How I Met Your Mother (Monday, 8/7c, CBS)
Finding humor in tragedy is always a tricky business, and that's the challenge facing Mother as the gang accompanies Marshall back to his Minnesota home for his father's funeral. Ted and Barney task themselves with doing whatever it takes to coax a smile or a laugh from their grieving buddy. But Marshall is distracted by an unexpected meeting with the bully who terrorized him through high school. The joke being that the bully is played by the diminutive Danny Strong (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Elsewhere, Monday is a big night for new shows on TV, with the premieres of two remakes of British series — Being Human on Syfy and Skins on MTV — plus Harry's Law on NBC and the launch of Piers Morgan's talk show (with Oprah as the first guest) on CNN.
Pioneers of Television (Tuesday, 8/7c, PBS)
The second season of this nostalgic documentary series divides its four weekly chapters into genre tributes, including Westerns, crime dramas and local kids' TV. First up: science fiction, looking back at visionaries including Twilight Zone's Rod Serling and Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry, who famously used fantasy to tell allegorical morality plays that have held up over the decades. DVR alert: If you want to see how far fantasy TV has evolved, check out AMC's marathon replay of the acclaimed six-episode zombie survival thriller The Walking Dead, which begins Tuesday (8/7c) and concludes Wednesday. The first season had the feel of a gripping miniseries, so it should be interesting to see how it plays in this format.
American Idol (Wednesday, 8/7c, Fox)
Season 10 is a make-it-or-break-it year for the pop-culture phenom. Simon Cowell is gone, and time will tell if the eclectic new panel — Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler joining stalwart Randy Jackson — can fill the void. Adding some industry cred to the proceedings this season: Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, acting as in-house mentor to this year's contestants. The search gets underway with two hours of auditions in New York and New Jersey — expect the best and, inevitably, the worst to get their moments in the spotlight. The crew (including Ryan Seacrest, naturally) moves on to New Orleans on Thursday, and three more weeks of auditions will follow, culminating in Hollywood week on Feb. 16-17. However the chemistry works out between the judges, we can only hope they find singers more appealing and memorable than last year's group — someone, say, with the "X" factor. (Oh wait, that's Simon's new show, coming in the fall.)
Community (Thursday, 8/7c, NBC)
NBC's comedies return with new episodes, forming an unusual three-hour sitcom block. The lineup kicks off with the network's freshest comedy, Community, featuring former Cosby kid Malcolm Jamal Warner as Shirley's ex-husband, who's back in his life as she shares surprising news with her study-group pals. This is followed by the premiere of the underwhelming rom-com Perfect Couples. In the 9/8c hour, a new Office episode features the always-welcome Amy Ryan as Michael's would-be soul mate Holly, and Parks and Recreation return after a long hiatus. The Emmy-winning 30 Rock leads off the 10/9c hour with an episode dealing with budget cuts at TGS, and Outsourced plays clean-up at 10:30/9:30c.
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