TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The X Factor,”
8-10 p.m., Fox.

Bounced around by baseball, “X
Factor” can finally settle into its pattern. On Wednesdays, singers
perform and viewers vote; Thursdays bring ousters.

Last week, the judges trimmed from 17
people to the 12 finalists. Now the viewers take over.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Some animals – even sophisticated
chimps and apes – remain homeless. Others are awesome.

Beavers build 50-ton dams. Prairie dogs
create tunnel cities that go for miles,. Leaf-cutter ants move 40
tons of earth to create a home for 12 million.

All of this beautifully told and
wonderfully filmed. Watch the camera pull back to show the geometry
of cormorants, each with a plat that's an inch or so out of pecking
range from the others.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Top Chef”
opener, 10 p.m., Bravo.

There are 29 chefs tonight, in a show
designed for 16. In the first two hours, almost half will be ousted.

There are plenty of strong choices.
Keith Rhodes is a North Carolina giant, 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds.
Dakota Weiss, 35 and outspoken, is one of several heavily tattooed
women. Tyler Stone is 22 and cocky; Laurent Quenious is 51, a
transplanted Frenchman. It's an interesting bunch and a strong start.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
After years of lax studies, Axl could still get into college via
football. Now his parents fret that he might blow his interview.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Building a treehouse for his son, Phil meets a new friend (Kevin
Hart). Also, Gloria insists Jay take her salsa-dancing.

– Nova, 9 p.m., PBS. Brian Greene is
a clever chap who tries to explain elusive physics concepts in this
four-week “Fabric of the Cosmos.” Alas, this may be too distant
and wispy for most of us to grasp.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS: Here's a concept that has worked for “The X-Files”
and others: A murder is linked to a traveling sideshow that's
patterned after 19th-century shows.

– “American Horror Story,”10
p.m., FX. Halloween parties aren't a good idea for “the murder
house.”

Last week, one brought death and
despair; now the night continues, with more dead converging. One
scene – with a creepy-charismatic teen confronting misdeeds he
can't remember – is deeply jolting.

– “Whitechapel,” 10 p.m., BBC
America. In the second week of this six-part series, people realize
the killer is a modern Jack the Ripper copycat. “Whitechapel” is
acted and filmed with great skill; it also, alas, hits extremes with
the cliché of cops who are thick-headed and inflexible.

– “Born to Drive” debut, 10 p.m.,
GAC (Great American Country). Annabeth Barnes was 6 when she got her
first go-kart; she amassed 200 tropies and two national titles. Now
she's 15 and ready for the same stock-car track that launched Richard
Petty, Dale Earnhardt and more. With money tight, her dad is her
mechanic, her fund-raiser and more. This reality series follows
instantly likable people.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Covert Affairs”
return, 10 p.m., USA.

Just as Annie (Piper Perabo) was
getting good at this CIA secret-spy thing, it fell apart. She blew an
assignment; she drew her sister's anger when she admitted she'd been
lying about her job and her life.

Now she's in an empty apartment, with
lots of time on her hands. Except that she meets a handsome
restaurant-owner who may be tied to a terrorist movement from Spain.
Despite a few illogical moments and a so-so sub-plot, this marks a
strong start for the second half of the “Covert” season.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Glee”
return, 8 p.m., Fox.

When they tied as winners of “The
Glee Project,” Damian McGinty and Samuel Larson were each
guaranteed a seven-episode run on “Glee.” Now – after the
show's baseball break – McGinty begins.

He's a foreign exchange student from
Ireland, living with Brittany – who, of course, assumes he's a
leprechaun. Also, Shelby (Idina Menzel) is starting her own club and
Mercedes recruits people for it.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Women, War
and Peace,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

When warlords turned in their weapons,
the Colombian government put out cheery travel commericials, saying
the country is save and fun. The women of Cauca disagree.

Their region has strong resources,
including gold. Many people have been killed, this strong hour says;
others have been intimidated to move. The government has often looked
the other way, ignoring laws that let Afro-Colombians keep their
land. Women lead the oft-frustrating fight for their rights.

Other choices include:

– “Bones,” 6-11 p.m., TNT. Two
days before this show finally has its season-opener on Fox, here's a
mini-marathon of reruns. Catch the time before Brennan and Booth were
a couple; in fact, his girlfriend (a worldly war correspondent)
visits in the 10 p.m. episode.

– NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. When a man is
kidnapped, his wife (Melinda McGraw) has people to turn to. One
ex-husband is Gibbs (Mark Harmon) of the NCIS; another is Fornell
(Joe Spano) of the FBI.

– “Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. The softball team is under pressure to add females. That's a
tricky situation for Mike (Tim Allen), with his all-male mind and
all-female household.

– “Man Up,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Kenny
has been living with Craig lately, which isn't ideal. He spilled
putting in the piano, left a sword in the washing machine. Craig is
not pleased.

– “New Girl” return, 9 p.m., Fox.
Nick is finally getting his confidence back, after an attractive
co-worker agrees to a date. Then Jess accidentally sees him naked and
that confidence crumbles.

– NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS.
A Marine who was dishonorably discharged may have committed murder …
or may be the victim of an elaborate, international set-up.

– “Unforgettable,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A man has been killed and his baby is missing. Carrie is on the case,
but may be too distracted by her obsession with the long-ago murder
of her sister.

– “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Kristina's family-night plan goes awry. Meanwhile, Crosby fumes about
Jasmine's new romance; Zeek fumes about Sarah trying to help her
alcoholic ex-husband.

TV column for Monday, Aug. 31


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Rock Center,”10
p.m., NBC.

TV networks have plenty of shows
claiming to be newsmagazines. They tell crime stories and celebrity
stories and such; more-serious things are confined to 90 seconds on
the nightly news.

NBC, however, promises this will be the
real deal, with two or three stories a week, mostly on serious
subjects. Airing live, with Brian Williams anchoring, it can switch
quickly to something more timely.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Mark
Twain Prize,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

OK, we're surprised to see Will Ferrell
get an award that has gone to such comedy geniuses as Richard Pryor,
Tina Fey and Bob Newhart. Still, the night attracts a terrific pack
of presenters.

Many, like Ferrell, scored on “Saturday
Night Live,” as performers (Andy Samberg, Tim Meadows, Molly
Shannon) or writers (Conan O'Brien, Adam McKay.). There are also
movie stars (Jack Black, Matthew Broderick), a journalist (Gwen
Ifill) and the Green Day singer (Billie Jo Armstrong).

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

This show excels at what “American
Idol” rarely gets right – the opening, group number. It's a
Halloween medley tonight, including “Ghostbusters,” and it gets
the night off to a vibrant start.

Then seven groups each do a three-song
medley. All are good; some are great. Listen to Delilah soar with
Alicia Keys' “Fallin'”; savor the sheer fun of the Dartmouth
Aires singing Queen.

Other choices include:

– “Twilight” (2008), 7:30 p.m.,
FX. If trick-or-treating ends early, try this vampire-angst hit.

– “Scared Shrekless,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. In a late change, ABC is inserting this cartoon from last year.
That slices a half-hour off “Dancing With the Stars,” which
starts at 8:30.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Ted has obsessed on his dream girl, whom he saw wearing a
pumpkin costume. Now he finally meets “the slutty Pumpkin” (Katie
Holmes). Also, after mocking Robin's Canadian roots, Barney learns
he's part-Canadian.

– More movies, 8 p.m., cable. Made
with little money and much skill, “Halloween” (1979, AMC) remains
a slasher classic. It's also quite harsh; closer to the mainstream is
“Gremlins” (1984, CMT), with the slick touch of producer Steven
Spielberg, director Joe Dante and writer Chris Columbus.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. Intent on propelling their cupcake business, Caroline insists
that Max go with her to a cake-decorating class.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Even after his death, Charlie makes an impact; he left Alan a
puzzling journal. Also, Jake has a tutor who lusts for Walden..

– “Mike & Molly,” 9:31 p.m.,
CBS. TV has been stuffed with Halloween comedies lately. Here's the
final one, with Mike reluctantly going to a party put on by Molly's
boss.

– “Bored to Death,” 10 p.m., HBO.
In a fairly good episode, Jonathan is startled to learn that someone
is using his identity to get detective jobs.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. Rick
is held captive by bank robbers in medical garb.

– “Enlightened,” 10:30, HBO. In a
bittersweet episode, Amy makes instant plans for an outdoor weekend
with her reluctant ex-husband (Luke Wilson).

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox.

For the 22nd time, we get a
“Treehouse of Horror.” And for maybe the 22nd time, it
ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to wince-silently crude.

There are great moments; when Ned kills
Homer's in-laws, it's a tribute to another cartoon classic. And there
are un-great ones; the brief opener reminds us that dismemberment
isn't automatically humorous.

Yes, Ned is “the avenging sword of
the Lord.” Bart's an avatar; Homer has “the proportionate
strength of a paralyzed spider.” It's all tongue-in-cheek –
including a closing “buy more” message.

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

Life is complicated when you're a
suburban housewife who was involved in a killing.

In the midst of a fitting for
Gabrielle's daughters' eggs-and-bacon costumes, Bree must communicate
the fact that their secret burial site is getting a housing
development. Soon, they're on a frog-finding mission – not
Gabrielle's strong point – to stop the project. There's much more,
in a busy hour.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATI VE: “Masterpiece
Mystery,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

A fierce train crash leaves Jackson
Brodie (Jason Isaacs) battered, foggy and with someone having
switched his identity. All of that helps make this third “Case
Histories” movie the best of the bunch.

Brodie's tough-guy approach doesn't
work now. He needs help from the nanny who rescued him – a dandy
character, played by Welsh actress Gwyneth Keyworth, 21 – and she
insists he solve the case of her missing employer. It's a fun story
wrapping up the short “Histories” season.

Other stories include:

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Last week's wonderful opener sent bounty-hunter Emma Swan to
Storybrooke, Maine, where fairy-tale characters live, unaware of
their identities. Tonight, we learn how the evil queen created this;
she schemes to get Emma – Snow White's daughter – out of town.

– “America in Primetime,” 8 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). This opener offers a deep portrait of TV
women – both the unruffled housewives of the past and the
overcrowded lives of current shows.

– “Allen Gregory” debut, 8:30
p.m., Fox. Raised in a high-brow, home-school bubble by his gay dads,
Allen is 7 when he's thrust into public school. With wine in his
lunch box and a day-planner on his phone, he doesn't really fit.
There are some wonderfully clever moments here from Jonah Hill, who
created and stars in this stylish cartoon. Still, the humor is based
on fairly distant, unfamiliar targets.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. A
superstar in the independent-movie world, Parker Posey sometimes
visits the main stream. Tonight, she's the ex-wife of Eli, who must
investigate her.

– “Boardwalk Empire,” 9 p.m.,
HBO. Last week, Nucky felt good about ducking his court case and
getting a fresh supply of alcohol. Now both plans wobble, in a morose
(but well-made) hour that sees things go even worse for Van Alden,
the married fed who has strong morals and a pregnant mistress.

– “The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m.,
AMC. Last week's terrific hour (rerunning at 8) left two crises:
Daryl and Andrea are still in the woods, searching for a missing
girl; Shane is trapped in a school, while stealing medical equipment
crucial to save Rick's son. Now the others wait and worry.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Some more Halloween-eve jollies: Hanging in an empty mansion, a body
seems to have been killed by vampires. Diane Farr (“Numb3rs”)
plays a vampire-book author.

 

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 29


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “America's Most
Wanted: 50 Fugitives, 50 states,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Fox's primetime schedule was only a
year old when “AMW” debuted in 1988. In a TV world stuffed with
dramas and comedies, this was a non-fiction half-hour, continuing
John Walsh's crime crusade.

Soon expanding to an hour, “AMW”
became one of Fox's first hits. This year, the show was canceled;
it's moving to cable, but has quarterly Fox specials, starting with
this one.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Design on a
Dime” season-opener, 8 p.m., HGTV.

Other shows design on a budget, but few
match what likable new host Casey Noble does here.

Given a stark and unshaded yard, she
goes to work. A $1,200 fire pit is copied for $40. Mason jars are
turned into a $77 chandelier; old plates are broken for a mosaic. And
for $95, the family has artwork that turns around to become a movie
screen. Noble, a “Design Star” runner-up, creates a $2,000 gem.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Zombie
Apocalypse,” 9-11 p.m., Syfy.

Maybe someone thought “The Walking
Dead” is too sedate Zombies are fine, he figured, but there should
be a few more – well, a few hundred more – beheadings and blood
gushes and such.

That's “Zombie Apocalyse.” A few
heroes face the hordes with strong hearts, sharp swords and heavy
hammers, plus rifles, pistols, one grenade and a machine gun. There
are also some talented actors – led by good work from Taryn Manning
and Ving Rhames – and better dialog than a zombie film needs.

Other choices include:

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS. Here are two reruns from last spring, both viewing
Ted's relationship with Zoey. In the first, they're on opposite sides
of a giant project; in the second, he makes a decision and his
friends finally tell him what they think of her.

– Football, 8 p.m., ABC. Different
parts of the country will have No. 5 Clemson at Georgia Tech or No. 6
Stanford at Southern California. Also, ESPN has Wisconsin at Ohio
State at 8 p.m. ET; ESPN2 has South Carolina at Tennessee at 7:15.

– “Possessing Piper Rose,” 8-10
p.m., Lifetime. Two extremely pretty people (Rebecca Romijn and David
Cubitt) end up in an extremely ugly situation, after they get a
chance for an off-the-books adoption. Big scares and occasional
violence follow, in an adequate horror film.

– More Halloween-weekend movies, 8
p.m., cable. There's the light approach of Bette Midler's “Hocus
Pocus” (1993) on ABC Family or some grown-up scares – classic
(“The Shining,” 1980, on IFC) and not (“Halloween 5, 1989, on
AMC). Or go with non-fiction on History – “The Real Story of
Halloween” at 8 p.m. and “Zombies: A Living History,” from 9-11
p.m.

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Daniel Travanti, now 71, starred in the great “Hill Street Blues,”
30 years ago. Here, he plays a long-ago suspect who has Alzheimer's
disease, as new murders begin.

– “The Good Witch's Family,” 9
and 11 p.m., Hallmark. The first three “Good Witch” films –
rerunning at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. – have been pleasantly adequate, with
Cassie (Catherine Bell) radiant as someone keeping her magic to a
minimum. Now she has a husband, two sweet step-kids and few problems
– except for a cunning cousin and a local controversy. The result
is, again, pleasant enough.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. A rerun has Ben Stiller, with music by Foster The People.