TV column for Saturday, Oct. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Rules of
Engagement” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

Here's good news – a non-rerun
scripted show on primetime Saturday. It's a half-hour island amid
reruns and non-fiction, but “Rules” tends to be lightweight fun.

Last season Russell (David Spade), who
covets young women, ended up on a cruise with older ones. Now he's
back home, shell-shocked – and married to Liz, his semi-crazy
neighbor. It's a funny storyline, in a typically erratic “Rules.”
One other story (Jeff tries to talk dirty) is childish; but an
opening scene with Adam and a waitress is quite funny.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Harry's Law,”
8-11 p.m., NBC.

In a late change, NBC has dumped all of
its primetime plans for tonight. Instead, it reruns the three-part
season-opener, with Harriet representing a guy (Alfred Molina) who
seems terribly guilty.

The first hour is a disappointment,
with two weak secondary stories and the transformation of “Law”
into a “Boston Legal” clone. But the second develops the
prosecutor (Jean Smart) as a richly detailed villain. And the third
brings some sharp surprises in Molina's case.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Bedlam,” 9
p.m., BBC America.

This show nudges ahead slightly in its
central story – the haunted history of an old mental institution
and the family now turning it into upscale housing. It also shows
that it can deliver a story-of-the-week that begins and ends
(skillfully) in one episode.

Tonight, a new tenant arrives. Like
almost everyone on this show, she's young, attractive and wobbly.
Haunted by her conscience and her car (really), she starts to
crumble, in a well-made hour.

Other choices include:

– Sports overload, 7:30 p.m., Fox,
and 8 p.m., ABC. Starting now, two major sports collide on the
broadcast networks. Fox takes over the baseball play-offs; tonight,
the American League championships begin. ABC has football with Ohio
State at Nebraska – two traditional powerhouses, in the unfamiliar
position of having lost their conference openers.

– More football, cable. At 7 p.m., FX
has Auburn at Arkansas, ESPN has Texas A&M at Texas Tech and
ESPN2 has Georgia at Tennessee. At 7:30. Versus has Colorado at
Stanford.

– Mega-movies, 7:30 and 8 p.m.,
cable. ABC Family has “Titanic” (1997) at 7:30 p.m.; it's an
Oscar-winning gem, but a lengthy one – running to midnight with
commercials. HBO has “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1”
(2010) at 8.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. Here's a second chance to see the year's best comedy pilot.
Sharply written by Michael Patrick King and Whitney Cummings (who
also has her own show), this neatly links an acerbic waitress (Kat
Dennings) and a fallen heiress (Beth Behrs).

– “Honeymoon for One” (2011),
9-11 p.m., Hallmark. After her marriage plans implode, a sleek
executive (Nicollette Sheridan) decides to still take her
non-refundable honeymoon in Ireland. The Irish settings are terrific;
Sheridan is not, coming across as a bit stiff.

– Saturday Night Live, 11:29 p.m.,
NBC. Ben Stiller hosts the season's third episode, with music by
Foster the People.

 

 

TV column for Friday, Oct. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “A Gifted Man,”
8 p.m., CBS.

Rachel Lefevre has gone a long way from
her early roles. With her swirling, reddish-blond hair, she kept
getting light series – “Big Wolf on Campus” and – as a
hot-dog stand worker – “Life on a Stick.”

Not any more. She's playing her second
straight doctor – first in “Off the Map” and now here.

Michael (Patrick Wilson) needs someone
to run his late wife's clinic. Dr. Kate Sykora (Lefevre, a new
regular on the show) is a prime prospect. Meanwhile, Michael must do
instant surgery.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Whitney,”
8:30 p.m., NBC.

It's easy for this sharp new comedy to
get lost in its tough Thursday slot. Now, on a slow night, an instant
rerun gives us a second chance to see it.

Whitney spots her boyfriend watchig a
hot-looking woman. He denies that he has a wandering eye, but she
decides to give him the silent treatment. Alas, Whitney talks a lot,
so this isn't really a punishment.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Shrek”
(2001) and “Shrek 2” (2004), 8 and 9:54 p.m., TNT.

This weak night might be a good time to
watch or tape these animated family films.

Taking a clue from the Pixar films,
Dreamworks wrote a clever script and hired talented people – Mike
Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz – as the voices. The first
“Shrek” is a delight, a feel-good fable about an ugly ogre and a
beautiful princess; the second tries to to complicate things, with
mixed results.

Other choices include:

– “Up All Night,” 8 p.m., NBC. In
a quick rerun of Wednesday's episode, a cool new couple has moved in
across the street. Reagan and Chris, forever feeling uncool, want to
learn about them.

– “Modern Family,” 8 p.m., ABC.
In another Wednesday rerun, everyone is obsessing – Claire on
getting a stop sign, Phil on creating a video hit, Jay on a
fund-raiser, Gloria on finding the dog.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
In another Wednesday rerun, Jane is appalled to realize she's
attracted to a suburban athlete.

– “Charlie's Angels,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. In a rerun of the show's second episode, the women must go
undercover as models. This is not a big stretch for them, you know.

– Fringe, 9 p.m., Fox. Two bullies
are found dead, with their bodies decomposing quickly.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. A
beauty's body has been found in a car trunk, leading to a car-theft
probe.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Tentatively scheduled for this week (and originally scheduled for
last week) is an episode in which Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) learns an
ex-cop was in a failed bank robbery.

– “Sanctuary” season-opener, 10
p.m., Syfy. Time-travel is a lot more fun if you follow the view of
“Back to the Future” (the past can safely be altered) or “Terra
Nova” (alternate time streams). “Sanctuary” insists that
nothing can be altered. That limits the possibilities, as Helen
chases Adam Worth to 1898;the result is fairly drab.

– “Strike Back,” 10 p.m.,
Cinemax. Did this show decide it didn't have enough sex or violence?
Both are amped up even more, in a fierce (and fairly well-done) hour
that starts with the guys held hostage.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Two terrific forces link. One is “Big
Bang,” TV's best comedy; the other is Katie Leclerc, 24, the
partially deaf actress who's so good in “Switched at Birth.”

Yes, it's a logical fit. Raj can't talk
to women when he's sober; Penny hooks him up with a deaf date.

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

This starts with a spot-on satire of
public radio. Leslie has written a book and now she's on the local
talk circuit; soon, she's in the midst of a swirling birthplace
controversy.

Also, there's fun with the two most
non-communicative people, Ron and April. Ann is determined to engage
them in conversation; it's an imposing (and funny) challenge.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “George
Harrison: Living in the Material World,” 9-11 p.m., HBO.

After years in the background, Harrison
did some songwriting, rarely piercing the Lennon-McCartney dominance.
He let Joe Cocker record “Something” first; when the Beatles
finally did it, it reached No. 3 on the Billboard charts; Frank
Sinatra called it “the greatest love song of the last 50 years.”

This film – wrapping up a terrific
two-night Martin Scorsese documentary – shows Harrison on his own,
as a talented songwriter and more. He popularized music from India
and led the historic “Concert for Bangladesh.” He formed The
Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan and others. He rescued “Life of Brian,” which became a classic, and financed other movies. He had
rich friendships and complex romances, before dying of cancer at 58.
It's a compelling story, well told.

Other choices include:

– “The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.
This episode, originally scheduled for 90 minutes, wraps up the
two-night “boot camp.” Now we'll learn who advances to the next
round.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
A stampede at a Comicon-type gathering leaves the emergency room
stuffed with oddly dressed people.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. When
the warehouse guys win the lottery, troubles spiral. Andy needs to
hire people quickly and others fill in … while dreaming of their
own post-lottery lives.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A boy has been kidnapped and his mom (Kelli Williams) was Patrick
Jane's client during his psychic days. Now she wants help; he soon
clashes with her spiritual advisor.

– “Standup Revolution,” 10 p.m.,
Comedy Central. Gabriele Iglesias is a stand-up comedian with good
material and great likability. (His stand-up special reruns at 9.)
Now he has a weekly half-hour, with an opening monologue and a
Grammy-winning house band (Ozomatli, which did a zesty video for the
show. He also has fairly good comedy sets by Alred Robles and Rick
Gutierrez.

– “It's Always Sunny in
Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FX. “This is (the) darkest thing we've
ever done,” one character says. We won't disagree. This story –
fake baby, fake funeral – is only for “Sunny” zealots.

– “Private Practice,” 10:02 p.m.,
ABC. The clinic is in chaos. Pete is recovering from his heart
attack, Amelia is recovering from alcoholism, Addison is oddly
negative toward a new guy (Benjamin Bratt).

– “The League” season-opener,
10:30 p.m., FX. Seth Rogen plays a porno filmmaker, in an episode
that is sometimes very clever and sometimes just very loud.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 5


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

For decades – from “L.A. Law” to
“Boston Legal” – David Kelley has written beautifully.

Yes, he erred by ditching the charming
storefront-law concept of “Harry's Law.” But Kelley did add a
wonderfully awful antagonist (Jean Smart). And now he wraps up a
three-parter with brilliant (if extremely unlikely) plot twists. Add
some great guest performances and you have a strong hour.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Happy
Endings,” 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Brash and busy, “Endings: pushes much
harder than ABC's other Wednesday comedies. This episode scores, as
all three women go ga-ga in weird ways.

Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) finds that teens
are coming to her store; suddenly, she and Penny (Casey Wilson) are
big with the sort of mean girls who once ignored them. Meanwhile,
Jane obsesses on the teen who might have been born from her egg
donation; the result is large, loopy and quite funny.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “American
Horror Story” (FX) or “Luther” (BBC America), 10 p.m.

Here's what cable does best – fierce,
intense and violent drama, sharply filmed and acted.

Tonight's “Luther” has a flaw –
too much emphasis on torture – and a big plus: The show is
sometimes too serialized, but not now; this episode wraps up a potent
two-parter that has a cunning villain.

The “Horror” pilot was directed and
co-written by Ryan Murphy, who has ranged from the joyous “Glee”
to the venomous “Nip/Tuck.” This time, a husband, wife and
daughter – each with emotional issues – get a house with a nasty
past; scares follow. There's great work from actors – well-known
(Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Jessica Lange) and not – in a
story that's compelling and repulsive.

Other choices include:

– “The X Factor,” 8-9:30 p.m.
Fox. This first season is rushing toward a conclusion in December.
Tonight and Thursday brings a “boot camp,” sending
audition-survivors to Los Angeles.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30, ABC. Jane
is shocked to realize she likes one of the suburban athletes.

– “Modern Love,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Obsessions – from a stop sign to a school sales contest –
flourish.

– “George Harrison: Living in the
Material World,” 9-11 p.m., HBO; concludes Thursday. Younger and
quieter than the other Beatles, George Harrison was often overlooked.
This Martin Scorsese film describes a complex person – usually
sweet, occasionally raging – with sly humor and sharp talent.

– “Penn & Teller Tell a Lie”
debut, 10 p.m., Discovery. Peppering in some humor, the master
magicians tell seven “facts,” all of which seem like lies. One
is, but we don't know which until the end.

– “Mad Scientists” debut, 10 and
10:30 p.m., National Geographic. Remember when inventors were odd
mavericks, not corporate employees? This show meets amiable,
do-it-yourself inventors. The first has a rock-crawling vehicle; the
second has homemade amusement rides in a Detroit back yard.

– “Dance Moms” season-finale, 10
p.m., Lifetime. This show has us watch an overbearing teacher and
obliging moms as they badger little dance students. Tonight, they go
to Hollywood and get meaner.

– “Pretend Time” debut, 10:30,
Comedy Central. Nick Swardson has one great idea – selling
“international water,” because national laws don't apply there –
and a lot of cheap, sophomoric ones.

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Onion News
Network” season-opener, 10 p.m., IFC.

The first season of this fake news
report bristled with sharp satire. One moment, it mocked social
attitudes; the next, it poked the veneer of news shows themselves.

How can it top itself? It plans to
report on the end of mankind. With an asteroid screaming toward
Earth, it will report global despair. From others, this would be
awful; ONN could make it a delight.

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

The first two episodes have offered
witty dialog, small dabs of emotion and – with Zoey Deschanel as
Jess – the most likable comedy character this side of Lucy.

Now the guys some focus. Nick is warily
going to a wedding where his ex-girlfriend will be; he brings Jess as
his sort-of date. Also, Katie Cassidy (David's daughter) plays a
beauty who attracts Schmidt.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Prohibition”
finale, 8 p.m., PBS; repeats at 10 (check local listings).

Yes, it seems, there was fun in the
Prohibition era. This documentary quotes the “jazz age” reports
of F. Scott Fitzgerald and of Lois Long, who lived the night life and
then dissected it with fierce wit

Still, there was the flip side – 76
Chicago mobsters killed in 1926, 54 in '27, seven on Valentine's Day
of 1929. Al Capone, suspected in many of these, funded the mayor's
campaign; the 1928 presidential race brought torrents of hatred
toward alcohol, Catholics, immigrants and more.

Then Wall Street fell and alcohol –
bringing jobs and taxes – became legal again. What Herbert Hoover
called “a great social and economic experiment” collapsed; a
superb Ken Burns series concludes.

Other choices:

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. Beneath
that sweet exterior, Emma (Jayma Mays) is complicated. We learn more
when her parents (Don Most – yes, Ralph Malph of “Happy Days” –
and Valerie Mahaffey) visit.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Lily
Tomlin plays the grandmother of McGee (Sean Murray). She may be
linked to the murder of a Marine.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Sam goes undercover, to find a stash of stolen explosives.

– Mysteries at the Museum debut, 9
p.m., Travel. In museums, Don Wildman finds some offbeat items
involving the original “Siamese twins,” an alleged
alien-abduction and a vampire-hunter. To its credit, the show
acknowledges that one of these turned out to be a hoax. To its
discredit, it has overwrought narration (with several errors in
grammar); it also pretends that a deadly umbrella – commonplace in
fiction – was somehow a fresh and unfathomable idea.

– “24 Hours in the ER,” 9 p.m.,
BBC America. Patients range from an 11-year-old who was hit by a van
to Roger Jackson, 73. A member of the group that had a No. 1 hit in
the U.S. (“Telstar”) in 1962, he comes to grips with cancer and
his mortality. Meanwhile, gang members gather as the ER treats three
gun and knife victims. That's followed at 10 p.m. by last week's
fairly strong opener.

– “Unforgettable,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This is already the second show to do variations on the allegations
involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel maid. This time, someone
has killed the alleged rapist.

– “Body of Proof,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. Burdened by her mom (who's running for re-election), Megan has
an unusual problem: She must search a corpse for clues about where a
kidnap victim might be stashed.