E! marks its 20th anniversary with special programming. E! Celebrates 20 Years of the Celebrity Revolution, for example (Friday, 8 p.m.), looks back at the star-centric culture the network has covered and, to some degree, created.
If you doubt E!'s brilliance, check out the 20th-anniversary edition of The Soup (Friday, 9 p.m.), which trashes the network more wittily than you ever could. Joel McHale gets free rein to viciously rip on E!'s red-carpet coverage, reality shows and untalented stars (Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian et al.). He reveals the network's unofficial slogan: "You keep watching, so we keep doing it."
Most of us can only dream of being so sarcastic about our employers in public. The fact that E! lets him do it encourages him to do it allows the network to be your ironically tawdry source for celebrity worship rather than simply your tawdry source for celebrity worship.
I don't think branding gets much shrewder than that.
Clint Eastwood Marathon
Monday, 5 am (TCM)
TCM celebrates Clint Eastwood's birthday with a 24-hour marathon and a screening of the documentary The Eastwood Factor. I'm an Eastwood fan myself, but given his chief theme vengeance -- I worry about watching 24 straight hours of movies like Magnum Force, Dirty Harry and Hang 'Em High. By hour 24, I can't promise that I won't spill out onto the streets with a mob of other classic-movie buffs seeking bloody revenge on criminals and corrupt officials.
Maybe a 12-hour marathon would have been more prudent.
Monday, 9 pm (Showtime)
Edie Falco has one of TV's most expressive faces. In this week's episode of Nurse Jackie, she takes us from real joy to real despair in the course of a mere 30 minutes. The joy comes during the early stage of Jackie's car trip with her husband and two girls. The drug-addicted nurse leaves the mess at All Saints Hospital behind, including the lies she told to obtain her painkillers. We can feel her relief as she plays car games with the kids on the open road.
Then comes the despair: Jackie loses the pills she'd brought along to get her through the trip. Just as we felt her relief, we now feel her desperation as she searches for the drugs on her hands and knees. I kept hoping she'd find them so we could get back to the nice feeling from the beginning of the episode.
There's Falco's genius. How many actresses can get you rooting for their characters to take drugs?
Monday, 9 pm (ABC)
For its new season, the reality series gathers the most amazing-looking men and women you've ever seen and pretends to judge them on their outer beauty. But, using hidden cameras, it assesses their inner beauty as well their kindness, compassion, consideration for others, etc.
With these people, the search for good qualities is generally fruitless. "I enjoy looking at myself in the mirror," said a typically narcissistic contestant from last season. And another: "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm a 20."
I don't blame them for being shallow and conceited; with looks like that, they don't really have any reason to be decent human beings. Instead, I blame True Beauty for its approach. Searching for kindness and compassion among these stunning specimens merely gets in the way of viewers' fantasies. Just drop the annoying concept, ABC, and let us salivate in peace.
Tuesday, 7 pm (Fox)
The cooking competition promises that the new season will be the "fiercest yet." That's a frightening prospect, since previous seasons have already taken "fierce" to crazy extremes. It's hard to believe that mean chef Gordon Ramsay can get any meaner, and indeed, in the season premiere he simply reprises his greatest hits (or greatest fits): cussing out the contestants, spitting out their food, and turning red-faced with rage.
One would-be chef murmurs: "He's gonna eat us alive."
Well, okay, I admit that actually consuming the contestants would represent a new horizon in fierceness.
Losing It with Jillian
Tuesday, 9 pm (NBC)
NBC bills Jillian Michaels as "one of the leading health and wellness experts in the country." In this new reality series, Jillian invades the homes of people she deems to be inadequate, moving in with them for a week. She orders them to stop making "unhealthy choices" and instead to eat right, exercise and follow her strict lifestyle plan.
Wait a minute. Letting a self-serving reality-TV guru live in your house to tell you what to do that's a healthy choice?