TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 11

(Please note: Because of a temporary glitch elsewhere, I'm temporarily putting the current columns here. This won't be a long-term thing, however.)


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Important Things With Demetri Martin" debut, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central.
Demetri Martin, 35, has been a stand-up comic, a "Daily Show" correspondent, an actor, a guy who makes clever doodles. Now he puts it all together neatly.
Each week, Martin will pick a subject. The scheduled opening episode ("Timing") is terrific; the one set for next week ("Power") is even better.
With that as a starting point, Martin tells jokes, does doodles, even does full-blown sketches. We see him as an actor who gets angry at all the wrong times; we see him using time-travel skills to get lucky with Betsy Ross and Mary Magdalene and such.
Most of this is fresh and different; much of it is quietly brilliant. This may be Comedy Central's best new show in years.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Lost," 9 p.m., ABC.
Last week's episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.) found the violent time shifts were endangering everyone on the island. Now Locke tries to find a way to stop the shifts.
Meanwhile, Ben persists with his effort to re-unite the people who got off the island, having them return to it. New problems appear, however.
Other choices include:
-- "American Idol," 8-10 p.m.,Fox. After trimming back for a while, the show goes to two hours tonight. It's time to wrap up the "Hollywood round" and to choose the top 36. Next week, they'll get their individual moments, as the show starts finding its 12 finalists.
-- "The New Adventures of Old Christine," 8 p.m., CBS. Christine isn't used to living by herself, but now she's in that position: Her brother Matthew moves out, her friend Barb also leaves and her son goes to camp.
-- "Definitely, Maybe" (2008, HBO) or Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001, Oxygen), both 8 p.m. As Valentine's Day nears, cable keeps piling up the romantic movies. Here are two that are neatly off-center: "Bridget" has Renee Zellweger as a Londoner whose drab love life suddenly has two handsome chaps (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant). "Definitely" gets much of its charm from Abigail Breslin, listening to her dad (Ryan Reynolds) talk about his relationships with women, one of them her mom. The choices -- Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz and Isla Fisher -- are all appealing.
-- "Looking for Lincoln," 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). On the eve of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, Henry Louis Gates Jr. visits many of the top Lincoln experts. He re-examines the president's personal depression and his views on race, religion and politics.
-- "Life," 9 p.m., NBC. The lead singer of a heavy-metal band has been killed. Suspects range from the former singer to an intense groupie.
-- "Sarah, Plain and Tall" (1991), 9-11 p.m., Hallmark Channel. Here's an alternate choice for a Valentine-time movie. Glenn Close and Christopher Walken star in the story of a quiet farmer and the earnest woman who may be his mail-order bride. The result is subtle and involving.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. A bombing at a recruitment center leaves a war widow severely injured and her baby dead. Public reaction is so intense that the case might be compromised.
-- "Exterminators," 10:30 p.m., A&E. In its offbeat way, this new reality series is fairly interesting. We meet a family business in Louisiana, dealing with anything from bees to alligators. Tonight, a house has an enormous snake and a stadium has bats.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 10

(Please note: Because of a glitch elsewhere, I'm temporarily putting the current columns here; this won't be a long-term thing, though.)


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Independent Lens: Tulia, Texas," 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
The beauty of this richly crafted documentary is its even-handed approach.
It starts with Tom Coleman, talking about his 18 months as an undercover cop. It meets the people who hired him, who felt this declining town of 5,100 needed to confront its drug problems. It watches the relief in 1999, when 46 people were arrested on drug charges and most were pressured into plea  bargains.
And then it introduces people who had doubts. Many of those busted had no record; 39 were black.
After the convictions, lawyers found gaping flaws in Coleman's reports. A short bald man was describes as tall, with bushy hair. A skinny woman was described as pregnant. One woman was described as making a deal in Tulia at a time when she could prove she was in Oklahoma.
Eventually, all the people were pardoned and the task force was disbanded. Still, this film remains calmly even-handed. It doesn't claim that racism was involved; it does, however, warn that the war on drugs can become terribly single-minded.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown" and "A Charlie Brown Valentine," 8-9 p.m., ABC.
"Be My Valentine" is a cartoon classic from 1975. Charlie is hoping to get at least one Valentine's Day card and Lucy is hoping for some gesture from Schroeder; don't get your hopes up.
The other cartoon, from 2002, was the first created after Charles Schulz's death. His long-time animation team, using bits from old comic strips, assembled a story in which Charlie finally gets up the nerve to call the little, red-haired girl. Both shows -- which will rerun Saturday, on the actual holiday -- are low-key and fairly charming for kids or grown-ups.
-- "American Idol," 8 p.m., Fox. The second week of "Hollywood rounds" begins. By the end of Wednesday, the show will be down to 36 contestants.
-- "Westminster Kennel Club," 8-11 p.m., USA. Here's the second half of the competition, from Madison Square Garden. It's the 133rd show and the 26th on USA.
-- "48 HRS." (1982), 8-10 p.m., AMC. A crusty crop (Nick Nolte) reluctantly lets a young convict (Eddie Murphy) out of jail for two days, to help catch a crook. The result is a surprisingly terrific film, perfectly directed (by Walter Hill) and cast. The scene with Murphy as a fake cop in a bar is a delight.
-- "NCIS," 8 p.m.,CBS. The murder of a Marine leads the team to probe a big-city gang.
-- "The Mentalist," 9 p.m., CBS. To investigate a case, Patrick Jane must train Kendall Cho in the art of being a ladies' man.
-- "Darwin's Secret Notebook," 9 p.m., National Geographic Channel. The channel continues its celebration of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. Here, it views the diary and field notes he took, during his historic expedition aboard the HMS Beagle.
-- "Wingman" debut, 9 p.m., FLN (Fine Living Network). Michael Somerville is a comedian who also writes a male-perspective column in Glamour, as Jake. In this opener, he combined with a "flirting expert" to help a young woman who is bubbly as a TV interviewer, but introverted when she gets to a singles bar. It's a moderately interesting start.
-- "You've Got Mail" (1998, Lifetime) or "Love is a Four Letter Word" (2007, Hallmark), both 9 p.m. As Valentine's Day nears, the romantic movies pile up. "Mail" is a good one, re-teaming Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan; "Love" is OK, with Teri Polo and Robert Mailhouse as opposing lawyers in a divorce case.
-- "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," 10 p.m.,NBC. When a man is killed outside a strip club, suspects range from the dancers to the man's wife and their transgendered teen.
-- "Demetri Martin. Person," 10 p.m., Comedy Central. On Wednesday, Comedy Central will introduce one of its best series in years, "Important Things With Demitri Martin." To get you ready for that, here's a rerun of Martin's 2007 stand-up comedy special, plus some of the clever things he does with doodles and graphics.
-- "DEA," 10 and 10:30 p.m., Spike TV. The second season moves to Newark, N.J. There, it spends less time introducing the cops and more with a narrator saying how dangerous this is, while some furious action happens in the distance. 

TV column for Monday, Feb. 9

(Please note: Due to a temporary glitch elsewhere,I'll be putting current columns here for a while. This is short-term, though; this site will mainly be just for blogs.)

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "The Bachelor," 9-11 p.m., ABC.
We're down to the good part now, the final four. Even people who have wandered away from the show can rejoin it for the last weeks.
So far, 21 women. Now Jason Mesnick, 32 -- an account executive and divorced dad from Seattle -- visits the home towns of the survivors.
He meets the families of three (including one set of parents very different from his own) and the friends of the fourth. The survivors are: Molly, 24, a department story buyer from Grand Rapids, Mich.; Naomi, 24, a flight attendant from Carlsbad, Cal.; Melissa, 25, a sales rep from Dallas; and Jillian, 29, an interior designer from Peace River, in Alberta, Canada.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "American Experience: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln," 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
This story has been told often, but rarely with so much texture and emotion.
We see John Wilkes Booth, already tiring of his acting career at 26 and filled with rage. We see the man he hates, Abraham Lincoln, finally feeling some joy after years of dismay.
And we see the quirks: Booth coming up with a scheme to turn off the lights and kidnap Lincoln in front of a theater audience. A henchman showing up at a home, just as detectives were visiting it. Booth and David Herold having a chance to cross into Virginia -- except they got their directions mixed up and ended up still in Maryland.
These are amazing stories, in a grimly compelling documentary.
Other choices include:
-- Presidential press conference, 8 p.m., ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. This bumps or postpones previously schedulled shows. There's no "Chuck" or "House"; "The Bachelor" and "Big Bang Theory" start later than expected.

-- "Big Bang Theory," 8 p.m., CBS. Christine Baranski, who won an Emmy on "Cybill," arrives as Leonard's mom. The trauma helps nudge Leonard and Penny closer.
-- "Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show," 8-9 p.m., USA Network, then 9-11 p.m., CNBC; concludes Tuesday on USA. Here is a persistent tradition -- the 133rd Westminster show and the 26th time it's been on USA. On this opening night, viewers have to switch channels because USA has wrestling at 9. Stick to USA all night and you'll see lots of civilized animals and uncivilized humans.
-- "Heroes," 9 p.m., NBC. Last week, a new chapter began with Nathan -- in charge of government security -- trying to round up all the people with abilities. He got most -- except Sylar, who's tough to capture -- but let Claire (his biological daughter) go; she promptly showed action-hero skills, helping the others escape. Tonight, they're on the run, Sylar finds a possible link to his father and Matt's drawing has a disturbing prediction.
-- "Two and a Half Men," 9 p.m., CBS. Jane Lynch is back as Charlie's long-suffering therapist. Now he's trying couple's therapy with Chelsea.
-- "BET Honors," 9 p.m., BET. The second annual ceremony honors singer Mary J. Blige, basketball-star-turned-businessman Magic Johnson, filmmaker Tyler Perry, dancer-choreographer Judith Jamison, designer B. Smith and U.S.Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.). The performers are impressive, including Stevie Wonder, Ne-Yo, Queen Latifah, Joss Stone, Yolanda Adams and more.
-- "The Closer," 9 p.m., TNT. Here's a devilishly clever episode -- albeit an infuriating one. A woman has been brutally killed and a suspect is found nearby. He's already phoned his slickly dispassionate guy lawyer (Billy Burke.) You won't necessarily enjoy this episode, but you will admire the smart writing.
-- "Big Bang Theory," 9:30 p.m., CBS. Christine Baranski, who won an Emmy
on "Cybill," arrives as Leonard's mom. The trauma helps nudge Leonard
and Penny closer.

-- "Medium," 10 p.m., NBC. Allison dreams of a murder -- and of a ghost, witnessing it. Later, things get much more complicated. This hour starts well, then skids for a while.  

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 8

(Please note: Due to a temporary glitch, I'll put the columns here for a while. This is just short-term, however; this site will primarily be just for blogs.)


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: Grammy Awards, 8-11 p.m., CBS.
This ceremony is often at its best when putting stars together. There will be a lot of that tonight.
Duke Fakir, Jamie Foxx and Ne-Yo will link in a Four Tops segment. Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Kanye West will link for “Swagga Like Us.”
West also will perform with Estelle. Teen stars Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus will be linked; so will Paul McCartney with Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters) and Robert Plant with Alison Krauss.
In addition to Swift and Krauss, country performers will include Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood and Sugarland. Pop and rock people will include Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, the Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Adele, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Brown, Radiohead and Chris Brown.
TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Sonny With a Chance” debut, 8 and 8:30 p.m., Disney Channel.
Demi Lovato caught attention when she starred with the Jonas Brothers in Camp Rock. Now, at 16, she has her own show.
She plays Sonny, a cheery Midwesterner who is suddenly on a teen sketch-comedy show, similar to the now-departed “All That.” She soon finds herself thwarted by a diva and awed by a cute guy.
The humor here (including bits from the sketches) is broad and loose and not terribly witty. Still, this Sonny is a likable sort.
Other choices include:
-- Grammy previews, afternoon, cable. Fuse, the music-oriented channel, has Grammy preview videos from 2-3 p.m. Then E and the TV Guide Network take over; each has a Grammy preview at 5 p.m. and red-carpet interviews from 6-8 p.m. Meanwhile, Fuse has more Grammy videos at 8:30 and 9 p.m. and a look at the 2003 Grammys at 11:30 p.m.
-- “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. In this rerun, Lisa becomes a crossword-puzzle champ.
-- “Nature: Drakensberg: Barrier of Spears,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Spectacular footage marks this portrait of wildlife on the Drakensberg Mountains, in Africa. It’s a harsh world that can range from desert-like conditions to fierce rains that wipe away most of the food value of vegetation. Still, the remarkably skilled animals persist.
-- “The Godfather” (1972, AMC) or “Shrek” (2001, TNT), both 8 p.m. This might be a night when families split off to separate TV sets. “Godfather” is a brilliant classic for grown-ups; “Shrek” delights kids.
-- “XIII,” 9-11 p.m., NBC; concludes next Sunday. A wounded man (Stephen Dorff) has been found in the forest. He seems to have no memory of who he is; the only hints are a tattoo (“XIII”) and the fact that he has the reflexes and instincts of a killer. Is he a link to an unsolved assassination? Val Kilmer stars.
-- “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m., ABC. These families have money problems, like most people. Susan considers sending her son to a school she can’t afford; Lynette and Tom prepare to sell the Mustang he loves.
-- “HGTV Showdown” debut, 9 p.m., HGTV. After a run as “Summer Showdown,” this series again has HGTV personalities competing with each other. The opener puts Genevieve Gorder against Monica Pedersen; they get help from the network’s hunkiest carpenters, Carter Oosterhouse and Eric Stromer.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 7

(Please note; due to a temporary glitch, I'll be putting the columns back here, temporarily. That won't be long-term, though; mainly, this is for blogs.)


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story," 8 p.m., TNT; reruns at 10 p.m. and midnight.
Hollywood loves stories of underdogs triumphing. If they happen to be true, all the better.
Now here's the true and compelling story of Ben Carson, who went from the bottom of his 5th-grade class to the top in high school. He kept rising -- to Yale and medical school and pioneering surgery at Johns Hopkins.
It's a terrific tale, handled by skilled people. Thomas Carter has been one of TV's best directors, ever since crafting the pilots for "Miami Vice" and "St. Elsewhere" and more. He's won three Emmys and made some big-screen films ("Swing Kids," "Save the Last Dance"). Now he's back to TV, with a neatly understated film.
Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the adult Carson (with two other actors for the early days) and Kimberly Elise plays his mom. Battling depression, poverty and bigotry, Sonya Carson helped mold a Hollywood-worthy life.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Racing, 8 p.m. ET, Fox.
The northern half of the country still thinks this is winter, but in other spots the calendar is more optimistic: We're just a week away from the official start of the NASCAR season.
First is this warm-up, the "Budweiser Shootout" from Daytona. It's short (70 laps) and unofficial (no points toward the final standings). Still, the top drivers will be there, a sign that a summer sport is already back.
Other choices include:
-- “The Last Templar” (2009), 7-11 p.m., Ion. If you missed this two-part mini-series on NBC, here’s a chance to catch it in one chunk. It starts wonderfully, with Mira Sorvino as a gutsy archaeologist, chasing art thieves and finding an ancient mystery. The second half fades considerably, but has its moments.
-- "The Good Witch" (2008), 7 p.m., and the "Good Witch's Garden," 9 p.m., Hallmark Channel. Last season's "Good Witch" had Catherine Bell moving into an ominous old mansion, stirring fear from some people and romance from others, including the widowed police chief. In the sequel, her only boarder draws new suspicions. Some plot twists are absurdly simplistic, but most viewers will forgive that. Bell is immensely charming as the maybe-witch and the film casts a sweet spell of feel-good optimism.
-- "The Wedding Crashers" (2005), 7 and 9:15 p.m., TBS. Two guys like to pop into strangers' weddings, just for the fun and drinks and brief romance; then, of course, real emotions intervene. A fairly good comedy idea clicks because of the likable cast -- Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Isla Fisher and (briefly, at the end) Will Ferrell.
-- "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice, 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. These reruns add up to a busy time for Derek. In the first hour, he has a ring and looks for a time to propose to Meredith; in the second, he gets a call from his ex-wife Addison, whose brother has had a severe seizure.
-- “Heroes,” 8 p.m., NBC. Here’s a second chance to catch the start of a new plot for this compelling show. It’s a key episode, finding a way to bring most of the characters back together.
-- “Flashpoint,” 9 p.m., CBS. A botched bank robbery creates a hostage crisis.
-- "Desperate Housewives," 10 p.m., ABC. Here's a rerun of the show's 100th episode. When the neighborhood handyman (Beau Bridges) dies, the women reminisce about moments that involved him.
-- "Saturday Night Live," 11:29 p.m.,NBC. Bradley Cooper, currently in the movies “Yes Man” and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” hosts, with music from TV On The Radio.