TV column for Monday, Nov. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Saved” debut,
8 p.m., Animal Planet.

Leadbelly and Hero are true TV stars –
warm, loving, filling big emotional gaps. They're also dogs.

Hero was homeless in Iraq, adopted by
an American soldier who was then killed. For the soldier's parents
and girlfriend, he became a crucial link.

And Leadbelly? A drug-addicted woman
spent a decade on the streets; this sleepy-looking dog gave her a
reason to change. These are great stories, neatly told, in a series
about animals that transform people.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Sing-off,”
8-10 p.m., NBC,

There are only five groups left and
they leap into the promising category of rhythm-and-blues.

First is a medley of very different
songs – James Brown's “I Feel Good,” the Jackson 5's “ABC”
and Beyonce's “Crazy in Love.” Then the groups tackle their own
R-&-B favorites.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE: “Live With Regis
& Kelly,” 9 a.m. (check local listings).

This is the farewell week for Regis
Philbin; expect logs of commotion.

Philbin has been doing morning TV for
36 years and this show (originally “Live With Regis & Kathy
Lee”) for 23 of them. At 80, he didn't expect to leave the show …
but hit an impasse on the contract.

A replacement will come later – maybe
much later – but this will be the Regis week.

Other choices include:

– “Dinosaur Train,” times vary
(check local listings), PBS. This starts a week of new episodes that
try to nudge kids outdoors. Today, the young dinosaurs go stargazing
and start a Nature Trackers Club.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. Last week, Max met Johnny's bright, black and beautiful
girlfriend … who instantly realized Johnny likes Max. Now she
fights back by hiring Max's cupcake business.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Released from the hospital, Alan faces fresh challenges.

– “House,” 9 p.m., Fox. What is
Dr; House doing with his immense IQ? He's trying to find a way to
remove his ankle bracelet and go to a boxing match. Also, of course,
there's a patient to worry about.

– “ABC News Special,” 10 p.m.,
ABC. U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords discusses her recovery from the
January shooting spree that left six people dead. She also discusses
her early years and the courtship with her husband, astronaut Mark
Kelly.

– “Rock Center,” 10 p.m., NBC.
The complexities of the Penn State situation will be tackled by Bob
Costas, TV's smartest sports reporter. Also, Kate Snow looks at
Alabama's controversial immigration law; Brian Williams interviews
photographer Annie Leibovitz and views changes in military food.

– “The Headhuntress” debut, 10
p.m., Bravo. This moderately interesting hour follows Wendy Doulton
in her duo duties of job-recruiting and career-makeovers. The biggest
surprise comes with the arrival of underwhelming candidates for a
$150,000-a-year job.

– “Bored to Death,” 10 p.m., HBO.
Casey Wilson plays Jonathan's first lover, returning a decade later
with a job for him. It's a fun mixture of humor and adventure.

– “Enlightened,” 10:30 p.m., HBO.
Immense talent is stuffed in here, with Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Robin
Wright and director Jonathan Demme. They have an Oscar and three
Golden Globes, plus 15 more nominations for Oscars, Globes and Emmys.
Still, they're stuck in a weak, one-note story.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 13


WEEKEND'S MUST-SEE: “Hell on Wheels,”
10 p.m. Sunday, AMC.

The show's second episode reaffirms
that this could be one of the great TV series.

In the opener, we met four key
characters in 1865 – Durant, a corrupt railroader … Lily, who
barely escaped the Indian raid that killed her husband, a railroad
surveyor … Elam, an ex-slave … and Cullen. He freed his slaves,
but fought for the Confederates; now he seeks the people who killed
his wife.

In the opener, one of them almost
killed Cullen – until Elam slit the guy's throat. Now the
repercussions begin; fierce forces have been set in motion.

WEEKEND'S MUST-SEE II: “Masterpiece
Contemporary,” 9 p.m. Sunday, PBS.

Here's an odd delight, one of the
strangest “Masterpiece” hours ever.

It started as a piece by British poet
Christopher Reid, then was adapted into a screenplay by director
Niall McCormick. The result has lots of narration, with occasional
(and splendid) dialog.

A publisher (Alan Rickman) is cold and
distant; his former lover (Emma Thompson) is sharp and vibrant. They
have lunch; the result is fresh, funny and … strange.

TONIGHT'S ALTERATIVE: “Black in
America,” 8 and 11 p.m., CNN.

Last year, we're told, only one per
cent of Internet start-ups were led by blacks. By accident, perhaps,
Silicon Valley has become a Caucasian and Asian enclave.

Now we meet a fascinating woman who's
trying to change that. Pregnant at 15, a mom at 16, she went on to
get a Master's degree and start a company. She co-leads a program
that has eight people living together for the summer, while pitching
to investors.

There are complications. (One man is
questioned by police for, as a colleague puts it, “walking while
black.”) Mostly, however, we see sharp and likable people,
scrambling under stress.

Other choices include:

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. In fairy-tale time, Cinderella makes a regrettable deal with
Rumplestiltskin. And in our time, Emma tries to help a young,
pregnant woman escape from Mr. Gold.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
The family finds its real skill – eating and writing a food blog.

– “Trashopolis,” 8 p.m.,
Smithsonian. Progress can create trouble, we see in this portrait of
Cairo's trash history. Rules elimnated dogs and pigs, which had been
helpfully eating garbage; a municipal service hit the lifestyle of
people who lived off the garbage, becoming consummate recyclers.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Carlos is sinking into alcoholism, distraught about saving
Gabrielle by killing her abusive stepfather. Meanwhile, Bree's
boyfriend (a police detective) tightens his search. Also, Susan
realizes her art project – inspired by the killing – can't be
seen by the public.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Alicia is in the odd position of seeking a delay in the execution of
a guilty man. He has information that could save an innocent
defendant.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS. A
murder points to Horatio's nemesis “The Taunter,” who has an
alibi.

 

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 12


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

Nimbly ranging from presidential
politics to Kardashian chaos, “SNL” has had a lot to mock lately.

Now it's hosted by Emma Stone, who's
had a huge movie year, starring in “The Help” and co-starring in
“Crazy Stupid Love” and “Friends With Benefits.” Coldplay is
the music guest.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY: “Ultimate
Fighting,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Maybe Fox decided there just wasn't
enough fierce competition on Saturday night – what with football
being on ABC, NBC, ESPN and ESPN2.

Now any gaps are filled in by mixed
martial arts. Cain Velasquez battles Junior Dos Santos.

TONIGHT'S ALTERATIVE; “Primeval”
season-opener, 9 p.m., BBC America.

Street workers really don't like to be
sucked into sink holes – especially if there's a murderous mega-bug
in there. Soon, the creatures are also making a mess of a backyard
barbecue.

A huge confrontation is coming –
followed by signs of a bigger trouble in the episodes ahead. With one
exception – some buffoonery involving the upper-crust James Lester
character – this is what we expect of the British. It delivers
solid acting and dialog – even in a story about giant, killer bugs.

Other choices include:

– Football, everywhere. ABC may have
the night's best match-up, with No. 7-ranked Oregon at No. 4
Stanford. That's at 8 p.m., the same time NBC has Notre Dame and
Maryland. Earlier, ESPN has No. 3 Alabama at Mississippi State at
7:45; ESPN2 has a double-header – Tennessee at No. 8 Arkansas at 6
p.m., then Idaho at Brigham Young at 9:15.

– Debate, 8 p.m., CBS. So far, cable
channels have dominated coverage of the Republican presidential
debates. Now CBS gets its turn, in South Carolina.

– “Lucky Christmas,” 8 and 10
p.m., Hallmark. The good news: TV's Christmas season will be longer
and busier than ever; Hallmark and Ion are adding lots of new movies,
an area ruled by ABC Family. The bad news: The first of those films
is quite absurd, requiring sensible people to make bone-headed
decisions. Elizabeth Berkley plays a single mom who wins the lottery
– if she can find the ticket.

– “NCIS,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun
from a year ago, Robert Wagner plays DiNozzo's dad, inserted into a
murder investigation.

– “Gone: The Disappearance of Aeryn
Gillern,” 9-11 p.m., Investigation Discovery. A United Nations
researcher in Vienna, Aeryn Gillern was a muscular American, winner
of Mr. Gay Austria. When he was killed, Police claimed they were
working on the case; his mother (a retired cop) could tell they
weren't. At one hour, her ordeal would have been compelling; it loses
power when stretched further.

– “48 Hours Mystery,” 10 p.m.,
CBS. John Needham returned from Iraq with traumatic brain injury.
Later, police say, he beat and killed his 19-year-old girlfriend
Jacque Villagomez. He takes responsibility, but says he remembers
little of it. Now “48 Hours” views post-traumatic effect and
looks at the war-crime allegations Needham brought against his unit.

 

TV column for Friday, Nov. 11


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Extreme
Makeover: Home Edition,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Over its eight-plus seasons, “Makeover”
has transformed the lives of many soldiers. Now, setting its usual
pattern aside for a week, it offers a Veterans Day special.

It shows clips of vets on previous
shows, re-visiting some of them. Jewel, daughter of a Vietnam
veteran, sings the emotional “Hands”; J.R. Martinez talks of his
transition from wounded vet – burned on 40 percent of his body –
to actor and “Dancing With the Stars” competitor.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Geek
Charming,” 8-10 p.m., Disney.

She's pretty and popular, obsessing on
being a beauty queen. He's geeky, obsessing on movies.

She's secretly smart; he's secretly
cute. Will anyone on this planet be surprised by what happens?

“Geek Charming” suffers from many
things, including an overwrought finish. It is semi-saved by
occasional bright spots and by sharp casting. Sarah Hyland of “Modern
Family” brings depth to a role that could have been overwrought;
Matt Prokop, her real-life boyfriend, is convincing as her foil.

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

As a boy, Bill T. Jones was only
allowed to love one white man – Abraham Lincoln. As an adult –
winner of two Tonys, a Kennedy Center honor and more – he was
commissioned to create a dance-company piece marking the 200th
anniversary of Lincoln's birth.

This special follows the development of
that piece. We see a man of constant passion and occasional rage. We
also see portions of a piece that richly mixes visuals, narration and
the stunning dance.

Other choices include:

– Movies, cable. Here are classics.
“Pride & Prejudice” (2005, 6-9 p.m., Oxygen) has such
expressive work from director Joe Wright and star Keisha Knightley
that little dialog is needed. “Apocalypse Now Redux” (5:30-10
p.m., AMC) expands Francis Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War epic. “Saturday
Night Fever” (1977, 10 p.m., TV Guide) slips sharp-and-sparse
dialog into a vibrant dance film.

– “A Gifted Man,” 8 p.m., CBS.
The beauty of filming in New York is that it lets you borrow all the
best stage actors. Now Tony-winner John Benjamin Hickey guests in the
show that stars Tony-nominee Patrick Wilson and Tony-winner Jennifer
Ehle. Hickey plays a patient who did something horrific.

– Chuck, 8 p.m., NBC. The first weeks
were fun, as Morgan – having absorbed the contents of The
Intersect – kept straying Now he's gone too far; in this OK
episode, something needs to be done. Also, the fearless Casey is
afraid to express his feelings for the woman who is his toughest
competitor..

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. The
trouble with anomalies is you can't predict them. The team must try.
With an engineer (Stephen Root) and a physicist, it probes seemingly
random time-loop disasters.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. Social
media creates the crisis here – drawing a party crowd so quickly
that a porch collapses and a girl dies. Now the same media might help
solve the case.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Here's an episode that was scheduled earlier, then delayed:
Prostitutes are being killed in hotel rooms; Jackie (Jennifer
Esposito), Danny's police partner, goes undercover.

– “Boss,” 10 p.m., Starz. Life is
closing in on Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer), the scheming mayor who's
married to the daughter of the previous scheming mayor. Now a
reporter is uncovering a fresh scandal. It's another powerful hour,
superbly played by Grammer.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The X Factor”
and “Bones,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

The first “X Factor” elimination
showed that viewers prefer individuals. One group (InTENsity) was
eliminated; another (Stereo Hogzz) barely survived. Eleven acts
remain; one will be ousted tonight.

Afterward, “Bones” delivers a so-so
mystery and a fun personality. Finn is a teen from the South, with a
big drawl, a big brain, a criminal record and an appealing manner.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Pepsi's
Challenge,” 9 p.m., CNBC.

Indra Nooyi grew up in a water-stressed
region of India, where her family rationed its daily water. She
headed to Yale's grad school at 23; 28 years later, in 2006, she
became CEO of Pepsico.

It's an imposing job, with
controversies in India (for sapping the water supply) and the U.S.
(for encouraging obesity. Nooyi differentiates “fun” products and
“good-for-you” ones. Her researchers keep pouring out
possibilities for the latter, from “drinkable oats” to butternut
squash soup; by 2020, she insists, “good-for-you” will triple to
$30 billion a year. It's a strong story, with interesting detours.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “POV,” 9
p.m., PBS (check local listings; in East Lansing, Mich., for
instance, this will have to settle for a morning airing at 8:30 a.m.
Nov. 16 on WKAR World, 23.4).

Except for geography, Dominic
Fredianelli could fit neatly into any TV show. He's a college student
with talent (creating impressive murals), likability and a hometown
girlfriend.

But he lives in the distant North of
Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where jobs are scarce. Hancock, Mich. He
and his friends joined the National Guard for the $20,000 signing
bonus and the college aid.

This documentary ranges from frozen
winter scenes at home to steamy heat in Afghanistan. It focuses on
three solid guys in varied worlds; their home town fits the title:
“Where Soldiers Come From.”

Other choices include:

– The Big Bang Theory, 8 p.m., CBS.
Ex-lovers, Hollywood implies, don't make good friends. Now Penny and
Leonard try to be casual friends, when the rest of the gang is gone.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
As Henry awaits major surgery, his wife Teddy is called away.
Meanwhile, Meredith gets news about Zola; also, she and Alex are in a
life-threatening situation.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC.
Training someone who will replace her during maternity leave, Pam
frets that Jim will find the newcomer attractive.

– “Braxton Family Values”
season-opener, 9 p.m., WE. After bankruptcy and a health crisis, Toni
Braxton has moved to Los Angeles. Back in Atlanta, her sisters have
lots to argue about: Trina's marriage was hit by the long-term stay
of Towanda, her husband and their two kids. Tamar, married to a top
record producer, is working on a solo album, endangering plans for a
family project .

– “It's Always Sunny in
Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FX. In a delightful change-of-pace, this
catches people in mid-caper. Trapped in the closet of a stranger's
house, they bicker and squabble and generally see things deteriorate,
in an episode that is odd, busy and very funny.

– Private Practice, 10:02 p.m., ABC.
Violet is back at the clinic now, during a tough time: Amelia 's
addiction is getting worse; she skips work, has a fling and writes
her own prescriptions.