TV column for Friday, April 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Chaos,” 8
p.m., CBS.

After filling Fridays with killers,
ghosts and nightmares, CBS is trying a lighter touch. It let “The
Defenders” borrow the 8 p.m. slot; now it introduces another blend
of drama and comedy.

Rick (Freddy Rodriguez) has his first
day of work at the CIA, only to find budget cuts and a tangle of
lies. As the deceptions build, “Chaos” becomes quite funny –
even when a serious mission appears.

Martinez is amiable, with Eric Close,
Carmen Fiogo and Tim Blake Nelson strong in support.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Camelot”
debut, 10 p.m., Starz; reruns at 11:45.

From “First Knight” to “Merlin,”
people rework the Camelot legend. Now comes a darker version.

Merlin (Joseph Fiennes), sly and stern,
maneuvers to pass the crown to his illegitimate son Arthur. In the
way is Morgana (Eva Green), the king's legitimate – and very
estranged – daughter.

In this version, magic is rare and
glitz is scarce, but the cast and the Irish countryside are gorgeous.
Jamie Campbell Bower seems too raw as Arthur, but Fiennes and Green
lead a superb supporting cast.

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

After a two week basketball break, this
show and “CSI:NY” return with new episodes.

The niece of Danny's wife is a model
who was poisoned at her first runway gig. Now Danny (Donnie Wahlberg)
and his police partner (Jennifer Esposito) probe the seedy side of
fashion.

Other choices tonight include:

– “An Idiot Abroad,” 2:30 p.m. to
3 a.m., Science Channel; “The Ricky Gervais Show,” 9 p.m., HBO.
Both have Gervais and Stephen Merchant mocking their friend Karl
Pilkington – in a studio on HBO and by sending him worldwide on
Science. Actually, we enjoy “Idiot” more for Karl's folk wisdom.

– “Bee Movie” (2007) and
“Ghostbusters” (1984), 7 and 8:51p.m., Bravo. This may be an
ideal family double-feature. First is a cartoon, which Jerry Seinfeld
co-wrote and stars in, as a bee whose ambitions extend beyond honey
production. Then is a large comedy, big on sight gags.

– “Who Do You Think You Are?” 8
p.m., NBC. We already know Gwyneth Paltrow's gifted parents – the
ate Bruce Paltrow (the “St. Elsewhere” producer) and Blythe
Danner. This hour traces their roots.

– “Shark Tank,” 8 p.m., ABC. One
idea is presented by kids, who thought of it on a road trip. Another
is a furniture business led by a stay-at-home mom who taught herself
carpentry.

– “Star Wars: Clone Wars”
season-finale, 8-9 p.m., Cartoon Network. Trapped on a Trandoshan
moon, Ahsoka tries to elude hunters. She has allies – especially
after Chewbacca arrives as a captive.

– “Working Class,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., CMT. This comedy wraps up its first season with two episodes.
The first, involving a blind date, pairs the 5-foot-10 Melissa
Peterman with the 5-3 David Faustino. That's followed by three hours
of Faustino's old “Married, With Children.”

– “CSI:NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. David
James Elliott (“JAG”) returns as the FBI agent who is the
ex-husband of Jo (Sela Ward). She's in crisis tonight, after her
adoptive daughter witnesses a murder.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. Last
week brought a surprise – the show is renewed for next season –
and a great episode. Now here's a rerun, with Christopher Lloyd as a
member of Walter's favorite rock band.

– “Merlin,” 10 p.m., Syfy. This
show – no match for the dramatic power of “Camelot” – finds
Arthur and young Merlin captured. Also, a magic cup falls into the
wrong hands.

TV column for Thursday, March 31


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Grey's Anatomy,”
9 p.m., ABC.

The cast of the Broadway musical
“Spamalot” was stuffed with Hollywood names, but the one
Tony-winner was the relatively unknown Sara Ramirez. She went on to
play Callie on “Grey's Anatomy,” where people didn't get to sing
– until now.

This hour brings songs, in the same way
“Scrubs” once did: It's all happening inside someone's mind.

That's Callie, in love with Arizona
(Jessica Capshaw); she's pregnant with what will be their baby, sired
by Mark. Then Arizona proposes, there seems to be a fierce auto
accident and everything changes.

From the scenes we've seen, this is no
silly musical; intense and passionate, it could be great television.

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

TV's funniest comedy spent two weeks on
the sidelines, because of basketball. Now it's back.

A hacker has taken over Sheldon's
gaming account, so a search begins. Alongside the show's five stars,
the episode includes all three sometimes-girlfriends, Mayim Bialik,
Melissa Rauch and Aarti Mann.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Swamp
People,” 9 p.m., History.

Reality shows keep obsessing on macho
types – cops and and cowboys, bikers and truckers and miners and
more. Still, nothing tops these Louisiana guys.

The state has a 30-day
alligator-hunting season. Tough guys try to catch, battle and shoot a
700-pound predator, then pull it onto a tiny boat. “Swamp People”
captures the stark beauty of the bayou and the quiet grit of the
people who live there.

Other choices include:

– “Enchanted” (2007) and “Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1939), 6:30 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.
Here's a dandy Disney double-feature, with two takes on fairy tales.
The whimsical “Enchanted” has a cartoon princess (Amy Adams)
transported to the real world. That's followed by a great cartoon
classic.

– “American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox.
The judges' decision last week (using their only save to spare Casey
Abrams) makes tonight tough. It's the one time when two people, not
one, must go home.

– “Mildred Pierce,” 8-10 p.m.,
HBO. Here a chance to catch up on this three-Sunday, five-hour
mini-series – flawed, but richly crafted – before the second
episode airs.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. The team figures it might have hit for the cycle – a
homicide, suicide, accidental death and death by natural causes, all
in one night.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This gets complicated. A man believed he was abducted by aliens. Then
he was killed and his body was stolen from the coroner's ban.

– “Archer,” 10 p.m., FX.
Kidnappers grab Pam, somehow thinking she's Cheryl. Why would they
want Cheryl? Or Pam? It adds up to an exceptionally funny episode.

– “True Crime With Aphrodite Jones”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery. The crime author
looks into the JonBenet Ramsey case, reportedly with home video that
hadn't been shown.

– “Private Practice,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. Pete's mother (Louise Fletcher, the Oscar-winner for “One Flew
Over the Cuckoo's Nest”) is sick; Pete's brother (Kyle Secor of
“Homicide”) may be to blame.

 

TV column for Wednesday, March 30


 

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

This science show usually spends months
on a report. Now it has rushed “Japan's Killer Quake.”

On one hand, we see the usual powerful
scenes, during and after the March 11 disaster. Alongside that,
however, scientists explain what happened and what steps could have
been taken.

We learn why a 30-foot sea wall failed:
The tsunami waves were also 30 feet high – but the earthquake had
caused the wall to sink by at least three feet.

And we see startling sights, including
a saltwater lake, created on a mountain. It's a powerful hour.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Justified”
(FX) or “Coal” debut (Spike), both 10 p.m.

Appalachian coal-mining is the focus of
both hours, but in opposite ways.

In “Coal,” it's a heroic effort.
Reality show producer Thom Beers does what he previously did for
truckers, lumberjacks, oil drillers, crab fishermen and more. We see
tough guys under imposing conditions. The show does its best, but the
job – tight, dark spaces – makes difficult television.

In “Justified,” coal is the
villain. A hard-driving mining executive wants control of the
mountain; she collides with Mags Bennett, who has a great moment at a
meeting. There's also a big shoot-out.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “American
Idol,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Casey Abrams, considered a
front-runner, was almost ousted last week. Judges used their save –
one per season – to keep him alive; producers said all 11 survivors
(not the usual 10) will go on tour.

Two people will be ousted this week,
but Abrams has a good chance to stay: Last season, Michael Lynche
almost finished 10th; judges saved him and he found fresh life,
finishing fourth.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II: “Journey to
Planet Earth,” 10-11:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In Zimbabwe, crumbling walls show a
once-mighty civilization. At its peak, Lester Brown says, this city
held 17,000 people; it collapsed because it couldn't provide enough
food.

That could happen globally, he says, as
three forces combine – increased population … increased
expectations of meat, milk and eggs … and the diverting of grains
to gasoline. This is a compelling report, filled with dark
predictions and then closing moments of hope.

Other choices include:

– “Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS. Matt
Elrod keeps clinging to survival. Last week, Krista Klumpp was the
fourth straight person he eliminated on Redemption Island; this week,
he tries to make Stephanie Valencia the fifth. Her tribe,
incidentally, may have erred by losing deliberately so it could dump
Russell Hantz; that started a streak of losing three out of four
immunity challenges.

– “The Middle,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. The first rerun has Sue winning a family trip – leading to
airline mishaps. The second brings an “Everybody Loves Raymond”
reunion: Patricia Heaton battles her “Raymond” mother-in-law,
Doris Roberts, who plays Brick's 3rd-grade teacher.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
In a rerun, the siblings seek each other's help, when loved ones
could be embarrassing. Mitchell frets about Cameron's attire; Claire
frets about Phil's jokes as emcee.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9 and 10 p.m., NBC. Both episodes center on Jeremy Irons as
a sex therapist who's had his own problems with sex and alcoholism.
In the first (a rerun), his daughter has been raped. In the second, a
girl was killed; Elizabeth Mitchell plays her piano teacher.

– “Mr. Sunshine,” 9:31, ABC.
Alice (Andrea Anders) wants an assistant; she gets the mostly useless
Roman. Also, Richard Kind plays the arena announcer, pouring his
bitterness into each comment.

– “Top Chef: All-Stars,” 10 p.m.,
Bravo. Here's the finale. If you want to catch up on the whole
season, try the rerun marathon, from 7 a.m. to
10 p.m.

 

TV column for Tuesday, March 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Body of Proof”
debut, 10:01 p.m., ABC.

Dr. Megan Hunt stumbled at marriage and
motherhood, but succeeded (temporarily) at her career.

She was a top Philadelphia
neurosurgeon, until an auto accident injured her hands. Now she's a
medical examiner who, someone says, “seems to care more about dead
people than she ever did the living.”

This show is constructed entirely from
familiar pieces, one – an absurdly obstinate police detective –
quite awful. Still, it benefits immensely from casting Dana Delany,
who won two Emmys on “China Beach”; she makes Hunt a smart,
arrogant and belatedly caring person. It also benefits from Nicholas
Bishop (“Past Life”) as her ex-cop assistant, and from some
clever plot twists.

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

Some people are getting rich from
college basketball, this report says, while the players struggle.

Plush with a $10.8-billion, 14-year TV
contract, the NCAA paid its previous president $1.7 million a year;
some coaches top $1 million. Still, this report says, scholarships
fall about $3,000-a-year short of break-even for a student and are on
a year-to-year basis.

Being a basketball player is virtually
a full-time job, with (at some schools) less than half graduating.
Still, some families can't afford to travel to the tournament games.
It's a compelling report, followed by a fairly interesting look at a
Chinese dissident artist and a profile of an alleged WikiLeaker.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Divorce
Wars,” 9 p.m., CNBC; reruns at 10.

One man walked into his house and found
everything – his clothes, the furniture, the dog – gone. Another
showed that his wife had planted child pornography on his computer.

One woman spent 18 years proving her
husband had concealed his wealth; she got a $15 million settlement.
Another signed a post-nuptial agreement, before learning her
husband's true wealth.

These are chilling stories, with no
solution except to be terribly cautious, even in love.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. In a change, “No Ordinary Family” is
postponed. Instead, the first hour is a summary of the previous two
Mondays; then comes the first results hour.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A murdered
Navy commander has left a message in blood.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Kensi (Daniela Rush) goes undercover as a thief.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Peter's campaign manager secretly uses the law firm to defend the
former nanny (America Ferrera) of his opponent.

– “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Sarah finds good news – her dad's friend (Oscar-winner Richard
Dreyfuss) is a producer who likes the play she wrote. She also gets
bad news from her daughter.

– “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m. PBS
(check local listings). Rose Mapendo was imprisoned in the Congo and
her husband was killed. She fled to the U.S. with nine children,
becoming an acclaimed activist, but had to leave a daughter behind;
here's a moving, sometimes painful portrait of their reunion.

– “Lights Out,” 10 p.m., FX.
There won't be a second season, but this show is ending well.
Tonight, a good episode marks the surprise return of “Lights”
Leary's mother; next week brings his title fight.

– “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” 10
p.m., Planet Green. The guys visit Martha Stewart's pristine barn.

TV column for Monday, March 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “All Together
Now: A Celebration of Service,” 8 p.m., NBC.

This special offers star-power for
fans of country music and/or presidents.

Country? Garth Brooks performs, plus
Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and Reba McEntire. From the rock side
is Cee Lo Green; straddling both worlds are Kid Rock, Darius Rucker
and Sheryl Crow.

Presidents? The event honors George
H.W. Bush and marks the first meeting of all four ex-presidents since
the inauguration of President Obama … who narrates a short film on
volunteerism.

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

Here's a fresh chance to see the pilot
film for the season's best new drama.

Jennifer Beals plays the new police
commissioner, with Delroy Lindo as the alderman who thinks he can
control her. Jason Clarke is her former police partner, taking on
street crime and city corruption.

There's standard action here, starting
with a wild car chase. Alongside it are richly layered characters.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Nurse Jackie”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Showtime.

This is a huge night for cable, with
two season-openers on Showtime and two mid-season returns on ABC
Family. We'll start with this one, easily the best of the bunch.

Jackie (Edie Falco) is a great nurse
who spent the first two seasons fooling everyone, while addicted to
pills. That crashed when her husband and her best friend (Dr. O'Hara)
learned of her secret finances.

There are more jolts tonight; many of
Jackie's co-workers learn for the first time that she's married. As
usual, “Nurse Jackie” manages to blend humor, warmth and despair.

Other choices include:

– “The Secret Life of the American
Teenager,” noon to 9 p.m. and 10-11 p.m., ABC Family. First is a
marathon, showing nine of the 14 episodes that aired last summer.
Then, at 8 and 10, a new episode catches the first day of the school
year, with a new counselor (Beverley Mitchell) and lots of teens
talking about sex. The dialog is intelligent, but poorly handled by
semi-skilled young actors.

– “Dancing With the Stars,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Now viewers start to make their choices.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Here's rerun of a fun peek at Robin's old days as “Robin
Sparkles,” Canadian pop star. Nicole Scherzinger and Alan Thicke
co-star in a “Space Teens” scene.

– “Mad Love,” 8:30, CBS. This
isn't the response you want when telling someone you love her: Kate
gets so flustered that she crashes the car.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Jenny McCarthy has a strong role in this rerun. She plays the
beauty who conned Charlie out of his money; newly out of prison,
she's back for more.

– “The Event,” 9 p.m., NBC. Just
as the escaped aliens are surrounded, Sophia triggers a disaster.

– “Make It or Break It” return, 9
p.m., ABC Family. An important gymnastics exhibition finds Kaylie in
rehab for anorexia, Emily on probation for stealing drugs her brother
needed, Payson in regret for causing her coach's departure. The Emily
story is heavy-handed, but the rest is solidly done.

– “Harry's Law,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Lawyers hardly ever draw guns against each other. Now one has killed
the other and wants Harry to defend him. Also, Adam chooses between
Rachel or Chunhua.

– “United States of Tara,” 10:30
p.m., Showtime. Tara is still struggling with her multiple
personalities, while trying to get into a college class with a
skeptical psychology teacher (Eddie Izzard). The best moments in this
so-so season-opener come from her sister, who is not coping well with
pregnancy.