TV column for Sunday, Aug. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Hell on Wheels,”
9 p.m., AMC.

As the railroad pushes relentlessly
across the frontier, lives have been transformed.

Cullen, the former confederate officer,
is about to be executed for robbery. Elam, the former slave, is
working security for the railroad. Eva, the former prostitute (and
Elam's lover) has found peace as the wife of the station master in
tiny Durant, Neb.

Stick around, though. Everything is
about to change again, in a beautifully crafted episode.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Good Wife”
and “The Mentalist,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS.

Summertime Sundays have become a cable
monopoly , with major dramas on TNT, AMC, USA, HBO, Showtime and now
BBC America. For non-cable, CBS' reruns offer the best alternative.

On “Good Wife,” Alicia's client
faces sexual-abuse charges from an imposing accuser; she's played by
Morena Baccarin, whom you can see at the same time in Showtime's
“Homeland” rerun.

On “The Mentalist,” an undercover
cop has been killed. Now the team must piece together her case.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Copper”
debut, 10 p.m., BBC America.

“Hell on Wheels” has already told
us that frontier life after the Civil War was … well, hellish. Now
this show tells us things weren't much better in the city.

The setting is 1864 New York. The
masses face grime and crime; the elite scheme to take advantage. And
one honest cop gropes for occasional justice.

This has all the cynicism of “Hell on
Wheels,” but none of the visual splendor or character warmth.
Still, it's from the “Homicide” people, so we'll stick around and
hope it gets better.

Other choices include:

– “On the Waterfront” (1954),
noon ET, Turner Classic Movies. Perhaps the best-acted film of all
time, this has Oscar-winning performances by Marlon Brando and –
in her movie debut – Eva Marie Saint. That's part of a full day of
Saint's films; it peaks with Alfred Hitchcock's splendid “North By
Northwest” (1959) at 8 p.m. and a documentary on the film at 10:30.

– Football, 8 p.m. ET, NBC. In a
six-year stretch, either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Indianapolis
Colts reached the Super Bowl five times. That ended last year, when
the Peyton-less Colts had a 2-14 season; the Steelers were 12-4. Now
the Colts, with new quarterback Andrew Luck, visit Pittsburgh.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., Fox. The first rerun finds the widowed Ned Flanders married to
Edna. The second (the show's 500th episode) exiles the
Simpsons to a primitive, outlying community.

– “Falling Skies,” 9 p.m., TNT.
The season-finale has the skitters close in on the combined
resistance.

– “Breaking Bad,” 10 p.m., AMC.
This notion of a sort of a benign meth-lab business has spun wildly
out of control. Last week, newcomer Todd (the terrific Jesse Plemons)
shot and killed a kid who drove by on a bike. Now both of Walt's
business partners want out, in a strong, pivotal episode.

– “The News Room,” 10 p.m., HBO.
As the black-out continues, Lisa Lambert gets to do an on-air and
Charlie (Sam Waterston) frets about whether a source is reliable.