Allison Tolman, Bob Odenkirk
There's no place quite like the twisted heartland of FX's Fargo (Tuesday, 10/9c), a marvelous 10-episode variation on themes established in the quirky 1996 Oscar winning film. Once again, warm and neighborly small-town decency gives way to a bitter chill that has less to do with the snowy Minnesota plains than with the dark crevasses of human depravity.
The curtain comes down on the best part of TV's hottest singing competition, as the "blind auditions" portion of NBC's The Voice reaches its final act (Tuesday, 8/7c) with the selection of the last members of the four coaches' teams. Any fears that the show would lose its oomph this season with new bodies in the hot seats were quickly put to rest when Usher eased onto his swiveling throne with charismatic grace, adopting a signature "one leg up" posture that was parodied last weekend on Saturday Night Live, while Shakira proved a worthy adversary to the boys' club with her feisty attitude, passion and humor.
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Question: [SPOILER ALERT for anyone who's fallen behind on Scandal] I'm a loyal reader of your column, and always enjoy hearing your well-thought-out and articulate opinions on TV's hottest topics. I'm writing to you for the first time now because I wanted to know your take on the latest installments of Scandal. I saw in your last column the tag line "Scandal is the new Revenge," and I agree Scandal has been far more gripping lately than Revenge.
Katharine McPhee, Jeremy Jordan
Someone should make a musical about the remaking of Smash between its first and second seasons. Let's call it Phantom of the Rewrite.
Or maybe The (New) Producers, seeing how NBC replaced the original creator/showrunner in hopes of calming this elaborate backstage drama's own behind-the-scenes creative turmoil, which manifested on screen in turgid and oft-ridiculed soap opera between the splashy production numbers (which are still mostly terrific). Smash 2.0 (Tuesday, 9/8c) wastes no time addressing, while slyly commenting on, the show's problem spots, many involving Debra Messing's character, insecure lyricist-librettist Julia Houston. Her dull husband, cloddish son and needy lover? History. Her hideous scarves? Mocked. Also soon to be gone. Along with reviled characters like the scheming, lurking Ellis and Karen's cheating ex, Dev.
Lauren Graham, Jason Ritter
It's another ridiculously busy night of TV, with premieres and finales jousting for attention amid other distractions. It's just as well that CBS' top-rated lineup is taking a breather with repeats.
First, the farewells, going head to head. Once again, NBC sends away its reliably tear-jerking Parenthood (10/9c) earlier in the TV year than we'd like, but a limited run of 15 episodes beats the alternative. Shows like this don't tend to repeat well, and if a shorter run makes business sense — while freeing up the time period in the back half of the season for something else (in this case, a retooled Smash in two weeks) — then so be it. This fourth season has been Parenthood's strongest and most emotionally charged to date, especially in the storyline involving Kristina's breast cancer ordeal, providing Monica Potter and Peter Krause (as husband Adam) with their strongest dramatic material to date. Emmy voters, wake up and take note.
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.
The Good Wife
The Good Wife
Jane Alexander guest stars as a judge with a soft spot for defendants in a murder case involving a prisoner who, under duress, confesses to killing a fellow inmate. The man is represented by Alicia and, although he confesses, Cary challenges the man's motives and seeks to uncover an unlikely connection between the two inmates. As for Peter, rival Wendy Scott-Carr threatens to expose a Florrick family issue in hopes of forcing Peter to drop out of the state's attorney race. — Tim Holland
Read on for previews of Pioneers of Television, Biggest Loser, Seriously Funny Kids, V, College Basketball and Southland.
The CW has not officially canceled this show, but they didn't pick up a full season of episodes for Season 2, so things don't look good for the show's fans. In this two-hour season finale, it's somewhat fitting that characters find unexpected things happening. Baze makes big plans for a future with Emma, unaware of the past she shares with his father. Then Lux arranges to enjoy a romantic meal with Eric, but is shocked when her parents arrive to throw a wrench in those plans. — Jennifer Sankowski
Read on for previews of The Biggest Loser, NCIS, No Ordinary Family, Pioneers of Television, White Collar and College Basketball.
How I Met Your Mother
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...