Unless you're watching the Orange Bowl on ESPN, tonight's best bets are strictly comedy. (And yes, that includes Revenge. More on that in a few.)
It somehow seems fitting that when TV Land's Hot in Cleveland (10/9c) looks back at how it all began for Melanie, Joy and Victoria, we're thrust into an '80s time warp, because if there was ever a show that felt like an artifact from a simpler, sillier time, it's this one. Betty White gets the set-up: "How did you guys meet, anyway?" Elka asks to kill time outside a stadium restroom. "If there were a TV in view, I wouldn't [care]," she barks, self-reflexively acknowledging what a clichéd storyline this is.
So off we go to a time of big hair and garish fashion inspired by music videos — Victoria (Wendie Malick) is decked out as a Madonna clone and a Robert Palmer girl at various points of desperation in the storyline — as the Los Angeles ladies meet cute atop a Beverly Hills hotel rooftop, each swearing off men for good, with farcical subplots to follow. It's all very corny, as usual, but ends on a comfort-food note of ensemble "here's to us" camaraderie that reminds the fan base of lifelong sitcom enthusiasts how deep the reservoir of goodwill is for these veteran comedy stars. And where does Elka fit into this flashback? That gag is too good to spoil — but it's a clever nod to one of Betty White's most favored corners of the TV universe.
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Most of the major networks are in repeat mode, so more power to ABC's hit comedy lineup for being all new. The network made tonight's episode of the garishly stylized Suburgatory (8:30/7:30c) available for preview, and it's an especially strong showcase for the barbed interplay of Jane Levy's smart-alecky Tessa and Carly Chaikin's hilariously robotic icy mean-girl Dalia. After acing her driver's exam, Tessa becomes chauffeur (for a fee) to her pampered rival, helping her stalk a local hottie who ends up taking a shine to Tessa. Not that Delia's buying that story for a second: "You remind me of Tyler Perry right now: You're joking but you're not funny," she deadpans. Game on between the suburban teen bee-yotches, while war breaks out at the country club when Tessa's dad George (a very game Jeremy Sisto) is denied membership, and he blames his smarmy dentist pal Noah (Alan Tudyk), resulting in a slapstick wrestling brawl in a sauna where not enough is left to the imagination.
Elsewhere on ABC's comedy lineup, the Hecks have a heck of a time sticking to their New Year's resolutions on The Middle (8/7c), Phil has an adverse reaction to a doctor's visit on Modern Family (9/8c) and on Happy Endings, Penny dates Dave's shrink (Party Down's Ken Marino). Good times.
But tonight's most amusing scene stealer is without question Ashton Holmes as the sociopathic Tyler on the shamelessly soapy Revenge (10/9c). We've been dying all through the holidays to learn what's up with that scene teased in the previews, and more recently in a nine-minute clip from tonight's episode, that shows Tyler threatening the entire Grayson clan, plus Emily Thorne, at gunpoint at a birthday clambake on the beach. My favorite moment from the opening act: when the remorseless Tyler confronts the compromised Conrad (Henry Czerny) to declare, "It does appear that you despicable people are starting to rub off on me." Not unlike how Revenge has grown on us. How nice to have the season's greatest guilty pleasure back.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: From the culinary shelf, the Cooking Channel prepares Not My Mama's Meals (9/8c), in which Paula Deen's son Bobby puts a healthy tweak on his mother's famously calorie-unconscious recipes. Example: her Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding becomes a Fresh Fruit Bread Pudding. Pardon me while I pine for my own mama's meatloaf. ... It's go big or go home on Bravo's Top Chef: Texas (10/9c), when the remaining chef-testants split into teams for a BBQ cookoff. Guest judge is renaissance man Nathan Myhrvold, whose multi-volume The Modernist Cuisine is the basis for this week's Quickfire challenge.