TV column for Monday, March 16

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Castle" (ABC) or "Saving Grace" (TNT), both 10 p.m.
Take your choice, with crime stories that add character twists.
"Castle" (actually starting at 10:02 p.m.) is the fun one. In last week's opener, an ego-driven crime novelist (Nathan Fillion) worked with a tough cop (Stana Katic). Now he's patterning his new Nikki Heat character after her, while they probe the murder of a nanny.
"Saving Grace" is dead-serious, with Holly Hunter superb as an Oklahoma City cop who is intense, alcoholic -- and often visited by Earl, her guardian angel.
Tonight, we finally learn the background of Abby (Christina Ricci), her temporary partner. Also, Bobby Stillwater, Ham's old partner, resurfaces after long undercover duty.
There are many things going on here -- so many that tonight's case (slayings in a drug-troubled neighborhood) -- is disposed of rather abruptly.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Chuck," 8 p.m., NBC.
An all-rerun night for NBC starts with a typical "Chuck" episode, for good and bad.
The bad news involves the sub-plots, which are lame. At the Buy More store (Chuck's day job), Lester struggles as the new assistant manager; Morgan -- secretly in love with Chuck's sister -- sabotages her date.
The good news involves the main story and Chuck's duties as an undercover spy. He must charm the Black Widow; first, he gets lessons from an old spy (John Larroquette) who considers himself a great ladies' man.
Other choices include:
-- "Wonder Pets," 10:30 a.m., Nickelodeon. This show is immensely charming for pre-schoolers, so-so for their parents. Now, in a new time slot, it has a week of new episodes. Today, Little Bee and Slug accidentally take the Flyboat for a difficult ride.
-- "Dancing With the Stars," 8-10:02 p.m., ABC. Last week, viewers met the new duos, including two replacements. Melissa Rycroft (newly dumped by "The Bachelor") and Holly Madison stepped in for Nancy O'Dell and Jewel, both of whom were injured. Now viewers get their first vote, with one duo eliminated Tuesday.
-- "The Big Bang Theory," 8 p.m., CBS. On a caffeine frenzy, Sheldon tries to shape up Penny's home business.
-- "House," 8 p.m., Fox. A nursing-home employee (Judy Greer) has noticed that whomever the cat sleeps next to soon dies. When the cat sleeps next to her, she panics; House tries to disprove the theory.
-- "How I Met Your Mother," 8:30 p.m., CBS. How much do Ted's friends hate Karen (Laura Prepon)? Lily planted evidence, to undermine their relationship.
-- "Two and a Half Men," 9 p.m., CBS. Newly engaged, Charlie is supposed to take care of the ill Chelsea. His instinct is to flee.
-- "Heroes," 9 p.m., NBC. This reruns the opener to what has become a disappointing storyline, as the government tries to round up everyone with special abilities.
-- "Kyle XY" series finale, 9 p.m., ABC family. This series started with the teen-like Kyle -- seemingly manufactured, not born -- found in the woods. Then it added Jessi. Now Kyle learns that the secret society is ready to mass-produce such super-children. Can he stop them?
-- "Medium," 10 p.m., NBC. After getting a shiny used car, Allison has dark visions of its past. She also frets about her husband's new business partner (Kelly Preston).

TV column for Sunday, March 15

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Kings" debut, 8-10 p.m., NBC.
Huge, ambitious and distinctive, this series will draw opposite reactions. Some people will consider it overblown; some will consider it triumphant.
Put us in the latter category. "Kings" has the freshness of early "Lost" and (at times) the verbal splendor of "The West Wing"; it also has two ideal characters.
One is David Shepherd, a quiet farm kid who fixes things; he becomes a battlefield hero. The other is King Silas, with a grand vision of his own destiny,
David is perfectly played by Christopher Egan, a young Australian; Silas is stunningly played by Ian McShane, an old Englishman. The king's epic speeches are beautifully written by Michael Green ("Heroes"); McShane seems destined for the Emmy he should have won in "Deadwood."
All of this is beautifully directed by Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend"). A modern version of the biblical story of David, "Kings" is partly ancient legend and partly current triumph.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Dream Home Giveaway," 8 p.m., HGTV.
This year's dream home is nestled neatly into California wine country. With input from designers Monica Pedersen, Kim Myles and John Gidding, it seems ready for a perpetual party. There are front and back porches, a lot of party spaces, soothing colors -- and an office with a fully stocked wine cellar.
Tonight, someone will be surprised with the news about winning the 3,600-acre home.
Other choices include:
-- "Goodbye Girl" (1977), 6-8 p.m., Turner Classic Movies. Here was writer Neil Simon at the peak of his writing wit. One-liners bounce around beautifully, as a self-possessed young actor (Richard Dreyfuss) accidentally rooms with a cynical dancer (Marsha Mason). Dreyfuss won an Academy Award, in the same year that he also triumphed in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
-- "Amazing Race," 8 p.m., CBS. Clearly, this has been a tough race for romance: In the first four weeks, the two married couples and the two dating couples have been eliminated. Now the survivors try to race through Siberia. The tough part, for some, involves handling a stick shift.
-- "The Simpsons," 8 p.m., Fox. It's "Da Vinci Code" time. Through an odd series of events,Lisa's baby sister ends up at a convent. Lisa goes undercover there to rescue her; she promptly discovers an ancient mystery.
-- "Desperate Housewives," 9 p.m.ABC. Last week, Tom's shot at a job was torpedoed during a disastrous dinner with Bree and Orson. Then Tom's wife Lynette said she wants to return to work anyway; tonight, Carlos gives her a chance. Also, a colleague thinks Susan is making a pass at her.
-- "Celebrity Apprentice," 10 p.m., NBC. The women may be stronger at some of these contests. In the opener, they beat the men at making and selling cupcakes. Tonight, in the third week, each team must take an empty space, decorate it and sell 125 wedding dresses.
-- "Breaking Bad," 10 p.m., AMC. In last week's season-opener, Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse tried to split themselves from the dangerous and unstable Tuco. That didn't work; now they're trapped with him.

TV column for Sunday, March 15

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Dancing With the Stars," 8 p.m., and "Castle," 10 p.m., ABC.
An entire night is time-shifted, as ABC repeats its Monday line-up.
First is the "Dancing With the Stars" opener, which replaces two injured stars.
Jewel is replaced by Holly Madison, whose fame comes from being one of
Hugh Hefner's girlfriends on the reality show "The Girls Next Door."
Nancy O'Dell is replaced by Melissa Rycroft, who was jolted on "The
Bachelor": Jason Mesnick proposed to her, then changed his mind six
weeks later and chose the show's other finalist.
After the dancing, there's a second chance to see the "Castle" debut.
Slick and clever, it has murders being solved by the mismatched team of
a tough cop (Stana Katic) and an ego-driven author (Nathan Fillion).
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "You're Welcome America," 9 p.m., HBO.
This show began its limited Broadway run on Feb. 5, with Will Ferrell
returning to his "Saturday Night Live" role of George W. Bush.
Now comes a live telecast. HBO will use 10 cameras, to try to give viewers the full experience.
Other choices include:
-- "Celebrity Apprentice," 8-10 p.m., NBC. Here's a rerun of the second
round, in which both teams are supposed to create a cartoon character.
The men, who lost the first round, face a quick conflict between the
laidback style of project manager Scott Hamilton and the intense
approach of Tom Green.
-- "NCIS," 8 p.m., CBS. DiNozzo is stationed in a submarine in this
rerun. He suspects that an alleged suicide was part of a larger plot.
--"Naked Brothers Band," 8-9 p.m., Nickelodeon. This likable show
creates its own universe, in which young Nat and Alex Wolff have a
hugely popular band. Now their bass player, Rosalina, is back from a
cruise and is attracted to a French pianist. When she decides to quit
the group, Nat is heartbroken and his band auditions for a new bassist.
-- "The Mentalist," 9 p.m., CBS. When the prime witness in a trial is
killed, the suspect and motive seem obvious. Patrick Jane, however, has
an alternate theory.
-- "Relative Stranger," 9-11 p.m., Hallmark Channel. Some immense
talent is thrown into a story that doesn't deserve it. Charles Burnett
-- who drew raves for "To Sleep With Anger," "The Wedding" and more --
directed a cast that includes Eriq LaSalle and Cicely Tyson. Tyson is
wonderful in her brief scenes, but LaSalle's style doesn't fit the
character. He invests great intelligence into an absent dad who keeps
doing block-headed things. It's a well-meaning drama that rarely seems
-- "Ashes to Ashes," 9 p.m., BBC America. If you missed the terrific
debut of this "Life on Mars" sequel, catch a rerun at 8 p.m. Then
settle in for a new hour, with the talented Keeley Hawes as a modern
cop who suddenly finds herself in 1981. 
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. In this rerun, a key witness has
been killed and a ruling by a judge (Mercedes Ruehl) complicates things.
-- "Saturday Night Live," 11:29 p.m., NBC. It's a promising new
episode, with Tracy Morgan -- formerly an "SNL" regular and now on the
dandy "30 Rock" -- as host. The musical guest is Kelly Clarkson.  

TV column for Thursday, March 19

(Please note: I'm temporarily putting current TV columns here. That's just short-term, though. Long-range, this Web site will be for blogs and for samples of older columns.)

 TODAY'S MUST-SEE: Basketball, all day, CBS.
The NCAA men's tournament begins, temporarily altering TV habits.
Today and Friday, there will be one doubleheader at noon ET and another at 7 p.m. A new round follows Saturday and Sunday, trimming the field to 16.
That brings quick adjustments today and Friday -- no "Survivor," no "CSI," no "Ghost Whisperer" or "Flashpoint" or CBS soaps. There will, however, be lots of fun and commotion.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: "Ugly Betty," 8 p.m., ABC.
It's sort of "Sexy Betty," in what will be the last episode for a while. Matt still hasn't made lustful advances, so Betty's friends give her a sexy makeover.
Meanwhile, Hilda isn't sure she wants to keep dating the city councilman (Ralph Macchio). And Daniel and Wilhelmina hope a sex-themed issue will boost the magazine.
That will have to hold us for a while. Beginning next week, two comedies will borrow this time slot.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II: "Warriors," 10 p.m., History Channel.
The Vikings had a devastating combination of brute force and clever invention,host Terry Schappert says here.
They turned peat soil into an iron-like substance. They built boats beautifully and improved on sail designs. They created fierce axes, seven-foot spears and more.
Then they hit with brute force. Many opponents paid ransoms to avoid a fight.
Things peaked in 991 A.D., when Olaf led 93 ships to England. A Saxon army was waiting, with 4,000 men on each side. Schappert, a Green Beret, describes the battle (won by the Vikings) with a mixture of intelligent analysis and sheer awe.
Other choices include:
-- "Juno" (2007), 7:30 p.m., HBO. This low-budget, independent film has wit, charm and fun music, with Ellen Page perfect as a cynical and pregnant teen. It won an Oscar for best screenplay and was nominated for best picture. As a bonus, it leads into a 9:30 p.m. rerun of Will Ferrell's one-man George Bush show, "You're Welcome America."
-- "Bones," 8 p.m., Fox. When a teen volleyball star is killed, police learn she and many of her teammates were pregnant.
-- "The Office," 8:30 and 9 p.m., NBC. First is a rerun, with Michael preparing for when Jan gives birth; then is a new episode, in which he's startled by the company's new vice-president.
-- "Myles of Style" season-opener, 8:30 p.m., HGTV. Kim Myles, the second "Design Star" winner, is a fine host, mixing intelligence with a buoyant personality. Tonight, she works on a media room that is mostly big and white and empty. Myles makes rich use of golden-copper colors and even shows how to create a global pendant lamp with $16 worth of twine and balloon. It's a fun half-hour.
--- "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m., ABC. No one can convince the discouraged Derek to return to surgery, so Meredith reluctantly tries. Meanwhile, Izzie wants to conceal her medical condition. Mark tries face-transplant surgery; Cristina nears her first solo surgery, yet seems more involved in her colleague's lives.
-- "30 Rock," 9:31 p.m., NBC. Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") is back as Liz's handsome boyfriend Drew. She learns he often gets special breaks because of his looks.
-- "ER," 10:01 p.m., NBC. Parminder Nagra wraps up her six-year stay as Neela. Tonight, on Neela's last day at the hospital, she argues with Dubenko about two cases.

TV column for Wednesday, March 18

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Better Off Ted" debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Somehow, ABC has concocted a comedy that makes a logical lead-in to "Lost."
Episodes begin with promotional films for the fictional Veridian Dynamics. Slickly impersonal, they remind you of the Dharma Initiative video on "Lost."
Then we step into the gray-beige world of Veridian, with Ted (Jay Harrington) as our guide. At first, we have doubts: Yes, this is a sharp satire of a soul-less world, but is there anyone to root for?
Have patience; that shows up in the second half of the opener and in next week's episode.
We start to see a human spark in Ted. He provides what Don Draper does in "Mad Men" -- an empty suit at first, but then bits of warmth.
We also meet his delightful daughter, age 7. And the one co-worker who actually wears colors; as played by Andrea Anders ("Joey"), she brings a human joy.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "American Idol," 9 p.m., Fox.
For country fans, this will be a fine night. It includes performances by Brad Paisley, Randy Travis and former "Idol" champ Carrie Underwood.
For others, this can be a disaster. In the past, country week has doomed singers who grew up far from Nashville. That was the elimination week for Mandisa, Anthony Federov, Ramiele Malubay and, alas, Sanjaya Malakar.
Other choices include:
-- "Chopping Block," 8 p.m., NBC. The two teams must quickly design and name their restaurants, then hold separate dinners for top designers. One team finds itself short of alternatives, when designer Nicole Miller vetoes its seafood choice. It's a rocky and interesting night.
-- "Scrubs," 8 p.m., ABC. While watching "SportsCenter," Turk concocts a risky operation that could help a paralyzed teen.
-- "The New Adventures of Old Christine," 8 p.m., CBS. While helping another couple tonight, Christine recalls Ritchie's birth.
-- "Gary Unmarried," 8:30 p.m., CBS. Now that she's broken up with her fiance, Gary's ex-wife seems to be around a lot. He rushes to find her someone new.
 -- "Lost," 9 p.m., ABC. In the previous episode, the survivors found themselves in the past, with the island caught in a turf war. Sawyer managed to lie them out of danger, convincing people he's LaFleur, the tough captain of a grounded ship. Three years later, he was the security chief -- when Jack and the others returned to the island. Now Sawyer must scramble, treating his old colleagues as strangers.
-- "Life," 9 p.m., NBC. This show keeps stockpiling top actors. Now it adds Gabrielle Union as Seever, who is Crews' new partner. She's an overachiever, sort of the opposite of Reese (Sarah Shahi), who is on federal assignment. Tonight, Crews and Seever probe the murder of a court reporter who had been writing to a convict.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. When a writer is killed, the investigation leads to a long-ago espionage case and a family torn apart.
-- "Life on Mars," 10:02 p.m., ABC. Going undercover, Sam finds himself in fights and in jail. Things get complicated when he's supposed to kill someone -- and when he falls for the gang lord's sister