CBS (Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week


Who expected this drama about Las Vegas crime-lab investigators to become such a hit that the producers and the network would be talking of turning it into a multiseries franchise à la Law & Order? Not I, that's for sure.

What I've come to appreciate in its second season is that CSI delivers the goods—mysteries that keep viewers guessing, scientific crime-detection techniques worthy of the Discovery Channel and a consistently intriguing character in team leader Gil Grissom. William Petersen's skillful performance highlights Grissom's dry wit and clinical calm while hinting at the complex emotions beneath his unruffled exterior. Even a lurid episode featuring an underground fetish club was somewhat redeemed by the smart, insinuating conversation between Grissom and an insightful dominatrix.

Improbability can be a concern—a school shooting was pinned on the guidance counselor—and gruesomeness goes with the territory. (Did we have to watch one of the criminalists puree a decedent's liver?) Still, CSI deservedly draws a crowd.

Bottom Line: Crimes Solved Ingeniously

UPN (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

In this comedy's inauspicious September debut, divorced Baltimore sportscaster Flex (Flex Alexander) said snickeringly to a lady friend, "When my daughter's in town, my pants aren't down." When I tried One on One again last month, here was Flex rating his professional experience: "I am more seasoned than a Jeffrey Dahmer dinner guest." Is this guy a wit or what?

Breanna (Kyla Pratt), who turned 15 in a January episode, lives with her playboy dad because her mom's pursuing a career opportunity in Nova Scotia—and because TV likes single-father setups. This is hardly the first sitcom in which the parent's immaturity exceeded the child's, and the writing isn't much fresher than the premise. ("I'm just trying to get this father thing right," Flex said after getting it all wrong.) Alexander, whose resume includes stand-up comedy and Homeboys in Outer Space, is outshone by Kelly Perine (Between Brothers) as fireplug-shaped Duane, Flex's friend and foil.

Bottom Line: Doesn't add up to much

PBS (Tues., Feb. 19, 9 p.m. ET)

A famous man but not a very public one, Ralph Ellison is a daunting subject for an American Masters profile. His reputation rests largely on the 1952 novel Invisible Man, a classic on race in America that likely will be read and taught as long as our literature lives. Until he died at 80 in 1994, the author labored on an unfinished second novel, described in this film as "a monumental act of artistic daring." An editor fashioned the 368-page Juneteenth, published in 1999, from the 1,500-plus pages Ellison left behind.

Ralph Ellison: An American Journey (narrated by Andre Braugher) never truly penetrates the subject's personality, though you'll be moved to hear that this urbane black intellectual wept at being called an Uncle Tom in 1967. The film's main value lies in its treatment of Ellison's work. Experts including Cornel West, Shelby Steele and Stanley Crouch illuminate Ellison's themes and jazz-influenced prose style. Dramatized scenes from Invisible Man, while they can't convey the richness of the book, should inspire viewers to open it.

Bottom Line: Good visibility

Sunday, Feb. 17 JANET JACKSON CONCERT HBO (9 p.m. ET) The pop diva hits Hawaii and does it all for you. Be there. Aloha.

Monday, Feb. 18 CASTAWAY B.C. BBC America (8 p.m. ET) Seventeen volunteers in Wales abandon modernity and start a seven-week simulation of Iron Age life.

Tuesday, Feb. 19 WOMEN OF ACTION E!(10 p.m. ET) Biff! Pow! An hour special looks at Jennifer Garner (Alias) and other female stars who play rough.

Wednesday, Feb. 20 SHOW BOAT TCM (8 p.m. ET) The 1936 version with Paul Robeson kicks off a four-film festival featuring black musical stars.

Thursday, Feb. 21 WINTER OLYMPICS NBC (8 p.m. ET) The long program in women's figure skating highlights the night.

Friday, Feb. 22 MOLE PEOPLE Discovery Channel (10 p.m. ET) Open your eyes to the human beings living underground in New York City.

Saturday, Feb. 23 PRIMETIME GLICK Comedy Central (10 p.m. ET) Tom Hanks and Ben Stiller get in on the fun in the second-season debut of Martin Short's faux talk show