 and 11 p.m. on CNN); Kate Middleton grew up with a photo
of Prince William. Still, these country kids were opposites; Soledad
O'Brien skillfully explores the differences.

Earlier, “Charles and Di” (7-9
p.m., TLC) is a barebones special that simply replays the 1981
wedding, plus some news footage and pop-up facts. At 9, some viewers
will stick with TLC for two more specials; others will switch to
Lifetime for a rerun of its so-so “William & Kate” movie.

And BBC America? At 2 p.m., “Prince
William's Africa” is inept, but conveys the prince's passion for
the continent. From 6-8 p.m., it reruns Cat Deeley's
lightweight-but-fun tour, “Royally Mad.”

Other choices include:

– “Simpsons” marathon, 7-10 p.m.,
Fox. It's an all-Simpsons night, which is all-good. First are reruns
of two series episodes – Bart adopts a pigeon, Cheech and Chong
split. Then comes the enjoyable “Simpsons Movie” (2007) at 8,
with the entire town encased by a dome.

– “Human Planet,” 8 and 9 p.m.,
Discovery. This gorgeous series concludes with desert-dwellers and
then “Life at the Extremes,” ranging from an Indonesian tree
house to a Mongolian eagle-trainer.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Husbands are in a disapproving mood tonight. Carlos wants
Gabrielle to snub Bree; Mike wants Susan to avoid Paul Young.

– “Game of Thrones,” 9 p.m., HBO.
After last week's so-so start, this miniseries adds depth to the
family of Ned and Catelyn. Their son was pushed over a cliff, after
seeing a tryst; their daughters – Sansa and the bold Arya –
travel with their dad (becoming the king's top man) and protective
wolves.

– “Treme,” 10 p.m., HBO. This
superb mini-series starts its second season with more great music –
especially from violinist-turned-actress Lucia Micarelli – and deep
drama. Delmond and Janette are separately in New York, as a trumpeter
and chef. Back home in New Orleans, Sofia has her late father's rage.
Crime and schemes grow; David Morse and Jon Seda become regulars, as
a cop and a developer.

– “The Killing,” 10 p. m., AMC.
In another strong episode, police find a major suspect.

– “Brothers & Sisters,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Nora agonizes over her broken romance; her son Kevin
agonizes over custody of his surrogate baby. Also, Justin discovers a
secret about a sibling's birth.

TV column for Saturday, April 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Cinema Verite,”
9 p.m., HBO.

Forty years ago, the world hadn't heard
of “reality TV.” A crew was simply making a very long PBS
documentary; it would spend seven months recording the life of one
California family.

The Louds were enviable – money, good
looks, five bright and creative kids. Then their lives – and the
life of the producer of “An American Family” – began to
crumble.

People still argue about whether the
show propelled the troubles or merely recorded them. It was a
dramatic story, richly told here – with Diane Lane, Tim Robbins and
– going wonderfully against type as the filmmaker – James
Gandolfini.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Chase,” 8
p.m., NBC.

NBC opened the season with high-octane
shows from top producers. Several soon failed.

That included this one, from producer
Jerry Bruckheimer (“CSI”). It has a strong star (Kelli Giddish),
a good concept (U.S. marshals chasing federal fugitives) and a
slickly impersonal feel.

Now, with five episodes left, “Chase”
returns after a three-month break. Tonight, a predator targets single
women to get at their young daughters.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Doctor Who”
season-opener, 9 p.m., BBC America.

Last season was brilliant, with a new
Doctor (Matt Smith) and new companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) saving
the world anew. That re-runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, with a
recap at 8 and 10.

In between, the new season starts. For
the first time in its 47 years, “Doctor Who” filmed in the U.S.;
this episode find the Doctor linking with Richard Nixon (really) to
save the world yet again.

Other choices include:

– “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), 6:30
p.m., Cartoon Network. On the night before Easter, overexcited
families can settle in and savor a classic. Another beautifully
crafted choice is “Jurassic Park” (1993), the Steven Spielberg
adventure, at 7 p.m. on TNT.

– “The Ten Commandments” (1956),
7-11:45 p.m., ABC (some stations will start at 8). This film – an
annual, Easter Week feature for ABC – is considered a classic,
complete with Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, epic scenes and director
Cecil B. DeMille parting the Red Sea. By modern standards, however,
it seems stiff and flat.

– “CSI:NY,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, the team has been called to an old mansion that includes booby
traps and a century-old corpse.

– “CSI:Miami,” 9 p.m., CBS. In
this rerun, a reality show star has been killed at a promotional
party.

– “Law & Order: Los Angeles,”
9 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, a high-speed chase ends with the police
finding a dead passenger, but no driver.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden guests in this
rerun, as an FBI agent who returns to undercover work shortly after
being raped.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Jesse Eisenberg hosts this rerun – joined, briefly, by
Mark Zuckerberg, whom he portrayed in “The Social Network.” Nicki
Minaj is the music guest.

 

TV column for Friday, April 22


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Girls Night Out:
Superstar Women of Country,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Country music used to settle for two or
three top women at a time. Now, fortunately, it has a crowd.

This honors one of the originals
(Loretta Lynn), some relative newcomers (Miranda Lambert, Jennifer
Nettles, Carrie Underwood) and people in between – Reba McEntire,
Martina McBride, the Judds.

Presenters will perform alone and with
the honorees. The line-up includes Ronnie Dunn, Vince Gill, John
Fogerty, Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts and newcomers Ashley Monroe and
Angaleena Presley.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Supernatural,”
9 p.m., CW; and “Sanctuary,” 10 p.m., Syfy.

First, “Supernatural” manages to
pack lots of humor into a saving-the-world story. The guys must jump
to 1861 Wyoming, to get a demon-killing gun from Samuel Colt; their
efforts to fit into a cowboy persona bring laughs, drama and tense
shoot-outs.

Then switch to “Sanctuary,” which
has an interesting change-of-pace. Last week was epic; this one is
confined to headquarters, with only six characters – who
alternately turn fierce and destructive.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Man Versus
Earth,” 9 p.m., Current TV.

Sam Branson could spend his life on the
tropical island owned by his dad, billionaire Richard Branson.
Instead, he plunges into snow; he's been on three Arctic expeditions
and now views American peril. Taking chances on snowmobiles and skis,
we've seen annual deaths by avalanche increase fivefold in 40 years.
We fight back – with helicopters, artillery guns, even a tank –
to induce smaller, safer slides.

Still, the trouble builds. Branson
meets one man who has lost six close friends to avalanches, another
who had a ton of snow (four feet thick) atop him; friends followed
his tracking device and dug him out.

Other choices include:

– Earth Day shows, all day. This
holiday is especially big on PBS Kids, where “Wild Kratts” and
other cartoons are eco-friendly. Other moments range from talk shows
(Nate Berkus discusses re-using things in the house) to Disney.
Current TV has the 13-hour “Dangerous Planet” throughout the
weekend; at 9 p.m., the Weather Channel has Tom Brokaw leading the
town-hall style “Changing Planet.”

– “Friday Night Lights,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. Last week's season-opener saw the underdog East Dillon Lions
beat Texas' eighth-ranked team. Now Vince, the star quarterback, gets
both praise and temptation. Bigger, slicker schools seem ready to
retaliate. It's a strong start to a great show's final season.

– “Chaos,” 8 p.m., CBS. The team
rushes to China to extricate a spy (Illeana Douglas). She turns out
to be the former lover of Casey (Tim Blake Nelson); soon, everyone is
helping her finish her mission.

– “Smallville,” 8 p.m., CW. Only
four new episodes remain in this show's 10-year run. At this point,
Clark is a Metropolis superhero named The Blur; he ducks publicity –
which another hero rushes in to grab. Sharply directed by star Tom
Welling, this show is great until the final, too-prolonged minutes.

– “Royal Wedding of a Lifetime,”
8-11 p.m., Lifetime. The first hour previews the wedding; the second
reviews the courtship of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The third
speculates on their future.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. With
only three new episodes left this season, this terrific show seems to
be heading to a peak. Tonight, the alternate-world Walter finds a way
to wreak revenge on our world.

– “Talking Funny,” 9 p.m., HBO.
Ricky Gervais is a master at turning small talk into entertaining
television. Tonight, he simply chats about comedy with Jerry
Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Louis C.K.

– “Camelot,” 10 p.m., Starz.
Here's a rerun of the fairly good opener, with Arthur learning he's
the illegitimate son of the late king. Joseph Fiennes and Eva Green
are excellent as competing wizards.

TV column for Thursday, April 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Parks and
Recreation,” 9:30 p.m., NBC.

Sandwiched by key episodes of other
shows, this quiet comedy gets big laughs out of two situations.

One is a cook-off challenge between
health buff Chris (Rob Lowe) and clogged-artery guy Ron. There are
great moments with Ron and his clueless crew in a health-food store.

The other has Leslie (Amy Poehler)
coaxed into a dating service. The humor starts when she answers the
online questions … then builds with her dismay over her
compuster-chosen match.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: More comedies,
8:30-11 p.m., NBC.

On “The Paul Reiser” show (8:30),
Paul has problems that are unique (a noisy cat, a botched play date)
and universal (Henry Rollins scares him). The result mixes casual
humor and some huge sight gags.

That's followed by the second of Will
Ferrell's four “The Office” (9 p.m.) episodes; tonight, he sees
the annual Dundie Awards. And “30 Rock” (10 p.m.) has its 100th
show – an hour-long one in which – logically – Liz plans the
100th episode of her show; Hank Hooper (Ken Howard) is
poised to cancel it.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Archer”
season-finale, 10 p.m., FX.

Last week's episode (rerunning at
10:30) has Archer in being rescued by gorgeous spy Katya Kazanova.

Now he's back home, where Katya insists
she's in love and ready to defect. The KGB, alas, has more obstacles
ahead; this is animation for adults – violent, semi-sexy and,
tonight, quite funny.

Other choices include:

– Daytime, PBS. On the eve of Earth
Day, PBS and www.pbskidsgo.org/video
load up with eco-friendly shows. Some stations (check local listings)
debut a “Wild Kratts” in which the guys meet the world's fastest
animal, the 240-mph peregrine falcon. Another “Kratts” has Chris
become an oak tree.

– “Earth Fights Back,” 7 p.m.,
Current TV. This 13-hour BBC series will be spread throughout the
next four days, surrounding Earth Day. It views disasters that are
natural (earthquakes, volcanos, avalanches) and ones that are
sometimes man-made (landslides, forest fires).

-- "American Idol," 8 p.m., Fox. Tonight, the field gets trimmed from seven (five male, two female) to six.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. An all-rerun night for CBS starts with Leonard's idea for a
phone app. Soon, he's battling Sheldon for control.

– “Community,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Preparing a final project, members of the study group reminisce. We
see a visit to a ghost town, an impromptu glee club performance and
Dean Pelton's odd costumes.

– “Royal Wedding of a Lifetime,”
8-11 p.m., Lifetime. Today and Friday, this channel has six one-hour
wedding documentaries. The first one compares Kate Middleton and the
previous royal bride, Lady Diana. The next two talk about wedding
gowns and cakes, past and future.

– “Rules of Engagement,” 8:30
p.m., CBS. Here's the episode that actually gets us feeling sorry for
the coldly distant Russell (David Spade). We meet his even-colder
mother (Joan Collins).

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. This was the second episodes with Katee Sackhoff –
who was terrific in “Battlestar Galactica” – as Frankie Reed, a
tough and smart detective. Two men have been killed before they could
expose a natural-gas company that poisoned a farm town.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
In a rerun from last season, Meredith – trying to become chief
resident – has a harrowing hour while running the emergency room.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
After a jockey is killed, the team ponders the racing world.

TV column for Tuesday, April 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Parenthood”
season-finale, 10 p.m., NBC.

Last week's episode ended with Amber in
a fierce car accident. Tonight, the family waits and worries.

That's part of a cascade of major
moments. Adam has meltdowns at work and at home … his sister Sarah
(Amber's mom) hears a reading of her first play … their brother
Crosby is desperate to get Joy back … and their dad has a
passionate monologue.

In the style of “Parenthood” (and
real parenthood), all of this brings richly understated emotions.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Glee,” 8
p.m. Fox, and “Hellcats,” 9 p.m., CW.

After languishing in reruns, both
youth-oriented shows start their spring runs of new episodes.

On “Glee,” the kids help another
unpopular club. The hour includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Cheyenne Jackson
(who has done five Broadway musicals) and Charice, the sensational
teen belter.

For “Hellcats,” there's fun as Dan
applies for film school with an offbeat zombie movie starring the
cheer squad. There's also a serious note as Marti has revelations
about the dad she barely knew. In between, clumsy plot twists involve
Dan's hesitance and a cheating scandal.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Black in
Latin America” debut, 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Sharing an island, two nations have
different languages, time zones and values.

Haiti – where slaves overthrew their
masters – takes pride in its African roots. In the Dominican
Republic, pale skin has been so valued that the dictator wore
make-up. In this fascinating start to a four-week documentary series,
Henry Louis Gates studies the history and standards on both sides.

Other choices include:

– “Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution,”
8 p.m., ABC. Banned from bringing his nutrition effort to Los Angele
schools, Jamie Oliver has resorted to demonstrations. Last week, he
filled a school bus with sugar; tonight, he dresses as a tomato. He
finds one school he can enter, then faces fresh obstacles.

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 9
p.m., ABC. Prior to the latest ouster, country star Toby Keith sings
“American Soldier” and “Should've Been a Cowboy.”

– “Raising Hope,” 9 p.m., Fox. In
a so-so episode, Jimmy tries to disrupt the romance of his loved one
and her clueless boyfriend. Also, there's a romance between Jimmy's
grandmother (Cloris Leachman) and a guy (Jerry Van Dyke) who is
equally senile.

– “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). There are powerful moments in this
Oscar-nominated documentary, as artist Vik Muniz returns to his
native Brazil, to capture images of the people who spend their lives
picking through the world's largest garbage dump.

– “16 & Pregnant”
season-opener, 10 p.m., MTV. Jordan has key advantages – a
boyfriend, twin sister and grandmother, all eager to help during her
pregnancy. Still, she faces agony, in a fairly solid hour.

-- "Royally Mad," 10 p.m., BBC America. Here's the second half of a goofy little special in which Cat Deeley takes some royalty-obsessed Americans to England, to meet experts on the upcoming weddng.


“Body of Proof,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. Long ago, one critic complained
that an “L.A. Law” romance (Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry)
was extremely unlikely … then learned the actors were married in
real life. This fairly good episode may bring the same reaction, as
the nerdish Ethan (Geoffrey Arend) meets a grieving beauty –
played by Christina Hendricks (Joan in “Mad Men”), Arend's
real-life wife. Also, Megan probes a surgery-turned-fatal.