This Emotional Life (Monday, 9 p.m., PBS) explores the nature of happiness. Why is it often an elusive goal? The subject itself may sound elusive, but host Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, brings the latest scientific research to bear. We learn that nature wired us to be bummed out when relationships go badly (thanks, nature) and that new therapies can substantially improve people's lives.
Gilbert cites a sickening though important study from the 1950s. A University of Wisconsin researcher removed young monkeys from their mothers and substituted two fakes: one made of terrycloth, which offered comfort but no food; and another made of wire, which offered food but no comfort. The young monkeys gravitated to comfort over food, suggesting that love is even more important than physical needs.
Fast forward to the present, where we meet people with trouble forming connections - those who have Asperger Syndrome, for example, or who languished in orphanages too long as children. Up-to-date therapy offers them hope, though anyone with a wire mother is still seriously screwed.
What I Hate About Me
Saturday, 8 pm (Style)
I'm trying to start 2010 with self-confidence, so I think I'll skip this show about people owning up to their imperfections. But I'm sure I'll be ready to tune in by early February.
Frank the Entertainer...in a Basement Affair
Sunday, 7 pm (VH1)
VH1 dating series tend to favor grotesques. And once the network gets hold of an especially icky star, it encourages even ickier behavior in sequel after sequel. Frank Moresco appeared as a supporting player in a couple of these shows, I Love Money and I Love New York, and now gets his own dating showcase.
Frank the Entertainer...in a Basement Affair makes hay out of Frank's living situation: stuck at home with his overbearing Italian parents. He turns out to be more appealing than other VH1 reality stars, and most of the 15 women who come to live in his parents' house are charmingly - rather than creepily - eccentric. So far, this is the rare dating series that doesn't make you sick. (Feel free to use that quote in your ads, VH1.)
Giuliana & Bill
Sunday, 8 pm (Style)
E!'s inarticulate Giuliana Rancic is perhaps TV's worst interviewer, but what she lacks in talent she makes up for in raw ambition. God forbid Giuliana would have a single untelevised moment, so she invites camera crews to film her marriage to motivational speaker Bill Rancic.
Truth be told, it's not much of a marriage, but more of a reality-series concept. The two rarely see each other, instead obsessing on their all-important careers. Nevertheless, they plan to have a baby, even though they live in different places and can barely find time for baby-making activities. But, hey, the new season of Giuliana & Bill needs a hook, so it's baby or bust.
One feels sorry for the child-to-be, who may as well be named Plot Point.
Monday, 7 pm (ABC)
The latest edition features a hunky pilot assessing the usual batch of sycophants and manipulators who hope to fall in love with a complete stranger. In the ABC promo, a contestant blubbers, "Every girl in this house is completely FAKE!"
She says that as if it's a bad thing, but a house full of authentic women would severely damage the Bachelor brand.
Monday, 7 pm (PBS)
The PBS series allows folks to bring in their family treasures and get an estimate from antiques experts. In this week's episode, based in Raleigh, N.C., the host promises "our best discovery ever." You have to wait till the last segment, when an appraiser calls a set of Chinese jade "the best thing I've ever seen on the Roadshow." He estimates its value as over $1 million.
It should be a thrilling moment, but the jade's owner merely says "damn." The segment abruptly ends, making no more of an impression than any other segment. That's quite a letdown for those of us who'd been excited about Roadshow's "best discovery ever."
I think it's time for the series to invest in some confetti and noisemakers.
I Get That a Lot
Wednesday, 7 pm (CBS)
This series allows stars to play pranks on passers-by. Paris Hilton poses as a gas-station employee, Rachael Ray as a dry-cleaning worker, and Snoop Dogg as a parking-lot attendant. It's supposed to be funny when people think they recognize celebrities doing menial labor.
But is it? Given the state of the economy, the series' tone seems wildly off. With so many Americans unable to find work, it's hard to enjoy the spectacle of celebrities doing jobs that are supposedly beneath them.
What if the celebrities returned to their mansions after production wrapped to find real-life parking-lot attendants and gas-station employees living there, and the locks changed? They'd have to go out and find low-paying 9-to-5 jobs to make ends meet, just like the rest of us.
Now that would be funny.
People's Choice Awards
Wednesday, 8 pm (CBS)
2009 cast serious doubt on The People's ability to Choose. First they picked simpering Kris Allen over smoldering Adam Lambert on American Idol, then showed a shocking degree of support for the preposterous Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars.
People's Choice Awards, can you restore my faith in democracy by honoring Green Day, Lady Gaga, The Office and Tina Fey? Or is it time to establish a Soviet-style Politburo to make these pop-culture decisions for us?