Dancing with the Stars (Monday, 7 p.m., ABC) had always been a silly showcase for bad dancing. But last season, it took an ugly turn. Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol joined the competition (even though the title includes the word "stars") and proceeded to touch off a civil war in the United States. Unaccountably, Bristol kept advancing to the next round, despite her clunky moves and her relatively poor assessments from the judges. Tea Party supporters were allegedly stuffing the ballot box, while Democrats (and even some conservatives with aesthetic standards) cried foul.
Bristol only intensified the crisis with her divisive comments. "[Winning] would be like a big middle finger to all the people out there that hate my mom and hate me," she said, wallowing in the politics of resentment.
The new cast is free of such contentious figures, favoring the usual singers, actors, athletes and models. Can we please just get back to normal bad dancing?
The Pee-wee Herman Show
Saturday, 9 pm (HBO)
I'm the world's biggest Pee-wee Herman fan. I never missed an episode of Pee-wee's Playhouse in the late 1980s, and I can recite Pee-wee's Big Adventure by heart. I always wished that, one day, Paul Reubens would bring back his iconic character that nerdy, manic, mischievous kid in a man's body.
Now he has, in a Broadway show filmed for HBO, and it's a major disappointment. As much as you want the old magic to return, The Pee-wee Herman Show lacks inspiration. It's more like a nostalgic tour of Pee-wee gags, from the "Tequila" dance to "that's my name, don't wear it out." And Reubens, now in his late 50s, can't muster enough of the old childish glee as he interacts with the Playhouse people and puppets.
I think I'll just quietly turn off the TV and recite Pee-wee's Big Adventure by heart.
Monday, 9 pm (SyFy)
The outer-space series is in the middle of its final season. Our heroes are trapped on a spaceship called the Destiny, unable to return to Earth.
It sounds dire, but you'd never know it from the show's low-key tone. The characters speak in bland tones, like doctors discussing the wisdom of removing a gall bladder. In this week's episode, their mood barely changes when a bomb is discovered onboard.
You find yourself hoping it explodes, just to get a reaction out of these people.
Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time
Tuesday, 8 pm (ABC)
ABC's special holds out the exciting prospect of identifying the best films of all time. Well, it sounds exciting until you read the fine print. ABC put this vote to the public, who aren't generally known for their film-scholarship credentials. Even worse, the network asked them to choose films from a list, rather than leaving it open-ended.
In other words, we'll simply get the conventional wisdom on this topic. Is anyone really interested in another showdown between Citizen Kane and Casablanca?
The Fabulous Beekman Boys
Tuesday, 9 pm (Planet Green)
In this reality series, a gay couple doctor Brent and author Josh leave city life for an environmentally friendly goat farm in New York State. The opening credits promise "a herd of goats, a llama and a whole lot of drama."
I don't know about "a whole lot," but it is pleasurable to sink into the small-town rhythms with this unconventional TV family. In the season premiere, Josh and Brent bicker over the misbehaving llama, Polka Spot. "She is the Naomi Campbell of llamas," Josh says. "It's a good thing she doesn't have a cell phone or she would have thrown it at the groomer's head."
Now that would be a whole lot of drama. Can someone please slip Polka Spot a cell phone, pronto?
Marcel's Quantum Kitchen
Tuesday, 9 pm (SyFy)
How to justify a cooking series on SyFy? Make it about "scientific cooking." Marcel Vigneron, a former contestant on Top Chef, calls himself a "molecular gastronomist." Wearing lab goggles, he creates outrageous dishes with chemicals and technology. His favorite trick is to spray any substance with nitrous oxide to change it into something else.
In the premiere, Marcel is hired to cater a high-end party for a wildlife charity. Nervous about pleasing the hostess, he madly experiments with wildlife-inspired dishes. He injects tomato gelatin into ballooned-out mozzarella to simulate birds' eggs, and he glues meats together with an enzyme to simulate a tree.
When the hostess tastes the bird egg, she's horrified to see a gelatinous substance ooze out of the mozzarella balloon. "The dish is a little disturbing, visually," she says.
I expected Marcel to spray her with nitrous oxide to change her opinion.