TV column for Wednesday, May 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Americans,” 10 p.m., FX.

Philip and Elizabeth
have always felt they're on the side of good. Deeply embedded in
1980s America, they're spies, reporting back to their Russian
homeland. Still, there's a dark side they can't duck: Often, they
take advantage of innocent people, ruining -- or even ending -- their
lives.

Now that peaks
doubly: Philip (Matthew Rhys) seduced and – using a false identity
– married Martha, an FBI secretary; he must send her to Russia
before her bosses find her. Meanwhile Elizabeth (Keri Russell) has a
quick crisis involving another contact. Lives are bent, in a
beautifully acted hour.

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

Lucious' new video
might re-spark his career, with a deeply personal look at his painful
childhood and his troubled mother. But it also brings fresh questions
from his son, Andre – who is belatedly learning that his own
bipolar disorder is similar to his grandmother's; now a dark secret
brings trouble..

And all around
Andre, there are other emotional extremes: Both of his brothers have
secret affairs; also, his wife Rhonda is starting to remember who
pushed her down the stairs, almost killing her.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Underground,” 10 p.m., WGN America.

A week from the
finale of the first season, crises overwhelm these runaway slaves.
Sam was captured and returned to the plantation, Noah was injured and
a slave-catcher (Christopher Meloni) has Rosalee.

As Cato and Noah try
to free her, “Underground” has a flaw that hurts many dramas –
creating a situation so difficult that no solution would be
believable. If you can overlook that, then catch an
otherwise-excellent episode of a well-crafted series.

Other choices
include:

“Jurassic Park”
films, cable. You can catch all four films – but not in order. IFC
has the original – Steven Spielberg's action masterpiece (1993) --
at 6 p.m.; it precedes that with the second one (1997) at 1 p.m. and
the third (2001) at 4 ... then has the third again at 10 p.m..
Meanwhile, HBO has the fourth film -- “Jurassic World” (2015) --
at 2:50 and 10 p.m.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. Two weeks from the finale, the former tribes are even.
“Beauty” lost Julia Sokolowski (a college student, 19), leaving
two people – the same as for “Brains” and “Brawn.”

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. In previous years, viewers have seen Mother's Day plans
crumble. This time, Frankie tells everyone not to bother ... but then
has a new idea.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Both boys aren't sure how to ask for prom date. Luke get
advice from Mitchell and Manny from Cam ... who, of course, tends to
overdue things.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. For the finale of its 11th season, the show
tries a big story – Hotch (Thomas Gibson) has been arrested on
conspiracy charges – and two returning guest stars. Sheryl Lee
Ralph plays the ex-wife of Rossi (Joe Mategna); Frances Fischer plays
serial killer Antonia Slade.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. John Munch is TV's most eternal
police detective. He started on “Law & Order,” then did 15
seasons on “Special Victims Unit”; the same character – always
played by Richard Belzer, now 71 – has done four other cop shows,
plus two Tina Fey comedies and “The X-Files.” Now, in his first
“SVU” in two years, one of his old cases re-opens.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. When interviewed, Scarlett and Gunnar can't agree on their
own history as a music act. Also, Kelsea Ballerini plays herself and
sings “Peter Pan.”

TV column for Tuesday, May 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Masters,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Janis Joplin's
short, passionate life is the perfect basis for a biography. It had
rich contrasts; “she was like a little-girl-lost and then she would
be as strong as a mountain lion,” one bandmate says in this
compelling film. It had huge highs, deep lows and powerhouse music.

That story is told
with extraordinary subtlety and warmth. There are great clips, of
course, rippling with Joplin's music. There are vivid comments from
her brother and sister, her friends and the people who helped mold
music in the late-1960s. And adding depth are the warm letters ths
Joplin sent home.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Person of Interest” season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS.

Once a
case-of-the-week show, “Person” turns its final season –
Mondays and Tuesdays for 13 episodes – into a fate-of-the world,
sci-fi epic. The all-knowing Samaritan is desperate to get the
machine; it tracks Finch and Reese (Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel)
and the hacker whiz Root (Amy Acker).

At times, the good
guys seem too omnipotent, the bad guys too inept. Still, credit
“Person” with saying farewell in a big way. This hour offers
Finch's deep emotion toward his fiancee (via flashbacks with
Emerson's real-life wife, Carrie Preston) and toward his machine. It
also has fierce, gun-toting action.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Grandfathered,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

In a three-episode
stretch, the show confronts its biggest obstacle – making the
handsome and successful Jimmy (John Stamos) seem sympathetic.

That started last
week, with the news that his grumpy dad had died. Tonight, his
friends – including lovers current (a corporate mogul) and long-ago
(mother of his son) -- try to break through his unblinking surface.
It's a farily good episode that turns terrific in the final minutes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Night Manager,” 10 p.m., AMC.

The first time AMC
tackled international intrigue, it bogged down. The mysteries of
“Rubicon” were stretched on endlessly; viewers weren't sure
anything would ever be resolved.

Here's the opposite
– a John le Carre novel (yes, with an ending), told in six fairly
brisk episodes. This one, the third, finds a loner and ex-soldier
(Tom Hiddleston) embedded in the secret operation of an arms dealer
(Hugh Laurie). We can grumble that things seem too easy, but this is
still a lushly filmed and intelligent tale that lets great actors –
including Tom Hollander as a top aide – collide.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. On Monday, viewers heard the top 10 and voted. Tonight,
eight of them are safe; the other two perform for the judges, with
one surviving.

“New Girl,” 8
and 9 p.m., Fox. Jess is scrambling to fix Cece's wedding dress in
the first episode and meets her boyfriend's female friend in the
second. Meanwhile, Nick frets about inviting their former loftmate
Reagan to the wedding; Winston and Ally are finally together, but try
to keep it secret.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. It's a busy time for Gibbs: He questions a teen who stopped a
home invasion and he brings a Marine's wife to the White House to
meet Michelle Obama, as part of a program for soldiers' families.
Also, Vance and Fornell go to London, in the aftermath of the escape
of a British spy.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. A Navy man, visiting his family's
century-old restaurant in the French Quarter, is the target of an
explosion. That story offers a chance to view New Orleans vibrant
food culture; the hour includes three real-life chefs and music by
Guy Clark, Jr.

“Containment,” 9
p.m., CW. After starting powerfully – a deadly virus spreading from
an Atlanta hospital – the story has stagnated. A containment zone
was set up and re-enforced; efforts to amp up the drama are fairly
interesting, but seem to overemphasize bad behavior in time of
crisis.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Two reporters visit dangerous turf.
Feras Kilani goes to Benghazi, birthplace of the Libyan uprising and
now torn by ISIS and warring militias; Safa Al-Ahmad views fighting
in Yemen.

TV column for Monday, May 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Big Bang Theory” and “The Odd Couple,” 9-10 p.m., CBS.

The bad news is that
“Supergirl” and “Scorpion” have ended their seasons early.
The good: For this month, at least, CBS revives its tradition of
four-comedy Mondays.

“Big Bang” is
the lone rerun in the bunch, but it's a good one: Amy goes on a date
with the socially clumsy Dave (Stephen Merchant) and Sheldon tries
Online dating.“Odd Couple,” which has been consistently funny,
has a new episode with key moments. Oscar continues trying to impress
his smart neighbor (Teri Hatcher); his manager (Wendell Pierce)
introduces his wife (Sheryl Underwood).
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Mike
& Molly,” 8 and 8:30, p.m., CBS.

Over the next three
Mondays, this show will have its final six episodes.

Often quite silly,
it starts tonight by having noisy Vince quit a do-it-yourself
project. But then is a more-serious story that carries into episodes
ahead: Molly, who quit her teaching job, discovers that one of her
former students is pregnant and homeless.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Houdini & Doyle” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

At first glance,
they were opposites. Conan Doyle was 15 years older and seven inches
taller than Harry Houdini. He was Scottish-born and Irish Catholic;
Houdini was Hungarian-born and Jewish.

Sharing fame,
intelligence and curiosity, they became real-life friends, despite a
huge gap: Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes author) believed in ghosts and
spiritualists; Houdini (the magician) debunked them. This series
imagines that they solved crimes together in 1901 London. Michael
Weston (the detective in “House”) and Stephen Mangan (“Episodes”)
star, in an hour with great visuals and a so-so story.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Jack Irish,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

Late in the first
hour, Jack asks what's going on here; we kind of know the feeling.
This is a sprawling story which the characters (and viewers) must
piece together gradually.

Australian fans
grasped the accents and had seen three Jack Irish movies; Americans
who persevere will find an agreeable blend of action, humor and
confusion. Two popular Aussies, Guy Pierce and Marta Dusseldorp, star
as Jack (a lawyer who became a private-eye and bill-collector) and
his girlfriend, a journalist. The first two episodes arrive today,
with the other four at one-per-Monday.

Other choices
include:

Interview, 3 p.m.
ET, Fox Business Network. Liz Claman talks to Warren Buffett and Bill
Gates, plus Charles Munger, vice-chair of Buffett's company
(Berkshire Hathaway), after its shareholders meeting.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, one football player (Doug
Flutie) was eliminated and another (Von Miller) was tied for last
place. Miller, Ginger Zee and Kim Fields each had a 24 in judges'
votes, leaving them vulnerable on this double-elimination night. But
the third football guy, Antonio Brown, had a 27, topped only by Wanya
Morris (29) and Paige VanZant (28).

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The top 10 singers perform and viewers vote.

“Reign” return,
8 p.m., CW. As the second half of the season – with seven new
episodes – begins, Mary may have to sacrifice her cousin's life to
save her own.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Last week, Jane did the honorable thing, refusing to
write a rich kid's college essay for $1,000. Alas, Petra's scheming
twin has sent in an ad under Jane's name, announcing an essay-writing
service. Now the teaching-assistant job is in jeopardy.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. Sam's son and his classmates have been
kidnapped by extremists; the team races to San Francisco to rescue
them. That wraps up the show's season; “Person of Interest” will
debut Tuesday, then air its final episodes on Mondays and Tuesdays
for six weeks.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. After tonight, Stana Katic only has two more episodes.
Tonight, Beckett (Katic) and Castle probe the murder of a former
movie star who was trying theater.

 

TV column for Sunday, May 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Country Countdown Awards,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Luke Bryan, who's
been co-hosting the Academy of Country Music awards lately, has
another show to dominate. He leads with seven nominations, including
artist of the year and two of the five best-single nods -- “Strip
It Down” and (with Karen Fairchild) “Home Alone Tonight.”

Bryan is scheduled
to perform; so are Thomas Rhett (four nominations), Florida Georgia
Line (three) and Carrie Underwood (two). There's more, as time (an
hour shorter than other awards shows) allows.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Grantchester” season-finale, 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Much of this season
has been a deep dive into despair. Seduced by a clergyman, a teen
became pregnant. She urged her friend to induce a miscarriage; she
died and he was hung for murder.

All of that has
shattered a good-hearted vicar (James Norton) ... who has lost his
true love and is in a tiff with his best friend, a cop. Is there a
logical way to wrap up all of this? Surprisigly, yes. Beautifully
written and filmed, this terrific hour finds a moving finish to the
main story, yet has time for key moments involving the vicar's
assistant, his housekeeper, his friend and more.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Last week brought
shellshocks to Alicia. Her kids finally learned she's divorcing ...
just as her son announced he's marrying and moving to France. Jason
said he wants to be with her ... but that he's not the stay-in-one
place kind. And plans moved ahead for an all-female law firm.

But tonight, her
husband's criminal trial dominates everything. All sides have
lawyers; even Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox) is involved. That sets
up next week's finale of a terrific, seven-year series.

Other choices
include:

“Little Big
Shots,” 7 and 8 p.m., NBC. First, a rerun has kids ranging from a
yodeler to an orchestra conductor. Then a new hour has brief looks,
including 7-year-olds who are a rapper and a theater critic.

“Radio Disney
Music Awards,” 7-9 p.m., Disney. This one will be stuffed with
young singers. Taped Saturday night, it's scheduled to include Ariana
Grande, Kelsea Ballerini, Hailee Steinfeld, Flo Rida, Laura Marano,
Zara Larsson and more, including Jordan Smith, the most-recent
“Voice” champion.

“Madam Secretary,”
8 p.m., CBS. With the Pakistani government crumbling, the U.S.
considers a plan to grab its nuclear weapons.

“The Family,” 9
p.m., ABC. We're two weeks from the end of this bizarre – and often
compelling – tale, with no idea how it could end. Claire, wrapping
up her race for governor, understands the scheme hatched by her
daughter Bella: Have Ben – who says he was a captive with Adam –
pretend to be Adam. But now Bella has fresh doubts ... and the
villain's wife has an FBI agent captive in her cellar.

“The Story of
God,” 9 p.m.. National Geographic. This excellent series sees how
religions view evil. That's part of an ambitious night: At 8 p.m., a
new “Explorer” follows a dangerous climb in Myanmar; at 10,
“Cradle of the Gods” visits a Turkish sanctuary that's 7,000
years older than the pyramids.

“Game of Thrones,”
9 p.m., HBO. Last week's season-opener was full of dark news. Jon
Snow remains dead (for now, at least), Daenerys was captured and Arya
was overwhelmed by her blindness. And now that he's in charge, Tyrion
learned how troubled the city is that Daenerys fled.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Sherlock learns who was behind the attempt to kill his
father.

TV column for Saturday, April 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Jazz at the White House,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Some great musicians
link to entertain the Obamas and us. The concert was scheduled for
Friday, with a few people who aren't usually linked to jazz –
Aretha Franklin, Sting and Buddy Guy.

Mostly, though, this
is full of jazz greats, young (Esperanza Spalding, at 31, has four
Grammys) and old (Herbie Hancock, 76, has 14 Grammys, including an
album-of-the-year). Others include Terence Blanchard, Diana Kroll,
Wayne Shorter, Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Chick Corea, Hugh Masekela,
Dee Dee Bridgewater, Danilo Perez, Trombone Shorty, the Rebirth Brass
Band and many more.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Frozen” (2013), 8 p.m., Disney.

The Disney animation
people have had a lot of good movies and a few great ones. Here's one
of the greats, with gorgeous visuals and soaring songs, led by “Let
It Go.”

That one received an
Academy Award (best song), as did the movie (best animated feature).
Now you can catch it today or at 5:15 p.m. Sunday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “White House Correspondents' Dinner,” about 7:30
p.m. ET, news channels, including CNN and C-Span.

Once an obscure
night for political junkies, this has become a comedy delight. That's
partly because of President Obama's knack for elaborate monologs ...
and partly because of the clever routines by many of the hosts,
especially Seth Meyers and Conan O'Brien.

Now the host is
Larry Wilmore, a late-bloomer. After years as a successful writer and
obscure actor, he launched “The Nightly Show” last year at 53,
showing a sharp wit; now he visits Washington.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The daughter of the Secretary of the Navy (Leslie Hope) has been
kidnapped. Now the team links with the FBI to find her.

Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame ceremony, 8 p.m., HBO. Each year, this brings some first-rate
music and interesting comments. This year's inductees show the vast
range of rock – from N.W.A. (the fifth rap act in the Hall) to Bert
Berns, who died at 38, after writing such songs as “Under the
Boardwalk” and “Piece of My Heart.” Others are Chicago, Cheap
Trick, Deep Purple and Steve Miller.

“National Parks,”
9-11 p.m., PBS. The final chapter of Ken Burns' superb documentary
starts in 1946, when a newly mobile, post-war nation started
discovering its parks in massive numbers.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. After saving someone's life, a mystery man
simply disappears. Research shows he may be a soldier who was
captured in Afghanistan, long ago.

“Marvel's Captain
America: 75 Heroic Years,” 9 p.m., ABC. This rerun conveniently
provides some promotion for the Captain America film that will debut
Friday (May 6).

“Outlander,” 9
p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10 and 11. Still grasping for political
progress in Paris, Jamie and Claire plan an elaborate dinner party..

“Chris Hardwick:
Funcomfortable,” 10 p.m., Comedy Central. Hardwick visits San
Francisco, which he says should have its symbol be R2D2 -- “a shiny
gay robot who just wants to help people.” Skipping his nerd-humor,
he has fairly funny – and occasionally hilarious – comments about
sex and such.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Last week, the show made a late decision to
skip its planned rerun (Peter Dinklage and Gwen Stefani), instead
showing music by Prince, plus heartfelt comments from Jimmy Fallon.
Now it has another rerun, before the season's final new episodes.