TV column for Saturday, Jan. 14


PLEASE NOTE: If you're in the East Lansing, Mich., area, check WKAR World (23.3 digital) at 7 p.m. today.  That's the debut of “Moyers & Company,” with one
of TV's great newsmen, Bill Moyers, returning to what does best:
dead-serious reporting.

In the opener, Moyers focuses on economic disparity – the growing gap between the richest one percent and the others. He interviews authors who say moves in recent decades, trimming taxes for the wealthy, have built that gap.

Many other public-TV stations air this on Sunday. I've put a similar note atop the Sunday column, listing some of the times and stations.

 

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

Today's winners will be one win away
from the Super Bowl. The day includes three teams that went 13-3 in
the regular season … plus the Denver Broncos, who survived an 8-8
year.

First, the San Francisco 49ers host the
New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees' record-setting passing game. Then
Tom Brady's New England Patriots host Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

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

Daniel Radcliffe has shown there can be
fun after Harry Potter. He's ranged from a clever bit on HBO's
“Extras” to 10 months of starring in the Broadway musical “How
To Succeed Without Really Trying.”

Now he hosts “SNL”; Lana Del Rey is
the music guest.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Miss America,
9-11 p.m., ABC.

Once an annual ratings hit, this
pageant started wandering. It went from Atlantic City to Las Vegas,
from September to January. It went from NBC to ABC to cable and back.

Now comes the second year of its return
to ABC. Bach as hosts are Chris Harrison of “The Bachelor” and
Brooke Burke Charvet of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Other choices include:

– “The Firm,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. If
you missed this film's debut last Sunday, here's a second chance. Be
warned – it's a complex tale that flashes back and forth over a
10-year period, with schemes and counter-schemes. Also, it's the
series opener and the second episode has already aired on Thursday.

– “(500) Days of Summer” (2009),
8-10 p.m., E. These days, viewers are used to Zooey Deschanel's
outgoing persona in “New Girl.” Here's the opposite: In a smart
comedy, she plays Summer, the understated beauty who nudges a
depressed guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) out of his lethargy.

– “The King's Speech” (Showtime)
and “Black Swan” (HBO), both 2010, 8 p.m. You can choose between
two of last year's best-picture Oscar nominees. “King's Speech,”
which won, is broadly popular and uplifting, based on a real-life
tale; “Black Swan” is harsher, but beautifully crafted, with an
Oscar-winning performance from Natalie Portman.

– “A Taste of Romance,” 8 and 10
p.m., Hallmark. She (Teri Polo) has a fancy French restaurant; he's a
former fireman starting a meat-and-potatoes place next door. “He's
an overgrown child,” she fumes. They like his daughter and dislike
each other; it all fits the pleasant-enough Hallmark formula.

– “Terra Nova,” 9 p.m., Fox. In a
rerun, the 11th group of colonists arrive.

– “The Fades” debut, 9 p.m., BBC
America. Until now, this channel has settled for importing shows –
good ones, mostly – from England. Now here's a show it co-produced
overseas. A teen is troubled by visions of ghosts and disaster; now a
loner explains it to him.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. In a rape case, the witness and the alleged
victim are in a mental institution. That makes it harder to sort out
what's true.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Chuck,” 8
p.m., NBC.

In two weeks, this show will end its
terrific, five-season run. Here's a warm-up.

Chuck and Sarah plan to dump their spy
work and find a safe, simple life. First, however, there's a crisis
involving the time when the Intersect was in Morgan's mind; they head
to Vail to meet Bo Derek.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Lester have a
mission of their own. This can't be good.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Fringe,” 9
p.m., Fox.

After a two-month gap, “Fringe: has a
new episode. It may not be back next year, so catch it now.

Desperate, Peter travels to the
alternate world and meets the alternate Walter – who is, after all,
his biologic father. Back in our world, Olivia gets a dire warning
from an Observor.

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

Anna Deveare Smith has created a
personal art form – interviewing people and turning their words
into one-woman plays. For this one, she talked to 300 people in the
health system.

Now she portrays 19 of them, ranging
from a straight-talking bull-rider to the assistant dean of a top
medical school. Film critic Joel Siegel faces death with wit; a New
Orleans doctor recalls being abandoned after Hurricane Katrina. These
vary sharply in story value and in acting; some are brilliant, some
are overdone, but all will hold your interest.

Other choices include:

– “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”
season-finale, 8-10 p.m., ABC. Instead of focusing on one family, the
team rebuilds seven homes that were battered by a tornado in Joplin,
Mo.

– “A Gifted Man,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Eriq La Salle – one of the original “ER” stars – is back in a
hospital. He plays E-Mo, disagreeing with Michael on treating a
patient who has a brain tumor. Also, a teen-ager vanishes, leaving
her new baby at the clinic.

– “There Will Be Blood” (2007),
8-11 p.m., AMC. Daniel Day-Lewis gave a brilliant, Oscar-winning
performance and Paul Thomas Anderson directed beautifully. Still,
this story of an oil schemer is fiercely downbeat; it's tough to
watch, tougher to enjoy.

– “Grimm,” 9 p.m., NBC. An
escapee has great strength and endurance. Nick realizes that he's
probably a monster.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Investigating a home invasion, the team finds that the troubled lives
of family members leaves plenty of suspects.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Moments after someone was killed at a diner, a witness says, a cop
fled the secne. Now Danny and his police party investigate.

– “Merlin,” 10 p.m., Syfy. As
Merlin teeters near death, Lancelot tries to rush him back to Camelot
– then faces creatures along the way.

– “Portlandia” and “The
Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
IFC. Both shows again have neatly offbeat episodes. On “Portlandia,”
people obsess on “Battlestar Galactica”; the show's producer and
two of its stars guest. Then Todd drives a semi-trailer truck to
Leeds, for a business deal with a rugby coach. He knows nothing about
trucks, less about rugby.

TVcolumn for Thursday, Jan. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “30 Rock”
season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC.

In a year when female-driven comedy has
thrived, “30 Rock” has been on the shelf. For five straight
years, it has drawn an Emmy nomination for best comedy series,
winning three times; now – after pausing for Tina Fey's maternity
leave – the sixth season begins.

Jenna gets attention as the hateful
judge on “America's Kidz Got Singing”; Tracy is jealous of that,
but can't seem to aggravate Liz. Also, Kenneth awaits the Rapture.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Finder”
debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

Walter (Geoff Stults) is a former
military hero with an odd mind and a gift for finding people and
things. From his distant outpost – the End of the Earth bar in
Florida – he works with a massive colleague, a beautiful cop and a
teen orphan girl who's also a clever thief.

This show was created by the people who
do “Bones,” which is resting because of Emily Deschanel's
pregnancy leave. Quirkier – even veering near the supernatural –
it gives us fun characters; after a so-so start (retrieving John
Fogerty's guitar), it has an interesting case tonight.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Rob” debut,
8:31 p.m., CBS.

After a brief romance and a Las Vegas
wedding, Rob and Maggie are meeting her relatives. “Don't tell them
your age,” she says. “Or your height.”

Those are issues. He's played by Rob
Schneider, 48 and 5-foot-7; she's a Mexican-American beauty, played
by Claudia Bassols, 32 and 5-foot-10. Now he'll meet her dad (Cheech
Marin) and the others.

This is a middle-of-the road comedy,
but moderately funny. Schneider – who married a Hispanic woman this
year – warmly finds the humor in opposite worlds.

Other choices include:

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. Next
week, this show starts its hiatus. First, Booth and Brennan look for
a home to share when the baby is born; also, a tech-savvy killer
leaves a clue in blood.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. When Sheldon fails to admire Amy's accomplishment, Penny tries
to teach him to be a better boyfriend.

– “Independent Lens,” 9-11 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). Sprawling over three Thursdays, “Have
You Heard From Johannesburg” is a five-hour documentary following
the anti-apartheid movement.

– “Person of Interest,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Duties get switched this week: Reese (Jim Caviezel), recovering
from a shooting, is working the computer; Finch (Michael Emerson) is
in the field. And Carter (Taraji Henson) finally sees a case
first-hand

– “Up All Night,” 9:30 p.m., NBC.
Jason Lee (“My Name is Earl”) returns, as the show move from
Wednesdays. He plays the neighbor who's dating Maya. This is a New
Year's Eve story, with Reagan (Christina Applegate) obsessing on
winning in game night.

– “The Firm,” 10 p.m., NBC. In
Sunday's convoluted movie, we met Mitch, a decent lawyer with a pile
of troubles. He spent a decade in witness protection, after fingering
a mobster; now the mobster's dead and he doesn't know the guy's son
wants revenge. Also, he's been lured into a big-deal law firm, for
dark reasons we don't know. Tonight, he defends a partner's son,
charged with murder.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
When a disliked divorce attorney is killed, there are plenty of
suspects.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Suburgatory,”
8:30 p.m., ABC.

At first, Rex Lee was just hired for
the pilot film, to play Mr. Wolfe, the guidance counselor. There was
no guarantee he'd be back.

Now Lee – who was so good as Lloyd in
“Entourage” – has become a regular, with some great moments
tonight. Tessa is sure he's gay; then again, she feels the same about
the new kid (Dan Byrd of “Cougar Town”) and the quarterback. It's
another clever and surprising episode.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: People's Choice
awards, 9-11 p.m., CBS.

The awards are wildly insignificant.
Katy Perry for best voice (as Smurfette) and as best guest? “Soul
Surfer” for best book adaptation? Kim Kardashian or Gene Simmons
for best reality-show celebrity? The “Thor” and “Captain
America” guys for best superhero? These aren't exactly the Academy
Awards.

Still, there should be fun. Kaley Cuoco
(“Big Bang Theory”) hosts; Faith Hill and Demi Lovato sing.
Guests include Ellen Degeneres, Lea Michele, Vanessa Hudgens, Jason
Segel and Liam Neeson.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Whitney”
and “Are You There, Chelea?” debut, 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

At first glance, these shows fit
perfectly. Both are comedies about brash young women; both are taped
in front of an audience, not in the movie style of NBC's Thursday
shows.

Still, there's a difference: Fueled by
Whitney Cummings' wit, her show is sharp and funny; “Chelsea,”
however, is so-so. Laura Prepon (“That '70s Show”) plays a young
Chelsea Handler, fond of liquor and guys; the real Handler plays her
sister. There are some good moments, but not nearly enough.

Other choices include:

– “One Tree Hill,” 8 p.m., CW;
rerunning at 9. In a burst of logic, networks are giving long-running
series an exit strategy. Now “Hill” has 13 episodes to conclude
its series. Sophia Bush is still around after nine seasons as Brooke;
she and Julian are planning the baptism of their twins.

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). In Canberra, Australia, kangaroos aren't just cute
and bouncy. A drought has forced them to scavenge in the
neighborhoods; the result has brought thousands of car-kangaroo
crashes. Despite tragedies, it's fun to watch this hour's merger of
nature and suburbia.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. It's
one thing when your dog eats your homework, another when your brother
does. Axl accidentally eats the map Brick made out of dough.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Claire and Jay get too involved in their boys' classroom project.

– “Nova,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). This views a plan to bomb two dames key to Hitler.

– “Harry's Law,” 9 p.m., NBC.
It's wacky-case time again. Erica Durrance (“Smallville”) plays a
vigilante who's convinced she's Wonder Woman – and has the costume
to prove it.

– “State of Play,” 10 p.m., BBC
America. This brilliant, six-week series concludes with high stakes.
A Parliament member knows that the oil industry planted Sonia in his
office; she became his lover and then a murder victim. With his
marriage shattered and his career crumbling, he looks for revenge.
Cal – once his friend, now his wife's lover – scrambles to get
the news in print.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan.10


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

The 24th season of this
splendid documentary series opens with a new night and an old-West
emphasis. Custer is next week; tonight is a richly detailed portrait
of Billy the Kid.

A city kid from New York, he moved to
New Mexico at 14 with his mom, who soon died. Then he

became tangled in a rancher's fight
with cattle barons who had political connections.

His boss was slain; Billy killed the
sheriff in retaliation. As a teen – literate, likable, small and
resourceful – he led a band of renegades; at 21, he was dead, a
symbol of the West's most colorful era.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Mike (Tim Allen) has female
frustrations everywhere.

At home, his wife and daughters want to
adopt a fluffy little dog. At work, his boss – long an absentee
father – hires his daughter (Jamie-Lynn Sigler of “The Sopranos”)
as marketing director. Battles follow.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Glee,” 8
p.m., Fox.

Maybe you missed the show's post-Super
Bowl episode. (Hey, it was a long day.) Here's a rerun.

After warring with Coach Beiste, the
glee-club kids link with the football team. The result is an epic
performance of Michael Jackson's “Thriller.”

Be warned, however, that bigger isn't
always better. By “Glee” standards, this is merely so-so.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. The
investigation of a Navy officer's death is distracted by her angry
husband ... and by Ziva's future, now that Ray Cruz (Enrique
Murciano) is back.

– “Switched at Birth,” 8 p.m.,
ABC Family. As Emmet's new girlfriend, Daphne (Vanessa Marano)
struggles for approval from his mom (Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin). She
tries to impress her with sign-language skills or entertain her on
game night; nothing seems to work.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Jada Khaled's transport vehicle has been ambushed. Now the team
must rescue her and save its case.

– “Celebrity Wife Swap,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. People know Dee Snider and Favor Flav as rockers with Twisted
Sister and Public Enemy. At home, however, they have opposite
approaches: Snider's wife focuses full time on parenting; Flav's
fiancee has a casual approach. Now they briefly switch homes.

– “Jane by Design,” 9 p.m., ABC
Family. In last week's opener, a clerical mistake gave teen-aged Jane
a job with designers who think she's a grown-up. Now her worlds
collide: The fashion show is at the same time as the high school's
winter formal.

– Parenthood, 10 p.m., NBC. Her
daughter is already in the work force, trying to figure out her job;
now her mom (Lauren Graham) obsesses on having a baby. Meanwhile,
Crosby fumes when his brother Adam gets all the attention in a
newspaper story about their music business.

– Flashpoint, 10 p.m., Ion. This
solidly crafted Canadian show has already been renewed for next
season, its fifth. Tonight – in a new episode to the U.S. – a
mental patient escapes and has a hostage.