TV column for Sunday, Jan. 31




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Grammy awards, 8-11
p.m., CBS.

Even without the awards, this offers a
rich sampling of the music world.

There will be performances by Beyonce,
Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews, the Black Eyed Peas, Pink, Elton John,
Roberta Flack, Maxwell, Jennifer Nettles, Lady Antebellum and the Zac
Brown Band. There will be duets and group numbers, topped by Taylor
Swift, Lady Gaga, Green Day, Jamie Foxx and Eminem; also, Mary J.
Blige and Andrea Bocelli will sing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”
as a Haiti tribute.

And there's the big one – Carrie
Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Usher and Celine Dion –
joining the voice of the late Michael Jackson, for his “Earth
Song.” That will be accompanied by a four-and-a-half-minute film
that people can see in 3-D, with free glasses available at Target.

And there are the awards. Beyonce leads
with 10 nominations, followed by Swift with eight and Gaga with five.
All are up for best album (alongside Matthews and the Peas) and for
best single (alongside the Peas and Kings of Leon).

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live Presents: Sports All-Stars,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Over the years, “SNL” has had the
greats from baskeball (Lebron James, Michael Jordan), football
(Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Fran Tarkinton) the Olympics (Nancy
Kerrigan, Michael Phelps) and more. Some – Manning, for instance –
have show a fine comedy touch; many have not.

Now it assembles many of its sketches
with athletes – plus others about sports. That includes the classic
synchronized swimming routine with Martin Short and Harry Shearer. It
also includes the clueless sportscasters played by Jason Sudeikis and
Will Forte; they'll host and do some new bits.

Other choices include:

– “A Family is a Family is a
Family,” 7 p.m., HBO. Back in 1974, Marlo Thomas produced the
joyous “Free to Be … You & Me.” Now Rosie O'Donnell uses
the same style for a modern version. Her point is that any
combination – traditional, adoptive, same-sex, mixed-heritage and
more – can work, if there's love. Viewers who disagree might still
savor the sheer zest and charm of this special.

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). Sprawling through a dozen European countries, the
Balkan Peninsula is often heard of only during war. It also contains
some of nature's greatest sights; this film offers gorgeous glimpses
of the animals, the landscapes and a handful of people.

– “Masterpiece Classic: Emma,” 9
p.m., PBS (check local listings). The opener of this three-part Jane
Austen tale was fairly stiff, but this mid-section is better. Emma –
who keeps botching her matchmaking – wonders who the admirer is who
gave Jane Fairfax a piano. Is it the quiet Mr. Knightley? And is
Frank Churchill interested in Emma? We'll see.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Life has become more complicated for Susan, since she inherited
half of a strip club. Tonight, she befriends a stripper, played by
Julie Benz of “Dexter.”

– “Big Love,” 9 p.m., HBO. “This
is demented beyond words,” Nicki rages tonight. She's talking about
the notion of her ex-husband marrying her mother; still, “demented”
could apply to other things, including the brief kiss (and
unacknowledged infatuation) between Bill's youngest wife and his son.
Life is getting terribly complicated, especially with Bill running
for state senator. By the end of this hour, you'll wonder about his
honesty; you'll find the show both fascinating and disturbing.

– “Las Vegas Jail” debut, 10
p.m., Tru TV. There is little pleasure to be derived from seeing
people at their lowest moments, shortly after arrest. There's no
truth, a cop says, to “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
Sometimes, he says, it's “arrive on vacation, leave on probation.”

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 30




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Magic of
Ordinary Days” (2005), 8-10 p.m., CBS.

In 1944, Livy (Keri Russell) dreams of
college and a career in archeology. Then she becomes pregnant and her
angry father arranges a marriage with a quiet farmer (Skeet Ulrich)
in Colorado.

This isn't the life she had envisioned.
Still, she sees new worlds via her sister-in-law (Mare Winningham)
and a Japanese family at a nearby interment camp.

“Magic” was produced under the
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” banner, with the qualities that usually
brings – strong acting, graceful pace and a deep sense of
character.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Miss America
pageant, 8-10 p.m., TLC.

Once one of TV's big moments, this
pageant is now confined to a middling spot on the cable roster.

This year's edition is in Las Vegas;
Mario Lopez – who has also hosted competitions for kids, teens,
dancers and dogs – has his third time as host. He'll be joined by
Clinton Kelly of “What Not to Wear.”

Presumably, Kelly won't be doing any
instant makeovers. The contestants will rush between categories of
talent, interview, evening wear and “lifestyle & fitness.”
They'll be judges by celebrities, large (Rush Limbaugh) and small
(Shawn Johnson).

Other choices include:

– “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. Facing money problems and a degenerative muscular
disease, Clara Ward has continued a youth program in Erie, Pa. In
this rerun of a December episode, the team rebuilds her crumbling
home.

– “Truth in Motion: U.S. Ski Team's
Road to Vancouver,” 8 p.m., NBC. Previously, Brett Morgan received
an Oscar nomination for “On the Ropes,” then directed “The Kid
Stays in the Picture” and “Chicago 7.” He began this
documentary at the season's first meet (in Austria), focusing on
skiers likely to make the Olympic team.

– “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993),
E, or “Closer” (2004), IFC; both 8 p.m. Here are two well-written
movies. “Sleepless,” co-written and directed by Nora Ephron, is a
bright tale of likable strangers, played by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.
“Closer” has the caustic relationships of four people. Patrick
Marber adapted his play without compromise; director Mike Nichols got
great work from Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen and Jude
Law.

– “Law & Order,” 9 p.m., NBC.
A deadly car crash seems to involve drunken driving, in this rerun.
Then police find a nose spray that could have been used to disorient
the victim.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. In this rerun, a teen who was killed tests
positively for HIV. Now police search for a man who has been
spreading HIV to strangers.

– “Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. In this
rerun, a woman has been killed in a transient hotel. That links to a
long-ago secret – and to a true-crime writer who may have been
stalking her.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) returns for his second time as
host; Michael Buble is the musical guest.



TV column for Friday, Jan. 29




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Caprica,” 9
p.m., Syfy.

Science fiction is rarely easy and this
series is more tangled than most.

The fascinating opener (rerunning from
7-9 p.m.) introduced teen Zoe, who rebelled by following a one-god
religion. Then her boyfriend blew up a train, killing them both.

Fortunately, Zoe had made an avatar of
herself. Unfortunately, her mega-mogul dad stuffed it inside a robot.
TV viewers can sometimes see Zoe there, but others see only cold
steel.

This is as weird as it sounds, but the
producers have done a superb job of creating an alternate planet,
50-some years before their “Battlestar Galactica.” The visuals
are beautiful and we quickly feel the emotions of Zoe, her friend
Lacy and Zoe's mom, who has a very public breakdown.

We also see the pain of Joseph Adama,
who lost his wife and daughter in the explosion. “Galactica” fans
know his son will be important in the years ahead.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Kitchen
Nightmares” season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox.

In Philadelphia, two sisters and their
sister-in-law started the Hot Potato Cafe. None knew much about
running a restaurant; their niece – 21 and untrained – became the
chef, admitting, “I'm lost.”

Others agreed. A reviewer called the
place “Spuddy Hell” and it sank $250,000 in debt.

Can Gordon Ramsay save it? He has
doubts and, at one point, walks out; it's a good start to the season.

Other choices include:

– “Dollhouse” finale, 8 p.m.,
Fox. This is a big night for science fiction. Last week, we saw a
world in 2020, filled with devastation. Now Echo and the other
survivors of the dollhouse try to prevent that fate and to save
mankind; it's the end of an imaginative series that never caught on
with viewers.

– “Ghost Whisperer,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of the season-opener. Melinda gives birth to her son,
who quickly shares her gift for seeing ghosts.

– “The Fugitive” (1993), 8-11
p.m., AMC. Tautly crafted, this film has Harrison Ford as a wrongly
convicted man, pursued by Tommy Lee Jones. It leads a great movie
night that includes “Twilight” (2008) at 8 p.m. on Showtime,
“Bourne Identity” (2002) at 8:30 on USA, “Grease” (1978) at
8:30 on VH1 and “Groundhog Day” (1993) at 9 p.m. on TV Land.

– “Medium,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a
switch, CBS has set a rerun that was scheduled previously and then
delayed. Danielle Panabaker (“Shark”) plays a well-adjusted young
woman who may or may not have killed her parents.

– “Numb3rs,” 10 p.m.,CBS. Here's
another episode switch. CBS inserts an episode in which a killer is
targeting the clients of prostitutes.

– “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” 10
p.m., Starz. Like last week's opener, this hour has brutal violence,
occasionally spiced with sex. Our hero, newly enslaved and renamed
Spartacus, reluctantly trains as a gladiator. Beautifully filmed,
this remains a rough journey; in the final moments, we get promising
signs of where the show could be headed.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 28




TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Live For the
Moment,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Roger Childs was 38, with a
picture-book family and life, when the jolt came.

He learned he has ALS (known as Lou
Gehrig's disease). The doctor said he had 3-5 years to live.

Since then, Childs has tried to pack a
lot of living into the past three years; now this show helps him. It
offers a flurry of adventures, in the sky and in ski country.

This special – the pilot for a series
– makes a point similar to the Tim McGraw song, “Live Like You
Are Dying.” Then it makes the point again and again. It's terribly
repetitious, but that doesn't seem to hurt “Extreme Makeover,”
“Biggest Loser” and other monotone shows.

This one, at least, is hosted by Jeff
Probst, who produces with his “Survivor” boss Mark Burnett. They
bring quality to a show that repeats one good thought over and over.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Archer,”
10 p.m., FX.

Last week's episode (rerunning at
10:30) had lots of action-adventure touches. Now this animated show
reverses direction: Most of the story happens at Malory's dinner
party.

She's hoping to lure United Nations
business to her spy shop. Her son Sterling Archer arrives clueless
and dateless, glaring at his ex-lover Lana and her nerdy beau Cyril.
There are alternate schemes to impress and/or kill a UN official.
It's all rather broad and occasionally quite funny.

Other choices include:

– “The Deep End,” 8 p.m., ABC.
These attractive young lawyers keep finding complications. Tonight,
Beth (Leah Pipes) battles her father in court. Addie (Tina Majorino)
brings in a client who endangers the firm. Among the bosses, Cliff
(Billy Zane) has news that unsettles his ex-wife Susan.

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. There are
a lot of reruns tonight, but Fox is all-new. In this hour, a
modern-day body has been found in a Civil War ditch.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. Here's a
wedding gone bad: All the guests suffocate from the inside.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
This rerun starts on the day the two hospitals merge. That leaves the
doctors scrambling for surgery time, with Izzie facing trouble.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Taylor Swift plays the teen daughter of the
owners of a tacky motel where three people have been killed.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
In a rerun, Patrick Jane is arrested for spying on Bosco, but still
manages to help solve a case while in prison.

– “SoundStage,” 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). There's a rich emotional power to
singer-pianist Isaac Slade and the band called The Fray. In a strong
concert, they include “Cable Car” (which reached No. 8 on the
Billboard chart), “How to Save a Life” (which reached No. 3) and
other passionate songs.

– “Project Runway,” 10 p.m.,
Lifetime. In the third episode – the second reruns at 9 p.m. –
the designers must work as duos. Egos soon clash.

 

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 27




TONIGHT'S SHOULD-SEE: State of the
Union address, 9 p.m. ET, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and cable news channels.

This is a crucial time for policy and
politics. So Barack Obama's talk gets extra attention.

NBC plans to give two hours to the talk
and responses; others have set 90 minutes. Cable news channels can
devote much of the night, before and after the speech.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Psych”
return, 10 p.m., USA.

After four years nudged cozily behind
“Monk,” this show – about a guy with great observation skills,
who pretends to be a psychic – is on its own. It offers an
ambitious hour that has wrestling champion John Cena playing a tough
soldier whose sister is Juliet, the cop.

The good news: It starts wonderfully,
giving Cena – who is quite good – some action-adventure humor;
it also peeks at Shawn's lifelong disinterest in the military.

The bad: Things get too silly, even by
“Psych” standards. Also, the story requires lots of bullets to be
fired, each an inch or so away from causing harm. This is fun, but
only if viewed with a shrug.

Other choices include:

– “American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Other broadcast networks pile up reruns tonight. Here's the lone
exception; we see the Dallas auditions, with Neil Patrick Harris and
Joe Jonas as guest judges.

– “The New Adventures of Old
Christine,” 8 p.m., CBS. This reruns the season-opener, with
Christine and her brother heading to Bahamas, trying to get Barb
back.

– “Modern Family,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Here's the episode in which we met Jay's first wife (Shelley Long),
the mother of Phil and Claire. It's her first visit since she
misbehaved at his wedding; people are wary.

– “The Middle,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Frankie is expecting a romantic anniversary night. Then problems
begin; one son is sick, the other has his learner's permit for
driving and their daughter is in love.

– “Life Unexpected,” 9 p.m., CW.
This show's first episode was a warm and involving portrait of a
smart and gutsy teen, meeting her birth parents. This second episode
(which also aired Monday) is a bit of a re-set, giving characters new
flaws. The teen has a secret life and agenda; her mom is told by a
boss to deny everything. This isn't nearly as good as the opener, but
is still worth watching.

– “The Inbetweeners,” 9 and 9:30
p.m., BBC America. Will's first weeks in public school aren't going
well. In the previous episode (rerunning at 9 p.m.), he and his
friends tried to take a day off; in a new one (at 9:30), they drive
to an amusement park. Soon, one guy is in a Speedo and another is
carrying a yellow car door. Both episodes are loud and blunt, but
fairly funny.

– “Leverage,” 10 p.m., TNT. Kari
Matchett, who has co-starred with Tim Hutton in two series and a
mini-series, returns to her role as his ex-wife. Now the team wants
to free her from a Ukrainian prison.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 10:30
p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of a funny episode in which Alan said the
one thing that could enrage Charlie – a suggestion that Chelsea get
a breast reduction.

– “Cougar Town,” 10:30 p.m., ABC.
In a rerun, Jules figures it's time to break up with Josh. She's no
good at break-ups, but her friends try to help.