TV column for Sunday, July 27



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Separated by almost a century, two wonderfully eccentric
writers combine for a tangled tale.


One is Agatha Christie, whose 1927 “The Big Four” is full of
odd twists, including (it seems) the death of Hercule Poirot, the master crime-solver.
The other is Mark Gatiss, who has written some terrific episodes of “Sherlock”
(in which he plays the detective’s brother) and “Doctor Who.” He’s adapted Christie’s
tale into a story that’s often overwrought, yet always interesting.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Manhattan” debut, 9-10:15 p.m., WGN
America.


In the 1940s, some of America’s smartest people have moved
to a sad stretch of New Mexican desert. They’ve brought spouses, kids and idealism.
They know their work has something to do with the world war; most don’t know
it’s a race to build a super bomb before the Nazis do.


This is a complex story for casual TV viewing, but stick
with it. There are human stories about the scientists – all fictional, except
for Robert Oppenheimer – and their families. And there’s the rich direction of
Thomas Schlamme (“West Wing”), who brings a bleak-but-optimistic world to life.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX.


This intriguing hybrid juggles two forms: It’s partly a
global thriller, a medical mystery that could see humanity destroyed; and it’s
partly just a gruesome and gory horror tale.


Originally, only four people had survived whatever virus
rippled through an airliner. One was the pilot, but he’s deteriorating; now Centers
for Disease Control doctors try desperately to keep him alive. Meanwhile, a
Holocaust survivor, familiar with devastation, tries to stop this from
spreading.


Other choices include:


“The Simpsons,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. The first rerun finds
Bart cheating to win a school race. The second sees Homer the hero, delivering
a baby in an elevator.


“Unforgettable,” 9 p.m., CBS. A Coast Guard officer was
killed after being thrown out of a restaurant by a celebrity chef. Also, some
explosives are missing. Carrie tries to link these mismatched events.


“Reckless,” 10 p.m., CBS. The show’s primary story – the
firing of a policewoman who says she was drugged before appearing in a sex tape
– continues; tonight, the case creates a moral dilemma for Knox, who may run
for mayor. Meanwhile, Jamie and Roy, opponents on that case, link on another.


“Gunslingers,” 10 p.m., American Heroes Channel. Billy the
Kid’s story has been told – and mis-told – often, including in the movie “The
Left Handed Gun.” (The Kid wasn’t left-handed, this interesting hour says; the
only photo of him was a reversed image.) He was befriended by a rancher whose
horse he tried to steal. When the rancher was killed by a corrupt sheriff,
retaliation began; so did some epic escapes.


“Falling Skies,” 10:01 p.m., TNT. At last, Tom is back with
his family and his rebel unit. Then he faces fresh trouble, when Lexi has a
medical crisis.


“The Lottery,” 10:01 p.m., Lifetime. Last week’s opener
found the government taking control in a world that’s suddenly unable to re-produce.
A scientist saw her breakthrough project seized; a widower saw his son Elvis –
one of few surviving children – taken. Now Elvis faces a medical crisis.   


TV column for Saturday, July 26



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Blacklist,”
10 p.m., NBC.

The last few reruns have shown
viewers what Liz doesn’t realize: Her husband wasn’t framed; he really is a foreign
spy, deeply planted. Tonight, she has a shot at finding out.


That part of this rerun is tense and
taut and well-crafted. The main story – centering on a young computer hacker –
is lame, but the secondary one will keep us watching.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Agents of
SHIELD,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.


After loaning its Tuesday slot to
summer reality shows, “SHIELD” has been scarce lately. It will be back in the
fall, though, and here are a pair of reruns.


The first rerun sees the team on
what may be a death-bound train, searching for the Clairvoyant. The second has
Coulson racing to rescue Skye. Guest spots? The first has a brief role for Stan
Lee, 91, creator of top Marvel characters; the second has a larger one for Bill
Paxton. 


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Shark films, 5
p.m. to 5 a.m., Syfy.


We’re only four days from “Sharknado
2: The Second One,” which is weird and goofy and sometimes fun. To get us in
the mood, here’s a six-film marathon.


First, we see Mega Shark fight
“Giant Octopus” (2009) at 5 p.m., “Crocosaurus” (2011) at 7 p.m. and a robotic
government creation in the new “Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark” at 9. There’s more
-- “2 Headed Shark Attack” (2012) at 11 p.m., “Malibu Shark Attack” (2009) at 1
a.m. and “Jersey Shore Shark Attack” (2012) at 3.


Other choices include:


“48 Hours,” 8 and 10 p.m., CBS. In a change, there are two
episodes – the first one new, the second one not – sandwiching the comedies.


“Cedar Cove,” 8 p.m., Hallmark. Last week’s season-opener
saw Eric’s girlfriend rushed to the hospital with pregnancy complications.
Tonight, Jack and Olivia react to an adoption plan; also, Maryellen tries to
clear John, but finds herself in a criminal’s scheme.


“Bad Teacher,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., CBS. Meredith figures she
can save face by slyly attaching her 30
th-birthday to someone else’s
party; the tough part is keeping the rich people from her old life away from
the teachers in her new one. In the second, there are complications from her
ex-husband (Steven Weber) and Principal Carl’s ex-wife (Niecy Nash).


“Power,” 9 p.m., Starz. Setting up next week’s
season-finale, we learn who’s been ordering the attacks.


“Almost Royal,” 10 and 10:30 p.m., BBC America. First, these
siblings (royal and fictional) visit Nashville, where Poppy again feels she’ll
find stardom. Then a rerun sees them in Washington, D.C.


“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Andrew Garfield
hosts this rerun, with music by Coldplay.


TV column for Friday, July 25



TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “24” finale rerun, 9 p.m., Fox.


Let’s credit Fox for livening the TV scene. It salvaged “24”
after a three-year break … squashed a saving-the-world story into 12 busy hours
(instead of 24) … and then gave it a rare spring-summer run.


Now it gives us one more chance to see the finale: This
started with a plot to seize American drones, creating tragedies in London and
nudging the world toward war. Jack Bauer tries to prevent this, aided by Kate,
the CIA agent; Chloe, the tech whiz; and Audrey, the president’s daughter.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.


This rerun focuses on Chi McBride, who joined the show this
year as police Capt. Lou Grover.


His friend has disappeared, shortly after possibly
committing a double murder; McGarrett helps search for him. Meanwhile, Kono
(Grace Park) continues her search for Adam.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: Movies, 8 p.m., cable.


A good night for Hollywood-style fun is led by “Men in Black”
(1997) on AMC, repeating at 10:01 p.m. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones try to
control the outer-space aliens the government has captured.


There’s another comedy, with Mike Myers reviving his Austin
Powers character for “Goldmember” (2002) on VH1. And there’s “Transformers:
Dark of the Moon” (2011), a Michael Bay adventure with Shia LeBeouf joining a
race to salvage techno-wreckage on the moon.


Other choices include:


“MasterChef,” 8 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of Monday’s episode,
the 13 remaining chefs compete against the judges, cooking Alaskan king salmon.
Then each must prepare a dish using a judge’s favorite ingredient.


“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 8 p.m., CBS. In this
rerun, a homeless man died after having a big winning streak in a small casino.


“Girl Meets World,” 8:30 p.m., Disney. This likable-enough
series finds Cory and Topanga (of “Boy Meets World”) married. Tonight, he frets
when their teen daughter would rather go to a dance than continue their annual
tradition of riding the Coney Island roller-coaster.


“The Mark Twain Prize,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Here’s a rerun of the annual comedy prize, presented in 2010 to Tina Fey.
Presenters include other “Weekend Update” people (Jimmy Fallon, Amy Poehler,
Seth Meyers), their boss (Lorne Michaels) and more Fey colleagues from “Saturday
Night Live” (Tracy Morgan, Fred Armisen) and “30 Rock” (Alec Baldwin, Jane
Krakowski). Also, Steve Martin, Jon Hamm, Steve Carell, Jennifer Hudson and
Betty White.


Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. When a young girl disappears
after school, Danny recalls a similar case he failed to solve, years ago. Also
in this rerun, his dad, the police commissioner, battles the inspector general (Bebe
Neuwirth) over a program that lets him oversee intelligence officers abroad.


“Crossbones,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. With few allies on this
pirate island, Lowe (the British spy) is in trouble. The danger builds when
Nenna plans an escape and Balfour makes a perilous alliance.


TV column for Thursday, July 24



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Welcome to Sweden,” 9:01 p.m., NBC.

Life in Sweden is perplexing, Bruce (Greg Poehler) finds. He
wants to talk to his neighbors; that’s not the Swedish way. Also, he wants his
apartment to have things that are quirky and mismatched and maybe even
colorful; his Swedish girlfriend prefers sparse and sleek and (especially)
white.


This comes from Poehler’s real-life experience moving there.
His sister Amy produces “Welcome” and appears briefly (with Audrey Plaza) in
this clever third episode, which is much better than the second.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Black Box” finale, 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.


This has almost everything – a gifted star (Kelly Reilly),
an Oscar-winning co-star (Vanessa Redgrave), a story of a bright and beautiful
neurologist who saves other people, but can’t control her bipolar mind.


Still, viewers have never warmed up to it and now the show
is ending. In tonight’s first hour, she claims that her medicine doesn’t work
and that she has an important Harvard presentation. In the second, she faces
the aftershocks at work and is nudged toward admitting her family secrets.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Sixties,” 9 p.m., CNN, and “NY
Med,” 10 p.m., ABC.


Here are two documentary series with much in common: They are
well-made and richly human; they also have suffered from their networks’ habit
of switching episodes. Now “Sixties” has its space-race hour, originally scheduled
for last week; “NY Med” has some warm, human stories.


We meet one woman who has, in her late 60s,has  met the man she calls “the love of my life”;
that life is imperiled by a torn aorta. We meet Rita Respass-Brown, a vibrant
woman who is saved by her son’s kidney donation. And we see Dr. Debbie Yi’s
personal anguish, with a patient who had a miscarriage.


Other choices include:


“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. For a moment there,
Sheldon felt the joy of his accidental science discovery. Now that it’s been
disproven, this funny rerun finds him immersed shame.


“Project Runway,” 8 p.m. and 9-10:31 p.m., Lifetime. First
is a special, showing the selection of this year’s contestants. Then there’s
one more audition, before each survivor designs a spring item.


“Rectify,” 9 p.m., Sundance. An early scene has Daniel – who
spent 19 years in prison for a murder he may not have committed – speaking at a
stranger’s funeral. That moment shows how quietly powerful “Rectify” can be.
The rest is also involving, as he disappears on his mother’s birthday.  


“Working the Engels,” 9:30 p.m., NBC. Jenna – the responsible
one, complete with law degree – realizes she has no friends. Then she finds one,
after her brother gives their grandmother’s ring to a stripper.


“Last Comic Standing,” 10 p.m., NBC. The final six comedians
face a fresh challenge – perform at a comedy roast for Gilbert Gottfried.


“Married,” 10 p.m., FX. A too-small shower leads to a
too-big veterinarian bill and a visit to a place with a mega-shower and … Well,
it’s a twisty and funny story, an improvement from the show’s poor opener.


“You’re the Worst,” 10:30 p.m., FX. Last week’s opener
showed the wonders that can happen when two nasty, acerbic people have a
sex-only relationship. In this good follow-up, they actually try a date.


TV column for Wednesday, July 23



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “America’s Got Talent” (NBC) or “So You
Think You Can Dance” (Fox), 8-10 p.m.

The summer’s big performance competitions are in trim-down
mode now. “Talent” wraps up its brief “boot camp” and announces its final 48 …
which is triple the “Dance” crew.


Last week, “Dance” trimmed to 16, dropping Jourdan Epstein
(one of this season’s two ballerinas) and Stanley Glover, a contemporary
dancer. Tonight that trims to 14,; first, Lucy Hale (a “Pretty Little Liars”
star) sings “Lie a Little Better,” from her debut album.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Divide,” 9 p.m., WE; and “The
Bridge,” 10 p.m., WE.


Suddenly, summer Wednesdays have become a great time for
drama. That grew last week, with the superb “Divide” start: One man was
executed, shortly before DNA evidence arrived clearing him. Now an intern
obsesses on the other man convicted in the case, while the district attorney
scrambles.


Then “The Bridge” mixes great drama with, unfortunately, excessive
gore. Tonight’s focus is on a shunned Amish woman who is cold, sexual and
lethal; the result is nasty, but well-crafted.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail”
debut, 12:30 a.m., Comedy Central.


This is low-budget show-business – a stand-up comedy show in
a Los Angeles comic-book store. Kumail Nanjiani (a regular on “Silicon Valley”
and, previously, “Franklin and Bash”) and Jonah Ray have been hosting it for
four years. Now we get a TV version, with backstage glimpses and edited
routines.


In this opener, Nanjiani and Ray aren’t particularly funny. However,
there are great moments from Steve Agee, Dave Koechner and, especially, Neal
Brennan.


Other choices include:


“The Middle,” 8 and 9:31 p.m., ABC. Both reruns find Sue’s
life changing. In the first, she feels more at ease in high school;, now that
her big brother is in college; in the second, she might get a job and buy a
car. For Brick, however, middle school is tough; in the second episode, we learn
he’s skipping school.


“ET,” 8-11 p.m., CMT. This is, very simply, one of the
all-time great movies, perfectly blending a simple and emotional story with the
brilliant visual touch of Steven Spielberg and music of John Williams.


“Extant,” 9 p.m., CBS. In one way, Molly and her husband
(Halle Berry and Goran Visnjic) are united; they face parents’ doubts when
their android son enters school. In another, they’re divided: He asks about her
strange mood; she’s reluctant to tell him she became pregnant during a solo
space mission.


“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Secrets abound in this rerun.
Claire and Phil spy on the boys … Haley hasn’t told her family about her photography
exhibit … and Cam uses Mitchell as the scapegoat, when he wants to get out of attending
a party.


“Who Do You Think You Are?” season-opener, 9 p.m., TLC. In
its three NBC seasons, this show did genealogical work on 27 stars, from Lisa
Kudrow (who produces the show) to Spike Lee and Paula Deen. Now its second TLC
season begins; the first of six episodes traces Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the
City.”


“Taxi Brooklyn,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. A transport vehicle is
attacked, leaving two female prisoners dead and four on the loose. One of the
escapees was a witness in the murder of Cat’s father.