TV column for Thursday, April 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Parks and Recreation" debut, 8:30 p.m., NBC.
TV needs a fresh comedy and these are the perfect people to try it -- Greg Daniels (producer of "The Office") and Amy Poehler.
The original script was fairly bland and we haven't seen the finished episode. Still, comedies improve on those first drafts; Daniels and Poehler know where to find the laughs.
She plays an assistant parks-and-recreation director in small-town Indiana. A wide-eyed optimist, she sees a junk-filled lot as a future playground; she sees her job as a step toward Washington, D.C.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Harper's Island" debut, 10:01 p.m., CBS.
Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy) loved growing up on this island, until her mother and five others were killed. Now she's returning for the first time in seven years.
She's there to see her friend (Christopher Gorham) marry an heiress (Katie Cassidy). She soon finds a schism between classes; she also finds new murders, one per episode.
This is an ongoing mystery, moving toward a July 2 conclusion. It sometimes plays like bad soap opera, but the Abby character has depth and empathy.
And no, the Cassidys aren't related. Elaine is from Ireland, Katie (David Cassidy's daughter) is from California.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: "Southland" debut, 10 p.m., NBC.
This cop show is a strange choice to inherit the "ER" slot.
Yes, it's from the same producer (John Wells); its central character (played by Ben McKenzie of "The O.C.") seems like Dr. John Carter reborn. But "ER" brought hope and idealism; this "Southland" debut is drenched in despair ... plus the distraction of too-jerky camera movement.
Still, there are spurts of great dialog, often emerging from training officer John Cooper (Michael Cutlitz). A hard-core cop with a gift for lyrical language, he offers hints that "Southland" might get better.
Other choices include:
-- "Survivor," 8 p.m., CBS. The two tribes merge. Jalapao had started strong, but lost the last three elimination challenges. It was down to four people, compared to six for Timbira; now the new schemes begin.
-- "The Office," 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. Both episodes involve Jim's shaky relationship with Charles, the new supervisor. In the first, they're in a soccer game in the parking lot. In the second, Charles tells Jim to prepare a "rundown"; Jim, alas, has no idea what that is.
-- "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 9 p.m., CBS. When a skydiver dies, Catherine finds a possible link to a double murder.
-- "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Cristina gets to try solo surgery. Also, Mark's difficult operation impresses Lexie.
-- "30 Rock," 9:30 p.m., NBC. Budget cuts mean Jack is supposed to trim staff and Kenneth has extra responsibilities. People become suspicious of Kenneth and hunt for some dark secret.
-- "Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire" debut, 10 p.m., Comedy Central. This new comedy wants to do to sword-and-sorcery tales what Mel Brooks did to cowboys and Robin Hood. It looks like the real thing -- complete with hunky hero (Sean Maguire) and sexy heroine (India de Beaufort) -- but keeps tossing in modern gags. Some elements -- including an obsession with dim-witted sex jokes -- are lame; others (Kevin Hart as an un-magical sorcerer, for instance) are fun. "Krod" is erratic, but has enough good moments to amuse us.
 

TV column for Wednesday, April 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "The Unusuals" debut, 10:02 p.m., ABC.
Police precincts have disappeared from our TV sets lately. There are plenty of cops and crooks, but few glimpses of day-to-day police life.
Now two shows debut on consecutive days. Each has a young cop -- Amber Tamblyn here, Ben Mackenzie in NBC's "Southland" on Thursday -- from a wealthy background.
Of the two, "The Unusuals" is much easier to enjoy. There's humor -- we meet Tamblyn at the moment she goes from vice-cop hooker to homicide -- and quirks.
Jeremy Renner plays Tamblyn's new partner, an intense individualist who also owns a diner (rarely open) and was a baseball player. Adam Goldberg plays a cop who wants to die in the line of duty; Harold Perrineau ("Lost") plays one who is obessed with staying alive.
Teetering between drama and offbeat comedy, "The Unusuals" sometimes loses its balance. The Eddie Alvarez character is way too broad, one flaw in a good show.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "American Masters: Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts," 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Forget all notions of a composer as monastic and distant. Even before he was famous, Philip Glass had a knack for assembling groups and performing odd music in odd places.
Now he has composed for operas, movies ("The Hours," "The Thin Blue Line," "Koyaanisqatsi") and more. In this rambling and amiable documentary, director Scott Hicks ("Shine") follows Glass, 72, as he prepares an opera, plays with his young kids, rides a roller-coaster and creates low-key meals at his cottage in Nova Scotia.
Other choices include:
-- "Law & Order," 8 and 10 p.m., NBC. In a late switch, NBC has pulled "Chopping Block" and inserted an extra "Law & Order" rerun. The 8 p.m. one is strong, with Clancy Brown as a small-town sheriff, clutching his reputation as a drugbuster. The 10 p.m. one has a memoir-writer killed.
-- Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Cousteau travels to the Arctic, to learn about the decline of beluga whales. The hour tends to be too stagnant and talky, but has interesting glimpses of native villages.
-- "Scrubs," 8 p.m., ABC. The janitor has a grand scheme: Claim there's a wedding in the Bahamas; people won't go, but they'll send gifts. The idea fails, alas, when everyone plans to go there.
-- "Better Off Ted," 8:30 p.m., ABC. The company's new system to detect employees has a key flaw: It only detects white people.
-- "Lost," 9 p.m., ABC. Ben Linus has a lot of sins to atone for. Now he tries to do that by summoning the island's smoke monster.
-- "American Idol," 9 p.m., Fox. Last week, Megan Joy was ousted -- to the surprise of no one, including Megan Joy. Tonight, barring a judges' reprieve, the field is trimmed to seven.
-- "Comics Unleashed" debut, 9 and 9:30 p.m., MyNetwork TV. Byron Allen hosts, holding discussions with fellow stand-up comedians.
-- "Life" season-finale, 9 p.m., NBC. As Crews scrambles to find his police partner, we learn fresh details about the plot that framed him.

TV column for Tuesday, April 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Fringe" return, 9:01 p.m., Fox.
We know Olivia (Anna Torv) is a tough FBI agent who can kick killers and chase monsters. Now we see the softer side -- with her niece and then with a boy who has grown up alone, developing strong powers.
That wraps into the search for a serial killer, and to a broader question: Is this boy an anomaly -- or is there something bigger? It's a strong episode, mixing warmth, tension and even bits of humor.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Recue Me" return, 10 p.m., FX.
After being gone for 19 months (partly due to the writers' strike), a great and quirky series returns.
We're reminded quickly that this is about firemen. That's clear in the spectacular early scenes and the tragic final scene.
In between is a human drama, spiced by the incredibly dark humor of the show's creators -- star Denis Leary and director Peter Tolan.
Leary's rant at a family gathering is perversely funny -- even if it does trigger a human collapse. And while lives crumble, Leary and a cousin debate the number of times their boyhood dog defecated in the laundry room.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE III: "My Boys," 10:30 p.m., TBS.
Last week, Bobby walked away from his wedding and began a romance with his buddy P.J. They're keeping it secret.
Now P.J.'s friends are obsessed with learning who her secret lover is; Bobby has to seem like he's helping. "My Boys" usually has pleasantly subtle humor; tonight, however, brings laugh-out-loud moments.
Other choices include:
-- "American Idol," 8 p.m., Fox. Last week, to no one's surprise, Megan Joy was ousted. Tonight, the final eight do songs from the years they were born. That ranges from 1980 (Danny Gokey) to 1992 (Allison Iraheta).
-- "Peanuts" cartoons, 8-9 p.m., ABC. Here are two vintage reruns. "It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown" drew an Emmy nomination in 1975. "Charlie Brown All-Stars," a baseball tale, goes back to 1966; the first special made after the wonderful "A Charlie Brown Christmas," it drew only mild reactions and hasn't been on network TV since 1982.
-- "Nova: Doctors' Diaries," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). It was 21 year ago that "Nova" began filming seven Harvard Medical School students. Here's the fourth and final film, following their lives. The bad news is that there is surprisingly little new footage; the good is that the old footage is varied and fascinating. Most interesting, as usual, is Tom Tarter. A former Bronx bouncer and weightlifter, he's now a long-haired, tattooed biker who lives in Indiana with his fourth wife and flies to temporary emergency-room job around the country.
-- "Frontline: Black Money," 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings), Until the 1970s, this special says, no country banned foreign bribery. The U.S. moved first after Watergate and has been vehement; in the past two years, it has collected almost $1.5 billion in fines. Other nations joined reluctantly. The British government investigated bribes involving an $80 billion fighter-plane deal -- then backed off when the Saudi government threatened to quit co-operating in the war on terrorism.
-- "The Mentalist," 9 p.m., CBS. Rebecca Rigg, the wife of series star Simon Baker, guests as the widow of a murdered movie producer.
-- "Trust Me," 9-11 p.m., TNT. This well-made series concludes with two new hours. The ad-agency partnership between Mason and Conner (Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh) is shaken by deals and schemes.  

TV column for Monday, April 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Basketball, 9 p.m. ET, CBS.
This is the big one, for the college championship. The winners of Saturday's final-four games collide at Ford Field in Detroit.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Roommates," 9 p.m., ABC Family.
In its third episode, this show comes up with a real winner, a frantic and funny episode that starts with one lie, then builds.
Hope (Tamera Mowry) refuses to admit she lost her big-deal job. She's trying to keep Katie from knowing she actually works at a coffee shop.
Now Katie is applying to Hope's old company. Mark -- the roommate who loves Katie from afar -- helps perpetuate the lie. From there, things build in the properly ditzy situation comedy style.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: "In Treatment," 8-10:30 p.m., HBO.
The second season got off to a great start Sunday, but slumps tonight.
Sunday's episodes rerun first. The opener (8 p.m.) gives the therapist (Gabriel Byrne) a jolting confrontation with the grieving father (Glynn Turman) of a patient who died; that sends him to a troubled malpractice lawyer (Hope Davis). The second has superb work by Alison Pill, as a college student who resists help, even in deep crisis.
It's a great start, but the next three half-hours fade. There's a boy and his divorcing parents (9 p.m.), a stressed executive (9:25 p.m., with John Mahoney) and then the therapist's mentor (9:55, Dianne Wiest). Each new episode is skillfully acted, but vague.
Other choices include:
-- "Dancing With the Stars," 8-9:32 p.m., ABC. Last week, both Holly Madison and Steve Wozniak were dumped. She had been a last-minute addition to the show; he was the first guy dropped, after previous ousters for Belinda Carlisle and Denise Richards. Nine celebrities remain.
-- "House," 8 p.m., Fox. Meat Loaf, the rock star, plays a dying man who seems to get better as his wife deteriorates.
-- "Chuck," 8 p.m., NBC. This should be a pleasant time for Chuck, who meets his long-absent father (Scott Bakula) and works with his hero (Chevy Chase). Neither situation goes as expected.
-- "Greek," 8 p.m., ABC Family. This so-so episode centers on rush week. Among sororities, ZBZ is at war with the new IKI, complete with espionage. Among fraternities, Rusty tries to lure a football star (played by pop star Jesse McCartney) to the informal Kappa Tau gang.
-- "Heroes," 9 p.m., NBC. The character known as "HRG" finds his marriage wobbling and his life spinning out of control,
-- "Surviving Suburbia," 9:32 p.m., ABC. Bob Saget and Cynthia Stevenson play parents who don't fit into their upbeat, upscale neighborhood, This show follows standard sitcom lines -- complete with goofy neighbor (Jere Burns) -- but is semi-salvaged by a few good twists and Stevenson's good work.
-- "Medium," 10 p.m., NBC. James Van Der Beek, the former "Dawson's Creek" star, plays the shifty son of a missing woman.
-- "House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague," 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). More than 11,000 gravestones are packed into this Czech cemetery, but that's just the beginning. There have been 12 layers of burials, historians say, with perhaps 100,000 bodies. This is a place rich with history and emotion; it's captured in a subtle and well-crafted documentary.   

TV column for Sunday, April 5


(Please note: Temporarily, I'm putting current TV columns here. Long-range, however, this Web site will be for blogs and for samples of past columns.)

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Academy of Country Music awards, 8-11 p.m., CBS.
There are plenty of veteran stars at this Las Vegas event. Reba McEntire hosts and performs. Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts perform; George Strait is named artist of the decade.
And there are the newcomers. Jamey Johnson and Heidi Newfield, with five nominations each, perform; so do teens Miley Cyrus and Tayor Swift. Also scheduled to perform are Sugarland, Lady Antebellum, Lee Ann Womack, John Rich and Miranda Lambert.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "In Treatment" (HBO) or "The Tudors" (Showtime) season-openers, both 9 p.m.
Two pay-cable channels collide, with well-made -- and thoroughly opposite -- shows.
"Tudors" is big, lush, intense. Tonight, King Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, is a possible moderating effect against his anti-Catholic zeal. It may be too late; a peasant Army marches in the North.
"In Treatment" offers the subtle emotions of patients and their therapist, Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne). Last season, his world crumbled. He divorced; a patient (a fighter pilot) returned to work too soon and died.
Paul has moved to Brooklyn, but the past follows him. In a jolting start, he re-meets the pilot's bereaved father (Glynn Turman, who won an Emmy in the role). Then come scenes with two great actresses: Hope Davis is a top malpractice lawyer; Alison Pill is a headstrong college student, clinging to a secret.
Other choices include:
-- "Kings," 8 p.m., NBC. To avert war, King Silas promised to give Port Prosperity to his enemy. That's the homeland of David, now torn between the king and his own family.
-- "Nature: Frogs: The Thin Green Line," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Frogs have been around for 250 million years, scientists say, but a now a fungus has killed one-third of amphibians. This documentary is beautifully crafted by Allison Argo, who is both a gifted filmmaker and (as a former actress) an appealing narrator.
-- "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," 8 p.m., HBO, rerunning at 10. Settling into her Botswana detective agency, Precious (Jill Scott) has one problem -- so far, no one has paid her. New cases arrive -- a missing husband, a missing dog, an eccentric dentist. Sweet and smart, it's an excellent episode.
-- "Masterpiece Classic: Little Dorrit," 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Romance is elusive in another good episode. Amy -- born in debtors' prison, but free to come and go -- gets a proposal. Her sister toys with a rich man; Arthur courts a rich woman.
-- "Explorer: Inside Guantanamo," 9-11 p.m. National Geographic Channel. Here is a detailed and even-handed look at the detention facility. It views the U.S. reasons for the camps, the excesses of the camps, the excesses of the detainees, the pain of guards and of ex-detainees.
-- "Breaking Bad," 10 p.m., AMC. Evicted by his parents, Jesse hit bottom last week. Now -- with Walt reluctantly giving him half the drug money -- he sets up a new operation. Meanwhile, Walt's brother-in-law is crumbling from his violent confrontation with a thug.
-- "River Monsters," 10 p.m., Animal Planet. Each week, Jeremy Wade views some of the scariest things in the water. Tonight, he finds surprising extremes with piranha: In some places, he can swim among them; in others, they are as fierce as their reputation.
-- "Brave New Voices" debut, 11 p.m., HBO. The "Def Poetry Jam" series has offered brilliant performers. Now that show's producers view a launching point for this spoken-word revolution, as teens prepare for a national poetry slam. This opener offers stirring idealism, but cuts the individual performances way too short.