TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Cougar Town,”
10 p.m., TBS.

Viewers have always known Jules and
Ellie (Courteney Cox and Christa Miller) as close pals and
wine-drinking buddies. This episode – one of the best – flashes
back to a time when they were opposites.

Cox, who grew up in a prosperous
Alabama family, has fun playing Jules as a redneck. She's as crude as
her then-husband Bobby; moving into the neighborhood, they leave
Ellie fuming.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Body of
Proof” season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC.

This was already an above-average show,
with a terrific central character – Dana Delany as Dr. Megan Hunt,
a steel-willed medical examiner – and solid mysteries. Still, it
was on the shelf for 10 months, getting a makeover that makes things
more personal.

Short-term, a kidnapping strikes Megan
directly. That propels a strong story that concludes next week.

And long-term? Her former investigator
is dead; the previous cops are gone. Now she's reluctantly working
with a handsome police detective (Mark Valley) from her past.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Smash,” 10
p.m., NBC.

It's a busy night for our recording
devices, with all of the best shows at 10 p.m.

This one catches “Bombshell” in
limbo, waiting for a Broadway go-ahead. Julia keeps rewriting it,
aided by a teacher (Daniel Sunjata of “Rescue Me”). Derek uses
the interlude to direct a concert special for a star (Jennifer
Hudson), with a young songwriter (Jeremy Jordan) scrambling for a
spot.

Some of this seems contrived, but there
are sensational moments for Hudson and others.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Mourning
the shooting death of his wife, Vance (Rocky Carroll) tries to return
to work as division chief. He soon learns devastating personal
details.

– “New Girl,” 8:30 and 9 p.m.,
Fox. In a rerun, Jess and Nick discuss their no-sex relationship.
Then a new episode has roommates battling for a parking spot and
Winston searching for a condom.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Probing the lone survivor of a terrorist group, Kensi and Deeks
go deep into a woods.

– “Guns in America” and
“Frontline,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Over the
next two nights, PBS will have four prime-time hours looking at
violence. Tonight's first hour takes a historic look, from frontier
justice to the Newtown tragedy. The second views the childhood of
Adam Lanza, the alleged Newtown shooter.

– “Cult” debut, 9 p.m., CW. A
reporter probes a sticky question: Is a fictional TV show linked to
murders outside the show? This is a complex hour for viewers, but it
has some talented people: Rockne O'Bannon (“Farscape”) is the
writer-producer; Robert Knepper (“Prison Break”) is the prime
villain.

– “The Mindy Project,” 9:30 p.m.,
Fox. Mindy gets a one-minute medical spot on TV.

– “Vegas,” 10 p.m., CBS. A
hot-shot producer has roared into town with a gorgeous starlet. That
creates problems for Savino, who runs the Mob's casino, and his young
assistants, Mia and Tommy.

– “Justified,” 10 p.m., FX. Yes,
this 10 p.m. spot is thoroughly overcrowded. Here, Raylan faces two
problems – a beautiful grifter and a vengeful enemy from the past.
Also, Boyd and Ava seek ways to make money from some of Harlan
County's wealthy.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Monday
Mornings,” 10 p.m., TNT.

This episode, like the first two, has
it all: Brilliant dialog flows out of great actors.

The key addition now is Anthony Heald,
who has done other David Kelly shows. He was the assistant principal
in “Boston Public,” a judge in “Boston Law”; now he plays a
cunning malpractice lawyer.

That puts a shadow on everything else –
a restaurant rescue, a heart-attack, a homeless man. The closing
moments remind us that “Monday Mornings” is one of the best new
shows in years.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The
Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

It's imposing enough to visit a
girlfriend's home town and meet her father. Now imagine that he has
two stars on his shoulder and runs the place.

That's the situation when Sean Lowe
visits Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where Lindsay's dad is the commanding
general. To prepare Lowe, she runs him through some basic-training
drills.

The other visits should be less
stressful – especially now that Tierra is out. Lowe visits
Catherine in Seattle, AshLee in Houston and Desiree in a Los Angeles
suburb.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Black History Month films tend to focus
on the verbal flame-throwers. This one views a quieter figure.

Whitney Young grew up comfortably in
Kentucky and became head of the Urban League in 1961. Working with
three presidents, he coaxed changes that brought thousands of jobs to
blacks.

There were costs: He remained silent on
Vietnam; at one point, militants had a plan to kill him.

But the influence grew. When he died
(at 49) in a Nigerian swimming pool, President Nixon sent a plane to
bring his body home, then gave the eulogy at his funeral.

Other choices include:

– “Dinosaur Train,” 9 a.m, PBS
(check local listimgs). For this hourlong special, the dinosaurs need
more than a train. They hop in a submarine, for four stories about
underwater creatures in the dino-era.

– “PBS Newshour,” 7 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). This launches a five-day emphasis on gun
violence and its aftermath. PBS will also have prime-time shows
Tuesday and Wednesday.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. After an odd call from The Captain (Kyle McLachlan), the
friends recall their previous time with him.

– “Rules of Engagement,” 8:30
p.m., CBS. Liz and Russell are a mismatch – as proven during their
brief marriage, after a drunken, shipboard wedding. Now, however, she
wants him to father her baby.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m., CBS. A
street performer (Andy Dick) puts his puppet show in front of the
cupcake shop. When Max and Caroline try to move him, he strikes back.

– “The Following,” 9 p.m., Fox.
Claire gets a surprise phone call that may help her find her son.
When the FBI makes a move, there's panic among kidnappers in the
farm house..

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This story is set during the Pro Bowl game in Hawaii. Danny obsesses
on the game; a player helps with a case. Guest stars include Houston
running back Arian Foster, Pat Monahan of “Train” and Larry
Manetti of “Magnum, P.I,”

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. In
the start of a two-parter, kidnappers are scheming to take the
daughter of a rich Middle Eastern businessman.

-- "Inside Comedy," 11 p.m., Showtime. David Steinberg has amiable chats with two gifted writer-producers, Tina Fey and Judd Apatow. It turns out that both were young fans of "SCTV" ... the Canadian show created by a troupe that formed during the short-lived "David Steinberg Show."

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Downton Abbey”
season-finale, 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

This show's soaring popularity has been
built on a mismatched blend of refined drama and brash soap opera.
That was never more obvious than here.

The Crawleys are vacationing at a
Scottish estate that is even grander than their own, bringing some
staffers. Back home, others visit the town fair. New romances are
formed, suggested and in some cases crushed. This is light, bright,
brittle … then packs a punch bigger than most soaps would dare.

WEEKEND'S MUST-SEE II: “The Amazing
Race” opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

Things will start fast, CBS says, as 11
duos skydive in Bora Bora. Soon, three of them will be gone.

Expect colorful players. There are
brothers who are hockey players and brothers (twins, no less) who are
obstetricians. There are two married couples (one of them newlywed)
and a dating couple. There are fives sets of friends, including
firemen, roller-derby women and country singers who are descended
from John Wayne and Daniel Boone. Also, there are father-and-son
cancer survivors.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE” “The
Simpsons,” 7 and 8 p.m., Fox.

At 7 p.m. is a rerun of the family trip
to New York. At 8, Bart and Milhouse sample the grown-up life.

The real pleasure, however, is the
six-minute short that runs with that new episode. In a wordless gem,
we see Maggie's visit to a daycare center. The result aired before
an “Ice Age” film last summer and now has a well-deserved Academy
Award nomination.

Other choices include:

– Basketball, 7 p.m. ET, TNT. The
NBA's all-star weekend wraps up, with the game starting at 8.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. “Why is everybody yelling?” young Henry asks. This hour
does, indeed, have too many high-decibel moments, as Emma helps
Mr.Gold search for his son in Manhattan, Still, it emerges with
important revelations for Gold, Emma and Henry.

– “Killing Lincoln,” 8 p.m.,
National Geographic, repeats at 10. Mixing re-enactments with some
narration by Tom Hanks, this offers rich detail. Jesse Johnson (Don Johnson's son) gives us a fresh vision of
John Wilkes Booth as a man who mixes charisma with a zealot's
obsession. He envisions three murders and a coup;instead, he has one
and infamy.

– “Saturday Night Live in the
'90s,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. After barely surviving in the 1980s, “SNL”
began developing talented people who could thrive elsewhere. This
fun documentary interviews Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, Dana Carvey,
Mike Myers and Tina Fey, who was hired as a writer in 1997 and became
head writer in 1999. She found on-camera fame in 2000 … which, of
course, is another story.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Now that their firm is profitable again, the partners rescind the
partnerships offered to Alicia and Cary – who are preparing a
rugged mock trial against Will and Diane. It's a strong episode,
brightened briefly by Carrie Preston's work as the cheery-but-fierce
Elsbeth.

– “Girls,” 9 p.m., HBO. Last
week's episode was almost all-Hannah, so this excellent one goes the
other way. One strong pairig involves Marnie and her maybe-boyfriend;
another is an unexpected field trip involving Adam and Ray.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A museum investigation indicates the academic world can be nasty.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live," 10 and 11:29 p.m., NBC.

First is a shortened version of last
week's show, with Justin Bieber as host and music guest. It started
with a great sketch – sportscasters with nothing to say during the
long Super Bowl black-out – then suffered the usual slow points.
Near the end, however, Bieber had some fine moments playing the
co-chairman of a high school's abstinence club.

Then it's a new episode. Chrstoph Waltz
– an Oscar-winner as a Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds” (not
your usual comedy springboard) hosts, with music by Alabama Shakes.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Wendell &
Vinnie” debut, 8 p.m., Nickelodeon.

Vinnie (Jerry Trainor of “iCarly”)
is suspended in a sort of youthful bubble. At 30, he's forever
playing videogames and finding fun. But his late sister designated
him as the guardian of her studious son, Wendell; this startles his
other sister (Nicole Sullivan) … and perplexes Vinnie.

It turns out, of course, that he has a
good heart. “Wendell & Vinnie” fits the Nickelodeon style:
It's quick and jokey, broad enough for kids but OK for grown-ups,
with patches of warmth. The result reruns at 8 p.m. Sunday (which
will be the show's regular spot) and 9 p.m. Monday.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Life is But a
Dream,” 9-10:30 p.m., HBO.

Biographies are usually better than
autobiographies and this film would have been better if done by an
outside source. It's by Beyonce, about Beyonce, spiced with music by
Beyonce.

It's inconsistent, but has strong music
and some deep moments. We see mixed emotions when she learns she's
pregnant, despair when she loses the baby, joy when the next
pregnancy comes to term. For more, she's interviewed separately at 8
p.m. on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Other choices include:

– “My Little Pony,” 10:30 a.m.,
The Hub. In this upbeat world, ponies have “cutie marks,” not
beauty marks. Alas, Twilight Sparkles' wayward magic gets the marks
mixed up and things go wrong. (There might be a moral here.) The
result is an OK tale for the very young.

– “Harry Potter and the Chamber of
Secrets” (2002), 8-11 p.m., ABC. The second Potter film, like the
first, was given a bright feel by director Chris Columbus and starts,
again, with Harry back with his evil aunt and uncle. He returns to
the school, where Kenneth Branagh plays a self-centered teacher.

– Racing, 8 p.m., Fox. Here's a
75-lap quickie in Daytona, Fla. It doesn't count for Sprint Cup
points, but does show that the NASCAR season has started.

– “Stories From the Road to
Freedom,” 8-10 p.m., History. Most Black History Month specials
focus on the civil-rights era of the 1950s and '60s; this one uses
rare audiotapes and films to go way back. A former slave recalls life
after emancipation. A World War I veteran recalls the riots that led
to three 1920 lynchings in Duluth, Minn.; a Pullman porter recalls
his life on the rails.

– “Chicago Fire,” 9 p.m., NBC. In
a rerun, Chief Boden finds things have gone terribly wrong with his
attempts to help a young arsonist; now there's been a fatal fire.
Also, Severide makes a career decision.

– “Blackboard Wars” debut, 9
p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. This documentary series focuses on the
comeback of a New Orleans high school.

– “Ripper Street,” 9-10:15 p.m.,
BBC America. As Reid probes a series of robberies, his Sgt.Flynn
meets his former commander from the Army. That triggers the question
of how veterans are treated.

TV column for Friday, Feb.15


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “CSI: NY,” 9
p.m., CBS.

The networks aren't ready to give up on
Valentine's Day yet. On the day after the holiday, two shows have new
Valentine episodes and other channels try romance movies.

This hour has three separate cases,
each involving love gone wrong. Also, Josh Groban plays himself and
sings “Happy in My Heartache.”

 

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

There are only 1,600 pandas left in the
wild, Kate Snow says here. Now China is taking drastic action to
preserve a national symbol; at a high-tech fertility lab, it is
breeding baby pandas.

That's one of two reports by Snow
during this hour, the second since “Rock Center” moved to
Fridays.

Her other one profiles Kym Worthy, a
prosecutor in Detroit who has been targeting crimes – some ignored
for years – against women. Also, Harry Smith visits a surprise
ratings success, the Game Show Network's “The American Bible
Challenge.”;

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Live From
Lincoln Center,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In four decades, John Kander and the
late Frank Ebb crafted vibrant musicals, won four Tony awards apiece
and wrote such songs as “All That Jazz,” “Maybe This Time”
and “New York, New York.”.

Now their music is celebrated by the
husband-wife team of Jason Danieley an Marin Mazzie, both Broadway
stars. In addition, the show brings back co-stars of the two biggest
Kander-Ebb hits – Joel Grey from “Cabaret” and Chita Rivera
from “Chicago.”

Other choices include:

– “Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Here's another slightly tardy Valentine's Day episode: The three
sisters revive their singing group – The Inglorious Baxters –
hoping their music video will be an Internet hit for the holiday.
Meanwhile, their dad (Tim Allen) fumes when he finds his grandson is
no longer using the Baxter name at school; the boy's biologic dad is
making more of an impact.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. In the
Valentine spirit, Oxygen has Hilary Duff's “A Cinderella
Story”(2004) and Hallmark has John Larroquette negotiating his
daughters' ceremonies in the light “Wedding Daze” (also 2004). At
8:30, ABC Family has Hilary Swank in the so-so “P.S. I Love You”
(2007).

– Music films, 8 p.m., cable. Here
are portraits of two groups … only one of which has a lofty place
in music history. “History of the Eagles, Part 1” (2013), on
Showtime, profiles the California band; the second part airs at 8
p.m. Saturday and they'll be back-to-back at 3:30 p.m. Feb.23.
Meanwhile, “Spice World” (1997), on Style, follows the Spice
Girls on tour.

– “Malibu Country,” 8:31 p.m.,
ABC. Reba and her mom (Lily Tomlin) are excited about a Las Vegas
trip … until a confession by their neighbor (Sara Rue) changes
everything.

– Basketball, 9 p.m. ET, TNT. The
all-star weekend begins, with a “rising stars” game involving
first-year and second-year pros. There will be more, leading to the
Sunday-night game.

--”True Justice,” 9 p.m., Reelz;
reruns at 11. With Sarah still recovering – a bad-guy bullet
finally hit someone – Kane's team is short-handed while trying to
stop an arms deal.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Chances are, most TV cops should go to anger-management class; that's
where Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) goes tonight, Meanwhile, his dad (Tom
Selleck), the police commissioner, must become diplomatic to help a
young Turkish woman.

– “Banshee,” 10 p.m., Cinemax.
Simultaneously well-made and way too brutal, this hour flashes back
to the prison years that hardened our protagonist. He had been doing
fine lately, since assuming the identity of a town's incoming
sheriff. Now, however, a former prison friend spots him.