TV column for Wednesday, April 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

“Empire” is a
supersized show -- big music, big emotions, big plot twists. And this
hour seems bigger than most, peaking with a definitive moment for
Cookie (Taraji Henson) and Angelo (Taye Diggs).

Other big moments
involve Lucious' complicated relations with his brother and with
Giuliana (Nia Long), who -- long ago -- loved him and robbed him. Eva
Longoria has a small role (for now) as a Las Vegas official; Rumer
Willis has a bigger one as Tory Ash, a powerful – and angry –
singer.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Shots Fired,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Over five richly
layered hours, this show has offered the complexities of race
relations. So far, there have been no charges on either death –
white victim shot by black cop; black victim shot by (a witness says)
a white deputy. Rage simmers, especially around a fiery black pastor
(Aisha Hinds).

As the governor
(Helen Hunt) gropes for a solution, the two state investigators find
fresh roadblocks. Ashe (Sanaa Lathan) is consumed by her
child-custody battle. There are great scenes that show us just how
skilled Lathan is ... and how flawed and troubled Ashe is.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Fargo,” 10 p.m., FX.

Last week's opener
was classic “Fargo.” The first scene made little sense – the
same was true in the previous “Fargo” edition -- and the others
were wierdly brilliant.

Ewan McGregor stars
as brothers. Emmit learned that the people who loaned him money hope
to sieze his parking-lot empire. Ray (a parole officer) sent Maurice
(a parolee) to steal a stamp from Emmit; alas, he went to the wrong
house, killed a stranger (the sheriff's father-in-law, no less) and
tried to blackmail Ray ... whose girlfriend killed Maurice via
falling air-conditioner. It's that kind of show.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Handmaid's Tale,” any time, Hulu.

The first thing to
know is that this adaptation of a classic novel is beautifully
crafted. It's visually compelling, with a great cast led by Elisabeth
Moss, Joseph Fiennes and Ann Dowd.

The second thing is
that it is, quality and all, a brutal ride. We quickly learn the
basics of a world in which the few fertile women are merely there for
childbirth; from there, it's solemn and suffocating.

Other choices
include:

“Breakfast at
Tiffany's” (1961), 5:45 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Truman
Capote's slight story is boosted by a luminous Audrey Hepburn and by
Henry Mancini's Oscar-winning music. Other top films include “The
Goonies” (1985) at 6:30 p.m. on Syfy and “Good Will Hunting”
(1997) at 9 on Pop.

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS. Two decades after loggers and miners left, a national park
in the Austrian Alps is reverting to its natural state. Beautifully
filmed, this captures some of its life. There are the lynx,
re-introduced and making a quick impact. And owls, with some dandy
courting scenes. And the trees themselves, with strong insights into
their defenses ... and even their communication with other trees.

“The 100,” 9
p.m., CW. Returning after three weeks off, this has Clarke trying to
keep the peace, after people hear of Jaha's discovery. Also, Jasper
and Bellamy go on a quest.

“Black-ish,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., ABC. First is a new episode, with Rashida Jones as
Bow's sister; she's Bow's opposite, fresh from a reality show. Then
is a semi-new one: Zoey's college visits bring a flurry of memories
and flashbacks.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. As the president ponders vice-presidential
possibilities, Wells and Atwood return from North Dakota with a key
new lead.

“Underground,”
10 p.m. ET, WGN America, rerunning at 11, midnight and 1 a.m. We can
spend Wednesdays savoring the dramatic power of Aisha Hinds. After
dominating tonight's “Shots Fired,”

she plays Harriet
Tubman on this show. Tonight, Noah (Aldis Hodge) must rework his
plan.

TV column for Tuesday, April 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Great News” opener, 9 and 9:30 p.m., NBC.

Young, bright and
frustrated, Katie (Briga Heelan) is trying to make her mark at a news
show. One anchor (John Michael Higgins) is stuck in the past, the
other (Nicole Richie) is stuck in trends and their boss (Adam
Campbell) is no help. Then ... well, Katie's mom (Andrea Martin)
becomes an intern.

The result is, at
times, a terrific comedy, with skilled actors handling sharp
material. At other times? Well, the depiction of newsgathering is
quite absurd; also, the overinvolved-mom bits can go too far. They
works well in the first episode, gets excessive in the second, but
are better in the episodes ahead.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Genius” opener, 9 p.m., National Geographic, rerunning at 10:15.

Albert Einstein's
life had a Hollywood scope. It ranged from school failures to
brilliant breakthroughs; it included passionate politics, colorful
romances and even some violin-playing. Walter Isaacson created a
best-selling biography; now Ron Howard has turned it into an
ambitious series.

This opener catches
Einstein as a troubled student (Johnny Flynn) in 1894 and a beloved
professor (Geoffrey Rush) in a 1922 Germany that teetered toward
Hitler. The dialog feels forced at first, but Howard directed
beautifully and the story sparks when Einstein roomed with a
different sort of family.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Prison Break,” 9 p.m., Fox.

After three weeks of
frustrating detours, this edition starts to make sense ... sort of.

Michael remains in
the Yemen prison where he's been for four years. He was asked (for
iffy reasons) to go there and free a fierce radical; now those two
hate each other and remain behind bars. ISIS troops approach to take
over – and, perhaps, kill everyone. Michael's brother is also in
Yemen, trying to help; back home, “T-Bag” tries to uncover a
bigger plot. It's a big, strong hour, after three so-so ones.

Other choices
include:

“Cinderella”
(2015), 7:12 p.m., Starz. For decades, Kenneth Branagh has been a
classy actor and director of Shakespearean dramas and more. Now he's
brought quality and depth to a kids' tale. Other key films are at 8
p.m. – George Clooney in the jaunty “Ocean's Eleven” (2001) on
CMT, Oprah Winfrey in the true story “The Immortal Life of
Henrietta Lacks” (2017) on HBO.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m,,
CBS. This rerun starts with a hit-and-run investigation and
eventually has Jimmy Palmer on a ledge, trying to stop someone from
jumping.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8 p.m., Fox. As the police prepare to dump one
precinct, people scramble for an attention-grabbing case. In a good
episode, Jake and Charles figure this may be their last job together.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. Liv's habit – munching the brains of murder victims and
taking on their characteristics – can wear on her colleagues. This
time, she's become the ultimate office gossip.

“Famous in Love,”
9:02, Freeform. Last week's opener started wonderfully, with Paige
(Bella Thorne) leaping from college student to a coveted movie role;
then it plummeted into bad soap opera. Thorne is still excellent
tonight, but the plot gets more ridiculous. Paige plans to continue
her classes while starring in her first movie ... and she expects her
dad to not find out, even though she's in the news.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A Navy SEAL candidate has been killed, a
few weeks before graduating from a controversial training. Also, Wade
frets when her adopted son wants to enlist.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m., PBS. The salmon you order at a restaurant may have travelled
5,000 miles – from Alaska to China and then back the the U.S. --
author Paul Greenberg says. In this film, he eats fish three times a
day and also studies its safety. That follows a compelling “American
Experience” rerun (8-10 p.m.), describing an accident in 1980
Arkansas that almost created a nuclear disaster.

TV column for Monday, April 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Bates Motel” series finale, 10-11:06 p.m., A&E, repeating at
11:36.

When the show began
five years ago, it was pointing toward this moment: The finale would
mesh with the “Psycho” movie – dead mom, crazy Norman, more
trouble ahead.

First, we can see
how we got there. Reruns start at 7 a.m., in the middle of last
season; at 1 p.m., the current season begins. A&E isn't telling
what happens in the finale, but we can expect it to be good. Freddie
Highmore has been excellent as twisted Norman; Vera Farmiga is
perfect as his mother, now dead ... except in his mind. People will
talk about it in an after-show at 11:06, repeating at 12:34 a.m.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Gotham” return, 8 p.m., Fox.

This whole
chatting-with-dead-people thing seems to be big on Mondays. Deeply
upset about killing his best friend Oswald Cobblepot (the future
Penguin), Ed Nygma (the future Riddler) keeps seeing and chatting
with him ... just as Norman does with his mom in “Bates Motel.:

As “Gotham”
returns from a three-month break, Nygma dispenses hard riddles and
harsh penalties. Also, Gordon hears disturbing news about his
father's death. And the fake Bruce Wayne is ready to take over. As
usual, it's beautifully filmed ... but, even by Batman standards,
terribly dark.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Are there still some
lines that comedians shouldn't cross? What about the Holocaust, AIDS,
9/11? This sprawling documentary ranges from survivors to scholars to
comedians. Gilbert Gottfried cites the saying “tragedy plus time
equals comedy,” then adds: “But I always say, 'Why wait?'”

Some people don't
have to wait, if they're witty; we see Louis CK, Chris Rock and Dave
Chappelle get big laughs from forbidden subjects. The clips are what
make this film shine. The arguments tend to cancel each other out,
leaving us with Rob Reiner's: “It's much more fun to laugh than not
to laugh.”

Other choices
include:

“Dominion Creek”
second season, any time, www.acorn.tv.
Here's a western set in the Klondike, but filmed in Ireland, using
chunks of Irish Gaelic language, with sub-titles. Its heroes are the
Connollys, hardy and handsome, working in mine and in commerce during
the gold rush. It's well-done, but the opener of a four-hour season
is heavy with hatred, despair, murder and the looming typhoid
epidemic.

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. Now that the top 12 are set, the show starts its
routine: Each Monday, contestants sing and viewers vote; on Tuesday,
the bottom two are revealed and viewers choose.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Voters quickly ousted all the silly
people – Mr. T, Charo, Chris Kattan – then dumped Erika Jayne,
whose music is big in dance clubs. Still in the running are five
athletes, a singer, an actress and the recent “Bachelor” star.

“Who Do You Think
You Are?” 8 p.m., TLC. Indirectly, we get background on two
celebrities: Actress Liv Tyler looks into the background of her
father, singer Steven Tyler. A Courteney Cox rerun is at 7.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Jane's book has been published, but she's reluctant to
help sell it by discussing her past. Meanwhile, her dad is
intimidated by his young co-star.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. On an all-rerun night, CBS puts “Big Bang Theory” at
8 (Sheldon and Leonard try to divide their stuff), nudges “Kevin
Can Wait” to 8:30 and then reruns the “Donuts” pilot. Some of
the humor feels forced, but mostly it's quick and fun, set in a
Chicago doughnut shop.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS, Originally airing on Halloween, this episode has the gang
plunging into a deep cave system, hoping to prevent bats from
creating an eco-disaster.

TV column for Sunday, April 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Making History,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

While taking a
two-week break, this fun show left its time-trekkers in jeopardy. Now
they're being eyed warily by Al Capone; if a baseball bet they
suggested fails, he'll shoot them.

Hey, the bet –
Black Sox to lose the 1919 World Series – is a good one, if you
come from the future. Deb Revere also gives Capone some advice:
“Maybe you could be nicer to people, instead of killing them.”
She's Paul's daughter, played delightfully by Leighton Meester; the
other two travellers are from modern times. This episode offers funny
views of changes in everything from crime to marriage.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Last week's hour
ended with a fierce jolt. From the beginning, “Crime” has built
strong sympathy for Shae, the teen prostitute. Working in a video
sex-chat house, she argued with a colleague ... who impulsively
stabbed – and killed – her. There were quick plans to dump the
body.

Now Dustin feels
he's unsafe in the house. He contacts Kimara, the social worker who's
already torn by a colleague's insistence that she lie. Meanwhile, the
marriage of Nicholas and Claire (Timothy Hutton and Lily Taylor)
crumbles, causing their nanny to take a drastic step.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mary Kills People” debut, 10:02 p.m., Lifetime.

Like many women
these days on TV (and in real life), Mary is tugged in all
directions. She's a doctor and a divorced mom; in her spare time, she
secretly assists suicides, breaking the law.

She has a dark view
of life; her colleague doesn't. As played by Caroline Dhavernas
(“Hannibal,” “Wonderfalls”) and Jay Ryan (“Beauty and the
Beast”), they're interesting opposites. Now the crises come.
There's one in the first few minutes, with two big ones near the end
of this fairly good hour.

Other choices
include:

Riot documentaries,
3:45 p.m., Showtime and 8 and 11 p.m., Smithsonian. Between now and
Saturday (the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots),
TV will take many looks at what happened. Showtime reruns Friday's
“Burn, (bleep), Burn.” The Smithsonian offers a fresh edition of
its “Lost Tapes” concept. It paints a vivid portrait, using only
footage from the time.

“Little Big
Shots,” 7 and 8 p.m., NBC. First is a rerun, ranging from a
4-year-old barber to acrobatic roller-skaters. Then a new hour
includes a 6-year-old “snail whisperer” and a 5-year-old pianist.

“Masterpiece: Home
Fires,” 9 p.m., PBS. After a cascade of woe, last week's episode
offered a sudden surprise: The butcher's son, assumed to be killed in
combat, is home. Now the family faces a disturbing discovery; also,
Dr. Campbell's family receives some joyous news.

“When Calls the
Heart” season-finale, 9 p.m., Hallmark. As Cody lies seriously ill,
two doctors disagree on whether he needs surgery. Abigail (Lori
Loughlin) must make the call.

“Guerilla,” 9
p.m., Showtime. John Ridley is the master of moral dilemmas and mixed
emotions. That's true in his “American Crime” and in this complex
drama. Nudged by his intense girlfriend (Frieda Pinto), a
mild-mannered teacher helped a radical escape from prison, Now they
grope futilely for their next step. It's a strong hour that even adds
a human touch to the brutal cop who's pursuing them.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. A magician dies during a classic routine; murder is
suspected.

“Feud” finale,
10 p.m., FX. Joan Crawford's fine movie career ended, alas, with
“Trog.” Sometimes listed among the all-time worst, it had her as
a scientist, trying to tame an ape-like creature. That's where we
find her now, as Bette Davis – whose career outlasted Crawford's by
17 years – ponders the years that were wasted on their feud.

TV column for Saturday, April 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Soundtracks,” 9 p.m. ET, CNN (barring breaking news).

Rippling with rage
and hope, this hour offers a strong start to an unusual series.

Each hour has music
that's linked to key moments in history. The opener (which debuted
Thursday) ranges from the death of Martin Luther King to the election
of Barack Obama and the start of the “Black Lives Matter”
movement. We hear Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder and more. Emotion soars
as Aretha Franklin sings “People Get Ready” and Sam Cooke
proclaims “A Change is Gonna Come.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

This rerun, from
October, is stuffed with starpower. There's Lady Gaga doing “A-Yo”
and “Million Reasons.” And Tom Hanks hosting and showing up in
every sketch, even “Black Jeopardy.”

And there's Alec
Baldwin, in two sketches. He does an airplane one alongside Hanks.
And he's Donald Trump, with a script that forces him to boast: “I've
even got the best Baldwin brother, Stephen.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” 8-9:35 p.m.,
HBO.

In her short life,
Lacks saw tough times. Born in Virginia, she died at 31 in Baltimore.
She was a tobacco-field worker, a 14-year-old mother, a steelworker's
wife ... and a key part of history.

Decades later, her
descendants learned that her cancer cells had been harvested for
perpetual research. Now Oprah Winfrey has produced this film and
stars as Lacks' daughter. George C. Wolfe, a Broadway icon – five
Tony awards and 19 nominations – directed and co-wrote it.

Other choices
include:

“Doctor Who,”
7:50 and 9 p.m. ET, BBC America. First is last week's season-opener,
introducing the Doctor's new companion. As played by newcomer Pearl
Mackie, she was thoroughly surprised by the evil lady who kept coming
in and out of puddles ... and, of course, by the Doctor who spans
time and space. Then, in a new episode at 9 p.m. (rerunning at
midnight), they have their first full adventure; on another planet,
they visit a spectacular city that's inexplicably empty.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS.In a rerun, the NCIS finds a warehouse full
of counterfeit purses, plus a trail leading to stolen government
funds. And Nell, usually busy analyzing, joins in field work.

“American
Housewife,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Both reruns involve Katie's
combative nature. In one, she fights back after being sold defective
bags; in the other, she urges Viv to stand up to her husband.

“Black-ish,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., ABC. In its first three seasons, this show has won
Peabody, American Film Institute and Television Critics Association
awards. Now here's a chance to catch a couple reruns. In the first,
Bow (Golden Globe-winner Tracee Ellis Ross) convinces Dre to try
anger-management class. Then Pops' sister (Lorraine Toussaint)
revives her feud with Pops' ex-wife (Jenifer Lewis).

“Training Day,”
9 p.m., CBS. A gang-related shooting accidentally killed a community
organizer.

“The Son,” 9
p.m., AMC. In 1849, young Eli has a life-or-death fight for survival.
He survives – sorry about the spoiler – and in 1915, we see him
and other McColloughs taking the fight to the enemy.

“Class,” 10:05
p.m., rerunning at 1:05 a.m., BBC America. In last week's debut, Ram
saw his soccer-star world shattered by prom-night disasters. Now he
tries to keep his distance from the other students; alas, he soon
witnesses the work of a skin-peeling dragon.