TV column for Monday, Oct. 20



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

Last week’s opener was fresh, funny and a tad goofy. A
future teacher – bright, beautiful and virginal – was accidentally inseminated
by sperm from her boss, his final sample before cancer left him sterile.


Now, surprisingly, this second episode is even better than
the first. It still has laughs – including tonight’s final line – but it also
adds warmth and depth. Led by the remarkable Gina Rodriguez as Jane, we see
people with real layers and humanity, alongside a world of gorgeous visuals and
still-goofy humor. 


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang Theory” and “The
Millers,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., CBS.


This is the final week for “Big Bang” to prop up CBS’ Monday
line-up. Next week, TV’s best comedy returns to Thursdays; tonight, it has
Sheldon and Raj trying to duplicate the rigors of a salt mine.


Then “Millers” has its belated season-opener. Carol is ready
for her own apartment and her kids want her far away; she soon has a new best
friend, linking Emmy-winners Margo Martindale and Sean Hayes. And then? After a
year of being safely tucked behind “Big Bang,” next week the show will be on
its own.


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


Here is a great human drama, spanning 5,000 miles and
opposite worlds. It starts with a quirk: Only through a scheduling mix-up did families
learn that the babies they adopted in China are twins.


In Sacramento, Mia lives a heavily scheduled life of Scouts,
soccer and lessons; she’s not allowed out on her own. In a gorgeous Norwegian
village of 243 people, Alexandra simply wanders. Each shows a deep affection
for her twin; they have letters, gifts, computer links. And at 10, we see them
cruise their bikes through the Norwegian countryside, with a quiet freedom Mia
could have barely imagined.


Other choices include:


“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week
brought a partner switch, low scores, but no ouster. Now the dancers –
including driver Michael Waltrip, with the bottom score – face elimination.


“The Voice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The “battle rounds” continue.


“Scorpion,” 9 p.m., CBS. As a nuclear reactor nears
meltdown, the team turns to a troubled ex-colleague.


“American Dad” season-opener, 9 p.m., TBS, and 10 p.m.,
Cartoon. After almost 10 seasons on Fox, this series is doing double duty on cable
networks. TBS starts a five-hour rerun marathon at 4 p.m., leading into the
opener: To get people to hear her causes, Hayley turns blonde … and temporarily
has her IQ plummet. After one more rerun at 9:30, you can switch to Cartoon for
the same, so-so opener.


“Private Violence,” 9-10:30 p.m., HBO. Deanna Walters’
ordeal lasted four-and-a-half days. In the back of an 18-wheeler (with her
brother-in-law driving and her 2-year-old nearby), she kept being beaten by her
estranged husband; at first, he wasn’t arrested. That story and others provide
the core of this dark and involving documentary, focusing on the advocates, lawyers
and cops who struggle to stop abuse.


“The Blacklist,” 10 p.m., NBC. Eco-terrorists are in pursuit
of a major weapon. Meanwhile, Liz wants to shed her guardian and Red is trying
some personal manipulation.


“Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. Rick goes undercover at a school,
to find a 2
nd-grader with key information.


TV column for Sunday, Oct. 19



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.

The good news is that Bart has finally found a school where
he’s a star student. The bad: It’s located in the bowels of Hell, where the
curriculum ranges from torture to keeping the Yankees in first place.


That provides a witty (if gory) start for the 25th
“Treehouse of Horror,” which annually has three odd Halloween-time tales. The
second one, blending Stanley Kubrick films, will be appreciated by a handful of
film students; the third is more fun, with Homer falling for a younger (and
deader) version of Marge.”


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Resurrection,” 9 p.m., ABC.


Any family dinner can be perilous, especially when some of
the people are bitter and three were (until recently) dead. Margaret, the
returned matriarch, forces a gathering, but doesn’t know Barbara will be there.
Now Barbara is dining with her ex-husband and the nephew who once died trying
to rescue her.


It’s a remarkable hour, short on action (after an opening
flashback) and strong on drama. In an era that has few good roles for older
women, there are great ones for Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark in “Game of
Thrones”), 50, and Frances Fisher (“Unforgiven”), 62, as Margaret and her
daughter-in-law.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9-10:30 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings).


We’ve seen this story often in recent decades: A serial
killer is behind bars, but the crimes seem to be continuing. Is it a copycat …
or a protégé … or was the wrong man arrested?


The familiar story gets a few decent twists in the last of
this season’s “Inspector Lewis” tales. The story is told mostly through Lewis,
who seethes at the suggestion that he got the wrong man 13 years ago. If you forgive
one absurd twist – a cop rushing into obvious danger – there’s a deep and
complex tale.


Other choices include:


“America’s Funniest Home Videos,” 7 p.m., ABC. The second
episode of the 25
th season has a Halloween theme. It’s your first
chance this year to see a dog dressed as a fish and a goat dressed as a
cheerleader.


“Madame Secretary,” 8:01 p.m., CBS. With the president
leaning toward military action, Elizabeth scrambles for a peaceful solution to
Iran’s nuclear build-up.


“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” etc., 8:30-10 p.m., Fox. It’s an
all-Halloween night for Fox. After the dandy “Simpsons,” we see Jake’s annual
Halloween bet with the captain. Then a cookie monster strikes “Family Guy”; on
“Mulaney,” John goes to extremes to save his job, with a contract that expires
on Oct. 31.


“The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. After being fired, a CEO files
a sexual-discrimination suit. Alicia and Dean (Taye Diggs) represent her,
facing a tough attorney duo (Carrie Preston and Jill Hennessy).


“The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC. Who would have guessed that
TV’s biggest hour would have two shows about the undead? Or three if you count “Army
of Darkness” (1992), from 8-9:45 p.m. on IFC? Tonight, at the same time as “Resurrection,”
Rick launches a dangerous mission to replenish supplies.


“Revenge,” 10 p.m., ABC. For three seasons, Emily has
struggled to avenge the people who destroyed her dad. Now that the dad (James
Tupper) is back, it isn’t nearly what viewers expected. He’s with evil Victoria
and tried to kill Emily, unaware of her real identity. Things build tonight, in
a strong hour.


TV column for Saturday, Oct. 18



TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “My Boyfriends’ Dogs,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark.


You really have to like any movie that starts with a bride
in soaking-wet gown, walking three dogs. A kindly diner-owner (Joyce DeWitt)
wants an explanation; there’s a good one.


Bailey has everything in life except a guy; now she’s
willing to adjust her tastes to fit a man. The story is predictable, but the
film has wit, Erika Christensen (“Parenthood”) and some really nice dogs.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “Hawaii Five-0,” 8 p.m., CBS.


Here’s the rerun of a horse-riding, action-adventure tale,
far from Hawaiian serenity.


McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Catherine (Michelle Borth)
head to Afghanistan. There, they try to stop the Taliban from harming a young
boy whose family rescued her years ago.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m.,
NBC, and/or “Artie Lange: The Stench of Failure,” midnight, Comedy Central.


“SNL” tentatively plans to rerun the season-opener, with
Chris Pratt. The “Weekend Update” duo had a shaky start, but there’s great work
from newcomer Pete Davidson and from writer Leslie Jones.


You could switch to Comedy Central, but don’t be in a hurry.
An opening bit merely reminds us that rape isn’t great humor material.
Afterward, however, Lange digs into his own past of being addicted and
institutionalized. There, he has some wildly funny true-life tales.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: “Big Driver,” 8 and 10 p.m.,
Lifetime; “Finders Keepers,” 9 p.m., Syfy.


This is a perilous night for slender blonde writers. In “Driver,”
Maria Bello confronts a killer; in “Keepers,” Jaime Pressly’s daughter has a
nasty doll.


Both movies are skillfully filmed and acted, but neither has
a particularly good story. “Driver” (from a Stephen King novella) fails to
convince us she wouldn’t simply call the cops.


Other choices include:


Movies, 7 p.m., cable. The final Harry Potter film (2011) is
on ABC Family. For an action-adventure tale with older stars, catch “RED” (2010)
on TNT has wit, Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman.


“Gracepoint,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. Tentatively scheduled are
reruns of the first two superb episodes of this 10-part crime mini-series.


Football, 8 p.m. ET, ABC. After way too many primetime
mismatches, this could be a good one: Notre Dame (ranked No. 5) visits Florida
State (ranked No. 2).


More movies, cable. Here are classics – Steven Spielberg’s
“Jaws” (1975) at 8 p.m. on IFC and – three days before the start of the World Series –
the brilliant “Field of Dreams” (1989) at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies.


“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a computer
expert is attacked and the missile system may be compromised.


“Survivor’s Remorse,” 9 p.m., Starz, rerunning at 9:30. Last
week’s episode (rerunning at 8:30 p.m.) was an interesting view of “whupping”
as parental discipline. This one catches Cam as he grasps for a good image by
vising a dying teen. The last few minutes are excellent; the rest is so-so.


TV column for Friday, Oct. 17



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: Music, 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings) and/or 11 p.m., HBO.

Great music (with great variety) ripples through the night.
On PBS, the classic “Porgy and Bess” is done by the San Francisco Opera,
including the magnificent Laquita Mitchell.


Then some people can switch to HBO for the debut of “Sonic
Highways.” Each week, the Foo Fighters cut one track of their album in a
different city. That may seem precious and self-centered, but under Dave Grohl,
it’s not. He makes the opener an ode to Chicago, with memories from Buddy Guy,
Bonnie Raitt, Rick Nielsen … and Grohl, whose boyhood visit to Chicago included
a punk concert that changed his life.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Cristela,” 8:31 p.m., ABC.


Last week’s opener was heavy-handed and dim-witted. This
episode is merely semi-lame … which puts it near the front of the pack by
Friday standards.


Cristela Alonzo, smart and likable, plays a law intern who
wants to focus on her work; her family insists she try Online dating. There are
some decent laughs here (especially at work), but “Cristela” has a blunt, jokey
feel; it leans too much on a character (Gabriel Iglesias) who should be
restricted to mini-moments.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Knick,” season-finale, 10 p.m.,
Cinemax.


A season that had a slow-and-gloomy start now has a
fast-and-gloomy finish. Plans (some realized, some not) involve an abortion, an
assassin, a wedding, a medical breakthrough and a battle with addiction.


Key parts center on Cornelia, the good-hearted
philanthropist; in this era (early 1900s), she’s convinced she can’t have a
baby with her true love, who is black. Others stories include the
administrator’s debt crisis and the chief surgeon’s cocaine-fueled research.
This is, at least, a well-crafted gloomfest.


Other choices include:


“The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m., CBS. Last week, the Boston firefighters
were dumped. That follows the previous ouster of Miami-realtor sisters and a
dating couple from California; eight duos remain.


“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Boyd is frightened
(understandably) after a close encounter with a sinkhole. Now his father and
grandfather have opposite views of how to deal with it.


Series-debut reruns, 8 p.m., CW and NBC. On CW, it’s Monday’s
“Jane the Virgin,” a neatly offbeat mix of comedy, drama and soap-opera. On
NBC, it’s the overwrought (but sometimes funny) “Marry Me.”


“Toy Story of Terror,” 8:30 p.m., Disney. Following its Wednesday
airing on ABC, this clever, animated rerun from 2013  moves to cable. It’s preceded by the amiable “Girl
Meets World” at 8.


“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. A Detroit hit man has been
killed in Hawaii. Meanwhile, Chin takes a big risk to help Danny save his
brother.


 “Evermoor,” 9-10
p.m., Disney. This is the Halloween-season launch of a series that will be
shown worldwide. A teen grumbles when her mom remarries and moves her o a
creaky English mansion. Naturally, it has secret rooms, hidden corridors, a
magical typewriter and a tapestry that tells the future.


 “Blue Bloods,” 10
p.m., CBS. When Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) is accused of using excessive force,
the case brings a dilemma to his dad (Tom Selleck), the police commissioner.


 


TV column for Thursday, Oct. 16



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Scandal,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Suddenly, Olivia is back to what she does best – helping the
president avoid an image disaster.


This time, he calls her when his family’s reputation is
endangered. Guesting are Mary Mouser as his daughter, Joe Morton as Olivia’s
father (who, viewers know, engineered the death of the president’s son) and
Brian Letscher as the Secret Service agent responsible for that death.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Reign,” 9 p.m., CW.


Wrapping up a big week for CW’s scripted shows, here’s a
big-scale coronation. Following his dad’s death, Francis takes the throne; his
widowed mom Catherine (the superb Megan Follows, of long-ago “Anne of Green
Gables”) plans an epic coronation.


That comes while France is wracked with famine. Mary – the
queen-to-be – wants to feed the people, which is hardly a family tradition.
Also, Francis fears he’s haunted by his dad’s spirit.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Gracepoint,” 9 p.m., Fox.


There’s still time to join this brilliant mini-series.
Tonight’s hour – the third of 10 – offers subtle perfection from Anna Gunn
(“Breaking Bad”) and Michael Pena (who starred in “Cesar Chavez”).


The story involves the murder of young Danny.  The chief detective (David Tennant) is a
troubled newcomer; that embitters the cop (Gunn) who wanted his job … and whose
son was Danny’s best friend. Meanwhile, Danny’s family faces problems: The dad
(Pena) won’t say where he was that night, the mom is keeping her pregnancy
secret and the sister held drugs she said her boss asked her to get.


Other choices include:


“Grey’s Anatomy,” 8 p.m., ABC. Going through her late
mother’s videos and journals, Meredith finds stunning news. Those videos offer
the return of Kate Burton, who has played Meredith’s mom and the “Scandal”
vice-president. Also, Maggie has an announcement and Alex gets new duties.


Football, 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS, with preview at 7. The New York
Jets visit the Patriots, in a game of teams headed (so far) in opposite
directions. After winning their opener, the Jets have lost five straight. After
splitting their first four, the Patriots heard talk that the Tom Brady era was
over; they won the next two, averaging 40 points a game, with Brady averaging
326 yards and three touchdowns passing.


 “Bad Judge,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Rebecca (Kate Walsh) has an uneven time helping the working person. She
tries to punish a restaurant manager who harasses his staff … but can’t
remember her court stenographer’s name. Meanwhile, she despairs when a fireman
wants more than casual sex.


“A to Z,” 9:30p.m., NBC. Sometimes, snooping can bring too
much information. Andrew and Zelda learn things about each other that they’d
rather not know. Also, his boss learns what workers think of her.


“Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC. Sarah struggles with her
relationship with Hank’s ex-wife and daughter … while Hank (Ray Romano) duck
conflicts. Also, Julia and Joel worry about the effect of their separation.


“How to Get Away With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Annalise is
defending a brokerage-firm chief (Elizabeth Perkins) accused of insider
trading. Also, Wes finds a cell phone with a clue to the campus murder.