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Thursday, July 10, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 80.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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TELEVISION

Happy news
Katie Couric will make us all feel better about current events

Couric's world is a twinkly place.
Couric's world is a twinkly place.
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Katie Couric finally begins her tenure at "CBS Evening News" (Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.), and I for one am glad. Others feel that Couric is unsuited to the anchor's job because of her long stint as a perky morning-show host. True, she made a lot of fruit salad with a lot of celebrity guests, but I don't see why that's a problem. Indeed, I predict that Couric's twinkly smile will make us all feel better about breaking news. Chaos in Iraq? Oh, it's not so bad. Spiraling oil prices? You know, I think it'll all work out in the end.

The world may be going to hell in a hand basket, but I don't really care. Suddenly, I've got an inexplicable craving for fruit salad.

Merlin
Saturday, 7 pm (Hallmark Channel)
This TV movie begins with a brief scene from Camelot's heyday, as Merlin (Sam Neill) and the knights sit around admiring the Holy Grail. Then Merlin falls into a deep sleep and wakes up with long flowing hair and a beard down to his chest. Your first thought: He's slept all the way to Woodstock. But no, it's 50 years later, Camelot has fallen into ruin, and the Holy Grail has disappeared. On cue, a handsome young sorcerer (John Reardon) appears who might be the key to finding the Grail. His best friend, a pig, is more charismatic than any of the movie's human actors.

Merlin is packed with endless speeches on duty and honor. Neill is too puny an actor to fill the title role, and Reardon hardly seems the man to save a kingdom. (He can't even convincingly fake a British accent.) How is it possible to make a boring TV movie from the Arthur legend, with its dashing knights, evil spells and bewitching damsels?

Ask the pig.

Relative Chaos
Monday, 7 pm (ABC Family)
After a long absence, Dil (Christopher Gorham) returns home with his new girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter) to face his insufferable family. His parents (Terry Bradshaw, Fiona Reid) have always encouraged cutthroat competition among their three children, even pitting them against one another in a yearly lawn-game tournament. Now grown, the children base their entire self-image on their performance at the tournament. Old resentments simmer, and Dil's brother is still mad about having his foot impaled by a lawn dart.

In other words, Relative Chaos is a typical family-farce TV movie, the kind ABC Family produces every other month. This one, however, is actually funny, and I kept trying to figure out why. Is it that the cast has such perfect comic timing? That the direction is so brisk and droll? Or that a foot impaled by a lawn dart is always going to make us laugh, no matter what the context?

Standoff
Tuesday, 7 pm (Fox)
This new drama comes on like a gritty cop show, as two hostage negotiators (Ron Livingston, Rosemarie DeWitt) spring into action. They manipulate the evildoers via cellphone; they cue the snipers; they bust down doors to save the victims.

They also make goo-goo eyes at each other. Constantly. The partners are romantically involved, and they can't help bringing their private lives to the workplace. They bicker, make up and discuss commitment issues, even as a guy wired with dynamite reaches for the detonator.

This kind of cop show usually starts out grim and serious, only resorting to sexual silliness late in the run, when the ideas dry up. (See "Hill Street Blues.") With "Standoff" getting this silly in the first episode, I can't imagine what's in store for the second. Sex during a hostage standoff? Sex with the hostage-taker?

Criss Angel Mindfreak
Wednesday, 9 pm (A&E)
Criss Angel performs his magic act for a military audience at Vandenberg Airbase. He makes a Hummer appear from nowhere and produces a surprise guest from an empty duffel bag.

Hmmm...any chance the magician could make Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld disappear?

'Til Death
Thursday, 7 pm (Fox)
Brad Garrett of "Everybody Loves Raymond" puts everything he's got into the premiere of his new sitcom ' pratfalls, slow boils, hissy fits, a funny walk. And still he can't avoid the Matt LeBlanc Curse, crashing and burning as he tries to follow up his hit show. Garrett is thwarted by the very premise of "'Til Death": An unhappily married couple stew in their bitterness. Is anything less funny than watching a husband and wife collapse on the couch in despair?

In the first episode, Garrett tries to convince his newlywed neighbor that marriage is a big fat downer. By the end of the episode, he succeeds...and "'Til Death" fails.

Happy Hour
Thursday, 7:30 pm (Fox)
Fox's new sitcom is about guys in a Chicago apartment and the bitches they have to put up with. Every derogatory female stereotype makes an appearance: the bimbo, the slut, the ballbuster, the fatso. Most shows would treat these stereotypes ironically, or else neutralize them by making the guys just as bad. But not "Happy Hour." The guys are victims, and the woman-hating couldn't be more sincere.

You've got to admire "Happy Hour" for having the courage of its convictions. And you've also got to change the channel as fast as you possibly can.

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