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Wednesday, October 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 66.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Best Oscars ever
All my faves are favored

For once, I feel like the gods are with me on Oscar night (Sunday, 7 p.m., ABC). I think Christopher Nolan is an overrated director, and he got shut out of the Best Director category for Inception. The overrated Black Swan and The Social Network also got their share of snubs.

On the other hand, I'm delighted with the abundance of nominations for The King's Speech and True Grit, along with the shout-outs for less commercial projects such as Blue Valentine, Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right. And it's good to see Toy Story 3 in the Best Picture category, where it belongs. For thrills, laughs and poignancy, no live-action production outdid Woody and Buzz in 2010.

So I'm expecting a very personally gratifying evening, especially if Natalie Portman is denied Best Actress for that one-note performance in The Black Swan. Come on, gods can you help me out?

Independent Lens
Friday, 9 pm (PBS)

Full of appropriately blurry photos and shaky video footage, Yony Leyser's documentary on William S. Burroughs does justice to the Beat writer-outlaw-junkie-murderer. It's an admiring portrait, featuring testimony from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, John Waters, Gus Van Sant and other artists influenced by the author of Naked Lunch. But it doesn't sugarcoat Burroughs and sugar wouldn't stick to this alien life form anyway. As Waters says, Burroughs' goal was to ruin things, including America's wholesome vision of itself.

Along these lines, Leyser incorporates a startling bit of footage in which Burroughs tears the United States a new one, in the form of a scathingly ironic Thanksgiving prayer. It might be just enough to convince patriotic members of Congress to pull funding from PBS yet one more thing Burroughs would have ruined.

American Experience
Monday, 8 pm (PBS)

"Triangle Fire" turns a 100-year-old New York City factory fire into a moving and relevant story for our time. Triangle Shirtwaist was a typical early-20th-century sweatshop that treated its mostly female workers (some as young as 10) like cogs in a machine. They had to work 14-hour days for low wages in unsafe conditions, with no protections against the heartless owners. These brave women went out on strike, pleading for reforms despite a lack of sympathy from capitalism-loving government officials. "You are on strike against God and nature!" a judge told them.

It took the worst workplace accident in the city's history - 146 needless deaths, mostly teenagers - to change public opinion. According to a commentator, the tragedy made people realize that "there are things that have to be managed, not by the market, but by public policy." That's a powerful idea even in 2011, with so many politicians still demonizing government regulation.

Bethenny Ever After
Monday, 9 pm (Bravo)

Under a new title, Bethenny Frankel's reality series has made it to season two. That's an achievement for a foulmouthed businesswoman with no charm to speak of. Bethenny obsesses on her breasts, on her boredom while visiting her in-laws, and on her new husband marrying "some blond f-ing loser" if she happens to die. Nevertheless, she whines, "I don't want to be this self-involved person!"

That's right Bethenny is self-involved even in her desire for less self-involvement.

She tries to talk her husband into joining her clothing business, but he's understandably wary of spending all day immersed in the trivial drama of her life. "There are going to be times," he says, "when it's, like, that's enough Bethenny today."

That's exactly how I felt after just 10 minutes of Bethenny Ever After.

Only in America
Tuesday, 8 pm (History)

The American backwoods humorist has a grand tradition, starting with Mark Twain. Larry the Cable Guy has attracted a following with his contemporary version, and he brings his crude country character to a cable-TV travelogue. In sleeveless shirt and shorts, Larry takes us on a tour of things that could exist "Only in America," such as Las Vegas and a Wisconsin Dells water park.

The idea has potential, but Larry often spoils the fun with his mean-spiritedness. I suspect he'll lose a portion of his audience with witless putdowns of liberal politicians and fat women. Indeed, wit is in short supply here. I like toilet humor as much as the next guy, but there has to be more to the joke than just saying the word "toilet."

Plus, is there anyplace on Earth where they still laugh at Dolly Parton big-boob jokes? "Only in America," I guess but maybe not even there.

American Masters
Wednesday, 8 pm (PBS)

"Troubadours: Carole King/James Taylor & the Rise of the Singer-Songwriters" is an evocative portrait of an early-'70s musical movement. Audiences needed a break from 1960s turbulence, so they turned to a group of sensitive artists who clustered in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon neighborhood and Troubadour club. Inspired by '60s folk, singers like King, Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne wrote material for themselves, emphasizing their personal experience. In their hands, as Kris Kristofferson puts it, "pop music became soulful."

The program centers on King and Taylor, who reunited for a tour celebrating the Troubadour's 50th anniversary. As you'd guess, both are eloquent and insightful, as are other Troubadour staples like Steve Martin and David Crosby. We learn about the artistic ferment along with the hedonism that contributed to the scene's downfall.

That downfall was inevitable, according to Martin: "How long can free love and pot exist as a cultural foundation?"

Million Dollar Listing
Thursday, 8 pm (Bravo)

In this reality series, three real estate agents deal with high-end properties in Los Angeles. Two of the agents are blandly normal, but the third one makes Million Dollar Listing queasily enjoyable. He's Josh Altman, a shark with a greasy manner to match his greasy hair.

Josh is a salesman extraordinaire, or so he keeps telling us. "It's what I was put on this Earth to do!" he bleats. "The high of the deal that's what keeps me going every day!"

You certainly don't doubt Josh's passion for manipulating others to line his own pockets. He even hires an assistant to stoke his ego, instructing him to engage in a call-and-response chant. "Who's gonna sell this house today?" "You're gonna sell this house today!"

Josh begins each morning by kissing his dogs before he goes to work. You get the impression that they're the only ones who'll put up with him and I bet even they're likely to bolt before the season finale.

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