TV column for Thursday, Sept. 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Parks and
Recreation,” 8:30 p.m., NBC.

In its early, sleepy days, “Parks”
didn't push hard for for laughs. Now it has a swirl of comic energy.

There's Tom (Aziz Ansari), with his
company – cool office, crisp logo, great image … no conceivable
way to make money. There's Chris (Rob Lowe), getting way too serious
about a health video.

And there's Ron (Nick Offerman), jolted
by his three Tammys – two ex-wives (Patricia Clarkson and, briefly,
Megan Mullally, Offerman's real-life wife) and his mom. The results
are sometimes hilarious.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “How To Be a
Gentleman” debut, 8:31 p.m., CBS.

Alan (David Hornsby) is precise and
proper, writing a column about being a gentleman. Then his magazine
is sold and he's supposed to right about the rougher side of life.

He ends up at a gym – and with the
guy (Kevin Dillon) who once bullied him. The result, reflecting our
overcivilized world, is moderately funny; it's boosted by good
support from Dave Foley, as Alan's boss.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Latino
List,” 8 p.m., HBO.

The technique is basic – 16 people
simply discussing their lives. But the people are compelling.

Some grew up amid tough times. A maid's
daughter, Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch, became an Army lieutenant
colonel; a topless dancer's son, Armando Perez, became rap star
Pitbull.

Others showed drive. Eva Longoria, who
grew up comfortably, lied about her age and worked at 13; Jose
Hernandez – once in charge of holding the TV antenna so his family
could see the moon landing – applied 20 times to NASA, before
becoming an astronaut. These are great stories, beautifully told.

Other choices include:

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. This terrific show thrives on mismatches. Tonight, Leonard goes
to a wedding with Sheldon's odd friend Amy; Howard and Bernadette
spend the weekend with his mother, the one who was hospitalized when
she learned they're engaged.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Last week's terrific season-opener leaves huge aftershocks, The Chief
took the blame for tampering, letting Meredith get her job back;
also, Owen accepted the fact that Cristina doesn't want children.
Tonight, the Chief makes another key decision, April continues to
struggle as chief resident and the fifth-year residents have their
first solo surgeries.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
For Patrick Jane, the good news is that he's out of prison and back
at work. The bad: Jane Lisbon is being investigated and the others in
his team have been scattered

– Private Practice, 10:02 p.m., ABC.
Pete (Tim Daly) has a heart attack, amid chaos. Addison is with her
mystery man (Benjamin Bratt), her sister Amelia struggles with
alcoholism and Violet is missing.

– “It's Always Sunny in
Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FX. After a great Jersey episode last week,
“Sunny” retreats to a so-so beauty-pageant one. It's erratic, but
has a few good moments during the pageant.

– “Archer,” 10:30 p.m., FX.
Sterling Archer's career as a pirate king did not go well. (He forgot
to do any pirating.) Now he's trying to escape, in a fairly good
finish to the strong, three-part season-opener.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Suburgatory”
debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Imagine a movie comedy – one with
stylish filming and dry wit – being squished into a half-hour.
That's “Suburgatory,” a good comedy despite some excesses.

A dad (Jeremy Sisto) mistakenly thinks
his teen (Jane Levy) is going bad. He moves her to the suburbs, where
things seem pink and plastic. That sometimes goes too far –
portraying suburbia so broadly that the satire is lost. Still, a
sharp script and great cast combine to offer a “Juno”-style wit.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Harry's Law,”
9 p.m., NBC.

Yes, we hated the decision to drain
this show of everything that made it special. Last week it went from
a charming storefront law show to a so-so copy of “Boston Legal.”

Still, producer David E. Kelley (who
also did “Legal”) has given Harriet (Kathy Bates) the perfect
opponent. Commanding and unscrupulous, she's perfectly played by
Emmy-winner Jean Smart. In the mid-section of a three-part
season-opener, she tries to steamroll over Harriet's murder suspect.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Luther”
season-opener, 10 p.m., BBC America.

The first season had John Luther (Idris
Elba) battling chilly genius Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), while
everything else – his job, his relationship with his ex-wife –
crumbled.

Alice, now institutionalized, still
bedevils him, but a new villain us even nastier. Like the first
season, this is fiercely, violent and serialized; also, it's acted
and directed with skill and intensity.

Other choices include:

– “The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m.,
Wednesday. The second audition week begins. In the first, “X
Factor” blended lots of “American Idol,” a little “America's
Got Talent” and only a few smidgens of originality. It was
entertaining, with the welcome return of Simon Cowell, but in a
copycat way.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Chord Overstreet of “Glee” has a funny guest spot, as Brick's
trendy

teacher, complete with tweets and
“answer ball.”

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
When Cameron fasts, there's a junk-food bonanza for Luke. Also, there
are troubles with Jay's dog and with Phil's new obsession with
tightrope walking.

– “Rocket City Rednecks” debut,
9-11 p.m., National Geographic. Travis Taylor plays poker outside a
friend's trailer, in the Alabama woods. His accent is thick, but so
is his resume; he's a rocket scientist, working on his second
doctorate. In separate half-hours, we see the guys dabble with
beer-can bombproofing, moonshine rocketry and more. This is mostly
fun, but sometimes contrived. Also, in the second half-hour, the
guys' whooping is misplaced when they test a bomb that could kill and
maim.

– “Happy Endings season-opener,
9:31 p.m., ABC. Last season began with Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) fleeing
her wedding with Dave (Zachary Knighton). Now they decide to be
honest about faults – a shaky choice. Also, in a funny episode,
Penny (Casey Wilson) buys a condo, then fears she's turning into a
spinster. The result is noisy and (often) quite funny.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS. Confessions are only helpful in moderation. Three
people confess to the murder of a family, with varying accounts of
what happened.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Glee,” 8 p.m.,
Fox.

Two Broadway powerhouses are linked
again.

Lea Michele, 25, starred in “Spring
Awakening”; she plays Rachel, starting her senior year. Idina
Menzel, 40, has a Tony from “Wicked” and a nomination from
“Rent”; she's back as Shelby, Rachel's birth mother and the
former head of a competing glee club.

Now Shelby is back. Also, Will puts
some glee-club singers through a “boot camp.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “New Girl,”
9:01 p.m., Fox.

A week after airing a great pilot film,
the show switches one of its regulars.

Producers say they had originally cast
Lamorne Morris as one of the roommates. He chose a different pilot,
so they cast Damon Wayans Jr. – guessing that ABC would cancel his
“Happy Endings.”

Then? “Endings” was renewed;
Morris' show was dumped. So now Morris joind the show he first turned
down; tonight, the guys persuade Jess to retrieve her stuff from her
bad ex-boyfriend.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “24 Hours in
the ER,” 9 and 10 p.m., BBC America.

Each day, about 350 people reach the
emergency room at King's College Hospital in London. For this show,
70 remote cameras were running for 28 days; each episode covers a
24-hour span.

That yields so-so footage, but it's
supplemented by having people talk directly to the camera. They
include the doctors and nurses, relatives and sometimes – weeks or
months later – the patients.

Most bring a sense of British calm. In
the opener, a pedestrian, 33, was dragged under a bus. The second
hour ranges from a cheery teen to two heart-attack victims in their
80s.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Athletes usually do well on this show, but last
week basketball star Ron Artest was the first dancer ousted. Tonight,
someone else will go.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A young
Marine arrives at his welcome-home party with a fatal stab wound.

– “Catching Hell,” 8-10 p.m.,
ESPN. Steve Bartman was a Chicago Cubs fan, enjoying himself at a
play-off game. Then he touched a foul ball before the Cub fielder
could catch it. The team lost and he became infamous. This
documentary skillfully tells of people – from Bartman to Bill
Buckner – who have been vilified by sports fans.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. A computer genius has been kidnapped. That's bad news, because
he created and controls the system that fights cyber attacks.

– “POV,” 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). Here's one of the most depressing documentaries
ever. It follows Chinese parents who have been away for most of their
children's lives; working (in a clothes factory) and living drearily,
sending money home and making the 1,300 mile trip once a year. They
nag their teen daughter endlessly. The key confrontation is wretched,
even by Jerry Springer standers.

– “Body of Proof,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. During a hunting trip, a rich man's young wife is shot and
killed. There are plenty of suspects, including the first wife, her
kids – and the husband, who promptly has Megan replaced by Kate
(Jeri Ryan), fanning the feud between those two medical examiners.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 26


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

At first, last week's opener seemed
like typical “Men” – sometimes funny, sometime just noisy. Then
Ashton Kutcher arrived; he and Joh Cryer bounced sharp dialog off
each other perfectly.

Kutcher plays the lovelorn billionaire
who would have killed himself, except the ocean was too cold. He's
ready to buy the late Charlie's home, with Alan staying. That
promised big laughs ahead.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Terra Nova”
debut, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

On one level, this is grand and
glorious TV. Steven Spielberg's people have created an epic world, 85
million years ago. After ruining Earth, humans found a time stream; a
few can live with the dinosaurs.

The result brings lush visuals and
vibrant action – tied to a script that's sort of adequate.

The early scenes, in the ruined modern
Earth, are deeply gloomy. Even in the green world, there's a
surprising emphasis on macho rage. Still, fine actors – especially
Shelley Conn and Jason O'Mara – are in a visual wonderland. For
some splendid moments, that's enough.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Hart of
Dixie” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

Zoe's life prepared her to be a
big-time surgeon. Then fate dumped her into a small Southern town.

Anyone who has seen “Northern
Exposure” knows she'll gradually find charm there. So will we.

Still, this sometimes seems like a TV
version of a town, sort of a Quirkyland amusement park. Rachel Bilson
– a likable actress, if not a deep one – stars. She's surrounded
by good actors – including “Friday Night Lights” alumni Scott
Porter and Cress Williams – in a moderately entertaining tale.

Other choices include:

 

– Food etc., daytime. First, the
Hallmark Channel launches a new season of “Martha” at 10 a.m. and
debuts “Emeril's Table” at 11; Emeril Lagasse uses a fun setting,
cooking with five non-chefs. The weekly “Martha Bakes” starts its
season at 11:30, with Martha Stewart baking four kinds of cookies.
And at 1 p.m. on many ABC stations, “The Chew” replaces “All My
Children”; five people – from chef Mario Batali to Daphne Oz, the
daughter of Dr. Mehmet Oz – talk, cook and design.

 

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Ted tries to make amends with a former girlfriend he
cheated on. Also, a bet could force Barney, the snappy dresser, to
wear Marshall's ducky tie.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. After its terrific debut, this show settles into its regular
slot. Tonight, Caroline accidentally ruins Max's break-up plans.

– “Mike & Molly”
season-opener, 9:30 p.m., CBS. After all those years of “Gilmore
Girls” semi-obscurity, Melissa McCarthy has her dream role and her
Emmy. Tonight, she's trying to get Mike involved with the wedding
plans; he'd really rather go fishing with the guys.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
McGarrett is free now and the Five-0 unit is back to normal –
almost. An internal-affairs officer (Tom Sizemore) keeps
investigating Kono (Grace Park). Also, a profiler – played by
Lauren German, who was excellent as the “Happy Town” star – has
been added. Tonight, a young paddleboard champion has been kidnapped.

– “The Playboy Club, 10 p.m., NBC.
One of the bunnies will land a spot on the magazine's cover. The
catch is that many of them are clinging to secrets; Maureen's is
spilled tonight.

– “Weeds” and “The Big C,” 10
and 10:30 p.m., Showtime. Both shows have their season finale. First,
Nancy confronts her sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh); then Cathy runs a
marathon, while her husband battles their insurance company.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 25


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

Fifty years ago, air travel was exotic.
Pilots were heroes; stewardesses were glamorous globetrotters.

That's recalled here, through the
women. They face bias (and weigh-ins), but have a shot at more.

The script is a loose brew – a
romance ends, espionage begins, jealousy grows – elevated by the
work of Thomas Schlamme, TV's best drama-series director. Under
Schlamme, a frilly, airborne drama seems to add the classy feel of
his TheWest Wing.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Simpsons”
season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

Whatever happened to Jack Bauer, after
“24” sent him on the lam? Now a guy who seems like him (with
Kiefer Sutherland doing the voice) is in Springfield. Homer befriends
him, bringing trouble.

This is inconsistent, but has great
moments – especially a TV news re-enactment done by Taiwanese
animation. And it's all better – much better – than the other
season-openers tonight on Fox.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Boardwalk
Empire,” 9 p.m., HBO.

The season starts with a cheerful
montage: In Prohibition, good times roll.

They'll be interrupted, of course.
Early in the hour, a shoot-out sets up a racial crisis. Later, a
G-man has an odd anniversary dinner. Then there's a closing arrest;
one of TV's best dramas is back in action.

Other choices include:

– “A Mile in His Shoes,” 7 and 9
p.m., GMC (formerly Gospel Music Channel). A baseball coach (Dean
Cain) discovers a farm kid (Luke Schroder, Rick's son) with a great
arm. Director William Dear helps save this well-meaning tale, but
it's still a mild story, stretched too far.

– “In Her Corner,” 8 p.m,, CNN.
In a change of pace, the “Latino in America” series focuses on
Marlen Esparza, trying to compete in the first Olympics that will
have women boxing. The fight scenes are so-so, but Soledad O'Brien
offers deep portraits of Esparza plus her parents, trainer and prime
opponent.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Last season ended with high drama; this one starts with (at
times) light farce. All the housewives have a secret, having helped
bury the brute Carlos killed; Lynette has a second secret, her
separation from Tom. In trying to hide those, people sometimes turn
silly.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
The “Wife” vs. “Housewives” fight begins. In this
season-opener, Alicia must ignore personal problems while defending a
Muslim accused of killing a Jewish classmate.

– “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). A therapist is profoundly flawed, but is
he also a killer? The death of a young beauty at his clinical trial
brings Inspector Lewis – who soon finds more trouble. It's a fairly
good story with some surprises.

– “Sister Wives,” 9 p.m., TLC.
After facing legal tfouble in Utah, Kody Brown has moved to the Las
Vegas area with his four wives (one marriage is official), 13 kids
and three step-kids. This hour has lots of so-so drama – hurt
feelings and such – plus a teen party after a backyard swimming
pool is ready.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Racing to recapture Jack Toller, Horatio finds he's the only one who
can save Natalia's life.