Everybody seems delighted with the new version of American Idol, from the media to the fans. On the eve of the season finale (Tuesday & Wednesday, 7 p.m.), I still haven't figured out why. There have been a few solid singers, but no spectacular ones to rival the Adam Lamberts or Fantasias of previous seasons. And to me, new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are no substitute for Simon Cowell. If they made an insightful comment during this season's run, I missed it.
A typical moment came on Carole King Night, when Casey Abrams destroyed "Hi-De-Ho" with corny growls and would-be hipster swagger. "You made my scalp itch it was so good," said Tyler, either lying or tone-deaf. Simon would have known why the performance sucked and expressed it eloquently, teaching the audience something in the process.
Articulate music criticism now that's what makes my scalp itch.
Billboard Music Awards
Sunday, 7 pm (ABC)
I like watching music awards shows to catch up on the latest acts I don't know much about. That apparently won't be possible with the Billboard Music Awards, which nominates the same handful of artists in almost every category. Basically, if you've already grown tired of this year's product by Justin Bieber, Eminem, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, don't bother tuning in. Eminem, for example, is nominated for Top 200 Album, Top Artist, Top 100 Song, Top Rap Album, Top Digital Song, Top Radio Song, Top Streaming Song, Top Video, Top Male Artist, etc.
In some categories, Billboard doesn't even bother putting up nominal competition to the chosen few. In Top Dance Album, Lady Gaga nabs three of the five slots herself, for The Fame, The Fame Monster and The Remix.
What's the advantage of having a Top 200 if it's, like, 200 Lady Gagas?
Monday, 8 pm (ABC)
This season's Bachelorette is dental student Ashley Hebert. On the 2011 edition of The Bachelor, Hebert blew her chance with Brad Womack when she told him that "dentistry is the most important thing in my life." (Well, except for being on multiple reality series.)
Expect Hebert to break a few hearts now that she's in the driver's seat, and maybe even fill a few cavities. Any suitor who doesn't floss regularly might as well go home right now.
Too Big to Fail
Monday, 8 pm (HBO)
This TV movie explores treasury secretary Hank Paulson's behind-the-scenes negotiations during the financial meltdown of 2008, with the world's economy hanging in the balance. Paulson had to figure out the government's role in bailing out an industry that had grown toxic due to greed and deregulation.
The subject doesn't lack for interest, but Too Big to Fail plays like a lightly dramatized New York Times Magazine article. It's certainly watchable, with a brisk pace and stellar cast (William Hurt as Paulson, Paul Giamatti as Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernake, James Woods as Lehman Brothers chairman Dick Fuld, etc.). I just wish the filmmakers had been less concerned with dutifully connecting the dots between Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and AIG than with putting some compelling human beings on the screen, the way Oliver Stone did in Wall Street. Aside from Woods' slimy Fuld, the characters are indistinguishable identically coiffed dudes in banker drag speaking in even tones about derivatives and deals.
They're bloodless villains, and it's not even that fun to root for them to fail. If they fail, of course, you and I lose all our money, too.
Dancing with the Stars
Tuesday, 8 pm (ABC)
Like everyone else in America, I've developed an unhealthy interest in paso dobles, tangos and quick steps. During this season's Dancing with the Stars, I've gasped at Ralph Macchio's spills, tsk-tsked at Kendra Wilkinson's crude booty-shaking and puzzled over Maksim Chmerkovskiy's comment that he's "a stick that's been dipped in a boiling pot of sex."
I'm going to have serious withdrawal spasms when the season ends on Tuesday. True, Fox premieres the similarly cheesy dance show So You Think You Can Dance on Thursday, but, man, those are going to be a couple of rough days in between.
Tuesday, 9 pm (PBS)
In "WikiSecrets," Frontline explores the case of Private Bradley Manning, accused of passing classified military documents to WikiLeaks. The report focuses on an interview with Manning's father after the two visited in the Quantico brig. Apparently, Manning is upset that relations with his father are strained.
If I were in Manning's shoes, the thought of disapproval from dear old dad would pale in comparison to the government's charges of aiding the enemy - a capital offense. But maybe that's just me.