TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 23








TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Modern Family”
debut, 9 p.m., ABC.

These three families seem to have
nothing in common.

Phil and Claire (Ty Burrell and Julie
Bowen) are trying to seem hip to their three kids. Jay (Ed O'Neill)
is trying to stay in the same generation as his zesty young wife
(Sofia Vergara). Mitchell (the superb Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and
Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) are trying to be perfect parents for their
newly adopted daughter.

Each character is written and played
with humor and humanity. As the families mix together, this becomes
the season's best new comedy.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Mercy”
debut, 8 p.m., NBC.

Veronica Callahan is torn between
opposite worlds. She grew up blue-collar, Irish neighborhood in New
Jersey, but works in a white-collar world, as a nurse. Her colleagues
like to enforce rules; her friends like to have bar fights.

She married a decent guy, but each
cheated on the other while she was in Iraq. Complications pile up.

This is a deeply layered role,
perfectfly played by Taylor Schilling. She has good support,
especially from Michelle Trachtenberg (“Buffy”) as a newcomer and
James Tupper (“Men in Trees”) as the doctor she never expected to
see after Iraq.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 8
p.m., ABC. It's time for the first two people to be eliminated.

– “The New Adventures of Old
Christine” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS. Christine is still scheming
to get Barb a visa. Now she and her brother head to the Bahamas to
help.

– “Gary Unmarried” season-opener,
8:30 p.m., CBS. Trying to change his life, Gary seeks a radio job.

– “Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox. There are
great moments tonight, ranging from Kurt's opening song (a Beyonce
tune, no less) to Sue Sylvester's new TV talk spots. There are also
some football scenes that make little sense; we'll forgive them, amid
the show's intermittent brilliance.

– “The Beautiful Life: TBL,” 9
p.m., CW. Claudia (Elle Macpherson) takes control. She stops Chris
before he scuttles his modeling career, then advises Raina to pay
more attention to work and less to Chris. Meanwhile, Sonja (Mischa
Barton) is still trying to hide the fact that she vanished to have a
baby; also, Marissa seeks revenge against her.

– “The New Age of Walmart,” 9
p.m.,CNBC; repeats at 10:30. With $400 billion in annual sales,
Walmart has had a powerful effect on life in America … and
elsewhere. In five years, this says, the number of stores in China
has gone from 39 to 250. This report skips the most common subject
(the decline of manufacturing jobs in the U.S.), but goes into depth
about other factors, from angry workers (and sabotaged unions
efforts) to an attempt to repair the chain's battered image.

– “Cougar Town” debut, 9:30 p.m.,
ABC. Divorced from a deadbeat, our heroine (Courteney Cox) has an eye
for younger guys. That raises eyebrows, in a town where the school
mascot is a cougar. This show – from “Scrubs” producer Bill
Lawrence – is wildly inconsistent. The first hour is so-so, but
suggests that things might get better.

– “Eastwick” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.
The “Witches of Eastwick” novel and movie have been given a fresh
twist here. In a charming New England town, we meet a beautiful widow
(Rebecca Romijn), a shy newspaper writer (Lindsay Price) and a nurse
(Jaime Ray Newman) with too many kids and too little help from her
husband. Then a dark stranger (Canadian star Paul Gross) arrives and
lives change. There's a lush beauty here that compensates for any
plot flaws.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 22




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife”
debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

The politician stands before cameras,
apologizing for his sin; his wife stands stoically next to him.

What happens afterward? Tonight, we see
the wife deliver a sharp slap, then start a new life.

Mostly, “The Good Wife” is a
standard law story, about a former top law student who took a 15-year
break. The opening murder case is well-played.

All of that, however, is against the
solid backdrop of a woman rebuilding the world her husband shattered.
Julianna Margulies is excellent in the lead.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The
Forgotten” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

Police only have so much time to work
on seemingly unsolvable cases, we're told. Then volunteers step in,
trying to identify a “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” and maybe catch
a killer.

Christian Slater plays a former cop,
leading a team that works mainly from a burning idealism.

The stories are narrated partly by the
late victims. “Forgotten” delivers first-rate visuals and
performances – something we expect because it's from Jerry
Bruckheimer, the “CSI” and “Cold Case” producer. Aimee Lynn
Chadwick is particularly good as the victim's friend, Jessica.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10
p.m., ABC. Here's the second half of the opener, introducing 16 duos.
On Wednesday, two of them will be sent home.

– “Hell's Kitchen” (Fox) and “The
Biggest Loser” (NBC), both 8-10 p.m. Yes, three two-hour reality
shows collide. “Loser” is in its second week, “Kitchen” is
near the end. Tonight, Gordon Ramsay trims the field to five; instead
of merely screaming, Fox says, he storms out of the kitchen.

– “NCIS” season-opener, 8 p.m.,
CBS. The team scrambles to find a replacement for Ziva.

– “Backstory,” 8 p.m., GAC (Great
American Country); repeats at midnight, then often through Sunday.
With his loose manner and dry wit, Blake Shelton is ideal for a
biography. He tells many of the stories himself, with help from his
girlfriend (Miranda Lambert), parents, sister and producers. And they
are great stories, about an Oklahoma kid who moved to Nashville the
day after finishing high school, then saw extreme ups and downs.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles” debut, 9
p.m., CBS. We met these people last spring, in an “NCIS”
two-parter. Now they have a new headquarters (hidden in an old
Spanish mission) and a new boss, played with prickly wit by Linda
Hunt. Still, this is mostly an adventure starring Chris O'Donnell and
LL Cool J as federal agents. Tonight's opener, centering on s
kidnapping, is filled with smart twists and surprises.

– “Warehouse 13” season-finale, 9
p.m., Syfy. Last week's episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.) brought back
the dangerous MacPherson (Roger Rees). Now it's time to do full
battle. Tonight's final twists feel contrived; until then, however,
this is a strong finish to an appealing first season.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Paul Reubens, alternately known as Pee-wee Herman, is the
in-studio guest and Amy Poehler answers “10 at 10” questions.

– “P.O.V.,” 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). Growing up in a tough Bronx neighborhood, Rocky
became an all-everything student, with a full scholarship to
Dickinson College. Still, she's also curious about her dad – the
tribal chief of the Ga people in Ghana. She visits his home
(officially called a palace) in this low-key and interesting film,
paired with two shorts.

– “The Naughty Kitchen” debut, 10
p.m., Oxygen. Big and brash, Blythe Beck is a Dallas chef who's both
fun and annoying, sometimes simultaneously. Tonight, her emotions
broil as she frets about a review. We also meet her staff, ranging
from a caring manager to a ditzy greeter.

 

TV column for Monday, Sept. 21




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “House”
season-opener, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Already a ratings and quality leader,
“House” detours from its usual format.

After his collapse, Dr. House is in a
mental institution. He's free to leave – but needs approval before
he can practice medicine again.

As usual, he assumes he's smarter than
everyone else. He's sometimes tragically wrong.

Except for phone calls to Wilson, the
other regulars are ignored this week. There's a great batch of
guests, led by Andre Braugher as the canny chief of the institution
and Lin-Manuel Miranda (the Tony-winning “In the Heights”
composer) as House's roommate.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “How I Met
Your Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS.

As his first day as a college teacher
nears, Ted frets about it going wrong.

It will, of course, but not in the way
he envisions. He'll remember to wear pants; he just won't be that
clear on the room number and how to spell “professor.”

That's one story tonight; the other
deals with Barney and Robin being forced to define what (beyond sex)
their relationship is. It's a fresh, funny start to what promises to
be a good comedy night.

Other choices include:

– “Heroes” season-opener, 8-10
p.m., NBC. Robert Knepper – fiercely brilliant as T-Bag in “Prison
Break” – is back as the leader of a mysterious carnival. He
arrives just as other lives are becoming unsettled. Claire tries to
be a regular college student, before a death thrusts her back in the
spotlight. Tracy and “HRG” link after a horrific crime; also,
Nathan's mom fears he'll learn his true identity.

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10
p.m., ABC. Over the next two nights, we'll meet the 16 contestants;
then two will be sent home Wednesday. Based on past years, the
athletes could do well; they include swimmer Natalie Coughlin,
snowboarder Louie Vito, football's Michael Irvin and fighter Chuck
Liddell. Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, would seem to
be a long shot, at best. Others to watch include all-around talent
Donny Osmond and pop stars Aaron Carter, Macy Gray and Mya.

– “Accidentally on Purpose”
debut, 8:30 p.m., CBS. Like many TV people, Billie (Jenna Elfman) has
a one-night stand. Unlike the others, she becomes pregnant and is
thrust into a link of opposites. She's 37, professional, grown-up; he
(Jon Foster) is in his early 20s, playing video games, ordering pizza
and crashing at friend's houses. The combination brings an adequate
amount of fun.

– “Two and a Half Men”
season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. Charlie is still wavering between
fiancees. His current one (Chelsea) is still living with him, but his
former one (Mia) is back in town.

– “The Big Bang Theory”
season-opener, 9:30 p.m., CBS. The guys are back from summer research
in the Arctic; in the best of worlds, Sheldon and Penny would finally
link. Alas, there's new trouble: When he learns the guys tampered
with his data, Sheldon retreats to Texas; now the others try to
retrieve him.

– “Castle” season-opener, 10
p.m., ABC. In a smart and well-played hour, Beckett the cop is
furious at Castle the novelist, but must take him along for one more
case. There are some great moments tonight from Stana Katic (as
Beckett) and from producer-turned-novelist Stephen Cannell (as
himself).

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Jennifer Garner is scheduled to be the guest. Also, there's the
new round of “Headlines”; that segment was rushed last week, but
is often hilarious.

– “Durham County,” 10 p.m., Ion.
After two episodes, Mike Sweeney is clinging to secrets. In Toronto,
he found the guy who apparently killed his police partner; he
battered him and planted evidence. In his new suburban job, he fell
for a young teacher who was subsequently murdered. Viewers know his
neighbor killed her and has a link to other murders. Tonight, Mike
must mourn privately.

 

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 20




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

Neil Patrick Harris, who was terrific
as the Tonys host, takes over the Emmys. He also has a
supporting-actor nomination and his show (“How I Met Your Mother”)
is up for best comedy series.

A dance number is planned, dedicated to
the surge of dance on reality shows. It will be choreographed by
Tabitha and Napoleon D'Umo of “So You Think You Can Dance” and
will include Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff of “Dancing
With the Stars.”

Many of the presenters will be from CBS
shows. Still, there are plenty of others, including Tina Fey, Jimmy
Fallon, Bob Newhart, Hayden Panettiere and cable hunks Jon Hamm and
Stephen Moyer.

Kyra Sedgwick will present with her
husband Kevin Bacon; they're nominated for performances in a drama
series and a movie, respectively. And two people who have already won
for guest roles will hand out the other guest Emmys: Ellen Burstyn
won for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” Michael J. Fox
for his spectacular work in “Rescue Me.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Curb Your
Enthusiasm” season-opener, 9 p.m., HBO; repeats at 10.

It's been 22 months since the last new
“Curb” aired. Now it's back and at its best.

In two weeks, the show starts a fun
story that brings the “Seinfeld” cast together. First, there's
there's a complication: Larry's wife Cheryl is gone and his live-in
affair with Loretta (Vivica A. Fox) is crumblinh. Everything annoys
him, from her mother to the room temperature. Now she may have
cancer; Larry, who hates responsibility, wants out.

Yes, this show that can find humor in
cancer. Tonight, it also gets laughs from mental illness; Catherine
O'Hara gives a wonderfully offbeat performance as crazy Bam Bam
Funkhouser.

Other choices include:

– “King Kong” (2005), 7-11 p.m.,
ABC. With the “Lord of the Ring” movies, Peter Jackson
beautifully mixed human moments and epic action. This time, however,
he failed to do that. Visually impressive, the movie offers nothing
else; some of the action scenes go on approximately forever.

– Georgia O'Keeffe,” 7-9 p.m.,
Lifetime. If you missed this movie's debut Saturday, catch it now.
Director Bob Balaban makes rich use of period settings, the original
O'Keeffe paintings and two gifted stars. Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons
play O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, who transformed the art world.

– “The Beautiful Life: TBL” (8 p.m.) and “Melrose Place”
(9), CW. Here's a chance to catch up on these glitzy new shows. CW
reruns the pilot of “TBL,” the second episode of “Melrose.”

– “Masterpiece Mystery: Inspector Lewis,” 9 p.m., PBS. When
a teen girl is assaulted, respected leaders offer a convenient alibi
for the prime suspect.
– “Bored to Death” debut, 9:30 p.m.,
HBO. There's a droll tone to this show that fits neatly alongside
“Curb.” Facing writer's block, a novelist (Jason Schwartzman) has
just lost his girlfriend. He has one friend (Zach Galifianakis), one
suitcoat, one occasional employer (Ted Danson) and one diversion –
working as an unlicensed detective. He's all wrong for that, which is
where the show gets its dry humor.

– “Mad Men,” 10 p.m., AMC. Big promotions are expected as
this hour begins – one for Joan's husband at the hospital, another
for Don when corporate chiefs arrive from London. Then come the
surprises; in the final minutes, there's the sort of dark touch “Twin
Peaks” would savor; it's tragic, dramatic and (at times) oddly
funny.

– “Project Antonio,” 10 p.m.,
HGTV. Last Sunday, Antonio Ballatore topped Dan Vickery, to win
“Design Star.” Both are immensely talented designers, but
Ballatore brings an unusual touch; big, bearded and tattooed, he's a
native New Yorker with a streetwise approach. On the day after he
wins, he's surprised by a five-day challenge to make over his own Los
Angeles home.

– “Entourage,” 10:30 p.m., HBO.
No one is happy with what he has, in this enjoyable episode. Vince's
brother wants to change jobs, his manager wants to change girlfriends
and his friend Turtle worries.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 19




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Georgia
O'Keeffe,” 9-11 p.m., Lifetime.

The two strong forces met in a New York
gallery in 1916.

Georgia O'Keeffe was 28, a former
Wisconsin farmgirl who had studied art, off-and-on, in the big
cities. Alfred Stieglitz was 52, a man of many words and opinions
about art. He had helped introduce Americans to Picasso, Matisse,
Cezanne and more.

They had communicated often by letter,
but now – without her permission – he was exhibiting her pieces,
which a friend had shown him. “You will have to take them down,”
she said.

It was the start of a great partnership
in art and life. They were lovers then as husband-and-wife, usually
living apart – for 30 years. This film catches small glimpses ofa
sweeping story. Bob Balaban directed it beautifully, making fine use
of two great actors (Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons), period settings
and O'Keeffe paintings.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

A week away from its season-opener,
this show reruns an episode hosted by a key alumnus.

That's Will Ferrell, who arrived in
1995 and stayed through 2002. He came back often to portray George W.
Bush … something he then repeated on Broadway. Here, his music
guest is Green Day.

Other choices include:

– “Lonesome Dove,” (1989), 4 p.m.
to midnight, AMC. Here's a chance to catch the mini-series in one
gulp. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones lead a superb cast in Larry
McMurtry's cowboy classic.

– Football, 8 p.m. ET, ABC. After
pausing for NASCAR last week, ABC returns to its Saturday-night
college football. This one has Texas Tech at Texas.

-- "Survivor," 8 p.m., CBS. In a late change, CBS is rerunning Thursday's season-opener here.

– “Dirty Dancing” (1987), 8-10:30
p.m., ABC Family. Scheduled prior to the death of Patrick Swayze
(Monday, at 57, of cancer), this lets us see him in his element.
Swayze was a dancer – a guy who grew up at his mother's studio in
Houston and married his boyhood dance partner; here, he enthralls a
teen (Jennifer Grey), during a 1960s vacation in a Catskills resort.
Other Swayze films, added late to the schedule, include the so-so
“King Solomon's Mines” (2004), from 6-10 p.m. on Hallmark
(rerunning from 2-6 p.m. Sunday) and “Road House” (1989) at 10
p.m. on Spike.

– “VH1 Divas,” 8-10 p.m., VH1.
Here's a second chance to see Thursday's concert, with an “American
Idol” flavor. Paula Abdul, the former “Idol” judge, introduces
former “Idol” winners Kelly Clarkson and Jordin Sparks, plus
Adele, Miley Cyrus and Leona Lewis, a protege of “Idol” judge
Simon Cowell.

– “Law & Order,” 9 p.m., NBC.
In the rerun of a fairly good episode, the death of a charity
official leads to information about blackmail and scheming to get a
state senate seat.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, a mother and her young child are killed,
in a case that reflects a murder 12 years earlier.

– “Robin Hood,” 9 p.m., BBC
America. Last week's season-opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) saw Robin
mourning the death of Marian Viewers will mourn her, too, after the
new hour introduces Kate, who has all of Marian's strength and none
of her wisdom. This hour finally has some vibrant action scenes in
its final 15 minutes.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, Stabler is injured by a
schizophrenic artist who kidnapped a girl.