Fasten your recliner belts. With Labor Day behind us, it's time for some heavy TV lifting as new seasons begin and summer seasons continue to wrap things up. TV Guide Magazine's Fall Preview issue is out this week, which means the "regular" TV season is just around the corner. But there's still plenty to watch right now. Here's a quick look at the highlights for the rest of the week in TV.
That big noise you hear is the SAMCRO motorcycle club revving their engines for a fourth season of Sons of Anarchy (10/9c, FX). Smartly jump-starting the action a year after last season's go-to-jail finale, the gang is released into the not-so-welcoming arms of new law enforcement in Charming. Rockmond Dunbar (Prison Break) and Ray McKinnon (Deadwood) bring new intensity to the opposing team as the town's new sheriff and a quirky federal prosecutor, neither one cowed (yet) by the bad boys in black. Give them time.
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The 9/11 Countdown: On PBS' ever-essential Frontline (check local listings), Top Secret America examines what it calls the "terrorism-industrial complex" and how the war on terror has reshaped America over the last 10 years. ... On the Bio channel, a special edition of I Survived ... (9:30/8:30c) focuses on 12 survivors, including firefighters, ambulance workers, defense officials and unsuspecting office workers, all sharing their eyewitness accounts of that dreadful day.
What Else Is On: Daytime alert: The legendary Carol Burnett reprises her role as Verla Grubbs on ABC's soon-to-be-legendary All My Children, appearing today and Wednesday. ... The finals begin on NBC's questionably titled America's Got Talent (9/8c), and as long as neither of the remaining mediocre singers makes it to the end, I'll forgive (and happily forget) the rest. ... Lisa Kudrow was a scream when she appeared on Cougar Town as a snarky dermatologist, and now Courteney Cox returns the Friends favor, guesting on Showtime's droll Web Therapy (11/10c) as an Internet psychic who turns to Fiona (Kudrow) for help. Guess her crystal ball is cloudy, because these web-sessions never end well. ... A changing of the guard at Bravo, as Flipping Out (9/8c) signs off for the season, while The Rachel Zoe Project (10/9c) returns with a pregnant Rachel still trying to do and have it all. ... In memoriam: ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live (12:02/11:02c), pays tribute to Uncle Frank Potenza, who died Aug. 23, with a special episode replaying some of his best-remembered comedy bits and interviews (Tom Cruise, Kermit the Frog). Don Rickles stops by to reminisce as well, which sounds very sweet.
It doesn't get much more "very special" than the series finale of FX's landmark drama Rescue Me (10/9c), prophetically titled "Ashes." In last week's cliffhanger, the entire crew was in peril at a major, cataclysmic fire. This episode is the aftermath, which is likely to have fans choking back tears as well as choking on laughter, and it's all to do with ashes. Denis Leary designed this series as a tribute, however messy and irreverent, to the 343 firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and their memory is evoked in a stirring coda.
Your other best drama bet, if you have access to DirecTV, is a new episode of Damages (10/9c), which has been ratcheting up the tension all season. This week is an especially strong showcase for Dylan Baker as the duplicitous Jerry Boorman, whose back story and loyalties become more clear as the lawyers continue to try to turn him against corrupt defense contractor Howard Erickson (John Goodman, also excellent). But Ellen has another unexpected offer up her sleeve in a last-ditch effort to save her MIA friend Chris (Chris Messina). Bonus: Another showdown between Patty (Glenn Close) and her estranged son.
9/11 Countdown: Animal Planet's Saved (9/8c) tugs at the heartstrings, telling stories of how animals helped survivors of 9/11 through their trauma, including the family of two deceased firefighter brothers who took in one of the brother's pet Dalmatian. ... PBS' Nova (check local listings) chronicles the construction of the new World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Engineering Ground Zero, followed by an encore of Frontline's 2002 report on "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." ... CNBC's American Greed (9/8c, replayed multiple times) investigates "9/11 Fraud," with stomach-churning accounts of people taken advantage of in the wake of the tragedy and others intent on gaming the system for their own profit. ... On CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: Terror in the Dust (11/10c), examines the effects on first responders of toxic materials at Ground Zero.
What Else Is On: The Republican presidential contenders hash it out in a debate on MSNBC (8/7c) from the Reagan Library. Sadly, Saturday Night Live doesn't return for several more weeks. ... If those Paranormal Activity movies creep you out, you might fall for Syfy's new Paranormal Witness (10/9c) series, which blends first-person interviews with dramatic reenactments that in the premiere borrow a bit too heavily from the spooky movie images. ... Cher is tonight's celebrity guest programmer for Turner Classic Movies, and her picks include the Astaire-Rodgers musical Follow the Fleet (8/7c) — would that Chaz will be as fleet-footed on this season of Dancing With the Stars — followed by David Lean's Hobson's Choice, the Lucille Ball drama The Big Street and, perhaps inevitably, Lady of Burlesque, starring Barbra Stanwyck.
USA Network bids farewell to two of its biggest summer hits, as Burn Notice (9/8c) airs its midseason finale, with Michael still trying to clear his name for the murder of his former CIA handler, which makes the latest appearance of the sociopathic rogue Larry (the amusing Tim Matheson) especially inopportune. Then comes the first-season finale of Suits (10/9c), with a guest appearance by the always-welcome Chi McBride (Human Target) as a new DA who thwarts Harvey's attempt to free an innocent man. And in what sounds like a cliffhanger, bad boy Trevor reappears on Mike's doorstep. Just when he thought he was out ...
Sleeper of the Week: Like a real-life Glee, and possibly the most charming and disarming documentary since BBC America's The Choir last summer, the OWN Documentary Club presents Most Valuable Players (9/8c), which puts the spotlight on the "Freddy Awards," a yearly competition for high school musical theater in the Lehigh Valley (Pa.) region. This 90-minute film tracks three high schools as they put on their shows — the rivalry intensified when two schools decide to do Les Miz — then sweat out the nominations and awards. The camaraderie among the theater kids is touching and funny, and the emotion is palpable when the awards' ebullient coordinator is diagnosed with cancer but is determined to present the award for that year's outstanding musical production. I can't remember when I last enjoyed a Tony broadcast this much. A genuine treat.
What Else Is On: President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at 7/6c. Sadly, Saturday Night Live doesn't return for several more weeks. ... The NFL season officially kicks off with a match-up of the last two Super Bowl champs, the New Orleans Saints facing this year's winner, the Green Bay Packers (NBC, 7:30/6:30c). Expect giant-sized ratings. ... More summer finales: From the land of FX cult comedy, Wilfred (10/9c) faces the canine equivalent of an existential crisis, while Louie (10:30/9:30c) wraps its excellent second season with the comic experiencing angst at an airport. Sounds like great material for his act. Both will be back next year.