Suspicious-looking aliens come to Earth in ABC's remake of the 1980s series V (Tuesday, 7 p.m.). They resemble humans and claim to have peaceful intentions. Ominously, their leader announces that her race doesn't believe in negative feelings.
Some Earthlings jump right on the alien bandwagon, regarding them as a boon to humanity. Others are dubious, especially when normal-looking people are found to have green reptilian scales underneath their skin. Have the aliens infiltrated our world by posing as humans, all the better to destroy us from within?
Perhaps defensive about its 25-year-old concept, V strains to be relevant to 2009. It explicitly connects the alien invasion to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and suggests that recent crises (the Iraq War, the economic meltdown) were plotted by politicians with scales just below skin level. But that subtext doesn't really work for our present situation. The idea of monsters sneaking into positions of power was perfect for 1950s science fiction movies playing on fears of Communist subversion. But are people nowadays afraid that terrorists will slyly become U.S. politicians, priests, etc.?
I don't want to come down too hard on V, because I did enjoy the pilot. And besides, I don't believe in negative feelings.
Friday, 7 pm-2 am (Travel Channel)
The Travel Channel offers a chance to see a ghost on live TV. The Ghost Adventures team lock themselves into West Virginia's Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, with its dank seclusion cells and miles of spooky corridors. Witnesses have reported hearing incoherent screams and seeing mysterious shadow figures as ghosts of the insane roam the asylum.
The paranormal investigators will pursue these ghosts using newly invented "spirit detection systems." For the live seven-hour broadcast, they'll post webcams around the building and communicate with viewers via email, texting and faxing. The Travel Channel production team will also surround the asylum with lights, cameras and other stuff that spirits usually shy away from.
If I were a ghost, I think I'd lie low in the asylum break room until the TV people cleared out, then resume my incoherent screaming at about 2:01 a.m.
The Cleveland Show
Sunday, 7:30 pm (Fox)
The Simpsons and South Park show how effective sick humor can be in the hands of comic geniuses. The Cleveland Show, an animated spinoff of Family Guy, shows how ineffective sick humor can be when non-geniuses get hold of it.
Cleveland, the black Family Guy sidekick with a nasal monotone, starts a new life with his old flame in Virginia. Because creator Seth McFarlane is incapable of shocking us with brilliant satire, he tries to shock us with grotesquerie. An adult teaches a kindergartner how to look up girls' skirts, after which the leering 5-year-old gets an erection. A father suggests that his infant girl nurse herself with her own huge breasts. Then there are the genital-mutilation and incest punchlines.
These jokes weren't funny when that twisted 12-year-old nerd told them on your sixth-grade playground. Now imagine that the twisted 12-year-old nerd grew up and got his own primetime TV series.
Tuesday, 7 pm (PBS)
"Becoming Human" offers an appealing overview of recent discoveries relating to human origins. It takes us back six million years to meet our hominid ancestors, whose fossils have come to light in Africa and Europe. Using computer animation and interviews with eloquent scientists, this three-part series helps us understand where and when humans split from apes.
Part one discusses changing theories of the human brain's evolution. The old theory held that the rise of African grasslands forced early humans out of the trees, leading us to walk upright; walking upright led to our larger brain. The new theory is that "walking upright might not have led to big brains."
Hey, anyone who follows the U.S. Congress knows that.
Tabatha's Salon Takeover
Tuesday, 9 pm (Bravo)
This reality series has a simple premise: A mean lady named Tabatha storms into failing hair salons to whip them into shape. Tabatha is like a villain from a Disney cartoon, with her black leather outfits, angular frown, severe blond hairdo, squinty eyes and 45-degree eyebrows. In the season premiere, she expresses disgust the only emotion of which she's capable at a rundown Chicago salon called Orbit. She shakes her head, sighs and gets to work insulting the salon's employees. "Maybe I can shame you into acting like professional hairstylists," she snarls, "because right now you're acting like PIGS!"
When Tabatha barked "Wipe that smirk off your face!" at one of the stylists, I involuntarily wiped the smirk off my face. Even sitting in your living room, you don't want to trifle with this woman.