TV column for Tuesday, May 3


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “How the States
Got Their Shapes” debut, 10 p.m., History.

From its opening moments, this hour is
sheer fun. There is Brian Unger in a border bar; the drinks are
served in Tennessee, the rest rooms and pool table are in Georgia.
Except that if an old surveying error ever gets rectified, the whole
place will be in a no-alcohol Georgia county.

That starts a lively jaunt. Unger
already did this in a special, but now he has 10 hours instead of
two.

He detours for some wildly unrelated
moments – next week, in Illinois, he's barraged by leaping fish
called “Asian carp” and visits the fictional state of
Forgottonia. Still, much of the first hour sticks to a theme of water
affecting the map – especially power grabs of chunks of the
Colorado River.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Dancing With
the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

Three weeks from the finale, it's time
to trim the field to five. First is a recap, pre-empting “Jamie
Oliver's Food Revolution”; then the 9 p.m. hour has lots of
detours.

James Blunt sings “I'll Be Your Man”
and Nicki Minaj does “Moment 4 Life.” Wayne Brady leads a tribute
to James Brown, who died five years ago; this would have been his
78th birthday. Also, there's dancing from the U.S. Latin
champions, plus teen ballerina Patricia Zhau.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Black in
Latin America,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The joyous culture of Brazil is savored
by many people, including kids who see the delightful animated movie
“Rio.” Now Henry Louis Gates reminds us about the horrors that
came first.

With its sugar crops thriving, Brazil
brought in more than four million slaves. That's almost 10 times as
many as came to the U.S.; it continued until 1888, a quarter-century
after the U.S. abolished slavery.

What emerged was a Brazil that blends
the Americas and Africa. At the end of the hour, Gates reveals test
results showing the percentage of African background for the people
he interviewed; he shows why Brazilians avoid such arbitrary terms as
“black” and “white.”

Other choices include:

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. Who knew
that Sue Sylvester was interested in journalism? Tonight, she revives
the school paper and plants negative things about the glee club.
Also, Sam draws some sympathy.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Tony's
former partner – played by Scott Grimes of “ER” – has been
killed.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. To protect his best friend, Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) assumes
an undercover identity he dislikes.

– “Raising Hope,” 9:01 p.m., Fox.
Jimmy learns that his dad has always been flirting with customers.
Soon, others are caught up in efforts to gain favor, in a moderately
amusing hour.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
In two previous episodes, Martha Plimpton (“Raising Hope”) played
a lawyer who was a fierce opponent of the Lockhart/Gardner firm. Now
she wants it to represent her against the rival agency that has just
fired her.

– “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). In 1954 and 1998, people found the pieces
of what was going to be a Nazi documentary. Shot in 1942 in the
Jewish ghetto of Warsaw, it filmed some scenes of abject poverty and
some staged ones of luxury. “A Film Unfinished” shows clips and
adds commentary from survivors. The result offers powerful images of
horror and deception.

TV column for Monday, May 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC.

This entertaining series leaps between
light and dead-serious episodes. Now it tries both in one night.

The story itself is heavy: Kate
Beckett's former police partner was killed. Rarely a rule-breaker,
she disobeys her boss (who is, alas, a cliché) and flies to Los
Angeles to find the killer.

Richard Castle goes along and lighter
moments follow. These two New Yorkers visit a rooftop pool, a Santa
Monica beach, Gene Simmons home and the studio where people are
adapting Castle's novel.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “House,” 8
p.m., Fox.

Candice Bergen is back as Cuddy's
mother – this time planning to sue for malpractice. That endangers
House's license … and the hospital Cuddy runs.

Meanwhile, Donal Logue – whose
excellent “Terriers” was canceled – guests. He plays someone
who becomes partially paralyzed while looking for a lost love.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Movies, 8 p.m.,
cable.

Three bigger-than-life talents combined
to make “Scarface” (1983, AMC) a pop-culture sensation: Oliver
Stone wrote the seething script, Brian De Palma directed and Al
Pacino starred.

It's a terrific movie, but the sheer
excess will drive some people away. They may prefer a straight action
film; “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007, FX)
brings back the attractive heroes – Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd,
Chris Evans, etc. – and adds an engimatic character.

And the sleeper choice is the hilarious
“The In-Laws” (1979, TV Guide Network). Alan Arkin plays a
dentist, enmeshed in the schemes of his daughter's father-in-law, who
claims to be a secret agent.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,”
8-9:31 p.m., ABC. Last week, wrestler Chris Jericho was ousted, with
Ralph Macchio and Kendra Wilkinson also in the bottom. They're among
the show's final six stars.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. The women scramble to soothe an argument between Marshall
and Barney.

– “Mad Love,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.
After losing Connie's camera, Larry re-traces his steps. She goes
along, soon learning much about him.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In the rerun of a funny episode, Charlie and Lyndsey (Courtney
Thorne-Smith) are becoming friends … promptly fanning Alan's
jealousy.

– “The Chicago Code,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. A jury deadlocks, failing to convict a corrupt official. Now the
police commissioner and her top detective must scramble for new
evidence.

– “Make It or Break It,” 9 p.m.,
ABC Family. Emily (Chelsea Hobbs) has been the show's best character
– a hard-working, blue-collar teen, trying to conquer a gymnastics
field designed for the privileged. Now she faces another giant hurdle
… and a major decision.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A photographer (Rick Springfield) has been killed while working on a
magazine's swimsuit edition. We're guessing this episode will include
some attractive people.

TV column for Sunday, May 1


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

At 74, Andrew Davies remains the master
of adapting period novels. His various mini-series – “Bleak
House,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Little Dorrit” and more –
subtly and skillfully inject modern values.

Now his “South Riding” more current
than the others. This is 1934 and a teacher – the excellent Anna
Maxwell Martin – returns to her home area, where people struggle
and scheme.

Over three weeks, we'll see waves of
tragedy and triumph, all of it richly human in the Davies style.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Desperate
Housewives,” 9 p.m., ABC.

This semi-comedy has some very comic
moments tonight. After an argument with Carlos, Gabrielle has moved
in with Bree; she's brought her daughters, who are prone to carrying
dirt and grabbing food.

Also, Felicia – played by the
terrific Harriet Sansom Harris – is back from prison.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “In Plain
Sight” season-opener, 10 p.m., USA.

As a federal witness-protection agent,
Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) views life with dark skepticism.
Tonight, that contrasts sharply with two other women.

There's her high-spirited sister Brandi
(Nichole Hiltz), whose life is in order – just as she becomes a
car-theft suspect. And there's a new cop (Rachel Boston) who is way
too perky for Mary's taste.

Other choices tonight:

– Animation, 7-10 p.m., Fox. After an
hour-long “Family Guy” rerun (murder in James Woods' mansion) at
7, “The Simpsons” has Fat Tony woo and wed Selma. Then come
related episodes, as a hurricane rips through “The Cleveland Show”
(8:30), “Family Guy” (9) and “American Dad” (9:30).

– “Unthinkable: The Alzheimer's
Epidemic,” 8 p.m., CNN; also at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Larry King
hosts.

– “Undercover Boss,” 9 p.m., CBS.
In the season finale, the University of California, Riverside
chancellor runs with the track team and becomes a teaching assistant,
graded by 200 students.

– “Law & Order: Criminal
Intent” season-opener, 9 p.m., USA. In its best years, “CI”
focused on one quirky crimesolver, played with Emmy-worthy skill by
Vincent D'Onofrio. He left for a couple years, but now he's back and
strong. The case is so-so, but D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe work it
beautifully.

– “Game of Thrones,” 9 p.m., HBO.
Ned Stark – viewed as a northern primitive by others – arrives to
become the king's right-hand man. Also, young Daenerys grows into her
queenly position.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS. A
week before the season-finale, Horatio chases an escapee whose life
is a sham. He's played by Joshua Malina – who simultaneously is
Brandi's boyfiend in “In Plain Sight.”

– “The Killing,” 10 p.m., AMC. A
funeral scene is backed with quiet, emotional power as people begin
to zero in – wrongly, perhaps – on a murder suspect. The result
ends powerfully.

– “Treme,” 10 p.m., HBO. Already
a terrific series, this improves by establishing an honest cop (the
superb David Morse) amid charges of New Orleans corruption.

– “Brothers & Sisters,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Sarah confronts Brody (Beau Bridges) about being her
father, then wants him out of the Walkers' lives. Her mom (Sally
Field) is hesitant to drop him.

TV column for Saturday, April 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Batman Begins”
(2005), 8-11 p.m., ABC.

It's hard to envision viewing the
Batman saga and saying, “If this could only be a little darker.”

That's what this re-thinking does. We
meet Bruce Wayne in a prison camp, where he has nightmares of the
time he plunged down a pit full of bats. He's soon trained by someone
whose scheme is to destroy Gotham. And yes, we do eventually flash
back to when his sweet parents were killed in front of him.

Fierce and brutal (too much so for some
kids), “Batman Begins” also is beautifully done. Christopher
Nolan directed and co-wrote this prior to his “Dark Knight” and
“Inception.” He surrounded Christian Bale with Michael Caine,
Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman and more, each perfectly
cast.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Chase,” 8
p.m., NBC.

Give NBC some credit for having the
night's only scripted non-rerun.

Tonight, an escapee is determined to
prove his innocence. In pursuit, Annie (Kelli Giddish) and Jimmy are
pulled into the horrific events of his past. Also, Daisy stumbles
with a hidden vice.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Royal
programming, cable.

On the day after the royal wedding,
many networks won't let go. Until 7 p.m. today, BBC America runs
highlights and WE has specials. At 7, TLC takes over with an
eight-hour royal block, including wedding highlights from 8-10 p.m.
and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

At 8 p.m. (rerunning at 11 p.m. and 2
a.m.), CNN reruns an excellent Soledad O'Brien hour, contrasting the
princesses Diana and Kate. At 10, E reruns Ryan Seacrest's wedding
recap. And at 8, Hallmark has the pleasant “Princess Diaries”
(2001), with Anne Hathaway as an American who suddenly learns her
grandmother (Jule Andrews) is a queen.

Other choices include:

– “Doctor Who” marathon, 7 p.m.
to 5 a.m., BBC America. The two-part season-opener runs and reruns
tonight – first last week's episode (the Doctor seeks Richard
Nixon), then a new one with the Doctor in jail and his friends on the
run. That's 8-10 p.m., 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. and 2-4 a.m., sandwiching an
hour about the show's popularity in the U.S. The previous, brilliant
season is recapped at 7 p.m.

– “Matilda” (1996) and “Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), 8 and 10 p.m., ABC Family. Roald
Dahl stories were transformed into perversely superb movies. The
direction – by Danny DeVito and Tim Burton, respectively – is
stylish and clever.

– “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”
(2008), 8 p.m., Disney. With the dark tone of tonight's best movies,
some families might retreat to this or “Looney Tunes: Back in
Action” (2003), at 7 p.m. on Cartoon Network.

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
A killer targets women inside a gated New Mexico community.

– “Law & Order: Los Angeles,”
9 p.m., NBC. At first, the killing of a top hair stylist seems
random. Then police find details about her life.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. Shohreh Aghdashloo is an Iranian movie star
who found U.S. fame in “House of Sand and Fog,” “24,”
“FlashForward” and more. Here, she's a detective who seems linked
to an assistant district attorney who fell to her death.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Dana Carvey hosts this rerun, with music by Linkin Park.

 

TV column for Friday, April 29


TODAY'S MIGHT-SEE: Royal wedding,
morning.

Even if you miss the ceremony at 6 a.m.
ET, don't fret. There's the carriage procession at 7:15, the balcony
waving at 8:25 and endless reruns. Coverage continues until 9 a.m. on
E and Fox News; until 10 on ABC, NBC, CNN and MSNBC; until 11 on CBS
and TLC.

The news networks will keep talking all
day and WE has royal specials until 7 p.m. Saturday. BBC America
continues live coverage until 3:30 p.m., then shows highlights until
5 a.m. Saturday.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: More royalty.

The broadcast networks will promptly
repackage this into specials. That includes CBS from 8-9 p.m., ABC
and NBC from 9-11 p.m.; in a late change, however, NBC will split its two-hour "Dateline" between coverage of the wedding and of the hurricane damage in the U.S.

Then there's cable, with BBC America
and WE and more. At 8 p.m., National Geographic has “Royal Weddings
Revealed,” with films going back to 1923; at 9, E has Ryan Seacrest
hosting a recap. Also, CNN's Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper have
two-hour shows from London at 8 and 10 p.m.

And if want something lighter? At 8
p.m. (rerunning at 9), TV Guide has the immodestly titled “Kathy
Griffin's Insightful & Hilarious Take on the Royal Wedding”; at
10, E has “Fashion Police.”

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Fringe,” 9
p.m., Fox.

Here's the mid-section of a
season-ending trilogy, with worlds at stake.

In the alternate world, Walter has
launched the machine that could make our world fall apart. The
alternate Olivia tried to flee to our world to get help, but was
caught and jailed.

And in our world? Peter – born in the
alternate world, but kidnapped and raised by the Walter in this world
– tried to help; the machine knocked him comatose. Now Olivia turns
to Sam Weiss for help.

Much of this sounds silly, but it's
smartly written and directed, with John Noble brilliant as the
Walters.

Other choices include:

– “Friday Night Lights,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. Fresh from winning the first two games of the football season
(as many as they won all of last year), the Lions over-celebrate.
When party footage goes Online, there are aftershocks. That's part of
a sobering and well-made episode, focusing strongly on Vince – a
star on the field, bitter at home because his father is back from
prison

– “Smallville,” 8 p.m., CW. With
only three episodes left in this show's 10-year run, Clark Kent is
still a Metropolis enigma called The Blur. Tonight, he's unhappy to
learn that Zod rules the Phantom Zone.

– “Dual Survival,” 8 and 9 p.m.,
Discovery. Last week's season-opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) hit a
macho extreme when Dave Canterbury deliberately lacerated his arm, to
show how to cauterize the wound with black power. That was at the
edge of Argentina, 500 miles from Antarcitca; cold is also an issue
at 9 p.m. today; the guys are in the Rocky Mountains, where Cody
Lundin remains barefoot.

– “Supernatural,” 9 p.m., CW.
Everyone in a town is a demon – including the guys' late mother.

– “CSI:NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. Peter
Fonda guests as Mac's first police partner.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The police commissioner (Tom Selleck) becomes frustrated after the
media obsesses on the murder of a tourist outside a trendy
restaurant.