TV column for Sunday, April 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," 8 p.m. (rerunning at 10), HBO; and/or "The Tudors," 9 p.m., Showtime.
Both pay-cable channels have top shows tonight.
On HBO, our favorite detective ponders a sullen shopkeeper, a series of hospital deaths and a family feud that includes claims of poison. Some of the cases -- especially the hospital one -- are absurdly simple, but we quickly succumb to the charm of the character and the sunny Botswana setting.
On Showtime, by comparison, there is no room for sunshine. The minions of King Henry VIII have looted and vandalized churches; a peasant army is marching from the North. In a story that continues next week, the outmanned king scrambles to prevent an overthrow.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Dirty Jobs" (9 p.m.) and "Bear Attack" (10 p.m.), Discovery.
"Alaska Week" begins, with at least one new Alaskan hour on each of the next six nights.
Tonight's first hour visits someone who breeds and trains sled dogs. The second is the story of the intense search after three people were attacked by bears near Anchorage; it's a strong hour, including first-hand memories of survivors.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: "Brave New Voices," 11 p.m., HBO.
In its second episode, this series introduces the slam-poetry team from Honolulu. It's an instantly interesting group.
We hear Jamaica Osorio, who was 18 when this was taped, on the beauty of Hawaiian language. And Ittai Wong, 16 at the time, on the pain that kept him from phoning a friend who had attempted suicide. We also hear from their mentors, Lyz Soto and Kealoha.
These are compelling people. It's no surprise that this team went on to win the International Youth Poetry Slam Festival in Washington, D.C.
That comes later, though. This documentary series begins after the team finished fifth in the previous year. We get glimpses of them tonight, plus teams in Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York and Ann Arbor, Mich. Spilling out of teens are wonderfully rich bursts of language and passionOther choices include:
-- "The Departed" (2006), 7:30-11 p.m., FX. Working with a terrific cops-and-crooks atory, director Martin Scorsese assembled great actors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson. The result won Oscars for best picture, directing, editing and screenplay.
-- "Kings," 8 p.m., NBC.On the annual Judgement Day, King Silas will hear some cases. David tries to include his brother's case; there's more trouble, with the return of the king's nephew (Macaulay Culkin).
-- "World's Funniest Office Commercials," 8 p.m., TBS. Mike O'Malley ("Yes, Dear") hosts a look at commercials set in the workplace.
-- "Celebrity Apprentice," 9-11 p.m., NBC. Last week, both Tione Watkins and Khloe Kardashian were fired. Now the remaining nine patients face two challenges.
-- "Cold Case," 9 p.m., CBS. Just as the squad prepares for its annual softball game, it re-opens the case of a Cuban baseball star who was killed when he moved to the U.S.
-- "Masterpiece Classic: LIttle Dorrit," 9-10:30p.m., PBS (check local listings). Here's the sort of dizzying shift that Charles Dickins could get away with. Mr. Dorrit has been in debtors' prison for decades and his grown daughter Amy was born there. Suddenly, one discovery changes everything.
-- "The Unit," 10 p.m., CBS. After Sam attacks Bridget, the guys persue him. That means going after one of their own.

TV column for Saturday, April 11


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Love Finds a Home," 9-11 p.m., Hallmark.
An ambitious, eight-movie series concludes. To no one's surprise, it ends with feel-good moments.
From the first film -- the 2003 "Love Comes Softly" -- this series has been optimistic. Frontier life can be tragic, it has said, but people are good.
Two generations after that first film, Belinda (Sarah Jones) is a doctor in small-town Missouri, married to a blacksmith (Jordan Bridges). Her pregnant friend (Haylie Duff) visits; so, soon, does the friend's mother-in-law (Patty Duke).
There are medical crises, personal dilemmas and even a hint of romance for Belinda's adopted daughter. Good people cope with difficult lives.
None of this offers much in depth or surprises. Still, the film wraps ups a series that offers refreshing bursts of goodness amid adversity.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: "The Ten Commandments" (1956), ABC; or "The Sound of Music" (1965), ABC Family; both 7 p.m.
On the night before Easter, ABC and its sister channel both go for classics. Enjoy either one, but keep in mind that they reflect long-ago tastes.
By modern standards, "Ten Commandments" is stiffly written and acted. Still, there's an epic feel to its subject matter -- the life of Moses, from baby to hero (Charlton Heston) -- and its look.
And by modern standards, "Sound of Music" is too sweet; it seems contrived, even though it's based on a true story. Still, the Rodgers-and-Hammerstein tunes soar and the settings are beautiful.
"Sound of Music," which runs four hours of TV time, won five Academy Awards, including best picture. "Ten Commandments" (four hours, 44 minutes) was nominated for best picture and in six technical categories, but won only for its special effects.
Other choices include:
-- "Malice" (1993), 6 and 9 p.m., Ion. Aaron Sorkin, the brilliant creator of "The West Wing" and "A Few Good Men," co-wrote this compelling movie about a college professor (Bill Pullman), his beautiful wife (Nicole Kidman) and an arrogant surgeon (Alec Baldwin). The plot is clever -- albeit, similar to the 1990 TV movie "The Operation" -- and Baldwin delivers a brilliant, Sorkin-style monolog.
-- "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," 8 p.m., NBC. This show will finally return to new episodes, April 19 on the USA Network. While waiting, catch this rerun; Goren, on suspension, goes undercover to catch a drug dealer.
-- "Thrilla in Manilla," 8 p.m., HBO. When Muhammad Ali hit bottom, this compelling documentary says, Joe Frazier gave him encouragement and money. When Ali rebounded, he called Frazier an "Uncle Tom" and a "gorilla." They would have three bouts, the third one so brutal that it was only a question of which side would give in first. It's a sprawling story of emotion, violence and clever public-relations.
-- "Southland," 9 p.m., NBC. If you missed the debut of this cop show Thursday, try this rerun. There are plenty of flaws -- unrelenting gloom, shaky cameras, etc. -- but there are also two strong characters: Ben McKenzie plays a new cop, with Michael Cutlitz as his training officer, who has bursts of great eloquence.
-- "Tribute," 9-11 p.m., Lifetime. This wraps up the four-week series of new movies based on Nora Roberts books. Brittany Murphy plays a former child star who feels she'll find a normal life by fixing up her grandmother's house in Virginia. She soon finds revelations about the grandmother

TV column for Friday, April 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Friday Night Lights" season finale, 9 p.m., NBC
One of the great TV series captures rich layers of emotional depth in small-town Texas.
The football season is over now -- the Dillon Panthers fell just short of the state title -- and we jump ahead five months. Suddenly, Coach Taylor's job is in jeopardy; more interesting are the decisions of the high school seniors, facing the limited expectations of their tough, blue-collar world.
Lyla Garrity was going to Vanderbilt until her dad blew the college fund. Will she and Tim Riggins now head to San Antonio State, where he has a scholarship? Will Matt Saracen leave his grandmother (in early stages of Alzheimer's disease) and girlfriend (the coach's daughter) behind? And what of the romance between Landry Clarke, the brainy benchwarmer, and Tyra Collette, former bad girl trying to get into the University of Texas?
The Saracen story is perplexing, but the Landry-Tyra one is fascinating. Two deceptively superb actors (Jesse Plemons and Adrianne Palicki) show us how good a TV drama can be.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" season finale, 8 p.m., Fox.
Here's another well-made show that has been under-noticed on Fridays.
Tonight, Sarah and John finally meet the villainous Catherine Weaver. The show promises a confrontation that jolts John, the teen destined to be a hero.
Other choices include:
-- "Ghost Whisperer," 8 p.m., CBS. Hilary Duff plays a mystery woman who may have been involved in a murder. Melinda and Eli help a ghost resolve things with her.
-- "Flashpoint," 9 p.m., CBS. A young couple belatedly wants its baby back. It steals both the baby and a car from the adoptive family.
-- "Patton 360" debut, 9 p.m., History Channel. This channel has been using modern animation techniques (mixed with re-creations and talking heads) to show ancient battles. Now it uses all of that, plus archival footage, in a 10-week look at Gen. George Patton. That begins with Patton's tank corps rolling into North Africa in November of 1942. Next week is the confrontation with Erwin Rommel, Hitler's master strategist.
-- "Love Takes Wing," 9-11 p.m., Hallmark Channel. On consecutive nights, we can catch the final two movies in this eight-film frontier series. This one (which debuted last Saturday) is an adequate drama about a young doctor, helping a small town fight a cholera epidemic. Sarah Jones stars; Haylie Duff -- whose sister Hilary is in tonight's "Ghost Whisperer" -- co-stars here, then stars in the final movie, at 9 p.m. Saturday.
-- "Dollhouse," 9:01 p.m., Fox. Echo and Sierra try to determine who is the spy in the Dollhouse.
-- "Numb3rs," 10 p.m., CBS. When a professor dies, animal-rights activists are suspected.
-- "Dogtown," 10 p.m., National Geographic Channel. We meet one dog traumatized by war in Lebanon  and another -- a scruffy terrier named Scruffy -- traumatized by Hurricane Katrina. Both are gently encouraged, in a warm episode that also includes a beagle that needs doggy diapers.
 

TV column for Thursday, April 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Parks and Recreation" debut, 8:30 p.m., NBC.
TV needs a fresh comedy and these are the perfect people to try it -- Greg Daniels (producer of "The Office") and Amy Poehler.
The original script was fairly bland and we haven't seen the finished episode. Still, comedies improve on those first drafts; Daniels and Poehler know where to find the laughs.
She plays an assistant parks-and-recreation director in small-town Indiana. A wide-eyed optimist, she sees a junk-filled lot as a future playground; she sees her job as a step toward Washington, D.C.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Harper's Island" debut, 10:01 p.m., CBS.
Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy) loved growing up on this island, until her mother and five others were killed. Now she's returning for the first time in seven years.
She's there to see her friend (Christopher Gorham) marry an heiress (Katie Cassidy). She soon finds a schism between classes; she also finds new murders, one per episode.
This is an ongoing mystery, moving toward a July 2 conclusion. It sometimes plays like bad soap opera, but the Abby character has depth and empathy.
And no, the Cassidys aren't related. Elaine is from Ireland, Katie (David Cassidy's daughter) is from California.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: "Southland" debut, 10 p.m., NBC.
This cop show is a strange choice to inherit the "ER" slot.
Yes, it's from the same producer (John Wells); its central character (played by Ben McKenzie of "The O.C.") seems like Dr. John Carter reborn. But "ER" brought hope and idealism; this "Southland" debut is drenched in despair ... plus the distraction of too-jerky camera movement.
Still, there are spurts of great dialog, often emerging from training officer John Cooper (Michael Cutlitz). A hard-core cop with a gift for lyrical language, he offers hints that "Southland" might get better.
Other choices include:
-- "Survivor," 8 p.m., CBS. The two tribes merge. Jalapao had started strong, but lost the last three elimination challenges. It was down to four people, compared to six for Timbira; now the new schemes begin.
-- "The Office," 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. Both episodes involve Jim's shaky relationship with Charles, the new supervisor. In the first, they're in a soccer game in the parking lot. In the second, Charles tells Jim to prepare a "rundown"; Jim, alas, has no idea what that is.
-- "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 9 p.m., CBS. When a skydiver dies, Catherine finds a possible link to a double murder.
-- "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Cristina gets to try solo surgery. Also, Mark's difficult operation impresses Lexie.
-- "30 Rock," 9:30 p.m., NBC. Budget cuts mean Jack is supposed to trim staff and Kenneth has extra responsibilities. People become suspicious of Kenneth and hunt for some dark secret.
-- "Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire" debut, 10 p.m., Comedy Central. This new comedy wants to do to sword-and-sorcery tales what Mel Brooks did to cowboys and Robin Hood. It looks like the real thing -- complete with hunky hero (Sean Maguire) and sexy heroine (India de Beaufort) -- but keeps tossing in modern gags. Some elements -- including an obsession with dim-witted sex jokes -- are lame; others (Kevin Hart as an un-magical sorcerer, for instance) are fun. "Krod" is erratic, but has enough good moments to amuse us.
 

TV column for Wednesday, April 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "The Unusuals" debut, 10:02 p.m., ABC.
Police precincts have disappeared from our TV sets lately. There are plenty of cops and crooks, but few glimpses of day-to-day police life.
Now two shows debut on consecutive days. Each has a young cop -- Amber Tamblyn here, Ben Mackenzie in NBC's "Southland" on Thursday -- from a wealthy background.
Of the two, "The Unusuals" is much easier to enjoy. There's humor -- we meet Tamblyn at the moment she goes from vice-cop hooker to homicide -- and quirks.
Jeremy Renner plays Tamblyn's new partner, an intense individualist who also owns a diner (rarely open) and was a baseball player. Adam Goldberg plays a cop who wants to die in the line of duty; Harold Perrineau ("Lost") plays one who is obessed with staying alive.
Teetering between drama and offbeat comedy, "The Unusuals" sometimes loses its balance. The Eddie Alvarez character is way too broad, one flaw in a good show.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "American Masters: Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts," 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Forget all notions of a composer as monastic and distant. Even before he was famous, Philip Glass had a knack for assembling groups and performing odd music in odd places.
Now he has composed for operas, movies ("The Hours," "The Thin Blue Line," "Koyaanisqatsi") and more. In this rambling and amiable documentary, director Scott Hicks ("Shine") follows Glass, 72, as he prepares an opera, plays with his young kids, rides a roller-coaster and creates low-key meals at his cottage in Nova Scotia.
Other choices include:
-- "Law & Order," 8 and 10 p.m., NBC. In a late switch, NBC has pulled "Chopping Block" and inserted an extra "Law & Order" rerun. The 8 p.m. one is strong, with Clancy Brown as a small-town sheriff, clutching his reputation as a drugbuster. The 10 p.m. one has a memoir-writer killed.
-- Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Cousteau travels to the Arctic, to learn about the decline of beluga whales. The hour tends to be too stagnant and talky, but has interesting glimpses of native villages.
-- "Scrubs," 8 p.m., ABC. The janitor has a grand scheme: Claim there's a wedding in the Bahamas; people won't go, but they'll send gifts. The idea fails, alas, when everyone plans to go there.
-- "Better Off Ted," 8:30 p.m., ABC. The company's new system to detect employees has a key flaw: It only detects white people.
-- "Lost," 9 p.m., ABC. Ben Linus has a lot of sins to atone for. Now he tries to do that by summoning the island's smoke monster.
-- "American Idol," 9 p.m., Fox. Last week, Megan Joy was ousted -- to the surprise of no one, including Megan Joy. Tonight, barring a judges' reprieve, the field is trimmed to seven.
-- "Comics Unleashed" debut, 9 and 9:30 p.m., MyNetwork TV. Byron Allen hosts, holding discussions with fellow stand-up comedians.
-- "Life" season-finale, 9 p.m., NBC. As Crews scrambles to find his police partner, we learn fresh details about the plot that framed him.