TV column for Tuesday, May 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "American Idol," 8 p.m., Fox.
Here's the final showdown, pitting opposites.
Adam Lambert has a hugely theatrical style, transforming into new versions of Elvis or Bowie or Jagger or beyond. He also soars seamlessly into the higher octaves.
Kris Allen is a quiet Arkansas kid with a shy smile and flawless way with ballads. Tonight, they get their last chance to impress viewers; on Wednesday, we'll learn who is the next champion.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE (even more): "Glee" debut, 9 p.m., Fox.
Here is a wonderful hour that has it all -- humor, hope, cynicism and perversity ... plus dandy, upbeat music.
A wide-eyed teacher (Matthew Morrison) has a shallow wife and silly colleagues, one of whom is gaga for him. Now he's taken over a hapless glee club, one that's no match for the powerhouse show-choirs at other schools.
All of this is done with the full cynicism of writer-director Ryan Murphy. His other show ("Nip/Tuck") has despicable characters, not worth caring about; this one ripples with optimism (some of it misplaced) and music. Morrison and Lea Michele (who plays his top singer) are Broadway stars; "Glee" makes great listening.
The show won't be back until fall, but you'll remember big chunks of it -- especially a cheery, chirpy rendition of Amy Winehouse's angry "Rehab." That's the sly Murphy touch.
Other choices include:

-- "Idol Tonight," 6-8 p.m., TV Guide Network. Here's a red-carpet preview of tonight's "American Idol." There will be another one Wednesday and a follow-up Thursday.

-- "Dancing With the Stars" finale, 8-11 p.m., ABC. First is a rerun of Monday's episode, with the final three -- gymnast Shawn Johnson, actor Giles Marini and "Bachelor" alumna Melissa Rycroft -- performing. Then -- after a couple hours of preliminary fuss -- we'll have a champion.
-- "Nova," "Frontline" and "Independent Lens," 8-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Here are three well-made documentaries, the first two reruns. "Nova" follows a man's effort to understand his late father (Hugh Everett), a physicist who created a "many worlds" theory. "Frontline" deftly portrays the key days of the economic meltdown. And "Lens" has survivors recall their ordeal after a 1972 plane crash in thge Andes.
-- "NCIS" season finale, 8 pm., CBS. The team travels to Israel, where Ziva reluctantly meets her father. Also, Tony confronts Rivkin and Gibbs makes a key decision.
-- "The Mentalist" season finale, 9 p.m. CBS. One person has been killed and her twin sister has been kidnapped. Patrick Jane's boss fears it's a trap to lure him to Red John.
-- "90210" season finale, 9 p.m., CW. A lot happens on prom night, including the birth of Adrianna's baby and the return of Brenda (Shannen Doherty). There are some good moments here, especially when the principal and his wife eat pot-laced cookies. The hour ends, however, by thrusting their daughter into a situation that is horrendously over-the-top in its acting and its writing.
-- "Rescue Me," 10 p.m., FX. Mismatches provide some strong scenes. Lou finally gets his moment with the glamorous French writer. Also, Tommy and his estranged wife go to their daughter's private school. They pretend to be upper-crust, producing some neatly comic moments. 

TV column for Monday, May 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "One Tree Hill" season finale, 9 p.m., CW.
Tonight is stuffed with the finales of shows that are bigger and more popular. Still, this demonstrates what a finale can be; it's  filled with big moments and changed lives.
That starts with Lucas bringing his wife Peyton, pregnant and near death, to the emergency room; it ends with cross-continent romance.
This all becomes excessive after a while, with every character using perfect soap-speak. Still, you have to admire the passion; Chad Michael Murray is particularly good as Lucas and Paul Johansson has great moments as his sorrowful father.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "American Experience: The Kennedys," 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Starting withg a story we already know, "Experience" adds depth and perspective.
The early focus is on a steeply ambitious Joseph Kennedy, facing biases against Irish Catholics. It acknowledges his frequent infidelity (also a flaw in his son John) and his Wall Street deceptions.
It also points out that John was once a lazy congressman and Ted was, at first, wildly unqualified to be senator. Still, politico Andrew Young says, John Kennedy became an ideal -- a privileged person who grew as he learned about the rest of the world. His brothers expanded on that, propelling a sweeping family saga.
Other choices include:
-- "Dancing With the Stars," 8-9:02 p.m., ABC. Rodeo star Ty Murray was ousted last week, leaving the final three -- gold-medal gymnast Shawn Johnson, actor Giles Marini and Melissa Rycroft, the "Bachelor" survivor. Tonight, they have their final chances to impress judges and viewers; the winner is chosen Tuesday.
-- "24" season finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox. As last week ended, Jack had stopped one terrorism attempt and arrested its leader -- his former friend Tony Almeida. Then came a call: His daughter Kim will be killed unless Jack frees Tony. Will he do it? Is there another bomb? And what about the president, whose daughter arranged a murder, then tried (unsuccessfully) to stop it?
-- "Gossip Girl," 8 p.m., CW. As graduation nears, there's a lot of fuss about who is Gossip Girl and whether she'll follow everyone to college. The result is adequate, but no match for the deeper emotions of "One Tree Hill."

-- "Rules of Engagement," 8 and 9:30 p.m., CBS. This funny-enough show will have had four new episodes in eight days. In tonight's first one, Jeff is encouraged to do something wild with his profits from selling his car; in the second, he considers livening up the sex routine.
-- "The Bachelorette" debut, 9:02-11 p.m., ABC. We've had enough leggy, cookie-cutter contestants. Jillian Harris -- 5-foot-2, quirky, a designer who grew up at the northern edge of Alberta -- offered a neat alternative during the recent "Bachelor"; now she's in charge.
-- "Medium," 10 p.m., NBC. Anjelica Huston previously played a psychic who killed her daughter's kidnapper. She's in prison now, but Allison needs her after repeated dreams of a kidnap victim (played by Rumer Willis, the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore) whom Allison had helped previously.   

TV column for Sunday, May 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Desperate Housewives" season finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.
Tonight starts with two scheming guys in control. Owen knows that Bree faked a burglary, in order to keep her valuables after a divorce; now he can blackmail her. Also, Dave -- who schemed to have Jackson grabbed by immigration officials before his fake wedding to Susan -- pretends to be helpful.
There's much more tonight, as Tom hatches his latest mid-life career move. And Gabrielle continues to meet her friend, who is destitute.
Along the way, ABC promises, the season's mystery will be solved and there will be hints of next season, as Gabrielle's niece moves in.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Mystery: Wallander," 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
The story starts, again, with a shocking death. From there, it becomes wildly heightened -- and yet deeply involving.
Kenneth Branagh is terrific as a Swedish police detective, groping with life. This time, he even tries video dating; don't expect a rosy romance.
Other choices include:
-- "Survivor" finale, 8 p.m., CBS, with follow-up at 10. We're down to the final four now, with one of them becoming the million-dollar winner.
-- "Nature: Victoria Falls," 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The opening and closing minutes are spectacular, as we see wildlife surrounding Africa's spectacular Victoria Falls waterfall.
-- "Saturday Night Live Just Shorts," 9-11 p.m., NBC. Sometimes "SNL" is at its best with short films, fake commercials and more. Here, Andy Samberg hosts a collection of them.
-- "Family Guy," 9 p.m., Fox. In a clever-but-erratic episode, Peter learns of a long-ago relative who started the city. The story starts in England, where he managed to offend a king who looks a lot like Stewie.
-- "In Treatment," 9 and 9:30 p.m.,HBO. Last week, Mia (Hope Davis) talked about her pregnancy; April (Alison Pill) was near death when her therapist finally told her mother she has cancer. Both episodes resonate richly with pain and emotion.
-- "Brave New Voices" finale, 10 p.m., HBO. Stunning talent fills the stage here, as we see the final moments round of a contest involving slam poets. Five teams -- New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Hawaii and Rochester, NY -- remain. After giving us maddeningly brief slices in the past, this finale finally lets us catch some pieces in their entirety. They are stunningly good.
-- "Breaking Bad," 10 p.m., AMC. This starts with a fierce jolt, then leaves Walt in a jam. He has to turn to his shifty lawyer, played with sly perfection by Bob Odenkirk. 

TV column for Saturday, May 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "The Mentalist," 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.
The bad news: "Harper's Island" has slipped so far that it's even being pre-empted on a Saturday, TV's worst night.
The good: It's being replaced (for one week only) by reruns of a terrific show.
First is the pilot, introducing Simon Baker as Patrick Jane, a gifted observor. In the past, he used that skill as a phony psychic; now he's working with the police.
There's genuine wit here, despite the fact that this case reflects the method of "Red John," who killed Jane's wife. In the second hour, a convict wants Jane to prove he's innocent; then he'll share information about Red John.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Jim Jeffries: I Swear to God," 10 p.m., HBO.
Many people should avoid this stand-up hour. Jeffries makes that clear instantly, when he attacks Christianity.
He offers no fear of the afterlife. "I won't even know I'm dead. You know why? Because I'll be (bleepin') dead."
He is suspicious of a system that puts hookers in the punishment place and relatives in the reward place. "Ever spend a weekend at your grandparents' place?"
Jeffries has many gripes, all of which seem more tolerable when said in his Australian accent. He's even dislikes pandas, because they won't pro-create in cages. "You put me in a cage with anything for a week and I'll (bleep) it."
You'll believe that after hearing stories of his own bad behavior. Much of it is disgusting; some of it is very funny.
Other choices include:
-- "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005), 8-11 p.m., ABC. After taking a basketball break, ABC returns to its admirable habit of airing a Harry Potter epic each Saturday. This one has a classy director (Mike Newell) and adds Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richafrdson to the list of talented British actors. Still, the closing Triwizard Tournament doesn't make much sense.
-- "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," 8 p.m., NBC. In this rerun, a teen who sent nude photos of herself is beaten by an unknown assailant and is sentenced (for child pornography) by a harsh judge.
-- "Close Up: Kara DioGuardi," 8 p.m., TV Guide Channel. The channel starts a week of "American Idol" programming, sandwiched around the "Idol" finale, Tuesday and Wednesday.
-- "Southland," 9 p.m., NBC. Things get personal for Ben, the young cop who comes from a wealthy family. There have been break-ins in an upscale neighborhood and his friend was a victim.
-- "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005), 9-11 p.m., Sci Fi. There are moments here that capture the full, wonderful wit of Douglas Adams' novel. With the Earth destroyed, an ordinary chap finds new worlds; naturally, he has the British knack for dry understatement.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. This rerun starts with the murder of a writer; soon, it wraps into a story of Chinese espionage.
-- "MadTV" (11 p.m., Fox) and "Saturday Night Live" (11:29 p.m., NBC). For "SNL," this is the last show of the season; Will Ferrell hosts, with Green Day as musical guest. And for "MadTV," it's apparently the last show ever. Fox has canceled it after 14 seasons; now -- barring new life elsewhere -- this is the end. Fred Willard hosts and old stars -- Alex Borstein, Will Sasso, etc. -- visit.  

TV column for Friday, May 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Prison Break" series finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox.
Once a terrific series, "Prison Break" no longer has a prison and can't catch a break. For its final two hours, it wanders through aimless repetition of the same, dead-end story.
Still, this is worth seeing because it well-drawn characters get their farewell. Fox gave producers enough warning to do this right; the closing montage is actually quite involving.
What precedes that is a silly scramble. Michael has the deadly Scylla device and two evil forces demand it. One, led by Gen. Krantz, hold his brother Linc hostage; the other, led by their evil mother, holds Michael's true love Sarah hostage.
The show has created an unwinnable situation -- then resorts to wild illogic to solve it. In the tradition of fictional bad guys, only one person watches a hostage, while countless perimeter guards forget to look around.
None of this is either believable or satisfying; any final victory seems flat. Still, viewers want to root for these characters one more time; the last moments lets "Prison Break" end with waves of honest emotion.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Numb3rs" season finale, 10 p.m., CBS.
James Callis is your go-to guy for playing demented sociopaths. "Battlestar Galactica" fans knew that from his years as Gaius Baltar; now he plays the prime suspect.
Amita (Navi Rawat) has been taken  hostage. Her lover Charlie (David Krumholtz) tries to determine what the kidnapper is planning, while Charlie's brother Don tries to find her.
Other choices include:
--"Alzheimer's Project," 7:30-10 p.m., HBO. If you missed this ambitious documentary series when it opened Sunday, here's a chance to catch some of the key parts. First, Maria Shriver presents a half-hour from the perspective of loved ones, "Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?" Then comes a detailed, two-hour look at progress in medical research.
-- "America's Funniest Home Videos" season finale, 8-10 p.m., ABC. So far, three people have each won $100,000. Now they compete for a grand prize -- an annual vacation in a resort or on a cruise ship, for 50 years. This ends the 19th season for a show which has gone largely unnoticed for 15 or so of those years.
-- "The Game" season finale, 8-9 p.m., CW. Melanie (Tia Mowry) tries to rush wedding plans, so she and Derwin (Pooch Hall) can be married before Janay gives birth to his baby.
-- "Ghost Whisperer" season finale, 8 p.m., CBS. Melinda gets some dire warnings about what could be the fate of her future baby.
-- "Flashpoint," 9 p.m., CBS. The team tries to intervene in a hospital, as a man shields his wounded brother from gang members.
-- "Farrah's Story," 9-11 p.m., NBC. This film is being tentatively scheduled by NBC's news division, in the "Dateline" slot. Farrah Fawcett produced it, documenting her struggles with cancer over the past two-and-a-half years. Her friend Alana Stewart co-produced it and did much of the camera work; other friends -- Ryan O'Neal, Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson -- appear in the film.