TV column for Thursday, Feb. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Mid-way in its third
season, “Mom” has it all. It has crisp writing -- broad and
jokey, yet believable – plus a strong set of supporting characters
and two gifted-but-opposite stars.

Next week's episode
(a great one) focuses on Christy (Anna Faris); she's small and
overwhelmed, but a survivor. This week is her mom Bonnie (Allison
Janney) – big, brash, plowing through a lifetime of mis-steps.
Bonnie takes pride in her sexual adventures, mostly with men; now she
meets a woman who was her lover. Rosie O'Donnell is solid in a guest
role; Janney, a five-time Emmy-winner, is perfect.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Idol,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

For the swarms of
rejected “Idol” singers, there was always the consolation of
“come back next year.” Caleb Johnson was rejected twice, never
reaching the top 24; the third time, he was the winner.

But this 15th
season is the last; anyone rejected must abandon “Idol” dreams.
That makes tonight more emotional: “Hollywood Week” ends and the
judges choose their 24, leaving lots of others in dismay.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “You, Me and the Apocalypse,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

As a comet streaks
toward Earth, bringing total destruction, our characters scramble. A
mild librarian (Jenna Fischer) took the rap for her hacker son; now
she's escaped from prison with a neo-Nazi (Megan Mullally). A somber
“widower” tries to find out why his wife – not dead at all –
is with someone who looks just like him. And a priest (Rob Lowe)
researches end-of-world prophesies.

All of that is done
with droll wit, reflecting this show's British roots. And now we
learn the librarian's brother is the nation's leading – albeit
inept – post-apocalypse strategist. The story builds.

Other choices
include:

“Cinderella”
(2015), 11:55 a.m. and 9 p.m., Starz. Kenneth Branagh, a master
Shakespearean, has started directing pop-culture hits. He made this
gorgeous film. He also did the first “Thor”; fellow Shakespearean
Tom Hiddleston, whom he cast as Loki, is key to the sequel (2013), at
7:30 p.m. on FX.

“Madoff,” 8-10
p.m., ABC. The conclusion of this two-night mini-series watches
Bernie Madoff's financial scheme crumble, bringing fierce aftershocks
to friends, family and investors.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon has always talked fondly about his
grandmother. Now she finally arrives; she's played by June Squibb,
who emerged from obscurity two years ago (at 84), to get an Acadmy
Award nomination for “Nebraska.”

“Life in Pieces,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. June (Dianne Wiest) has a nephew (Greg Grunberg of
“Heroes”) who manages to annoy everyone. Also, Tyler introduces
his sexy girlfriend to his great-grandmother.

“Project Runway
Junior” finale, 9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime. It's time for Fashion Week
and a winner.

“London Spy,” 10
p.m., BBC America. On one hand, this five-week mini-series has a
compelling story and brilliant actors. On the other, it's painfully
slow. Danny (Ben Whishaw) has apparently been cleverly framed for the
murder of his gay lover; only an older friemd (Jim Broadbent) will
help. Danny seems encased in a perplexing thicket – as do viewers.

“Baskets,” 10
p.m., FX. “I'll take happiness where I can find it,” Chip (Zach
Galifianakis) says tonight. The problem is that he can't find it
anywhere. He has a wife who ignores him, a friend he ignores and a
profession (rodeo clown) no one cares about. This episode goes beyond
the sad-clown traditions of the past; amid some humor and warmth, it
sinks near hopelessness.

 

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Madoff,” 8-10 p.m., ABC; concludes Thursday.

For a while there,
the big networks had forgotten the notion of a mini-series. Now ABC
seems to have the ideal subject – a financial scam that had global
implications.

Bernie Madoff ran
his company for 48 years, was NASDAQ chairman for three years and
more. His work was a fraud; investors – charities, colleges,
friends, even Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel – had total losses
estimated at $10-17 billion. Now that's dramatized, based partly on
ABC reporter Brian Ross' book; Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner
star, with Lewis Black, Charles Grodin and Peter Scolari.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Young & Hungry” season-opener, 8 p.m., Freeform.

With the ABC
comedies taking a week off, we can try the ones on this channel
(formerly ABC Family) or CBS. They tend to be heavy-handed, but with
a fair amount of fun.

In this case, Gabi
and Josh never quite admit they love each other. Now Josh has
financed a food truck for her to share with his handsome brother;
they're headed to a music festival. Some of this gets pretty broad
... but seems downright subtle, compared to Elliot and Alan, back
from their honeymoon.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

For most of the
first four hours, this compelling drama followed a fairly direct
path: At a teen party, Taylor was drugged or intoxicated, then raped
by one of the other guys. His mom called the police.

Then came the
powerhouse moment: He had gone there, he said, to have sex with Eric,
the basketball co-captain; Eric said he'd kept it secret, to hide his
sexuality. That doesn't rule out rape, but it sharply changes the
investigation. Now the guys face aftershocks and a small moment adds
racial overtones.

Other choices
include:

“The Theory of
Everything” (2014), 6:55 p.m., HBO. Eddie Redmayne's superb,
Oscar-winning work as Stephen Hawking launches a strong movie night.
Other good choices include “21 Jump Street” (2012) at 7:30 p.m.
on FXX, “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004) at 8 p.m. on AMC and –
especially – Rob Reiner's triumphant “Stand By Me” (1986) at 9
p.m. on CMT.

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. Here's the third round of “Hollywood Week.” It wraps
up Thursday, with judges choosing the 24 survivors.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Molly's shocked when her mom (Swoosie
Kurtz) tells about her will: It gives the house to Victoria, Molly's
sister.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
9 p.m., Fox. After a surprise elimination, Gordon Ramsay sends the
contestants on a fake “duck hunt,” to determine ingredients for a
duck-dish competition. The winning team frolics on a yacht; the
losers prepare the appetizers for a dinner service and an elimination
night.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Neighbors witness a rape
outside an apartment building, but no one calls the police.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. Violence breaks out, leavingtwo doctors gravely ill. Also,
Boris Kodjoe – who's been doing comedy lately on “Last Man on
Earth” -- arrives, playing a new doctor.

“Preachers of
Atlanta” debut, 10 p.m., Oxygen. This reality show focuses on five
young preachers who use hip-hop music and more to draw interest.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The People vs. O.J. Simpson” opener, 10 p.m., FX.

In other hands, this
could have been tacky and tawdry, a 10-week replay of a sensational
case. But here, a skilled director -- Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “The
Normal Heart”) -- gives it a compelling honesty.

Simpson (Courtney
Vance) shows up only briefly in this first hour, which focuses on his
friends – all rich, white and in disbelief. David Schwimmer is
Robert Kardashian – yes, we see his daughters before they became
pop-culture stars – and John Travolta is Robert Shapiro, gradually
building their “dream team.” On the flip side, Sarah Paulson is
great as an overworked Marcia Clark, ready to fight the titans.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Fresh Off the Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC.

In Orlando in the
1980s, we're told, the Huangs felt like they were the only Asians.
They savored an annual trip to their old Washington, D.C., home, for
a Chinese New Year with fun, food and fireworks.

Tonight, we see that
go wrong, forcing them to improvise. It's an inconsistent episode,
but it does bring some big laughs and even a bit of warmth.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

James Garfield
entered the presidency with idealism; he advocated civil rights and
began sweeping away corruption from civil service in general and the
post office in particular. But there was no Secret Service
protection; four months into office, he was shot by a spurned
job-seeker.

This well-made
documentary focuses on the shooter and on Garfield's biggest
political foe, who had a bizarre scheme to resign and be re-elected.
It's also critical of the medical treatment: At a time when some
doctors were aware of sanitation, it was ignored; after 10 tough
weeks, the president died.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Outsiders,” 9 p.m., WGN America; reruns at 10,
11 and midnight.

Last week's opener
was a strong portrait of the Farrell family, refusing to budge from
the Appalachian mountain (now owned by a coal company) where it's
been for 200 years. The hour failed, however, to give us anyone to
root for; now we get that chance, with all sides of a triangle.

There's Lil Foster
(Ryan Hurst of “Sons of Anarchy”), son of the brutish leader. And
G'Winiveer, his lover. And Asa, who has returned after a decade in
civilization. Mix in some townspeople – including a deputy sheriff
who seems intent on covering up a moonshine tragedy – and you have
a strong story.

Other choices
include:

“Groundhog Day”
(1993), 11:21 a.m. and 2:07, 4:46 and 7:24 p.m., Comedy Central. On
the real Groundhog Day, it's logical to keep re-airing a clever film
about a day that keeps rerunning.

“Super Bowl's
Greatest Commercials,” 8-10 p.m., CBS. By now, CBS feels, we should
be obsessing over the 50th Super Bowl, So Boomer Esiason
and Katharine McPhee introduce the top commercials, with viewers
picking the best. That's followed by “Super Bowl's Greatest
Halftime Shows” on Friday ... another commercials special and “NFL
Honors” on Saturday ... and, oh yes, a game on Sunday.

“The Muppets,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. In real life, this clever show is returning from a
break, amid talk of revaming its approach. So tonight's episode finds
everyone returning from a break and confronting a “branding”
expert who's ready to change the show.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 9 p.m., Fox. Jake's parents – played by Emmy-winner
Bradley Whitford (“West Wing”) and Golden Globe-winner Katey
Sagal (“Sons of Anarchy”) -- complicate his birthday.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. After airing just one new episode in the past two months,
this clever show is back. Liv – who absorbs the personalities of
murder victims – probes a librarian who wrote erotica.

“NCIS,” 10
p.m., CBS. Running two hours later than usual, this rerun has Vance
(Rocky Carroll) return to the field, to work a case involving an
agent he busted long ago.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Recovery Road,” 9 p.m., Freeform (formerly ABC Family).

In last week's
opener, we met Maddie (Jessica Sula), brainy and beautiful and deep
into drugs and alcohol. Her high school guidance counselor – who is
secretly a recovering alcoholic – set the rule: She could only stay
in school if she commuted from an adult rehab center.

Now she's trying to
do it without letting her friends know. Tonight, her deceptions
collide with her former best friend, who's in the same rehab center.
It's a solid start for a promising show.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY:
“The X-Files,” 8 p.m., Fox.

At its best,
“X-Files” switches tone from week to week, going from serious
sci-fi to standard mystery to occasional comedy. Now that hits an
extreme, with an hour that's ... well, just goofy.

Out in the woods,
there's a man who turns into a beast. Or maybe it's a beast that
turns into a man. Or maybe it's not a werewolf, just a werereptile.
This is a broad story, executed in a style that's only a smidgen
short of farce. You may like it, sort of ... while waiting for the
real “X-Files” next week.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “And the Oscar Goes To ...” (2014), 8 p.m. ET,
Turner Classic Movies.

No one else does
Oscar-month as well as TCM. Now this documentary about the Academy
Awards is surrounded by “31 days (and 360 degrees) of Oscar.”
That starts at 6 a.m. today (“Gigi,” 1958) and ends at 6 a.m.
March 3; there are 360 Oscar-winning or -nominated films, each
sharing an actor with the one that follows ... until the final one
links with the first.

Tonight, that
includes a lesson in epics -- “Ben-Hur” (1959) at 4 p.m. ET,
“Laurence of Arabia: (1962) at 10 p.m., “Bridge on the River
Kwai” (1957) at 2 a.m. They're great ... but very long; alert your
VCR.

Other choices
include:

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CBS. Superman has his Bizarro nemesis and now it's his cousin's
turn: Supergirl faces a twisted version of herself. Also, in her
alternate identity as Kara, she befriend's Cat's son.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. It's time for the store's wedding sale, when sweet
brides-to-be converge fiercely. The result is sometimes funny,
sometimes just overwrought. It does, however, get good moments from
one of its best characters, a blithely oblivious young mother-to-be.

“Telenovela,”
8:30, NBC. Mimi has been fretting about raising her kids, but now
she's feels this is crisis time: Her son had hidden a sexy photo of
her friend Ana (Eva Longoria). Soon, everyone at the telenovela is
conferring about how to deliver “the sex talk.”

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Here's another parenthood problem: Jane's baby spills
orange juice on her computer and she can't access her thesis. She
goes to a tech specialist, played by Diego Boneta, the “Rock of
Ages” star and “Scream Queens” co-star.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. Sometimes it's handy to have the Devil as your consultant.
When a movie star's son dies after being persued by paparazzi, Chloe
the cop gets help from Lucifer.

“Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This hour was scheduled
previously, then delayed until tonight; it traces a dark piece of
recent history: At a big Los Angeles hospital, women in labor
(usually low-income, some not speaking English) were pushed into
agreeing to be sterilized. A powerful hour includes some of the women
and the whistleblowing doctor.

“Magicians,” 10
p.m., Syfy. Quentin struggles at this secret magicians college, while
facing obsessions: His childhood friend Julia obsesses on being
rejected by the school; his classmate Alice obsesses on reviving her
dead brother. A promising show is damaged by the fact that Quentin is
tough to care about.

ALSO: The Iowa
caucuses will get heavy coverage on network newscasts and cable news
channels.

TV coumn for Sunday, Jan. 31


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Grease: Live,” 7-10 p.m., Fox (tape-delayed on the West Coast(.

If you want a loose,
live TV musical, “Grease” is ideal. The plot is slight, but the
music – in the spirit of 1950's rock – is vibrant. So this will
blend the 1972 Broadway show and 1978 movie, with some scenes onstage
(with an audience embedded) and others around the Warner Brothers
lot.

Aaron Tveit and
Julianne Hough play bad-boy Danny and too-prim Sandy. Carlos PenaVega
plays his pal Kenickie; her sometimes pals include Vanessa Hudgens,
Keke Palmer, Kether Donohue and (getting a new song) Carly Rae
Jepsen. Their elders range from Didi Conn to Mario Lopez.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Galavant” finale, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Lots of shows have
ended with a shrug, but not this one. The final night has it all –
an epic battle, gallant heroes, demon-wielding villains, passionate
romance ... and, mostly, lots of songs.

Scheming Madalena
dumped earnest Galavant, married King Richard, then dumped him and
remained queen, with his former best friend as king. Galavant soon
realized that Isabella is his ideal; Richard managed to ignore the
warrior woman who loves him. Now forces collide, alongside some
wonderfully witty songs from Alan Menken and Glen Slater, the
“Tangled” duo. It's a great finish.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Football, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN; or “American Ninja
Warrior,” 8 p.m., NBC.

If you really don't
want singing teens or crooning kings, these two kinetic competitions
seem logical. One is on three stages of the “Ninja” obstacle
course, with teams from the U.S., Europe and Japan; the other has the
top football players – except for ones that are injured or heading
to the Super Bowl.

Michael Irvin leads
one tieam, choosing quarterback Russell Wilson and two of his Seahawk
teammates who are defensive stars, Richard Sherman and Michael
Bennett. Jerry Rice chose the other, including quarterback Eli
Manning and his favorite target, Odell Beckham Jr.

Other choices
include:

“How to Train Your
Dragon” (2010), 6 p.m., FX. This mix of action and warmth leads a
good night for animation. At 8 p.m., FX has “Kung Fu Panda II”
(2011) and Disney has the zestful “Aladdin” (1992).

“Madame
Secretary,” 8 p.m., CBS. After the death of their father, Henry
(Tim Daly) and his sister (Kate Burton) collide and secrets are
revealed. Emelyn Daly, Tim's daughter, plays his niece.

“The Good Wife,”
9 p.m., CBS. Alicia battles a judge (Christopher McDonald), after
learning that a client from her bond-court time was wrongfully
imprisoned.

“Downton Abbey,”
9 p.m., PBS. This solid episode has plenty going on. That includes
potential romances for Ladys Mary and Edith ... and Tom finding new
projects now that he's back from the U.S. ... and Mrs. Hughes
fretting that wives may need to cook. All of that is overpowered by a
bigger issue: The dowager (Maggie Smith), fuming about proposed
hospital changes, has invited Neville Chamberlain. the health
minister and future prime minister. The evening's ending surprises
everyone.

“Agent Carter,”
9:01 p.m., ABC. In a change, ABC reruns Tuesday's episode, with Peggy
battling to get information about Dark Matter. That's followed at 10
by a “Shark Tank” rerun with Barack Obama.

“Mercy Street,”
10 p.m., PBS. For Foster (Josh Radnor) – a Union doctor – the
Civil War's nature offers a jolt; his mother arrives with his
brother, a Confederate soldier who needs surger. Also, Alice
(AnneSophia Robb) finds that her fiance has been deeply changed by
the war.

“Billions,” 10
p.m., Showtime. This sharp episode illustrates the potency of three
people -- the district attorney, rogue financier Bobby Axelrod and
Bobby's wife. The issues involve -- in reverse order -- a book, ice
cream bars and (really) dog-droppings, but the sub-text is: Never
back down.