FRIDAY

Into the West
So let's start the concern derby early on here. Will Jethro get caught up in the gold rush and meet with disaster, or will Margaret beat him to it on her search for Jacob? (Or will Jacob, for that matter, beat them both to bad fortune, thinking his family is forever lost to him?) Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner — Jethro. (Though it doesn't take long for Margaret to come real close until Ethan the photographer saves her from being assaulted by a soldier.) "There's some making more coin selling a man his three squares than standing in water all day," says Martin, Jethro's new prospecting pal. Good point. But some are making even more by selling a man whiskey, which Jethro buys plenty of. "I came out West to make my fortune," says cousin David when he arrives, looking to get into the panning biz himself. "I intend to die a rich man, not pounding iron." Well, put a period after "die" and you're quite the soothsayer, friend.

Now I have to say, if you don't mist up when Margaret finally finds Jacob, you don't have a heart. And the scene where Jacob returns to Thunder Heart Woman? A beautiful thing, too. That said, though, who decided it was a good idea to replace the actors playing Jacob, Thunder Heart Woman, Running Fox and Dog Star with older players to portray them some years on? No, I've never much cared for the old baby-powder-in-the-hair miniseries trick to age a character, but I've gotten used to it. And while I'm also used to adult characters looking nothing like the kids who played them earlier in life, having a different adult Jacob with a different voice and a... c'mon, he's a different guy! Suddenly I don't feel a bond with the character anymore. And it's not just me. Look what happened to Bewitched after poor Dick Sargent took over for Dick York. — Michael Peck

SUNDAY

Entourage
See, this is why I love Ari. Only the Agent from Hell could go from denying his wife's therapy slurs about his anger to firing a mailroom guy in a full-on rage blackout. Of course, he did think the kid was a Mischa Barton-coveting junior exec who forgot to tell him that James Cameron was directing Aquaman, so it's a tad more understandable. What I don't understand is how E. hasn't blown up over the fact that they have yet to see a firm offer for Vince's superhero debut. Um, hello? Our "It" boy is blowing serious coin to trick out Brando's old place! You think that $11,000 pet shark is gonna pay for itself? What about Drama's calf implants? Let's just hope Queens Boulevard wows 'em at Sundance. Because now that Leo DiCaprio is considering getting back into the water for the King of the World's comic-book flick, Vinnie and company are going to need a lot of those film-festival freebies just to get by. And since we're talking Sundance, the Line of the Night totally goes to Ari, though there is no way I can repeat it without offending the Mormons. But consider the source and throw in a few f-bombs. You'll figure it out. — Damian J. Holbrook

The 4400
There's no pleasing some parents. Take these disgruntled moms and pops in Fairview, Wash: Several of their kids are turning into artistic geniuses, and they're mad. They don't like the idea that teenagers can suddenly sculpt like Michelangelo or paint like Rembrandt (of course if they were athletically gifted or cutting it in entertainment, that'd be another story). It's too weird even for high school, the parents think. (Either that or they're jealous. A woman I knew from college won a Pulitzer last year, and I was envious until I realized I knew squat about medical journalism.) Thus I can identify with Greg, the only kid in Heather Tobey's class who isn't a genius. Heather was a 4400 and has become a human Erato (the Greek muse who regularly pops up in crossword puzzles); she gets arrested for turning many of her pupils into superprodigies. Unfortunately, Greg's artistic talent is limited to the kind of clumsy doodles that fill up the margins of algebra notebooks. Unlike me, however, Greg's bitter dad berates him constantly, prompting a Columbine-inspired standoff in which Greg demands that Heather awaken his gift. It's like Archie Bunker saying to Edith, "Come on, CHANGE!" — except here, Greg is saying "CHANGE ME!" with a revolver in his quivering hand. Heather's muse fails, but Greg's father tearfully eats crow, so tragedy is averted. It's a tidy and predictable ending, but I don't care. It makes me think of a Connecticut high-school English teacher whom I treated shabbily when she really tried to help me. I won't name names, but I thank you for putting up with a punk like me. BTW — who'da thought Isabelle would accept Jordan? Babies. — G.J. Donnelly

MONDAY

Six Feet Under
Lila Simonds Cooledge: 1909-2005. OK, check me on this. Lila's friend tells Rico and Nate she would've been 94 this year. Now I came up in the '70s on that crazy "new math," so I have it as 96. Did I hear her wrong? Anyway, it doesn't really matter since Lila, who lived a good, long life either way, gets dropped from this episode tout de suite. "I suppose I'll be gone soon, too," she says before disappearing from the hour altogether. "That's OK. It happens." Good attitude, and one birthday-boy Nate should adopt. By the way, happy 40th birthday, Nate. I just did it myself, so here's a tip: Stop staring in the mirror so long; just assume you look better than you think you do because everyone does, and you're just gonna drive yourself nuts otherwise.

"I swear, sometimes you're like Eeyore," Jackie tells Brenda. Oh, like that's so crazy on this show? But speaking of Eeyore, is dead Nathaniel a downer or what? Why are all the deceased such buzz-kills? He tells Nate the next 40 years fly by even faster because you're so busy pretending to be happy. How would you know, Captain Killjoy? You only made it through about half those. Later, Nate comes home to a surprise party, weathers Billy's bike-wreck story (eggs, huh?), blows the news about Brenda's pregnancy, tells Brenda to "shut the f--- up" and then to "f--- off," nearly hooks up with Maggie and then kills the bird that keeps flying into the house. That's pretending to be happy? Claire hooks up with a party guest, and David nearly does with the salon guy. Jeez, between that and Ruth's shrieking, you might almost think the Fishers aren't very good marriage material. And let me amend my death derby to make it a dual contest. Not only will I periodically guess who'll wake up dead by season's end, I'll also throw in who should. My guess as to who will this week: Nate. Who should? Oh, there are too many names to type in this time around. — Michael Peck

Hell's Kitchen
Wow. And all along I've been thinking our tattooed Michael was the good one. Diligent, reserved, all inked up. Who knew that a) he was such a manipulator and b) crazier that a s---house rat? I mean, it's one thing to convince his Red teammates to bury the Blue Team in lasagna orders while working the floor on pasta night. That's just good strategy — and good eats. But referring to himself in the third person during that schizo 3 am rant out in the courtyard? "Michael hasn't been himself.... Michael has stayed off the radar, plotting...." Yeah, Michael also needs to call the Fox dispensary, aiiight? Get Chris some Tums while you're at it. 'Cause that was a mighty big slice of humble pie you just served up by screwing the dude into being eliminated, and you know it ain't sitting well with Braggy McExecutive Chef. Though I'm thinking the one who really got the shaft with that move is Mikey himself. After all, unless the teams are split up next week, he's stuck with inexperienced Elsie and Jimmy the Sweating Wonder. And really, is this a group you'd want peppering your paprikash? — Damian J. Holbrook

TUESDAY

Rescue Me
"Turns out some of yas are just broken-down drunks on the verge of a complete and total mental collapse," says the cop to Tommy after ticketing his truck for the umpteenth time. Well... yeah. Your point being? Then Tommy says if he's ever seen on the Staten Island ferry, shoot him in the head. (Y'know, I used to take the ferry now and then just to enjoy a boat ride. I kinda liked it, so please hold your fire if you ever see me doing it again.) But I got my first laugh-out-loud moment of the evening from Tommy's parting line about what the guys trying to sign him up for the barbershop quartet could do with each other after he left. Anyway, you think anyone's gonna clue Mike in to the fact that shrieking how you can get any goddamn girl you want in a high-pitched voice might not be the best way to take being dumped? Not a whole lotta pride in that, friend. Nor is calling her up to make fun of her weight (which was the nicest thing he had to say). Speaking of pride, though, Laura's "horrific, bloody train wreck of a relationship" speech to shoot Franco down was one of the most artfully devastating cold-water-in-the-lap moves I've seen in some time. Too bad I don't think she'll hold out over the long haul.

But being a typical coast-dwelling knucklehead, I didn't even know there was a London, Ohio. (You'd be stunned by the quantity of things I don't know.) But Tommy's able to make poor Carmine the Pete Best of the singing group within a few minutes. Then, of course, being Tommy, he immediately lets them down by taking off to find his family and get his ass kicked. (Not that I blame him, of course.) Nor does it take Janet long to realize he's the same liar he's always been — and he is — and take off. (Not that I blame her, of course.) All works out for the best in the end, though... provided best includes telling the wrong guy's wife he's got an illegitimate child (that the right guy didn't even have), a shattered windshield, Jan and the kids hitting the highway once again as Tommy sleeps through his chance to see them, Mike pining away for the woman he cursed and insulted and... you get the picture. But, hey — they won the barbershop trophy! — Michael Peck

Empire
Hail, Caesar? Eh, why the hail not? It's new, it's lavish, it's like a soap opera in sandals. And it's not reality! Plus I'm sure there's some sort of educational lesson among all the cheesy dialogue and chariots, right? Granted, my grip on Roman history is about as weak as some of the cast's accents, but I got sucked into the tale of Julius Caesar naming his wimpy nephew Octavius as heir to the throne seconds after the Brutus crew's whole "Et tu" ambush. Who knew senators were so sleazy? Kidding. Anyway, ABC has obviously sunk serious bucks into this short-run series, so it makes sense to play fast and loose with the facts. And while I totally get the idea of sending young Octavius on the run with a hunky Obi-Wan-ish gladiator ordered to keep him safe — and a Vestal virgin ordained to keep him sexed-up — the last thing we need is for this to turn into some sort of "On the Road to the Ruins" buddy adventure. Let's just get the kid trained and sent back home to kick ass and take the name of Caesar for himself, pronto. Otherwise that angry mob making a mess of Rome and torching their fallen leader's corpse is gonna be in major trouble once Cassius and his fellow baddies of the empire strike back. Sorry, I had to.— Damian J. Holbrook

Average Joe: The Joes Strike Back(A Jane's View)Anna, the 26-year-old "entrepreneur and model" about to be fed to a pack of desperate Joes, says she's been taking night classes for the past few years and hasn't watched much reality TV. If we were all so blissfully ignorant, maybe we too could be hopeless romantics like her. The doe-eyed redhead gets tears in her eyes at the sight of her bedroom! And honey, I don't know about your immigrant parents, but mine would not be "so proud of me" for resorting to dating 18-plus men on national TV.

So let's talk about the Joes, who kinda leave me longing for Beauty and the Geek's humble male subjects. These guys think they're God's gift. Let us review a few of their many assets: Aaron says he's often compared to Ben Affleck and JFK Jr.; Art's a karaoke champ; Igor's got a tattoo of his own name on his arm; Damian wonders why bragging about his Mensa status doesn't get him dates; Joshua's got that Jesus look down; Harold "Solid" Gold is unemployed thanks to this show; and don't get me started on creepy magician Nick. But I think I would actually enjoy the company of crazy, leotard-wearing Dante, tough-guy cat lover Chuck or cute, shy Josh. Not that I'd find any of them boyfriend material; I'm shallow like that. Don't know what criteria the three guys from Average Joe 2 were using to eliminate four candidates, but the fact that it involved not one but two dodgeball contests made me wary of the day when those jocks show up in matching red sports cars.

Through her whole ordeal, Anna remained sweet and hopeful. She hardly muttered a disparaging word as the Joes got off the bus. Even when it was just her, the producers and the "hidden" camera, she was optimistic. Is she for real? As for the weird coda about Nick's extreme makeover, am I the only one who couldn't tell the difference, except for his lack of maniacal eyebrows? — SRW

(An Average Joe's View)
Best. Season. Ever. Of course, I tend to say that after the premiere of each returning reality show, only to end up more disappointed than a hot bachelorette staring at a busful of sweaty, horny schlubs who think they actually have a chance with her. But based on Tuesday's episode, I really do believe that the fourth season of this summertime guilty pleasure will live up (or live down) to the promise of its oh-so-diabolical premise.

One big reason is that this year's object of nerd desire is the cutest female star on the series yet: a stunning redhead named Anna — picture a younger, softer-featured, less evil Marcia Cross — described with a wonderful lack of irony by the narrator as "a model and an entrepreneur who also has a business degree." (Stop, stop, you had me at "model.") Better yet, she claims to have never seen a reality show, which is in stark contrast to the producers, who've apparently seen every reality show ever and have dutifully created a pastiche of almost all of them.

Just in this first episode alone, we were treated to such staples of the genre as desperate guys vying for love, physical challenges, jokes played on the contestants, mock-solemn elimination ceremonies and, in this season's big twist, an extreme makeover. That's right, this time rejected Joes will get reconstructed (kind of like the Six Million Dollar Man or the South in 1865) by a team of experts that includes a hairstylist, a dentist, a cosmetic surgeon and even a life coach — but not, alas, an actual miracle worker.

But the secret ingredient that's really made the Average Joe series so fun to watch is humiliation. That's what's missing from Beauty and the Geek, which is actually trying to teach its cast (and viewers) some kind of lesson about superficiality, acceptance and, yawn, mutual respect. There was no such pretension on Joe this week — just plenty of clueless guys hilariously trying, and failing, to impress a woman who's so out of their league, she's not even playing the same sport. In fact, my only regret about this premiere was that Anna cut Matt, the online developer. For some reason, I was rooting for him. Can't imagine why. — Daniel Manu WEDNESDAY

Dancing with the Stars
I've sort of resigned myself to the idea that Kelly is going to win. She's got that amazing GH fan base, and much as it would have pained me to say this a few weeks ago, she's actually getting to be pretty good. I think I even caught her smiling a few times tonight. During the fox-trot she just wasn't as much fun to watch as Joey, with his kicky performance, or John, with his technically proficient and graceful one. But the judges were right: Joey and adorable Ashly have put in solid performances every week, but while they are entertaining, it's clear that John has stepped up the game and that silent but deadly Alec is determined to keep his soapy partner in the competition and she's willing to work her butt off to stay with him.

I was excited to see the paso doble because when I spoke to John earlier this week, he teased off the record that he had a big "cape" surprise and that he loved the theatrics. He was right; the erstwhile J. Peterman shocked the live audience with Charlotte's breakaway dress and his sexy bullfighting moves. He's who I'm pulling for next week. The judges seem to adore him and he's always having fun and managing to get the job done at the same time. Loved Kelly's sexy little number (I'm glad that she made it through without any strap mishaps), but I wanted more of the signature paso doble move where the guy throws his arms up over his head in a very matadorlike manner. OK, clearly I've seen Strictly Ballroom way too many times, but that's the move that sticks out in my mind. Other than that, Kelly and Alec made all the right moves. (I couldn't help but think that Trista never would have survived the close quarters of this dance.) Joey looked great with his riled-up partner — whose original crush on him seemed to pass really quickly — but sadly, it was a case of too little, too late. In the judges' and the audience's eyes, he's no longer hangin' tough in this competition. Perhaps it had something to do with the music; it was originally kind of neat that he was making younger, hipper choices, but just seemed to get weird. "Eye of the Tiger"? It's just too ironic that Survivor originally sang that song. Mostly, I wasn't shocked that he left, but I was really surprised that it's already the finale. I guess time does fly when you are having fun. And maybe next week I'll finally figure out what that backstage cohost whose name I can never remember is actually doing there besides asking the world's most obvious questions. Do they really need two people to do that? Idol survived just fine without Dunkleman, that's all I'm sayin'. — Angel Cohn

THURSDAY

Hit Me Baby One More Time
I'm a huge fan of cheesy '80s pop music and totally unafraid to admit it. I've created an '80s playlist on my iPod, collected several '80s compilation box sets (on CD and cassette!) and set my TV remote to the '80s digital music channel. I can't remember much of what I learned in high school, but I can freely quote Duran Duran as if they were Byron. So you can imagine I had high expectations for One More Time, especially the season finale. Boy, was I let down. The five finalists all looked good, especially Missing Persons' Dale, who sported a fedora over long blonde hair and a tight, pinstriped suit. (Very Stevie Nicks-meets-Madonna.) Can you believe she's 50? But geez Louise, the woman had no voice whatsoever! It shouldn't have been a big surprise, considering her big hit, "Words," was totally synthesized. Even worse was Animotion's Astrid, who desperately struggled through "Obsession." She should've left all the vocals to band-mate Bill, who sorta reminded me of Lindsey Buckingham. Shannon practically put me to sleep — we've heard better from the Top 20 on American Idol. The best thing about PM Dawn's "Set Adrift" was the riff they lifted from Spandau Ballet's "True." Clearly the most talented musician was Juice Newton, whose "Queen of Hearts" sounded just as strong as it did on the radio 20 years ago. (And she was the only one who actually played an instrument while she sang — a gorgeous mint-green Danelectro guitar.) After her twangy country version of Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces of Me," I didn't need to hear the other four bands do contempo songs. I was convinced she'd be the winner. Wrong! Somehow PM Dawn's flat version of Puddle of Mudd's "Blurry" won over the young crowd. Wait a minute, they're a '90s band! Dude, that's like, totally bogus. Fer sure. — Robin Honig

Being Bobby Brown
Just how long have many of us been waiting for this? Ever since I first read that Bravo was developing this show, my biggest interest (of course) was not in Bobby Brown himself, but in his wife — the diva Ms. Whitney Houston herself. I've been a Whitney fan since the '80's, but I, like most people I know, prefer PDW (Pre-Drugs Whitney) to the current version. So did I get what I was waiting for? Well, I was expecting a train wreck and, by golly, I wasn't disappointed. The best train wrecks are the ones that you just can't look away from and I especially couldn't look away from the screen when they had the subtitles up. You know I had to see every word! And Bravo treated us with two back-to-back episodes, so I was in train-wreck heaven.

It's "My Prerogative" to give you a list of examples from tonight's two shows to demonstrate why I will be back each week (and I hope that "Every Little Step I Take" has you agreeing with me):
1) Nice opening theme — love how they give us all the family members' names underneath cutesie photos of each.
2) Whitney saw Destiny's Child in concert but couldn't remember their name — "I saw them sisters... the ladies."
3) I need to start saying what Whitney said to Bobby: "Hell to the no!"
4) After Bobby smeared Preparation H under his eyes and Whitney picked out sunglasses in the hotel gift shop while performing an impromptu skat, the female clerk's facial expression was priceless. It personified most of the viewer's facial expressions at home.
5) Whitney gave us more reason for wanting the show to be called Being Whitney Houston when she said, "Be me for a minute!" after saying no to the vacationer who asked for a photo.
6) Bobby's narration does make him more likable, and I did enjoy his impersonation of Whitney snoring &#224 la Donald Duck.
7) I can only imagine what other tacky things Bobby has up his sleeve after seeing him break into the hotel mini-bar. Class act.
8) The show included a new low for reality television after Bobby admitted that he once used his own finger to assist Whitney with her constipation problem, prompting Whitney to mutter "That's love!" This just gives new meaning to the term "Crack is whack." — Dave Anderson

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