TV column for Wednesday, Aug. 19




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Top Chef: Las
Vegas” debut, 9-10:15 p.m., Bravo.

The setting is Vegas, but the
contestants are from all over. One is originally from Puerto Rico,
one from France; one survived a 27-day ocean trip to escape Haiti.

Now three each work in San Francisco,
Atlanta and the Baltimore-Washington area; two each are in Seattle
and Philadelphia. There's one each from New York, Pasadena, Florida;
and there's Eve Aronoff, 40, who has her own restaurant (simply named
Eve) in Ann Arbor.

There are brothers: Bryan Voltaggio,
33, works in Maryland; Michael Voltaggio, 30, near Los Angeles.

Tonight, each must make a dish
representing a personal vice. Alcohol shows up a lot; there are also
nods to smoking, hot temper and more. This is sometimes hard to
follow – especially with 17 contestants – but remains slick and
entertaining.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Pride &
Prejudice” (2005, Oxygen) or “Lonesome Dove” (1989, AMC), both
8 p.m.

These classics are opposites in
everything but quality.

“Pride” has indoor elegance, via
Jane Austen's novel. Director Joe Wright and star Keira Knightley
showed that great visuals (and an expressive face) can project more
than words.

“Dove” has outdoor grittiness, via
Larry McMurtry's novel. Director Simon Wincer got understated
perfection from Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones and more. Moving as
slowly a prairie ride, it will rerun from 8 p.m. to midnight today
and Thursday.

Other choices include:

– “Octomom: The Incredible Unseen
Footage,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. There's been lots of coverage of Nadya
Suleman and her octuplets. Still, Fox says it has fresh footage of
her, her family and the babies.

– “America's Got Talent,” 8 and 9
p.m., NBC. In a schedule change, NBC has a recap hour first; then
five more acts advance to the final 20.

– “The New Adventures of Old
Christine,” 8 p.m., CBS. Helping someone else through labor,
Christine and her ex-husband recall their own son's birth, in this
rerun.

– “In a Dream” (2008), 8 p.m.,
HBO2. This prize-winning documentary starts as Jeremiah Zagar's warm
portrait of his father Isaiah, who has covered large portions of
Philadelphia with richly detailed murals. Then, as lives crumble, it
turns increasingly dark.

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
In a rerun, the search for an abducted boy causes Dr. Reid (Matthew
Gubler) to discovers things about his childhood. Jane Lynch –
usually known for comedy in “Two and a Half Men,” “Glee” and
movies – plays his mother.

– “Leverage,” 9 p.m., TNT. The
team pretends to be a magic act, to pierce an evil company's
security.

– “Dark Blue,” 10 p.m., TNT. Dean
and Jaimie pose as a married couple, to trap diamond thieves.

 

TV column for Tuesday, Aug. 18




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Rescue Me,” 10
p.m., FX.

A classic scene – big and broad and
sometimes wildly funny – opens this hour.

The firemen are shopping in a grocery
store, when a shoplifter is spotted and a chase begins. The result
mixes big moments of physical comedy, plus quiet litle touches at the
end; it's masterful.

Afterward, most of the episode has
Tommy colliding with each of his three women. There's a great scene
with his estranged wife (Andrea Roth) in a restaurant, plus good ones
with his cousin's widow (Callie Thorne) and with the enigmatic
newcomer (Maura Tierney). All are strong enough and eccentric enough
to keep Tommy wobbling.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Shaq Vs.”
debut, 9 p.m., ABC.

You may never again refer to Ben
Roethlisberger as “Big Ben.” Yes, he's substantial (6-foot-5, 241
pounds) by quarterback standards; still, he seems to shrink alongside
Shaquille O'Neal (7-1, 325).

O'Neal swears he'll beat Roethlisberger
in quarterbacking tests, culminating in a seven-on-seven game. We
haven't seen the full hour, but there's some agreeable jostling among
two champions.

In the weeks ahead, O'Neal will try to
top the best at their game. That includes Serena Williams (tennis),
Oscar de la Hoya (boxing), Albert Pujols (baseball) and some Olympic
champs – swimmer Michael Phelps and the volleyball duo of Kerri
Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. This rerun
focuses on Abby (Pauley Perrette), the lab whiz. When a government
scientist is killed, she's asked to step in. Friends worry that she's
in danger.

– “90210,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW. Both
reruns link two stars from the original “Beverly Hills, 90210.”
Donna Green (Tori Spelling) visits Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) and
tells about her separation. She also designs a dress for Diablo Cody
(the “Juno” writer) and looks for a spot to open a clothing shop.

– “America's Got Talent,” 9-11
p.m., NBC (preceded by a rerun at 8). Ten more acts perform; then
viewers will vote, putting half of them in the top 20.

– “Medium,” 10 p.m., CBS. Here's
the start of a two-parter that nudges “Medium” into its new
night. Allison dreams of a stalker, then sees him in real life. He
doesn't approve of using dreams to solve crimes; the conclusion is in
the new slot, at 9 p.m. Friday.

– “P.O.V.: Shorts,” 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). The South China Mall is outrageously
ambitious. In a city without major airports or highways, it's twice
the size of the Mall of America; it even has boat rides. It's big and
(so far) a flop. It has 10 or 12 tenants; the Mall of America has
more than 400. Here's a fascinating view of the place; it's packaged
with three more-abstract shorts, dealing with manikins, building
cranes and England's war to protect red squirrels and destroy gray
ones.

– “Masters of Reception” debut,
10 p.m., TLC. This series watches a high-energy, New Jersey family
create wedding receptions. For one couple tonight, an outdoor
reception must be whisked inside; also, the groom accidentally steps
on and rips the bridal gown. For the other, a joyous bride-to-be
wants two hard-to-find items (candy and a specific kind of dancers)
from the Dominican Republic. The result – produced by the
husband-wife Mark Consuelo and Kelly Ripa, who don't appear in it –
is kind of fun.





– “Flipping Out” season-opener,
10 p.m., Bravo. In his freewheeling, house-flipping days, Jeff Lewis
was impossible to like. Now that he's scrambling for remodeling jobs,
there are times when he borders on the tolerable.

 

TV column for Monday, Aug. 17




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “House,” 8
p.m., Fox.

After an accident, Lee (Mos Def) seems
comatose. In a haunting style – similar to a long-ago “Alfred
Hitchcock Presents” episode – we see things through his eyes.

The doctor, convinced the guy is
brain-dead, is talking about organ donations. Fortunately, the
patient in the next bed (Dr. House) has other ideas.

This rerun knows how long to stick with
its gimmick. It mixes in surreal scenes from Lee's sub-conscious,
then switches to a regular perspective. By then, viewers have been
hooked by great TV.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Glenn Martin,
DDS,” 8 p.m., Nickelodeon,

Glenn's family needs some together
time. His son, 13, plays perpetual video games. His daughter, 11, has
hired a personal assistant; side-by-side, they text-message each
other.

So Glenn loads everyone into a
recreational vehicle. This is a rarity – a road-trip situation
comedy; that works because it's all in stop-motion animation.

The voices (Kevin Nealon, Catherine
O'Hara) are familiar, but the settings are fresh. In the opener, the
family reaches Amish country, creating accidental chaos in funny
ways.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Woodstock:
Now & Then,” 8-10 p.m., History Channel.

The story of Woodstock has been told
often, but it grows with time. Now we see long-married people,
casually discussing their first date (actually, jus two strangers
sharing drugs) 40 years ago. We see grandparents, fondly recalling
nudity, pot and rock 'n' roll.

There's ample footage from the original
movie, but this film – from Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple – is at
its best when viewing events from a modern perspective.

Other choices include:

– “Super Why,” times vary (check
local listings), PBS. In an OK new episode, the kids meet a future
Dr. Dolittle, who can tell what animals are thinking.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS. The first rerun has someone feeling he's ruined Ted's
life and needs to make amends. The second has Ted so involved with
his new company that friends have trouble luring him to his birthday
party.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Chelsea sets Alan up on a blind date with her new
friend. Alas, that's Rose, Charlie's former stalker.

– “Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal
Naqshbandi,” 9-10:30 p.m., HBO. At 24, Ajmal Naqshbandi was
considered an important go-between for government officials,
reporters and others. Then he was kidnapped and killed by the
Taliban; this documentary tells the story.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. In a funny rerun, Sheldon feels Penny has broken his
rules; he bans her from the apartment.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. In a
rerun, a new murder leads to a 20-year-old case. Also, Beckett faces
Castle at the poker table.

TV column for Sunday, Aug. 16




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Defying
Gravity,” 10 p.m. Sunday, ABC.

On one level, this is sheer
science-fiction. Eight astronauts are on a six-year mission, unaware
that a mysterious force controls them.

On another, it's a subtle character
drama. It centers on Maddux (Ron Livingston) and Ted (Malik Yoba),
haunted by a mission 10 years ago, when they had to abandon two
friends in space.

We flash back to the fifth anniversary
of that event – and to the once-shaky relationship between Maddux
and the engineer who later was bumped from this mission.

All of that peaks when the ship seems
to turn chaotic. It's an interesting chunk of a well-made show.



TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Mad Men” season-opener, 10 p.m., AMC.

Last season ended with Don Draper's
life in chaos.

The ad agency had been sold and Duck
had been put in charge. Don stormed off; at home, his wife (who
doesn't really want the baby) finally told him she's pregnant.

As the new season begins, the corporate
changes impact Pete and Ken. Also, Don and Sal take a business trip
to Baltimore, where both are seduced.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE III: “True Blood,”
9 p.m., HBO.

 

This hour starts with a suicide bomber,
then doesn't slow down much.

Eric, the vampire sheriff, takes
advantage of Sookie's good nature. Maryann becomes increasingly
fierce. She turns a crowd into a perpetual party; she stalks Sam and
seems to have Tara in control.

Meanwhile, Jessica visits the mom of
her non-vampire boyfriend. As expected, it doesn't go well.

Other choices include:

– “Merlin,” 7 and 8 p.m., NBC. In
the first episode, Merlin learns that his mother's village is being
terrorized; he races to the rescue and is surprised when Arthur,
Morgana and Gwen (Guinevere) join him. In the second, Arthur kills a
unicorn; crops die, water turns to sand, people are not happy.

– “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,”
8 p.m., ABC. Midway in this 15-day run, Regis Philbin talks to the
show's first millionaire, John Carpenter. Also, Rachael Ray tries a
$50,000 question for charity.

– “Shark Tank,” 9 p.m., ABC. As
ideas are pitched, the results range from rejection to a
million-dollar offer.

– “Design Star,” 10 p.m., HGTV.
“Military housing is always white, white, white everywhere,” one
soldier's wife groans. Not after these people get through with it.
Two three-designer teams each tackle the main room in a family's
military-base housing. One stumbles, the other succeeds
spectacularly; it's up to an interesting hour.

– “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami”
debut, 10 p.m., E. Two Kardashian sisters move to Miami, where they
launch a high-end clothing store and Khloe starts a sex-tinged radio
show. There's lots of flash, noise and commotion; that hits overload
when their sister Kim visits, to help with the store.

– “Reality Hell” debut, shortly
before 11 p.m., E. Each week, one person will be lured into a fake
reality show, with actors pretending to be increasingly crazed
contestants, judges and host. This opener (a modeling show) is
sometimes cruel or overwrought, but has good moments. The victim even
convinces herself that she recognizes the supermodel host and
photographer, both fictional.

TV column for Saturday, Aug. 15




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Gymnastics, 3 p.m.
and 8 p.m., NBC.

Some of the U.S. stars of the 2008
Olympics compete today.

The men are in the afternoon. That
includes Jonathon Horton and Joe Hagerty, who were on the U.S. team
that took bronze in 2008; Horton also took an individual silver in
the horizontal bar.

At night, the women take over. That
includes three members – Nastia Liukin, Samantha Peszek and Briget
Sloan – of the team that took silver in 2008. Individually, Liukin
also took a bronze, two silvers and the all-around gold.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Country at
the White House,” 9 p.m., GAC (Great American Country).

You'll have to excuse the first 15
minutes or so, which have way too much talking, repeating the same
points often. Eventually, the music takes over.

Charley Pride rips through a couple
classics and Alison Krauss adds a bluegrass feeling, complete with
bandmate Dan Tyminski singing the timely “Man of Constant Sorrow.”
She also links with Brad Paisley for the emotional power of “Whiskey
Lullaby.”

Paisley does the rest. He sings of love
and of fun. Then he does “Welcome to the Future” – singing to
Barack Obama, whose election inspired the song. That wraps up a dandy
concert.

Other choices include:

– Animated movies, 8 p.m., three
channels. ABC has “Shark Tale” (2004), with a smart-talking fish
in trouble with the Mob; Disney has “Ratatouille” (2007), with a
rat dreaming of being a great chef. Still, the top honor must go to
ABC Family with “Pinocchio” (1940), the classic tale of a puppet
turned boy.

-- “The Pianist” (2002), 8-11 p.m.,
Independent Film Channel. Here's the wrenching story of a classical
star who hid during the Nazi years in Poland. It was nominated for
seven Oscars (including best picture), winning for star Adrien Brody,
director Roman Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood.

– “Being Human,” 9 p.m., BBC
America. Last week's episode had some moving moments, when Annie (the
ghost) learned the truth about her widower. (You can catch a rerun of
that at 8.) Tonight's show get some humor out of that, then turns
serious. Mitchell (the vampire) befriends a neighbor boy, then makes
a mistake that creates a crisis; a good series soon teeters near
melodramatic excess.

– “Househusbands of Hollywood”
debut, 9 p.m., Fox Reality Channel. Don't expect any big emotional
peaks here. We meet five likable guys who are at home, while their
wives – a lawyer, a psychologist, a make-up artist, an actress and
a TV personality – work. Tonight, they range from watching the kids
to building a draft-beer dispenser.

– “Shark Tank,” 10 p.m., ABC. In
a change, ABC inserts a rerun of the first episode. It has some
interesting moments, but is as stark, spartan and bare-bones as any
show in years.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Jon Hamm hosts this rerun, with music by Coldplay.