If you like Syfy's Face Off (as I do), then you're already predisposed to enjoy the channel's new reality competition series Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge (Tuesday, 10/9c), which often feels like a shot-by-shot copy, complete with fetching female host (Farscape's Gigi Edgley), insane time pressures in producing elaborately fanciful Henson-esque creatures, and a three-member judging panel including the likable Brian Henson (Jim's son and chairman of the Henson Company with its fabled Creature Shop). What Creature Shop may lack in originality it makes up for in creative energy, with the contestants further challenged in mentoring sessions by being made to focus on having the full-body costumes be fully functional for the skilled Henson puppeteers within. The climactic "Screen Test" reveals are fun to watch, and the critiques (as in Face Off) are smartly constructive.
Steve Zahn, Christian Slater, Jaime Ray Newman
Even in a season distinguished by insta-duds like Lucky 7 and Betrayal, ABC hits a new low with Mind Games (Tuesday, 10/9c), an inexplicably and ridiculously convoluted drama which achieves the rare trick of making Christian Slater look like a master of understated acting. He plays an ex-con who teams with his frenetic, bipolar brother (Steve Zahn in an eye-poppingly cartoonish performance), an expert in all human behaviors but his own, to start a firm that specializes in elaborate psychological manipulations to achieve their clients' aims.
Frontline: Syria’s Second Front
I'm beginning to hear in my mailbag from those whose reaction to slaloms, snowboarding and skating isn't so much "Oh my!" as "Oh no!" (And we're not talking Apolo.) Personally, I love dipping in and out of the Winter Games, and NBC is giving us plenty of opportunity — not just in the network's prime-time package, but with live online streaming and selected live events (in decidedly not prime-time hours) on cable outlets including NBCSN.
John F. Kennedy
Friday marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas, and both broadcast and cable networks are featuring special programming tied to the national tragedy. Here's a complete roundup of how you can catch daily coverage of the anniversary on TV, though many networks are offering supplemental coverage online as well.
Sarah Shahi, Paige Turco and Taraji P. Henson
Last Thursday, I was honored to moderate a panel at the "Made in NY" PaleyFest at New York's Paley Center, celebrating the third season of CBS's terrific cyber-thriller Person of Interest. Before the discussion with many of the show's cast and executive producer Jonathan Nolan, there was a screening of this week's episode (Tuesday, 10/9c) — the best of the season to date, and a fairly pivotal one — that is especially enjoyable in how it showcases the series' fabulous femmes fatales. With the target du jour a chameleon Casanova, the women must act as nightclub and social-media bait: an off-duty and glammed-up Carter (Taraji P. Henson), the ferociously trigger-happy Shaw (Sarah Shahi, hilariously playing against her natural beauty) and Reese's favorite fixer, the alluring Zoe Morgan (recurring co-star Paige Turco). A CBS contact refers to them as "Finch's Angels," and if they want to spin themselves off, that would be fine by me. A scene where the three ladies of the evening compare their weaponry is a riot. So's a later scene in which Shaw reflects on her disdain for relationships. (When I asked Shahi if Shaw has a soft side, she wasted no time in barking a "No.")
League of Denial
The PBS investigative series Frontline tackles the NFL's stance on football and brain damage in Tuesday's episode, "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis." "What did the NFL know, and when did they know it?" asks Mark Fainaru-Wada, whose just-released book on the subject (coauthored with brother Steve Fainaru) is the basis for the documentary. "It's really powerful to see the depths to which some of the greatest football players have been suffering."
Remember when ABC Sports used to go "up close and personal" in its profiles of athletic greats? In its terrific new "Nine for IX" series of documentaries about women's accomplishments in sports, ESPN Films applies that same intimate, emotional style to a true legend of college basketball, University of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, in the video love letter Pat XO (Tuesday, 8/7c, ESPN). Produced by Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, this entertaining collage of testimonials from players and colleagues — with Summitt's grown son Tyler providing an emotional narrative thread — is underscored with sadness in the wake of her diagnosis last year with early-onset Alzheimer's...
Amber Kelleher-Andrews, Matt Hussey, Tracy McMillan
Way to squander a Voice lead-in, NBC. Turns out America wasn't ready to waste another night of the broadcast week on a ridiculously padded dating show, so after this week, Ready for Love (Tuesday, 9:01/8:01c) goes into reality limbo — and honestly, if scripted duds can get yanked without notice, why should lousy competition-reality shows be exempt when shunned like this one was? On the plus side, with The Voice about to end its enjoyable "battle" rounds and move next week into the "knockout" phase, the expanded Tuesday edition will be joined April 30 by the clever supernatural thriller Grimm, given a well-deserved reprieve from the Friday trenches for the rest of the season. (Part of me wishes NBC would invest more heavily in Hannibal and give it a shot in this wide-open Tuesday time period, but Grimm is probably a better fit.)
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Most of television does its civic duty and turns to Washington, D.C. for State of the Union coverage (9/8c), as President Obama presents his first address of his second term. (As a curtain raiser, PBS' Frontline — check tvguide.com listings — relives those fun times when the White House sparred with the opposition over the deficit, taking the nation to the brink of the "fiscal cliff" in an installment appropriately titled "Cliffhanger.")
A different sort of dog-and-pony show — emphasis on dogs as show ponies — unfolds on USA Network...
Pioneers of Television
If I counted right, you can hear Betty White say "I'm the luckiest broad on two feet" at least three times during the course of the "Funny Ladies" retrospective that kicks off a new season of PBS' Pioneers of Television (check tvguide.com listings). Who could or would want to doubt her? The evidence is right there in clips and stills from this living legend's earliest TV appearances in the 1940s and '50s, establishing her as a versatile broadcaster and gung-ho performer even before Lucille Ball made us fall in love with her — and blazing a trail for all who would follow.