TV column for Thursday, Jan. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Portlandia” season-opener, 10 p.m., IFC; reruns at 1 a.m.

The good news is
that one of TV's cleverest shows is back; the bad is that this is its
final season.

For seven years,
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have offered a fond (but piercing)
satire, creating a Portland filled with wispy, artsy emotions.
Tonight's main story involves reviving an old protest band; it's
smart and has real rockers (including Henry Rollins), but kind of
one-note. Much better is a hilarious bit that embeds a live podcast
inside a police department.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Grey's Anatomy” return, 8 p.m., ABC.

For two months, ABC
had a giant hole on its best night. It filled it (rather shakily)
with cooking and specials and such. But now all three Thursday shows
are back.

That starts here,
with a search for whoever hacked the hospital's computer system.
Also, Dr. Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) confronts her abusive
husband.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Lip Sync Battle Live,” 9-10:07 p.m., Paramount
Network.

A new cable network
arrives – sort of. Actually, Paramount is the new name for Spike;
it will keep some of Spike's shows -- “Ink Master,” “Bar
Rescue” and “Lip Sync Battle.”

Big shows are
coming: a “Waco” mini-series (Jan. 24), comedies (March 7, June
7) and “Yellowstone” -- an epic Kevin Costner series from the
“Windy River” writer-director – June 24. But the network launch
is this live “Lip Sync,” devoted to Michael Jackson's music. It
has Neil Patrick Harris, Hailee Steinfeld, Taraji Henson, Laverne Cox
and Cirque du Soleil. Other “Lip Sync” episodes rerun to 1 a.m.

Other choices
include:

“Portlandia,”
5:30-11:15 a.m., IFC. To get in the mood for the opener, we can catch
these reruns.

“The Four,” 8-10
p.m., Fox. The six-week music competition reaches its midpoint.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. While his three friends have steady romances,
Raj continues to wobble. Now he learns that his new girlfriend (Beth
Behrs of “2 Broke Girls”) is married. Walton Goggins, who played
angry guys in “Justified” and “The Shield,” plays her angry
husband.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Bonnie and Adam find wide disagreement over their wedding. Also,
Christy (Bonnie's daughter) and Patrick (Adam's brother) have trouble
setting up the mood for sex.

“Will &
Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC. A dozen years ago, Bobby Cannavale played
Vince, Will's boyfriend, for much of the season. Now he's back; Grace
tries to keep Will from making a scene at Vince's wedding.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. The first half of the final season ended with a bizarre
jolt: Under the direction of Rowan (Olivia's father), the pregnant
Quinn was kidnapped. Now her friends scramble to find her.

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. The second half of the season begins
with Laurel and her baby clinging to life. Also, Annalise is
distraught and police probe Simon's accidental shooting.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“American Crime Story,” debut, 10 p.m., FX.

The first “ACS”
mini-series brilliantly re-told a story (O.J. Simpson) we thought we
already knew. Now this one takes a less-known event and fills it with
rich human details.

It starts with the
Miami slaying of designer Gianni Versace, then flashes back to its
roots and ahead to the manhunt. We meet Versace, his life partner
(Ricky Martin) and more. We meet the killer (Darren Criss), who's
both a charmer and a habitual liar, longing for the Versace-style
life he couldn't have.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Blacklist,” 8 p.m., NBC.

Red (James Spader)
has faced some menacing criminals so far. But now -- for the show's
100th episode -- his target is played by Nathan Lane.

Yes, Lane's usually
out for laughs; five of his six Emmy nominations and five of his six
Tony nominations have been for comedies. But now he plays a cunning
manipulator, intent on regaining his family fortune. Meanwhile, Liz
(Megan Boone) studies one of the most dangerous people on Red's list.

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

First, we should
respect any teen show that uses the words “Dickensian,”
“Byzantine” and “Lovecraftian” in the first six minutes.
We're far above the “like, you know, man” turf.

Beyond that,
however, please note that the rest of the show is sheer nonsense.
Early on, the mayor – with a bribe on the way – arbitrarily
closes one of the high schools, forcing enemies to merge. “Schools
don't just close overnight,” one person says, offering the voice of
reason and of viewers. Things build from there; smart references are
entangled in absurd plot developments.

Other choices
include:

“The X-Files,” 8
p.m., Fox. Sure, it's nice to have a doppelganger – an exact
duplicate of yourself. But not when the thing keeps stalking you,
making you hang yourself or crash into trees and such. That's what
happens here, in an episode smartly written by Chris Carter and
sharply directed by Kevin Hooks. There's strong work by Karin Konoval
as Little Judy Poundstoe and Little Chucky Poundstone.

“Grown-ish,” 8
p.m., Freeform. Zoey makes a deal to tutor s basketball star. Friends
suspect her interest goes beyond academics and athletics.

“Alone Together,”
8:30, Freeform. Last week's amiable opening introduced two likably
average people, in a California world of sculpted beauties. Now
Esther takes Benji on a birthday jaunt.

“9-1-1,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Amid the big cases – including an emergency at a kids'
birthday party – the people fight personal problems. Abby (Connie
Britton) faces a decision involving her mother's descent into
Alzheimer's disease; Athena copes with a tragedy that's too close to
home.

“Dynasty,” 9
p.m., CW. Fallon's giddy life gets more serious when her birthday
gives her control of her trust. Also, Cristal's attempt to mend her
marriage runs into a fresh obstacle.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. After a night in a shaky neighborhood, Luke is missing.
Also, Chris Geere (“You're the Worst”) plays Alex's professor,
trying to give Haley a piece of his mind.

“Match Game,” 10
p.m., ABC. The emphasis, as usual, is on laughs. Panelists are
Caroline Rhea, Mario Cantone, Ana Gasteyer, Ron Funches, Cheryl Hines
and Adam Pally.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Black Lightning” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

For years, Jefferson
Pierce unleashed rage and lightning (literally) on the crooks in his
town. That made little dent on crime, but did huge damage to his
soul, his psyche and his family life. He set it aside and focused on
being a good dad and a great school principal.

But now, nine years
later, crime has intruded on his daughters. Despite his ex-wife's
warnings, he may return to his days as Black Lightning. The result is
surprisingly well-made; like CBS' “S.W.A.T.”, it manages to
juggle boom-bang action with a strong sense of community and black
lives that matter.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“LA to Vegas,” 9 p.m., Fox.

For decades, actors
Dylan McDermott and Durmot Mulroney have been confused for each
other. There was even a “Saturday Night Live” sketch about it.
Now, for the first time, they share an episode ... playing, of
course, long-time enemies.

Captain Dave
(McDermott) is injured, so the more-successful Captain Steve
(Mulroney) steps in. The result isn't as funny as the show's first
two episodes, but does have its moments.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS.

Quietly brilliant,
rarely displaying emotion, Alfred Loomis seemed to do it all. He was
a big-time lawyer, then a Wall Street millionaire. In his spare time,
he worked on inventions, ranging from ultrasound to the emerging
field of microwaves and radar.

Then came a
remarkable move: Desperate, British scientists decided to share all
their secrets with the U.S. That brought key breakthroughs in radar.
Loomis financed and led a hurried operation that changed the course
of World War II. It's a fascinating story that's been mostly untold.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS” and
“NCIS: New Orleans,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the
crossover story from a year ago. Abby's think-tank is compromised and
a theoretical terror playbook is missing. In the second hour, McGee
and Torres head to New Orleans in search of the playbook.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. In the middle of a tough case – an escaped patient
went mysteriously mad and was killed – the cops have personal
problems: Riggs' anger explodes again; Murtaugh and his wife face big
decisions about their son.

“This Is Us,” 9
p.m., NBC. Last week's hour (at Kevin's rehab) brought a sort of
emotional exorcism. Now the siblings return to day-to-day life: Kate
shops for her wedding dress, Kevin tries a new lifestyle, Randall
explores the past of his birth father. In flashbacks, their parents
take them to the mall.

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. Dre is running a campaign to prepare black parents for
“the talk” -- the warning they give children for the real-world
biases they'll face.

“Modern Family,”
9:30 p.m., ABC. In a surprising move, ABC has canceled “The Mayor”
and inserted reruns. In this one, Jay's friend Shorty visits ... but
spends more time with Gloria.

“Chicago Med,”
10 p.m., NBC. Doctors struggle with decisions about a baby born with
an addiction.

“This Time Next
Year” debut, 10:02 p.m., Lifetime, rerunning at 11:03. Cat Deeley
introduces a show that will follow people's year-long efforts to
remake their lives. One woman hopes to lose 100 pounds, another plans
to be a bodybuilder. One man plans to give a kidney to his fiance;
another hopes to walk again. And a couple tries to overcome 15 years
of infertility.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Selma” (2015), 7 and 10 p.m., FX, and more.

Here is the perfect
movie for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with a powerful portrait of
King's historic Alabama march. It won an Oscar for best song
(“Glory”) and was nominated for best-picture. The Golden Globes
also nominated director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo.

Also at 7, the Oprah
Winfrey Network has the excellent “The Butler” (2013); both films
have Winfrey in support. And Turner Classic Movies includes “Sounder”
(1972) at 4 p.m. ET, Sidney Poitier's “Patch of Blue” (1965) and
“A Warm December” (1972) at 6 and 8 and “Daughters of the Dust”
(1991) at 10.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Gifted,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

In a worthy effort
to have fewer reruns, Fox has shows sharing timeslots. Next week,
this slot goes to “The Resident” (after its Sunday debut); first,
“Gifted” wraps its season with a two-hour burst.

Dr. Campbell (Garret
Dillahunt) attends an anti-mutant summit, hoping to take his program
national; the mutants try a dangerous mission to stop him. Meanwhile,
their own headquarters is attacked.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens: I Am Not Your Negro,” 9-10:30
p.m., PBS.

In 1979, James
Baldwin – the brilliant novelist and essayist – described his new
book. It would be a personal account of the lives and deaths of
Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. When he died eight
years later (at 63), however, he had finished only 30 pages.

Now filmmaker Raoul
Peck has, in a way, completed a film version of the book. He mixes
Baldwin's words (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), with news footage and
more. The result – an Oscar-nominee for best documentary feature –
is beautifully crafted.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: NAACP Image Awards, 9 p.m., TV One, with red-carpet
at 8.

Anthony Anderson
hosts a star-stuffed night. Three movies -- “Get Out,” “Girls
Trip” and “Marshall” -- have five nominations apiece. They're
up for best film, alongside “Detroit” and “Roman J. Israel.”

Chadwick Boseman –
who plays Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” -- is up for
entertainer of the year. He faces musicians Jay-Z, Bruno Mars and
Chance the Rapper, plus Issa Rae (the “Insecure” creator and
star) and Ava DuVernay, the “Queen Sugar” producer whose “Selma”
also airs tonight.

Other choices
include:

“The
Detectorists,” any time, www.acorn.tv.
Slow and droll (those are British traits) this is also fairly clever
(another British trait). It follows the lives of two chaps who spend
their spare time with metal detectors. Lance (Toby Jones) learns that
his favorite turf has been sold. Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and his wife
(Rachael Stirling) have financial trouble and must stay with her
mother (Diana Rigg, who is, indeed, Stirling's mother). The result is
fun, in its own quiet way.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. Reign continues her rampage and Supergirl – in a
dreamlike state – can 't help. Mon-El asks Brainiac to retrieve
her; soon, the Legion of Superheroes arrives.

“Better Late Than
Never,” 9 p.m., NBC. In Barcelona, the guys range from lingering
lunches to tango dances. Terry Bradshaw and Henry Winkler also find
moments of nudity.

“Chain of
Command,” 9 p.m., National Geographic. Put this one under good
intentions. The idea is to show the lives of the key people (generals
and a few sergeants) who lead the military. The result? These people
seem steady and sturdy ... but not particularly interesting.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. Trapped inside a bunker, the team needs help from Tony's
ex-girlfriend and her husband, who is Toby's nemesis.

“The Good Doctor,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, Shaun skipped work and had a road trip
with his neighbor Lea. Now he's at the hospital – where the surgery
to separate twins falters – with a decision.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Masterpiece: Victoria” season-opener, 9-11 p.m., PBS.

The first season saw
an ill-prepared 18-year-old become Queen Victoria, ruler of an
empire. Now she's 21, with the first of her nine children. Her
husband and aides want to shield her from the outside world ... which
has big problems. British troops are trying a futile retreat from
Afghanistan.

Richly crafted,
“Victoria” gives us a queen who tries hard – sometimes failing.
To help the domestic silk producers, she holds a ball in which
everyone wears silk. The image – England's one-percenters, dressing
expensively during a time of poverty – is brutal for her image ...
but elegant for TV viewers.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Family Guy,” 9 p.m. Fox,

In its 16tth season,
“Family Guy” trails only “The Simpsons,” as the
longest-lasting half-hour comedy in TV history. Now here's its 300th
episode.

We expect something
substantial; soon, a major character has literally ripped another to
shreds. (Did we mention that one is a dog and the other is a teddy
bear?) That leads to a mixture of emotion and goofiness. There's an
erratic, stop-and-start nature, with enough fairly good moments to
hold us.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Trophy,” 9 p.m. ET and PT, CNN, barring breaking
news.

Back in Teddy
Roosevelt's day, big-game hunting was a two-way challenge. Today,
this well-detailed documentary says, people can buy vacations that
seem to include a sure kill. They can buy four of the “big five”
-- lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant – for $130,000; the fifth
(rhino) is $350,000.

Some want more; one
woman groans that her husband won't let her bag a giraffe. “He says
it's too expensive and we don't have room in our house.” There are
alternate proposals, including one to outsmart poachers by ranching
rhinos, removing a horn (that's $250,000 in Vietnam) every two years.

Other choices
include:

Football, 1 p.m. ET,
CBS and 4:30 p.m., Fox. The Steelers host the Jaguars and then the
Vikings host the Saints. Next week, today's winners face Saturday's
winners, for spots in the Super Bowl.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Feeling that the end of the world is near, Mr. Burns has
everyone tested to see who's worthy of being saved. Among the
Simpsons, there are surprises.

“Ride Along”
(2014), 9-11 p.m., NBC. With a hole in its schedule, NBC inserts a
Kevin Hart comedy.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. In what's called the “winter finale,”
Karl (Fred Armisen) – who was in prison when the virus spread -- is
introduced to the rest of the group.

“Madame
Secretary,” 10 p.m., CBS. Here's a familiar-sounding story: When
the president threatens Russia with military force, officials worry
about his mental state.

“The Chi,” 10
p.m., CBS. Last week ended with a jolt: Coogie, a charismatic kid,
had found a teen's body. He stole the shoes and necklace ... and was
mis-identified as the killer. Ronnie, the victim's dad, threatened
and accidentally killed him. That was seen by Kevin ... who told
Coogie's brother Brandon. Now Ronnie begins to grasp his mistake as
Det. Cruz has two killings to straighten out.

“Divorce” and
“Crashing” season-openers, 10 and 10:30 p.m., HBO. As the the
second seasons begin, Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) sees her divorce
become official. Then Pete Holmes – a good-natured, devout guy –
starts to doubt his faith after a wild night with famed atheist Penn
Jillette.