TV column for Wednesday, July 27


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

We're lucky this show came up with the
master stroke of bringing back Kelly (Maura Tierney) for its final
season. Her scenes – simultaneously funny, solemn and wise – are
“Rescue Me” at its best.

The other plot twists are merely OK.
One – Lou still refuses to guard his health – drags on, before
wrapping up beautifully. The other – Colleen's wedding obsession –
is merely silly.

But Kelly is back. She's been through
breast-cancer treatments (as has Tierney). She bristles with anger
and humor and more; she reminds us why this has been such a strong
show.

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

Down to its final eight people, “Dance”
brings in some big-time guest judges. One is Lady Gaga, who will also
perform Thursday; the other is Rob Marshall, the
director-choreographer who has an Oscar nominations (for “Chicago”)
and six Tony nominations.

The finalists will each do a solo and a
duet with an “all-star” from previous seasons. That includes
Lauren Froderman (last summer's champion), Neil Haskell (who finished
third in 2007) and Pasha Kovalev, who draws studio-audience raves
whenever he dances.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “CSI: Crime
Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS.

Two excellent guest performances redeem
this flawed-but-powerful rerun.

One is by Bill Irwin, as the notorious
“Dick and Jane” killer – now his own lawyer as Ray testifies.
The other is by Justin Bieber. (Really.) Going against type, he's
icily perfect as a troubled teen.

They're so good that we'll forgive the
warehouse scene's lack of tension and a non-credible ending.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. On
Valentine's Day – yes, this is a rerun – Frankie is delighted
that Axl wants advice on his date. Meanwhile, Mike accidentally
embarrasses Brick by revealing his crush.

– “Modern Love,” 8:30 and 9 p.m.,
ABC. Phil and Claire are key to both reruns. In the first, they have
a fight – but Phil doesn't know what it's about; in the second,
they try to reverse parenting roles for a day, with Claire being the
fun one. Also, Gloria has a karaoke machine in the first episode;
Lin-Manuel Miranda – the Tony-winner for writing “In the Heights”
– plays a dog-trainer needing advice.

– “America's Got Talent,” 9-10
p.m., NBC. The third batch of four acts is named. There will be one
more next week, before “Talent” moves to its next round.

– “Wonders of the Universe”
debut, 9 p.m., Science Channel. This is what Carl Sagan did 30 years
ago – complex, intergalactic science, via a charismatic host. Brian
Cox is a British particle physicist and a former keyboardist for a
pop band. He's 43, looks 30 and has the Sagan-like ability to
explain things in people terms. Using great visuals, he explains
nothing less than the birth and death of stars.

 

– “Franklin & Bash,” 9 p.m.,
TNT. Now we know that Janie has consistent taste. A year after
breaking up with Peter (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), she's engaged to a guy
(James Van Der Beek) who could be his twin. Now, in an OK episode,
the new guy needs Peter's help, after a bachelor party gone bad.

 – “Happy Endings,” 9:31, ABC.
Penny dates the gang's favorite high school teacher – and feels
he's not what they all thought.

– “Love in the Wild,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. The six remaining couples face a fierce waterfall, demanding
stairs and another problem – a change in rules.

 

TV column for Tuesday, July 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Awkward,” 11
p.m., MTV.

The MTV people are working hard to give
this show a strong start. They're surrounding it with a new “Teen
Mom” (10 p.m., rerunning at 11:30) and putting more “Mom”
reruns at 8 and 9 p.m.

That's fine, because “Awkward” is
going from a fairly good opener to a better episode tonight.

Last week we met Jenna (Ashley
Rickards), 15, cute and smart and unnoticed … until she ended up in
a cast after what people thought was a suicide attempt. The cast
comes off, but the mocking continues.

There's one false note, when Jenna
takes an out-of-character step. Mostly, however, “Awkward” finds
fresh humor at the expense of the people around her; it also has a
closing moment worth waiting for.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Combat
Hospital,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Soldiers are convinced that their
teen-aged platoon-mate is a lucky charm. Rebecca scoffs at this,
leading doctors to a discussion of luck, fate, God and more.

Elsewhere, this story – set in 2006
Afghanistan – has issues ranging from organ donations to the sexual
orientation of Major Grace Petersen, the psychiatrist.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “POV,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

“Land redistribution” may have
noble, Robin Hood sound, but this documentary says it has gone very
wrong under Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe.

It's racist, the film says, targeting
whites. It gives the land to Mugabe lackeys with no farming skills
and is enforced brutally. We watch Mike Campbell, 75, as he refuses
to budge, resisting the Mugabe forces in person and in international
court. The result is alternately uplifting and deeply disturbing.

Other choices include:

– “Deadliest Catch,” 9 a.m. to 10
p.m., Discovery. The season-finale is at 9 p.m., with the Cornelia
Marie returning to shore with an uncertain future. Leading into it,
we get a 12-hour marathon of the most-recent episodes, starting with
the fourth. A follow-up is at 10 p.m.

– NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun,
an American has been killed on a British Navy vessel.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. This rerun has the team racing to learn who stole a key
document, before it can be decoded..

– “America's Got Talent,” 9-11
p.m., NBC. Twelve more acts perform and viewers vote. On Wednesday,
four of them will advance to the next round, with one more 12-act
round next week.

– “Ludo Bites America,” 9 p.m.,
Sundance. Ludo Lefebvre's next “pop-up” restaurant is in Omaha.
At Big Mama's Kitchen, he tries soul food with a French twist.

– “Gordon Ramsay's Great Escape,”
9 p.m., BBC America. In Malaysia, Ramsay finds that women dominate
the upper tier of chef-dom.

– “Staten Island Cakes,” 9 p.m.,
WE. When a cupcake tower becomes a mess, Vinny hurries back to the
shop – and fumes when he finds people doing nothing. Eventually,
his mentor intervenes.

– “True Grime,” 10 p.m.,
Investigation Discovery. One tough clean-up job involves a hoarder
whose body had been decomposing for weeks.

 

TV column for Monday, July 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Rizzoli &
Isles,” 10 p.m., TNT.

This show usually gets its fun by
bumping together the opposites: Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) is
blue-collar, macho, given to action; Isles (Sasha Alexandder) is
frilly, flirty, given to big words.

Now comes a variation, as Isles falls
in lust for Rizzoli's muscular cousin. Their date and the end of the
romance are so-so, but the other scenes are great. Rizzoli's
self-pitying mom adds to the brew.

Yes, there's also a murder case. It;s
too brutal in the opening scenes, then solid.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The
Bachelorette,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

This is the week when each of the three
finalists could get invited to an overnight stay in the “fantasy
suite.” We're betting they'll say yes.

First, Ashley Hebert takes each on a
grand Fiji day. There's a yacht and snorkeling with Ben, a helicopter
to a lagoon and waterfall with Constantine, a seaplane ride to a
white-sand island with J.P.

It's all serene enough – except
Constantine has some startling news and one of the past guys returns.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Eureka,” 8
p.m., Syfy.

Last week, Holly Marten finally told
why she's here – to keep an eye on a $20-billion space project.
That puts extreme social clumsiness – Fargo and Marten – together
and stirs the fun. They interview applicants; that brings guest
roles for Wil Wheaton,comic-book king Stan Lee and more.

And yes, there's a fresh invention –
glasses that see tragedy in advance – and a life-and-death crisis.
Occasionally a tad too goofy, this “Eureka” is mostly great fun.

Other choices include:

– “America's Got Talent,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. Here's a rerun of Wednesday's hour, advancing four people.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. A few great moments here make up for a lot of so-so ones.
The good parts come with fresh glimpses of Robin's Canadian past,
when she was pop singer Robin Sparkles. Now Barney has found clips of
the show (“Space Teens”) she did with her friend (Nicole
Scherzinger). It turns out that the grown-up star (Alan Thicke)
filled it with sexual innuendo.

– “Mike & Molly,” 8:30 and
9:30 p.m., CBS. In the first rerun, Samuel loses his restaurant job
and moves in with Mike. In the second, Mike unwisely follows advice
and ignores Molly.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In an excellent rerun, Berta leaves for a few days; she arranges
for an immaculate replacement who works with great diligence.

– “Warehouse 13,” 9 p.m., Syfy.
Lindsay Wagner returns as the team's doctor, who has romanced Artie
(Saul Rubinek). He has problems now, including the fact that Steve,
the new guy, has disappeared.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This rerun offers two problems: A tsumani is coming and the head of
the tsunami warning center is missing.

– “Harry's Law,” 10 p.m., NBC. In
a rerun, Harry represents a man serving a life sentence for a crime
he apparently didn't commit. Also, Adam continues his ill-advised
defense of a laundromat.

 

TV column for Sunday, July 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Falling Skies,”
10 p.m., TNT.

Last week, our heroes – ordinary
Earthlings, formed into a ragged army to fight the aliens – were
told of an impending attack. They sent their kids to a sanctuary –
except that it was all a lie, with turncoats planning to give the
kids to the aliens.

What follows is prime “Skies” – a
sharp action-adventure, alongside a full range of human emotions.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Castle,: 9
p.m., ABC.

At times, “Castle” floats along
with a wink and a grin, solving mysteries in a sly, wry way.

Still, it has the ability to turn dead
serious. This rerun, wrapping up a two-parter, is proof.

On a large scale, a federal agent
searches for a “dirty bomb” in New York. On a small scale, Castle
and Beckett are trapped in a container, short on warmth and oxygen.
Lives are at stake, in a strong episode.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Same Name”
debut, 9 p.m., CBS.

David Hasselhoff is a working guy in a
Texas town of 27,000. He has a full-time electrical job with his dad,
a part-time lawn-service job with his mom … and a night-time job
helping his wife with the baby.

Then he trades lives with the other
David Hasselhoff. The Texans are dismayed that the Hollywood
Hasselhoff lives alone in a mansion, eats sushi and doesn't know his
neighbors.

Still, “Same Name” aims for the
feel-good style of “Undercover Boss.” In this OK opener, it
tries to show us that in their hearts, all Hasselhoffs are the same.

Other choices include:

– “Leverage,” 7-10 p.m., TNT.
This starts with two excellent reruns. In the first, the team must
build up a schemer, then tear him down; the second has the quietly
moving tale of an inter-racial romance in the 1940s. That's followed
by a new hour (at 9, repeating at 11) about big agriculture and a
valuable potato.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. A
mystery unfolds in this rerun, after Lisa finds a secret classroom.

– “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9-10:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings). The first “Zen” film was
terrific, but this one is almost impenetrable. Tangled in here are a
murder (or suicide), a courageous informant (or mad
conspiracy-theorist) and an icily beautiful prosecutor. At one point,
Zen is given an important satchel, casually sets it on a desk and
strolls away; it's that kind of story.

– “Drop Dead Diva,” 9 p.m.,
Lifetime. In a story reflecting real life, lesbians are banned from
the prom.

– “True Blood,” 9 p.m., HBO.
Dazed and bewildered, Eric has been staying at Sookie's house –
unaware that he owns the place; late in this hour, there are major
aftershocks. Meanwhile, Jason has a shot at freedom and Bill is
caught in the battle between witchcraft and vampires.

– “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” 10
p.m., HBO. In a funny episode, Larry finds ethnic lines blurring when
the best chicken is at a Palestinian restaurant. Also, he finds new
duties as “social assassin.”

– “Breaking Bad,” 10 p;m., AMC.
Financial success isn't wearing well on these guys. Walt has a gun
and a scheme; Jesse has the blahs and a loud party.

– “Entourage” season-opener,
10:30, HBO. The eighth and final season begins with Vince emerging
from rehab and his brother scrambling to rid the place of any hint of
drugs or booze. Everyone is busy trying to soothe Vince … except
Eric and Ari, who both have big troubles with their women.

 

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.