TV column for Thursday, Sept. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football
season-opener celebration and game, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.

First comes the party. As home of the
Super Bowl champions, Green Bay, Wis. – the smallest NFL city –
gets to host the celebration, with music by Lady Antebellum, Kid Rock
and Maroon 5.

Then the battles begin, with two strong
teams. The New Orleans Saints (the previous year's champs) have added
former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mark Ingram to an offense
led by quarterback Drew Brees; the Packers have returned running back
Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley (both injured last season)
to Aaron Rodgers'offense.

TONIGHT'S SHOULD-SEE: Presidential
speech and Republican esponse, 7 p.m. ET.

Here's a crucial speech – albeit at
an unusual time. It's been nudged around the schedule, avoiding
collision with a Republican debate and then with the pro-football
opener.

Still, this is an important moment.
Fresh from a report that showed zero job growth, President Obama will
propose job-making projects dealing schools, highways, bridges and
more. Republicans will reply that this is the wrong time to spend
more.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Futurama”
season finale, 10 p.m., Comedy Central.

The great thing about animation shows –
clever ones, anyway – is their ability to veer in odd directions.
That happens three times tonight, when the regular stories are
stuffed into different formats.

First is an old-style one – in
black-and-white, no less. Then the early days of videogames, with
blocky characters built from rectangles. And then a Japanese-style
adventure, with stiffly heroic dialog. Each brings a clever style, in
an episode surrounded by reruns at 9, 9:30 and 10:30 p.m.

Other choice include:

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Raj tries to cure is inability to talk to women.

– “2011 Fall Preview Special,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. With the new season just 11 days a way, CBS previews
its new shows. It's a typical year for the network – few holes to
fill, only five new shows, most of them in the middle-ground. The
best is a sparkling comedy (“2 Broke Girls”); the most unique is
“Person of Interest,” a crime show with a “Lost” feel. The
others are …. well, generally adequate, CBS-style.

– “Rookie Blue,” 9 and 10 p.m.,
ABC. In a change, ABC is putting two episodes together, wrapping up
the season for this solid show (which will be back next summer). In
the first, Gail's uniform has been stolen and a criminal is
impersonating a cop. Also, Andy (Missy Peregrym) and Sam can't stay
apart – even though he's working undercover. That leads to a crisis
that peaks in the second hour.

– “Big Brother,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Last week, Shelly Moore, 41, the outdoor-industry executive, was
evicted. That leaves only five people; tonight – a week before the
finale – one more will be gone

 

– “Most Valuable Players” (2010),
9-11, Oprah Winfrey Network. In Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, high
school musicals are big; there's even an award show (televised live),
picking the best among several schools. This upbeat documentary
follows three schools – two tackling “Les Miserables.”

 – “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
When Patrick Jane is kidnapped, colleagues sift through his past
cases. Their conclusion: There are way too many suspects.

– “Wilfred” and “Louie,” 10
and 10:30 p.m., FX. Two neatly offbeat comedies wrap up their
seasons. First, Ryan finally dares to resist the advice of Wilfred;
then Louie has an airport misadventure.

– “Suits,” 10 p.m., USA. Here's
another season finale, albeit of a flawed show that sometimes turns
its cynicism into a monotone. Tonight, the super-cynical Harvey
finally tries to do the right thing, freeing a man he once helped
convict. The resolution is so-so, but the final moments could shake
next season.

TV column for Wednesday, Aug. 7


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

Tonight's opening scene is brilliantly
written (by Denis Leary and Peter Tolan), beautifully filmed (by
Tolan) … and a misdirection cheat. We'll forgive that gimmick,
because what follows is superb.

A couple of long scenes are comic gems.
One finds an ill-suited playground dad; the other has the
firefighters transporting the ashes of a late colleague.

Still, this series – which started
with Tommy (Leary) seeing the ghost of his cousin, a 9/11 victim –
is rooted in emotion and in tragedy. The finale beautifully brings us
full-circle.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Middle,”
8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Two sharp comedy talents are re-united
in this rerun. On “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Doris Roberts was
Patricia Heaton's mother-in-law. On “The Middle,” she teaches
Heaton's younger son.

Tonight, she challenges Frankie
(Heaton) and her husband to prove their math skills. That's at 8:30,
following a rerun in which the older son mis-texts, asking the wrong
girl to the prom.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Nova,” 9
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Two projects at Ground Zero have faced
opposite deadlines.

For the 9/11 Memorial, it was definite;
this elaborate creation, involving waterfalls, must be ready by the
10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. For the 1WTC
skyscraper, it was general; 2013 is the target date, but the project
requires steep standards for both safety and aesthetics.

This film follows both, including
setbacks along the way. Beautifully filmed, it shows the link between
architectural beauty and pragmatic engineering.

Other choices include:

– “Buried Treasure,” 8 and 9
p.m., Fox. First is a new hour in which the Keno twins visit an
Ashland, New York, home that had been owned by an art dealer; it has
paintings that may or may not be fakes. Then a rerun (replacing the
previously scheduled “House”) includes a Vermont horse ranch.

– “America's Got Talent,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. On Tuesday, the 10 finalists performed. Viewers saw four musical
acts, four dance-or-gymnastic teams, a magician and a motorcycle duo.
Tonight, four of them will advance to next week's live finale.

– Modern Family, 9 and 9:30 p.m.,
ABC. Claire gets some of the focus in both reruns. In the first, she
insists that the kids join her on a Mother's Day nature walk; they do
– with great reluctance. In the second, she and Phil change roles;
now she'll be the fun parent.

– CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 10
p.m., CBS. Nate Haskell is back, creating new terror. Now he's
kidnapped the ex-wife of Ray Langston; she's played by Tracee Ellen
Ross, Diana Ross' daughter.

– “The Hour,” 10 p.m., BBC
America. Last week's episode ended with a power-punch. Trying to
escape Kish (an undercover government spy), Freddie ended up in a
fight; Kish fell to his death. Now Freddie obsesses on the aftermath,
even visiting the widow and missing preparations for an important
newscast dealing with the Suez Canal crisis. It's a beautifully
crafted hour, set in 1950s England.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “America's Got
Talent,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

The top 10 acts perform, with the
emphasis on movement.

The West Springfield Dance Team has
teens. The Miami All-Stars range in age from 13-43. The Silhouettes
mix art and dance, Team iLuminate mixes dance and gymnastics (while
wearing lights), the Smage Brothers have motor bikes.

There's also a magician (Landon Swank),
a teen band (Poplyfe) and singers. Anna Graceman is 11, Landau Eugene
Murphy is a crooner and car washer, Lys Agnes has an operatic range.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Sons of
Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX.

As the new season begins, the bikers
are emerging from prison. They have shorter hair, cleaner shaves and
fresh perspective. Jackson is even thinking about leaving the group.

Still, the Sons are built on rage and
vengeance. Their home town is changing and they're not happy about
it. The show matches its usual high level of acting, writing and
directing; it also, in tonight's final minutes, passes the usual
level of violence and brutality.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Marry Me”
(2010), 8-11 p.m., Lifetime Movie Network.

Barbara Hall has done strong work,
writing and producing “Joan of Arcadia” and “Judging Amy.”
For this one, she wrote a sharp and witty script.

Rae (Lucy Liu) has an artist's eye, a
social worker's heart and a fairy-tale optimism. Her romantic life,
however, is in chaos. She finds herself torn between an old boyfriend
(Bobby Cannavale), a new one (Steven Pasquale) and an exotic outsider
(Enrique Murciano). She even goes to a castle.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, the “port-to-port killer” may have infiltrated the agency.

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. Next
week's rerun is the season-finale, with the club preparing for the
nationals. Today, Jessie St. James is helping coach and is being a
tough taskmaster.

– “Raising Hope,” 9 and 9:30
p.m., Fox. In the first rerun (a so-so one), Jimmy learns how much
his dad uses flirting; soon, everyone tries it. In th second, Jimmy's
wild new girlfriend causes trouble.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 and 10
p.m., CBS. In the first rerun, Deeks tries to protect his chief
informant. In the second, Callen's ex-partner (Marisol Nichols) could
help find hijacked missiles.

– “Combat Hospital”
season-finale, 10 p.m., ABC. This hour starts with a shoot-out and
ends with waves of understated emotion. In between, it sags; that's
typical of the erratic season for this earnest drama, set in 2006
Afghanistan.

– “POV,” 10 p.m., PBS (chec local
listings). Bradley Crowder and David McKay grew up middle-class in
conservative Midland, Texas. Years later, they were arrested near the
Republican convention in Minneapolis. On its own, that's an
interesting story; there are bizarre twists, however – including a
provocateur who doubled as an informant. It's a tangled and sometimes
involving story.

– “Quirky,” 10 p.m., Sundance.
Last week's fairly good opener met inventors of a pasta strainer and
a power strip. It reruns at 9 p.m., followed by a new episode with a
car opener and a dog product.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 5


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Hell's
Kitchen,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

Last week's episode (rerunning at 8
p.m.) found verbal warfare between the women – Jennifer Normant,
Elizabeth Bianchi and the divisive Elise Wims. The men – Tommy
Stevens, Will Lustberg and Paul Niedermann – managed to avoid the
drama.

That spills into the new episode at 9:
Two weeks from the finale, the survivors link into one team.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “The Real
Housewives of Beverly Hills” season-opener, 9 p.m., Bravo.

Much of the attention has been on
Taylor Armstrong, whose estranged husband Russell was an apparent
suicide after this season was taped. Bravo has been re-editing the
opener.

Still, the original version (prior to
editing) didn't reflect badly on him. Instead, we see Armstrong
describe herself as “pretty fragile” and blame herself for a
slowed sex life. At first, she says, “all we did was have crazy sex
all the time, (but) I have a lot of trouble breaking out of mommy
mode.”

That version focused more on the woes
of Camille Grammer (Kelsey Grammer's ex-wife) and former child star
Kim Richards, whose sister Kyle has called her an alcoholic.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “9/11: The Day
That Changed the World,” 8 p.m., Smithsonian.

You may have heard these stories
before, but now they are skillfully woven together, with odd details.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for
instance, couldn't be reached for 25 minutes after a plane hit the
Pentagon; he was helping carry the wounded. Later that day, Rumsfeld
suggested bombing Iraq; Richard Clarke, a counter-terrorism advisor,
said he told Rumsfeld the terrorists had been based in Afghanistan,
not Iraq: “He looked at me and said, 'There aren't enough targets
in Afghanistan.'”

Other moments: Joe Lhoda, New York's
deputy mayor, saying his acts of contrition, in case he didn't
survive the day … Lynne Cheney, the vice-president's wife,
surprised that the White House bunker had cookies on doilies … Air
Force One, nearing a military base, requesting 24 bagels and 100
muffins.

Other choices include:

– “Bachelor Pad,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.
For the final two weeks, the contestants will be split into couples.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS. In the first rerun, Broadway's Laura Bell Bundy plays
Robin's annoying co-anchor; in the second, Barney has feelings his
only Valentine's Day date.

– “Mike & Molly,” 9:30, CBS.
This rerun is a great episode for Rondi Reed, as Mike's cynical
mother. Heading into minor surgery, she assumes she'll never make it
back.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of the episode that finally told why Chin Ho (Daniel
Dae Kim) lost his police job. His cousin Kono (Grace Park) learns
during a visit to their aunt.

– “Children of 9/11,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Thea Trinidad was 10 when her father called to say goodbye.
Justin Strada was 4 days old when his dad, a partner in a World Trade
Center firm, died; Farquad Choudhury was born two days after his dad,
a Windows on the World waiter, died. This documentary follows them
and other children for a year.

– “Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. Michael
McKean plays the wealthy owner of a beauty pageant – yes, a lot
like Donald Trump – in this rerun. And, of course, he becomes a
murder suspect.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife: A
New Beginning” and “The Good Wife,” 9:30 and 10 p.m., CBS.

In its first two seasons, “Good Wife”
has won a Golden Globe (for star Julianna Margulies) and an Emmy
(co-star Archie Panjali). It's been nominated for 17 Emmys, including
(twice) best drama series.

A bigger task – facing “Desperate
Housewives” this fall – looms, so CBS is giving it a head stat.

Tonight, a “New Beginning” special
reviews what has happened and interviews the stars. Then a rerun
involves a South American dictator and the results of the local
election. Fred Dalton Thompson plays an actor-turned lawyer, in
reality, he's a
lawyer-turned-actor-turned-politician-re-turned-actor.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Curb Your
Enthusiasm,” 10 p.m., HBO.

“Curb” is at its best when stirring
a wild broth, then having it spill over in odd ways.

Tonight, it has plenty – Larry's
neurosis about ice-cream trucks … his broken-down car … his new
lover… a softball error … and Bill Buckner, who had the most
famous error in sports history.

Yes, Buckner is there, with plot twists
that will surprise you. It's classic “Curb.”

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Masterpiece
Mystery,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The reruns and pledge drives are
finally done (for now) and new shows are back. There are four
straight “Inspector Lewis” tales, before shifting to a
“Masterpiece Classic” miniseries and movie.

Lewis (Kevin Whately) is a solemn
widower, solving murders amid the peaceful beauty of Oxford. The show
is sometimes drab, but not this time.

A reunion is held at a women's college
– the same spot where Lewis was probing a case when his wife was
killed. There's a fresh attack … and then more. The plot gets too
tangled, but it's all done with a big cast (including “Masterpiece”
favorite Juliet Stevenson as a professor) and a glossy backdrop.

Other choices include:

– “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of
the Crystal Skull” (2008), 8:15-11 p.m., NBC. It's an adventure
from the masters – director Steven Spielberg, producer George
Lucas, star Harrison Ford. There are flaws (don't think a
refrigerator will protect you from a nuclear blast), but enough fun
to suffice.

– “Mike & Molly,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Reruns tonight and Monday focus on Rondi Reed, who's terrific as
Mike's cynical mother. Tonight, she insists she can take better care
of Mike when he's sick.

– “Dinosaur Revolution,” 9 and
10 p.m., Discovery; concludes next Sunday. Don't dismiss dinosaurs as
the hapless victims of evolution, scientists tell us here. They ruled
the planet for millennia; they controlled their evolution brutally,
killing the offspring of lesser creatures. This documentary uses few
talking heads and much computer-created visuals (some quite violent)
to tell the story well.

– “9/11: Heroes of the 88th
Floor,” 9-11 p.m., TLC. Surrounded by World Trade Center chaos,
Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz organized the effort to break
through the debris and reach the stairwell. While co-workers escaped,
they stayed in the tower to free others. It's a big story, told in
this documentary.

– “Breaking Bad,” 10 p.m., AMC.
As played (beautifully) by Giancarlo Esposito, Gus Fring has been the
ultimate crime boss, unflinching and unshakable. Now we see the first
twitches of stress, as officersquestion him. We also see a flashback
to a fiercely violent event that shaped him.

– “Entourage,” 10:35, HBO. A week
from the series finale, this show still finds personal lives in
chaos.