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.

 

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 15




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “30 Rock”
season-opener, 9:31 p.m., NBC.

Jack (Alec Baldwin) grumbles that the
sketch-comedy show has high prestige and low ratings. “We've all
lost touch with the real America,” he says.

So Jenna will sing country and Tracy
will try to remember when he was the common man.

There's some truth to this, of course.
In all three seasons so far, “30 Rock” has won the Emmy for best
comedy, but ratings have been modest; now it mocks the situation.

One sub-plot – Kenneth leads a strike
by the pages – is fairly lame, despite a funny guest shot by Steve
Buscemi. Another – Liz and Pete try to find a new cast member
without arousing suspicion – is quite funny. True to form, “30
Rock” is very clever and fairly entertaining.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Grey's
Anatomy” (9 p.m.) and “Private Practice” (10:01), ABC.

First, “Anatomy” starts the
precarious merger of two hospitals, Seattle Grace and Mercy West.
That adds four actors including Sarah Drew, who was terrific as
Hannah in “Everwood” and as Anjelica Huston's daughter in two
“Ghost Whisperer” episodes.

Then it's time for another crossover
between the ABC shows. Bailey heads to Los Angeles with a
kidney-transplant patient; Sam (Taye Diggs) is ready to resume their
verbal sparring. Also, we finally learn who is the father of Violet's
baby.

Other choices include:

– “FlashForward,” 8 p.m., ABC. No
one knows whether these visions (of a moment, six months in the
future) are accurate. Now Olivia, a doctor, must decide whether to
use that information to diagnose a patient. Also, her babysitter is
back and describing a frightening vision.

– “Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS. The
Foa Foa tribe has had lots of trouble, with three people ousted and
one leaving by medical evacuation. Trailing in people, 9-6, it
challenges Russell Hantz's power.

– “In Performance at the White
House,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). On Monday, PBS will
wrap up its two-week, four-hour “Latin Music USA.” First, here's
a concert by some of the best-known performers, including Marc
Anthony, Gloria Estefan, Los Lobos and Jose Feliciano. Sheila E leads
the house band and her father, Pete Escoveda, performs. Also, George
Lopez and Jimmy Smits appear.

– “Community,” 8 p.m., NBC. A
cheater is in the Spanish class and Senor Chang insists on
retribution. Jeff – once a lawyer with a phony law degree – comes
to the defense.

– “Parks and Recreation,” 8:30
p.m., NBC. There's a visit from the parks department of the sister
city in Venezuela.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC.
Workers are convinced an insurance salesman is really from the Mafia.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. The team
probes the relationship between dreams and real-life violence.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A prosperous lawyer had only one client – a large motorcycle gang.
Now he's been killed and the bikers are investigated.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 14




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Glee,” 9 p.m.,
Fox.

Opposite forces collide: Sue stirs
feuds in Will's glee club; Will flunks her cheerleaders.

(Hey, they shouldn't really have been
passing. On the Spanish test, one cheerleader mis-spelled her name
and answered every question with a drawing of a sombrero.)

That's done with the humor – sharp,
odd, often dark – that is half the “Glee” appeal. Alongside
that are the musical numbers; there are superb ones tonight,
reminding us that this is one of TV's best shows.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “American
Masters” (PBS, check local listings) and/or “Backstory” (Great
American Country, usually by satellite or digital cable); both 8 p.m.

Joan Baez and Trace Adkins may be the
two most opposite humans in show business – the sweet soprano and
the booming bass, the anti-war activist and the country conservative.
Still, each has a great voice and splendid song selection; each ghas
had a fascinating life, beautifully told here.

Baez's story is peppered with comments
from her colleagues, ex-husband and son – plus clips of songs
spanning 50 years. “She has that heart-stopping soprano voice and I
couldn't put it out of my mind,” Bob Dylan says.

Adkins has comments from his wife,
parents and colleagues, but is at his best when drolly recalling his
life, including his drunken sprees that led his second wife to fire a
bullet through his heart and lungs. The drinking continued until
there was a fierce intervention. “I know right, I was raised
right,” Adkins said. “I just don't always do right.”

Other choices include:

– “Mercy,” 8 p.m., NBC. Trying
help a war veteran, Veronica confronts the effect of her year in
Iraq.

– “Hank,” 8 p.m., ABC. Hank
(Kelsey Grammer), the fired CEO, takes a job in the mall, alongside
his daughter.

– “The Middle,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Trying to celebrate their anniversary, Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and
her husband face roadblocks.

– “Modern Life,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Shelley Long shows up as the mother of Mitchell and Claire. She's
been eyed warily, ever since an incident when her ex-husband (Ed
O'Neill) married a young woman. It's another funny episode, capped by some surprising moments from the rock-band guy who's dating Claire's daughter.

– “Alaska State Troopers” debut,
10 p.m., National Geographic. The numbers seem to be against these
troopers. Tonight, we see 13 of them trying to keep order at a
snowmobile gathering of 10,000; we see five patrolling an area the
size of Rhode Island. They face lots of problems, often
alcohol-related.

– “Nip/Tuck” season-opener, 10
p.m., FX. It's hard to believe that this nasty series is from the
producer (Ryan Murphy) of “Glee.” He wrote this episode, which is
far less repulsive than most “Nip/Tuck” hours. It opens with a
clever film narrated by Linda Hunt, then has great moments for Mario
Lopez (as a plastic surgeon whose body is the perfect prototype) and
Barry Bostwick (as a blind lawyer).

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 12






TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Hell's Kitchen”
finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

This summer show finally picks its
winner. Three people remain: Dave, 32, and Kevin, 35, are executive
chefs in California and Connecticut, respectively; Ariel, 27, is a
sous chef in Los Angeles.

In the first hour, they'll try
international dishes and one will be dumped. Then the final two
prepare full dinners; Gordon Ramsay chooses a winner, who becomes the
head chef of a new restaurant in Whistler, British Columbia.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Frontline”
season-opener, 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

After eight years, one observer says
here, Afghanistan is the site of the longest war in American history
“and there's no end in sight.”

The Taliban has become increasingly
sophisticated, this documentary says. It makes $100 million a year
from opium sales and sends ombundsmen to the villages.

This film starts with a Marine unit –
some of the language here is raw – then interviews officials. “Our
best counter-insurgents are going to be young sergeants who just have
the ability to deal with people,” says Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the
top commander in Afghanistan.

That isn't easy. One villager (through
a translator) asks how he can stop the Taliban when even well-armed
Americans have trouble. “We don't even have swords.”

Other choices include:

– “Shark Tank,” 8 p.m., ABC. One
entrepreneur claims to have a product that prevents cancer in pets.
Another has virtual-reality games inside as giant sphere.

– “Nova,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). At first, the Hubble Space Telescope was
out-of-focus and called a $1.5 billion blunder. But the flaw was
repaired in 1993 and spectacular images – many shown at the start
of this hour – were sent. Since then, four more missions have done
repairs and replacements. This episode diligently follows the final
one, with its two-and-a-half years of preparation.

– “Aladdin” (1992), 8 p.m.,
Disney Channel. On a night filled with serious shows, families might
switch here for fun. “Aladdin” has high-energy animation, a wild
genie (voiced by Robin Williams) and lively songs that Alan Menken
wrote with lyricist Howard Ashman and, after Ashman's death, Tim
Rice. Menken's score and his “A Whole New World” (written with
Rice) won Oscars.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Tentatively scheduled is the hour that was postponed last week.
A defense contractor of North Korean descent has been killed and it's
feared that key secrets have been taken. Then the team finds a
suspect from the past of Vance (Rocky Carroll), the NCIS director.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Fighting a pharmaceutical giant, Alicia suspects jury tampering.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. John C. Reilly is the in-studio guest. Also, Leno asks 10
questions to Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and
has “Jaywalking” chats.

– “Sons of Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX.
Last week ended with a shock, when a blast left one gang member near
death. Clearly, this was the work of the white-supremacy group that
wants to take over. In a fairly good episode, gang members plan a
retaliation, while realizing they may be stepping into a trap.