TV column for Monday, Jan. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Bunheads,” 9
p.m., ABC Family.

Each crowded hour of this show juggles
drama, dance and comedy. Tonight, the comedy wins big.

Michelle (the terrific Sutton Foster)
has two woes – her all-consuming roommate Truly and a nasty-looking
blind date. Also, Boo gets some awful advice before meeting her
boyfriend's parents.

There's much more, including a gorgeous
performance from a newcomer, played by Jeanine Mason, the 2009 winner
of “So You Think You Can Dance.” It's an appealing blend.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang
Theory,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.

Three weeks from now, “Rules of
Engagement” – CBS' eternal back-up plan – will step into this
spot. Until then, savor the bonus of TV's best comedy having Monday
reruns.

Tonight, Leonard and Penny consider
getting back together; he calls it the “beta test.” Also, Raj is
falling for the voice of the virtual assistant on his phone.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Continuum”
debut, 8 p.m., Syfy.

As they near execution, eight
revolutionaries make a 65-year leap across time. They end up back in
2012, where they're safe … almost; one cop (Rachel Nichols) was
transported with them.

The show's flaw is making most of the
escapees standard villains without depth. The strength is a great
character in support: Using the standard police frequency from the
future, the cop talks to its young inventor. He's a techno-whiz who
gives her one smart ally in this old-new world.

Other choices include

– “The Bachelor,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.
Last week's opener saw six of the women go home, including the one
who showed Sean Lowe bondage ribbon and told the camera,”I totally
hope Sean rips my clothes off and spanks me.” Lowe, a quiet
Christian from Texas, didn't. Tonight, the 19 survivors settle in.

 

– “The Carrie Diaries”debut, 8
p.m., CW, repeating at 9. What was Carrie Bradshaw like before her
audacious “Sex and the City” years? Here, she's a rebellious
16-year-old whose mother has just died. Once a week, she goes from
Connecticut comfort to a Manhattan internship; AnnaSophia Robb stars.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Robin insists Barney ask her dad before they get engaged.
That's not easy: He's played by Ray Wise, who was the killer in “Twin
Peaks” and Satan in “Reaper.”

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Caroline is looking forward to her cabin vacation with the handsome
candy-store owner. One thing that wasn't in her plans: Max will be
there, too.

– “Market Warriors,” 9 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). The buyers head to Chicago, said to be a
great place for antiques. They argue – this show's rules are clumsy
– and make some interesting mistakes.

– “Being Human,” 9 p.m., Syfy.
This is a key night for Syfy, with a debut and two season-openers.
This so-so hour starts 15 months after the previous season. Sally (a
ghost) is in limbo; Josh and Nora (werewolves) are endangered. And
Aidan was buried alive, a fate that vampires really dislike.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A professor is dead; now viewers will vote – via Internet or
Twitter – on whether the killer is his boss, his assistant or a
student. Producers say they've filmed three endings.

– “Lost Girl,” 10 p.m., Syfy.
After going wild, Bo goes to jail. That seems out-of-character at
first, but stick around. It's part of a story that's flawed but
interesting.

– “True Crime With Aphrodite
Jones,” 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery. Casey Anthony seemed
encased in a blur of lies. The job and the nanny she described didn't
exist. For seven months, she denied she was pregnant. And later, she
said her baby had disappeared a month earlier, but she hadn't told
anyone. Jones, a true-crime writer, digs back into a compelling case.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Golden Globe
awards, 8-11 p.m., NBC, with red carpet at 7.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host; with a
quirky batch of movie nominees.

The Globes bring a movie category
(comedy or musical) that doesn't exist elsewhere. There, we find an
Oscar hopeful (“Les Miserables”) facing the low-key fun of
“Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Salmon
Fishing in the Yemen” and the delightful “Moonrise Kingdom.”

There are also drama movies –
“Lincoln,” “Argo,” “Life of Pi,” “Django Unchained”
and “Zero Dark Thirty” – plus TV shows, actors and more.

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

Matthew and Mary are married now, but
their estate wobbles near bankruptcy.

There's much more, in a strong hour. In
prison, Bates battles another inmate. In the mansion, Edith prepares
to marry a much-older neighbor; former friends Thomas and O'Brien
sabotage each other.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Season-openers,
9-11 p.m., pay-cable.

A week after launching the “Girls”
season (9 p.m.), HBO brings back “Enlightened” at 9:30. Amy
(Laura Dern) grabs incriminating information about her company and
contacts a reporter.

Countering that, Showtime brings back
“House of Lies” at 10 and “Californication” at 10:30 –
following a fun “Shameless” season-opener at 9 Lip is chased by
cops, Jimmy is grabbed by a mobster and Frank wakes up penniless and
clueless in Mexico. This isn't “Downton Abbey,” you know.

Other choices include:

– Football, 1 p.m. ET Fox and 4:30
p.m. ET CBS. First, the Seattle Seahawks – who have averaged 42-11
wins in their past four games – visit the Atlanta Falcons. Then the
Houston Texans visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Next
week, the winners face Saturday's winners for Super Bowl spots.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Here's bad news for Springfield Elementary: Its test scores hover
near the point of closing the school. And one student – Bart, alas
– still must take the test.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Mr. Gold has a spell that may let him cross into fairytale land
without losing his memory; first, he has to try it out on an
unwitting subject. There's new trouble, though: Hook is at the
harbor, seeking vengeance on Gold's other persona, Rumplestiltskin.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m. (or
later, with football overrun), CBS. Carrie Preston returns as
Elsbeth, the eccentric lawyer. When she's arrested, Alicia, Will and
Diane must take her case. Also, Peter gets conflicting advice from
Eli (Alan Cumming) and Jordan (T.R. Knight, formerly of “Grey's
Anatomy”).

– “Wicked Tuna,” 9 p.m., National
Geographic. A new tuna-fishing season starts,in this hour, filled
with hardy and (generally) likable fisherfolk.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m. (or
later), CBS. Henry Ian Cusick (“Lost”) is back as evil
millionaire Tommy Volker. The team feels a geologist's death could
help bring Volker down.

– “Anthony Jeselnik: Caligula,”
10 p.m., Comedy Central. In short spurts, Jeselnik is terrific, with
the ability to drop in sudden surprises, witty and politically
incorrect. Then, alas, he tells us he's ready to do his stronger
material. It becomes repetitious, a classic case of too much of a
good thing.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 12


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

After a five-year cable exile, this
pageant returned in 2011 to ABC, where it had its first telecasts
back in 1954-55. Brooke Burke-Charvet (“Dancing With the Stars”)
and Chris Harrison (“Bachelor”) host.

The pageant is in Las Vegas, also the
site of three days of preliminaries. It's preceded at 8 p.m. by a
“20/20” special, “Pageant Confidential: The Road to Miss
America.”

TODAY'S MIGHT-SEE II: Football, 4:30
p.m. ET, CBS, and 8 p.m. ET, Fox.

The second round of the NFL playoffs
starts with a battle of greats: Ray Lewis, in his final season, leads
a tough Baltimore Ravens defense, visiting quarterback Peyton
Manning, who has revived his career with a new team (Denver Broncos)
after a year-long injury.

Then the Green Bay Packers, with Aaron
Rogers in control, visit the San Francisco 49er, who successfully
switched mid-season to quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Cyndi Lauper:
Still So Unusual,” 9-10 p.m., WE; repeats until 2 a.m.

In the early MTV days, Cyndi Lauper fit
perfectly. Bright and brassy, she had two songs reach No. 1 on the
Billboard chart (“Time After Time,” “True Colors”) and four
more in the top five.

That was a quarter-century ago. Now
Lauper is a lively guest on talk shows and beyond. In the first
half-hour, she frets about a “The Voice” appearance when,
ironically, she has a vocal infection; in the second, she visits the
Kentucky Derby and accidentally says the “F-word” on live TV. In
both cases, her live-wire personality is neatly contrasted by the
droll humor of her husband and their son, 15.

Other choices include:

– “The Biggest Loser,” 8-10 p.m.,
NBC. Here's a rerun of last Sunday's debut, with the return of
Jillian Michaels. On the harsh side, she badgers people who then
faint and vomit; on the sweeter side, we meet three thoroughly
likable teens who are treated more gently.

– “CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of Elisabeth Shue's
second episode; her character gets to show off her blood-analysis
skill. The case involves home theft – literally. An entire house
has been taken from its foundation.

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Working on a murder case involving the homeless on the Santa Monica
Pier, Rossi meets his former Marine drill sergeant (Meshach Taylor).

– “Nearlyweds,” 9-11 p.m.,
Hallmark. Three likable young women have complications with their
marriages. One (Danielle Panabaker) has an overwrought mother-in-law
(Naomi Judd). Others (Christie Laing and the delightful Jessica
Parker Kennedy) have husband troubles. Then a technical glitch voids
their marriages. The result is predictable, but kind of fun.

– “A Streetcar Named Desire”
(1951), 10:30 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Here's one of the
best-acted movies of all time. Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl
Malden won Oscars; there was a nomination for Marlon Brando,
alongside director Elia Kazan, writer Tennessee Williams and more.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. This rerun has Christina Applegate as host and Passion Pit
as the music guest.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 11


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

For eight years and 203 episodes,
Richard Karn was part of a ratings giant. He was Al on “Home
Improvement,” the show that went as high as No. 2 in the annual
Nielsen ratings.

In the 13 years since the show ended,
Karn has stayed moderately busy, hosting (a few seasons of “Family
Feud,” one of “Bingo America”) and acting. Now he guests on
Allen's new show.

Karn plays the architect for Outdoor
Man, learning he may be replaced by an attractive young woman.

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

Over the past five years, this show has
had high quality and low ratings. Next week's two-hour finale should
be a big deal; this episode is OK, but surprisingly muted.

Walter (the brilliant John Noble) heads
into a deprivation tank, so he can search his mind for details about
Donald, a key part of this mystery. It's a quiet episode in which
everyone seems to move slowly – followed by close calls in which a
few seconds would have been vital. Still, it sets up a crucial
finale.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Portlandia,”
10 p.m., IFC.

People in Portland – or, at least,
this fictional version of it – seem obsessed with partying.

Nina is planning her birthday, complete
with tapas, horseback riding and yoga at sunset. The problem is that
Kath and Dave are back from Spain and consider themselves experts on
the culture.

Meanwhile, another couple needs a loan
to go to the party. There are some dryly hilarious scenes with Kumail
Nanjiani (“Franklin & Bash”) as a bank official who's in
charge of party loans.

Other choices include:

– “1600 Penn,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.
Here's an instant rerun of Thursday's funny episodes, as the
president's kids bring problems. In the first, his son causes a fire
at college; in the second, his daughter tells him (and the world)
she's pregnant.

--Movies, 8 p.m., cable. Here's
splendid entertainment from three decades – “Goldfinger” (1964)
on G4, “Big” (1988) on WE and “The Fugitive” (1993) on AMC.

– “Malibu Country,” 8:30, ABC.
Planning a baby shower for her brassy neighbor Kim, Reba makes unkind
remarks … while Kim's son is taping preparations.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. When an
off-duty cop is killed, the team needs the art of interrogation.

– “True Justice,” 9 p.m., Reelz.
In last week's hour (rerunning at 6 p.m.), Kane (Steven Seagal) left
the police force to assemble his own CIA team. That's a good thing;
the newcomers do things – talk, emote – Seagal can't. There are
some slow parts tonight and then a messy, “Scarface”-style
shoot-out.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Here are tough moments for two of the police commissioner's kids.
Jamie struggles with the emotional aftershocks of his actions; Erin
has the mayor on the witness stand, with a tough judge (Susie
Essman) in charge.

– “Banshee” debut, 10 p.m.,
Cinemax;repeats at 11:05. Writers love the notion of taking over
someone else's life. It happen in classic fiction; it even happens in
the Internet age, in “The Riches” and the upcoming “Continuum.”
And now an ex-convict pretends to be the sheriff. This is a serious
drama from “True Blood” creator Alan Ball; it has solid
characters, sharp action and a plot that's a real stretch.

TV column for Thursday, Jan.10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “1600 Penn,”
8:30 and 9:31 p.m., NBC.

The first episode – a good one –
reruns the pilot film, which had a sneak preview last month. After
his latest college mis-adventure, the president's (Josh Gad) is
brought back to the White House.

The second episode – an even better
one – has his sister hesitantly tell their parents – and the
world – that she's pregnant. Both bring big laughs and more. Gad
(star of Broadway's “Book of Mormon”) is one of the show's
creators and producers; each character is invested with surprising
depth.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang
Theory” and “Two and a Half Men,” 8-9 p.m., CBS.

First, the “Big Bang” guys take a
road trip to a comic-book convention, while wearing costumes. Things
turn iffy when their car is stolen.

Then comes a “Men” turning point.
For three episodes, Walden (Ashton Kutcher) lied to Kate (Brooke
D'Orsay) about his life. Now he admits the truth: He's not really
broke; he's an Internet billionaire.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Elementary,”
10 p.m., CBS.

Here's a jolting detour. This Sherlock
Holmes series – usually smart, sometimes funny – turns dark; we
see a sadistic streak by a killer and (worse) by Holmes himself.

This story wraps up, but also nudges
“Elementary” toward the possibility of more darkness ahead. This
is skillfully filmed and acted, but we'll hope Sherlock has fun
again.

Other choices include:

– “30 Rock,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Desperate to discredit the teen who will take over the cable company,
Jack (Alec Baldwin) links with his nemesis (Will Arnett). Meanwhile,
Liz ponders options for motherhood.

– “Last Resort,” 8 p.m., ABC.
After a brilliant start, this show sagged in the ratings. With only
three episodes left, we see a coup in Washington,D.C. and beyond.
Will islanders get the needed supplies? Will the captain risk his
life? And will the first officer, twisted by grief, remain loyal?

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
An accident fills the hospital with bikers, during a time when
relationships are in limbo. Bailey delays her wedding, while trying
to save Adele. Cristina and Owen put their divorce on hold; Callie
and Arizona try to re-spark their romance.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. The
office's lice problem is Pam's fault, but she lets Meredith take the
blame. Dwight launches a clean-up crusade. Meanwhile, Jim lands
former basketball great Julius Irving as a business associate.

– “Deadliest Space Weather”
debut, 9 p.m., Weather Channel. After spending so much time showing
bad weather on Earth, the channel now shows horrible things elsewhere
in the galay.

– “Scandal,” 10:p.m., ABC. Huck
(Guillermo Diaz) is being held under the Patriot Act. Now the team
gets some unexpected help from an old friend. Meanwhile, Olivia helps
Mellie and reaches a boiling point with Edison.

– “Kathy,” 10 p.m., Bravo. The
season starts with three people who are good at talking – host
Kathy Griffin, plus Jane Lynch and Liza Minnelli.