TV column for Saturday, July 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Who Do You Think
You Are?” 8 p.m., NBC.

Gwyneth Paltrow has a great
show-business background. Her mom (actress Blythe Danner) has a Tony
award and two Emmys. Her late dad (Bruce Paltrow) was a
writer-director-producer known for “St. Elsewhere” and “White
Shadow”; he was a mentor, molding TV's first generation of black
directors.

Now she learns more about their
background. She learns about her dad's father and struggling
grandmother; she also learns that her mother's family had strong ties
to Barbados.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Harry Potter
and the Sorcerer's Stone” (2001), 8-11 p.m., ABC.

Now that roughly 12 zillion people have
seen the eighth and final Harry Potter movie, they might enjoy going
back to the start. ABC has scheduled the first four films on
consecutive Saturdays.

Daniel Radcliffe turns 22 today; Rupert
Grint is 22, Emma Watson 21. Here, we see them as pre-teens.

Directed with a light touch by Chris
Columbus, this film starts wonderfully as a perplexed Harry is zoomed
away to wizards' school. It ends limply, but has fine moments and a
masterful supporting cast.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Magic Beyond
Words: The J.K. Rowling Story,” 9-11 p.m., Lifetime.

If you've already seen Harry Potter
plenty of times, you might want to meet his creator.

Poppy Montgomery (“Without a Trace”)
plays Rowling – a small-town British kid who got a strong
education, but then found herself divorced and raising a baby on
welfare. It was during that time that she finished the first Harry
Potter novel and started heading to mega-millionaire status.

Other choices include:

– “Transformers” (2007, Cartoon
Network) or “Iron Man” (2008, FX), 6-9 p.m. You can start prime
time early, with these films, which found humor amid slam-bang
action. Shia LaBeouf plays a teen whose car transforms into a hero
robot; Robert Downey Jr. plays the creator of the Iron Man machine.

– “Front of the Class” (2008),
6:55 to 9 p.m., Hallmark. In real life, Brad Cohen became a top
teacher despite Tourette's syndrome. That's told beautifully here,
with great work from Jimmy Wolk.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, an NCIS agent has disappeared while undercover.
Working with a Los Angeles cops, the team proves human-trafficking,
money-laundering and drugs.

– “Pirates of the Caribbean: The
Curse of the Black Pearl,” 8-11 p.m., ABC Family. Here's another
film that found humor among the action. The final battles drag on too
long, but Johnny Depp brings great fun to the earlier scenes.

– “NCIS,” 9 p.m., CBS. After a
bomb tech is attacked in this rerun, her guarded personal life is
probed.

– “Law & Order: Criminal
Intent,” 9 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, a philanthropist is missing. His
body has been switched with one of the cadavers in the
medical-research facility he was funding.

– “Outcasts,” 9 p.m., BBC
America. After disappearing from the fortress city, a woman returns
and is acting strangely. Tate and Stella try to figure out what
happened.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. This rerun has Rose McGowan as a popular
figure at a swingers' club. After a stabbing, Benson and Stabler
visit the club undercover.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Amy Poehler hosts this rerun, with music by Katy Perry.

TV column for Friday, July 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Torchwood:
Miracle Day,” 10 p.m., Starz.

This brilliant series won't string us
along forever, “Killing”-style. It promises to wrap things up
with 10 episodes; this one, the third, tells us about the villains
and their scheme.

Suddenly, no one can die (except Jack
Harkness, who used to be immortal); a conspiracy has formed. Fighting
back are Jack, his Welsh colleague Gwen Cooper, two CIA people and a
doctor.

This hour is filled with smart
science-fiction, plus sex (straight and gay) and occasional humor.
When told that lemonade is fizzy in Great Britain and flat in the
U.S., Gwen says that “just about sums it up.” Filmed in the U.S.,
but crafted by the British, “Miracle Day” crackles with good
fizz.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Who Do You
Think You Are?” 8 p.m., NBC.

The bad news is that “Friday Night
Lights” is gone, after a brilliant, five-year run.

The good? NBC is helping two
low-viewership nights by inserting reruns of this excellent,
roots-tracing documentary. Tonight, Ashley Judd traces one ancestor
to a Civil War battlefield and another to the country's earliest
settlers. That will be followed by Gwyneth Paltrow on Saturday, then
Steve Buscemi and Tim McGraw next Friday and Saturday.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Iron Man”
(2008, FX) or “Titanic” (1997, WE), 8-11 p.m.

This might be a good night to settle
back with a big movie. The Oscar-winning “Titanic” fits that
description; James Cameron wrote and directed it so well that it
works long before the ship sinks.

But “Iron Man” is also a pleasant
surprise. Its plot is badly stretched – requiring, for instance,
the least-observant jailers in movie history – but Jon Favreau
directed it sharply, with a fine cast. Robert Downey Jr. brings extra
humor to the role and the underemployed Gwyneth Paltrow is his
assistant.

Other choices include:

– “Toy Story” (1995), 7-9 p.m.,
Disney. Here's another strong movie choice. It propelled Pixar to the
top of animation, thanks to a clever idea (traditional toys become
heroes) and a witty script.

– “Flashpoint,” 8 p.m., CBS. The
media culture goes too far – robberies streamed live on the
Internet.

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. Here's a
rerun of the season-opener, with the team in disarray. Scattered
around the globe for individual projects, people learn Cam needs help
on the tough case of an unidentified boy's body. In “Bones”
style, this is a quietly entertaining blend of mystery and character
interplay.

– “House,” 9 p.m., Fox. Masters –
the young doctor who is usually no-nonsense – finds herself with a
crush on the patient, a bullfighter, in this rerun.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. For Jo
(Sela Ward), things get complicated when her adopted daughter
witnesses a murder. David James Elliott – whose “JAG” used to
rule Fridays – returns as Jo's ex-husband, with Taylor Kinney (“The
Vampire Diaries”) as the killer.

– Hooters swimsuit contest, 9 p.m.,
Spike. Spike – billed as the first cable channel for men – has
determined that men want to see what Hooters waitresses look like
when they don't dress so modestly.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Three teens have died from a narcotic. Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) rushes
to learn what it is and how to prevent an epidemic.

TV column for Thursday, July 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Wilfred,” 10
p.m., FX.

“What are you, a golden retriever?”
Wilfred asks sarcastically. “Why do you care what people think?”

Wilfred certainly doesn't care. The
rest of the world sees him as a scruffy mutt; but Ryan (Elijah Wood)
and viewers see him as a talking guy in a dog suit.

Ryan is a human who lives next door;
facing a pointless existence, he decides to do good. Wilfred objects
– “Community service (is) for drunk drivers and wife-beaters” –
but soon is either a hero or a killer at a nursing home. The result
is sometimes crude and often very funny.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “So You Think
You Can Dance,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Finally down to its top 10, “Dance”
rushes toward its finale. Tonight, judges drop two people.

First come the usual preliminaries.
There's an opening group number, plus music by Blush (with Snoop
Dogg) and a solo by ballet star Daniil Simkin.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Conan the
Barbarian” (1982), 8-11 p.m., AMC.

This is a strong movie night. We'll eye
the others separately, but let's start here.

Long before he was in politics or in
gossip columns, Arnold Schwarzenegger worked for top directors. He
did three films for James Cameron, three for Ivan Reitman; he worked
for John McTiernan, Andrew Davis and more. John Milius co-wrote
“Conan” with Oliver Stone and directed it to epic excess,
complete with action, violence and the resounding music from Basil
Poledouris.

Other choices include:

– “The Social Network” (2010),
6:50 p.m., Starz. This Oscar-nominated gem captured the ragged start
of Facebook. Aaron Sorkin (“West Wing”) stretched the truth at
times, but wrote a great script.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a terrific rerun, Howard considers moving in with Bernadette
– risking the wrath and dismay of his mom. Also, Leonard's back
with Raj's sister.

– “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in
Italy” (2011) and “Justice for Natalee Holloway” (2011), 8 and
10 p.m., Lifetime Movie Network. Here are adequate, balanced views of
cases that drew international attention. Both are well-cast, with
Hayden Panettiere as Knox, Tracy Pollan as Holloway's mother.

– “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) and
“Pulp Fiction” (1994), 8 and 10 p.m., Independent Film Channel.
Quentin Tarantino's established his style for stylish dialog, intense
action and occasional excess.

– “Despicable Me” (2010), 8:30,
HBO, or “WALL-E” (2008), 9 p.m., Disney. Choose between two
popular animated films. HBO has a comedy; Disney has a poignantly
moving robot drama.

– Expedition Impossible,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. For Erik Weihenmayer, the blind man who climbed Mount Everest,
is waist-deep in a canyon river. Also, the California women rappel
300 feet down a waterfall.

– “Burn Notice,” 9 p.m., USA.
Matt Lauria – who was superb as Luke in “Friday Night Lights” –
plays a former Green Beret who needs help.

– “30 Rock,” 9:30, NBC. Vacations
go bad in this rerun: Liz and her lover (Matt Damon) find their
flight stalled; Avery (Elizabeth Banks) goes into labor in Canada,
desperate to give birth in the U.S.

– “Rookie Blue,” 10 p.m., ABC.
Luke has an assignment that puts him close to his ex-lover Jo.

TV column for Wednesday, July 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Rescue Me,” 10
p.m., FX.

Last week's opener ended fiercely.
After Tommy's alcoholic daughter relapsed; he shot up the bar.

Now that's partly ignored. Instead, we
get goofy, sometimes-slapstick humor, with the guys covering for Phil
during his physical; we also get loose humor when the women in
Tommy's life gang up on him.

Just as we're ready to dismiss the hour
as too silly, there's a great guest turn. Maura Tierney – a
breast-cancer survivor in real life – returns as Kelly, who
continues treatments after losing one breast. She brings humor (which
Tommy also has) and perspective (which he generally lacks).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “So You Think
You Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

After dumping Alexander Fost and Ryan
Ramirez, “Dance” finally has its top 10. From now on, each
contestants will be paired with an “all-star.”

Those stars are pieces of the show's
past, including a runner-up (Twitch), two people who finished third
(Robert Roldan, Kathryn McCormick) and a “Dancing with the Stars”
pro (Chelsie Hightower). Tonight, judges – including guest judge
Neil Patrick Harris – comment and viewers vote.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Comedies, 8-9:31
p.m., ABC.

These reruns offer a quick tour of
special days.

It's Halloween on “The Middle” (8
p.m.); Frankie's excited about a party for grown-ups, but Mike might
not budge. It's Valentine's Day on the first “Modern Life”
(8:30); Phil and Claire try to spice up their love life with
role-playing. And it's Lily's birthday on the second (9 p.m.);
Mitchell faces trouble when he wants his mom (Shelly Long) there, but
doesn't want Cameron to be as Fizbo the Clown.

Other choices include:

– “Melissa & Joey,” 8 p.m.,
ABC Family. Here's one of those dependable situation-comedy ideas –
building a phony story for a class reunion. This time, there's a
twist – by the time Melissa arrives as Joe's fake hot girlfriend,
he's connected for real with a former girlfriend.

– “America's Got Talent,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. The second group of four acts is sent to the next round, while
eight others are sent home.

– “Ghost Hunters International,”
9 p.m., Syfy. The settings are eerily spectacular – a former leper
colony on an island off Trinidad, a former meat-packing plant in
Argentina. The results? As usual, we have to settle for people saying
they felt something or heard something.

– “Hollywood Hi-Tech” debut,
9:30, DIY. On “Entourage,” Kevin Connolly plays Eric, the friend
and manager of a movie star. In real life, he can now live like a
star himself; this OK episode sees him get a movie room, complete
with 110-inch screen, power shades and power seats. It starts a
series in which Janna Robinson works on the homes of Oliver Stone,
Adam Carola and more.

– “Happy Endings,” 9:31 p.m.,
ABC. When things keep disappearing from the guys' apartment,
sleepwalking is suspected. A hidden camera reveals a much odder
explanation, in a funny rerun.

– “Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m., TV
Land. Two comedy pros – each with five primetime Emmys – collide,
playing old rivals. Betty White just got her 18th
nomination; Doris Roberts has 11. The story has people heading out
for dance night to lose pounds, helped by a gay friend (Antonio
Sabato Jr.).

TVcolumn for Tuesday, July 19


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

So far, Augie Anderson has been a
limited force. Blind, he's often confined to CIA desk duty.

Now comes something much bigger. We see
flashbacks of Augie's sighted days as a soldier in Iraq; we also see
him now, pursuing the terrorist who blinded him.

Some of this stretches believability,
but it's all beautifully played. Christopher Gorham is terrific as
Augie, old and new, with help from Piper Perabo and guest star
Rebecca Mader (“Lost”).

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “It's Worth
What?” debut, 8 p.m., NBC.

Imagine blending “Antiques Roadshow”
with “The Price is Right” and bursts of pop culture. That's this
game show – setting up summer Tuesdays without a single rerun on
NBC, ABC or Fox.

Cedric the Entertainer hosts.
Contestants guess what was paid for objects, ranging from antiques to
William Shatner's kidney stone (sold at a charity auction) to a
full-sized replica of the White House.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Awkward”
debut, 11 p.m., MTV.

At 15, Jenna is kind of cute, kind of
smart and – she feels – mostly invisible. Then – amid
summer-camp disasters – she loses her virginity, her dignity and
that invisibility.

“Awkward” walks the line between
quirky comedy and angst-ridden drama. Ashley Rickards, 19. makes
Jenna a smart, likable and socially clumsy person worth rooting for.

Other choices include:

– “Hell's Kitchen” and
“MasterChef,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. Beginning this week, Gordon
Ramsay's competition shows – one for pros, the other for amateurs –
run back-to-back on Tuesdays … going against Ramsay's
travel-and-food show on BBC America.

– “America's Got Talent,” 9-11
p.m., NBC. Here are performances from the second patch of 12 acts. On
Wednesday, four will advance.

– “Gordon Ramsay's Great Escape,”
9 p.m., BBC America. Cambodia's strong food culture was almost wiped
out by the Khmer Rouge, Ramsay says in this interesting hour. Now it
has bounced back. He samples tarantula (too bitter), finds an obscure
delight in the jungle and serves it to the royal family.

– “Ludo Bites America,” 9 p.m.,
Sundance. Here , again, is food as adventure. Ludovic Lefebvre and
his wife Krissy (who is a lawyer and his business partner), zoom into
a town and quickly create a “pop-up restaurant.” That starts in
Sante Fe, as part of TV's food-obsessed Tuesdays.

– “Combat Hospital,” 10 p.m.,
ABC. Set in 2006 Afghanistan, this finds life difficult for civilians
– at a wedding, the groom is wounded and the bride disappears –
and for military doctors. Rebecca finally shares too much about her
life, at a group therapy session.

– “POV,” 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). During the week, Luis Soriano made $350 a month as a
teacher in northern Colombia. And each Saturday, for 10 years, he had
his own “biblioburro” – a donkey hauling library books to
remote villages. He started with his ow 70 books and now, with
donations, has 4,800. This donkey-paced documentary is diffi to
watch, but has a great story.

– “Hef's Runaway Bride,” 10 p.m.,
Lifetime. Why did Crystal Harris run off, five days before she was
going to marry Hugh Hefner? This hour has few answers – other than
“it was all happening too fast” – but offers lots of
preparation footage, plus some insights from the maid-of-honor and
others.

– “True Grime,” 10 p.m.,
Investigation Discovery. A reality show about people who clean up
crime scenes? In this case, the mere presence of murder and reality
doesn't guarantee interesting drama.