TV column for Sunday, April 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Academy of Country
Music awards, 8-11 p.m., CBS.

Maybe all country award shows should be
hosted by people from Oklahoma. Vince Gill and Reba McEntire have
been the best; now another clever Okie, Blake Shelton, hosts with
McEntire.

Each will sing and there will be lots
of other performers. That includes all five entertainer-of-the-year
nominees – Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Toby Keith and
Jason Aldean.

The Zac Brown Band will link with James
Taylor, Jennifer Nettles (of Sugarland) with Rihanna and Darius
Rucker with 25 music campers who have disabilities. Other performers
include Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Dierks Bentley, Ronnie
Dunn, Sarah Evans and Alabama.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Killing”
debut, 9-11 p.m., AMC.

Some people have seen Kenneth Branagh's
“Wallander” movies, which mix deep, Scandanavian murder mysteries
with the dark, stark beauty of Sweden. Now here's a similar gem.

The story (from a Danish series) deals
with a teen's murder; it's richly layered, filled with complex
characters. The look is gloomily gorgeous.

The bad news is that this is spread
over 13 weeks; the good is that it has great moments from gifted
actors, led by Mireille Enos and Stephen Holden as cops and Michelle
Forbes as a grieving mom.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Borgias”
debut, 9-11 p.m., Showtime.

The year is 1492, a good time for
discovery and a great one for Rodrigo Borgia. He bought and bribed
his way to the papacy, this fierce mini-series says; then the real
battles began.

“Borgias” has the essentials of a
historical epic – a giant story, lush production values and great
actors inside deep characters. Jeremy Irons gives us a villain with
touches of conscience; Colm Feore is a reformer with touches of
ambition. In between are the young Borgias who give this extra verve
– the scheming Cesare, the impetuous Juan and the beautiful and
pure (temporarily) Lucrezia.

Other choices include:

– “The Civil War,” 8-10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). April 12 marks the war's 150th
anniversary. First (through Thursday) is a rerun of Ken Burns'
triumphant film; tonight, that's followed at 10 by a rerun of the
superb “American Experience” profile of Robert E. Lee.

 

– “The Kennedys” debut, 8-10
p.m., Reelz. Here's the start of the eight-hour miniseres that the
History Channel paid for, then dumped. It's skillfully directed by
Jon Cassar (“24”), with one great actor (Tom Wilkinson as the
patriarch) and many solid ones (Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, etc.).
These first two hours pay disproportionate attention to people's
flaws – infidelity, mostly – but that's a common fault of
docudramas. There's nothing that should deeply disturb viewers or a
reasonable network.

 – “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. The decision on Susan's kidney transplant is in the hands of a
vengeful Paul Young. Meanwhile, Tom rejects a big job offer and Renee
plans an ill-timed party.

– “Mildred Pierce” (9 p.m., HBO)
and “Camelot” (10 p.m., Starz). It's an amazing night for
pay-cable. HBO is in the middle of its three-week Kate Winslet
miniseries; Starz reruns the start of its darkly interesting
variation on the King Arthur legend,

– “Last Cake Standing,” 10 p.m.,
Food Network. Two teams face a steep task – in 12 hours, build a
seven-foot-high cake with a monster theme. It's a fairly interesting
hour, despite a sub-par host.

– “Body of Proof,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. In Tuesday's fairly good opener, we met Dana Delany's character,
a smart and confident medical examiner. Tonight offers some moments
for supporting actors Nicholas Bishop, Jeri Ryan and Sonja Sohn; it
also proves anew that one stereotyped cop is absurdly obstinate.

TV column for Saturday, April 2


TODAY'S MUST-SEE: Basketball, 6 p.m.
and about 8:45 p.m. ET, CBS.

This is a down year for all those people
who take the easy way out of NCAA-tournament pools, simply predicting
the favorites. In each of the four regionals, the top-seeded team was
ousted.

Tonight's first game has Connecticut
(seeded third in its region) and Kentucky (fourth). The second has
Butler (eighth) and Virginia Commonwealth (11th).

These teams have combined for 37 losses
this year; that total will reach 39 tonight and 40 on Monday. It
should be fun – and should set the record for fewest people saying
“I told you so.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Kids Choice
Awards, 8-9:30 p.m., Nickelodeon.

Each year, this show offers goofy
humor, plus music and lots of slime. Now Jack Black has his third
turn as host; music is from the Black Eyed Peas, Big Time Rush,
Willow Smith and more.

“Big Time Rush” is also up for
favorite TV show, going against “iCarly,” “Wizards of Waverly
Place” and “Suite Life on Deck.” Nominated for best movie are
“Alice in Wonderland,” the latest “Harry Potter” film,
“Karate Kid” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”; this won't be
confused with the Oscars.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Transformers”
(2007), 8-11 p.m., ABC; and/or “Superman” (1978), 9 p.m. to
midnight, Ion.

Once consigned to cartoons, action
heroes were given big-budget treatment.

We prefer “Transformers,” because
it adds occasional humor, as a teen (Shia LaBeouf) learns that
his car is a heroic robot from outer space. Still, we admire the
earnest idealism of this Superman (Christopher Reeve), flavored with
a tad of romance.

Other choices include:

– “Happy Feet” (2006), 6:30-9
p.m., ABC Family. Here's an animated delight, with lots of singing
penguins – and one who dares to dance.

– “Harry's Law,” 8 p.m., NBC. A
night of NBC drama reruns starts here. Harry is defending a friend charge
with murder, after lawyers pulled guns on each other.

– “The Best of the American Comedy
Awards,” 8 p.m., TV Land. This year's Oscar ceremony stumbled
because it didn't have a stand-up comedian hosting. By comparison,
the comedy awards proved that comedians are the most entertaining
presenters and winners; here are highlights from the 14 editions.

– “The Suite Life Movie” (2011,
Disney) and “Hitch” (2005, TNT), both 8 p.m. Chances are, the
stars of these movies will be watching “Kids Choice,” instead.
“Suite Life” is up for best TV series; “Hitch” star Will
Smith has two kids (Jaden and Willow) on the awards show.

– “Law & Order: Los Angeles,”
9 p.m., NBC. A pregnant woman has been run over and left for dead.
Police suspect that may be linked to her affair with a married
politician.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. The hunt for a school bully leads to the
discovery of a gambling ring.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Elton John hosts and does music with Leon Russell.

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.