TV column for Thursday, April 22




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “SpongeBob
SquarePants,” 8 p.m., Nickelodeon.

Yes, it's a cartoon; yes, it's big with
kids. And yes, it really is about a sponge.

Still, this Earth Day special is filled
with enough wit and satire for grown-ups.

A superhighway is zooming through town,
promising prosperity' only SpongeBob points out that this will
destroy the jellyfish turf. It's a smart half-hour, complete with
clever songs and sharp lines.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Project
Runway” finale, 10 p.m., Lifetime.

If you missed the two previous weeks,
catch reruns at 8 and 9 p.m. The first, with a circus theme, trims
the field to four people to create Fashion Week collections … but
says two of them will to for the third and final spot. The second
gives that spot to Mila Hermanovski, 40, of Dallas.

Now she collides with Seth Henderson,
38, of San Diego and Emilio Sosa, 43, who's from the Dominican
Republic. Tonight, one will be champion.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE: More Earth Day
specials.

On the 40th anniversary of
Earth Day, lots of channels are jumping in.

Kid shows? Nickelodeon has Earth Day
themes to everything from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PBS (times vary,
check local listings) has eco-themed shows – some new, some reruns
– throughout daytime, including “Curious George,” “Sesame
Street” and “Sid, the Science Guy.”

Lush views of nature? “Life” is 7
p.m. to 3 a.m. on Discovery.

More? Some PBS stations rerun the
“American Experience” Earth Day film at 9 p.m. On cable, National
Geographic has eco-friendly views of “Naked Science” from 8-10
p.m. And Planet Green airs “Planet Earth: The Future” from 8-11
p.m., rerunning it from 11 to 2.

Other choices include:

– “Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS. For a
while, it looked like the “villains” would dominate, once the
tribes merged. That changed, however, when they lost three straight
times, ousting Rob Mariano, “Coach” Wade and, last week, Courtney
Yates. Now the tribes merge, with five people from each side.

– “FlashForward,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Demetri is still missing, as the time nears when predictions say
he'll be killed. People scramble to find him; Alda Herzog promises
information, but at a price.

– “Private Practice” (9 p.m.) and
“Grey's Anatomy” (10 p.m.), ABC. For tonight's reruns, the shows
swap timeslots. In “Practice,” Violet is finally back from Costa
Rica. In “Anatomy,” Derek become interim chief in mid-crisis;
Mark won't talk to Lexie and Teddy won't work with Cristina.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. Two
teens have been killed, in a manner that suggests the shape-shifters
are back. Walter heads to the lab, while Olivia and Peter go to
Massive Dynamic.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. Catherine digs into the murder of a student at her
daughter's school. Soon, there are indications this may be linked to
previous atrocities.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This time, Patrick Jane has gone too far: His conduct caused the case
against a confessed killer to be tossed out; now his colleagues
bitterly re-start the investigation.

 

TV column for Wednesday, April 21




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

On one level, this is a regular
“American Idol” results show. One of the final seven singers will
definitely be sent home, producers say.

Still, it's also the third “Idol
Gives Back” special. The others raised a combined $140 million for
charities at home and overseas, while including some superb
performances.

This year, performers includes Carrie
Underwood, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Justin Bieber, the Black Eyed
Peas and Annie Lennox, plus Jeff Beck with Joss Stone and Mary J.
Blige with an all-star band.

Bieber will be on tape, but most will
be live from the regular “Idol” studio in Los Angeles or (with
Queen Latifah hosting) the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “P.O.V.: Food,
Inc.,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

American agriculture has been a
stunning success. The cost of food (compared to overall income) has
been cut virtually in half, thanks to technology, subsidies and
assembly-line processes.

But what about hidden cost? The old
process had a a natural ecology, this film says, with livestock
roaming fields. Now they're confined, eating endless quantities of
corn. Food-borne diseases increase.

That's just one of the health problems,
amid the fast-food surge; diabetes, especially for kids, has soared.
On the flip side, farmers' markets are prospering; organic foods are
doing so well that they're grabbed by big corporations and stocked by
supermarkets.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. A three-hour block of comedy reruns starts with these two good
ones. In the first, Axl has a perfect girlfriend, played by Alexa
Vega; in the second, the family obsesses on Brick's spelling bee –
while forgetting Sue's birthday.

– “The New Adventures of Old
Christine,” 8 p.m., CBS. Who knew that car leases are a good way to
measure life? Christine's five-year lease is up and her life hasn't
really changed.

– “Accidentally on Purpose,” 8:30
p.m., CBS. In a funny episode last week, Billie pretended to go into
labor, to get Zack out of a speeding ticket. The plan worked, the cop
whisked them to the hospital … and now comes trouble: The baby
really is coming – same night, same cop, same hospital.

– “Modern Family,” 9 and 9:30
p.m., ABC. The first rerun has an old friend (Minnie Driver) making
Claire jealous about her exotic business and sexual life; the second
has Mitchell on his annual father-son trip to see a meteor shower,
unhappy that his step-brother Manny is coming along.

– “Cougar Town,” 10 and 10:30
p.m., ABC. The first rerun has Laurie's mom (Beverly D'Angelo) being
no help in co-signing for a condo; the second has Jules insisting
platonic friendship is possible.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. It's a tough TV night for the meatpacking
industry. It's blasted in the PBS documentary and NBC has this
fictional story of a woman killed after probing it; Benson goes
undercover. That follows a rerun in which she's a suspect in a
biker's death.

– “In Plain Sight,” 10 p.m., USA.
Steven Weber guests, in the story of a key witness who is reluctant
to try the protection program.

TV column for Tuesday, April 20




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Glee,” 9 p.m.,
Fox.

The songs and the attitude of Madonna
fill this energetic hour.

Storywise, it's so-so. It starts with
an overwrought Sue Sylvester monolog, ends rather abruptly; in
between, three people – Rachel, Finn and Emma – consider losing
their virginity.

Musically, it's spectacular. There are
at least eight Madonna numbers, including the big ones – “Like a
Virgin,” “Like a Prayer,” “Express Yourself” and Sue
re-creating the “Vogue” video.

Along the way, there's a marching band,
a gospel choir, cheerleaders and stilt-walkers. It's big and brassy,
simultaneously too much and just right. It's pure Madonna.

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

This is the week when emotion counts
the most. The contestants each sing an inspirational song, setting up
Wednesday's “Idol Gives Back.”

There are seven people left, after last
week's elimination of Andrew Garcia and Katie Stevens. And unlike
the first “Idol Gives Back,” producers say someone will
definitely be sent home Wednesday.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Eco-specials,
cable and PBS.

With Earth Day reaching its 40th
anniversary, PBS has specials all week.
Tonight, it reruns a “Nova” at 8 p.m., viewing the ambitious
steps taken in California. At 10, “Independent Lens” has “Dirt!
The Movie”; Jamie Lee Curtis narrates an alternately fun and
sobering view of efforts to have cities with less pavement, more dirt
and more nature.

(Please remember that all of this is up to the whim of PBS individual stations. In the Lansing, Mich., area, for instance, WKAR, Channel 23, has moved the excellent "American Experience" Earth Day film from Monday to 10 p.m. today. That confines "Dirt" to WKAR World, 23.4 digital, on Wednesday at 9 a.m., 3 p.m. and 1 a.m.) 

 Meanwhile, Sundance has a new round of
eco-Tuesdays. “The Lazy Environmentalist” (8 p.m.) tries to
transform an interior designer and high-tech campers; there's an
admirable honesty here, as some ideas work and some flop. Then
“Cities on Speed” (8:30) visits Cairo, which tries to modernize
its process – five “garbage villages,” where people haul the
garbage to their homes, then sort and re-cycle.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS” (8 p.m.) and “NCIS:
Los Angeles” (9 p.m.), CBS. The first rerun has Gibbs' dad (Ralph
Waite of “The Waltons”) visiting. The second has Callen working
solo, under an old alias.

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 8
p.m., ABC. It's time to trim the field to seven.

– “Lost,” 9 p.m., ABC. The two
competing camps – led by Jack and by Locke – link.

– “Frontline,” 9 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). This disturbing documentary is tough to watch, but
you have to admire the diligence of the filmmaker. He managed to film
Afghan leaders, openly buying and training boys (ages 11 to 14) who
dance for older men and, often, have sex.

– “Burma VJ,” 9:30-11 p.m., HBO.
Amid the heavily repressive government of Burma, this Oscar-nominated
documentary shows, people risk their lives by reporting with hidden
video cameras.

– “Justified,” 10 p.m., FX.
Raylan Givens has enough complications. His ex-wife wants a favor
from him; he wants a favor from Boyd. Also, he's sleeping with the
woman who shot Boyd, something forbidden by his boss. In the midst of
that, he's in a tangled case involving a crooked horse breeder. That
case is short-changed, but the character portraits are wonderful, as
usual.

– “V,” 10:02 p.m., ABC. The
outer-space visitors strike violently against the resistance. Also,
Valerie is on the run to protect her baby; Chad has a chilling (and
choking) dream scene involving Anna.

TV column for Monday, April 19




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American
Experience: Earth Days,” 9-11 p.m., PBS. (Check local listings. In the Lansing, Mich., area, for instance, this is delayed until 1 a.m. tonight and 10 p.m. Tuesday; it also aiurs at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on WKAR World, 23.4 digital.)

When Earth Day debuted on April 22,
1970, Americans were already deeply divided by Vietnam. Now
long-haired activists held eco-rallies; one politicians warned that
this was Vladimir Lenin's birthday.

Still, the idea found bi-partisan
support. Richard Nixon launched historic proposals; for a decade,
Americans scrambled to clean the air and water and find new sources
of power. Then, in the 1980s, politics tood over and much of that
faded.

Robert Stone – who did previous films
on the Civilian Conservation Corps, Patty Hearst and more –
beautifully directed this film, combining vintage footage with the
memories of key people.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Romantically
Challenged” debut, 9:32 p.m., ABC.

Half of this comedy is competent and
pleasant. Alyssa Milano plays a lawyer – bright and beautiful and
rather clueless about dealing with her newly single status. Kelly
Stables – a tiny and terrific comedy actress who played Alan's
girlfriend on “Two and a Half Men” – plays her sister, full of
bad advice.

With James Burrows, TV's best comedy
director, in charge, tonight's main story is fairly good. Alas, a
second story – about their two dopey-guy friends – drags
everything down.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Explorer: 25
Years,” 9-11 p.m., National Geographic.

Back in 1985, “National Geographic
Explorer” stood out. It simply bought (cheaply) and showed
documentaries; still, it was one of the best things on cable.

It tried five other hosts before Lisa
Ling arrived in 2002; it tries four other networks before moving to
National Geographic Channel in 2003. It began making its own films,
steeply ambitious. Here are samples, from finding the Titanic to
facing war, volcanoes, tornadoes, alligators and the “hogzilla.”

Other choices include:

– “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006),
7 and 9 p.m., Bravo. When a young girl advances – mostly by
accident – in a contest, her family loads into a yellow Volkswagen
van for a field trip. The result mixes humor, warmth and pathos
perfectly; it drew an Academy Awards nomination for best picture and
won for Michael Arndt's script and Alan Arkin's supporting
performance.

– “Dancing With the Stars,”
8-9:32 p.m., ABC. Last week, soap star Aiden Turner became the third
celebrity ousted. That cuts the field to eight and lets the show trim
to 92 minutes.

– “House,” 8 p.m., Fox. Cynthia
Watros – who has been a regular in “Titus,” “The Drew Carey
Show” and “Lost” – arrives as Wilson's first wife,
re-launching their romance. Meanwhile, a patient who lives in a
Renaissance-style community sparks debates with “Thirteen”
(Olivia Wilde).

– “Two and a Half Men” (9 p.m.)
and “The Big Bang Theory” (9:30), CBS. The first rerun has Jake
refusing to stay with his dad and uncle, after they embarrass him.
The second has some exceptionally funny moments, as Sheldon tries to
teach Penny the basics of physics.

– “Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. People
tunneled into a bar; now Kate Beckett must figure out what they were
stealing. A handsome robbery detective (Michael Trucco) works the
case – and is drawn to her.

– “Nurse Jackie” (10 p.m.) and
“United States of Tara” (10:30), Showtime. The first half-hour is
quite good, as Jackie deals with troubles at home and a drug
clamp-down at work. The second is OK, as Tara and her husband deal
with the fact that one of her alternate personalities is a therapist.

 

TV column for Sunday, April 18




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Academy of Country
Music awards, 8-11 p.m., CBS.

With only 11 awards, this show can pack
in the music. Carrie Underwood – who could become the first woman
to twice be named entertainer of the year – will perform. So will
several others in that category – Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Toby
Keith, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.

Reba McEntire, who hosts, will also
perform. Rock fans will recognize Darius Rucker (Hootie & the
Blowfish) and John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival); Broadway
buffs will recognize Laura Bell Bundy (“Legally Blonde”).

Blake Shelton teams with Trace Adkins,
Jack Ingram with Dierks Bentley. Also: Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean,
Billy Currington, Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum,Rascal Flatts,
Brooks & Dunn.

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

“Small Island” is a two-part
mini-series, viewing women from opposite worlds.

Hortense (Naomie Harris) is in Jamaica,
studying to be a teacher; Queenie (Ruth Wilson) is in London, longing
to see the world. We begin with the moment they meet, then flash back
to 1939. Beautifully acted and filmed, “Island” views suppressed
emotions, ready to emerge in a post-war world.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Beauty &
the Briefcase,” 8 and 10 p.m., ABC Family.

Start with a rather awful plot, then
mix in some immensely appealing characters. The result – sort of
like “Legally Blonde” – satisfies the senses, once you avoid
all skepticism.

Hilary Duff plays a writer with an odd
assignment: Get a business job, then find the perfect guy. That
defies all believability, but the stars – Duff, Chris Carmack, Matt
Dallas – are immensely likable.

Other choices include:

– “The Emeril Lagasse Show”
debut, 8 p.m., Ion. Lagasse tries hard to create a real variety hour.
He has a great band (led by saxophonist Dave Koz) and a “Chicago”
song from Michelle Williams, formerly of Destiny's Child. Still, this
is mostly cooking, with lots of product placement. You'll like or
hate it, varying with your view of Lagasse and Martha Stewart, his
first guest.

– “Life,” 8 and 9 p.m.,
Discovery. This brilliant documentary series concludes with “Plants”
at 8 p.m. and “Primates” at 9. It also has an hour at 10, viewing
the making of the series. Reruns start at noon.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Lynette scrambles to keep her son from marrying Irina.

– “The Tutors,” 9 p.m., Showtime.
In public, King Henry frolics with his sweet-looking (and
foul-hearted) 17-year-old wife Katherine. In private, he writhes with
physical pain, in a strong hour.

– “The Pacific,” 9 p.m., HBO.
Amid the 115-degree heat of the island of Peleliu, the men face a
brutal task: Charge across an airfield and attack the heavily
fortified enemy. It's a tough and involving hour.

– “Treme,” 10 p.m., HBO. Last
week, we began to meet some of the people trying to revive life in
New Orleans, three months after Katrina. Tonight, several of them
bump across some wide-eyed youths from Wisconsin, in an entertaining
hour.

– “Breaking Bad,” 10 p.m., AMC.
Emerging from the depths of his funk, Walt tries to get closer to his
family and further from Jesse, in an OK hour.