Monday (Feb. 2) TV: Too much, too good

We all know that Feb. 2 repeats itself over and over. That's what happened to Bill Murray in the "Groundhog Day" movie; the repeating was, we were told, a bad thing.

This week, however, I think it would be kind of good. Monday has way too many strong shows for one night; it would be a good day to repeat -- or at least to put our VCR's or TIVO's into hyperdrive.

Any regular Monday includes TV's best series ("House," 8 p.m.) and TV's best comedy ("Big Bang Theory," 8 p.m.). It has the sometimes-terrific "How I Met Your Mother" (8:30), plus the still-funny "Two and a Half Men" (9 p.m.) and "Prison Break" (9 p.m.) and more.

This Monday, things pile up. There's the 100th "House" episode, a richly crafted hour with an ethical dilemma that entangles Foreman. There's a compelling "American Experience" (9 p.m.), viewing the rush to find a polio vaccine. And there's the return of NBC's Monday line-up, which spent way too long on the shelf.

"Chuck" (8 p.m.) is an underrated delight. Now it's back with an episode that's in 3-D. (We're supposed to get glasses wherever SoBe is sold, which kind of depends on what SoBe is and where it's sold.)

"Medium," a fairly good show, finally starts its season at 10.  And in between is the start of a new "Heroes" chapter.

Often, "Heroes" has scattered its characters in too many places. Monday's episode tries to patch things up. By the end of Monday's hour, most of the characters are in one precarious place.

They'll split back up eventually, but this is a promising start. "Heroes" is making a heroic effort to get back on track. 

Passenger trains still work (really)

I probably should have suspected this, but now I know for sure: This whole passenger-train thing really does work.

Movies and TV shows -- my main reference points in life -- always hint that trains work. They show passengers riding effortlessly; along the way, people find romance, sex and mysteries, plus a mean  guy who's intent on killing James Bond.

Still, I keep forgetting to try. My one previous train trip (from Minnesota to Michigan) had included fun and Scrabble; then I went back to my usual car life.

This week, I finally re-trained myself.The goal was to go from near Lansing, Michigan, to Madison, Wisconsin. It's a tough trip, because Chicago keeps wedging itself between. I checked with Amtrak, which said it would take me there (train to Chicago, then bus) for $49.

I had no illusions of finding mysteries, Scrabble or Bond-killers, but I was hoping to see some upcoming TV episodes during the trip, before the battery on my little DVD player gave out.

When I got to the train station, I was delighted to find an electrical outlet. When I got into the train, I found another outlet right next to my super-comfy seat. I even found a place to plug in at the Chicago terminal.

The second half of the trip was adequate. The terminal had no interest in telling me where or how to find my bus. The bus was (again) super-comfy, but didn't have outlets. I read, instead.

By the end of the trip, I knew a lot about "Oliver Twist"; also, I had seen:

-- A good "Heroes" (9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, NBC), which finally gets most of the characters back together.

-- A great "American Experience" (9 p.m. Monday, PBS), looking at the massive efforts to prevent polio.

-- A fairly good "Frontline" (9 p.m. Tuesday, PBS), offering a personal view of Parkinson's disease.

-- And more, including a wonderful George Carlin tribute (9 p.m. Wednesday, PBS). Scooting across the countryside in comfort, I was watching clips of a comic genius. I think I like trains. 



"Bride Wars" is a minor skirmish

OK, I have only myself to blame for this: On Oscar-nomination weekend, still giddy over having seen "Slumdog Millionaire" (see previous blog), I ... well, went to "Bride Wars."

It's not that it's a bad movie. It was co-written by Casey Wilson, one of the newer "Saturday Night Live" people, who also has a brief role. It's resoundingly adequate.

And maybe I should have guessed that. Anne Hathaway sometimes ends up in movies with texture and content; Kate Hudson's movies -- at least, the ones that make it to the multiplex -- can collectively be greeted with a shrug and an "eh."

This one is Kate's kind of movie. It does have a few decent moments and it's always fun to see two brides wrestling in the aisle, their veils and trains tangled into one fluffy souffle. Mostly, though, I think I'll get back to the Oscar nominees. 


Slumming it with Oscar

By the time I'd left Los Angeles, I was filled with buzz for and against "Slumdog Millionaire."

Critics who had seen it were giddy. Producers of "Skins" (an above-average teen show on BBC America) were delighted; Dev Patel, an obscure actor in the first season of their show, suddenly had the title role in this Oscar-bound powerhouse. And on the way to the airport, a fellow passenger (heading home to Calcutta) said he disliked the film: "They only show the bad parts of India."

Well, I do agree with that part. After seeing scenes of poverty, crime and corruption (plus a cute kid soaked in feces), I wasn't dreaming of a vacation in India.

Still, there is much more. "Slumdog Millionaire" is a bracing, energizing film. And it gets there in time-tested, Hollywood ways.

Hollywood loves ships that pass in the night, would-be lovers who keep almost meeting. That has worked wonders, from the old black-and-white films to "Doctor Zhivago."

Hollywood loves the extreme underdog, from Charlie Chaplin to "Rocky." And it savors the love-hate relationship of brothers.

"Slumdog Millionaire" uses all of that and more. Often, great movies come from an outside perspective. Now Danny Boyle, who grew up in blue-collar England, brilliantly captures the visual sweep of India.

Boyle even throws in a bonus. After the story is done -- after filmgoers have been swept on a roller-coaster of emotion -- he offers a surprise: The actors return for a splendid, Bollywood-style musical number. It's the perfect ending for a movie that would be liked by Zhivago and Rocky and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ... and will be loved by lots of modern movie buffs.


A true gourmet adventure

So there I was tonight, at my anniversary dinner at Olive Garden. This tends to be a good thing. I've had many anniversaries and many Olive Garden meals and generally been happy with them.

So this time, I pulled out the menu and spotted the symbol that says something is good for me. It happened to be chicken, smothered in asparagus and apricots. I like chicken and smothering it in things -- you know, mushrooms and asparagus and other sorts of vegetables -- tends to do it no harm.

Then they brought it out and -- well, someone had poured fruit sauce all over my chicken.

I started to protest, when I remembered something important: Apricots are fruits.

I would have realized that earlier if I had thought about it. I didn't, though, because:

1) "Apricot" sounds like "asparagus," so the two blend in my mind.

2) Who would pour fruit sauce over meat, anyway? Apricots are for English muffins, not for drowning an entree.

My excuse in all this is that I grew up in a small Wisconsin town where there was little emphasis on the gourmet. One restaurant's only sign said the following, in neon: "Eat." A few years ago, the restaurant was for sale for $19,900.

That's my excuse, anyway. Except that my wife comes from small-town Wisconsin and she seems to know all sorts of food things, including what an apricot is. And Cole Porter grew up on an Indiana farm and Barack Obama's dad grew up in a Nigerian village and Dick Bennett (who re-shaped Wisconsin basketball) grew up in the same town I did, at the same time I did. They all grew and learned and expanded; I'm still trying to remember to beware of apricot sauce.