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Sunday, September 14, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Paul Reiser returns to wallow in misery
Hurts so good
on
A poet of shame and insecurity
A poet of shame and insecurity

Where has Paul Reiser been hiding? The star of the beloved 1990s series Mad About You is a natural-born sitcom comedian, and he hasn't lost a bit of his endearing nervous energy in The Paul Reiser Show (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., NBC). Written and produced by Reiser, it's a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style slice-of-Hollywood-life in which the star plays a version of himself. (In case you miss the connection, Curb's Larry David himself guest-stars to hilarious effect.)

There's nothing funnier than Reiser being Reiser: getting hysterical over trivial things, as his voice modulates up and down an operatic scale; trying, and failing, to tamp down his aggravation; and, of course, gesturing wildly. He is a poet of shame and insecurity, two of my favorite emotions.

"What's funny for the audience at home is you squirming," a Hollywood type tells Paul when he tries out to be a game-show host. "Your misery is the funny part!"

There aren't many times in life when you're moved to shout "bring on the misery!" But this is definitely one of them.

Happy Endings, Wednesday, 9 pm (ABC)

It's another would-be hip, fresh, young sitcom about six friends dealing with their relationships. At the center are longtime couple Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) and Dave (Zachary Knighton), whose dramatic breakup has traumatized the group.

Happy Endings takes the well-worn route to would-be hipness: many contrived references to being gay, to having sex, etc. Then there's the obligatory gross-out stuff, like a joke about a mom French-kissing her daughter's boyfriend. It all falls predictably flat, but the part that surprises me is the script's compulsive references to really old stuff. If you're trying to be fresh and young, would you slip in allusions to the obscure 20-year-old movie Point Break? Or to Howard Hughes, who was last a household name in the 1970s? "You're giving off a real Howard Hughes vibe here," one friend says to another. "I feel like you're about 10 minutes away from storing your urine in jars."

At least we're spared the actual sight of urine in jars but maybe not for long, depending on how desperate the writers get.

Game of Thrones, Sunday, 8 pm (HBO)

HBO turns George R.R. Martin's fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire into a TV series, rendering complicated power struggles among kings and queens, knights and noblemen. If you're the type who likes to see royal clans clash in lush medieval-style settings, you're sure to have a good time. And even if you aren't that type, you might appreciate the unusually adult-oriented approach allowed on premium cable. This is a mythical land that likes its sex frequent and buck naked, and even the lowliest prostitutes have bodies worthy of Playboy (Play-knave?).

Then there's the bracing ultra-violence, which crops up even at supposedly joyous occasions. "A Dothraki wedding without three deaths is considered a dull affair," someone says during a ritual that is, let's just say, not at all dull.

The Borgias, Sunday, 8 pm (Showtime)

Showtime mastered the sexy soap opera of palace intrigue in The Tudors, and it scores again in The Borgias, set during the Italian Renaissance. This series features another amazing British cast (no one plays Italian better than the Brits) and another twisted historical dynasty interested in power and sex happily, the same thing we TV viewers are interested in.

Jeremy Irons is the quintessence of languid corruption as Rodrigo Borgia, a Machiavellian manipulator who plots his way to the papacy. There are many other Machiavellian manipulators whispering and plotting including Niccolo Machiavelli himself! The historical figures provide plum parts for the British actors, who roll Neil Jordan's dialogue in their mouths like fine wine.

I hope executives are whispering and plotting in the Showtime headquarters to ensure a second season for The Borgias.

American Masters, Monday, 8 pm (PBS)

Naturalist John Muir had one of those big, bushy 19th-century beards, as well as one of those big, bushy 19th-century philosophies, centered on preserving wilderness. "John Muir in the New World" shoots for the requisite sense of wonder, quoting Muir's grand pronouncements ("how blind we selfish conceited creatures are to the rights of all the rest of creation") and finding grand music, images and commentary to match.

According to one Muir-worshiping interviewee, "John Muir felt that the natural world, the wild world, has a divinity to it."

His bushy beard, on the other hand, had no divinity to it whatsoever, especially after a few weeks in the natural world without a shower.

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