Tonight in DVR: The Strange, Predictable Return of Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez.

Jennifer Lopez.

We’re here to tell you just how to set your DVR before heading out for drinks or dinner–or just watching something better on TV!

Say what you will of 1990s female stars–and we’ll say they were a lot more fun than your Emma Stones!–but they’ve proven quite adept at holding onto the spotlight. Gwyneth Paltrow made email-lifestyle-guru the role in which we didn’t know we’d always envisioned her; Winona Ryder resurfaced to steal away Black Swan from younger pretenders; Madeleine Stowe, ill-served by the movie biz, dipped her face in a bowl of fillers and got herself a terrific nighttime soap (Revenge, on ABC tonight at 10pm). But the nineties’ master of the comeback is, was, and shall be Jennifer Lopez, whose second season as nice-lady judge on American Idol begins tonight.

After catalyzing the modern tabloid era with her greatest role as the “ennifer” in “Bennifer,” Ms. Lopez took some time very much away from the spotlight, and her splashy attempt at a comeback in 2010 with a simultaneous album and movie release (remember The Back-Up Plan?) got her an SNL hosting gig but little of the adulation she’d been surely craving, holed up in that weird Gatsby mansion in Long Island. Lesser stars would have returned to their hideaways after such a resounding pair of flops (consider the case of Meg Ryan). But Jennifer Lopez, a career actress who’d recorded a series of albums as an ancillary income stream, finagled her way onto television’s top show as a judge of others’ musical talents, and simultaneously changed her image (she’s so nice!) and reminded America of the good clean tabloidy mania that’d always been there. The predatory manipulation of the media Ms. Lopez exerts, now through Idol, exists without any of the Kardashianian ick of the present-day gossip trade; despite yourself, you root for her more than for any 17-year-old chanteuse out of West Texas.

Ms. Lopez’s second season begins tonight–we’re setting a countdown clock to see how long it takes before she cries over a competitor’s God-given talent, and another one to see how long it takes before she’s spotted in Paris with Ryan Gosling.

Set your DVR for Fox at 8pm to catch American Idol.