TVcolumn for Thursday, Jan. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “30 Rock”
season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC.

In a year when female-driven comedy has
thrived, “30 Rock” has been on the shelf. For five straight
years, it has drawn an Emmy nomination for best comedy series,
winning three times; now – after pausing for Tina Fey's maternity
leave – the sixth season begins.

Jenna gets attention as the hateful
judge on “America's Kidz Got Singing”; Tracy is jealous of that,
but can't seem to aggravate Liz. Also, Kenneth awaits the Rapture.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Finder”
debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

Walter (Geoff Stults) is a former
military hero with an odd mind and a gift for finding people and
things. From his distant outpost – the End of the Earth bar in
Florida – he works with a massive colleague, a beautiful cop and a
teen orphan girl who's also a clever thief.

This show was created by the people who
do “Bones,” which is resting because of Emily Deschanel's
pregnancy leave. Quirkier – even veering near the supernatural –
it gives us fun characters; after a so-so start (retrieving John
Fogerty's guitar), it has an interesting case tonight.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Rob” debut,
8:31 p.m., CBS.

After a brief romance and a Las Vegas
wedding, Rob and Maggie are meeting her relatives. “Don't tell them
your age,” she says. “Or your height.”

Those are issues. He's played by Rob
Schneider, 48 and 5-foot-7; she's a Mexican-American beauty, played
by Claudia Bassols, 32 and 5-foot-10. Now he'll meet her dad (Cheech
Marin) and the others.

This is a middle-of-the road comedy,
but moderately funny. Schneider – who married a Hispanic woman this
year – warmly finds the humor in opposite worlds.

Other choices include:

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. Next
week, this show starts its hiatus. First, Booth and Brennan look for
a home to share when the baby is born; also, a tech-savvy killer
leaves a clue in blood.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. When Sheldon fails to admire Amy's accomplishment, Penny tries
to teach him to be a better boyfriend.

– “Independent Lens,” 9-11 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). Sprawling over three Thursdays, “Have
You Heard From Johannesburg” is a five-hour documentary following
the anti-apartheid movement.

– “Person of Interest,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Duties get switched this week: Reese (Jim Caviezel), recovering
from a shooting, is working the computer; Finch (Michael Emerson) is
in the field. And Carter (Taraji Henson) finally sees a case
first-hand

– “Up All Night,” 9:30 p.m., NBC.
Jason Lee (“My Name is Earl”) returns, as the show move from
Wednesdays. He plays the neighbor who's dating Maya. This is a New
Year's Eve story, with Reagan (Christina Applegate) obsessing on
winning in game night.

– “The Firm,” 10 p.m., NBC. In
Sunday's convoluted movie, we met Mitch, a decent lawyer with a pile
of troubles. He spent a decade in witness protection, after fingering
a mobster; now the mobster's dead and he doesn't know the guy's son
wants revenge. Also, he's been lured into a big-deal law firm, for
dark reasons we don't know. Tonight, he defends a partner's son,
charged with murder.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
When a disliked divorce attorney is killed, there are plenty of
suspects.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 11


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

At first, Rex Lee was just hired for
the pilot film, to play Mr. Wolfe, the guidance counselor. There was
no guarantee he'd be back.

Now Lee – who was so good as Lloyd in
“Entourage” – has become a regular, with some great moments
tonight. Tessa is sure he's gay; then again, she feels the same about
the new kid (Dan Byrd of “Cougar Town”) and the quarterback. It's
another clever and surprising episode.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: People's Choice
awards, 9-11 p.m., CBS.

The awards are wildly insignificant.
Katy Perry for best voice (as Smurfette) and as best guest? “Soul
Surfer” for best book adaptation? Kim Kardashian or Gene Simmons
for best reality-show celebrity? The “Thor” and “Captain
America” guys for best superhero? These aren't exactly the Academy
Awards.

Still, there should be fun. Kaley Cuoco
(“Big Bang Theory”) hosts; Faith Hill and Demi Lovato sing.
Guests include Ellen Degeneres, Lea Michele, Vanessa Hudgens, Jason
Segel and Liam Neeson.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Whitney”
and “Are You There, Chelea?” debut, 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

At first glance, these shows fit
perfectly. Both are comedies about brash young women; both are taped
in front of an audience, not in the movie style of NBC's Thursday
shows.

Still, there's a difference: Fueled by
Whitney Cummings' wit, her show is sharp and funny; “Chelsea,”
however, is so-so. Laura Prepon (“That '70s Show”) plays a young
Chelsea Handler, fond of liquor and guys; the real Handler plays her
sister. There are some good moments, but not nearly enough.

Other choices include:

– “One Tree Hill,” 8 p.m., CW;
rerunning at 9. In a burst of logic, networks are giving long-running
series an exit strategy. Now “Hill” has 13 episodes to conclude
its series. Sophia Bush is still around after nine seasons as Brooke;
she and Julian are planning the baptism of their twins.

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). In Canberra, Australia, kangaroos aren't just cute
and bouncy. A drought has forced them to scavenge in the
neighborhoods; the result has brought thousands of car-kangaroo
crashes. Despite tragedies, it's fun to watch this hour's merger of
nature and suburbia.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. It's
one thing when your dog eats your homework, another when your brother
does. Axl accidentally eats the map Brick made out of dough.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Claire and Jay get too involved in their boys' classroom project.

– “Nova,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). This views a plan to bomb two dames key to Hitler.

– “Harry's Law,” 9 p.m., NBC.
It's wacky-case time again. Erica Durrance (“Smallville”) plays a
vigilante who's convinced she's Wonder Woman – and has the costume
to prove it.

– “State of Play,” 10 p.m., BBC
America. This brilliant, six-week series concludes with high stakes.
A Parliament member knows that the oil industry planted Sonia in his
office; she became his lover and then a murder victim. With his
marriage shattered and his career crumbling, he looks for revenge.
Cal – once his friend, now his wife's lover – scrambles to get
the news in print.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan.10


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

The 24th season of this
splendid documentary series opens with a new night and an old-West
emphasis. Custer is next week; tonight is a richly detailed portrait
of Billy the Kid.

A city kid from New York, he moved to
New Mexico at 14 with his mom, who soon died. Then he

became tangled in a rancher's fight
with cattle barons who had political connections.

His boss was slain; Billy killed the
sheriff in retaliation. As a teen – literate, likable, small and
resourceful – he led a band of renegades; at 21, he was dead, a
symbol of the West's most colorful era.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Mike (Tim Allen) has female
frustrations everywhere.

At home, his wife and daughters want to
adopt a fluffy little dog. At work, his boss – long an absentee
father – hires his daughter (Jamie-Lynn Sigler of “The Sopranos”)
as marketing director. Battles follow.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Glee,” 8
p.m., Fox.

Maybe you missed the show's post-Super
Bowl episode. (Hey, it was a long day.) Here's a rerun.

After warring with Coach Beiste, the
glee-club kids link with the football team. The result is an epic
performance of Michael Jackson's “Thriller.”

Be warned, however, that bigger isn't
always better. By “Glee” standards, this is merely so-so.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. The
investigation of a Navy officer's death is distracted by her angry
husband ... and by Ziva's future, now that Ray Cruz (Enrique
Murciano) is back.

– “Switched at Birth,” 8 p.m.,
ABC Family. As Emmet's new girlfriend, Daphne (Vanessa Marano)
struggles for approval from his mom (Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin). She
tries to impress her with sign-language skills or entertain her on
game night; nothing seems to work.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Jada Khaled's transport vehicle has been ambushed. Now the team
must rescue her and save its case.

– “Celebrity Wife Swap,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. People know Dee Snider and Favor Flav as rockers with Twisted
Sister and Public Enemy. At home, however, they have opposite
approaches: Snider's wife focuses full time on parenting; Flav's
fiancee has a casual approach. Now they briefly switch homes.

– “Jane by Design,” 9 p.m., ABC
Family. In last week's opener, a clerical mistake gave teen-aged Jane
a job with designers who think she's a grown-up. Now her worlds
collide: The fashion show is at the same time as the high school's
winter formal.

– Parenthood, 10 p.m., NBC. Her
daughter is already in the work force, trying to figure out her job;
now her mom (Lauren Graham) obsesses on having a baby. Meanwhile,
Crosby fumes when his brother Adam gets all the attention in a
newspaper story about their music business.

– Flashpoint, 10 p.m., Ion. This
solidly crafted Canadian show has already been renewed for next
season, its fifth. Tonight – in a new episode to the U.S. – a
mental patient escapes and has a hostage.

 

TV column for Monday, Jan. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, ESPN; pre-game show at 7:50, festivities at 8:20.

For one more day, college teams
dominate. That's why most networks stick to reruns tonight.

This is the Bowl Championship Series
finale, with Louisiana State and Alabama – ranked No. 1 and 2 in
the nation. Then it networks will start airing new episodes.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Rock Center,”
10 p.m., NBC.

Yes, Mitt Romney is linked to Michigan,
Utah and Massachusetts. But there's also Mexico.

Mormons started colonies there in the
late 19th century, this report says. His father George
Romney was born there (to American parents) in 1907; more than
four-dozen relatives still live in Colonia Juarez.

Also: A teacher's stories to his
dyslexic son became the “Percy Jackson & the Olympians”
best-sellers; a man rescues two orphans from Haiti. George Clooney is
the in-studio interview.

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

On a night when football dominates,
three terrific films also show up.

The classic is “Blazing Saddles”
(1974), Mel Brooks' cowboy satire, on AMC. It reruns at 10 p.m.

There's also “Little Miss Sunshine”
(2006) on Independent Film Channel; it's an offbeat gem about a
family's road trip so a girl can compete in a talent pageant. And
there's “Julie & Julia,” wonderfully bouncing between Julia
Child (Meryl Streep) and a blogger (Amy Adams) using her recipes
daily.

Other choices include:

– “The Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m.,
ABC. Ben Flajnik, 29, takes the 18 women to his home and vineyards in
Northern California. Many audition for a play written by kids; two
have one-on-one dates: Kacie B., 24, an administrative assistant from
Tennessee, visits the Sonoma downtown; Kacie B., 28, a model from
Santa Monica, Cal., has a picnic in the redwoods.

– “House,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. In
the first rerun, a man falls sick after making a big donation. In the
second, health troubles begin for someone who's about to send his
company's jobs to China.

– “Mortified,” 8 p.m., Sundance.
“I can't remember a time before fame,” Rick Schroder says here. A
child star, he found tears came to him easily; they still do. “It's
a tough way to live life, to have that kind of emotion,” he says.
At 8:30 p.m. is a rerun split between Cheryl Hines and Margaret Cho.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Caroline and Max take a cake-decorating class, to
help their cupcake business.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Walden is depressed about his wife giving him divorce papers –
until he meets her lookalike. Judy Greer handles both roles, with
Jane Lynch returning as a therapist.

– “The Lying Game,” 9 p.m., ABC
Family. Emma tries to be casual after receiving a death threat. She
visits the college her dad went to.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The season-opener reruns, with McGarrett facing trial for murder.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. This
is supposed to be the wedding of Det. Ryan and Jenny – played by a
married couple in real life, Seamus and Juliana Dever. A murder case
gets in the way.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Downton Abbey,
Season 2” debut, 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

As World War I begins, Matthew
(destined to take over the estate) is an infantry officer, with
William (in love with Daisy, the kitchen maid) as his aide. Thomas
is a medic, scheming for light duty.

Back home, the manor is transformed;
bodies and hearts are broken and (sometimes) mended.

Much happens – too much, maybe.
“Downton” is just an evil twin away from being a soap opera;
still, its acting, direction and dialog are so superb that all
excesses are forgiven.

WEEKEND'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Firm,”
9-11 p.m., NBC.

Mitchell (Josh Lucas) is a decent
lawyer who was in witness protection after bringing down a mobster.

A decade later, the mobster is dead and
he's starting a tiny law firm. His brother (an ex-con) is his
investigator; the receptionist and his wife help out. Then a big-deal
law firm wants to absorb him.

“The Firm” tries a difficult
balancing act – telling individual court cases, while slowly
unwinding John Grisham's novel about schemes and greed. Tonight's
case is excellent; the rest is so-so.

TONIGHT'S ALTERATIVE: “House of Lies”
debut, 10 p.m., Showtime.

Don Cheadle stars as the head of a firm
that polishes the images of bad people.

Tonight, he has financial people who
got big bonuses amid ruin. That's sandwiched by two season-openers –
“Shameless” at 9 p.m. and “Californication” (which jumps
ahead a few years) at 10:35.

Other choices include:

– Football, 1 p.m., Fox; 4:30 p.m.,
CBS. The second day of the pro playoffs has the Atlanta Falcons,
10-6, at the New York Giants, 9-7. Then it's the Pittsburgh Steelers,
12-4, at the Denver Broncos, 8-8.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. As deputy, Emma assumes she'll take over the top job, now that
the sheriff is gone. Alas, the scheming mayor wants a lackey as
sheriff. Meanwhile, we see sensitivity in Rumplestiltskin (in
fairy-tale land) and in Mr. Gold, his equivalent in our world.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Here's the perfect place for Homer – ranting as a radio talk-show
host. – “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m., ABC. As the second half
of the final season begins, there are more aftershocks from Carlos
saving Gabrielle by killing her stepfather. Now she suspects he also
killed the police detective. Lynette tells Tom of her involvement in
the cover-up; Bree is feeling suicidal.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. A
lawsuit accuses the firm of encouraging a marriage to fall apart, so
it could make money off the divorce.

– “Oprah: The Next Chapter,” 9
p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. After last week's two-hour debut, the
show settles into its one-hour slot, with Winfrey meeting the Rev.
Joel Osteen. That's followed at 10 p.m. by a “Master Class”
profile of Jane Fonda.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Ingenuity in conflict: An eccentric genius is killed by a bizarre
weapon.

– “Pan Am,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.
After disappearing for five weeks, this show plans five straight new
episodes. That starts here, with the romance of Dean and Colette
crumbling. Also, Kate faces the repercussions of her latest spy
assignment and must pass a lie-detector test.