The new season of Gossip Girl (Monday, 7 p.m., CW) heats up as the beautiful young Manhattanites make messes of their privileged lives. This week's episode hinges on an explosive plot point: Should Vanessa call Nate? Or, conversely, should she, like, not call him? Jenny, the blond would-be designer, comes up with a brilliant solution based in syllogistic logic: "You like him, he likes you, so just call him!" But Vanessa remains torn, uncharacteristically so. "I am so not the whiny should-I-call-him girl!" she whines.
The philosophical questions become only more perplexing. Should Serena and Dan get back together? Should Blair have a quickie with Chuck? I can't decide if Gossip Girl is the most enjoyable show on TV, or the silliest, or both. And that's weird, because I am so not the whiny should-I-pan-this-series TV critic!
Saturday, 7 pm (Lifetime)
Shirley MacLaine affects thick red lipstick and an even thicker French accent as legendary designer Coco Chanel. This TV movie flashes back to Chanel's upbringing in an orphanage, followed by her success with jersey dresses and perfume. Despite the abundance of Chanel No. 5, the movie stinks, indulging in every inspirational biopic cliché. The only real drama is whether MacLaine will tip forward or backward from the weight of her enormous hat and horn-rim glasses.
Saturday Night Live
Saturday, 10:30 pm (NBC)
Olympic swimming god Michael Phelps hosts the season opener. It'd be pretty anticlimactic if he earned only a bronze medal for comedy.
Sunday, 9 pm (HBO)
HBO's masterpiece shows no signs of decline in season five, setting the standard for inside-Hollywood satire. At this point in the story, budding star Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his horndog entourage hit the bad side of the town's boom-and-bust cycle. Vince's last movie flopped, and nothing feels right with sex or society life. "You're in movie jail until the stench from Medellin clears," declares his subhuman superagent, Ari (Jeremy Piven).
As always, Piven steals the show with his portrait of a man who would sell his soul to the devil for a deal - if he had a soul, and if the devil had access to a major studio. Ari is our ticket to the sick side of Hollywood, repulsive even when he's trying to be reassuring.
"You can come back stronger than ever," he tells Vince. "Like Lance Armstrong, but with two balls!"
Tuesday, 7 pm (Fox)
Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is probably the most obnoxious character ever to anchor a prime-time drama. He's mercilessly cruel and sarcastic, yet Fox still wants us to love him. And we do, judging by the series' awards and popularity.
In the season premiere, House tests our love with over-the-top misogyny. He treats a patient who works for a women's rights organization, delighting in sexist put-downs.
"Yesterday's sluts are today's empowered women," he sneers.
And again: "She realized that her evolutionary purpose is to arouse men, not to castrate them."
Actually, with dialogue like that, castration doesn't seem like a bad option.
The Rachel Zoe Project
Tuesday, 10 pm (Bravo)
Rachel Zoe is an L.A.-based stylist to the stars, putting together dresses, handbags and jewelry for red-carpet appearances. She takes herself seriously and never laughs, but laughing won't be a problem for viewers of her new reality series. Though Zoe comes on like a Very Important Person, one can't help seeing her as a Very Self-Important Pooh-Bah. She clomps through Beverly Hills in unwalkable high heels and sunglasses as big as manhole covers, trying to look 10 years younger than she is. As sophisticated as she thinks she is, she talks like a nasal 12-year-old valley girl.
"Love love love," she tells a client trying on a dress.
Later: "You look insanity in this."
Later still: "That's bananas amazing."
The Rachel Zoe Project is bananas preposterous.
Wednesday, 9 pm (Bravo)
Project Runway makes fashion design compelling, and the same goes for Top Chef with cooking. But Top Design can't pull off the trick with interior design. There are no vivid personalities in the new season, either among the judges or the contestants. Despite the stress of competition, most of the designers get along pretty well. "We know what we have to get done," one of them says happily during a challenge, "and we're going to work as a team to pull it off."
Well, that's just great, but it means we have to sit there watching people paint and saw with very little underlying drama. For many of us, matching the drapes with the bedspread is not a scintillating payoff for an hour of TV viewing.