TV column for Sunday, Nov. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Jay Leno: The Mark Twain Prize,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Here's a 90-minute
burst of big laughs. Leno closes it wittily. First, others offer
their own comedy bits (Jerry Seinfeld's postal routine is
brilliiant), introduce “Tonight Show” clips and point barbs at
Leno.

This is someone who
still works constantly, Al Madrigal says, “because $200 million in
the bank just isn't enough.” There was that one misfire: “I just
hope PBS runs this at 11 p.m.,” Garth Brooks says, “because it's
proven no one will watch Jay at 10.” After that lone failure, Jimmy
Fallon reminds us, the network dropped Leno: “He did so much for
NBC that we have to celebrate his career on PBS.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Music Awards,” 8-11 p.m., ABC..

Most of
the night will ripple with young pop stars. There's Taylor Swift, One
Direction, Lorde, Ariana Grande, Jesse J, Charlie XCX, Sam Smith,
Imagine Dragons, Magic and 5 Seconds of Summer.

Still,
the veterans have their moments. Garth Brooks – who won and refused
the AMA's top award back in 1996 – will be shown performing in
North Carolina, on his first tour in 13 years. Jennifer Lopez will
perform “Booty” with Iggy Azalea (who leads with six
nominations). Also performing are Pitbull (who hosts), Mary J. Blige,
Fergie, Wyclef Jean and more.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Newsroom,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Beyond
all his blistering rants, we sometimes forget that writer-producer
Aaron Sorkin also creates great comedy dialog. That's on full display
early, as the FBI invades the newsroom and as a young reporter
(Alison Pill) spars with her editor (John Gallagher Jr.).

Then
things turn dead-serious. The news network's future is wobbling ....
An official delivers a scary global-warming warning .... And there's
the shabby new notion of journalists amping up stories, because they
get bonuses for more page hits. The laughs fade; no one rants as well
as Sorkin.

Other
choices include:

Red
carpet, 6-8 p.m., E. Stars look pretty for the American Music Awards.

“Christmas
in Palm Springs,” 7 and 9 p.m., UP. Here's your standard tale of
kids trying to get their parents (Patrick Muldoon and Dina Meyer)
back together at Christmastime. Alas, she's instantly unlikable, he's
intermittenly jerk-ish and it becomes hard to root for them.

“How
the Grinch Stole Christmas” (7:30 p.m.) and “The Wizard of Oz”
(1939, 8 and 10:15 p.m.), TBS. On an already-packed night, TBS reruns
two of the all-time greats for kids or grown-ups.

“Madam
Secretary,” 8:01 p.m., CBS. With a gunman outside, everyone is in
lockdown. That includes a translator who could divulge a secret about
Elizabeth; it also includes Daisy's fiance, played by Sam Daly –
the son of Tim Daly (who plays Elizabeth's husband), grandson of John
and nephew of Tyne.

“The
Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. The season started with Cary arrested and
assuming he would be freed quickly. Now, instead, his drug trial
begins, alongside a possible plea bargain and jail time.

“The
Comeback,” 10 p.m., HBO. The central character (Lisa Kudrow)
continues to be way too one-note. At times tonight, the monotone is
broken up by some sly moments from Seth Rogan (who plays her
colleague) and by a rather extreme burst of HBO-style nudity.

“Getting
On,” 10:30, HBO. This muted comedy-drama has one of its best nights
on both sides. The comedy comes when the hospital's computer system
fails; the drama centers on Dawn (Alex Borstein).

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 22


TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE: “Hunger Games” or “Twilight” films, cable.

On the
weekend when “Mockingjay” (the first half of the “Hunger Games”
finale) opens, we can sample films from two series. Both turned youth
novels into mega-movies.

The
original “Hunger Games” (2012) is 8 p.m. on ABC Family, with a
teen (the terrific Jennifer Lawrence) taking her sister's place in a
deadly competition. Also, both halves of the “Twilight” finale
run in inconvenient order – the first (2011) at 8 p.m. on FXX, the
second (2012) at 7 on Showtime.

TONIGHT'S
MIGHT-SEE: “State of Affairs,” 9 p.m., NBC,

Yes, we
grumbled about this season-opener, with its absurd plot twists. But
that was on a Monday, when there were better (much better) shows. On
a weak Saturday, this is worth trying.

Katherine
Heigl is terrific as a CIA analyst who prepares a daily briefing for
the president (Alfre Woodard), the mother of her late fiance. Sleekly
filmed, this briskly zips us over (almost) its plot woes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Christmas films, 8-10 p.m., cable.

One
film sticks close to real life. “An En Vogue Christmas”
(Lifetime) has members of the pop group playing themselves,
ree-uniting for a concert to save the club where they first caught
on.

The
other goes for fantasy. “A Royal Christmas” (Hallmark), a fairly
adequate film, sees a Philadelphia tailor and designer (Lacey
Chabert) suddenly learn that her boyfriend is prince of Cordinia. His
mom (Jane Seymour) wants him to marry nobility (Katherine Flynn,
Seymour's daughter).

Other
choices include:

“Eat:
The Story of Food,” 7-11 p.m., National Geographic. First is a
rerun of Friday's excellent opener, viewing “food revolutionaries,”
from explorers to Julia Childs and Clarence Birdseye. Then the new
hours view our passion for sugar (9 p.m.) and seafood (10); those
repeat at 11 p.m. and midnight.

Football,
7:30 p.m. ET, Fox; and 8 p.m. ET, ABC. Fox has Baylor (ranked No. 7)
hosting Oklahoma State; ABC has UCLA (No. 11) hosting Southern
California.

“The
Missing,” 7:55 and 9 p.m., Starz. First is a rerun of last week's
gripping opener, as a former husband and wife (James Nesbitt and
Frances O'Conner) take opposite approaches, eight years after their
son disappeared. Then comes another well-crafted hour, rerunning at
10:05. The dad desperately tries to kick open the case, now that he
has a hint of where his son was first taken.

“NCIS,”
8 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the episode that doubled as a pilot
for “NCIS: New Orleans,” with a congressman's body found in New
Orleans. It's a good episode, but be wary: It's the start of a
two-parter, with no plans (yet) to rerun the second half.

“NCIS:
Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a reporter announces the
group responsible for a bombing at a charity event.

“Hell
on Wheels,” 9 p.m., AMC. The season concludes with the railroad
leaving Cheyenne and Cullen returning to the fort to retrieve his
family.

“Saturday
Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Cameron Diaz hosts, with Mark Ronson
and Bruno Mars as music guests.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Eat: The Story of Food,” 9-11 p.m., National Geographic.

The history of the
Western world, we're told, pivots on the search for food. Columbus
was financed by spice-seekers; the Dutch traded New Amsterdam (now
New York) for a small island that had nutmeg.

That's in the fun
start of a three-night, six-hour documentary that assembles experts.
Tonight celebrates pioneers: Auguste Escoffier made French cuisine a
systematic art form; Julia Childs zestfully showed it to the masses.
Clarence Birdseye – who was working in Labrador when he saw the
natives fast-freeze fish – and Chef Ettore Boiardi vastly expanded
the choices on our grocery shelves.

TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE II: “Constantine,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Roaming
the U.S. to face other-worldly evil, Constantine now (quite
logically) visits New Orleans. There, he finds new ghosts and an old
foe, the slyly charismatic Papa Midnite.

The
result is a sleek hour, sharply directed by John Badham, once a
big-deal movie man who made “WarGames” and “Saturday Night
Fever.” Michael James Shaw is excellent as Papa; we were bitter
when the show switched its female lead, but must admit that Angelica
Celaya is terrific as Zed.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Cats,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

This
musical was lready 15 years into its Broadway run in 1997, when took
a bold step: It molded a TV version in a studio, with no audience.
Alongside lithe, young singer-dancers, it brought back Elaine Paige
to sing the haunting “Memory” and Ken Paige to be Old
Deuteronomy. And it added John Mills (an Oscar-winner, like his
daughter Hayley), then 89 and nearly blind, for moving moments as
Gus.

With
theater people helping, David Mallett – a master of music videos
(Bowie, Blondie, Queen, etc.) and specials -- directed. The result,
rerunning here, perfectly blends close-ups and dance spectacle.

Other
choices include:

“The
Amazing Race,” 8 p. m., CBS. It's been a while since anyone was
ousted here: Last Friday, the show was pre-empted; the previous
episode (the show's 300th) was a non-elimination. That
leaves six duos – two married, two dating, two who are friends –
tonight in Malta.

“Last
Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Bitter about all those energy-saving
lightbulbs, Mike searches for the old kind. Meanwhile, his daughter
Mandy wants her own apartment.

“Cristela,”
8:31 p.m., ABC. Cristela wants to take her nephew to “West Side
Story.” His dad hesitates.

“Grimm,”
9 p.m., NBC. At a crime scene, a suspect insists a talking wolf made
her do it.

“Hawaii
Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. Carol Burnett returns to her role as
McGarrett's aunt, this time with another show-business legend
(Frankie Valli of Four Seasons fame) as her fiance. This is a
distraction for McGarrett, working a case in which brothers are the
prime suspects in the murder of their parents.

“Blue
Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. As police commissioner, Frank (Tom Selleck)
faces a backlash when a cop's body camera fails to record a fight
with a civilian. Then again, we'll forgive Selleck if he skips his
own show and watches PBS tonight; he met his wife when she was in the
London “Cats.”

“Late
Show with David Letterman,” 11:35 p.m., CBS. Latenight audiences
get their first look at James Corden, the talented British
actor-writer-singer who takes Craig Ferguson's late-late spot on
March 9.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

Things start at a
new low for Christy (Anna Faris) andr her mom Bonnie (Allison
Janney). Recovering alcoholics, they're sharing a friend's fold-out
couch when Christy's daughter comes home drunk.

The result is
simultaneously touching, tragic and funny. It also finally nudges
Bonnie into a job search. Naturally, she does it her way – by lying
outrageously. It's a grand showcase for Janney, who won two Emmys
this year, one for this role. It's also a reminder that this is one
of TV's best comedies.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “How to Get Away With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Over its first eight
weeks, “Murder” has been a solid ratings success. Now it will
take a break, before showing the season's final six episodes. First,
it promises to settle key plot points tonight.

We know that Sam –
married to Annalise, the domineering law professor – had an affair
with his student; she was three months pregnant when she was killed.
A flash-forward has shown that he'll be killed and the law students
will hide his body; now we see what happened that night.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Ivory Tower,” 9-11 p.m., CNN.

This
higher-education documentary is sort of like college itself –
filled with things that are fascinating, but (at times) wildly
unrelated. It visits a working-ranch college in Death Valley, a free
school in New York, a once-homeless Harvard student and more. Each is
interesting; each detours from the subject.

In three decades,
the film says, states' support for education has plummeted, while
some schools pour money into fancy facilities and million-dollar
presidential salaries. A typical college grad doubles the lifetime
income of others, but with college debts topping $1 trillion, some
people question the value.

Other choices
include:

“Jaws” (1975),
6:15 and 9 p.m., IFC; or “The Birds” (1962), 8 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies. Two master directors use the animal kingdom to
frighten us – Steven Spielberg with a shark, Alfred Hitchcock (in a
flawed but interesting film) with birds.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. When Maggie and Meredith link, they disagree with Derek.
Meanwhile, Callie blames herself when one of the veterans is pushed
too far.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. Everyone Olivia knows seems to be in danger. Also, Cyrus
must face the consequences of his actions as the president's chief of
staff; Huck and Quinn finally figure out what Elizabeth North is up
to, but may be too late to prevent it.

“Gracepoint,” 9
p.m., Fox. Last week hit hard, when Tom Miller – a friend of the
slain Danny Solano – was angry about adult attitudes and ran away.
His bike was found in a woods as his mom (a police detective) became
increasingly desperate. Tonight's hour – the eighth of 10 – sees
the Solanos returning to work and school; also, new suspicion is
aimed at the cranky Susan Wright.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. This plan is getting serious now: Walden and
Alan, with their sham marriage, meet a pregnant woman who may let
them adopt her baby.

“The McCarthys,”
9:31 p.m., CBS. Jackie's doctor gave her a list of things she can't
do, now that she's pregnant. To show solidarity, her brothers and
parents try to forego the same things.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Sherlock Holmes isn't the type to admit a computer can
outthink him. When he takes a case involving software theft, he seems
more interested in debunking the program.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 19


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Thanksgiving comedies, 8-9:31 p.m., ABC.

From “Cheers” to
“Friends” and beyond, TV has set its best comedy episodes on
Thanksgiving, when all the characters can be slammed together in
fresh and funny ways. Now we get three straight.

That starts with
“The Middle” and a sink hole (literally) in the kitchen; new
problems come from the kids' dates. Then “The Goldbergs” (8:30)
has Erica trying to skip the feast and Uncle Marvin arriving as a
guest. “Modern Family” (9) has Phil taking over the cooking, with
his wife watching skeptically. Jay and Gloria thought they'd be out
of town, then (with rough results) don't tell anyone that they're
not.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
More Thanksgiving, cable.

If you want a
traditional Thanksgiving, switch to “Top Chef” at 10 p.m. on
Bravo, rerunning at 11:30: Contestants must prepare a feast, using
only the incredients the Pilgrems had.

And for a
less-traditional time? “Party Down South: Drunksgiving” is 9 p.m.
on CMT, rerunning at 10:17. As you may have assumed, it includes beer
and deep-fried turkey.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Fast, smart and and
tough, the killer whale (or orca) is imposing. “It's probably the
most terrifying predator since tyrannosaurus rex,” one scientist
says here. And now global warming gives it new turf.

Twenty of them
travel 2,500 miles in eight weeks, then create stunnig teamwork,
driving the narwahl near shore for a huge harvest. For now, Inuit
hunters (also hunting narwahl) are happy to have the help. Despite
flatly written narration and so-so music, this is an interesting
hour.

Other choices
include:

“Looper” (2012),
7:30-10 p.m., FX. Here's an exceptionally smart take on time-travel.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hit man, assigned to kill an older
version of himself. There are some great scenes with Jeff Daniels and
then a powerhouse ending.

“The Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. As Laura scrambles to find yet another nanny,
she also probes a double murder that may or may not have had a
religious motivation..

“The 100,” 9
p.m., After a sharp change of attitude, Kane leads a mission to try
to make peace with the Grounders. Also, Jarvis agrees to be part of a
risky experiment.

“Blackish,” 9:31
p.m., ABC. Dre's mother (Jenifer Lewis ) arrives, clashing quickly
with his wife.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. For the second straight time, this fictional show uses a
real ABC one for backdrop. Last week was “Dancing With the Stars”;
now it's the Country Music Association awardcast, with guest
appearances by Trisha Yearwood, Joe Nichols and the Band Perry. Rayna
and Luke (with a

combined 11 CMA
nominations) are happy– until she sees his papers for a pre-nuptual
agreement.

“American Horror
Story,” 10 p.m., FX. Since arriving as the show's strongman, Dell
Toledo (Michael Chiklis) has managed to bully everyone. Now the women
revolt.