TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 24

TODAY'S MUST-SEE: Winter Olympics, 3-5
p.m., 8-11:30 p.m., 12:05-1:30 a.m., NBC.

The men's hockey tournament reaches its
quarter-finals today. NBC has a game at 3 p.m.; CNBC has the others
at 7:30 p.m. 10 p.m. and midnight.

There's no figure-skating – the women
go for gold Thursday – so NBC's prime time can focus elsewhere.
That includes the men's 500-meter, short-track competition; it also
includes the gold-medal finals for women's bobsled.

There's also a lot of skiing, subject
to weather -- the women's giant slalom, the gold-medal finals for
women's free-style aerials. Then latenight brings women's
speedskating, including the gold-medal finals for the short-track,
3,000-meter relay.

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

The 12 men – a talented bunch – perform tonight.

Afterward, viewers vote. On Thursday,
the first elimination will drop two men and two women.

America,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In the 1700s, the ancestors of
now-famous Americans were seeing a nation begin.

Meryl Streep? Her kin was a pacifist,
but he was a leader in urging Pennsylvania to break away from
Britain; his fellow Quakers expelled him as “unworthy of Christian

Eva Longeria? The King of Spain gave
her family 4,500 acres, just north of the Rio Grande.

Some families go back much further on
the continent; Louise Erdrich's native ancestors were forced to sign
away their land. And some have deeper roots elsewhere; Yo-Yo Ma's
parents were born in China, where their family records go back top
the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century.

Each of these stories is filled with
warm detail, in the third week of Henry Louis Gate's four-part

Other choices include:

– “Modern Family” and “The
Middle,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. A night of comedy reruns starts with
broad guest roles. First, Edward Norton is a former rock star; then
Brooke Shields is a trashy neighbor. Each show gets a second episode:
At 9, Luke gets the blame for a picture his dad called up on the
computer; at 9:30, Frankie tries – briefly – to stop yelling at
the kids.

– “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of
Ricky Bobby” (2006), 9-11 p.m., TNT. Will Ferrell co-wrote and
stars in this story of a race-car driver. It frequently wanders off
course, but does have some funny moments along the way. That's Sacha
Baron Cohen (“Borat”) as the French driver.

– “Cougar Town,” 10 and 10:30
p.m., ABC. In the first rerun, Travis brings a girlfriend home to
Thanksgiving dinner. In the second, his divorced parents share a
bottle of wine and then a kiss.

– “CSI:NY,” 10 p.m., CBS. This
reruns the season-opener, with the team surviving a machine-gun
attack. Sarah Carter starts a recurring role as a forensics grad,
hoping to be a crime scene investigator.

– “Underbelly,” 10 p.m., 101
Network, DirecTV. This series has been dramatizing the history –
violent, sexy and intriguing – of Australia's growing drug trade.
Tonight's hour focuses on the brutal collision of two clans. The
ending is anti-climatic, but there are powerful moments along the


TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 23

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

The show finally has its top 24
singers. They seem to be a varied and talented bunch, with enough
individual quirks to keep us watching.

The 12 women sing tonight, with the 12
men on Wednesday. Viewers vote after each night, with the four
singers sent home Thursday.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Winter Olympics,
3-5 p.m., 8 p.m. to midnight, 12:35-2 a.m., NBC.

Here's the start of women's figure
skating, when ratings usually soar. From Peggy Fleming to Sarah
Hughes, American women have starred; they've won gold in seven of the
past 14 Olympics.

This year, that would be a long shot.
Americans have only two women (Rachael Flatt, 17, and Mirai Nagasu,
16), neither ranked in the top eight worldwide. Instead of worrying
about it, jut settle back and enjoy the moves, with the short program
tonight and the free skate Thursday.

There's also men's 10,000-meter
speedskating in the afternoon, women's bobsled tonight and –
subject to the weather – lots of skiing.

10 p.m., TNT.

Next week, the show gets to the
second-season episodes (good ones) that NBC paid for and never aired.
First, this rerun – the final episode last spring – sets it up.

It's Memorial Day and the cops think
they might actually have some time off. Sherman will catch a concert
by his upscale girlfriend; Salinger will have a barbecue.

Then everything goes wrong, with a teen
witness in danger. The effort to protect her soon involves everyone …
except Chickie's alcoholic partner, who's useless. It's a tough,
tense episode.

Other choices include:

– Hockey, 3 p.m., USA; then 7 p.m.,
10 p.m. and midnight, CNBC. The Olympic playoffs begin.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A night of
CBS reruns starts here, with a Marine found dead on the eve of
Halloween. His practical jokes may have brought an overdone

– “Lost,” 9 p.m., ABC. Last
week's episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.) dealt with John Locke – on the
island and in the alternate reality, with no plane crash. Tonight
does the same thing for Jack. He helps his mom (Veronica Hamek)
search for his dad's will; also, Hurley asks him to go on a mystery

– “Frontline/World”
season-opener, 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). For 10 days, an
Afghan journalist lived with rebels who have ties to the Taliban. He
filmed everything from meals and prayers to a roadside attack. At
times, this unit seems hapless in its miscues. (In the tradition of
military units everywhere, they still claim success to their
superiors.) Still, the postscripts point out, the unit did eventually
dispense death and chaos.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. A militia group has stolen some anti-tank missiles.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
In the rerun of a good episode, Alicia finds herself having to
represent the firm's senior partner. Meanwhile, her husband's court
case seems to be wobbling as his prostitute grabs more headlines;
Chelsea Handler appears as herself, doing a tacky interview.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 22

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Damages,” 10
p.m., FX.

Last week brought another thundershock.
Louis Tobin – a convicted financier, in the Bernie Madoff mold –
died the night before going to prison; for now, it's called a heart

More shocks come tonight. In the wrong
hands, this would be bad soap opera; here – written, directed and
acted in a darkly naturalistic style – it's great drama.

Glenn Close plays Patty Hewe, assigned
to find Tobin's money. Campbell Scott, Lily Tomlin and Martin Short
play his son, widow and lawyer. Now things focus on Tobin's daughter
– the one person who still holds him in esteem – and on his
former mistress.

Forgive the time jumps and the
extraneous dream scenes at the beginning and end. At its best –
including a young lawyer's job interview with Patty – “Damages”
is amazing.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Winter Olympics,
3-5 p.m., 8 p.m. to midnight, 12:35-2 a.m., NBC.

Until recently, many Americans
dismissed ice dancing as too frilly and too French.

Then a U.S. duo (Tanith Belbin and Ben
Agosto) took silver in 2006. This year, U.S. duos were No. 1 (Meryl
Davis, Charlie White), 3 (Belbin-Agosto) and 12 (Emily Samuelson,
Evan Bates) in the world. Tonight's finals should draw viewers.
There's also a lot of skiing today, dependent on weather.

Certain Age” season-finale, 10 p.m., TNT.

Last week, this oft-dour series let
each guy take a chance.

Terry (Scott Bakula) landed a rare
acting job, Joe (Ray Romano) saw his gambling problem grow, before he
won $25,000 for a down-payment on a house; both lost their
girlfriends in the process. Also, Owen (Andre Braugher) left his dad,
to sell cars at a competing dealership.

Tonight, they sink deeper, before “Men”
finds ways to wrap things up. If need be, this hour would work as a
fairly good series finale.

Other choices include:

– Hockey, 3 p.m., USA, and 8 p.m.,
CNBC. Here are the the Olympic semi-finals for women. On Thursday,
the winners go for gold and the losers for bronze; the men's tourney
starts Tuesday.

– “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006),
7:30-10 p.m., FX. Meryl Streep has had a record 16 Oscar nominations,
including her current one for “Julie & Julia.” Here's No. 14,
a perfect performance as an unrelenting boss with hints of humanity.
Anne Hathaway stars in this appealing drama-comedy.

– “The Bachelor,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.
Next week, we learn whether Jake Pavelka chose Tenley, 25, who is in
college admissions in California, or Vienna, 23, who is listed as a
“marketing representative” in Florida. First, tonight's show
features rejected women, plus scenes that weren't show previously; it
also brings back some people from previous editions.

– “House,” 8 p.m., Fox. In a
so-so rerun, the team deals with a physicist who prefers to be a

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. An all-rerun night for CBS starts with Marshall making the
ultimate mistake – taking relationship advice from Barney.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. This is Alan's worst nightmare – working for his mother.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. No one would have guessed that Sheldon understands
football. Still, he is from Texas; in a funny rerun, he explains the
game to Leonard.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. The
first problem, in this rerun, comes when the victim's fiancee claims
his body. So does his wife.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 21

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Winter Olympics,
noon to 6 p.m., 7-11 p.m., 11:35 p.m. to 12:35 a.m.

Men's freestyle-skiing cross has live
coverage during the day, then its gold-medal finals at night.

That's part of a packed night that has
the gold medals for women's 1500-meter speedskating and for the
two-man bobsled. Meanwhile, ice dancing – which has American medal
prospects – is at the mid-point of its three-night competition;
there's “original dance” tonight and “free dance” Monday.

p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The Everglades National Park is a sweet
place for tropical creatures. Now thousands of Burmese pythons –
never intended to be free on this continent – are there.

Some were released by disenchanted
owners; others were freed from warehouses by hurricanes. They can get
as big as 23 feet and 250 pounds, endangering even young alligators.

For those of us who root for the cutest
animals, a python-gator fight is an odd experience. Still, it's a
fascinating hour, complete with humans trying to understand an
awesome survivor.

Sisters,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.

This show is all about huge shifts.
Kitty barely overcame her health crisis; now a relative faces one.
Meanwhile, Kitty runs for her husband's old seat, boosted (or hurt)
by an old friend (Cheryl Hines). There's much more, in a
Valentine-themed episode that has its weak spots, but ends

Other choices include:

– “Bridge on the River Kwai”
(1957), 1:30 p.m.; “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), 4:30; “On the
Waterfront” (1954), 8; Turner Classic Movies. Alert your VCR: These
are great movies; they total 30 Academy Award nominations and 20

– “The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In last week's terrific opener, Adrian and Dana Davis (a likable
husband and wife) were ousted. Caite Upton – known for her beauty
pageant bumbling of a question – proved to be a tough competitor.
Tonight, CBS says, one racer confronts a troublesome cow.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. No
surprise in this genealogy: The Simpson family tree is filled with
deadbeats and horse thieves. Still, Lisa feels she's also found some
true heroism.

– “Masterpiece Classic,” 9-10:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Sally Hawkins and Rupert
Penry-Jones are subtly perfect in a rerun of Jane Austen's
understated “Persuasion.”

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Susan invites a former stripper (Julie Benz of “Dexter”)
into her home. That causes a stir among the neighbors – including
Lynette, who keeps an eye on her sons.

– “Big Love,” 9 p.m., HBO. Bill
has enough trouble at home; now he rushes to Mexico, where his son is
with Lois and Frank, whose bird-smuggling theme has gone bad.

– “Cold Case,” 10 p.m., CBS. The
music of the Doors ripples through this hour, which eyes a 1971
circus death. Michael John Anderson, the 3-foot-7 “Carnivale”
co-star, plays the ringmaster.

– “How to Make It in America,” 10
p.m., HBO. The second episode of this mixed-but-interesting series
finds the guys struggling to start their own line of jeans.

– “Sinbad: Where U Been?” 10
p.m., Comedy Central. Sometimes, an audience can be too approving.
Sinbad has some fairly good material in this stand-up set, but the
adoring audience reaches overkill.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 20

(2006, AMC) or “Frost/Nixon” (2008, HBO), both 8 p.m.

For moviegoers, Peter Morgan has been a
great blessing. His scripts understand and empathize with people on
both sides; here are prime examples.

One views Queen Elizabeth II, frozen in
indecision and inaction after Lady Diana's death. The other views
David Frost, a talkshow host and playboy who had bought the rights to
interview Richard Nixon.

Michael Sheen is in both films – as
Prime Minister Tony Blair and as Frost. Frank Langella drew an Oscar
nomination as Nixon; Helen Mirren won one for her deeply layered
portrayal of the queen.

Both films drew nominations for best
picture, for their directors (Stephen Frears, Ron Howard) and for
Morgan. During that time, he was also writing “The Last King of
Scotland,” “The Other Boleyn Girl,” HBO's “Longford” and
more, enriching the movie world.

TODAY'S MUST-SEE: Winter Olympics, 1-6
p.m., 8-11:30 p.m., midnight to 1 a.m., NBC.

This is a night of gold-medal
possibilities for key Americans. Barring late changes, it could bring
Shani Davis in 1,500-meter speedskating (in which he won a silver
medal in 2006) and Lindsey Vonn in the Alpine super-G. It also could
bring Apolo Ohno's first shot (via 1,000-meter short-track) at
breaking his tie with Bonnie Blair, as the Americans with the most
winter medals.

Also, there's skiing (jumping, women's
free-style) during the day and two-man bobsled at night.

Other choices include:

– More Olympics, cable. U.S. curling
continues, with the men (against Sweden) at noon on MSNBC and the
women (against Britain) at 5 p.m. on CNBC. Men's hockey has Norway
and Sweden at 3 p.m. on CNBC, then goes to MSNBC for Latvia and
Slovakia (7:30) and Germany and Belarus (midnight).

– “Malcolm X” (1992), 7 p.m.,
BET. This could well be TV's greatest movie night ever. That starts
with Spike Lee's sprawling masterwork, catching the changing times
that surrounded Malcolm, who is superbly played by Denzel Washington.

– “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of
Azkaban” (2004), 8-11 p.m., ABC. The third Harry Potter film adds
Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, an escaped convict who may be linked the
death of Harry's parents.

– “Numb3rs,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, murders seem to be copied from a movie that hasn't yet opened.

– ““Close Encounters of the Third
Kind” (8 p.m.) and “Goodbye Girl,” 10:30, Turner Classic
Movies. The year 1977 changed Hollywood – proving that smart, deep
movies could be immensely entertaining. Here are prime examples –
Steven Spielberg's science-fiction classic and Neil Simon's witty

– More movies, 8 p.m., cable. They
include the richly emotional “The Notebook” (2004, ABC Family)
and the visceral “Mad Max” (1979, Independent Film Channel).

– And more, 9 p.m., cable. “The
Reader” (2008, Showtime) has Kate Winslet's stunning, Oscar-winning
portrayal of someone alternately warm, cold, sexual and detached.
“Waitress” (2007, Lifetime) is the night's bonus, a gem of
comedy, romance and magic, with Keri Russell as a sweet pie-maker.