TV column for Friday, Jan. 20

p.m., NBC.

Next Friday, “Chuck” wraps ups its
thoroughly entertaining, five-year run. Tonight, Chuck and Sarah head
to Japan, where a hostage situation develops.

On a speeding bullet train, they face
Nicholas Quinn – played by Angus Macfayden, the imposing Scotsman
whose previous roles have ranged from Blackbeard to Zeus. The mission
forces Casey to make a key decision – and plunges us toward the end
of a fun series.


season-opener, 8 p.m., ABC.

Last season, one investor (Robert
Herjavec) accused another (Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner) of
being a bully. Feelings may be stronger this year; Cuban is there for
every episode and works to steamroller the others tonight.

Things start pleasantly, when former
basketball great Bill Walton helps a push for a easy-to-clean water
bottle. They end vibrantly, amid bickering over an event-reservations

Know,” 8:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings; see below).

As the South Carolina primary nears,
Jeff Greenfield focuses on that state.

Almost a half-century after the Voting
Rights Act has passed, he say, blacks find their political power
there is slipping. Whites, who make up 70 per cent of the state, have
gone Republican; redistricting has left blacks with a few safe
legislative seats, causing them to be ignored elsewhere.

It's the sort of in-depth report we get
on PBS. Bill Moyers, who used to have this slot, launched “Moyers &
Company” last weekend, with a deep look at the growing income gap;
he continues that theme this weekend.

(Times vary. In East Lansing, Mich., for instance, both shows air Saturday on WKAR World, 23.4 digital; "Need to Know" is at 8 a.m., Moyers at 7 p.m.)

Other choices include:

– “A Gifted Man,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of the episode that temporarily added Eriq La Salle
(“ER”) as a neuro-psychiatrist. Michael is so impressed that he
tries to hire him.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, Mac and others recall the Sept. 11 attack. Jaime Ray Newman
plays Mac's late wife; Robert Forster plays his friend.

– “Great Performances,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). Anna Netrebko has the title role in “Anna
Bolena,” opening the season for the Metropolitan Opera.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. Catch
this excellent show now, because Fox has hinted it's not likely to be
back next season. This episode finds Peter still in the alternate
world, where that world's fringe division faces an imposing foe.

– “Grimm,” 9 p.m., NBC. The
creature community frets that Monroe is loyal to Nick, the cop.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. In
this rerun, Danny learns that a former cop was involved in an
attempted bank robbery. Monica Raymund (“Lie to Me”) guests as
Jamie's new partner.

– “Merlin,” 10 p.m., Syfy. As
Camelot celebrates Arthur's birthday, he's an assassination target.

– “Portlandia,” 10 p.m.,
Independent Film Channel. Life can be complicated when everyone is
cool and correct. In funny bits tonight, a wedding relentlessly
avoids tradition, a smart-phone disaster leads to a shattered life
and a shopper (Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock”) is shunned for not
bringing his own bag.

– “The Increasingly Poor Decisions
of Todd Margaret,” 10:30, IFC. Todd's lies – including one about
growing up in a hospital in Leeds – are catching up with him in
hilarious ways.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 19

Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

This is the 100th episode of
a show that had consistently had clever writing, perfect acting and
great characters. Now two of those characters nudge closer together.

Earlier, there was romance between
Leonard (Johnny Galecki), a physicist, and Penny (Kaley Cuoco), a
waitress and would-be actress. They slept together, a fact that
surprised and delighted him. Now they're just friends, but tonight he
suddenly invites her to a romantic dinner for two..

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American Idol”
and “The Finder,” 8 and 9 p.m.,Fox.

“Idol” settles into its regular
slot now. It will have two hours each Wednesday and one each
Thursday, plus a post-football hour this Sunday.

And now “Finder” starts to savor
its “Idol” lead-in. The show borrows the “Bones” slot and
tonight borrows one of its characters. Dr. Lance Sweet is brought in,
to see if Walter is suitable for handling federal cases. Also, a
death-row inmate (Mitch Pileggi of “X Files”) needs Walter to
find a bullet.

season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

Brooding in a bar, Archer bumps into
Burt Reynolds. (Yes, that's Reynolds providing the voice.)

This actor turns out to be as tough as
the characters he plays. Soon, they're enmeshed in an adventure and
Archer is overshadowed. The result is an enjoyable blend of animated
action and humor.

Other choices include:

– “30 Rock,” 8 p.m., NBC. Fresh
from his latest Golden Globe award – for “Boss,” a blistering
drama that has finished its first season – Kelsey Grammer returns
briefly to comedy. He plays himself, helping with a crisis. Also, Liz
does damage control after Tracy's outburst and she frets because Jack
doesn't approve of her boyfriend.

– “Parks and Recreation,” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Leslie dislikes the ad Ben plans for her city council

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC.
There's a pool party at the house of the boss, Robert California.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Richard performs his 10,000th surgery.

– “The Tourist” (2010), 9-11
p.m., Starz. Here's the movie that Ricky Gervais has managed to mock
for two consecutive years at the Golden Globes. Actually, it's a
fairly stylish film that puts two top actors (Johnny Depp, Angelina
Jolie) into Italian intrigue in Venice. Her character is too stiff
and the ending is too contrived, but this is still a dandy adventure.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A mobster's son has been killed. Working the case, Van Pelt (Amanda
Righetti) is haunted by memories of O'Laughlin's shooting.

– “Unsupervised” debut, 10:30
p.m., FX. Gary and Joel exist in a shaky turf at the edge of
adulthood. At 14, they're friends whose parents rarely show up.
They could be cool – if they could just figure out what that is.
They're sort of Beavis and Butt-Head with the potential to be real
people. The result is a mixed blessing, an animated show with some
fairly good moments of humor and even sweetness.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 18

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

The big makeover came last year –
two new judges and a new, cheery attitude. This year, everyone is
back – Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest –
and changes are slight.

Tonight, the auditions start. They'll
continue Thursday, and Sunday, then three more Wednesdays and two
Thursdays; this will take a while.

Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS.

This hour starts fiercely, murder at an
upscale office building. Stick around; it's a key “CSI” episode.

FBI agents – played by Matt Lauria of
“Friday Night Lights” and Grant Show of “Melrose Place” –
have a special duty for Catherine (Marg Helgenberger). The result
sets up next week's episode, when Helgenberger leaves the show shes's
been with for all 12 seasons.

(USA) or “Mistresses” (BBC America), both 10 p.m.

Two dramas return, as cable beefs up
its mid-season push.

“Mistresses” – with four strong
actresses doing solid drama – is much better than its name
suggests. Tonight, there are surprise visits from Katie's mother and
from the father of Sibohan's daughter; Trudi wants a business loan
and Jessica (the terrific Shelly Conn of “Terra Nova”) wants a

“Royal Pains” eyes medicine for the
wealthy. As the summer season ended, Divya – with too much work and
too little sleep – accidentally gave the diabetic Kassibian some
potentially fatal drugs; Hank found him near death. Tonight, in a
fairly good episode, Hank tries to learn who's at fault.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
National events do sometimes come to Indiana, where this show is set.
This year, it will be the Super Bowl; tonight, Frankie volunteers so
she can see the game for free.

– “Whitney,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Planning the perfect wedding for Lily, Whitney is surprise to learn
that her friend wants a traditional ceremony. Also, Alex frets that
he only had one good Internet idea.

– “Are You There Chelsea?” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Chelsea sleeps with her sister's old high school
boyfriend, then suffers in the comparison. It's a promising idea,
done with much noise and little wit.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Claire prepares for a debate, in her city council race. Meanwhile,
her niece Lily chooses an inopportune time for her first bad word.

– “Oprah's Next Chapter,” 9 and
10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Here are reruns of Winfrey's two
most-recent hours. She visits the Rev. Joel Osteen and Gov. Chris
Christie (R, New Jersey).

– “Happy Endings,” 9:31 p.m.,
ABC. Jane says she remade her husband Brad to suit her tastes; Penny,
she says, should do the same to her guys. Penny is pleased; Brad –
who overhears this – isn't.

– “Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m., TV
Land. Elka celebrates her 90th birthday – one day after
the 90th birthday of Betty White, who plays her.

– “The Manchurian Candidate”
(1962), 10 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Long and black-and-white,
this tale of intrigue was brilliantly directed by John Frankenheimer.
Laurence Harvey plays a former POW with perplexing memories.
Co-starring are Frank Sinatra and a deeply evil Angela Lansbury.


TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 17

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “New Girl” and
“Raising Hope,” 9 and 9:31 p.m., Fox.

After a month-long break, one of the
best new comedies is back to new episodes. This “New Girl”
centers around Schmidt's 29th birthday: Jess gets a
party-prone vice-principal (Rachael Harris) to help organize it; Jake
reluctantly dates a lawyer (Lizzy Caplan), his first date since his

Then a funny “Hope” has Jimmy
trying to get his GED. Alas, he has the same teacher (Fred Willard)
who flunked his parents, bringing some funny flashbacks.

season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

There's a polar-opposite sort of
villain now.

Last year was Mags, a backwoods
matriarch, done to Emmy-winning perfection by Margo Martindale. This
time, it's a businessman (Neil McDonough) – well-dressed,
well-spoken, blond and brutal.

He reaches Kentucky at a tough time.
Raylan is recovering and on desk duty; Boyd is scheming to make
money from a marijuana stash. It's a good (if quite violent) start.

Experience,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

There was a show-business flair to
George Custer. He rode into battle with his hair – long, blondish,
scented with cinnamon – flowing. He wrote for magazines and posed
often for photos; he loved theater – his best friend was a Broadway
star – and music.

Custer was also a romantic and a rebel.
He finished last in his West Point class. He was disciplined once for
a one-day tryst with his wife; later, he enraged President Grant and
was suspended for a year.

Then the suspension was lifted so he
could lead a brutal attack on Indians. The result was the defeat that
would make him famous; this is a fascinating story, beautifully told.

Other choices include:

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. Looking
for a big gesture to impress Emma (Jayma Mays), Will asks the
glee-clubbers to help with a surprise. Meanwhile, Becky eyes Artie;
Finn has a surprise about his post-graduation plans. NeNe Leakes
(“Real Housewives of Atlanta”) plays Coach Roz Washington.

– “NCIS, 8 p.m., CBS. This show
pauses to rerun its season-opener. Tony's special assignment from the
secretary of the Navy leaves an NCIS agent dead; Gibbs tries to learn
what happened.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Another season-opener reruns. Traveling to Romania to find
Hetty, Callen discovers pieces of his foggy past.

– “Remodeled” debut, 9 p.m., CW.
Paul Fisher, a big deal in the modeling world, launches a scheme to
remake smaller agencies around the country and link them into a
superagency. He starts here with a Minneapolis firm that seems to
line up lots of clients and little work. “Remodeled” is a so-so
idea, scarred by the fact that the Fisher and this agency head are
exceptionally unlikable.

– ““Southland” season-opener,
10 p.m., TNT. Last season ended with John Cooper reluctant agreeing
to fix his back and his pill habit. Now he's back and in good shape,
with a tough new partner (Lucy Liu).

Relations are frosty with his old
partner Ben – who, alas, has a much-worse partner now. A sharply
crafted hour includes chasing a gunman into an elementary school.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 16

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Two and a Half
Men,” 9 p.m., CBS.

For too long, one of TV's most pleasant
faces has been semi-obscured by hair.

Now things change. Walden is urged by
Zoey (Sophie Winkelman) to lose the beard.

It's a funny episode, Ashton Kutcher
(who plays him) assures us. We have no reason to doubt him; with
occasional glitches, “Men” has been off to a strong start in the
Kutcher era.

debut, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Rebecca (Sarah Jones) is your typical
TV cop – tough, solid and (this is TV) attractive. She's chasing
the man who killed her partner, when she finds a bigger case: The
prisoners of Alcatraz are back, unchanged after 50 years; smart
people (Sam Neill, Parminder Nagra) try to round them up.

It sounds odd, but it's from the “Lost”
producers. (Jorge Garcia is back, this time as a professor.) Like
their previous series, “Alcatraz” is so sharply written and acted
that we'll believe the bizarre; and alongside the epic story, it
promises to do some case-of-the-week crook-catching.

90th Birthday,” 8-9:30 p.m., NBC.

On the eve of her birthday, we see much
of Hollywood celebrate White.

Her “Hot in Cleveland” colleagues
will be there; so will many of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” people
– Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod and Moore. Also: Ray
Romano, Ellen Degeneres, Tina Fey, Jay Leno, Morgan Freeman, Carol
Burnett, Hugh Jackman, Tracy Morgan, Amy Poehler, more.

Other choices include:

– “'Roots 35 Years Later,” 8
p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. In 1977, “Roots” drew huge
audiences, high praise, nine Emmys and a surge in black history. This
Martin Luther King day special has Winfrey meet six stars – LeVar
Burton, Cicely Tyson, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Lou
Gossett Jr.

– “Being Human” season-opener, 9
p.m., Syfy. In the first season, we met the jumbled household of a
vampire (Aidan), werewolf (Josh) and ghost (Sally). Now that has been
boosted by adding Josh's girlfriend Nora, who's merely human. There
are some funny moments early, because she literally can't see Nora.
There's also a darker core: In the first-season finale (rerunning at
8 p.m.), Josh accidentally scratched Nora; now she frets that she
might turn into a werewolf.

– “Off Their Rockers,” 9:30 p.m.,
NBC. A frail woman grabs some balloons and starts to float away. A
blind man gets into his car and drives away. In any case, these would
be funnyhidden-camera tricks; the gimmick here is that they're done
by the elderly. We've only seen bits of this, but it's promising.

– “Rock Center,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Ted Koppel returns to the show, this time reporting on the election
power of the “super PAC's.” Also, Kate Snow reports on the
success of the Zynga social gaming site. Harry Smith views
“re-shoring” – bringing jobs back to the U.S., after costs rise
in China.

– “In Performance at the White
House,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The music of the civil
rights movement fills this hour. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez perform; so
do Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, John Mellencamp. Yolanda Adams,
the Freedom Singers and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. In
th first episode, we learned that Rick Castle is a friend of the
major. Now his friend needs help, after a body is found in a car from
his motor pool.