I say this every year, but I really think the Academy Awards will be better than usual (Sunday, 7 p.m., ABC). The producers are reportedly studying film of past disasters to weed out the deadliest elements (why has no one ever thought of this before?), and hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are sure to be an improvement over last year's Hugh Jackman.
After watching January's Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award ceremonies, we can be pretty sure who will win the Oscars, but we can also be pretty sure that the acceptance speeches will be entertaining. Best Supporting Actress Monique will have everyone crying, Best Director James Cameron will have everyone gagging, and Best Actress Sandra Bullock (or, I hope, Meryl Streep) will have everyone laughing.
The only train wreck will be Best Actor Jeff Bridges, so brilliant onscreen in Crazy Heart but so scattered in his acceptance speeches thus far. Bridges is peerless at playing a role, so maybe he just needs some talented screenwriter to pen him a few lines. He can come to the podium in character as "eloquent Jeff Bridges."
Who Do You Think You Are?
Friday, 7 pm (NBC)
Many people are interested in their own genealogical roots, but very few are interested in other people's. That's a problem for Who Do You Think You Are?, which follows celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker as they take "LIFE-ALTERING JOURNEYS INTO THE PAST!" according to the excitable narrator.
The "life-altering" part is questionable. In the pilot, Parker examines a musty page of the 1860 Ohio census that suggests one of her ancestors mined in the California Gold Rush. "Wow!" she says repeatedly. "That's so crazy! Un-be-lievable!"
I can guarantee that you won't say "wow." You'll wonder why you're watching Parker trudge into the Massachusetts Historical Society on a quest that's meaningful only to her. "I could print this document out for you," the librarian says in the episode's most dramatic moment.
Don't miss next week's exciting installment, when another librarian prints out a document for Emmitt Smith.
The T.A.M.I Show
Sunday, 11 pm (PBS)
1964's T.A.M.I. Show is the greatest rock concert movie you've never seen, rarely screened in theaters or on TV and only released on video this year. The black-and-white gem features a dozen hitmakers of the day, and I'll bet nobody at the time guessed that most of them would still matter over four decades later. James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles all on the same stage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, complete with bikini-clad go-go dancers.
The way-too-groovy opening credits are a kitschy time capsule, in which ridiculously coiffed young folks flock to the concert via skateboard and go-cart. There's even a dopey theme song introducing the show. ("The representative from New York City/Is Lesley Gore, now she sure looks pretty!") But when Berry plays the night's first riff the cutting intro to "Johnny B. Goode" The T.A.M.I. Show immediately transcends its era's fashions to achieve timelessness.
I'd read about James Brown's legendary performance, and it lives up to expectations, with outrageous singing, dancing and carrying on. Astonishingly, Brown doesn't close the show the poor Rolling Stones are forced to follow his unbeatable set. It's the first time in my life I've ever felt sorry for Mick Jagger.
Tuesday, 9 pm (TNT)
This gritty L.A. cop show premiered on NBC in spring 2009 and got picked up for fall. But NBC canceled it at the last minute, before the second-season premiere in October. The network reportedly found Southland too gritty - a puzzling excuse, given the many grotesque CSI-type shows on the TV schedule.
A more likely reason is that NBC found Southland too artful. The series features overlapping, emotionally challenging storylines, with no music, sentimentality or easy narrative connectors to cushion the experience for viewers. It's a better fit for cable, and TNT deserves our thanks for picking up the series' unaired episodes. In this week's installment, you can see what you missed last fall as the cops deal with a multiple homicide, addiction and tension in their families.
"I had a horrible day," a detective tells his wife after a messed-up stakeout.
Luckily, his horrible day makes for a wonderful hour of TV for the rest of us.
The Real Housewives of New York City
Thursday, 10 pm (Bravo)
The Real Housewives franchise has always been an irritant, but it became a full-blown threat to the republic last fall when a couple of idiots auditioned by breaching the security cordon at a White House event. I kept an eye out for similar subversive activity in the new season of The Real Housewives of New York City but detected only a group of spoiled rich friends sniping at each other.
"It's been a very rough summer," says Jill, while lounging on a yacht in the Hamptons. Yep, rough.
The centerpiece of this week's episode is a hissy fit by LuAnn, who had been married to a count. Ramona's husband had playfully called her "countless" rather than "countess," and she stews about it for the entire hour. "I can take a joke," she assures the other Housewives. That's clearly untrue, but she sure can be a joke.
The new Real Housewives season is as annoying as ever, but as long as it sticks to whining and backbiting, I don't think the Secret Service needs to get involved.