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Some Days Are Better Than Others...

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 9, 2006

In a review of critic John Simon's work, the New York Times on Sunday included this line from Simon: ''Selective patrons cannot even imagine what horrors reviewers are exposed to, night after nightmarish night.''

Yes, there are moments like that for any TV reviewer capable of some level of discrimination. In fact, there's one tonight, called ''Emily's Reasons Why Not.'' The sitcom starring Heather Graham airs on ABC. It's bad. Really bad. As I said in an earlier post, I asked Target Demo to watch it -- and apologized for putting her through such an ordeal.

That doesn't mean everything on TV is bad. ''Jake in Progress'' returns tonight to ABC; the John Stamos comedy is disposable but not unpleasant -- TV candy for those moments when you want no substance but a laugh or two.

Then there are the things that make you happy to watch television. One is ''Country Boys,'' the PBS documentary airing under ''Frontline's'' banner tonight. I have a review in today's Beacon Journal (available here), so let me just say here that it is terrific, thoughtful television.

Its basic honesty is even more important given a couple of stories in the news today. The Smoking Gun is at length questioning the accuracy of some of memoirist James Frey's tales. (You can link to TSG's investigation here.) And the New York Times -- yes, I know that's another reference to the paper; I'm on one of those two-week free subscriptions -- has a piece about the real identity of writer JT Leroy.

If both pieces are themselves accurate, you can read them as demonstrations that for some, the truth just isn't dramatic enough. ''Country Boys'' shows that truth is more powerful than dramatic invention.

And tomorrow night begins the fifth season of ''The Shield.'' It's a beginning that also feels like an end -- the show's makers talk as if they are ready to wind up -- because it brings the show back to its shocking origins, when Mackey killed another cop; that murder is now part of an Internal Affairs investigation of Mackey, forcing Vic to cover some old, old tracks. And the IA investigator is both dedicated and terrifying. I'll probably post more about it later.

Allan Johnson, who wrote about TV for the Chicago Tribune, has died. The Tribune's obituary is here.

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