TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Country Music
Association awards, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

The country people are stretching for
crossoverS here. Kid Rock will perform; so will Kelly Clarkson (with
Jason Aldean), Sheryl Crow (with Miranda Lambert) and Gwyneth Paltrow
(with Vince Gill).

Then again, Nashville is already
crossing over. Many of its stars – Taylor Swift, Keith Urban,
Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum – have a pop
following.

They'll all perform tonight, with
Underwood and Paisley hosting. Other performers include George
Strait, Kenny Chesney, Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton and
Dierks Bentley.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Circus,”
9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Last week's opener got us to care about
the circus people, then offered a surprise: Ryan (alternately known
as Yuri), a likable-if-odd guy, was fired for talking about bombs.

Tonight, we get an update about his
wife, plus another jolt: After moving everyone to its first site, the
Big Apple Circus suddenly replaces a key act.

We also see the retirement of Paul
Binder, who co-founded the circus 33 years ago. Coupled with some
gorgeous filming, this is a great mid-section to the three-week,
documentary series.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Psych”
return, 10 p.m., USA.

Cary Elwes is back as the elegant art
thief Shawn caught. He escapes from prison (often); Shawn and Gus
find themselves in a tough spot, unable to tell authorities the
truth.

In the “Psych” style, this is a
loose and sometimes silly story, but it's also entertaining.

SATELLITE ONLY: “Friday Night
Lights,” 9 p.m., 101 Network, DirecTV.

With East Dillon riding high after
winning its first two football games, we knew something had to go
wrong. Now there's a drunken video from the celebration; further
away, Buddy's son is crumbling and (separately) Eric's daughter is in
a complex college relationship.

It's tangled stuff, but two of Vince's
late scenes – one in the coach's office, one with his dad –
remind us that this is one of TV's great dramas.

Other choices include:

– “Secrets of the Dead,” 8 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). In 1766, a strong figure named Massavana
led a slave-ship overthrow. Eventually, he was be imprisoned on the
island that would later hold Nelson Mandela. Beautifully filmed, this
documentary is both uplifting and disturbing.

– “Undercovers,” 8 p.m., NBC.
While the Blooms are on a Russia mission, their colleague Hoyt is
shot.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. An undercover FBI agent (Marcia Gay Harden) has
been raped. Benson must investigate cautiously, without blowing her
cover on a big case.

– “Ford: Rebuilding an American
Icon,” 9 p.m., CNBC (reruns at 10). This hour leaps between
subjects – Ford's quality failures and revival… its in-roads in
India … the re-invention of the Explorer … safety questions about
technology distractions. It's scatter-shot, but the individual
stories are interesting.

– “Terriers,” 10 p.m., FX.
Dis-invited from his ex-wife's wedding, Hank teeters toward drinking.
Instead, he happens on a huge case in the same hotel. It's a clever
and involving episode.

– “Harry Loves Lisa” season
finale, 10 p.m., TV Land. Unable to land a TV-pilot job, Harry Hamlin
looks for an alternate plan.

-- "Conan," 11 p.m., TBS. Jon Hamm -- the "Mad Men" star who has already hosted "Saturday Night Live" three times and showed up in Conan O'Brien's opening-night film -- is the guest. The show also has Charlyn Yi (an actress, author and performance comedian) and music by Fistful of Mercy.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Country Music
Association awards, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

The country people are stretching for
crossoverS here. Kid Rock will perform; so will Kelly Clarkson (with
Jason Aldean), Sheryl Crow (with Miranda Lambert) and Gwyneth Paltrow
(with Vince Gill).

Then again, Nashville is already
crossing over. Many of its stars – Taylor Swift, Keith Urban,
Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum – have a pop
following.

They'll all perform tonight, with
Underwood and Paisley hosting. Other performers include George
Strait, Kenny Chesney, Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton and
Dierks Bentley.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Circus,”
9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Last week's opener got us to care about
the circus people, then offered a surprise: Ryan (alternately known
as Yuri), a likable-if-odd guy, was fired for talking about bombs.

Tonight, we get an update about his
wife, plus another jolt: After moving everyone to its first site, the
Big Apple Circus suddenly replaces a key act.

We also see the retirement of Paul
Binder, who co-founded the circus 33 years ago. Coupled with some
gorgeous filming, this is a great mid-section to the three-week,
documentary series.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Psych”
return, 10 p.m., USA.

Cary Elwes is back as the elegant art
thief Shawn caught. He escapes from prison (often); Shawn and Gus
find themselves in a tough spot, unable to tell authorities the
truth.

In the “Psych” style, this is a
loose and sometimes silly story, but it's also entertaining.

SATELLITE ONLY: “Friday Night
Lights,” 9 p.m., 101 Network, DirecTV.

With East Dillon riding high after
winning its first two football games, we knew something had to go
wrong. Now there's a drunken video from the celebration; further
away, Buddy's son is crumbling and (separately) Eric's daughter is in
a complex college relationship.

It's tangled stuff, but two of Vince's
late scenes – one in the coach's office, one with his dad –
remind us that this is one of TV's great dramas.

Other choices include:

– “Secrets of the Dead,” 8 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). In 1766, a strong figure named Massavana
led a slave-ship overthrow. Eventually, he was be imprisoned on the
island that would later hold Nelson Mandela. Beautifully filmed, this
documentary is both uplifting and disturbing.

– “Undercovers,” 8 p.m., NBC.
While the Blooms are on a Russia mission, their colleague Hoyt is
shot.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. An undercover FBI agent (Marcia Gay Harden) has
been raped. Benson must investigate cautiously, without blowing her
cover on a big case.

– “Ford: Rebuilding an American
Icon,” 9 p.m., CNBC (reruns at 10). This hour leaps between
subjects – Ford's quality failures and revival… its in-roads in
India … the re-invention of the Explorer … safety questions about
technology distractions. It's scatter-shot, but the individual
stories are interesting.

– “Terriers,” 10 p.m., FX.
Dis-invited from his ex-wife's wedding, Hank teeters toward drinking.
Instead, he happens on a huge case in the same hotel. It's a clever
and involving episode.

– “Harry Loves Lisa” season
finale, 10 p.m., TV Land. Unable to land a TV-pilot job, Harry Hamlin
looks for an alternate plan.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 9


 

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

Only recently, this fascinating film
says, have scientists dug into the enigma of dogs.

Genetics prove they are evolved from
wolves. Still, dogs relate to humans and quickly learn signals; in
similar tests, wolves don't come close.

How is that possible? A Russian project
– continuing more than 50 years – offers clues. By mating the
gentlest ones in each litter, foxes (similar to wolves) have evolved
into dog-like traits.

That's part of an hour with an
entertaining mix of hard science and sweet canine emotion.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “No Ordinary
Family” (8 p.m.) and “Detroit 1-8-7” (10 p.m.), ABC.

After getting a week off for election
coverage, the dramas return.

“Family” has Stephanie's mom
(Cybill Shepherd) and abrasive dad (Bruce McGill) breeze into town.
The dad isn't good with secrets, so he can't be told about their
superpowers.

“Detroit 1-8-7” leaps in three
directions – an upscale murder in the high-tech world … a body
found in a trash barrel … and a wobbly witness from a previous
case. Mix in an odd silence between Stone and Sanchez (the two
most-telegenic detectives) and you have a fairly good hour.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Fashion
Show” season-opener, 10 p.m., Bravo.

For its second season, this show takes
a grand step – two teams, with a fashion show each week.

In the opener, we see a lot of talented
people, an abrasive one … a fashion show that triumphs and one that
flops. Iman – a super model – is a so-so host, but Isaac Mizrahi
is an excellent mentor and judge.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Robert
Wagner returns as DiNozzo's dad, helping with a case.

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. The
glee-club kids are battling Coach Beiste.

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 9
p.m., ABC. Two weeks from the finale, the field is trimmed to four.
First is the music: John Legend and The Roots link for “Wake Up”
and “Ordinary People,” Taio Cruz does “Dynamite” and
9-year-old pianist Emily Bear backs dancers who are 9 and 10.

– “Frontline,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). Would people really confess to horrific
crimes they didn't commit? This chilling report from Norfolk, Va.,
makes a convincing case. Each time DNA evidence seemed to clear a
confessor, another was added. Ultimately, eight people were
convicted. The result is a disturbing look at human nature of police
and suspects.

– “In Treatment,” 9 and 9:30
p.m., HBO. Jesse, an angry teen, brings his mother to the session,
then launches a graphic description of his sexual encounter with an
older man. Paul – already worried about his own health and his son
– fumes in the next episode, wrapping up a strong night.

– “Stargate Universe,” 9 p.m.,
Syfy. In a fairly good episode, Rush has a scheme that could have a
profound effect on the ship.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Michael J. Fox plays a cunning lawyer who uses his disability.

– “Independent Lens,” 10:30 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). After World War II, a Texas funeral home
didn't let a Mexican-American family use its chapel. That set off a
national civil rights battle. This beautifully balanced report find
sympathy with both sides and views the mixed reactions of
politicians.

– “Conan,” 11 p.m., TBS. Tom
Hanks guests, with Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock” and Soundgarden.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY: “Conan,” 11
p.m., TBS.

This is the night TV's late world gets
a jolt: Conan O'Brien becomes a cable star.

A huge profit center, late-night has
changed recently. For the first time, “The Daily Show” (11 p.m.,
Comedy Central) has edged past the networks in viewers aged 18-49.

Now comes O'Brien, overlapping the
11:35 starts of Jay Leno and David Letterman. His first guests are
actor Seth Rogen and “Glee” star Lea Michele, with music by Jack
White.

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

Honesty and lies collide in two strong
storylines.

One involves the patient, a campaigner
who will do anything to get his man re-elected. (Yes, it would have
been better to run this a few weeks ago.) The other involves House's
team.

Reluctantly, he's added a young genius,
perfectly played by Amber Tamblyn. They argue often, he fires her
often; she believes in honesty, he believes that's nonsense. It's a
superb hour.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVES: “Rules of
Engagement” (8:30 p.m., CBS) and/or “The Big C” (10:30 p.m.,
Showtime).

“Rules” is your standard comedy,
with a studio audience and punch lines – some good, some bad. It
works well tonight, partly boosted by two guest stars. Joan Collins
breezes in as the self-centered mom of Russell (David Spade), so
plastic that her son finally gets our empathy. Sara Rue plays Jeff's
lesbian friend from the softball team; she'll have a bigger role in
the episodes ahead.

“Big C,” by comparison, is a
cable-style semi-comedy, juggling laughs and tears around a character
(the superb Laura Linney) dying of cancer. Most of this episode –
with Liam Neeson offering bee-sting therapy – is OK; the final
minutes, however, have a powerful impact.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 8
p.m., ABC. With Rick Fox eliminated last week, only five stars
remain.

– “Matt Lauer Reports,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. Lauer interviews George W. Bush.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. At a glamorous fund-raiser, Ted sees a different side to
Zoey (Jennifer Morrison), the protester who is attacking his project.

– “Moguls & Movie Stars,” 8
p.m., Turner Classic Movies. As the movies moved West, anything
seemed possible. This terrific hour traces 1907-1920, when filmmaking
was fast, frantic and inventive, with women and immigrants often in
charge. By modern standards, the comedies were brilliant and “Birth
of a Nation” was skillfully crafted racism; at the time, all were
marvels.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Martin Mull has shown up occasionally as a too-lenient
pharmacist. Now Charlie and Alan try to set him up on a date with
their mother.

– “Weeds,” 10 p.m., Showtime.
This so-so episode sets up next week's season finale. The best
moments come from Richard Dreyfuss as Nancy's former teacher, her
former lover and an awful mailman.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.
Beckett and Castle rush to save a kidnapped boy.

– “Lopez Tonight,” midnight, TBS.
The show starts its second season in a new slot, neatly tucked behind
“Conan.” Janet Jackson is the guest, with music by the California
band Rooney.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 7


 

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

Bart finds a game called Satan's Path.
“It's gotta be good,” he reasons. “Satan put his name on it.”

Soon, he's in a world with variations
on classic games. Homer keeps crashing on Chutes and Ladders; Bart
gets sunk on a battleship. The 21st annual “Treehouse of
Horror” has begun.

The prologue and the second full tale
(a maritime adventure with Hugh Laurie) are so-so, but the games one
is terrific. So is the final tale, with Lisa in a “Twilight”-style
romance with Daniel Radcliffe.

Barring a football overrun, last year's
“Treehouse” precedes this at 7:30.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Great
Migrations,” 8 and 9 p.m., National Geographic Channel; repeats
twice, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Here is epic television, the start of a
seven-hour series that's ideal for big-screen, high-definition TV.
Spending two-and-a-half years in 20 countries, National Geographic
gathered stunning footage.

Tonight ranges from tiny army ants on
the floor of the Costa Rican rain forest to 50-ton sperm whales that
might travel a million miles over 70 years. The colors are
spectacular – giant (dinner-plate size) red crabs on Christmas
Island, tiny (bat-like) red flying foxes in Australia.

Most amazing are monarch butterflies:
Some need 3-4 generations to migrate to Canada; there, they give
birth to supersized monarchs that return to Mexico in one generation.

Other choices include:

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). The Mesopotamian Marshes were 6.000 square miles,
twice the size of the Everglades. Then Saddam Hussein drained them to
spite the Marsh Arabs. “Eden has disappeared,” said Azzam Alwash,
an engineer. He's returned from the U.S. to his native Iraq, to lead
the restoration. In this fairly good film, a camera crew studies the
progress, while fearing terrorists.

– “The Cleveland Show,” “Family
Guy” and “American Dad,” 8:30-10 p.m., Fox. Here are three more
Halloween cartoons. Each with considerably less wit and more cruelty
than “Simpsons.”

– “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). The last of three strong Sherlock Holmes
tales sometimes tries too hard. A mysterious figure forces Sherlock
to solve several crimes quickly; there are some great moments, but
this feels forced and has a lack of closure.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Needing work, Susan reluctantly becomes a nanny for Lynette's
baby. Also, Paul Young's new wife starts to suspect his motives.

– “Boardwalk Empire,” 9 p.m.,
HBO. Nucky's clout is savored by supporters of Gen. Leonard Wood and
Sen. Warren Harding, at the 1920 Republican convention. That's in
Chicago, where he spots Jimmy and gets startling news from back home.
It's a strong hour, with turning points for several women.

– “The Walking Dead,” 10 p.m.,
AMC. Last week's compelling opener centered on Rick, who was in a
coma during the zombie takeover. He thought there would be help in
Atlanta; instead, he's trapped in a tank, surrounded by the hungry
dead. Tonight, he leads an escape attempt, unaware that his wife is
still alive, romancing their friend. The hour ranges from gore to a
turbo-charged ending.

– “Brothers & Sisters,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Romantic possibilities loom. Justin is attracted to
Holly's nurse; Nora notices a radio colleague, played by John Terry,
who was Jack's dad on “Lost.”