TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 26

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Survivor” opener, 8-10 p.m., CBS.

The battle of the reality giants resumes tonight. It’s
“Survivor” – which started the U.S. splurge in 2000 – against “American Idol,”
which took over the TV world two years later. Both have slipped a bit, so “Survivor”
has a fresh theme – “brawn vs. brains vs. beauty.”

Each tribe starts with three men and three women. “Brawn”
has, among others, two cops, a martial arts instructor and former
pro-basketball all-star Cliff Robinson. “Beauty” includes a model, a former NFL
cheerleader and a former Miss Kentucky Teen USA. “Brains” has two lawyers and a
nuclear engineer.

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

Here’s the phase that people seem to prefer: Finalist
perform live each Wednesday; viewers vote and one is ousted the next night.

Last week, viewers and judges set the line-up, with seven
females (ages 16-24) and six males (17-24). Now each has chosen a song that
says “this is me”; on Thursday, we’ll see who is the first to go.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Americans” season-opener, 10
p.m., FX.

Last season was a rough one for “Phillip” and “Elizabeth.”
Soviet spies who have been in a contrived American marriage, they prepared to
divorce. Then they were almost discovered and she was shot.

Tonight starts with him on some quick, slick missions as she
recovers and returns home. Then a third mission turns fierce; it’s a great hour
with (as usual) stellar work from Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.

Other choices include:

“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). As soft and
soothing as a lullaby, this film captures a year on Ireland’s Shannon River. It
offers gorgeous visions of everything from bats to butterflies.

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Chicago PD,” 9
and 10 p.m., NBC. The “SVU” case involves a rude comedian (Jonathan Silverman)
who may have triggered a rape. Also, a story begins in that hour and continues
in the next one, as Chicago faces a string of rapes and murders.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Having lost a social
chairmanship to his nemesis, Phil obsesses when their sons face each other in
wrestling. Also, Gloria must chaperone a museum trip.

“Mixology” debut, 9:30 p.m., ABC. Newly split from his
fiance, a decent chap arrives at a bar, fueled by alcohol and bad advice. This
season, we’ll see that night, each week from a different perspective. Tonight’s
humor is sometimes blunt, but mostly quick and clever, with flashbacks to liven
the fun.

“Legit” season-opener, 10 p.m., FXX. Jim Jefferies (the
Australian actor playing himself) is at a low point, after blowing a big role.
Things get worse when Dr. Drew Pinsky suggests he quit watching porn and attend
sex-addict therapy. The result teeters between the crude and the clever, but
ends well.

“Ali G: Rezurection,” 10:30 p.m., FXX. A decade ago, Sacha
Baron Cohen did a dozen sometimes-brilliant half-hours of “Da Ali G Show” for
HBO and British TV, doing hidden-camera work as Ali and other odd chaps. Now
Cohen re-introduces those 12 episodes, plus six previous ones only shown in

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 25

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “About a Boy” and “Growing Up Fisher,” 9:01
and 9:31 p.m., NBC.

After cozy, Olympic debuts, these comedies TAKE semi-comfy
spots behind “The Voice.” Both mix wit and warmth, while taking full advantage
of being filmed movie-style. A studio-audience comedy could never match the
pool party (complete with bikinis, high-dive and tiger) in “Boy” tonight.

“Boy” does strain a little, taking its lead character (David
Walton as a self-centered womanizer) to the edge of being irredeemable. By
comparison, all the “Fisher” people (led by J.K. Simmons as a blind lawyer and
Jenna Elfman as his divorcing wife) are instantly likable.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Mind Games” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

Brilliant and bipolar, Clark (Steve Zahn) is an expert on
manipulation techniques. He’s also fragile and decent; his brother Ross (Christian
Slater), an ex-con, is neither.

Now Clark has lost his faculty job because of an affair and
reluctantly works in a new firm with his brother, using his skills for good
and/or profit. Zahn is superb, in a great follow-up to his “Treme” work; still,
this opener is tangled and difficult to enjoy.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Justified,” 10 p.m., FX.

Last week, FX decided to skip a week, avoiding a
confrontation with the Olympics. Good move; this episode is way too good to
waste when people are watching something else.

Raylan is ignored by his boss and mocked by his
maybe-girlfriend, who’s not his usual bar-bimbo type. Still, he manages to find
a computer-fraud case that’s funny and interesting. The bigger deals involve
Crowders. In prison, Ava spots a scheme; in Mexico, Boyd’s in a complex deal
that ends powerfully.

Other choices include:

“The Bachelor,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. In a transplanted episode, Juan
Pablo Galavis heads to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, with the three women
he chose in Monday’s episode, after visiting four home towns,

“NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. The
ratings-leaders have new episodes, scrambling to catch defective bullet-proof
vests, then chasing for an assassin from Sam and Callen’s first case together.

“Glee” return, 8 p.m., Fox. Competition can bring frayed
emotions. Santana wins the spot understudying for Rachel in “Funny Girl”; back
home in Ohio, Tina and Artie compete for valedictorian.

“New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox. Last week, Jess’ wild sister (Linda
Cardellini of “ER” and “Mad Men” visited. Now she jolts Jess by planning to
stay … and by eying romance with one of the loftmates.

“Frontline,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This
views the dramatic transformation, as Pope Benedict retired and Pope Francis
brought a new view of the Vatican.

“Brooklyn Nine Nine,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Facing crushing debt,
Jake (Andy Samberg) might be tossed out of his apartment … unless Gina comes up
with a scheme. Also, Holt and Jeffords hold performance reviews.

“Perception” return, 10 p.m., TNT. Did a young savant steal
a train and kill the security guard who harassed him? The case ends up being
far more complex, with some too-convenient twists. The comic sub-plot (about a
young prodigy) is lame, but the epilog is well-done.


TV column for Monday, Feb. 24

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Voice” season-opener, 8-10:01 p.m.,

Vaulting out of the Olympics, NBC thas this ratings-leader,
followed by “Blacklist” and more.

This is the mid-season edition of “Voice,” with half the
judges (Christina Aguilera and CeeLo Green) gone on tour or whatever. Blake
Shelton and Adam Levine remain, joined by Usher and Shakira.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

It’s time for Juan Pablo Galavis to visit the home towns of
the final four.

There’s Atlanta with Andi, 26, an assistant district attorney­­­­
… Sacramento with Clare, 32, a hair stylist …  Kansas City, Mo., where Nikki, 26, a pediatric
nurse, challenges hin to ride a mechanical bull … And Sarasota, Fla., where he
watches the 8-year-old son of Renee (32, a real-estate agent) play Little

He’ll choose three women … and we’ll promptly learn the next
step, in a transplanted Tuesday episode.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Late Night with Seth Meyers” debut,
12:35 a.m., NBC.

Stepping into his new world, Meyers has many of the people who
were with his dozen years at “Saturday Night Live,” where he became the gifted
head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor.

One guest is Amy Poehler, his “Update” co-host; another is
Joe Biden … often their target. “SNL” also provided his producers and Alex
Baze, his head writer. And in the surprise, Fred Armisen – a sometimes-rocker
and frequent comedy talent -- is the band leader.  The music guest is A Great Big World.

Other choices include:

“How I Met Your Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS. Just five weeks from
its finale, this show finds a wedding-day crisis. Barney has a hangover and friends
scramble to concoct the “Stimson hangover fixer elixir.”

“2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Invited to the loft of Nicolas
(Gilles Marini), Caroline brings friends.

“Mike & Molly,” 9 p.m., CBS. Mike nudges Molly to see a

“Dallas” season-opener, 9 p.m., TNT. In this version of
Texas, everyone is beautiful, most people are lying and many of them live in
one Southfork ranch house. Now Elena (Jordana Brewster), the brainy and
educated daughter of a Southfork maid, has slid to the dark side; she lies a
lot, albeit beautifully.  

“Mom,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. With Christy obsessing on her
boyfriend, her oft-irresponsible mom helps out.

“Nashville Wives,” 10 p.m., TNT. Strange bedfellows fill
Nashville, we’re told. Gary Chapman’s marriage went from Christian-music
favorite Amy Grant to a former Hooters waitress 23 years his junior. Raul Malo
of the Mavericks is married to half of high-energy twins. Bryan White is trying
to revive his career just as his wife tries to re-start hers. These are
interesting people in a colorful and musical city.

“The Blacklist,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Liz is an honest FBI
agent, but now Red convinces her to try a heist in the midst of an elaborate
party at the Syrian embassy.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 23

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Amazing Race” opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

An “all-star” edition begins, with 11 duos starting a
35,000-mile race that will cover 11 countries – including China, Sri Lanka and
Malaysia – on four continents.

Eight duos have done this once before. There are newlyweds,
an engaged couple, twins, father-and-son, cousins (the “Afghanimals,” who
finished fourth this fall) and three sets of friends, including unemployed
Kentucky guys and singers from the country group Stealing Angels.

And three duos have done this twice– the Harlem Globetrotters
and Oklahoma cowboys have been runners-up; Margie O’Donnell and her hearing-impaired
son Luke Adams have reached third place.

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

The season ends with elegance – Rose’s debutante party at
the palace. That brings the Americans – Cora’s mother (Shirley MacLaine) and
her son (Paul Giamatti).

“Are you excited?” an American asks Daisy. “I’m never
excited,” she responds. That typifies the American-English contrasts that spice
this fairly good episode … especially when the greats (MacLaine and Maggie
Smith) collide. There are also crises, with Bates’ iffy past being a problem
AND a solution.

TODAY’S ALTERNATIVE: Olympics finale, 6:30 a.m. ET, 2-6
p.m., 7-10:38 p.m., NBC.

The gold-medal hockey game is live at 6:30 a.m.; then things
wrap up with delayed events.

The afternoon has the gold-medal finishes of the four-man
bobsled and the men’s 50-kilometer ski. At night, there’s an overview at 7 p.m.
and the closing ceremony at 8:30, rerunning at 11:35 p.m.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: “Growing Up Fisher” debut, 10:38
p.m., NBC.

For the second straight night, NBC introduces a surprisingly
good comedy that has warmth and wit.

This one (based on the childhood of writer DJ Nash) has a
kid with divorcing parents. The dad (J.K. Simmons) is a lawyer who hid his
blindness; the mom (Jenna Elfman) is in delayed adolescence. Except for one
mis-step – the kid’s friend feels like a situation-comedy contrivance – this is
beautifully nuanced.

Other choices include:

“The Proposal” (2009), 8-10 p.m., ABC. To avoid being
deported, an executive (Sandra Bullock) wants to marry her young assistant. The
result starts very well, but fades near the end.

“The Mentalist,” 9 p.m., CBS. Airing earlier than usual
(with a “Good Wife” rerun nudged back to 10 p.m.), this show has a rerun with
the team closing in on Red John.

“Wicked Tuna,” 9 p.m., National Geographic. Last week’s
season-opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.), saw Tyler McLaughlin struggle without a crew,
but catch a tuna. Now he hires two friends – and has more trouble.

“True Detective,” 9 p.m., HBO. At first, only Cohle (Matthew
McConaughey) was crumbling; now Hart (Woody Harrelson) and his wife (Michelle
Monaghan) are shattered; the acting is stunningly good.

“Girls,” 10 p.m., HBO. When her boyfriend finally has some
success, Hannah plans a fun party. Naturally, chaos and comedy ensue, in a good

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 22

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: Figure-skating gala, 12:30-2:30 p.m. ET,
NBC Sports Channel, then NBC.

In many ways, this is the best way to see Olympic figure-skating.
The pressure and judges are gone.

Maybe Canada’s Patrick Chan can bounce back from his
disappointing long-program skate. Maybe there will be more brilliance from the
Russian pairs and the American and Canadian dance duos. The gala reruns on NBC
in prime time (8-11:30 p.m.) and (trimmed to an hour) at midnight.

“About a Boy” debut, 11:07-11:30 p.m., NBC.

After countless flops, NBC finally has two likable comedies
and is giving them an Olympic launch. “Boy” is tonight, “Growing Up Fisher” is
10:30 p.m. Sunday and then both move to Tuesdays.

Both mix emotion with the laughs. That’s natural for “Boy,”
which is based on a Nick Hornby novel and a Hugh Grant film, then adapted by “Parenthood”
producer Jason Katims. The boy and his fretful mom (Minnie Driver) move next to
a callous chap (David Walton), setting up a strange and funny friendship.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “When Calls the Heart,” 9 p.m.,

This amiable frontier series from Michael Landon Jr. follows
a young teacher in a Canadian mining town. At first, all three of tonight’s
stories seem stiff and lame, but two of them end beautifully.

The teacher (Erin Krakow) struggles with a 14-year-old boy
who can’t read and with a Mountie who keeps botching his romantic gestures. Her
friend Abigail (Lori Loughlin) was widowed by the local mine disaster and
struggles to find a new place in life; the result should help nudge this show

Other choices include:

More Olympics, all day. Men’s hockey has its bronze-medal
game today (10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) and the gold-medal game Sunday (6:30
a.m. ET, NBC). Meanwhile, NBC has medals in parallel slalom snowboarding –
women this afternoon (2:30-6 p.m.), men at night (8-11:07 p.m.). Other finals:
In the day – women’s 30-kilometer skiing, men’s biathlon relay; at night, team
pursuit in speedskating.

“Shrek the Third” (2007), 8-10 p.m., ABC. The “Shrek” films
continue to delight most kids and some grown-ups. This time, Shrek must quickly
find the proper successor for his late father-in-law, the king.

“Daytona 500 Bash at the Beach,” 8 p.m., Fox. The race
starts at 1 p.m. Sunday, but here’s a one-hour sample of the two-day party that
precedes it. It features well-known drivers – Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick,
Jimmy Johnson, Dale Earnhart Jr., etc. – plus music by Cee Lo Green, DJ Irie
and more.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 9 p.m., CBS. A fire at a
music venue kills four people. This rerun is a sort of “Cheers” reunion, with
Ted Danson investigating the club owner (John Ratzenberger).

The “Ripper Street,” 9 p.m., BBC America. The season starts
with fierce action – an angry cop on a rampage, a noisy jailbreak. The latter
does nothing for the story, but the former pushes these 1890 London cops into a
new Chinatown, with martial arts and potent drugs. The star of a two-parrter,
it’s a hard-driving story that introduces an evil cop and David Merrick of “Elephant
Man” fame.

“Wicked Tuna,” 10 p.m., National Geographic. Here’s a rerun
of Sunday’s season-opener, with Tyler McLaughlin working his boat solo. It
reruns at midnight, surrounded by last season’s finale at 9 and 11.