You can't help but groan hearing the premise of Tony Danza's new reality series, Teach: Tony Danza (Friday, 9 p.m., A&E). The aging TV actor sets himself up as a 10th-grade English teacher in an urban Philadelphia high school, with a camera following his every move. Is it fair to make these poor kids pawns in Danza's late-career vanity project?
Probably not, but I have to admit that Danza won me over. He may be Earth's most charming man, and his childlike enthusiasm for teaching is infectious. With wire-rim glasses and graying hair, "Mr. Danza" works hard to reach the students and get them excited about literature. As a onetime student teacher myself, I sympathized with his problems, including tailoring his lessons to an insanely wide range of learning abilities.
The students howl in protest over Danza's quizzes: "If half the class did horrible, then it's obvious it's something the teacher did!"
Mr. Danza may have won me over, but the kids will obviously be a harder sell.
Tuesday, 8 pm (PBS)
"Death by Fire" is a fascinating true-crime story or, to be more precise, a fascinating true-non-crime story. In 2004, Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham for setting a house fire that killed his three young children. Willingham had all sorts of bad qualities that convinced his small-town neighbors he was guilty, but an investigation conducted before his execution found that arson hadn't been a factor in the fire.
You'd think that might convince Gov. Rick Perry at least to delay the execution to make sure the state didn't kill an innocent man. But that's not the way justice works down there: "In Texas, you do not get elected by granting stays of execution to people like Cameron Todd Willingham," says an observer. "You do not show any kind of mercy to criminals."
After Willingham's execution, the Texas Forensic Science Commission tried to figure out what might have gone wrong in the case and how to prevent future problems. But Gov. Perry was running for reelection, and he simply fired three members of the commission, replacing the chairman with a political ally.
"If we make a mistake, are we going to learn from it?" asks the fired chairman. "Or are we just going to try to sweep it under the rug and act like nothing happened?"
Rug sales must brisk in Texas.
Law & Order: Los Angeles
Wednesday, 9 pm (NBC)
The only reason for Law & Order to open up an L.A. franchise is to leech off La La Land glamour. The series still uses those two clanging eighth notes at transition points to signify high seriousness, but in between we get Lindsay Lohan look-alikes, tawdry stage mothers, bratty socialites, high-end salons, glittering clubs, designer drugs and tiresome name-dropping (Avalon, Chin Chin, etc.). Two tight-lipped detectives (Skeet Ulrich, Corey Stoll) walk through this Hollywood Babylon like a modern-day Friday and Gannon from Dragnet, lending a whiff of unintentional camp.
It's sad to see the series become less interested in Law & Order than Beverly & Hills.
Harry Loves Lisa
Wednesday, 9 pm (TV Land)
I like reality shows that prove Hollywood celebrities are just like us. In Harry Loves Lisa, TV Land cameras capture the domestic life of TV stars Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna, who struggle with problems all of us can relate to. Hamlin frets about his shaky career; Rinna frets about media messages that undermine her daughters' self-esteem.
Then there's Lisa's obsession with her lips, which have apparently been blown out of proportion by plastic surgery. This problem is a bit hard to relate to. Lisa sees a surgeon who disapproves of her startlingly prominent top lip: "The lower lip should really be about 20% larger than the upper lip," he says.
I guess Hollywood stars are just like us…except for top-to-bottom-lip ratio.
The Vanilla Ice Project
Thursday, 8 pm (DIY)
Vanilla Ice posed as a tough-guy rapper in the 1990s, and he continues posing in his new reality series, this time as a home renovator. He fixes up houses in Palm Beach, Fla., though he still claims to be a hip-hopper who tours the world with his hit "Ice Ice Baby." "I ain't leavin' rappin'!" he says, strutting about in uniform (shades, tattoos, baseball cap at cocky angle).
I imagine the tough-guy-rapper persona will be difficult to maintain after this series, though. "We'll ad colorful perennials, stone pathways and dramatic lighting for dimension and beauty!" Ice says outside his latest fixer-upper.
I bet even Jay-Z would have a hard time setting that line to a hip-hop beat.