TV column for Sunday, May 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," 8 p.m., HBO; reruns at 10.
This hour starts well and ends wonderfully. In between are a couple of so-so detective tales.
At the core is Precious (Jill Scott), still grieving from a bad marriage to a great trumpet player. With her inheritance, she started the only female-run detective agency in Botswana. There she has an assistant (Anika Noni Rose) and the futile love of a neighboring garage owner.
Tonight, a competing detective arrives, filled with macho ego. Stick with this hour; your patience will be rewarded.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Cold Case" season finale, 9 p.m., CBS; concludes next week.
The music of Pearl Jam ripples through this two-parter, as the team re-examined the death of the first female cadet at a local military school.
Daniel Baldwin plays a school official, with Joe Penny and Jessica Tuck as the parents. The terrific Jesse Plemons (Landry on "Friday Night Lights") is one of the cadets.
Other choice include:
-- The Fairly Oddparents: Wishology," 6-9 p.m., Nickelodeon. Here's a chance to catch the three-night, animated mini-series in one gulp. In the first two hours (rerunning at 6 and 7 p.m.), Timmy Turner battled evil and occasionally doused himself in glory. In tonight's finale, he has some help from the deluded Turbo Thunder, voiced by Brendan Fraser.
-- "Nature: Eagles of Mull," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). After traveling the world for 15 years as a nature filmmaker, Gordon Buchanan returned to his home turf, the Scottish island of Mull. There, he caught gorgeous views of white-tailed sea eagles and wildlife.
-- "Masterpiece Classic: The Old Curiosity Shop," 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). There have been terrific moments in PBS' Charles Dickens series, so we'll forgive this disappointing finish. An absurdly maudlin tale is filmed in unrelenting darkness. The only redeeming moments come from the villains, well-played by Toby Jones, Adam Godley and Gina McKee. There are strong moments near the end, but you may have left by then.
-- "Desperate Housewives," 9 p.m., ABC. Susan's young lover, Jackson, has been missing from the show for months, due to actor Gale Harold's motorcycle accident. Now he's back, in an episode with key personal moments. Katherine deceives Mike (Susan's ex-husband) to get him back. Tom and Lynette negotiate sex; Bree goes to extremes to get the best lawyer.
-- "Expedition Grizzly," 9 p.m., National Geographic Channel. Casey Anderson's close friend stands 7-foot-8 and weight 800 pounds. That's Brutus, the grizzly bear who has lived with him since a cub. With that perspective, Anderson offers this fairly interesting look at the 600 grizzlies living in Yellowstone Park.
-- "Breaking Bad," 10 p.m., AMC. Much of this hour is a terrific, two-person drama. Opposite souls -- Walt and Jesse -- are stuck together alone. It eventually requires a solution that MacGyver would love ... if, of course, MacGyver had a mobile meth lab.

-- "The IFC Media Project" season-opener, 11 p.m., IFC (Independent Film Channel). This show has a terrific host (Gideon Yago, formerly of MTV) and a fresh perspective. Tonight, it views the decline of international news coverage. It asks why cable systems in the U.S. have refused to air the Al Jazeera English channel; it also wonders if Americans were too quick to view Russians as the villains in the fight with tiny Georgia.

TV column for Saturday, May 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Saturday Night Live," 11:29 p.m., NBC.
There are two new episodes coming, followed by a long summer of reruns.
Tonight, Justin Timberlake hosts and joins musical guest Ciara for "Love Sex Magic." Next week, Will Ferrell hosts and Green Day is musical guest; then come the reruns.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Backstory: Darius Rucker," 10 p.m., GAC (Great American Country).
Darius Rucker's country-music career drew skepticism. That wasn't because he's black, people say in this interesting hour; it's because he was a rock star. His first Hootie and the Blowfish album sold 14 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Still, Rucker showed a country-music knowledge that goes back to his South Carolina roots. "My sisters would say, 'He's listening to that white-boys' music,'" he recalls here.
He would eventually be a football quarterback, but back then he was a self-professed "mama's boy," growing up with his mom and sisters. On the radio, he listened to the gospel music of a dad he rarely saw; on TV, he watched "Soul Train," "Hee Haw," "American Bandstand" and his grandmother's favorite, wrestling.
Yes, wrestling; Rucker even own's Ric Flair's robe. "I guess mid-life crisis does happen to people at different times," Tiger Woods says with a laugh.
His friendship with Woods has given Rucker one of golf's longest losing streaks; this is a story with fun surprises. 
Other choices include:
-- "Being Erica," 3-9 p.m., SoapNet. This series involves a young woman who bounces back to previous times in her life, where she tries to undo mistakes. The final episodes are on the next two Thursdays. First, here's a chance to catch up on the six most-recent ones.
-- "The Fairly Oddparents: Wishology," 7 and 8 p.m., Nickelodeon; concludes Sunday. In the terrific opener (rerunning at 7 p.m.), Timmy Turner found himself as the Chosen One, fighting evil on his own. In the pretty good second episode, he's covered with glory and self-praise -- until the villains return. A humorous animated adventure follows, including a clever little nod to "Star Wars."
-- "The Last Templar," 7-11 p.m., Ion. After scheduling the brilliant "Lonesome Dove" miniseries, Ion has switched to this so-so mini, shown in one night. Mira Sorvino stars as an adventurous anthropologist; this starts wonderfully, ends poorly.
-- "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," 8-11 p.m., ABC. The third Potter film took a darker tone, with Alfonso Cuaron taking over as director and Gary Oldman playing an escaped convict. Also added, as faculty members, are Emma Thompson and David Thewlis.
-- "Without a Trace," 8 p.m., CBS. This reruns the November episode in which Jack got back his job as department head. The team looks for a bank manager who vanished after foreclosing on people's homes.
-- "Harper's Island," 9 p.m., CBS. Yanked from its cozy Thursday slot, this show was banished to Saturdays. Tonight, friends take the groom-to-be fishing, then make a gruesome discovery. Also, a psychic has a strong reaction to Abby, whose mother was killed on the island.
-- "Living Out Loud," 9-11 p.m., Hallmark Channel. Gail O'Grady gives a quietly moving performance as a mom and music teacher with breast cancer. This subtle film is at its best when showing the reactions of her husband and daughter.

TV column for Friday, April 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "The Fairly OddParents: Wishology," 8-9 p.m., Nickelodeon; concludes Saturday and Sunday.
When Timmy Turner, 10, gets home, his parents don't recognize him. They had decided not to have children, they say; now they have tons of money -- kitchen cabinets full of it -- and time to catch such things as the Middle-Aged Rock Festival.
Clearly, this three-night, animated mini-series isn't for the young and impressionable. Older kids and their parents, however, will enjoy its offbeat touches and its parodies of science-fiction classics.
In its regular form (2:30 p.m. weekdays, 8-9 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays), the series has Timmy guided by fairy godparents. Now, however, they are missing and his parent have been wiped of any memory of him. He's sort of on his own, as The Chosen One who must save civilization.
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS appear as themselves. Also, Brendan Fraser is the confused Turbo Thunder and Patrick Warburton is the voice of government agents.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Prison Break," 8 p.m., Fox.
Michael Scofield finally confronts his mother Christina (played by Kathleen Quinlan). She drops some key news about his half-brother, Lincoln Burrows.
Meanwhile, Linc is scrambling to stop her scheme. We're two weeks from the finale of what has been a terrific -- albeit over-extended -- series.
Other choices include:
-- "Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!" 1 p.m., Nickelodeon. This was the week in which Beyonce spoke and sang the role of Shine, in some goofily fun episodes. You can catch part of that in this hour-long rerun.
-- "Friday Night Smackdown," 8-10 p.m., MyNetwork TV. Sherri Shepherd of "The View" shows up in this edition, taped in Madison Square Garden. She ends up in the corner of the wrestler known as MVP.
-- "Everybody Hates Chris," 8 p.m., CW. When Chris doesn't have his presentation ready, he takes a too-extreme step -- phoning in a bomb threat.
-- "Ghost Whisperer," 8 p.m., CBS. Melinda seems to be finding ghosts everywhere. Now they're in a girl's dollhouse.
-- "Flashpoint," 9 p.m., CBS. Pushed too far by bullies, a boy brought a gun to school Now Sgt. Parker (Enrico Colantoni) has to talk him down.
-- "Dollhouse," 9:01 p.m., Fox. Echo helps a young girl deal with her troubled past. All around her, however, there are cracks in the "dollhouse" operation. Ballard has located its original designer. Adelle is searching the attic for information. And the deadly Alpha reveals himself.
--"Numb3rs," 10 p.m., CBS. Here's the 100th episode of this show, which has been a sort of quiet hit. Feeling guilty that his error led to his brother's near-fatal stabbing, Charlie focuses on what now seem to be serial murders. Meanwhile, agents focus on some of Charlie's past math calculations, while trying to solve the current case.

TV column for Thursday, April 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m., ABC.
The subject tonight is family and the feelings are intense.
For Izzie -- once a model, now a doctor -- there's a visit from her mom. Wonderfully played by Sharon Lawrence, she's a flirty, social sort who can't deal with the fact that her daughter has serious, late-stage cancer.
For Meredith and Lexie, there's the arrival of their dad, fresh from an alcohol-rehab program. One sister is quick to forgive; one isn't.
Meanwhile, Callie is stung by her dad's disapproval of her lesbian romance. And patients bring new family issues -- a domestic shooting and a woman (Kellie Martin) torn by her sister's injury during an eco-protest.
Those trigger responses from the doctors. It's a terrific episode, rich in emotional depth.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Ugly Betty" return, 8 p.m., ABC.
The network has bailed out quickly on two comedies, "In the Motherhood" and "Samantha Who?" It replaced them with a "Grey's" rerun last week and now brings "Betty" back a week early.
Right now, "Ugly Betty" is in an upside-down state. Betty is usually a modest-income person in a big-money world. Now the magazine-company is going broke while she's dating the son of a mega-mogul.
There are lame moments here, involving Betty's inability to tell people what they don't want to hear. Still, the show has enough charm and visual flair to compensate; it also has a fairly good sub-plot, as Wilhelmina has doubts about her surrogate-born baby.
Other choices include:
-- "My Name is Earl," 8 p.m., NBC. In the first half of a two-parter, Geraldo Rivera finally airs an investigation he did years ago. That was during Earl's bad years, so he's retroactively a murder suspect.
-- "Parks and Recreation,: 8:30 p.m., NBC. Determined to advance in politics, Leslie (Amy Poehler) steps into a guys' gathering.
-- "The Office," 9 p.m., NBC. Some people are taking "casual Fridays" too far. Also, Michael mediates a dispute between sales groups.
 -- "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 9 p.m., CBS. For nine seasons, Robert David Hall has been part of this show's solid backdrop, as Dr. Al Robbins, the chief medical examiner. Tonight, he's in the foreground. Perplexed by four deaths, Robbins goes on a field trip with Raymond Langston (Laurence Fishburne). The episode incorporates blues music, a shared passion for Hall and Fishburne.
-- "Criminal Minds," 10 p.m., CBS. Sorry, but you won't find "Harper's Island" here. In a late move, CBS has banished the show to Saturdays, where few people will find it. Instead, it inserts a "Criminal Minds" rerun.
-- "Being Erica," 10 p.m., SoapNet. Here's a pivotal episode for this offbeat drama, in which a mysterious therapist lets a woman go back in time, trying to re-do key moments she botched earlier. By now, Erica's best friend Ethan is married and out of reach; she re-visits the times when their friendship might have turned into romance.
-- "Private Practice" season finale, 10:02 p.m., ABC. Lives are in transition. Violet (Amy Brenneman) must choose between Pete and Sheldon. Addison (Kate Walsh) copes with her feelings for Noah, as his wife goes into labor. Also, Naomi (Audra McDonald) ponders whether to stay with the clinic. 

TV column for Wednesday, April 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Lost," 9 p.m., ABC.
This is a milestone that few "Lost"-type shows reach -- the 100th episode.
Sure, crime-of-the-week shows pass 100 easily. "Lost," however, is filled with wildly serialized twists; it somehow manages to stay fresh and involving.
At this point, the survivors have adjusted to time travel. Finding themselves in the 1970s, when the Dharma project ruled the island, they pretended to be shipwreck survivors; Sawyer (calling himself LaFleur) even became security chief.
Now the Dharma people are suspicious and trouble builds. Also Daniel Faraday finally tells his colleagues -- and us -- what he knows about the island.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC.
After a string of reruns, this show is back with a powerful new episode.
As rage builds toward illegal immigrants, Hispanic men have been attacked. Now three teens from comfortable families are suspected. It's a tough and well-told story, filled with pain and passion.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Cry For Help," 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Hamilton, this excellent documentary says, is a middle-class, middle-American Ohio city. After four separate suicides, the high school set up an elaborate program to detect problems early.
That reflect a national problem, the film says; there are four teen suicides a day -- triple the rate from 60 years ago. Many teens offer few advance signs. We meet Stacy Hollingsworth, a straight-A high school student and star pianist in New Jersey, who masked her depression until being taken to a mental ward during her freshman year at Rutgers.
Other choices include:
-- Presidential press conference," 8 p.m. ET, most broadcast networks, plus cable news channels. On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama has scheduled a press conference. Networks decided quickly to televise it; ABC News, in fact, had been devoting much of the week to assessing the first 100 days. The change scuttles, for now, four comedy episodes -- two on CBS and two (including a pivotal "Scrubs" which moves to Tuesday) on ABC.    
-- "American Idol," 9 p.m., Fox. The show trims to its final four. Also, Taylor Hicks, the 2006 winner, sings "Seven Mile Breakdown."
-- "Criminal Minds," 9 p.m., CBS. Alex O'Loughlin, star of the departed "Moonlight" series, guests in a story of a serial killer who sends a video message.
-- "Legacy of War," 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). As World War II ended, profound changes began. Cities were rebuilt, alliances re-formed. Americans changed at home (sprawling into the suburbs) and in world politics. Walter Cronkite, 92, has witnessed all of this; he comments during a documentary that has so-so execution, but a fascinating subject.