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 Friday, March 13

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


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Mistresses," 9 p.m., BBC America.
Last week's episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.) nudged all four women deeper into crises.
Trudi began to suspect that a stranger is telling the truth; her husband was having an affair before he was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. Katie began an affair with a young man who doesn’t realize his late father was also her lover. Siobhan learned that she's pregnant -- but probably not from her husband.
Then there was Jessica, jolted by her first lesbian affair. She got drunk at her lover's wedding and went home with a stranger.
All of this sounds like overheated soap opera, but it's not. Four talented actresses breathe life into intelligent women who are worth caring about.
Tonight's hour starts with Trudi crumbling, ends with Katie making a key choice. In between, Siobhan frets and Jessica bumbles. Deep emotions flash before us.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Friday Night Lights," 9 p.m., NBC.
The females of Dillon, Texas, have lots of guy troubles tonight. Tyra Collette sees the flip side of Cash, the rodeo star she ran off with. Her sister Mindy rages at the ultimatum from her fiance, Billy Riggins. And Lyla Garrity fumes when Tim Riggins (Billy's brother) keeps blowing his chance for a college scholarship.
All of those peak tonight, creating strong moments late in the hour. Also, there's football; the state play-offs begin, with the Panthers on national TV.
Other choices include:
-- "Ghost Whisperer," 8 p.m., CBS. Life is getting complicated for Sam. He sort of died once, except that Melinda's recently deceased husband jumped into his body and brought him back to life. Now he saves Melinda -- and almost dies yet again.
-- "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," 8 p.m., Fox. The first half of a two-parter has Sarah and John deciding its time to move. Also, Jesse flashes back to a life-changing mission she had on a submarine.
-- "Dollhouse,” 9 p.m., Fox. Each week, there’s a fresh mission for Echo -- and a fresh acting challenge for Eliza Dushku. This time, Echo has been implanted with the traits and limitations of a visually impaired woman. She will must enter a cult and free someone who is being held against her will
-- “Friday Night Lights,” 9 p.m., CBS. While transporting a serial killer, the team suspects that a federal agent is sabotaging the mission.
-- “Numb3rs,” 10 p.m., CBS. Two years ago, the California Institute of Technology made history or sorts -- it finally won a basketball game, after losing 207 in a row. Now comes a a fictional variation: Charlie scrambles for a way for his school, CalSci, to break its losing streak; two Los Angeles Lakers, Paul Gasol and Jordan Farmer, play themselves. In another story line, federal agents get last-minute information that could exonerate a Mob boss who is about to be executed.
-- “Battlestar Galactica,” 10 p.m., Sci Fi Channel. Here’s the first half of the series finale, for what has been a great TV show. Remaking a bad 1978 show, “Galactica” has had brilliant plots, rich characters and compelling visuals. Now it’s wrapping up. 

TV column for Thursday, March 12

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m., ABC; then "ER," 10:01 p.m., NBC.
ABC has the big plot lines tonight; NBC has the big guest stars. It adds up to a busy two hours in TV hospitals.
"Grey's Anatomy" has Derek learning that he has lost more patients than he saved. He wants to quit; Meredith won't give up on him.
Meanwhile, tests start to show what's been wrong with Izzie. Also, Bailey and the Chief continue to disagree about her plan to specialize in pediatrics; Adele (guest star Loretta Devine) tries to intervene.
For "ER," this is a night of guest stars from the show's first year -- Noah Wyle, Eriq LaSalle and Julianna Margulies -- plus Susan Sarandon. The main plot involves an organ-transplant crisis: Neela and Sam have the organs, but the plane that was supposed to take them has left.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Warriors" debut, 10 p.m., History.
Some 2,000 years ago, this documentary says, the Mayan empire had 10 million people, with a capital twice the size of Athens.
Why did it crumble? Terry Schappert, who hosts this show, says evidence points to changes in warfare.
Schappert is an ideal host. He's been an Airborne Ranger and Green Beret, but he also speaks several languages and has a degree in anthropology. Here, he practices with the Mayan weapons -- blow gun, stone axe, spear-thrower and more -- many using sharpened volcanic glass.
At first, he says, Mayan warfare was brutal but small-scale; individuals were taken for sacrifice. One change came in 378 AD, when a non-Mayan city-state launched a new era of territorial attacks. Another came three centuries later, with the Mayans' first effort at annihilating a population. By about 900 AD, cities were no longer safe; people scattered and the jungle swallowed up a once-great empire.
Other choices include:
-- "Ugly Betty," 8 p.m., ABC. Betty meets Matt's mother (played by Christine Baranski, an Emmy-winner from "Cybill"), but things don't go as expected. Meanwhile, Betty's family wants to hook Hilda up with a promising city councilman, played by former "Karate Kid" star Ralph Macchio.
-- "My Name is Earl," 8 p.m., NBC. In this rerun, Seth Green plays someone with a unique demand -- Earl must help him make an ultra-low-budget action movie. The result has some hilarious moments.
-- "The Office," 9 p.m., NBC. Michael stirs trouble with his scheme to include "golden tickets" inside some boxes of paper.
-- "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 9 p.m., CBS. Langston and Riley (Laurence Fishburne and Lauren Lee Smith) are hostages, after a shoot-out erupts in a normally quiet neighborhood.
-- "30 Rock," 9:31 p.m., NBC. Liz fails in her schemes to get out of jury duty. Once she's gone, there's chaos at the show.
-- "Bridget's Sexiest Beaches," 10 p.m., Travel Channel; repeats at 11. OK, maybe travelogues are interesting, after all. Bridget Marquardt -- former Hugh Hefner girlfriend, former "Girls Next Door" star -- hosts this visit to the world's beaches. The current plan is to start with Australia.
-- "Private Practice," 10:01 p.m., ABC. Pete and Sheldon keep pressuring Violet to find out which one is the father of her baby.