TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 20




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Shark Tank”
season-finale, 8 p.m., ABC.

Spare and simple, this show has drawn
viewers because of its real-life stakes. Entrepreneurs bring ideas to
five wealthy investors, who may or may not provide money.

Tonight, we meet a very likable couple,
thinking small. These people make their “Mr. Poncho” – a
covering for a music-player, complete with a place to wrap the
earphone cord – in their apartment.

We also meet a rather unlikable duo,
thinking big. They expect millions from a Web site for college sports
recruiters.

Other ideas cause a stir, from
personalized bobble heads to a fake golf club that's a discreet
(well, semi-discreet) urinal on the fairway. Ideas and schemes bounce
around in an entertaining hour.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Frontline:
The Warning,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Alan Greenspan's strongest influence
was Ayn Rand, the author who once explained: “I am for an absolute
laissez-faire, free, unregulated economy.”

That was odd because Greenspan's job –
for Republican presidents and Bill Clinton – was to regulate the
economy. He wanted to let it heal itself; Brooksley Born disagreed.

As head of the Commmodity Futures
Trading Commission, she was wary of derivatives. “My staff began to
say how big this was,” she says here “and how little information
they had about it.”

Born's powers were taken away. Now –
after the troubles she'd warned of – here's an interesting look.

Other choices include:

– Baseball, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox. Fans
of “So You Think You Can Dance” will have to wait a day to learn
who's in the top 20. First, here's the fourth game of the
best-of-seven series between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles
Angels, for a spot in the World Series.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS.A Marine
was known for his extreme pranks. Now he's been killed on Halloween
Eve, possibly in retribution.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Here's the episode that was scheduled for last week, then
delayed. A defense contractor, of North Korean descent, has been
killed and secrets may have been stolen. The case reflects someone
from the past of NCIS Director Vance.

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 9
p.m., ABC. It's time for another star to be ousted. Also, the
professionals will dance to a medley of three Michael Jackson songs.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Three train engineers are being blamed for a crash and their widows
are being denied pensions. Alicia and Will have three days to prove
it wasn't their fault.

– “Sons of Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX.
Last week, most of the guys in the Samcro motorcycle gang were
tricked, trapped and arrested. Now they need protection (from
white-supremacists) inside the jail; they also need bail. It's a
fierce hour, with things finally exploding between Jax and Clay,
after a tough federal agent (Ally Walker) drives a wedge. It's also a
tough ride on the outside, especially for Gemma (Katey Sagal), who is
Jax's mom and Clay's wife.

– “The Forgotten,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. The unidentified victim seemed to be searching for something.
Alex (Christian Slater) sees similiarities to his own story.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 19




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Dancing With the
Stars” (8 p.m.) and “Castle” (10:02 p.m.), ABC.

This was almost a perfect confluence:
Debi Mazar would dance on “Stars,” then act on “Castle.”

Alas, she was eliminated from “Stars”
two weeks ago, at the same time that Tom DeLay dropped out with an
injury. They were a week ahead of fighting champion Chuck Liddell's
elimination.

Now Mazar guests as Castle's agent,
bringing him a tempting offer. If he accepts, this case – a body
found in a manhole – will be his final one with Kate Beckett; we're
guessing he says no.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Schmatta:
Rags to Riches to Rags” (2009), 9 p.m., HBO.

For a century, New York's “garment
district” was a powerful force, the city's leading employer.

After a 1911 fire killed workers locked
inside a factory, the district became the center of union and reform
movements. Workers found middle-class wages; their children became
doctors and lawyers.

Then it all collapsed with
globalization. In 1965, 95 percent of American clothing was made in
the U.S.; that went to 70 percent in 1985 and 5 percent today. Even
high-end clothing is often made overseas, under brutal conditions.

“Schmatta” skillfully mixes gentle
nostalgia and rage over a world in which a few big corporations
control a once-vibrant field.

Other choices include:

– “House,” 8 p.m., Fox. The team
argues about helping a man who shows no symptoms, but has a family
history of heart-attack deaths at age 40.

– “Rain Man” (1988), 8-11 p.m.,
AMC. Here's one of the great movies, alternately funny and moving.
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise are perfect as a savant and his
overwrought brother. The film won well-deserved Oscars for Hoffman
and for best picture, director and script.

– “Latin Music USA” conclusion,
9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The first hour views the surge
of Mexican-American music in the first half of the 20th
century. The second has the emergence of superstars – Ricky Martin,
Gloria Estefan and now Shakira – mixing Latino traditions with pop
sounds.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Jake rebels after being embarrassed by his dad and uncle.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. Wil Wheaton, of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,”
plays himself. Sheldon, alas, has a grudge against him.

– “Greek,” 9 p.m., ABC Family.
Having plunged from its top-sorority status, ZBZ tries drastic steps.
Meanwhile, Calvin and Evan brace for telling the world they are,
respectively, gay and broke. The best moments in this so-so episode,
however, involve Cappie and Lana (Olivia Munn), the hot townie. Rusty
is impressed because the two are so much alike … but is that a good
thing?

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. Wil Wheaton, of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,”
plays himself. Sheldon, alas, has a grudge against him.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Rod Stewart is the in-studio guest. And, as with all Mondays,
there's the “Headlines” segment.

– “Million Dollar Listing,” 10
p.m., Bravo. The housing bubble has burst on rich people, too, it
seems. Tonight's hour incudes someone receiving an offer that's $1.6
million below the original listed price. It's interesting, but almost
painful to watch.

 

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 18




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox.

The 20th annual “Treehouse
of Horror” offers odd and grisly tales, not intended for kids. The
first ones are OK, including a Hitchcock take-off (in
black-and-white) and flesh-eating zombies.

The highlight, however, is a musical at
the end. Homer's body is impaled by a beermaking machine, enriching
the brew; that story is filled with bizarrely funny moments.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Masterpiece
Mystery,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

A mixed season of “Inspector Lewis”
tales ends with the best and most complicated one.

Murders seem to be linked to revenge.
So far, however, Lewis is perplexed about who the killer is; at
first, he even has the wrong identity of the victim.

Other choices include:

– “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008),
6:45 p.m., HBO; also, “Another Day: Cheating Death,” 8 p.m.,11
p.m. and 2 a.m.,CNN. Saturday's top shows both repeat tonight.
“Slumdog” – the Oscar-winner for best picture – is a
brilliant mixture of drama, romance, hope and despair, set in India.
“Cheating Death” views progress in saving lives; Dr. Sanjay Gupta
skillfully mixes human and medical specifics.

– “Halloween Block Party,” 8
p.m., HGTV. Master designers and party planners take over three homes
in a California neighborhood. The results – two creepy spots for
grown-ups, one glowing candy land – will shame anyone who settles
for putting out a couple pumpkins.

– “Occupation,” 8 p.m. to
midnight, BBC America. You'll have to stick with this one, while
getting used to the characters and their accents. In Iraq, we meet
three tough, English soldiers. The story takes them home and back,
with waves of hope and despair. It's a tough, tragic ride, but deeply
involving.

– “Three Rivers,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Andy battles to get a new heart for a former drug addict … who
disappears shortly before surgery.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Everyone seems in love with the wrong person tonight. Katherine
obsesses on Mike, the newlywed; Ana loves John – not knowing he was
once her aunt's teen lover. Also, Susan learns a secret about her
comatose daughter.

– “The Kennedy Assassination: 24
Hours Later,” 9-11 p.m., History. This erratic documentary is best
when catching the passion of John Kennedy's people. In the Dallas
hospital, they forcefully took his coffin from Texas officials; a gun
was drawn and one person was knocked down. In the plane, they fumed
about sharing the ride with the new president, Lyndon Johnson, now
fully in charge.

– “Mad Men,” 10 p.m., AMC. Last
week, Don Draper began an affair – not one of the casual ones from
his past, but a passionate one with his kids' sweet-spirited teacher.
Even that, however, isn't his biggest secret. What if his wife
learned that he isn't really Don Draper, that he swapped identities
with a dead soldier? This is a strong hour, stuffed with secrets.

– “Storm Chasers” season-opener,
10 p.m., Discovery. Plagued by bad luck last season, two teams head
across Oklahoma in their armored vehicles. Their luck improves;
tornadoes are close.

– “Brothers & Sisters,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Other stories splash across the first days of Kitty's
chemotheraphy. There's her husband, considering dumping his campaign
for governor. And her brother's bride-to-be, in a sometimes-funny
search for the right wedding spot. And in the best moments, Sarah
spins the story of a sexual encounter with a Frenchman. He's played
convincingly by Gilles Marini, this spring's “Dancing With the
Stars” runner-up.

 

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 17






TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Slumdog
Millionaire” (2008), 8 p.m., HBO.

Nothing about “Slumdog” matches
expectations.

This story starts (once it reaches
flashbacks) with a lonely boy in India, literally falling into a pool
of defecation. It ends with a zestful, Bollywood-style song and
dance. In between, there's a game show, violence, horror, sweet
romance and the love-hate relationship of brothers.

Somehow, that pain adds up to a
joyously upbeat film, directed beautifully by Danny Boyle
(“Trainspotting”). The result won an Academy Award for best
picture, plus seven more Oscars, including ones for Boyle and for the
script.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Another Day:
Cheating Death,” 8 p.m., CNN; repeats at 11 p.m., 2 a.m., and the
same times Sunday.

The concept of death has become
elastic, Dr. Sanjay Gupta says in this fascinating documentary (and
the book it's based on). New methods stretch the period when someone
can be revived.

We meet Mike Mertz, who collapsed at
the wheel of his car; he was saved because paramedics in Glendale,
Ariz., were trying a new system of CPR. And Chris Brooks, a young
cardiac-arrest survivor; he survived because of an “ice doctor”
system that cools the body while help is coming.

These are rich stories, entwined with a
mixture of human warmth and medical specifics.

Other choices include:

– Sports, everywhere. ABC sets aside
its college football games, replacing them with NASCAR from Concord,
N.C. That's at 7:30 p.m. ET – the same time that Fox has the second
baseball play-off game between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles
Lakers. If you prefer college football, go to ESPN, ESPN2, Vs and
beyond.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. The murder
of a prison guard leads to the takeover of a women's prison in this
rerun, with McGee held captive.

– “Trauma,” 9 p.m., NBC. A busy
rerun gets even busier when a gunman takes over an office building.
Amid waves of tragedy, there are some decent human moments for the
paramedics.

– “Head Games,” 9 p.m., Science
Channel. Whoopi Goldberg produces this quiz show, which makes science
fun. The questions are clever and accessible and Greg Proops is an
ideal host.

– “Sorority Wars,” 9-11 p.m.,
Lifetime. Can a bad story be salvaged by the righyt actress? Probably
not, but Lucy Hale (“Privileged”) gives it a try. She's sort of a
new Valerie Bertinelli – immensely attractive to men,
simultaneously likable to women. Here, she plays a college freshman
trapped between the sorority expectations of her mom (Courtney
Thorne-Smith), another alumna (Faith Ford) and others. The story is
wretchedly exaggerated, but Hale keeps us interested.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m.,NBC. This rerun has a start similar to one in a “Law
& Order” episode: A man wakes up with a woman's dead body next
to him and no memory of what happened.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Gerard Butler hosts, with music by Shakira.

 

TV column for Friday, Oct. 16




TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY: “Ugly Betty”
season-opener, 8-10 p.m., ABC.

Fresh starts can be tough, you know.
Justin learns that when he tries to be fashionable on his first day
of high school; his aunt Betty learns it – often – at work.

She's an associate features editor now,
but she's adrift. Her former boss Daniel is mourning his wife's
death; her former boyfriend Matt is in charge, mourning the end of
their romance. Wilhelmina and Claire are turning the magazine into a
power trip.

All of this has the “Ugly Betty”
touch: A slight, soap-opera story gets stylish settings and likable
actors. Tossed into the mix tonight are Kristen Johnston (as a career
receptionist), Lynn Redgrave (as a jewelry designer), Smith Cho (as a
new rival) and more. Even at its silliest, “Betty” is fun to
watch.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Stargate
Sanctuary,” 8 and 9 p.m., Syfy.

If you missed last week's episode,
catch the rerun at 8. It's a fairly good (if slow) hour, as two teams
plod through a desert planet, trying to find the material the ship
desperately needs. Meanwhile, we see the use of the “communication
stones” – which lets someone temporarily trade bodies with
someone back home. (Yes, that's kinjd of out there; “Syfy” may be
spelled funny, but it's still sci fi.)

Then comes the new hour (which reruns
at 11). Even with severe rationing, people may only be able to
survive on the ship for a few more days.

Other choices include:

– Baseball, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox. The
New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels both blitzed through the
first round; beating the Twins and Red Sox, respectively, in three
straight games. Now they collide, with the first two games in Yankee
Stadium and on Fox.

– “Law & Order,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Jim Gaffigan, a terrific comedian, tries a serious role tonight. He
plays someone who finds his wife dead, after they adopted 10 kids
with special needs. Police discover that a proposed reality show was
causing disagreements.

– “Ghost Whisperer,” 8 p.m., CBS.
A hospital morgue seems to be haunted, after a failed surgery and the
death of a surgeon.

– “Medium,” 9 p.m., CBS. Allison
sees strange symbols that could be clues to a serial killer.

– “Secrets of the Lost Symbols,”
9 p.m., NBC. Yes, it's pathetic that NBC has canceled the second
season of “Southland,” which was supposed to air in this slot;
the show shot six new episodes, but none aired. Instead, “Dateline”
and other pseudo-news will fill the hour, including this Matt Lauer
interview with Dan Brown (“The Da Vince Code”) on the impact of
freemasonry on early American history.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Ross Mathews turns in his first primetime report. Also, John
McCain answers the “10 at 10” questions.

– “Numb3rs,” 10 p.m., CBS. A
movie hasn't even opened, but its murders are already being copied.

– “Sanctuary,” 10 p.m., Syfy. In
the second half of the season-opener, Tesla and Henry try to fend off
the attacks by the Cabal, without harming Helen's daughter, Ashley.