The season premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm (Sunday, 9 p.m., HBO) is another masterpiece of comic anxiety. Larry David, playing a version of himself - a sneaky L.A. showbiz type - wants to go to Ted Danson's party instead of a party at his friend Funkhauser's, happening the night before. So he hatches a seemingly ingenious plan to save face. He'll skip the first party, but show up at Funkhauser's house the next night and pretend that he mixed up the dates. He'll make his apologies and head off to Danson's party guilt-free.
Of course, there's no such thing as a guilt-free episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The little white lie sets in motion a chain reaction that gets Larry in trouble with both Funkhauser and Danson. Not to mention his wife. Not to mention all his friends. Not to mention a group of hurricane victims. For good measure, his house burns down.
Many people tell me that Curb Your Enthusiasm makes them uncomfortable. It's true that to enjoy the series, you have to recognize a bit of yourself in Larry's cowardly, manipulative, passive-aggressive weasel. God help me, but I enjoy it a lot.
Saturday, 8 pm (Lifetime)
Precocious teenage Amanda (Kay Panabaker) lives with her widowed college-professor dad, David (Rob Morrow). He supplements their income by penning book reviews so brutal that the authors seek him out for revenge. "It's so unbelievably bad it brings to mind clichés you didn't even know you knew," he writes about a new novel. The enraged female author shows up at his door, but within minutes they're making goo-goo eyes at one another. Who knew that devastating reviews were such an aphrodisiac for cute creative types? (Note to self....)
Finally, we get to the heart of the matter. Enter Amanda's real father (James Denton), who abandoned her at birth. David never told Amanda about him, and now, for some reason, the deadbeat dad wants custody. You'd think David would have the upper hand, but think again: It turns out he forgot to file the adoption papers way back when.
Yep, he forgot - and this unlikely negligence forms the crux of the plot. Now there's a cliché I didn't even know I knew.
MTV Video Music Awards
Sunday, 8pm (MTV)
MTV is billing this year's ceremony as "a sinful night on the Las Vegas Strip." Sinful? With a slate of nominees that includes Carrie Underwood, Daughtry and other marketing concepts? MTV desperately wants to be seen as transgressive, but nobody's buying it - not when the Video Music Awards is set up expressly to move the latest corporate product.
That said: Go Green Day!
Sunday, 8pm (PBS)
If it's fall, it must be time for another round of "Inspector Lynley Mysteries." I always look forward to seeing Tom Lynley (Nathaniel Parker), the upper-crust police detective, and Barbara Havers (Sharon Small), his working-class partner. Lynley is rather bland, but the partners' amiable relationship carries you through each week's clue-heavy investigation.
In the season premiere, Lynley has been suspended for threatening a suspect and Havers placed with a new supervising officer named Fiona Knight (Liza Tarbuck). With her stringy hair and peremptory manner, Fiona is not bland. She's quick-witted and perceptive, and she takes no guff from suspects. "Don't play cocky with me," she snaps. "I own the copyright." She's pregnant, too, and it's thrilling to see this forceful woman solve a crime with a baby kicking in her belly.
Is it wrong of me to hope that Inspector Lynley never returns to duty? "The Fiona Mysteries" - that has a nice ring to it.
Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq
Sunday, 9:30 pm (HBO)
For his first post-Sopranos project, James Gandolfini executive-produces a documentary about wounded veterans of the Iraq War. Gandolfini himself interviews 10 mangled soldiers on a bare soundstage, respectfully seeking details of each one's "Alive Day" - the day they narrowly escaped death on the battlefield. We hear stories from kids trying to carry on without legs, arms or eyes. Perhaps the most heartbreaking story of all comes from a mother, who speaks for her brain-injured son as he squirms helplessly beside her.
Alive Day Memories avoids politics, instead serving as a tribute to the 27,000 brave vets injured in Iraq. But it can't avoid having political resonance. These horrible images are the ones the Bush administration tries to downplay. And well they might, because after watching Alive Day Memories viewers are going to ask a very painful question.
Tim Gunn's Guide to Style
Thursday, 9 pm (Bravo)
On Project Runway, Tim Gunn wields his fashion expertise with understated elegance. But he unveils a different persona on Tim Gunn's Guide to Style. Here, he camps it up while leading ordinary women through fashion makeovers. "I can't look at those pants!" he exclaims when confronted with his first Eliza Doolittle. "It's horrifying! Simply horrifying!"
In Gunn's horror, we sense snobbery - a sour note for all of us watching the show in T-shirts and ill-fitting jeans. Nevertheless, I'm going to give Tim Gunn's Guide to Style a thumbs up, 'cuz I'm afraid a bad review will make me look fat.