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.

TV column for Friday, Feb. 6

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


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Friday Night Lights," 9 p.m., NBC.
"Let's not make this into a big soap opera," Matt Saracen's grandfather says tonight.
Still, that's just what this episode is. On a bye week (no game for the Dillon High football team), there are powerful interactions behind key characters.
The plot twists might be soap-like, but the acting is in a brilliantly naturalistic style. Deep emotions are projected quietly.
Jesse Plemons, as Landry, is the master of this. His scenes with Tyra (Adrienne Palicki), his former girlfriend and permanent friend, are superb.
There are other great moments here. Saracen (Zach Gilford) connects with the mom (Kim Dickens) who deserted him. Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) explodes in protecting his former star Smash Williams (wonderfully played by Gaius Charles). This is soap-opera of the highest order -- and maybe the best-acted show on TV.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Flashpoint," 9 p.m., CBS.
This show has one key thing in common with its NBC competitor -- an ability to draw emotion with strong-and-silent characters.
The Canadian cops in "Flashpoint," like the Texas football players in "Friday Night Lights," waste few words. Tonight, a sniper is targeting Ed Lane (Hugh Dillon). There are no histrionics here, just decent people, calmly facing a crisis.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: "Jockeys" debut, 9 p.m., Animal Planet.
All of the interesting shows are at the same time tonight, so warm up your VCR and grumble about life being unfair.
This series focuses on the 115-pound humans who try to control 1,200 pound horses at 40 mph. The opener contrasts Aaron Gryder, 39, and Joe Talamo, 18. It also introduces Chantal Sutherland, a young Canadian jockey who is trying a difficult switch: She's moving to California to live with her boyfriend, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. All of these riders come across as likable people in a dangerous business.
Other choices include:
-- "Cops," 8 and 8:30 p.m., and "America's Most Wanted," 9 p.m., Fox. With NASCAR borrowing Saturday this week, these shows are running a day earlier than usual. (This is only a one-time thing; next Friday, Fox debuts the compelling "Dollhouse.") In the 8:30 episode, "Cops" returns to Broward County, the Florida spot where it started in 1989;
-- "Ghost Whisperer," 8 p.m., CBS. Even in death, an overbearing mother clings to a dark secret.
-- "Howie Do It," 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC. Both episodes include tricks played on models. In one, they're told they'll be posing in diapers; in the other, they're supposed to sell a fake cologne.
-- "The Rosa Parks Story," 9-11 p.m., Lifetime. Beautifully directed by Julie Dash, this film gets great work from Angela Bassett, as the young woman whose arrest sparked a surge in the civil rights movement.
-- "Finding Nemo" (2003), 9 p.m., Disney Channel. If kids can stay up late enough, they'll love this animated film; if not, this is more work for your VCR.
-- "Numb3rs," 10 p.m., CBS. A foreign ambassador says his limited-edition sneakers have been stolen. Soon, cops find that there's big money and crime in sneaker-collecting.
-- "Psych," 10 p.m., USA Network. The guys feel a pathological liar is finally telling the truth. Now they must convince authorities, in time to prevent an assassination.   

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 5

(Please note: Because of a temporary glitch, I'll put the daily columns back here for a while. This is only short-term, however; mostly, this site will be for blogs.)


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m., and "Private Practice," 10:02 p.m., ABC.
It's a big night for Derek (Patrick Dempsey) in two shows.
On "Grey's Anatomy," he has a ring and he's looking for the right time to propose to Meredith. And in "Private Practice," he gets a call from his ex-wife Addison; her brother Archer (Grant Show) has had a severe seizure and she needs Derek's advice. That sets up an episode next week in which the two shows entwine.
There's more, in both hours. In the first one, Lexie wants Mark Sloan to stop keeping their relationship secret. In the second, Violet (Amy Brenneman) is ready to tell colleagues she's pregnant.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Movies, 8 and 9 p.m., cable.
This is a night of great movies of every sort.
Want light, bright fantasy? Catch "Big" (1988) at 8 p.m. on WE or "Splash" (1984) at 9 p.m. on Hallmark. Both star Tom Hanks; both were directed beautifully by former ABC situation-comedy stars -- Penny Marshall and Ron Howard respectively.
Want serious drama? At 8 p.m., AMC has "Mystic River," a darkly intense drama, superbly directed by Clint Eastwood. At 9, Lifetime has the subtle perfection of Helen Mirren in "The Queen" (2006); Bravo has "Good Will Hunting," with Matt Damon co-writing and starring in a compelling story of a street tough who happens to be a math genius.
Other choices include:
-- "Ugly Betty," 8 p.m., ABC. Betty faces an important financial decision, but she's distracted by the renewed attention from Jesse.
-- "Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother," 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS. In a late move, CBS slides in reruns from two terrific Monday comedies. In the first, a young grad student is inexplicably attracted to Sheldon; in the second, Britney Spears gives a good comic performance as the giddy receptionist for Ted's love interest.
-- "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a drug lord's daughter, who was slain, seems to have had several had blood types.
-- "The Office," 9 p.m., NBC. Michael's branch is somehow considered a success, Now he's on a tour to speak at other branches, with Pam as his driver.
-- "30 Rock," 9:31 p.m., NBC. This Emmy-winner keeps having TV's top guest stars. Tonight it's Jon Hamm of "Mad Men," playing a handsome doctor who is Liz's new neighbor. By coincidence, Hamm is going against long-time girlfriend Jennifer Westfeldt, who is starting a three-week stay as Jen on "Grey's Anatomy."
-- "The Beast," 10 p.m., A&E. A jewelry-store executive is apparently stealing to pay off extortionists.
-- "ER," 10:01 p.m., NBC. In its final season, this show keeps bringing back characters from the past. Now it's Dr. Morgenstern (William H. Macy), visiting a former mentor who is gravely ill. Meanwhile, Gates and Morris work on a tough case and Sam is surprised when her sister (Shannon Woodward of "The Riches") visits.