We began the American Idol journey in January full of hope. The singing competition promised that this would be the year of deep talent - no silly Sanjayas in the final 12. At first blush, most of the contestants did look solid. But it soon became clear that they weren't much more than that. None of them could make your hair stand on end, à la Fantasia Barrino. So each week you'd vote for your favorites with an uneasy sense of their limitations.
The parallels with this year's presidential race are inescapable. As primary season grinds on, people seem to be having qualms about those contestants too, no matter how impressive they once seemed.
I suppose I'll rouse myself to vote for David Cook in this week's American Idol finale (Tuesday & Wednesday, 7 p.m., Fox). As for Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama and John McCain, I'm waiting to see who can sing the best version of "I Will Always Love You."
Saturday, 6 pm (TLC)
This series features a father-and-son surgeon team who deal with obese people. In this week's episode, a patient loses 600 pounds through diet and swimming. Unfortunately, he still weighs 400 pounds when his regimen is finished.
Wouldn't it be a drag to lose 600 pounds and have your doctors tell you it's "a good start"?
Academy of Country Music Awards
Sunday, 7 pm (CBS)
The recent CMT Awards felt about as Southern as South Hollywood. You barely heard a pedal steel or fiddle all night, but rather slickly produced pop and rock that clashed with the cowboy hats and boots the performers presumably found in some costume shop. Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and New Jersey's Jon Bon Jovi were unlikely award winners, and Snoop Dogg was an unlikely presenter. Gone were the picket-fence and hay-bale props of past years, replaced by slinky backup dancers and glittering sets.
Most stunning of all, none of the winners evoked God at the podium. Since the Lord works in mysterious ways, today's country stars apparently need someone who's more on-task - say, an agent or manager - to create showbiz miracles for them.
Don't expect anything different at this week's Academy of Country Music Awards. If a homespun genius like Hank Williams Sr. tried to make his way on stage, I bet the security guards would draw their guns on him.
Sunday, 8 pm (WHA)
Watching Cranford feels like stepping into a real English hamlet from the 1840s. The miniseries, based on novels by Elizabeth Gaskell, paints a large cast of characters on this charmingly small canvas. It makes Cranford come alive with provincial splendor: the fears, the hopes, the cruelty, the kindness. And, of course, the gossip, which never ceases.
Cranford's rhythms are slow, but the production pulls you in thanks to fabulous acting by Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Francesca Annis, Imelda Staunton and others. By this week's finale, you'll be clucking over the latest tempest in a teapot, just like the town's biddies in their bonnets and shawls.
Dancing With the Stars
Monday & Tuesday, 7 pm (ABC)
It's fascinating to compare Dancing With the Stars to American Idol. They have essentially the same format: amateurs strutting their stuff; a female judge and two males, including a sharp-tongued Brit; viewer voting and weekly eliminations. And yet Dancing With the Stars doesn't come close to American Idol's charm.
That's not to say I won't do a fiery paso doble around my living room if Kristi Yamaguchi and Mark Ballas win this week's grand finale.
Monday, 8 pm (ABC)
Last fall's edition of The Bachelor ended in despair. After sending home the second-to-last contestant, Bachelor Brad Womack was ready to propose to finalist DeAnna Pappas. He picked out a ring, flew her father out to L.A. and...couldn't go through with it. He rejected DeAnna and left The Bachelor without a bride.
DeAnna was crushed and confused, though not so much that she turned down an offer to be this season's Bachelorette. And as most psychologists agree, there's no better way to heal a broken heart than to date a couple dozen men simultaneously in front of a national TV audience.
The Bad Girls Club
Tuesday, 8:30 pm (Oxygen)
The reality series' second season put seven self-proclaimed bad girls in an L.A. mansion so they could "change their destructive behavior." Luckily for Oxygen, they didn't change much. They screamed, fought and stabbed each other in the back, and ratings were fabulous.
This reunion special, hosted by Star Jones, brings the bad girls back together to reflect on their experience. And by "reflect," of course, I mean pinching, biting and pulling each other's hair.