TV column for Saturday, Feb. 25


TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
“Big Cat Week,” noon to 7 p.m. ET, NatGeo Wild; and more.

If you missed this
week, don't fret; all six of its TV premieres rerun today That starts
with the splendid “African Cats,” an epic that Disney showed in
theaters in 2011. It concludes with “Soul of a Cat” tracing the
parallels between housecats and the big cats in the wild.

That still gives you
time to switch to BBC America for the second “Planet Earth II”
episode, at 9 p.m. and midnight. There's great fun in the scenes with
grizzlies scratching and flamingoes dancing, but this starts and ends
with the ultimate big-cat footage – compelling views of the elusive
snow leopard.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Sports overload, everywhere.

How thoroughly does
sports dominate our TV tonight? In prime time, it has three of the
big-four networks ... plus five major cable channels and lots of
minor ones.

ABC has pro
basketball at 8:30 p.m. ET, with the Chicago Bulls, clinging to a
playoff slot, visiting LeBron James and the conference-leading
Cleveland Cavaliers. NBC has hockey at 8 p.m. ET, with the Pittsburgh
Penguins, second in their conference, hosting Philadelphia. And Fox
has boxing at 8 p.m. ET, with Deontay Wilder defending his
heavyweight title against Gerald Washington.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independemt Spirit Awards,” 5-7:30 p.m., ET, IFC;
rerunning at 10 ET.

On the eve of the
Academy Awards, this honors independent films (generally, with
budgets under $20 million). And yes, there are good ones. Two
best-picture nominees (“Moonlight” and “Manchester By the Sea”)
are also up for Oscars; today, they face “Jackie.” “Chronic”
and “American Honey.”

There should be fun,
with comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney hosting. Acting nominees
include Oscar-nominees Casey Affleck, Viggo Mortensen, Natalie
Portman, Ruth Negga, Isabelle Hubbert and Lucas Hedges, plus Annette
Bening, Craig Robinson, Shia LaBeof, Molly Shannon and many more.

Other choices
include:

“The Hobbit”
trilogy (2012, 2013, 2014), 1, 4:30 and 8 p.m., TNT. Here's a chance
to catch all three films from “Lord of the Rings” director Peter
Jackson.

More movies, 7 p.m.
and beyond. At 7, AMC has Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning “Departed”
(2006). At 7:30 ET, sandwiched between the award telecasts, IFC has
the dandy “Speed” (1994). And at 8, try “Hotel Transylvania”
(2012) on FXX or Tom Hanks' “Captain Phillips” (2013) on FX.

“Ransom,” 8
p.m., CBS. To rescue a kidnap victim, Eric must dig into the secrets
of her father, a senator. Meanwhile, his efforts to keep his own
daughter safe go awry.

“The History of
Comedy,” 9 and 10 p.m. ET, CNN, barring breaking news. First is a
rerun of last week's hour, a solid examination of women in comedy.
Then an OK hour views the knack of finding laughs in real life. Jerry
Seinfeld, a master of that, met Larry David, who keeps notes about
life's odd details ... and was devastated when he once lost the
notebook. Their “Seinfeld” is linked here with “All in the
Family,” “Roseanne” and others, sometimes finding large laughs
in life's small moments.

“For Peete's
Sake,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. This reality show focuses on
actress Holly Robinson Peete and her husband, former pro quarterback
Rodney Peete. Now she and her brother are in her home town of
Philadelphia, looking for a place to bury the ashes of their dad,
Matt Robinson, who was the original Gordon on “Sesame Street” and
later was a “Cosby Show” producer-writer.

“MasterChef
Junior,” 11 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the amiable opener, eight kids
get spots in the top 20.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m. (or later, with hockey overrun), NBC. Here's the
second straight rerun. A new episode is expected next week, with
Octavia Spencer hosting.

TV column for Friday, Feb. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Patriot,” any time, www.amazon.com/gp/prime.

An official (Terry
O'Quinn) sends his son John (New Zealand star Michael Dorman) on a
tough undercover mission. He knows John has some strong skills
(killing, for instance) and some flaws: He's a fledgling country
singer who comes close to spilling state secrets when improvising
songs.

John soon creates
problems – including the only recent murders in the nation of
Luxembourg. This is a neatly offbeat thriller; it's sort of like
“Breaking Bad,” but available (to subscribers) all in one bunch.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Darius Rucker has
lots of extra skills. He's been a rock star (with Hootie and the
Blowfish), a country star and, we're told, a pretty good football
player and golfer. He's also had a few acting roles.

Now he guests as a
bombmaker. Once McGarrett and Danny find him, they have a bigger
challenge – getting the bomb out of the jungle before it explodes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “African Cats,” 9 p.m. and midnight ET, NatGeo Wild,
.

Each year (almost),
Disney brings an epic-scale nature film to theaters. Each has a
sprawling scale, intimate moments and great production values; each,
as part of a large deal, eventually reaches Wild.

This gorgeous 2011
epic arrives as “Big Cat Week” ends today (2 p.m. to 3 a.m. ET)
and Saturday, In Kenya, we meet a cheetah who tries – with mixed
success – to keep her five cubs safe ... and an old lion, fighting
for his clan ... and an orphaned lion, desperate to become part of a
foster family.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Some Like it Hot” (1959), 8-10:15 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies.

Two days before the
Academy Awards, this reminds us that respect is iffy.

“Hot” has been
named by the American Film Institute as the funniest American film
ever; still, its only Oscar was for best costumes in a
black-and-white film. It drew five other nominations, including one
for Jack Lemmon and two for writer-director Billy Wilder ... but not
for best picture.

Other choices
include:

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. At first, Bozer (Justin Hires) didn't even know what his
roommate does. Now he's part of the team ... and his first overseas
mission goes terribly wrong.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Worried that their daughters don't go to
church any more, Mike and Vanessa vow to make it more interesting.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. This sometimes-silly show adds a serious subject tonight:
Allison finds a lump in her breast; the others rally around her,
while waiting for the test results.

“Great
Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS. These two pieces have much in common --
the New York City Ballet, dancing in Paris, doing works that George
Balanchine choreographed to the music of French composers. Still,
they're exact opposites – first a tiny Ravel number, with two
dancers and a pianist; then a massive Bizet number, with almost 50
dancers.

“Emerald City,”
9 p.m., NBC. Already a dark variation on “Wizard of Oz,” this now
turns ultra-dark. Two people are put in positions where they might
kill a loved one; a third must merely watch a loved one die. Grim
forces collide in nasty (but visually impressive) ways, setting up
next week's finale.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season's second episode, an old woman
has been killed by a stray bullet. Also, Erin must scramble when a
case becomes personal for her investigator

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Planet Earth II,” 9 p.m. and midnight ET, BBC America.

One of the season's
best shows is buried on TV's worst night. Beautifully filmed and
cleverly narrated, it finds stunning scenes worldwide ... but its new
hours are on Saturdays, when viewership sags.

Fortunately, there
are these Thursday reruns, starting with a splendid visit to islands.
An early snake segment is long and nasty, but mostly we see
predator-free worlds. A stark, volcanic island has 1.5 million
penguins ... Christmas Island has 50 million crabs on the march ...
And in the world's slowest booty call, a male sloth rushes (sort of)
to the sound of a female's call.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“How to Get Away With Murder” season finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

This short season –
15 episodes, split into two spurts – concludes here, with key
information. We finally learn how Wes died – and why others (Nate,
Connor, Laurel) were there.

Afterward, ABC will
loan the Thursday slot to an impressive mini-series (“When We
Rise”) and then will bring back “The Catch” from Shonda Rhimes,
producer of its other Thursday shows.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Blacklist Redemption” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

It's time to warm up
our recording devices: Two series debut at the same time, with
familiar elements.

This one borrowa the
“Blacklist” timeslot and some of its characters: Tom Keen once
seemed to be the mild-mannered teacher married to Liz; he turned out
to be a master of deception. Now Scottie Hargrave (Famke Janssen),
the mercenary, wants him to help rescue a kidnapped CIA agent.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY
II: “Sun Records” debut, 10:02 p.m., CMT, TV Land; 10 p.m.,
Nickelodeon.

Back in 1952, a
young redhead named Sam Phillips began recording Memphis musicians.
He captured great black performers ... then semi-ignored them after
his engineer recorded Jerry Lee Lewis . The rock 'n roll era was
born, with white singers in the focus.

Based on Broadway's
“Million Dollar Quartet,” this has a few stars – Chad Michael
Muray as Phillips, Billy Gardell as Col. Parker – and lots of
newcomers in classic roles: They play Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash,
Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, Eddy Arnold, Lewis and his cousin, the
future Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory” and “The Great Indoors,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., CBS. First is
an episode relating to Comic-Con, with details scarce. Then Jack's
girlfriend (Maggie Lawson) worries that he doesn't have any friends.
He asks his co-workers (millennials whom he's mocked) to fake a
friendship.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Alex finally returns to the hospital, but finds much has
changed. Also, Jo makes a difficult decision involving a patient and
Arizona tries to keep away from Eliza.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Nudged ahead an hour to set up “Redemption,” the
show finds that Red has been given a deadly toxin. There's a scramble
to find an andidote and learn who betrayed him.

“Riverdale,” 9
p.m., CW. Last week's strong episode dumped the sexy-teacher plot; it
also showed that Jughead is virtually homeless, the son of a
Southside Serpents gangster. Tonight's so-so hour has Jason's funeral
nearing, revealing links between his nasty families and others in
Riverdale.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Adam seems to have a thing for tall, skinny women. Bonnie
(the 6-foot Allison Janney) learns he's still close to his ex-wife
(the 5-10 Wendie Malick).

“Training Day,”
10 p.m., CBS. Having already burned through villainous Mexicans,
Russians and Arabs, the show now has evil Japanese. It also gives
Frank (Bill Paxton) some warmth in dealing with a young informant ...
and reflects Paxton's own fondness for all things Texas.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Detour,” 7 and 7:30 p.m., and “Full Frontal,” 10:30
p.m., TBS.

Ever since switching
to all-comedy, TBS has sputtered. It's had Conan O'Brien (11 p.m.)
and great reruns (“Big Bang Theory” from 8-10:30 p.m. today), but
so-so originals.

It's salvation is
the husband-wife team of Jason Jones and Samantha Bee; he has
“Detour,” she has “Frontal” and each works on the other.
Tonight only has reruns, but they're good ones. “Detour” moves
the family to New York, where things crumble in (mostly) funny ways.
“Frontal” sends Amy Hoggart to Scotland, where she finds
hilarious rage toward Donald Trump and his golf course.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Major Crimes” return, 9 p.m., TNT, rerunning at 10.

For a dozen years,
these people have given us crisp stories set in Los Angeles'
high-tech police depeartment. Now the fifth season (after seven years
of “The Closer”) resumes with a sharp story.

That starts with a
high-octane distraction, then gets to the main plot: The murder
victim had dated a ragged chap with anger issues and a tech innovator
with big money. There are flaws here – an overwrought boss (Camryn
Manheim), a lame side plot involving Rusty – but the basic plot is
first-rate.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS.

This feels like
spring-breakers gone wild – rowdies are climbing high towers and
leaping into a pool, splashing onlookers. Except these are monkeys in
India, seizing control of a water trough.

That starts a
delightful hour of bad behavior by animals. Birds steal others' fish
in mid-air; penguins swipe each other's nest stones. Some moments
seem like scenes from “The Crying Game” (a clever bird pretends
to be a female) or “Scarlet Letter” (a meerkat is banished for
unauthorized sex).

Other choices
include:

“Gladiator,”
7-10:30 p.m., AMC. This epic won five Oscars, including best picture
and Russell Crowe as best actor. It faces three more gems -- “Mystic
River” (2003) at 8 p.m. on HBO; “O Brother, Where Art Thou”
(2000) at 8 p.m. on CMT; and – at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic
Movies -- “Roman Holiday” (1953), which won Oscars for a luminous
Audrey Hepburtn and blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. When clues point in several directions, the team splits
into unusual duos – Weller and Roman, Jane and Zapada and Patterson
and Reade.

“The 100,” 9
p.m., CW. Like “Game of Thrones,” this isn't one of those shows
that sputters in neutral. It has major plot twists and is willing to
kill much-loved characters; we're reminded of that with this strong
hour. We're also reminded that it has a bizarre habit of making
everyone self-destructive. “What if (this) is all we are –
torture, kill, destroy?” someone finally asks, in the midst of
high-stakes crises.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Cotton is moving out of the house, after Carlotta (Queen
Latifah) refused to accept the fact that her son is transitioning
into her daughter. Also, Carlotta's beauty salon has been thrown into
chaos by the killing of Simone's rapist foaster father.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. For Phil and Jay, the property-management scheme may
fai. And Gloria's gift – an in-office spa treatment – comes at
the worst time, after Claire ordered budget cuts.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. On jury duty, Dre feels compelled to give extra
attention to a young black man who clearly seems guilty.

“Doubt,” 10
p.m., CBS. This second episode, like the first, has great characters,
strong monologs, brief humor ... and weak court cases. The main one
-- a married couple having sex, despite her Alzheimer's disease –
lacks challenges, drama or even a strong prosecutor.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Masters,” 8-10 p.m., PBS.

Maya Angelou's
sprawling life covered all the extremes. She was a powerful speaker
with, Bill Clinton said, “the voice of God”; she was also mute
for five childhood years. She was a poet, gifted at arts and
intellect; she also was an imposing physical figure, a six-foot-tall
Calypso dancer.

She was a city kid
from St. Louis and Oakland ... a country kid from Stamps, Ark. ...
an artist in Harlem ... a teacher and social leader in Ghana. She was
reluctant to write an autobiographical books – then wrote seven of
them, plus 32 other books. It was a great 86 years, beautifully
profiled here.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Most weeks, this
terrific show juggles six lives, two eras, several stories. But
tonight it focuses – firmly and powerfully – on William, played
with quiet perfection by Ron Cephas Jones.

He's in late-stage
cancer, his son (the superb Sterling K. Brown) has just recovered
from an anxiety attack, but now they've decided on a road trip.
They'll go back to Memphis, William's home town, and gather memories.
Done with subtlety and skill, the result is deeply moving.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “New Girl,” 8 p.m., Fox.

At first, this
clever series was about four loftmates who didn't really want to be
grown-ups. But now Schmidt is married, Winston is engaged and Jess is
about to become a school principal.

Naturally, this
sends her into panic mode. A road trip -- and a major crisis --
follows. A second story (involving Winston and pranks) is so-so, but
there are hilarious moments as Jess crumbles.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Detour” season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
TBS.

All of life is a
detour, it seems. In the first season, the family took a disastrous
road trip while Nate (Jason Jones) kept secret the fact that he'd
lost his job. Viewers also learned that his wife (Natalie Zea) has
bigger secrets ... including lots of alternate identities and
criminal links.

Now life detours to
New York and more trouble ... including people who seem to be living
in their apartment. Like “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” (10:30
p.m. Wednesdays), this was created by Bee and her husband, Jones.
“Full Frontal” is brilliant; “Detour” is inconsistent, but
has great moments.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. You were wondering what skills Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) would
bring? Tonight, he teaches the art of pickpocketing, Also, Bishop has
new hope to avenging Qasim's murder.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 9 p.m., ABC. Heather Locklear guests as Sarah, the ex-wife
of Honey's husband. After accidentally befriending her, Jessica tries
to soothe the rift between Sarah and Honey.

“The Real
O'Neals,” 9:30, ABC. As Shannon's confirmation nears, things may be
moving too quickly between her mom and Vice-Principal Murray ... and
between her brother and Brett ... and maybe even between her father
and a hot ex-babysitter.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. This hour focuses on Dr. Wade, played by
the terrific CCH Pounder. A streeetcar slaying re-opens a painful
case from her past.

“Imposters,” 10
p.m., Bravo. At first, this was simple: Maddie seduced and bilked
guys; two of them chased after her. But they soon had their own scams
... which they're bad at; also, they met another of Maddie's exes –
this time a woman, Now Maddie may be falling for the mysterious
Patrick.

“The Pop Game”
debut, 10:02 p.m., Lifetime, rerunning at 11:04. This has producer
Timbaland coach five aspiring pop stars, with occasional help from
Macy Gray, Nelly Furtado, Jordin Sparks and more.