TV column for Sunday, March 8

(Please note: I'm temporarily putting current TV columns here. This is just short-term, however; this Web site will be strictly for blogs and samples of past columns.)

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Desperate Housewives," 9 p.m., ABC.
After being gone for a week, this show is back and toying with its characters' new economic troubles.
Bree promises to help Tom get a job, then stirs new trouble. Gabrielle finds herself helping Carlos' cheating boss deceive his wife.
Also, Edie starts digging deeper into Dave's troubled past.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-TRY :"Russell Brand in New York City," 10 p.m., Comedy Central.
Brand is the British comedian who drew raves in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and complaints when hosting the MTV awards. You may feel both extremes here, but stick with it; the hour keeps getting better.
Early portions -- dealing with the MTV experience -- are merely OK. At times, the humor gets jumbled in Brand's broad accent.
Then Brand gets to the part -- relating his misadventures at learning to ride a horse ... and at learning to surf ... and at having a gleeful sex life. Some of that is very R-rated (even with the constant bleeps);  much of it is quite funny.
Other choices include:
-- "Saturday Night Live: Just Game Show Parodies" (7 p.m.) and "Just Commercials" (8 p.m.), NBC. Ever since Jerry Seinfeld hosted "Community College Bowl" (which almost ended in a scoreless tie), game shows have given "SNL" some of its best moments. Here's an hour of them, followed by fake commercials.
-- "Amazing Race," 8 p.m., CBS. The two married couples were the first ones eliminated. Now the show has its first journey into Siberia.
-- "The Simpsons," 8 p.m., Fox. Homer Simpson, it turns out, is the latest home-finance victim. He overspent on his Mardi Gras party and had to put the house up for sale; now Ned Flanders is his landlord.
-- "Kingdom of the Blue Whale," 8-10 p.m., National Geographic Channel. At one hour, this might have been a good documentary. At two ... well, you spend a lot of time viewing the vast ocean, as experts search for new information on the planet's largest creatures. At least, the ocean is beautifully filmed.
-- "Celebrity Apprentice," 9-11 p.m., NBC. In last week's opener, the guys lost and Andrew Dice Clay was fired. (Hey, who knew they would be less-skilled at making and selling cupcakes?) Tonight, the object is to create a comic-book hero. Khloe Kardashian -- of rich-kid and reality-show fame -- leads the women; Scott Hamilton tries to lead the men, but finds his easy personality clashing with Tom Green's approach.
-- "Cold Case," 9 p.m., CBS. The murder of an honor student baffled police in 1976. Now a photo of her with a biker offers a fresh lead.
-- "The Unit," 10 p.m., CBS. Jonas' daughter, now considered a hero, is ordered to go on a media tour. Meanwhile, the unit initiates a new member.
-- "Breaking Bad" season-opener, 10 p.m., AMC. In its short (seven-episode) first season, this series offered a rich portrait of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher (Bryan Cranston) linking with his worst student to become a drug dealer. They're into dangerous territory; tonight, they scramble for a way to break off their dealings with Tuco.

TV column for Saturday, March 7

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Ashes to Ashes" debut, 9 p.m., BBC America.
The original "Life on Mars" had modern British cop Sam Tyler whisked to 1973, where his boss had no political correctness. The series deliberately ran only 16 episodes; now a sequel has been brilliantly conceived.
This time, the time-trekking cop is a female. She's whisked to 1981, in a time and place where women aren't taken seriously.
She's working with those same cops Tyler did -- Gene Hunt, Ray Carling, Chris Skelton. Trained in psychology, she's studied the Tyler case; it's a mental trick, she assumes -- but can she get out of it?
"Ashes to Ashes" is full of smart twists, but the best part is the casting. The old "Life on Mars" actors are back, led by Philip Glenister as Hunt. And best of all, Keeley Hawes is the star.
Hawes starred in five top-rate films that reached PBS, plus the early years of the "MI-5" series. American viewers haven't seen her in the last two years, but now she's back, leaping through emotions in a terrific opener.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (8 p.m.) and "Without a Trace" (9 p.m.), CBS.
Here's a rerun of the episodes that linked these two shows.
A murder victim in Las Vegas matches the description of someone who disappeared in New York six years ago. Now Gil Grissom (William Petersen) and Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia) combine on the case.
Other choices include:
-- "School of Rock" (2003), 7-9 p.m., TBS. An irresponsible rock musician (Jack Black) wants to make some quick money by faking it as a substitute teacher. That plot like pure fluff, but there's an intelligent touch to the direction (Richard Linklater) and writing (Mike White). White -- who also plays Black's roommate -- is the guy who is currently leading "Amazing Race" with his dad.
-- "Celebrity Apprentice," 8-10 p.m., NBC. If you missed the season-opener Sunday, here's a second chance. Donald Trump gets to fire people who aren't used to taking orders, including Dennis Rodman, Andrew Dice Clay, Tom Green, Jesse James and Joan Rivers. Rivers' daughter Melissa is also there, plus Clint Black, Scott Hamiltohn and others. In this opener, they have to make and sell cupcakes.
-- "Star Wars," 8-11 p.m., Spike. Officially, this is now called "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," with a 1997 release date. But mostly (with minor tweaks here and there), it's the 1977 "Star Wars," the classic that launched a new era of adventures for kids and grown-ups.
-- "Gone Country," 8 p.m., CMT. For the third time, John Rich (of Big & Rich) has taken mismatched people and taught them to think and sing country. Tonight, they perform and Rich picks a winner. The contestants range in age from funkmaster George Clinton, 67, to former Miss USA Tara Conner, 23. There are some steep musical talents, including singer Taylor Dayne and percussionist Sheila E. The line-up also has actor Richard Grieco, Monkees singer-drummer Mickey Dolenz and Justin Guarini, the original "American Idol" runner-up.
-- "Brothers & Sisters," 9-11 p.m., ABC. Here's a rerun of Sunday's episode, which includes a birth, a health crisis and a money crisis. Rebecca finds a problem that could destroy the Walker family business. She contacts her father, played by Ken Olin, the former "thirtysomething" star who also directed this episode and has been a key writer-director since the show started.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. Husband-and-wife divorce lawyers have been killed, opening up a probe into a nasty conspiracy.
-- "Saturday Night Live," 11:29 p.m., NBC. Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, hosts, with Ray LaMontagne as musical guest.

TV column for Friday, March 6

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Friday Night Lights," 9 p.m., NBC.
This show's first episode ended with a fierce injury to Jason Street, the star high school quarterback. Now, in the third “Lights” season, Street's story reaches a key point.
Paralyzed from the waist down, Street crumbled emotionally, then came back. Last week, he and three friends succeeded in their risky effort to buy and fix up a house, then sell it quickly.
Each emerged with $14,000. For Street, that's enough to try a distant dream -- going to New York, landing a job in a sports agency, then getting back together with his ex-girlfriend and their son. There are great moments here from Scott Porter as Street.
Two other stories are so-so: Tyra is torn between college applications and her rodeo-star boyfriend; Tami Taylor (the principal) tries to talk her husband (the football coach) into buying an expensive house.
The Taylors, however, are involved in another story that clicks. Their daughter is dating the team's back-up quarterback; there are fun moments, when she confronts her dad at the dinner table.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Breaking Bad," 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., AMC.
After a terrific start, this show's first season was cut short by the writers' strike. These seven episodes, the only ones that were finished, are rerun here, setting up Sunday's season-opener.
Bryan Cranston stars as a chemistry teacher who hasn't told anyone he's dying of cancer. Running out of money and hope, he takes a desperate step.
Then things build. There are strong moments, as a mild-mannered teacher inserts himself into a violent world.
Other choices include:
-- “Ghost Whisperer,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sam does not react well to the news that he is really Melinda’s late husband Jim, inside another guy’s body.
-- “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” 8 p.m., Fox. Cameron, the heroic android, has already had her programming go bad once, turning her evil. Now the problem returns.
-- “Mistresses,” 8 and 9 p.m., BBC America; repeating at 11 p.m. and midnight and at 1 and 2 a.m. First is a rerun of last week’s hour, with Trudi going on her first date since her husband was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. Then comes a new hour, filled with powerful moments -- and well-acted -- moments. There are disturbing surprises for Trudi and for Siobhan. And Jessica -- until now savoring her busy sex life -- leaps into an affair that throws her off-kilter.
-- “20/20,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. It was 5-and-a-half years ago that the Siegfried-and-Roy magic act ended suddenly, with a tiger almost killing Roy Horn. On Saturday, the duo gave what it billed as its first and last performance since then -- a successful, eight-minute switching-places act with the same tiger. Parts of that will be shown here, plus interviews with the men.
-- "Dollhouse," 9 p.m., Fox. Echo (Eliza Dushku) is an open vessel; any personality and skills can be imprinted in her brain. But what if those were wiped out in the middle of a job? That happens here, in an hour that starts well and ends with a shrug. After working hard to set up the crisis, the episode resolves it way too simply; it also fritters time on the story of a rogue FBI agent. "Dollhouse" remains fascinating, but frustrating.
-- “Numb3rs,” 10 p.m., CBS. A smart scientist has been killed and the prime suspect is ... well, a smart computer. Charlie, the math wizard, has to crack this one.

TV column for Thursday, March 5

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

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "American Idol," 8 p.m., Fox.
"There are no second chances," Kara DioGuardi recently warned "American Idol" contestants.
Now some of them get ... well, a second chance. Don't believe everything you hear on TV.
This is the "wild card" round, in which the judges consider eight previously rejected contestants. Three will get spots in the final 12.
Tonight, judges hear one more song from four women (Megan Joy Corkrey, Jesse Langseth, Jasmine Murray and Tatiano Del Toro) and four men (Anoop Desai, Matt Giraud, Von Smith and Ricky Braddy)
They might go for balance. So far, the nine finalists include six men and three women; they include six whites, two Latinos, only one black. Now comes one more shot at diversity.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 9 p.m., CBS.
The last two years have been impressive for Taylor Swift. She's had three singles reach No. 1 on Billboard's country chart, eight reach the top 16 on the overall chart. Her "Fearless" album topped both charts; it was No. 1 overall for 10 weeks -- the longest run in a decade.
That's not bad for someone who's 19. Now comes her acting debut.
The case involves a murder at a seedy hotel -- the third there in a year. Swift plays a teen who has known Nick previously; her song, "You're Not Sorry," is also featured.
Other choices include:
-- "Burn Notice," 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., USA Network. Leading into this above-average show's season finale (at 10 p.m.), here's a block of reruns.
-- "Survivor," 8 p.m., CBS. The first clear alliance forms, CBS says, with four people convinced they have things figured out. Meanwhile, this hour has what "Survivor" calls its toughest test of strength and endurance.
-- "Ugly Betty," 8 p.m., ABC. The landlord suddenly puts Betty's family home up for sale .Now there's a scramble to come up with the money; Ignacio even enters a cooking contest, going against a celebrity chef (played by Steve Schirripa of "The Sopranos").
-- "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice," 9 and 10:02 p.m., ABC. Now that their "crossover event" has ended, these shows revert to reruns. That starts with a minor crossover: Addison visits her old "Grey's Anatomy" hospital and is surprised by the changes in personal lives. In the next hour, she returns to her current show and works with Charlotte to save a comatose woman and her unborn child.
-- "The Office," 9 p.m., NBC. Michael meets a mystery woman at a valentine event. Also, Jim and Pam are banned from the office for being too openly affectionate.
-- "30 Rock," 9:31 p.m., NBC. When Liz meets a pregnant teen at a donut shop, she starts dreaming of adopting the baby.
-- "Burn Notice," 10 p.m., USA Network. In the season finale, Michael gets his showdown with Carla, played by "Battlestar Galactica" co-star Tricia Helfer. Also, he learns secrets about Victor, played by former "Stargate" co-star Michael Shanks.
-- "Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew," 10 p.m., MTV. Here's the season finale, with a champion named. All nine competing teams return.
-- "ER," 10:01 p.m., NBC. In its final season, this show turns to a time-tested formula -- an hour that pretends to be a documentary, with characters talking to the camera. That happens on a busy night in which Morris' girlfriend, a cop, is rushed in with gunshot wounds. Also, Sam struggles to get along with her mom, played by Amy Madigan.

TV column for Wednesday, March 4

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

 TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Lost," 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.
This whole time-travel thing gets complicated, once you add flashbacks, flashforwards and a mobile island.
Things start at 8 p.m. with a rerun of last week's episode. It showed what happened when Locke ventured onto the mainland under the name Jeremy Bentham.
Then comes a new hour. Sawyer must perpetuate a lie, in order to avoid mistakes of the past.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "America's Next Top Model," 8-10 p.m., CW; then "Make Me a Supermodel," 10 p.m., Bravo.
It's an all-model night, as two editions begin.
First, we see a field of 34 women trimmed to 13. They do a photo shoot in New York City's Central Park, re-creating childhood games.
Then "Supermodel" starts with 16 contestants, male and female. Moments after arriving in New York, they are told to pose in intimate pairs, in a Plexiglass cube above he street.
This is a big step for one man, who has zero experience as a model. And for another, who describes him self as "especially not gay"; he's paired with an androgynous  guy who makes no such claim.
And it's a huge step for a towering beauty named Salome. She says she grew up as a Mennonite -- "sort of Amish with electricity" -- and had no radio, TV or  computer. She also says she's been working since she was 4 and now works 70 hours a week in part-time jobs. That's a long way from the Plexiglass world she's entering.
Otherwise, "Supermodel" is fairly derivative. Tyson Beckford hosts woodenly, but is a strong mentor for the men.
Other choices include:
-- "American Idol," 8 p.m., Fox. Tonight, we learn which three people have been promoted to the final 12. That makes nine, so far; on Thursday, judges bring back some of the rejects to choose the final three.
-- "The New Adventures of Old Christine," 8 p.m., CBS. An all-rerun night for CBS starts with Barb getting publicity that draws new business to the gym.
-- "The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice" (2008), 8-10 p.m., TNT. The third "Librarian" film skips the usual global settings and makes rich use of New Orleans. The result is reasonably entertaining. Stana Katic -- who co-stars next week in ABC's "Castle" series -- stars opposite Noah Wyle.
-- "Lie to Me," 9 p.m., Fox. An imprisoned gang leader says he's rehabilitated now. If he's paroled, will he help kids or return to his old ways? The lie experts try a face-to-face talk.
-- "Life," 9 p.m., NBC. Here's a rerun of an especially odd episode. The character portraits are interesting, but the basic idea -- lottery mega-winners whose support group meets in a shabby room -- defies belief.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. In the rerun of a fairly good episode, a young newcomer to New York has been brutally slain. That leads to a probe of a cult leader. Colm Meaney and Jenna Malone are guest stars.
-- "The Beach of Death: Escaping Terror in Somalia," 10 p.m., Current TV and In an effort to get from Somalia to Yemen, refugees have faced risks from sharks and pirates. Christof Putzel and Kaj Larsen -- who did an Emmy-nominated documentary from Somalia in 2006 -- returned for this update.
-- "Life on Mars," 10:02 p.m., ABC. This story, set in 1973, has a bombing by protesters. Lt. Hunt (Harvey Keitel), whose friends were killed, goes on a mysterious personal mission.