Not exactly thriving, “Harry’s Law” (8 p.m., NBC) has the unenviable task of competing with “Modern Family” (on ABC) and the two-hour “The X Factor” (7 p.m., Fox). And it is regularly beaten by “Criminal Minds” (8 p.m., CBS) as well. If anything, “Harry’s Law” appeals to loyal fans of David E. Kelley. At his best, Kelley, a writer and lawyer who created such shows as “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal,” challenges viewers to think about moral and ethical issues. At his worst, he presents them in a smug manner against a “Big Chill” soundtrack.
Tonight’s “Harry” blends the too cute with the poignant. In the cute subplot, Harry (Kathy Bates) finds herself arrested in a small Ohio town for the “crime” of driving a foreign car. The local mayor (George Wendt), a populist, has imposed a “buy American” edict custom-made for Harry to challenge in court and for Kelley to use as a debate between creating American jobs versus protecting free trade and free choice.
In the better, more powerful subplot, a visiting Chinese family engages the firm to argue that their daughter was taken from them by Chinese authorities because of that government’s long-standing one-child policy. Forcibly removed to an orphanage, that child was sold to an American family who was told that the infant’s parents had died. This puts the judge and the audience in the Solomon- like position of determining the fate of a child, when both sets of parents have strong legal and emotional cases.
• Seen as one of the bright spots in NBC’s rather bleak season, “Up All Night” (7 p.m., NBC) tries just a little too hard. Tonight’s episode puts great emphasis on the show’s central conceit, which is that the new parents, Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chris (Will Arnett), are desperate to get back to their hard-partying, lusty ways. They hire a baby sitter and arrange a night out at a hotel, only to find a million impediments to the evening’s consummation.
It’s all too forced and does not measure up to the married-with-children interplay seen between Claire and Phil on “Modern Family” or Jim and Pam on “The Office.” But those series are both fake, documentary-style comedies where it is easier to seem “real.”
Jason Lee guest-stars as their neighbor, Kevin, a regular guy who has a flirtatious meeting with talk-show host, Ava (Maya Rudolph), Reagan’s boss. In last week’s episode, Ava preened like Oprah. This week she’s insecure and vulnerable. This may be an indication of shaky writing or an evolving character. Either way, she has the strong potential to upstage the two stars.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Live performances on “The X Factor” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood host “The 45th Annual CMA Awards” (7 p.m., ABC).
• “Nature” (7 p.m., PBS) visits the eagles native to Venezuela’s Orinoco River jungle, considered the most powerful birds of prey on Earth.
• “NOVA” (8 p.m., PBS) presents part two of “The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time.”