TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS.

In zoos, otters seem
to be pure fun and frolic. But in the wild, this excellent
documentary says, they're remarkably skilled as predators and as
survivors.

They can run 18
miles an hour on land or cover 25 miles a day in the water. They can
stay underwater for four minutes, covering 1,300 feet. Their bodies
form a torpedo shape, blessed with a powerful tail, a flexible spine
and an underwater sense of smell. That's all encased in fur that's so
warm that otters were hunted for coats. Fortunately – for them and
for us -- they survived.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY
II: “The Goldbergs,” 8 p.m., ABC.

For four-plus
seasons, this has been under the radar – no Emmy nominations, scant
attention, adequate ratings. But it has persisted, offering a fairly
clever look at family life in the 1980s.

Tonight's episode
does double-duty – it's the 100th one overall and it
starts a night of four Halloween tales. When Adam and his girlfriend
disagree about costumes, his dad suggests his own approach – just
give the lady whatever she wants. This backfires for the teens –
and creates aftershocks for the parents.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Shannara Chronicles,” 10 p.m., Spike.

Not long ago,
fantasy epics seemed possible only in movie theaters or on HBO. Not
any more; you'll find them on ABC, CW and Fox ... and on basic-cable
shows like this. Based on Terry Brooks sprawling novels, it was
filmed in New Zealand, which is “Lord of the Rings” turf.

Allanon has been
captured and Wil has a rescue plan – albeit a bad one. This hour
continues TV's wretched obsession with torture. It also has so-so
dialog delivered by varied actors, some of them unskilled. But the
finish is big, brash and exciting; for a few minutes, Spike is truly
epic.

Other choices
include:

World Series, 8 p.m.
ET, Fox; preview at 7:30. The Dodgers host the Astros, in the second
game of the best-of-seven series. It's the 19th World
Series for the Dodgers ... and the second for the Astros.

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. By now, this once-pleasant town is in panic. Moose and
Midge were attacked by a gunman, Miss Grundy was killed ... maybe by
the same guy who shot Archie's dad. Now Archie has a gun and an
attitude; his pal Jughead is struggling in a gang-infested school.
This sound excessive, but it's salvaged by strong acting, solid
dialog and skillful directing.

“Doctor Zhivago”
(1965), 8-11:30 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. On a big screen, a
half-century ago, this was a triumph. Still, modern viewers might
want a brisker film. At 7:30 p.m. is “Honey, I Shrunk the Kid”
(1989) on CMT. At 8 are “Jurassic World” (2015) on FX and
“Poltergeist” (1982) on FXX.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Phil and Claire still want a big-deal Halloween, but
they can't find much interest. Also, Mitchell and Cam are strained by
the slow remodeling of their kitchen.

“The Story of Us,”
9 p.m ET., National Geographic. For an hour about love, this gets dark;
one story involves warf ... another has ritual whipping ... a third
sees orphans being unattended and unloved. Still, two other stories
perk us up; one views arranged marriage, the other has warm help for
the homeless.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. The president must win back public
confidence, after a senator lies about their conversation. Meanwhile,
Hannah and the British agent probe an international murder.

“You're the
Worst,” 10 p.m., FXX, rerunning at 10:34. In a fairly good episode,
people are dealing with the past. That's toughest for Lindsay, whose
mom (an actress) is self-absorbed and frustrating.

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 24


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

In the final moments
last week, we learned that Kate is pregnant. Tonight comes another
last-minute revelation, this time about her father and his family.

That's in an hour
that keeps teetering toward disaster. After refusing knee surgery,
Kevin is desperate for drugs; his adoptive brother Randall is
floundering in his new role as a foster dad. Add flashbacks of their
dad's troubles and you have shattering moments ... which – with its
usual skill -- “This Is Us” manages to make deep and stirring.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Middle” (and more), 8 p.m., ABC.

This is something
ABC does best: In the final week before Halloween, it gives us blocks
of situation-comedy episodes. Most are light, holiday ones; most are
quite funny.

That two-night
string starts with this show's eighth and final Halloween episode.
Frankie (Patricia Heaton) learns a woman died in this house, 50 years
ago; now she and Brick are convinced it was murder and try to solve
it. Meanwhile, Axl feels Sue is keeping him from alone time with
Lexie.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Flash,” 8 p.m., CW.

Fantasy shows don't
always have to be deadly serious. This episode is mostly silly.

We meet Becky,
charmingly played by Sugar Lyn Beard. She used to have nothing but
bad luck; then she became a meta named Hazard, whose good luck goes
bad for others. It's a fun notion, alongside some serious moments
involving Wally West and the brief return of Dr. Wells (Tom
Cavanagh).

Other choice
include:

“World War Z”
(2013), 7:30 p.m., and “American Horror Story,” 10 p.m., FX.
Here's the flip side of all that sitcom fun for Halloween. Brad Pitt
fights vampires; then terror consumes a Midwestern town.

World Series, 8 p.m.
ET, Fox. The Los Angeles Dodgers host the start of the best-of-seven
series.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m. to midnight, FXX. For decades, TV has had some of its
cleverest moments with the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.
(Also, alas, some of its messiest; this year's episode was gory and
dim-witted.) Now we get marathons of those episodes today, Thursday
and Friday, and then Sunday, Monday and a 13-hour Halloween splurge
Tuesday.

“Hit the Road”
and “Loudermilk,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., DirecTV/AT&T. Here are the
second episodes of two mismatched shows. “Road” remains deeply
disappointing, giving us no reason to like anyone involved;
“Loudermilk,” however, is a fun comedy-drama about an acerbic
loner, grasping for a life.

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. While the other ABC comedies go for Halloween, “Black-ish”
is the exception: Its focus is on game night and an intense round of
Monopoly.

“Legends of
Tomorrow,” 9 p.m., CW. Now that Amaya is back, Stein tries to
diagnose her condition. Also, the team manages to cause trouble
(again), while chasing a rogue time-traveler in the future,

“CSI: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Sebastian has lab skills, but he's
suspended after questions about his actions during a foot chase. Now
his colleagues scramble to clear him.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Next week, we go
back to the norm – lots of fairly pleasant situation comedies on
Monday, but none that is exceptional. “Big Bang” -- TV's best
sitcom – will return to Thursdays.

So this week, let's
savor its final Monday: Sheldon and Raj are upset when Amy and Howard
work together; they want Bernadette to intervene. And surrounded by
geniuses, Penny often seems like the wisest person; tonight, she
learns a new strategy for dealing with Sheldon.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Lucifer” and “The Gifted,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

As the Halloween
season stuffs us with make-believe, we could settle in for a couple
offbeat hours. First, Chloe the cop finds herself working with two
guys; she's investigating a high-end reform program with Lucifer and
questioning the feelings Lt. Pierce (Tom Welling) may have for her.

Then the mutants
plan to attack Sentinel Services, the government group that's been
hunting them. To prepare, Eclipse seeks out a friend with a dark
past; also, the siblings try to combine their powers.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Tim Burton marathon, Freeform.

Three of Hollywood's
top talents keep combining. There's Burton, the producer-director ...
Johnny Depp, the consummate actor ... and Danny Elfman, who composes
wonderfully odd music.

Freeform has their
brilliant “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) at 11 a.m. and their
disappointing “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) at 1:35 p.m. Others
vary widely (often due to script problems), but are interesting.
“Dark Shadows” (2012) is 4:10 p.m., with “Sleepy Hollow”
(1999) at 6:50 and then animation -- “The Nightmare Before
Christmas” (1993) at 9:20 and “Frankenweenie” (2012) at
midnight.

Other choices
include:

“Halloween”
(1978), 9 a.m. and 9:30 p.m., AMC. On a nothing budget, John
Carpenter created a scary classic that others kept trying to copy.
Jamie Lee Curtis returned for the pretty good “Halloween II”
(1981), at 7 p.m., and “Halloween H20” (1998) at 5. Other sequels
are at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m.

“The Voice”
(NBC) or “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC), 8-10:01 p.m. NBC has the
second half of its “battle” round tonight and Tuesday, with 12
pairs of teammates trying to top each other. Meanwhile, ABC – which
ousted actress Sasha Pieterse last week – has dances that symbolize
movie genres.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. Three decades after starring in the “Supergirl” movie,
Helen Slater has been playing Supergirl's adoptive mother. Now it's
time for her other daughter Alex (a bio-engineer, like her mom) to
marry Maggie, a cop. First, Maggie tires to reach out to her father,
played by Carlos Bernard.

“Valor,” 9 p.m.,
CW. As the secrets keep gnawing at her, Nora turns more and more to
vices. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Ian and the offbeat CIA agent Thea
ponder the next step in a rescue.

“Me, Myself and
I,” 9:30, CBS. At 14, Alex must perform in a talent show. At 40, he
considers tracking down his biological father. And at 40, he finally
meets the boyfriend of his one true love.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. Is it possible to have a virtual heist, taking virtual
hostages? Apparently; that happens tonight, when the team visits a
tech convention.

“The Good Doctor,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. On a mass level, doctors race to learn why a
maybe-deadly allergy is sweeping through the hospital. On the
personal side, Shaun tries to understand why a patient (who resembles
his late brother) isn't being told the truth by his parents.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 22


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Halloween rough, 8 p.m., Fox, and 9 p.m., AMC.

To some people, the
Halloween season is a time for gore to hit overdrive. They'll find
lots of choices tonight ... starting, surprisingly, with “The
Simpsons.” Its annual “Treehouse of Horror” begins with fairly
messy segments, then aims for all-out revulsion in a tale of
self-cannibalism.

Then there's cable –
an “Elm Street” marathon from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Syfy ...
Dracula movies at 8 and 10 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies ... and
the big one: AMC's “The Walking Dead” starts its season at 9,
with Rick's people attacking the Saviors; that reruns at midnight and
1:36 a.m.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: Halloween gentle, everywhere.

Yes, the holiday
still has a sweet/silly side. Fox reruns Tuesday's “The Mick” (a
haunted-house party in the remains of the mansion) at 7 p.m., with a
new “Ghosted” (a monster is loose underground) at 8:30.

And cable? Freeform
has the “Addams Family” films at 5 and 7:05 p.m. ... Disney has
“Twitches Too” at 7 ... And Hallmark has its new “Good Witch”
movie at 8: After finding some artifacts, Cassie tells her daughter
the legend of a long-ago man who said a tragedy would hit the town on
some future Halloween. Then a stranger arrives, eyeing the holiday
preparations ... and bad things start to happen.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Outlander,” 8 p.m., Starz, rerunning at 9:16 and
10:32.

Romantic sagas seem
to thrive on separating the couple, but never quite like this: Jamie
and Claire have been on different continents ... and in different
centuries.

As the season
started, he was in 18th-century Scotland, a prisoner of
war after a failed rebellion against the British. She was in
20th-century Boston, raising his baby (it's a long story)
with her other husband. Now Claire is widowed and her daughter is
grown and sympathetic, urging her to go back.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Make It Out Alive,” 9 p.m., Smithsonian.

Back in 1989,
Californians were rushing home for the World Series with Oakland at
San Francisco. Then an earthquake shattered the area, killing 67
people and causing billions of dollars in damage.

The story is
skillfully told here, catching both the overall picture and some rich
human details. We hear of extreme rescues and see three personal
accounts. Honeymooners in an upscale bay area are trapped in their
home ... a young firefighter is wedged in his truck ... and a family
has its secluded “dream home” above the San Andreas Fault.
“There's a volcano under our house,” a girl says.

Other choices
include:

“Springfield of
Dreams,” times vary, Fox. Using the “Homer at the Bat” episode
as a starting point, Morgan Spurlock has crafted a documentary about
Homer Simpson's brief baseball career. It uses animation (six minutes
of it new) and experts, from Bob Costas and Joe Buck to Wade Boggs
and Aaron Judge. In areas that have a 4:05 p.m. football game, this
airs at 3; in others, it's at 4:30.

“Masterpiece: The
Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS. For now, the family's only money
comes from Larry's struggling writing career. Louisa has a scheme to
help; it doesn't go well.

“Masterpiece:
Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS. With the doctor barely surviving in a brutal
French prison, Ross tries a dangerous plan. Also, evil George pushes
a fresh political scheme.

“Ten Days in the
Valley,” 10 p.m., ABC. In last week's final moments, viewers
learned who's behind this kidnapping scheme. It's Casey – Jane's
assistant and her ex-husband's secret lover. Now that's wrapped in a
tangle of lies and addictions; this is a great episode that ends
powerfully.

“Graves”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Epix. As the ex-president works on his
memoirs, his wife begins her own campaign.

“Madam Secretary,”
10:30 p.m., CBS. As a government shutdown nears, Elizabeth scrambles
to find a way to get electricity to a Syrian refugee camp.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 21


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Watcher in the Woods,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

In this Welsh
village, no one goes in the woods. A teen girl disappeared there
once; spooky sounds emerge. Now a teen has moved there with her
family; being American, she asks a lot of questions.

That story became a
1980 Disney film that was beautifully made, but (despite reshoots)
never came up with a good ending. Here's a new version, with Anjelica
Huston in a role previously played by Bette Davis. It's again
skillfully directed – this time by Melissa Joan Hart – and kind
of scary; this time, it also has a strong ending. With one flaw (an
absurd dad character), it's a solid, Halloween-time film.

TONIGHT'S
HARD-TO-AVOID: College football, everywhere.

This is one of those
rare Saturdays when football has highjacked three of the four big
networks.

At 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
has Michigan (ranked No. 19) at Penn State (No. 2); NBC has Southern
California at Notre Dame (No. 13); at 8, Fox has Kansas at Texas
Christian (No. 4). There's much more, of course, in the daytime and
on cable.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Walking Dead: The Journey So Far,” 9-11:15
p.m., AMC.

At Halloween time,
AMC reaches zombie overload. The new “Walking Dead” season starts
Sunday; before that, the previous seasons are rerunning non-stop.

And in case you need
to do some catch-up, here's a handy help. It was taped after the
sixth season, looking back at everyhing that had happened so far.
Then stick around for the seventh-season reruns.

Other choices
include:

Animation, 2 p.m. to
midnight, FXX. Things start with Dr. Seuss' “The Lorax” (2012) at
2 p.m. The delightful “Rio” (2011) is at 4, with “Rio 2”
(2014) at 6 and “Hotel Transylvania” (2012) at 8 and 10.

More movies. At 6
p.m., the Cartoon Network has the superb “Lego Movie” (2014). If
you prefer big-budget action-adventure, there's “The Dark Knight
Rises” (2012) from 7-11 p.m. on Spike, the terrific “Avengers:
Age of Ultron” at 8 p.m. on TNT, or two films on FX-- “Guardians
of the Galaxy” (2014) at 6:30 p.m. and “Jurassic World” (2015)
at 9.

Double-features,
cable. Disney has Emma Thompson as “Nanny McPhee” (2005) at 7
p.m., with its sequel (2010) at 8:40. Freeform has “Addams Family”
(1991) at 7 and its sequel (1993) at 9:15.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun from last November, colleagues covet Tony's former
apartment. They woo the landlord – his dad, played by Robert Wagner
– to sublet it. Meanwhile, newcomer Torres (Wilmer Valderrama)
breaks protocol, when a key witness is sought by immigration people.

“The Wonder List,”
9 p.m., CNN (barring breaking news). This time, Bill Weir visits
Egypt's “sunken city of the pharoahs.”

“Dirk Gently's
Holistic Detective Agency,” 9 p.m., BBC America. We're early in the
second season of this clever show, based on books by the late Douglas
Adams. Dirk is happily reunited with Todd (Elijah Wood) and Farah; a
body that fell out of a tree traces back to one of the sheriff's old
cases.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m. ET, NBC. After starting the season with three
strong shows, “SNL” takes a break. It has a rerun tonight and a
Halloween special (built around Tom Hanks' David S. Pumpkins
character) net week. Then a new episode Nov. 5 has Larry David and
Miley Cyrus.