TV column for Wednesday, May 13

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Lost" season finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.
Brilliant and befuddling, "Lost" keeps reminding us that the best things in life are rarely the easiest.
With just one 17-episode season remaining, this has become a perplexing web of time travel, one in which dead people return and life gets do-overs. Some viewers try to keep up with it all; an hour-long clip show at 8 p.m. will try to explain what has happened. That's not necessary, though; just settle back and enjoy a grand ride.
When last seen, Locke was leading people on a stroll to meet the unseen soul who has been giving orders. Locke claims he's going to kill him -- if he even exists.
In another time frame, Jack and others have reached the hydrogen bomb; if he blows up the island, Jack feels, it all will be reversed. Meanwhile, Sawyer (alternately known as LeFleur) is leaving on a submarine with his two loves, Juliet and Kate.
Tonight, Jack's plan and Locke's plan meet resistance. Then, we assume, surprising things happen.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "American Idol," 9 p.m., Fox.
There is no logic to a world in which two of the season's biggest events happen simultaneously.
Tonight, we learn who will facing off in next week's finale. The field includes two talented -- and immensely likable -- guys (Kris Allen and Danny Gokey) and one (Adam Lambert) who transcends that with amazing gifts. Tape this and watch "Lost," or vice versa.
Other choices include:
-- "Lie to Me," 8 p.m., Fox. Last week we met an FBI agent, played by Mekhi Phifer. Now, after a bombing, he brings in Lightman to try to prevent more attacks. The case soon turns personal, with Lightman and Zoe (Jennifer Beals) trying to protect their daughter.
-- "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," 8 p.m., NBC. The good news is that this episode -- which debuted on the USA Network -- helps introduce Jeff Goldblum as a detective whose droll cynicism fits neatly. The bad news: This so-so plot borrows lots of questionable cliches about self-centered artists and musicians.
-- "Secrets of the Dead: Michelangelo Revealed," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Restoring and researching Michelangelo's sculptures, Antonio Forcellino found intriguing quirks and inconsistencies. That sent him on to research ancient documents, coming up with a fresh theory: While being the greatest artist for the traditional Roman Catholic churches, his leanings were really with reformist movements.
-- "WWII Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West," 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). In last week's opener -- re-enacting information learned from once-secret papers -- we saw Joseph Stalin buying time by creating a pact with his opposites in Nazi Germany. The Germans attacked anyway, with the Russians losing 100,000 men in a week. Tonight, Winston Churchill flies to Russia to mend the link with Stalin, who he both despises and needs. Stalin soon rages that the Allies are too slow to reach the European mainland. And in the both the U.S. and Russia, schemes for post-war territory begin.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. Two scientists, engaged to each other, have been found dead in a fire. Police meet the mentally challenged man who tried to save them and the disturbed woman who is a suspect.

TV column for Tuesday, May 12

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "American Idol," 8 p.m., Fox.
We'll see clips of the final three contestants heading home. Adam Lambert stayed in California, while Kris Allen flew to Arkansas and Danny Gokey to Milwaukee.
Now that they're back, each sings two songs -- one his own choice and one chosen by the judges. Then viewers decide who will be in the finale.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Frontline: The Madoff Affair," 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
People made fortunes by funneling their clients' money to Bernie Madoff. Few seemed to question the outrageous returns he promised.
"Why would I ask him?" Michael Bienes, who made millions, says here. "I wouldn't understand it if he explained it. Something with arbitrage between bonds and stocks and blah, blah, blah, blah."
There was little second-guessing, this compelling documentary says. Madoff's accountant was one guy in a strip mall, an hour away; his "due diligance" team was three people in Bermuda. "All the checks and balances, none of them were there," said Frank Casey, who began to suspect Madoff. "None of them ... He was his own banker, custodian, administrator."
Casey and Harry Markopolos spent almost a decade trying to stir federal officials. Reporter Martin Smith tells the story beautifully, catching the human dynamics along the way.
Other choices include:
-- "The Biggest Loser," 8-11 p.m., NBC. This edition has included the biggest weight-losers in the show's history. Tara Costa, 23, has gone from 294 pounds to 159; Helen Phillips, 48, has gone from 257 to 147. Both are in the finals tonight, along with one of the two people viewers voted on -- Mike Morelli, 19, 388 to 214, or his dad Ron, 55, 430 to 279. All four have had about five weeks since the last weigh-in; tonight's finals will set records and (based on percentage of weight lost overall) will give someone $250,000.
-- "NCIS," 8 p.m., CBS. A break-in at the Secretary of the Navy's home leads to a death. Now Gibbs must work with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit.
-- "The Mentalist," 9 p.m., CBS. After a murder at a wilderness camp for troubled kids, Patrick Jane tries to get the teens to cooperate.
-- "Dancing With the Stars," 9 p.m., ABC. Next week, the show's final three compete for the championship. First, someone must be cut -- rodeo champ Ty Murray, gymnastics champ Shawn Johnson, actor Giles Marini or former "Bachelor" contestant Melissa Rycroft.
-- "Fringe" season finale, 9:04 p.m., Fox. Throughout this strong first season, many of the show's horrors have been traced to the research of Massive Dynamic. Now we meet its founder William Bell -- played by "Star Trek" star Leonard Nimoy, no less. That comes during a troubled time in which bioterrorist Robert Jones is back and Walter Bishop is missing.
-- "Independent Lens: Crips and Bloods: Made in America," 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Growing over 40 years, this documentary says, two rival gangs have turned South Central Los Angeles into a war zone, with more than 15,000 people killed. This film looks at the causes and effects.
-- "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" debut, 11 p.m., Bravo. Two of these women -- Caroline Manzo and Jacqueline Laurita -- come across as almost practical. The others show lives that Carmela Soprano would envy. There is Teresa Giudice, spending wildly. ("I heard the economy's crashing, so that's why I pay with cash.") And Danielle Staub, flaunting her bikini body at 45 and stirring fights. And Dina Manzo, Caroline's sister, who says there was a misunderstanding with Staub. "Maybe I told her I was going to kick her (butt), but it's a figure of speech."

TV column for Monday, May 11

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "24," 9 p.m., Fox.
A week before the finale, crises pile up.
Tony Almaeda -- once good, now evil -- is helping plant a poison-gas bomb on a Washington subway, with a dupe framed to be the suspect.
Meanwhile, the president's daughter scrambles. She had considered killing the nasty Hodges, then changed her mind; her colleagues did it anyway and she's entangled.
Jack Bauer could save the day -- he's already rescued the dupe's hostage brother -- but it's tough. At headquarters, two techies (Mary Lynn Rajskub and Janeane Garofalo) snipe at each other. Also, Jack's daughter Kim is still around and available to be kidnapped yet again.
Unfolding tonight is a typical "24" episode -- taut, compelling, wildly unbelievable, yet addictive. It sets up what could be a big finish.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "American Experience: We Shall Remain" conclusion, 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
The first four chapters of this well-crafted documentary series showed American Indians losing turf to the European newcomers. Now we see a modern attempt to fight back.
Some 200 people -- Oglala Lakota, linking with activists in the American Indian Movement -- took over the Wounded Knee hamlet in South Dakota, holding it for 71 days. This was perfect timing (the White House was preoccupied with Watergate) and location; near the spot where the Cavalry had killed hundreds of Lakota men, women and children in 1890, the protesters drew public support.
This documentary looks back at the 20th-century efforts to strip Indian culture. It also sees the takeover as a starting point for modern rethinking.
Other choices include:
-- "Dancing With the Stars," 8-9:32 p.m., ABC. On consecutive weeks, the Hough siblings were ousted. First was Julianne, with her celebrity partner (and boyfriend) Chuck Wicks; last week was Derek, with Lil' Kim. That leaves four celebrities, a week before the finale -- rodeo star Ty Murray, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, actor Giles Marini and Melissa Rycroft, a fan favorite after being selected and dumped by "The Bachelor."
-- "House," 8 p.m., Fox. In the season finale, staffers are bewildered by a patient whose left brain and right brain seem to work independently. Meanwhile, Cuddy decides to punish Dr. House for spending too much time away from the clinic; she makes him treat a difficult patient, played by Carl Reiner.
-- "The Big Bang Theory," 8 p.m., CBS. In the season finale, the guys train for a science mission in Antarctica. Complicating that is the fall-out since Penny accidentally said Leonard's name while kissing someone else.
-- "How I Met Your Mother," 8:30 p.m., CBS. We last saw Tony and Stella when they suddenly ran off together, just before she was going to marry Ted. Now Tony, guilt-ridden, helps Ted get a job; there are aftershocks.
-- "Two and a Half Men," 9 p.m., CBS. Now that Charlie's fiancee has moved in, she's befriending his brother Alan. Charlie takes advantage of the situation.
-- "Medium," 9 and 10 p.m., NBC. First, in the conclusion of a two-parter, Allison's new corporate job forbids her from sharing her visions with officials; she's desperate to share possible information about a serial killer. Then comes an hour with an odd twist: Allison is in a coma and her soul seems to be in the body of a man (Jeffrey Tambor) who moves in with her husband. 

TV column for Sunday, May 10

(I'm temporarily putting the TV columns here. Long-range, this Web site will be for blogs and for samples of older columns.) 


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Masterpiece Mystery: Wallander" debut, 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Dark, stark and pensive, these new tales are brilliantly crafted.
Henning Mankell's novels created Kurt Wallander, a police detective in a seaside Swedish town. He often lacks sleep or human warmth; his one strong relationship is with his grown daughter. But he's an intense and relentless; Kenneth Branagh brings immense intelligence and humanity to the role.
The sweeping Swedish countryside, beautifully filmed, is almost haunting in its bleak beauty. The stories are also bleak; the horrors begin in the first moments tonight. In the hands of Branagh and others, however, overwrought plots remain compelling.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Amazing Race" finale, 8 p.m., CBS.
Three interesting duos dash to the finish.
Luke Adams, 22, is with his mom Margie, 50. He's been deaf since birth and they have their own sign-language shorthand.
They're racing against siblings who are Harvard Law School grads (Victor Jih, 35, and Tammy Jih, 26) and against two former Miami Dolphin cheerleaders (Jaime Edmondson, 29, and Cara Rosenthal, 26).
Other choices include:
-- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale, 8-11 p.m., NBC. While "Amazing Race" sticks to a taut hour, "Apprentice" bloats to two hours most weeks and three tonight. Annie Duke, the charming poker champ, faces comedian Joan Rivers, who often seems to turn coldly scary.
-- "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," 8 p.m., HBO. Here's a good finish to what has been a terrific first season. Newly engaged to a decent guy, Precious (Jill Scott) frets about fake diamonds and about the return of her ex-husband, a trumpet star (Colin Salmon).
-- "Cold Case" season finale, 9 p.m., CBS. This two-parter, laced with Pearl Jam music, started strongly last week. It probes the murder of a cadet who was one of the first women admitted to her military academy.
-- "Desperate Housewives," 9 p.m., ABC. A week before the season finale, Bree, Susan and Katherine are clinging to separate secrets.
-- "The Alzheimer's Project," 9-10:30 p.m., HBO. Here's the start of an ambitious documentary series, viewing Alzheimer's disease from the view of victims, scientists and loved ones. The opener profiles seven victims, ranging from a 63-year-old man who was a gifted computer programmer to a woman, living on her own, who recently received the diagnosis at 87.
-- "Breaking Bad," 10 p.m., AMC. Fresh from good news -- his cancer is in remission -- Walt is acting strangely distant. It's an odd, understated hour, after last week's strong one.
-- "Brothers and Sisters" season finale, 10:01 p.m., ABC. Fearful that Tommy is held by a cult, Nora (Sally Field) brings his siblings to Mexico. For Kitty (Calista Flockhart), that's a break from disputes with her husband (Rob Lowe).
-- "IFC Media Project," 11 p.m., IFC (Independent Film Channel). The relationship between the media and the presidency detoured when an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at George W. Bush. This report includes a fairly interesting look at the reporter, a serious man worn down by the barrage of grim news. It also catches reactions, including an understatement from reporter Chris Hedges: "Throwing shoes is counter-productive."

TV column for Saturday, May 9

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Saturday Night Live," 11:29 p.m., NBC.
These are the final two episodes of what has been a good, if erratic, season.
Tonight, Justin Timberlake hosts and joins musical guest Ciara. Next week, Will Ferrell wraps up the season, with Green Day as musical guest.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Harper's Island," 9 p.m., CBS.
Wedding rehearsals often take surprise turns, TV tell us. That's especially true if you're on an island where people keep being killed.
Tonight, a father-daughter bike ride leads to a startling revelation. And Abby -- whose mother was a murder victim years ago -- learns the sheriff's secret. And, of course, the rehearsal takes odd twists.
Other choices include:
-- "Imagination Movers," 10 a.m., Disney Channel. On the eve of Mother's Day, this quirky show -- a non-cartoon, with music and goofiness -- nudges kids along. The guys try to think of a present for the mom of bubbly Nina. Meanwhile, Uncle Knit Knots knows his mom loves anything dull; he's getting her colorless flowers and tasteless chocolate.
-- Auto racing, 7 p.m. ET, Fox. NASCAR has the Southern 500, in Darlington, S.C.
-- "The Good Witch" (7 p.m., 2008) and "The Good Witch's Garden" (9 p.m., 2009), Hallmark. The immense charm of Catherine Bell ("JAG") helps viewer get through these OK films. After taking over her family's faded mansion, she's soon suspected of being a witch.
-- Basketball, 8 p.m. ET, ABC. The pro play-offs move into prime time, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks; tip-off is 8:15 p.m.
-- "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the death of a popular young singer seems linked to a murder 50 years ago.
-- "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," 8 p.m., NBC. In this rerun, the brutal murder of an artist may be linked to a serial killer.
-- "Jonas," 8 p.m., Disney Channel. When the guys accidentally ruin their family movies, they decide to cover up by filming fake versions. It's a silly notion that Jonas Brothers fans may enjoy a little.
-- "Kill Bill: Vol. 1," (2003, 8 p.m.) and "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" (2004, 10 p.m.), TNT. In one fierce night, catch both action films. Quentin Tarantino directed Uma Thurman in the tales of a vengeful ex-bride.
-- "Southland," 9 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of Thursday's episode. When Salinger's gun is stolen by gang members, colleagues try to get it back without reporting it.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. This rerun involves the death of the mistress of a failed banker.