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.

TV column for Tuesday, March 17

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "American Idol" (Fox), "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC) or "The Biggest Loser" (NBC), all 8-10 p.m.
This is when reality shows reach overload. That includes three of the four big networks; it also includes the two shows that top the Nielsen ratings.
One is "Idol," now into its routine. With Jasmine Murray and Jorge Nunez eliminated last week, there are 11 singers left. This is the week some have dreaded, with a country-music theme; Randy Travis is the mentor.
The other ratings champ is "Stars." At 8 p.m., it recaps the performances from Monday's two-hour show; at 9, the results show dumps one couple.
Then there's "Biggest Loser." It sends it's contestants home for a week, then tells them to prepare to run a 13-plus-mile "half-marathon." There's also a cookie temptation; when the contestants return to the ranch, they face a weigh-in and someone is dropped.
While the other networks overload on reality, CBS has a relatively key episode of "NCIS."
Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll), the NCIS director, has the unit work on a personal matter. It investigates the death of a boxer who was his friend.
That's outside the protocol. Gibbs (Mark Harmon) starts to dig into Vance's past.
Other choices include:
-- "Leprechaun 3" (1995), 7-9 p.m., Sci Fi Channel. Here's a perverse way to note St. Patrick's Day. Warwick Davis -- who has been Filius Flitwick in the Harry Potter films, Willow Ufgood in "Willow" and Wicket W. Warwick in "Return of the Jedi" -- plays the killer leprechaun.
-- "Reaper," 8 p.m., CW. Sam is supposed to send an escapee back to Hell. Unfortunately, the only way to do it is to knock him out in a boxing ring. This guy is a boxer; Sam isn't.
-- "The Quiet Man" (1952, Turner Classic Movies) or "The Luck of the Irish" (2001, Disney Channel); 8 p.m., cable. Here are some good St. Patrick's Day options. The Disney film is quite clever, as a teen (Ryan Merriman) discovers he has great luck -- while his family is transforms in odd ways. The Turner film is considered a true classic. John Ford directed the story of an American boxer (John Wayne) who discovers the joys of his native Ireland, including Maureen O'Hara.
-- "The Mentalist," 9 p.m., CBS. So far, Patrick Jane has solved crimes with his ability to observe. Now an explosion leaves him blinded, at least temporarily. He'll need other senses.
-- "Trust Me," 9 and 10 p.m., TNT. In the first hour, the ad agency goes after an energy-drink account; in the second, a beer account is involved. Meanwhile, Mason (Eric McCormack) has domestic situations, including his wife's suspicions in the first hour and his daughter's romantic woes in the second.
-- "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," 10 p.m., NBC. Benton and Stabler think they're going to the site of one murder; when they arrive, however, there are two more victims. One was a dancer at a strip club owned by a former Rockette, played by Carol Burnett. 

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.