TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 27

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American Idol,”
8-10 p.m., Fox.

Last Wednesday, 10 women sang on the
Las Vegas stage; five – ages 17, 17, 18, 22 and 28 – survived.
The next night, five men (three of them 18) survived.

Now that process repeats, with women
tonight and men Thursday. Then “Idol” will have its top 20.

season-opener, 10 p.m., USA.

Last season ended with a jolt: Shawn's
dad (Corbin Bernsen), an ex-cop, was shot by a former colleague (Max
Gail of “Barney Miller”). Now he lingers in intensive care, while
his son investigates.

There are flaws here, with some of the
humor seeming terribly forced. Also, “Psych” breaks form by
having Shawn do physical heroics. Still, it remains a reasonably
entertaining show.


Yes, viewers like non-fiction crime
shows. Still, these two represent opposite extremes.

“Dark Minds” (10 p.m.,
Investigation Discovery) is horribly overwrought. True-crime author
M. William Phelps ponders the man linked to an unsolved string of 10
murders and 50 rapes in 1976-86 California. Phelps postures about
solving the case himself; he doesn't, of course. He also has phone
conversations with a convict who has nothing useful to say.

“Boston's Finest” (9 p.m., TNT) is
the opposite, solid and sturdy. Produced by Donnie Wahlberg, it
follows some tough Boston cops. They range from an earnest father of
six to a young woman who says she savors the the joy of stopping
someone for a bad taillight and finding a big drug cache.

Other choices include:

– “Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS. The
tribes are even again: After winning the first immunity challenge,
the “fans” lost last week and ousted Allie Pohevitz, a young

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Frankie continues to flounder at dental-assistant school, flubbing
whenever her imposing teacher (Jane Kaczmarek) is near. Now she also
has trouble at home: The kids broke a window, then tried –
successfully, for a while – to pass the blame to the neighbors.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Sal (Elizabeth Banks) – the wild-party friend of Mitchell and Cam –
is getting married, but doesn't grasp the notion of settling down.

– “Parade's End,” 9-11:05 p.m.,
HBO. The mid-section of this well-crafted, three-night mini-series
finds Christopher trapped by his own earnest decisions. Unwilling to
lie, he left a cozy job and plunged into World War I; unwilling to
leave his cruel wife, he stays away from the smart and caring

– “Stranded” debut, 9 p.m., Syfy.
The “Paranormal Activity” producers use their technique for a
ghost-hunting show. This hour sends three people (including a former
dating couple) to an off-season hotel on Star Island in New
Hampshire; it uses only the cameras they're holding or stationary
ones they set up. The technique is effective, the people and setting
are interesting … but the usual problem lingers: We mostly have to
take their word for it that something really scary just happened.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS. Major poker players are dying.

– “Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC.
Juliette plans a party for Deacon, with real stars – Vince Gill,
Pam Tillis, Kip Moore and more; then, once again her mom causes

TV column for Tuesday, Feb.26

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Makers: Women
Who Make America,” 8-11 p.m., PBS (check listings).

Changes can swirl by so quickly that we
don't grasp their enormity. Now “Makers” puts life into pause and
rewind; in three busy hours, it catches the sweep of women's right in

Less than 50 years ago, when
help-wanted ads specified men or women, stewardesses were fired at
32, when women were barred from most sports and many jobs. “Makers”
finds decades of change.

It's a fair account that includes the
movement's troubles – blacks and lesbians sometimes felt excluded –
and its critics, especially Phyllis Schlafly. It also sweeps ahead to
current battles.

debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

Churning out crime-show hits, CBS now
tries to give each one a twist. In this case, we meet the youngest
police commissioner in New York history, flash back to see how he got
that way.

It's a smart idea, slowed by the fact
that the character (played by Theo James) is hard to like. There are
reasons; a tough childhood made him cold and distant. Still, it's a
tough ride for viewers who will prefer his reluctant mentor (Chi
McBride). “Boy” gets two Tuesdays, before moving to Fridays.

opener, 9-11:05 p.m., HBO.

Viewers might keep re-checking their
channel, to see if this isn't PBS. It's a five-hour mini-series
(continuing through Thursday), a smart period piece that's terribly

Sir Tom Stoppard – who has an Oscar
(“Shakespeare in Love”) and four Tonys – adapted a complex
novel. Benedict Cumberbatch (PBS' Sherlock Holmes) plays a rich guy,
hurled into romantic chaos and World War I. It's a tough role –
strong passion under a stoic exterior – that he handles perfectly.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. After
transporting a body, Ducky (David McCallum) and Jimmy don't return.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. Fresh from
seeing the movie-musical tribute at the Oscars, viewers can savor the
delightful (and Oscar-winning) “Chicago” (2002) on Style. Another
terrific choice is “Red” (2010) on Showtime, with Bruce Willis
learning that CIA hit men aren't supposed to retire.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Sam helps an Afghan elder search for his nephew.

– “Body of Proof,” 10 p.m., ABC.
In last week's opener, Megan found a fierce plot: Military veterans
were killed, with their organs removed. The doctor was killed, but
new twists appear and Megan's daughter has been kidnapped. This is a
terribly overheated, but has some moments of strong drama.

– “Justified,” 10 p.m., FX. The
search for Drew Thompson gets tighter and more deadly.

– “Armed & Ready” debut, 10
and 10:30 p.m., Travel Channel. Kevin Michael Connolly has everything
we expect from a TV hero – charm, joy, a muscular torso – except
legs. Born without legs, he became an outgoing Montana kid. In this
series, he keeps tackling fresh adventures, starting with learning to
be a Tennessee lumberjack; the challenges are interesting, the guy is
a charismatic star.

– “Cougar Town,” 10 p.m., TBS. As
Laurie moves in with a guy, friends worry about Travis, who has loved
her from afar. It's a fairly funny episode that includes a naked day
for Jules and Grayson.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 25

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC.

The good news is that ABC is boosting
its smart, crime-solving shows, upping their personal steaks. The
bad: Both shows do it in exactly the same way.

Last week, Rick Castle's daughter was
kidnapped on “Castle”; the next night, Megan Hunt's daughter was
kidnapped on “Body of Proof.” This week, parents race to the

In this case, Alexis Castle –
kidnapped alongside the daughter of a wealthy Egyptian –
semi-escaped and found herself on a Paris rooftop. Now her dad hires
a shadowy “fixer.”

Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

Each year, viewers take a leering
interest in the “fantasy suite” episode. The bachelor invites
each of the final three women to separately spend the night.

This time that's in Thailand and could
require diplomacy. Sean Lowe had reportedly vowed to stay celibate
during the show; also, Lindsay Yenter's dad is a two-star general,
with all of Fort Leonard Wood at his disposal. She's in the final
three, with AshLee Frazier and Catherine Giudici.

season-finale, 9 p.m., ABC Family.

While grown-up sex is pondered on “The
Bachelor,” this hour cautiously eyes teen sex. After much
discussion, the four ballerinas say they're (sort of) ready.

That serious subject is spiced with the
sort of verbal chaos that makes this show a gem. Sasha requires one
guy to write out his sexual history. Franny ineptly holds a
sex-education class. And in a great openings scene, Michelle's
returns. He's played by Hunter Foster, the real-life brother of
series star Sutton Foster; both have been Broadway stars.

Other choices include:

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. A new
doctor arrives, with sharp questions that make Brennan open up her
thought process. She may opened too far when she considers a
time-travel explanation for a murder.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Barney had told Robin he destroyed his “playbook” for
seducing women. Not so; he brings it back to help Ted.

– “Rules of Engagement,” 8:30,
CBS. Jeff vows to try healthy eating, after he accidentally gulps
down a “special” cupcake and ends up in the hospital. Also,
Russell dates someone who brings her mom.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m., CBS.
More cupcake trouble: The shop needs money and Caroline might have to
turn to a mean-spirited aunt for help.

– “The Following,” 9 p.m., Fox.
Ryan (Kevin Bacon) finally learns what Joe Carroll's goal is. Now he
frantically tries to fuel dissension among the kidnappers, to slow
them down.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Nothing is ever easy for McGarrett and Danny. In this rerun, they try
a relaxing day at sea; naturally, their boat is hijacked and they're
left to die.

– “Monday Mornings,” 10 p.m.,
TNT. Dr. Sung Park is a brilliant surgeon whose style – few words,
most of them blunt – upsets -patients; now he's being sued. Also,
Dr.Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan) eyes an unusual approach for an
obsessive-compulsive patient.

– “Inside Comedy,” 11 p.m.,
Showtime. For comedians, the ultimate goal used to be landing their
first Johnny Carson show. Drew Carey tells of a three-years ordeal
that ended in triumph. Martin Mull describes being told he'd done the
worst Carson audition ever; a guest host invited him on anyway.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 24

ceremony, 8:30-11:30 p.m. (or later) ET Sunday, ABC.

Seth MacFarlane hosts a show that will
take a fresh interest in music.

There will be the best-song nominees –
Adele singing the “Skyfall” theme, Norah Jones singing the “Ted”
theme and more. There will be Shirley Bassey (a James Bond tribute is
planned) and Barbra Streisand. And here will be a tributes to movie
musicals of the 2000s; bringing songs from Jennifer Hudson, Hugh
Jackman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and more.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Oscar previews.

If you want to immerse yourself in the
Academy Awards, previews start at 1 p.m. ET on the TV Guide Chanel
and at 1:30 on E.

Then there are the red-carpet previews.
They're from 5:30-8 p.m. on E, with Ryan Seacrest hosting, and 6-7:30
p.m. on TV Guide, with Chris Harrison. ABC steps in from 7-8:30 p.m.

and “Amazing Race,” 7 and 8 p.m., CBS.

On a night stuffed with reruns, these
new episodes offer token resistance to the Oscars.

In last week's “Race” opener, the
firefighter friends were eliminated. Now 10 duos remain; tonight, one
panics on the seas of Bora Bora.

Other choices tonight:


– ”The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
When Homer loses the dog, Grampa tells the story of his own lost dog.
--More cartoons, Fox. Some viewers will skip MacFarlane and the
Oscars, instead watching reruns of the shows he produces, writes and
sometimes voices. “The Cleveland Show” is at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.,
with “Family Guy” at 9 and “American Dad” at 9:30.

– “The Lion King” (1994), 8 and
10 p.m., ABC Family. Here's alternative entertainment for kids who
lack interest in the Oscars for costumes and make-up and such. It's a
cartoon gem.

– “Saturday Night Live in the
2000s,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. The four-movie series wraps up with women
finally taking a dominant role. This features Tina Fey, Kristen
Wiig,Amy Poehler and more.

– “Masterpiece Contemporary,”
9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). An old spy (Bill Nighy)
suddenly has a hot neighbor (Rachel Weisz), a dead boss and a file
filled with explosive secrets. That's in “Page Eight,” a complex
and involving movie.

– “The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m.,
AMC; reruns at 11 p.m. and midnight. With their safety compromised,
Rick and others ponder their next move. Previous episodes air at 7
and 8 p.m.; “Talking Dead” is at 10.

– “Girls,” 9 p.m., HBO. After two
odd-but-terrific episodes, this show has one that's merely odd.
Hannah joins Jessa, who's visiting her dad in the country. They are,
it seems, a rootless bunch.

– “Enlightened,” 9:30 p.m., HBO.
Everything is finally going well, Amy (Laura Dern) tells us.
Naturally, that can't be true; she has knack for self-sabotage. This
is a fairly good episode, marred somewhat by the monotone nature of
the central character.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This rerun has Parick Jane probing the murder of a diamond-cutter;
then he meets someone who claims to be his daughter.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 23

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Dreamgirls”
(2006), 8-11 p.m., ABC.

At times, Hollywood shuns one of its
grandest traditions. It ignores movie musicals.

Then it remembers. On Sunday, the
Academy Awards will have a tribute to the musicals of the 2000s,
including “Chicago,” “Les Miserables” and this film, which
you can savor tonight.

The film ripples with great music,
beautifully done. There' strong work from Beyonce, Jamie Foxx, Anika
Noni Rose, Oscar-nominated Eddie Murphy and, especially,
Oscar-winning Jennifer Hudson.

Waterfront” (1954), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

Now for the exact opposite of a
colorful musical. Filmed in black-and-white, acted with intensity,
this gritty film was a best-picture Academy Award-winner and one of
the best-acted movies of all time.

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint won
Oscars for actor and supporting actress. The film didn't get a
supporting-actor win, probably because so many people – Rod
Steiger, Karl Malden, Lee J.Cobb – were nominated. All lost to
Edmond O'Brien in “The Barefoot Contessa.”

Joan: Joan Knows Best?” 10 a.m. to 4 a.m., WE.

Amid a sea of reruns, we get the
season-opener at 9. It's an odd hour, as usual, with viewers never
really sure how real this reality show is.

Did Joan Rivers, a lifelong
heterosexual, lean toward a lesbian involvement at 79? Did Melissa
Rivers' ex-husband – half of a messy divorce case – move back in
for a few days, just as her relationship with a “pornography king”
slowed? It's tough to say, but these are entertaining people.

Other choices include:

– “Killing Lincoln,” 7 p.m.,
National Geographic; repeats at 9 p.m., 11 p.m., 1 a.m. If you missed
Sunday's debut of this well-made film, here are four new chances.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a
rerun of the season-opener. The teams searches for Harper Dearing
(Richard Schiff of “West Wing”), whose bomb ripped through the
NCIS headquarters.

– “Meddling Mom,” 8 and 10 p.m.,
Hallmark Movie Channel. Think of this as a well-meaning flub. TV
rarely focuses on Latino families; it does here, with Sonia Braga
embedding herself in her daughters' lives. The cast is gorgeous, but
most of this plays like clumsy comedy from the 1950s.

– “Chicago Fire,” 9 p.m., NBC.
There should be enough to worry about here, with a bad batch of
heroin on the streets. Beyond that, Casey has family problems,
Dawson has a secret and Severide has an old gripe with the lieutenant
who is filling in at the station.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 10 and
11:29 p.m., NBC. Both are reruns, the first with Christoph Waltz.

– “Vanity Fair's Hollywood,” 10
p.m., CBS. For generations,Vanity Fair magazine has been writing
about Hollywood. Now here's a special, on the night before the
Academy Awards.

– “Independent Spirit Awards,” 10
p.m., IFC. Forget about mega-movies. This Oscar-eve ceremony, hosted
by Andy Samberg, honors films made with “uniqueness of vision”
for under $20 million. The best-picture field, for instance, has two
Oscar nominees (“Silver Linings Playbook” and “Beasts of the
Southern Wild”) plus “Bernie,” “Keep the Lights On”and the
wonderful “Moonrise Kingdom.”