TV column for Friday, Feb. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Movies, 8 and 9
p.m., cable.

In olden days, people dismissed fantasy
and science fiction as Hollywood's toy department; talented directors
made serious movies. Then Steven Spielberg and his colleagues began
merging fanciful stories with splendid cinema skills; tonight, we get
three dazzling examples.

Spielberg's “Close Encounter of the
Third Kind” (1977) is 8 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies; his “Raiders
of the Lost Ark” (1981) is 9 p.m. on Bravo. And his “Raiders”
star, Harrison Ford, is in Ridley Scott's brilliant “Blade Runner”
(1982), at 8 p.m. on AMC. Watch one; record the others.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY: “Who Do You Think
You Are?” and “Grimm,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC.

Back in NBC's glory days, its chief
(Brandon Tartikoff) wouldn't schedule shows back-to-back unless he
could imagine someone enjoying both. This combination, alas, would
leave him perplexed.

“Who” is an interesting search
through family histories. Last week, Martin Sheen had an intriguing
journey to rebel roots in Ireland and Spain; now Marisa Tomei has her
turn. She heads to Italy, pursuing rumors that her great-grandfather
was murdered for being a gambler and womanizer.

And “Grimm”? This hour starts
stylishly, has a great guest turn by Amy Acker, but is mostly just a
series of searches and fights. It has no substance; maybe it thought
the previous show took care of that.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The
Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” season-finale, 10:30
p.m., Independent Film Channel.

For the first five episodes of this
perversely funny season, Todd (David Cross) has sunk deeper. A
transplanted American, he keeps lying and bungling in London; now
he's on trial.

His own witnesses just seem to get him
in more trouble. Alice hopes to gather key proof that she and Todd
are innocent; but can she get to the trial on time?

Other choices include:

– “A Gifted Man,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Michael testifies in defense of a former patient. That leaves a woman
so distraught that she holds the clinic staff hostage

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. Two
deaths – one from an arrow, the other from a fall down the stairs –
seem unrelated. Then a connection is uncovered.

– “Michael Feinstein's American
Songbook,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Feinstein has a
couple chances to catch previously unheard songs from master
songwriters. Some stations will follow at 10 with a rerun of last
week's hour, including a fun look at “soundies” – visual
jukeboxes from the 1930s.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. Olivia,
Peter and Walter find themselves trapped in a town, unable to get
out.

– “Flashpoint,” 9 p.m., Ion. This
rerun is an example of the solid drama this Canadian cop show
delivers. Called to a phony bomb threat, the police find a bigger
crisis back at headquarters.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Timothy Busfield, the “thirtysomething” Emmy-winner, plays a
suspect who faces an imposing witness: His daughter says God told her
that her dad killed her mom.

– “Merlin,” 10 p.m., Syfy.
Morgana uses her magic to make Merlin an assassin aiming for Arthur.

– “Spartacus,” 10 p.m., Starz.
Yes, this has its usual violence, gore and more. This time, it also
brings a powerful emotional high and low. Both come late in the hour,
centering on the search for Naevia.

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “30 Rock,” 8-9
p.m., NBC.

Valentine's Day – filled with mixed
blessings – dominates both episodes.

Liz and Criss (James Marsden) want to
do something romantic – after they buy a dining room table. Tracy
and Frank try to help Lutz get a date; Jack entertains his
mother-in-law (Mary Steenburgen).

Also, Jenna needs help with her
performance segment of “America's Kidz Got Singing.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Grey's
Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.

On Valentine's Day, couples find
babysitters so they can go out. Meredith and Derek use Lexie, the
baby's aunt; Callie and Arizona use Mark, the biologic father.

Meanwhile, the emergency room is
overrun by Valentine disaster. A girl is allergic to coffee; a man is
run over by a car, while chasing his frustrated girlfriend.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Love at First
Byte,” 9 p.m., CNBC.

Each month, we're told, about one-tenth
of Americans check an Online dating site.

Some try elaborate methods; people
spend hours answering hundreds of questions. Others simply throw out
lots of names. Bored at a bar, a young woman searches her phone app
for single guys living nearby.

Sometimes, the matches work. Samantha
Daniels meets couples, including one – reportedly the first
computer-linked couple – still married after a half-century.

Other choices include:

– “The Princess Diaries” (2001)
and “Princess Diaries 2” (2004), 6 and 8:30 p.m., ABC Family. The
first film is a quiet pleasure, with an American teen (Anne Hathaway)
learning that her grandmother (Julie Andrews) is queen of a tiny
country. The second is fairly lame.

– More movies, cable. At 7:30 p.m.,
BET has “Training Day,” with Denzel Washington's Oscar-winning
performance as a crafty and corrupt cop. At 8, AMC has “Christine”
(1983), a surprisingly good Stephen King tale about a boy's love for
his killer car; Encore has Tom Hanks in the delightful Penny Marshall
film “Big” (1988). At 8:30, Disney has “WALL-E” (2008), an
animated gem.

– “American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox.
After way too many auditions, the Hollywood round begins.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Sheldon must take vacation time from his job. His solution is to
go to Amy Farrah Fowlwer's workplace, the neurobiology lab.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. Pam
is back from maternity leave. Also, Dwight has a special assignment
at company headquarters; he and Andy must decide who to bring with.

– “Braxton Family Values,” 9
p.m., WE. For all their fights – including one shown in the 8 p.m.
rerun – Tamar and Vince are still together. She's the family diva –
flashy and feisty; he's a music producer, triumphing with Lady Gaga
and others. Then he's hospitalized in intensive care; it's an
emotional hour.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
In the midst of a murder trial, Patrick Janes searches for fresh
proof.

– “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). A Swedish TV station has reports dealing
with U.S. racial strife from 1968-75. Here are Angela Davis, Stokely
Carmichael and others at a black-power peak. Linked with new music
and commentary, this is erratic, but has interesting moments.

– “Inside Comedy,” 11 p.m.,
Showtime. Friends from Chicago comedy are interviewed. Steve Carell
is amiable, with little to say; Jane Lynch discusses a performing
passion that began when she was 8.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Mere humans think they can outsmart
raccoons. They don't have a chance against animals that are wise,
resourceful and endlessly adaptable.

The creatures started in tropical
climates, then kept moving north. Now, the film says, Toronto is the
raccoon capital of the world. It shows 'coons figuring out locks,
doors, zippers … and life; it says they apparently keep track of
garbage night, then turn it into a party.

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

In the last couple years, James Wolk
has established himself as a brilliant – and thoroughly likeable –
drama star. He teacher with Tourette's in “Front of the Class,” a
charming con artist in “Lone Star.”

Now hemoves over to the light side, in
a three-episode run. He plays Grant, who broke up with Max (Adam
Pally) last year on Valentine's Day; they bump into each other
exactly a year later.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit, 10 p.m., NBC.

Lots of guest stars pop in here.
Michael McKean plays a sexual predator, with Miranda Lambert as one
of his victims and Robert Klein as his lawyer. Harry Connick Jr.,
also passes by briefly.

Still, the real focus is on a hostage
crisis played by two talented actors – Emmy-winner Mariska
Hargitay and Cameron Monaghan, 18, a “Shameless” co-star. It's
beautifully played.

Other choices include:

– “Person to Person,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Back in 1953, Edward R. Murrow launched this show, visiting the
homes of the rich and famous. Now it's back as occasional specials
with Charlie Rose and Lara Logan. Tonight, they visit the homes of
George Clooney and Jon Bon Jovi and the office of Warren Buffett.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Valentine's Day is botched (again) by Mike. Meanwhile, kids struggle
with writing assignments – Brick on love, Axl on a life-changing
moment.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Now that Tessa has the love of a cute guy, she has misgivings about
it. Also, her dad finds some condoms in her laundry and goes into
panic mold. That leads to a funny scene, as George learns of all the
sexual possibilities and combinations.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Phil is so busy trying to impress his new business partner (Greg
Kinnear) that he doesn't notice him flirting with Claire. Also,
Cameron and Mitchell stay with Jay.

– “Rock Center,” 9 p.m., NBC.
This excellent news magazine moves to its new night.

– “Revenge,” 10 p.m., ABC. As
Emily and Daniel prepare for their engagement party, complications
appear. The biggest complication is his imposing grandfather (William
Devane).

– “Top Chef: Texas,” 10 p.m.,
Bravo. Restaurant patrons probably don't like the notion of a
blindfolded chefs. That's the challenge tonight, which starts with
four chefs, but also lets another compete for a chance to return; the
multi-part finale starting next week.

--”Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m., TV
Land. A rock star (Huey Lewis) comes to town and Victoria (Wendie
Malick) assumes they'll resume their old relationship.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Unforgettable,”
10 p.m., CBS.

Jane Curtin arrives as the new
medical examiner for Queens. It's a great role – clever, quirky,
combative – and well-played; it's also only a sidelight to a strong
story.

Carrie – the cop with the perfect
memory – gets phone calls about serial murders. She's smart, but so
is the killer; this sets up a compelling chase … and maybe some more
strong episodes ahead.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Freedom Riders:
American Experience," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Back in 1961, young people risked their
lives to ride integrated buses into the heart of the South.

In Alabama, they were beaten and their
drivers quit; new busloads followed. There were bombings, beatings,
arrests; one evening, all of the riders made out their wills.

That summer, more tha 300 were
packed into a notorious Mississippi prison. On Sept. 22, the
Interstate Commerce Commission finally banned segregation on buses.

This compelling documentary debuted on
the rides' 50th anniversary, with memories of 20 riders, three
organizers, Alabama's then-governor and the then-12-year-old who defied
her elders to provide first aid.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The River”
debut, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

An explorer (Bruce Greenwood) used to
take his wife and son on grand adventures, filmed for TV. This time,
he went down the Amazon without them and never returned.

Now his his wife – or widow –
(Leslie Hope) joins a televised expedition to find him, amid dire
warnings. The entire show pretends to be documentary footage, shaky
camera and all. Some people love the raw intensity that brings;
still, it wears thin quickly.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Defying
predictions, “NCIS” remains near the top of the ratings in its
ninth season. Here's its 200th episode: At gunpoint, Gibbs
(Mark Harmon) sees his life flash before him. That brings back TV
veterans – Ralph Waite (“The Waltons”) as his father, Joe Spano
(“Hill Street Blues”) as a veteran FBI agent. Sean Harmon, 23,
Mark's son, has his sixth turn playing Gibbs as a young man.

-- "Last Man Standing," 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. The first episode finds the family fretting about a ghost in the century-old house. The second has teen Mandy meeting her idol, Kim Kardashian. Mike worries about a city order to cut down a tree; maybe he should be more worried about having a daughter who idolizes a Kardashian.

-- "Glee," 8 p.m., Fox. Ricky Martin guests as a night-school teacher who helps the club do Spanish-language songs.

 

-- "New Girl," 9 p.m., Fox. Jess tries to get the rough landlord to like her. In the process, he learns about the guys' "unofficial" changes to the apartment.

– “Doomsday Preppers” debut, 9
p.m., National Geographic. This fascinating series introduces people
preparing for the worst. They range from a country couple with 25
tons of food to a young woman preparing to walk out of Houston with
her new life on her back.

– “The Real Housewives of Orange
County,” 9 p.m., Bravo. Tamra works at being civil; also, we meet a
new housewife who, inexplicably, isn't a blonde.

 – "Joan & Melissa," 9 p.m., WE.
After two light, fun episodes, this show turns quite dark. Melissa's boyfriend fails to show up at a key photo shoot; harsh
arguments follow.

– “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC. Mark and Sarah (Jason Ritter and Lauren Graham) are serious enough to consider having a baby. Also, Sarah's daughter lands a promotion, then worries about it.


Justified 10 p.m., FX. After a prison escape, Raylon faces some old enemies. It's another tough and smart episode, including an automotive variation on the old-time gun fight.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Smash” debut,
10 p.m., NBC.

In every way – visually, emotionally,
musically – this stunning hour teeters near perfection.

The fictional tale follows the creation
of a musical about Marilyn Monroe. We see it through the producer,
director, composers and, especially, the actresses who might play
Marilyn.

One (Katharine McPhee) is a slender
Iowa brunette; the other (Megan Hilty) is a sometimes-brassy blonde.
They are opposites, yet deeply talented. “Smash” shines as it
leaps between versions of a music number – in bare-bones rehearsal,
in imagined spectacle, with McPhee, with Hilty, then with both.

The original songs (by Marc Shaiman and
Scott Wittman) are Broadway-worthy. So are the stars.

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

Producer Mark Burnett calls this “Super
Monday.” Fresh from following the Super Bowl, “Voice” settles
into its regular time slot.

Barring a late change, it will start
tonight with a superb medley featuring its four judges – Blake
Shelton, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine. Then
they're back to competing.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Castle,” 10
p.m., ABC.

In the remains of an old nightclub,
police find a body and a journal (written in classic detective style)
of a 1947 murder case. Castle, the crime novelist, feels solving the
old case will unlock the new one.

Soon, he's imagining himself as the
detective, with Beckett (Stana Katic) as the femme fatale and Parish
(Tamala Jones) as a crooner. Stylishly filmed by veteran director
Chuck Bowman (the father of “Castle” producer Rob Bowman), this
provides a need change-of-pace for an entertaining series.

Other choices include:

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. When Marshall and Lily throw their housewarming party,
things go wrong – including Ted almost coming to blows with
Marshall's boss.

– “Family Guy,” 8-11 p.m., TBS.
This cartoon had great parodies of the original “Star Wars”
trilogy. Here are reruns of all three – mocking “Star Wars,”
“Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”

– “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”
(1975), 8-10 p.m., Independent Film Channel. This British classic is
strange, silly and, at times, hilarious.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. A neighbor (Jennifer Coolidge) has a cleaning business and might
hire Max and Caroline as maids. First, they have to impress her.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Walden (Ashton Kutcher) feels his British girlfriend (Sophie
Winkleman) isn't relaxed enough. His solution is to give her Berta's
special brownies.

– “Mike & Molly,” 9:30 p.m.,
CBS. Joyce (Swoosie Kurtz) has dinner with an ex-boyfriend –
promptly driving her current boyfriend crazy.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A crooked cop seeks revenge on Danno, who exposed him.

– “Underground Railroad: The
William Still Story,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The son
of ex-slaves, William Still was born in New Jersey around 1820. He
was an abolitionist, a businessman, a leader in bringing slaves to
freedom. This film is part of PBS' strong Black History Month push.