TV column for Tuesday, April 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Fringe" return, 9:01 p.m., Fox.
We know Olivia (Anna Torv) is a tough FBI agent who can kick killers and chase monsters. Now we see the softer side -- with her niece and then with a boy who has grown up alone, developing strong powers.
That wraps into the search for a serial killer, and to a broader question: Is this boy an anomaly -- or is there something bigger? It's a strong episode, mixing warmth, tension and even bits of humor.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Recue Me" return, 10 p.m., FX.
After being gone for 19 months (partly due to the writers' strike), a great and quirky series returns.
We're reminded quickly that this is about firemen. That's clear in the spectacular early scenes and the tragic final scene.
In between is a human drama, spiced by the incredibly dark humor of the show's creators -- star Denis Leary and director Peter Tolan.
Leary's rant at a family gathering is perversely funny -- even if it does trigger a human collapse. And while lives crumble, Leary and a cousin debate the number of times their boyhood dog defecated in the laundry room.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE III: "My Boys," 10:30 p.m., TBS.
Last week, Bobby walked away from his wedding and began a romance with his buddy P.J. They're keeping it secret.
Now P.J.'s friends are obsessed with learning who her secret lover is; Bobby has to seem like he's helping. "My Boys" usually has pleasantly subtle humor; tonight, however, brings laugh-out-loud moments.
Other choices include:
-- "American Idol," 8 p.m., Fox. Last week, to no one's surprise, Megan Joy was ousted. Tonight, the final eight do songs from the years they were born. That ranges from 1980 (Danny Gokey) to 1992 (Allison Iraheta).
-- "Peanuts" cartoons, 8-9 p.m., ABC. Here are two vintage reruns. "It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown" drew an Emmy nomination in 1975. "Charlie Brown All-Stars," a baseball tale, goes back to 1966; the first special made after the wonderful "A Charlie Brown Christmas," it drew only mild reactions and hasn't been on network TV since 1982.
-- "Nova: Doctors' Diaries," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). It was 21 year ago that "Nova" began filming seven Harvard Medical School students. Here's the fourth and final film, following their lives. The bad news is that there is surprisingly little new footage; the good is that the old footage is varied and fascinating. Most interesting, as usual, is Tom Tarter. A former Bronx bouncer and weightlifter, he's now a long-haired, tattooed biker who lives in Indiana with his fourth wife and flies to temporary emergency-room job around the country.
-- "Frontline: Black Money," 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings), Until the 1970s, this special says, no country banned foreign bribery. The U.S. moved first after Watergate and has been vehement; in the past two years, it has collected almost $1.5 billion in fines. Other nations joined reluctantly. The British government investigated bribes involving an $80 billion fighter-plane deal -- then backed off when the Saudi government threatened to quit co-operating in the war on terrorism.
-- "The Mentalist," 9 p.m., CBS. Rebecca Rigg, the wife of series star Simon Baker, guests as the widow of a murdered movie producer.
-- "Trust Me," 9-11 p.m., TNT. This well-made series concludes with two new hours. The ad-agency partnership between Mason and Conner (Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh) is shaken by deals and schemes.  

TV column for Monday, April 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Basketball, 9 p.m. ET, CBS.
This is the big one, for the college championship. The winners of Saturday's final-four games collide at Ford Field in Detroit.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Roommates," 9 p.m., ABC Family.
In its third episode, this show comes up with a real winner, a frantic and funny episode that starts with one lie, then builds.
Hope (Tamera Mowry) refuses to admit she lost her big-deal job. She's trying to keep Katie from knowing she actually works at a coffee shop.
Now Katie is applying to Hope's old company. Mark -- the roommate who loves Katie from afar -- helps perpetuate the lie. From there, things build in the properly ditzy situation comedy style.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: "In Treatment," 8-10:30 p.m., HBO.
The second season got off to a great start Sunday, but slumps tonight.
Sunday's episodes rerun first. The opener (8 p.m.) gives the therapist (Gabriel Byrne) a jolting confrontation with the grieving father (Glynn Turman) of a patient who died; that sends him to a troubled malpractice lawyer (Hope Davis). The second has superb work by Alison Pill, as a college student who resists help, even in deep crisis.
It's a great start, but the next three half-hours fade. There's a boy and his divorcing parents (9 p.m.), a stressed executive (9:25 p.m., with John Mahoney) and then the therapist's mentor (9:55, Dianne Wiest). Each new episode is skillfully acted, but vague.
Other choices include:
-- "Dancing With the Stars," 8-9:32 p.m., ABC. Last week, both Holly Madison and Steve Wozniak were dumped. She had been a last-minute addition to the show; he was the first guy dropped, after previous ousters for Belinda Carlisle and Denise Richards. Nine celebrities remain.
-- "House," 8 p.m., Fox. Meat Loaf, the rock star, plays a dying man who seems to get better as his wife deteriorates.
-- "Chuck," 8 p.m., NBC. This should be a pleasant time for Chuck, who meets his long-absent father (Scott Bakula) and works with his hero (Chevy Chase). Neither situation goes as expected.
-- "Greek," 8 p.m., ABC Family. This so-so episode centers on rush week. Among sororities, ZBZ is at war with the new IKI, complete with espionage. Among fraternities, Rusty tries to lure a football star (played by pop star Jesse McCartney) to the informal Kappa Tau gang.
-- "Heroes," 9 p.m., NBC. The character known as "HRG" finds his marriage wobbling and his life spinning out of control,
-- "Surviving Suburbia," 9:32 p.m., ABC. Bob Saget and Cynthia Stevenson play parents who don't fit into their upbeat, upscale neighborhood, This show follows standard sitcom lines -- complete with goofy neighbor (Jere Burns) -- but is semi-salvaged by a few good twists and Stevenson's good work.
-- "Medium," 10 p.m., NBC. James Van Der Beek, the former "Dawson's Creek" star, plays the shifty son of a missing woman.
-- "House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague," 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). More than 11,000 gravestones are packed into this Czech cemetery, but that's just the beginning. There have been 12 layers of burials, historians say, with perhaps 100,000 bodies. This is a place rich with history and emotion; it's captured in a subtle and well-crafted documentary.   

TV column for Sunday, April 5


(Please note: Temporarily, I'm putting current TV columns here. Long-range, however, this Web site will be for blogs and for samples of past columns.)

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Academy of Country Music awards, 8-11 p.m., CBS.
There are plenty of veteran stars at this Las Vegas event. Reba McEntire hosts and performs. Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts perform; George Strait is named artist of the decade.
And there are the newcomers. Jamey Johnson and Heidi Newfield, with five nominations each, perform; so do teens Miley Cyrus and Tayor Swift. Also scheduled to perform are Sugarland, Lady Antebellum, Lee Ann Womack, John Rich and Miranda Lambert.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "In Treatment" (HBO) or "The Tudors" (Showtime) season-openers, both 9 p.m.
Two pay-cable channels collide, with well-made -- and thoroughly opposite -- shows.
"Tudors" is big, lush, intense. Tonight, King Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, is a possible moderating effect against his anti-Catholic zeal. It may be too late; a peasant Army marches in the North.
"In Treatment" offers the subtle emotions of patients and their therapist, Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne). Last season, his world crumbled. He divorced; a patient (a fighter pilot) returned to work too soon and died.
Paul has moved to Brooklyn, but the past follows him. In a jolting start, he re-meets the pilot's bereaved father (Glynn Turman, who won an Emmy in the role). Then come scenes with two great actresses: Hope Davis is a top malpractice lawyer; Alison Pill is a headstrong college student, clinging to a secret.
Other choices include:
-- "Kings," 8 p.m., NBC. To avert war, King Silas promised to give Port Prosperity to his enemy. That's the homeland of David, now torn between the king and his own family.
-- "Nature: Frogs: The Thin Green Line," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Frogs have been around for 250 million years, scientists say, but a now a fungus has killed one-third of amphibians. This documentary is beautifully crafted by Allison Argo, who is both a gifted filmmaker and (as a former actress) an appealing narrator.
-- "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," 8 p.m., HBO, rerunning at 10. Settling into her Botswana detective agency, Precious (Jill Scott) has one problem -- so far, no one has paid her. New cases arrive -- a missing husband, a missing dog, an eccentric dentist. Sweet and smart, it's an excellent episode.
-- "Masterpiece Classic: Little Dorrit," 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Romance is elusive in another good episode. Amy -- born in debtors' prison, but free to come and go -- gets a proposal. Her sister toys with a rich man; Arthur courts a rich woman.
-- "Explorer: Inside Guantanamo," 9-11 p.m. National Geographic Channel. Here is a detailed and even-handed look at the detention facility. It views the U.S. reasons for the camps, the excesses of the camps, the excesses of the detainees, the pain of guards and of ex-detainees.
-- "Breaking Bad," 10 p.m., AMC. Evicted by his parents, Jesse hit bottom last week. Now -- with Walt reluctantly giving him half the drug money -- he sets up a new operation. Meanwhile, Walt's brother-in-law is crumbling from his violent confrontation with a thug.
-- "River Monsters," 10 p.m., Animal Planet. Each week, Jeremy Wade views some of the scariest things in the water. Tonight, he finds surprising extremes with piranha: In some places, he can swim among them; in others, they are as fierce as their reputation.
-- "Brave New Voices" debut, 11 p.m., HBO. The "Def Poetry Jam" series has offered brilliant performers. Now that show's producers view a launching point for this spoken-word revolution, as teens prepare for a national poetry slam. This opener offers stirring idealism, but cuts the individual performances way too short.        

TV column for Saturday, April 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Basketball, 6 p.m., CBS.
The noise, the passion and the energy are about to reach overload. It's time for the final four to collide in the NCAA tournament.
On a converted football field (Ford Field in Detroit) where nothing interesting has happened in the past year, great teams collide.
First are Michigan State University and Connecticut, with tip-off at about 6:07 p.m.; then -- 40 minutes after that concludes -- Villanova faces North Carolina. The winners meet Monday, for the national championship.
TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE: Janette Oke films, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Hallmark Channel.
Over six years, Hallmark has turned Janette Oke novels into eight movies, spanning three generations on the frontier.
It has even offered some future starpower. "Love Come Softly" (2003, 9 a.m.) starred Katherine Heigl as a widow in a marriage of convenience. "Love's Enduring Promise" (2004, 11 a.m.) has Heigl again, plus January Jones as her step-daughter Missie. Those two would find stardom in "Grey's Anatomy" and "Mad Men."
Erin Cottrell took over the role of Missie in the next films, which air today at 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m.; the final film in the series debuts next Saturday.
First, catch the new "Love Takes Wing" (9 p.m.). This time, we see Missie only briefly, writing to her adopted daughter Belinda (Sarah Jones). Belinda is a doctor now, stepping into a Missouri town gripped by cholera and fear. The mayor (Patrick Duffy) hesitates, while townspeople range from heroics (Cloris Leachman, Jordan Bridges) to hatred (Lou Diamond Phillips, who also directed this movie).
This film lacks the open-air beauty of the early ones. It gives us the dark side of a gritty era; it also oversimplifies things, as the young doc grabs medical breakthroughs.
Still, these are likable people in an uplifting story. Hallmark has done a solid, diligent job.
Other choices include:
-- "Special Agent Oso" debut, 8 and 8:30 a.m., Disney Channel. A cute teddy bear takes secret-agent missions, in this animated series for pre-schoolers. These two half-hours combine for four mini-tales.
-- "ER," 8-10 p.m., NBC. If you missed the series finale Thursday, here's a second chance. On one level, it's just another busy day for the current characters; Gates has a difficult patient and plans a surprise for Sam. On another, this is a reunion: Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) is opening a clinic in Chicago; gathering are many of the people who worked with him when "ER" was new and popular.
-- "Yours, Mine and Ours" (2005), 8-10 p.m., ABC. The original, 1968 movie was loosely based on a real-life couple that married, merging 18 kids. This remake is based (even more loosely) on them; Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo star.
-- "High Noon," 9-11 p.m., Lifetime. No, this isn't the classic western. It's the third in a series of four new movies based on Nora Roberts novels. Emilie de Ravin (Claire on "Lost") plays a hostage negotiator; Ivan Sergei (from "Jack & Jill" and "Crossing Jordan") is a bar owner. Their romance is complicated when a serial killer targets her.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. Robert Iler, 24, is still known mainly as Tony's son in "The Sopranos." In this rerun, he's a shaky witness for the prosecution, in a case involving the murder of a trucking-company owner.
-- "Saturday Night Live," 11:29 p.m., NBC. Seth Rogen hosts, with music by Phoenix.  

TV column for Friday, April 3


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Returning dramas, 8-11 p.m., CBS.
For two Fridays, the night's three ratings-leaders were on the bench, while CBS aired basketball. Now all three are back, two of them with reruns.
"Ghost Whisperer" (8 p.m.) sees Melinda visit her old high school classmates, after one of them is killed. Rachael Leigh Cook guest-stars.
"Flashpoint" (9 p.m.) has the only new episode of the three. Distraught when economic woes force his friend's family to move, a teen holds up a food store. A hostage crisis soon grows.
In "Numb3rs" (10 p.m.), eight people -- including two cops -- are killed in a coffee shop. Don's team soon finds corruption and romance; Jonathan Silverman guests.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: "Stargate: Continuum," 9-11 p.m., Sci Fi Channel.
Why didn't he think of this sooner? The evil Ba'al goes back in time, to prevent the Stargate program from starting.
Reality is being re-arranged. The team must find a way to set things right.
This movie re-unites many of the original series stars -- Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks and more -- plus such later arrivals as Ben Browder, Claudia Black and Beau Bridges. Also, Sci Fi promises some scenes shot on Arctic ice, the furthest North that any movie has filmed.
Other choices include:
-- "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," 8 p.m., Fox. As he tries to rescue a Skynet victim, John closes in on Weaver. Meanwhile, Weaver has learned the secret kept by Ellison, who is now linking with John's mom, Sarah.
-- "Mistresses," 8 and 9 p.m., BBC America. If you missed last week's episode, catch the rerun at 8 p.m., It was a strong one, wrapping up stories for all four women. In particular, Trudi finally confronted her husband, who had let the world believe he was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. In the show's British run, that hour ended the first season; the first episode of the second season is at 9 p.m.; it jumps ahead one year.
-- "Friday Night Lights," 9 p.m., NBC. As the state title game looms, personal problems dominate. Last week, Joe McCoy -- the wealthy beer distributor -- attacked his son, the starting quarterback; Coach Taylor and his wife intervened. Now there's a rift between the families. Meanwhile, Buddy Garrity tries to mend his relationship with his daughter Lyla. And Landry helps Tyra apply for college, hoping their romance can revive.
-- "The Incredibles" (2004), 9 p.m., Disney Channel. It's a good night for cartoon movies; "Ice Age 2" (2006) airs at 8 p.m. on FX.
-- "Dollhouse," 9:01 p.m., Fox. The company's scheme only works because the "actives" have had their memories wiped clean. Now, however, three wake up with most of their original memories intact. They hatch an escape plan.
-- "Dogtown," 10 p.m., National Geographic Channel. While helping in his homeland of Ethiopia, a doctor found stray dogs that had been confined to a pit. He rescued two and flew them to the U.S. Now -- in an episode strong on warmth and idealism -- we see staffers mend dogs that may have never known human kindness.