Three things are certain in this life: death, taxes, and the fact that Lady Gaga will put on a good show. It's hard to be bored during Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Garden (Saturday, 8 p.m., HBO), with its delirious beats, crazily shaped costumes, sexy dancing and glittering sets. And yet, I can't deny feeling uncomfortable in certain parts.
Lady Gaga explicitly presents herself as a "queen," and she hands down orders to us, her "little monsters." "Now dance!" she demands, and the audience obediently complies. Just when you think the master-slave conceit is all in good fun, you get the sense that Ms. Gaga is taking herself a bit too seriously as our supreme leader. She keeps telling self-aggrandizing stories about her former life as a misunderstood genius, scorned by the music business before taking her rightful place as an acknowledged genius.
And while I like her freak-positive message, I'm put off by her slightly fascistic suggestion that we freaks find salvation by bowing down to her. I don't know about you, but I'm uneasy thinking of myself as anybody else's "little monster."
Okay, it's time for me to stop analyzing and start dancing. I don't want overlord Gaga to get mad at me.
My Cat From Hell
Saturday, 8 pm (Animal Planet)
As a cat-hater who's allergic to the little beasts, I approve of a series that explores their dark side (especially after the whitewash of Animal Planet's recent Too Cute: Kittens!). But I do think the title, My Cat from Hell, is redundant. Shouldn't it just be called My Cat, since all of them are from hell?
Sunday, 7 pm (PBS)
"Bears of the Last Frontier" is a breathtaking documentary that gets up close and personal with Alaskan bears in their natural habitat. That said, anyone who has seen Grizzly Man cannot watch this program without screaming things like "Are you nuts?" and "Get the hell out of there!" at host Chris Morgan.
Morgan follows in the footsteps of Grizzly Man's Timothy Treadwell, who was eaten by these same Alaskan bears while filming them in a similar situation. Like Treadwell, Morgan gives the bears cute names and minimizes their threat even as they begin circling him. "Our goal is to peel back the layers of myth and misunderstanding on this complex creature," he tells the camera. Meanwhile, the bears' goal is to peel back the layers of his skull and eat the delicious stuff inside.
I didn't have the nerve to watch the end of the program, so you'll have to let me know who ended up peeling back whom.
Sunday, 9 pm (HBO)
In its second season, Treme continues the saga of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, checking in with a cross-section of city residents. This week, a businessman seeks a piece of the reconstruction action; a bar owner is assaulted; a cook's house is robbed; a trombonist tries to whip a new band into shape; and jazz musicians struggle to find an audience. Producer David Simon (The Wire) does an amazing job of rendering New Orleans' texture, from the grit to the swank. And he's especially good with sounds, drawn from several of the city's musical subcultures.
Momentum is more of a problem. With so many characters, the plot is diffuse, and Treme is in no hurry to get anywhere. Then again, with texture this rich, I'm not in much of a hurry to get anywhere, either.
United States of Tara
Monday, 9:30 pm (Showtime)
I check in with this nutty-mom dramedy once or twice a season to see if it's still one of the best things on TV.
Toni Collette is brilliant as the suburban housewife with dissociative identity disorder. In this week's episode, her psychiatrist (Eddie Izzard) drops her, confiding to husband Max (John Corbett): "I can tell you it's never going to get any better."
That's downright tragic but then why am I laughing? United States of Tara has a genius for folding Tara's problems into the cosmic craziness of American family life. And you can't help laughing at cosmic craziness even as it knocks you upside the head.
Worst. Prom. Ever.
Tuesday, 9 pm (MTV)
Right before my high school prom, my girlfriend Kathy broke up with me, so I asked this girl Becky, which made Kathy jealous, so she started being nice to me again, and I fell for it, making Becky mad and leaving me with no choice but this girl from Sunday school who turned out to be very religious. Meanwhile, Kathy went to prom with my soon-to-be-former best friend.
In Worst. Prom. Ever., three seniors experience rejection, jail, a drunken limousine driver, a drug dealer and an unhinged pizzeria mascot.
Impressive, but I'd still call that the Second. Worst. Prom. Ever.