TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 10




TODAY'S MUST-SEE: “Sesame Street”
season-opener, daytime (check local listings), PBS.

It was 40 years ago today that one of
TV's best and most important series began. “Sesame Street” has
taught two generations a little about words and numbers, a lot about
fun, friends and good TV.

Today's opener has the same “Sunny
Day” theme song, but with different chalk-art visuals. It has
quirky little interstitials, but is split into four larger blocks,
introduced by Murray the Monster Muppet.

In “Abby's Flying Fairy School,”
Abby Cadabby has been transformed via computer animation. In a
science segment, Michelle Obama tells kids about gardens and good
food. Also, Lin-Manuel Miranda (the brilliant songwriter who won a
Tony for “In the Heights”) plays a real-estate agent, trying to
nudge Big Bird toward a new habitat.

TODAY'S MUST-SEE II: “In the
Spotlight,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.

On the eve of the Country Music
Association awards, Robin Roberts interviews stars.

Carrie Underwood talks about going to
the “American Idol” competition. (“I'd never been in an
airport; it's amazing that I got there.”) She also mentions that
her home town now has two stoplights, not one.

Tim McGraw talks about his marriage to
country star Faith Hill. “There was a point in my career where I
was way over(involved with) me.”

Roberts, a former sports reporter, goes
skeet-shooting with McGraw (who misses his first two shots) and
bowling with Underwood (who gets a strike on her first roll). Despite
some overwrought writing, these are good segments. There's also one,
which wasn't ready for review, on Martina McBride, plus a surface
look at stars' offspring in the business.

Other choices include:

– “So You Think You Can Dance,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. Now the viewers vote. Last week the judges dumped
tap-dancers Bianca Revels and Phillip Attmore. Now 16 people (one a
tapper) remain.

– “V,” 8 p.m., ABC. Chad realizes
his first interview with Anna – leader of the alien visitors –
was too soft. Meanwhile, Erica and Father Jack are being followed.
And people are asking sticky questions about what happened to her FBI
partner.

– “Nova: Becoming Human,” 8 p.m.,
PBS. The middle section of this well-made, three-week series studies
homo erectus, evolving toward modern man. There are signs of
childhood becoming long, allowing brains to build; there are also
signs of a hunting strategy, driving prey to exhaustion.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A Korean
assassin (Kelly Hu) is linked to the past of Vance (Rocky Carroll)
and endangers his family. Paula Newsome (“Women's Murder Club”)
plays his wife.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Why was Callen (Chris O'Donnell) shot, six months ago? The team
finds out tonight, afgter a Russian woman has been killed.

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 9
p.m., ABC. Last week, former football star Michael Irvin was ousted;
so was Mark Dacascos, the actor, martial-arts champion and “Iron
Chef” figure who had been at the top until his dance partner got
sick. Now, two weeks from the finale, we learn which of final five is
cut.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Alicia (Juliana Margulies) is working with a co-counsel who has an
unorthodox approach. She finds the guy attractive; her husband is
less appealing.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 9




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Lopez Tonight”
debut, 11 p.m., TBS; first three nights simulcast on TNT and Tru TV.

There are plenty of reasons to be
optimistic about this show, starting with the host. In everything
he's done – stand-up comedy, situation comedy, autobiography –
George Lopez has mixed amiability with a fierce intelligence and a
sharp wit.

Lopez has talked of creating a party
atmosphere and giving more attention to music. One good sign: Michael
Beardon – the music supervisor for Michael Jackson's aborted tour
and for the “This Is It” movie – leads the band.

Opening night, however, will focus on
talk and laughs. Guests are Ellen Degeneres, Kobe Bryant and Eva
Longoria Parker.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “CSI: Miami,”
10 p.m., CBS.

Here's the start of an ambitious
project that spans three shows over four nights.

Tonight, Ray Langston (Laurence
Fishburne) travels from Las Vegas to Miami, near where the severed
leg of a Vegas woman was found. The story will take him to New York
at 10 p.m. Wednesday and then back home at 9 p.m. Thursday.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “How the
Beatles Rocked the Kremlin,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Over 40-plus years, Leslie Woodhead has
directed films worldwide. The one most people have seen, however, was
just two minutes long – the first footage of the Beatles, at the
Cavern Club.

Gradually, Woodhead noticed the impact
in Russia of the Beatles – who never played there and whose records
were banned. The fans interviewed here range from Sergei Ivanov
(Russia's deputy premier) to Kolya Vasin, who has a “temple of
peace and love” to John Lennon at home. Woodhead even finds a
Beatles tribute band in a Kiev re-creation of the Cavern Club –
recalling that snippet he filmed in 1962.

Other choices include:

– “House,” 8 p.m., Fox. After a
wild night, a teen-ager doesn't seem to be honest about what
happened. As her condition worsens, she has trouble knowing what is
the truth.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Barney and Robin don't seem happy, so Ted reluctantly
turns to Lily to break them up; she's an expert, having secretly
schemed to end all his bad relationships.

– “Greek,” 8 p.m. and (season
finale) 9 p.m., ABC Family. Both episodes involve the troubled return
of the Suttons' oldest child Nate Ray, after fighting in Afghanistan.
Both also involve Cassie Sutton and her boyfriend Charles, with some
major changes. Meanwhile, the first hour has Lizzie starring in the
school play; the second has her dad solving a racially charged crime
from 60 years ago.

– “Australia” (2008), 8-11 p.m.,
HBO. Here is a sweeping epic – the lush work of a great director
(Baz Luhrmann) and two strong stars. Nicole Kidman is an aristocratic
land-owner, with Hugh Jackman as a rugged worker. Yes, it's too long
and too contrived; still, it's a richly entertaining film.

– “American Experience: The '30s,”
9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). In the Depression, when little
was being built, Americans created the Hoover Dam, rising 700 feet
above the Colorado River; it would transform the Southwest. That's
recalled in the middle chapter of the five-week “The '30s.”

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Here's an unusual dilemma: The brothers wake up in bed with a
woman they don't recognize.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. Leonard and Penny have a fight – which Sheldon finds
quite inconvenient.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Howie Mandel is a guest and Diablo Cody – the “Juno” and
“Jennifer's Body” writer who has also been a stripper – answers
“10 at 10” questions.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 8




TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Seth and Alex's
Almost Live Comedy Special,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

One of the highlights of the departed
“MadTV” was the five seasons of Alex Borstein. In particular, the
tiny (5-foot) actress became the hilariously unbudging Ms. Swan.

Now she's the voice of Lois Griffin on
“Family Guy.” Here, she teams with that show's creator and star,
Seth MacFarlane, for a half-hour of comedy bits. We haven't seen it,
but it seems worth sampling.

In a “Simpsons”-free night (sadly),
it's sandwiched by “Family Guy” at 8 and 9 p.m. and other
MacFarlane shows at 7:30 and 9:30.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Desperate
Housewives,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Susan is convinced that her daughter's
attacker was Katherine; Lynette has other theories. Meanwhile, Angie
– played by Drea de Matteo of “The Sopranos” – tries to learn
her husband's secret; she also invites a reluctant Bree and Orson for
dinner.

Also, Gabrielle is trying to
home-school her daughter. Academics have never been her specialty.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Jimmy Wayne:
Coming Home,” 10:30 p.m., GAC (Great American Country, often via
satellite or digital cable).

The spirit of country music seems
entwined in Jimmy Wayne. Here, he returns to Charlotte, N.C.,
stirring strong emotion as he visits his favorite teacher and the
prison where he once worked.

His mother went to prison twice, Wayne
says; he spent his teen years in foster homes, in detention centers
and living on the streets. Then he went to college and majored in
criminal justice. During a field trip, he heard his old
detention-center officer say: “We've got all kinds of trash here.”

Wayne told him then that no person is
trash; he says it now by calling each prisoner “sir” and by
singing: “It doesn't matter where you've been; it's where you're
going.” He's going far.

ALSO TONIGHT:





– “Keeping Up With the
Kardashians,” 8-10 p.m., E. The season opens with the wedding of
Khloe Kardashian and baskeball star Lamar Odom – just nine days
after his proposal, which was a month after they met. There have been
suggestions that moments are faked for the camera and that the couple
didn't legally wed. However, E says it's all there, including the
proposal and the early objections of Bruce Jenner, Khloe's
stepfather, who heard about the engagement on TV.

 

– “Nature: Black Mamba,” 8 p.m.,
PBS. After charming us last week with baby animals, “Nature” goes
the other way this time, with deadly black mamba snakes in Swaziland.
They invade fields, homes, hotel rooms. A gutsy woman works to
capture them, in a well-filmed, tough-to-watch hour.

– “Masterpiece Contemporary: Place
of Execution,” 9 p.m., PBS. In the opener of this powerful story,
an overwhelmed reporter (Juliet Stevenson) was dragging her teen
daughter along, trying to finish a film about an unsolved case. This
conclusion requires too much coincidence, but it's superbly played.

– “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” 9 p.m.,
HBO. The idea of a “Seinfeld” reunion started with Larry secretly
promising a role to his ex-wife. Alas, she blurted it out to Jerry
Seinfeld; now she must audition.

– “Bored to Death,” 9:30 p.m.,
HBO. Here's the so-so finale to what has been a good season. Jonathon
and two friends are locked in a boxing match with three equally
unqualified guys.

-- "Mad Men," 10 p.m., AMC. Fresh from winning best-drama Emmys its first two seasons, the show wraps up its third season tonight. Don is called into an important meeting with Conrad Hilton. Also, Bettty gets some advice and Pete -- who has been thinking about jumping to another ad agency -- talks with his clients.

– “Joe Nichols: My Military Diary,”
10 p.m., GAC. This portrait of a trip to Iraq seems stiff and flat,
when compared to the terrific Jimmy Wayne film that follows.

– “Brothers & Sisters,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Unhappy about the side-effects of her chemotherapy, Kitty
(Calista Flockhart) goes to a wig party.

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 7




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Wanda Sykes
Show” debut, 11 p.m. to midnight, Fox; and/or “Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m. to 1 a.m., NBC.

As a stand-up comic and actress, Sykes
has shown a sharp, acerbic wit. Now she gets her own hour.

Sykes plans to start with humor – an
opening monologue, a “Wandarama” blitz of the week and a piece
taped in the field. She'll also apparently go for guests who have
something to say.

The opening includes Mary Lynn Rajskub
(a clever comedy actress better known for serious work on “24”),
Phil Keoghan (the “Amazing Race” host) and Daryl “Chill”
Mitchell, who revived his comedy-acting career after a motorcycle
accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Still, some people will switch to
“Saturday Night Live,” which is back to new episodes after a
couple reruns. Taylor Swift, a star singer-songwriter at 19, is both
host and musical guest.

EARLIER ALTERNATIVE: “Too Late to Say
Goodbye,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime Movie Network.

Ann Rule has made an art form of
novel-like books based on real-life murders. One will be a
mini-series next weekend (Nov. 14-15); first, here's a movie.

A woman has apparently committed
suicide, shortly after receiving divorce papers from her husband (Rob
Lowe), a smooth and handsome dentist. Only her sister (Lauren Holley)
fights to keep the case open; the result has some fascinating twists.

STILL-EARLIER: “Legend of the
Seeker,” 4 and 5 p.m. on WGN America; various times (check local
listings) Saturday and Sunday on broadcast stations.

First, is a rerun of last season's
finale; then comes the season-opener, with everyone celebrating the
death of the evil Darken Ruhl. After a few minutes, of course, the
joy ends and new threats begin.

On one hand, this is an adventure with
youth appeal – epic battle scenes, grand New Zealand settings and
basic good-vs.-evil. On the other, it gets pretty adult; the opener
has lots of violence, plus a fierce little fight between two women
warriors – one played by guest star Charisma Carpenter, the other
by a naked (and carefully filmed) Tabrett Bethell, a new series
regular.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, the murder of a drug dealer seems to be linked to
some of the old Navy SEAL colleagues of Sam (LL Cool J).

– “Mercy,” 8 p.m., NBC. In this
rerun, Veronica's efforts to get pregnant are tied in with her
desperation to save a woman and her unborn child.

– “Fargo” (1996, E) or “Take
the Money and Run” (1969, Turner Classic Movies), both 8 p.m.
Sometimes, little movies can be the best. “Fargo” is the Coen
Brothers' gem, a crime story set among wonderfully understated
Northerners. “Take the Money” is early Woody Allen, before he got
fancy; just 85 minutes in theaters, it was packed with funny moments.

– “Law & Order,” 9 p.m., NBC.
A crime scene investigator has been killed and a journalist has been
attacked. Lupo becomes attracted to the latter, compromising his
ability to work the case.

– “Strikeforce,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.
There are four mixed-martial-arts bouts, peaking with Fedor
Emelianenko of Russia fighting Brett Rogers of Minnesota. The Russian
is considered the champion at this; Rogers is undefeated, but has
only had 10 fights. As large men bash each other, try to remember
that CBS was once considered the Tiffany Network.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, murders seem to point to a drug
cartel. Things are complicated when an FBI agent (Vincent Spano)
wants to take over the case.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 6




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “SpongeBob Square
Pants: Truth or Square,” 8 p.m., Nickelodeon.

For 10 years, “SpongeBob” has
offered the sort of perverse wit you don't expect from an animated
kids show. Now, for its anniversary, it outdoes itself.

One story has SpongeBob and the others
trapped inside the restaurant. Naturally, they revert to flashbacks,
including his first days eating there and working there.

Meanwhile, his biggest fan plans an
anniversary party. He's on the phone to many people, with
particularly funny moments from Craig Ferguson, Will Ferrell and
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; he even manages to temporarily kidnap
Robin Williams.

There's also music from Cee-Lo Green of
Gnarls Barkley (reworking the theme song) and Pink. It's a fine
party.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “House” and
“Bones,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

Sure, this seems sort of cowardly. For
the “sweeps” month, Fox is ditching its Friday line-up and
inserting reruns.

Still, these are reruns of a great show
and then a good one; that's more than we expect on Fridays.

This “House” centers on a priest
who says he saw a bleeding Jesus at his doorstep; complications cause
Dr. House to ponder his own faith. Then the “Bones” team has
enough to worry about, probing the death of a controversial
scientist; making things worse, Angela's dad – played by Billy F.
Gibbons of ZZ Top – arrives, looking for reveng.

Other choices include:

– “Law & Order,” 8 and 9
p.m., NBC. In the first hour, suitcases full of money and drugs are
found in one of the apartments of a murder victim; the probe soon
leads to a drug cartel. Tentatively set for the second is a case in
which an apparent drunken-driving fatality may not be what it
appears.

– “Ghost Whisperer,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Jim's colleague seems nonchalant about a paranormal experience; that
might make him a suspect in a med student's disappearance. Meanwhile,
Melinda frets when Aiden keeps talking of “The Shadows.”

– “Medium,” 9 p.m., CBS. When her
car is wrecked, Melinda borrows an SUV. It turns out to have a radio
that lets her listen in on other people's thoughts; things like that
seem to happen to her.

– “Ugly Betty,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Daniel hires Natalie – played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who was Tony's
daughter on “The Sopranos” – as his assistant. Also, he learns
that his mother has a past with Cal Hartley, the money man who took
control of the magazine.

– “Monk,” 9 p.m., USA Network. To
impress a key person, Monk agrees to a camping trip. He soon finds
trouble with the guy's son – played by Alex Wolff, 12, a “Naked
Brothers Band” star; he also finds a murder case.

– “Numb3rs,” 10 p.m., CBS. A
brilliant and charming hacker is in a dangerous Online turf war.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Elizabeth Banks – known for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,”
“Scrubs” and more – is the in-studio guest.

– “White Collar,” 10 p.m., USA
Network. Callie Thorne – who is wonderful as Sheila in “Rescue
Me” – plays a seductive woman who tests Neal's new loyalties.