TV column for Monday, Feb. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“When We Rise,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Less than two
generations ago, gays spent their lives in secrecy and fear. Then
profound changes began in attitudes, in laws and in life. Now Dustin
Lance Black – an Oscar-winner for his “Milk” script – gives
us the full sweep in four nights (skipping Tuesday), focusing on
three real-life people.

Cleve Jones was a
young Quaker protestor from Arizona. Ken Jones was a black sailor,
back from Vietnam. Roma Guy was a women's-rights advocate, back from
Africa. All three – beautifully played by newcomers – converged
on early-1970s San Francisco, where the world was about to change.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Voice” opener, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

The nine weeks
between “Voice” seasons were brutal for NBC. Ratings sagged,
“Celebrity Apprentice” drooped, even latenight shows stumbled.
Now the show is back, with red chairs spinning.

Gwen Stefani returns
from her break and Miley Cyrus (a terrific boost to the show) steps
aside. Stefani joins Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Alicia Keys, as
auditions begin.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Taken” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

We first met Bryan
Mills as a retired CIA agent, played by Liam Neeson (then 56) in an
action movie. Now we move further back; as played by Clive Standen,
35, he's on a train ride with his sister, to visit their parents.
Then his Green Beret past provides a fierce jolt.

This has the same
appeal as the movie – sharp action, skillfully executed. Storywise,
it's so-so; a mid-hour surrender is especially lame. Still, there's
enough action to help NBC re-find Monday viewers.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Code of a Killer,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

In British films, we
expect breakthroughs to emerge from London or Oxford or such. But
this fascinating, true story emerged from Leicestershire, a
mid-England county of a million people.

In 1983 and '86,
15-year-old girls were killed in adjoining villages. As it happened,
Leicestershire has a research university where a young scientist
studied the possibility of DNA fingerprinting. Those fact converged
for an historic change in crimesolving; the result is skillfully told
over three hours.

Other choices
include:

“The Bachelor,”
8 p.m., ABC. Last week, Nick Viall visited the homes of the final
four women. Next he's supposed to invited three to separate,
overnight stays in the “fantasy suite” ... in Lapland. First,
Andi Dorfman – who rejected him in the 2014 “Bachelorette” --
shows up with a suggestion.

“24: Legacy,” 8
p.m., Fox. Carter and Grimes, former Army Ranger colleagues, struggle
to make a deal with the leader of a smuggling ring, to locate the
terrorists. Also, there's progress in finding the leak.

“The Obama Years:
The Power of Words,” 8 p.m., Smithsonian, repeating at 9, 11 and
midnight. Here is a powerful way to view a life – six crucial
speeches and the people who helped mold them. Two – convention
speeches by an obscure senator (2004) and a presidential nominee
(2008) – reflected great optimism; two, after mass murders,
reflected despair. The others were black-history milestones – one
after Obama's militant pastor drew attacks, the other on the 50th
anniversary of the Selma march.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. Based on a play about Chicago gentrification, this
comedy returns to that theme tonight: Franco protests his apartment
building being turned into luxury apartments.

“Africa's Great
Civilizations” debut, 9 and 10 p.m., PBS. We hear much about Egypt,
less about the Kingdom of Kush, to its south. For 13 centuries, it
was a powerful force; for a century, it even ruled Egypt. Now Henry
Louis Gates continues his knack for popularizing black history; in
three nights (continuing Wednesday and Thursday), he revisits ancient
spots and sees new discoveries. Tonight's first hour views the
beginnings of man; the second views the spread of Christian and Islam
religions.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. A friend of Happy has been living in a bubble, to protect
her immune system. Now that's been damaged by a storm; the team must
find a way to move her.

 

 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“When We Rise,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Less than two
generations ago, gays spent their lives in secrecy and fear. Then
profound changes began in attitudes, in laws and in life. Now Dustin
Lance Black – an Oscar-winner for his “Milk” script – gives
us the full sweep in four nights (skipping Tuesday), focusing on
three real-life people.

Cleve Jones was a
young Quaker protestor from Arizona. Ken Jones was a black sailor,
back from Vietnam. Roma Guy was a women's-rights advocate, back from
Africa. All three – beautifully played by newcomers – converged
on early-1970s San Francisco, where the world was about to change.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Voice” opener, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

The nine weeks
between “Voice” seasons were brutal for NBC. Ratings sagged,
“Celebrity Apprentice” drooped, even latenight shows stumbled.
Now the show is back, with red chairs swiveling.

Gwen Stefani returns
from her break and Miley Cyrus (a terrific boost to the show) steps
aside. Stefani joins Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Alicia Keys, as
auditions begin.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Taken” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

We first met Bryan
Mills as a retired CIA agent, played by Liam Neeson (then 56) in an
action movie. Now we move further back; as played by Clive Standen,
35, he's a former Green Beret, on a train ride with his sister, to
visit their parents. Then his past provides a fierce jolt.

This has the same
appeal as the movie – sharp action, skillfully executed. Storywise,
it's so-so; a mid-hour surrender is especially lame. Still, there's
enough action to help NBC re-find Monday viewers.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Code of a Killer,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

In British films, we
expect breakthroughs to emerge from London or Oxford or such. But
this fascinating, true story emerged from Leicestershire, a
mid-England county of a million people.

In 1983 and '86,
15-year-old girls were killed in adjoining villages. As it happened,
Leicestershire has a research university where a young scientist studied the possibility of DNA fingerprinting. Those facts converged
for an historic change in crimesolving; the result is skillfully told
over three hours.

Other choices
include:

“The Bachelor,”
8 p.m., ABC. Last week, Nick Viall visited the homes of the final
four women. Next he's supposed to invited three to separate,
overnight stays in the “fantasy suite” ... in Lapland. First,
Andi Dorfman – who rejected him in the 2014 “Bachelorette” --
shows up with a suggestion.

“24: Legacy,” 8
p.m., Fox. Carter and Grimes, his former Army Ranger buddy, struggle
to make a deal with the leader of a smuggling ring, to locate the
terrorists. Also, there's progress in finding the leak.

“The Obama Years:
The Power of Words.” 8 p.m., Smithsonian, repeating at 9, 11 and
midnight. Here is a powerful way to view a life – six crucial
speeches and the people who helped mold them. Two – convention
speeches by an obscure senator (2004) and a presidential nominee
(2008) – reflected great optimism; two, after mass murders,
reflected despair. The others were black-history milestones – one
after Obama's militant pastor drew attacks, the other on the 50th
anniversary of the Selma march.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. Based on a play about Chicago gentrification, this
comedy returns to that theme tonight: Franco protests his apartment
building being turned into luxury apartments.

“Africa's Great
Civilizations” debut, 9 and 10 p.m., PBS. We hear much about Egypt,
less about the King of Kush, to its south. For 13 centuries, it was a
powerful force; for a century, it even ruled Egypt. Now Henry Louis
Gates continues his knack for popularizing black history; in three
nights (continuing Wednesday and Thursday), he revisits ancient spots
and sees new discoveries. Tonight's first hour views the beginnings
of man; the second iviews the spread of Christian and Islan
religions.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. A friend of Happy has been living in a bubble, to protect
her immune system. Now that's been damaged by a storm; the team must
find a way to move her.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Academy Awards, 8:30 p.m. ET, ABC.

We know the start
will be fun, because host Jimmy Kimmel brings great material to
everything he does. After that? The show's new producers have chosen
some humorless presenters, but there's hope for the music.
Oscar-nominated songs will be sung by Justin Timberlake, Lin-Manuel
Miranda (with Auli'i Cravalho, the teen “Moana” star), Sting and
John Legend – who will do two “La La Land” songs.

Yes, “La La Land”
-- a gem with a unique feel – could dominate. Still, there are
upset prospects -- “Manchester By the Sea,” “Lion,”
“Moonlight” -- and the acting categories are wide open.

TONIGHT'S WARM-UP:
Red-carpet and more.

You can easily spend
the whole day on the Oscara. Start with a rerun of Saturday's
Independent Spirit Awards, from 11:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. ET on IFC;
the nominees (for modest-budget films) included “Manchester” and
“Moonlight.” Also, E starts its Oscar-preview marathon at 1 p.m.
ET.

Then the red-carpet
shows begin; they're 5-7:30 p.m. ET on E and 7-8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
Later, the post-Oscar shows start; they're 11:30 p.m. ET on E and
12:05 a.m. ET (delayed to 10 p.m. PT) on ABC.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Billions,” 10 p.m. Showtime, and more.

Last week, this show
ended with U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) wobbling. His
foe, Axe (Damian Lewis), had escaped prosecution ... and gave a $5
million bonus to Rhoades' estranged wife. That's being viewed as a
bribe and the attorney general seems ready to fire him.

There's much more,
in a smart and winding plot that includes Danny Strong (the brilliant
writer of “Game Change,” “Recount” and “Empire”) as Axe's
target. That's on a night when broadcast retreats to reruns and such,
but cable – AMC, HBO, Showtime, Starz and Hallmark – has new
scripted shows.

Other choices
include:

“Roots,” 11 a.m.
to 1 a.m., Sundance. This epic mini-series – one of the
most-honored in TV history – had its 40th anniversary
last month. Its sequel airs Monday and Tuesday.

“Masterpiece:
Victoria,” 4-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Instead of
throwing the season-finale against the Oscars, many stations will
rerun the entire series so far; some will even re-rerun all or part
of it, after 11. The best moments come early, when a tiny teen (18
years old, variously listed at 5-foot and 4-11), with little
preparation, became queen. She emerges as a strong force ... as does
Prince Albert.

“60 Minutes,” 7
and 8 p.m., CBS. Here are two new hours, the first billed as “60
Minutes Presents.”

“The Simpsons,”
8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. In the first rerun, Homer takes Grampa to Cuba,
in search of better health care. In the second, he coaches the
lacrosse team with Milhouse's dad, who's too needy.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season-opener, the
NCIS hasn't been able to find its mole; a Washington boss sweeps
Hetty and Granger aside and takes over. Also, a Syrian mission goes
awry, leaving one team member seriously injured.

“The Walking
Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC. One of the Alexandria people must navigate life
inside the Saviors' compound. That reruns at 11:08 p.m., surrounding
a “Talking Dead” episode at 10:09.

More drama, 9 p.m.,
cable. On HBO's “Big Little Lies,” Celeste (Nicole Kidman) wants
counseling with her abusive husband. On Hallmark's “When Calls the
Heart,” a boy tells a big little lie about a bear. On Showtime's
“Homeland,” Carrie follows a fresh lead. And on Starz' “Black
Sails,” the Navy has retreated; that turns the seas near the island
into a fierce war zone.

“Girls” and
“Crashing,” 10 and 10:30 p.m., HBO. First, Hannah meets a
once-admired writer whose reputation has been battered. Then Artie
Lang, who's been frank about his drug and rehab problems, guests;
Pete gets to open for him and goes to extremes to keep him clean and
sober.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 25


TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
“Big Cat Week,” noon to 7 p.m. ET, NatGeo Wild; and more.

If you missed this
week, don't fret; all six of its TV premieres rerun today That starts
with the splendid “African Cats,” an epic that Disney showed in
theaters in 2011. It concludes with “Soul of a Cat” tracing the
parallels between housecats and the big cats in the wild.

That still gives you
time to switch to BBC America for the second “Planet Earth II”
episode, at 9 p.m. and midnight. There's great fun in the scenes with
grizzlies scratching and flamingoes dancing, but this starts and ends
with the ultimate big-cat footage – compelling views of the elusive
snow leopard.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Sports overload, everywhere.

How thoroughly does
sports dominate our TV tonight? In prime time, it has three of the
big-four networks ... plus five major cable channels and lots of
minor ones.

ABC has pro
basketball at 8:30 p.m. ET, with the Chicago Bulls, clinging to a
playoff slot, visiting LeBron James and the conference-leading
Cleveland Cavaliers. NBC has hockey at 8 p.m. ET, with the Pittsburgh
Penguins, second in their conference, hosting Philadelphia. And Fox
has boxing at 8 p.m. ET, with Deontay Wilder defending his
heavyweight title against Gerald Washington.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independemt Spirit Awards,” 5-7:30 p.m., ET, IFC;
rerunning at 10 ET.

On the eve of the
Academy Awards, this honors independent films (generally, with
budgets under $20 million). And yes, there are good ones. Two
best-picture nominees (“Moonlight” and “Manchester By the Sea”)
are also up for Oscars; today, they face “Jackie.” “Chronic”
and “American Honey.”

There should be fun,
with comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney hosting. Acting nominees
include Oscar-nominees Casey Affleck, Viggo Mortensen, Natalie
Portman, Ruth Negga, Isabelle Hubbert and Lucas Hedges, plus Annette
Bening, Craig Robinson, Shia LaBeof, Molly Shannon and many more.

Other choices
include:

-- "Roots," 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Sundance. Shortly after its 40th anniversary, we can catch one of the most honored shows in TV history. It reruns at the same time Sunday; then its sequel will be split between Monday and Tuesday.

“The Hobbit”
trilogy (2012, 2013, 2014), 1, 4:30 and 8 p.m., TNT. Here's a chance
to catch all three films from “Lord of the Rings” director Peter
Jackson.

More movies, 7 p.m.
and beyond. At 7, AMC has Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning “Departed”
(2006). At 7:30 ET, sandwiched between the award telecasts, IFC has
the dandy “Speed” (1994). And at 8, try “Hotel Transylvania”
(2012) on FXX or Tom Hanks' “Captain Phillips” (2013) on FX.

“Ransom,” 8
p.m., CBS. To rescue a kidnap victim, Eric must dig into the secrets
of her father, a senator. Meanwhile, his efforts to keep his own
daughter safe go awry.

“The History of
Comedy,” 9 and 10 p.m. ET, CNN, barring breaking news. First is a
rerun of last week's hour, a solid examination of women in comedy.
Then an OK hour views the knack of finding laughs in real life. Jerry
Seinfeld, a master of that, met Larry David, who keeps notes about
life's odd details ... and was devastated when he once lost the
notebook. Their “Seinfeld” is linked here with “All in the
Family,” “Roseanne” and others, sometimes finding large laughs
in life's small moments.

“For Peete's
Sake,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. This reality show focuses on
actress Holly Robinson Peete and her husband, former pro quarterback
Rodney Peete. Now she and her brother are in her home town of
Philadelphia, looking for a place to bury the ashes of their dad,
Matt Robinson, who was the original Gordon on “Sesame Street” and
later was a “Cosby Show” producer-writer.

“MasterChef
Junior,” 11 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the amiable opener, eight kids
get spots in the top 20.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m. (or later, with hockey overrun), NBC. Emma Stone hosts this rerun, with music by Shawn Mendes.

TV column for Friday, Feb. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Patriot,” any time, www.amazon.com/gp/prime.

An official (Terry
O'Quinn) sends his son John (New Zealand star Michael Dorman) on a
tough undercover mission. He knows John has some strong skills
(killing, for instance) and some flaws: He's a fledgling country
singer who comes close to spilling state secrets when improvising
songs.

John soon creates
problems – including the only recent murders in the nation of
Luxembourg. This is a neatly offbeat thriller; it's sort of like
“Breaking Bad,” but available (to subscribers) all in one bunch.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Darius Rucker has
lots of extra skills. He's been a rock star (with Hootie and the
Blowfish), a country star and, we're told, a pretty good football
player and golfer. He's also had a few acting roles.

Now he guests as a
bombmaker. Once McGarrett and Danny find him, they have a bigger
challenge – getting the bomb out of the jungle before it explodes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “African Cats,” 9 p.m. and midnight ET, NatGeo Wild,
.

Each year (almost),
Disney brings an epic-scale nature film to theaters. Each has a
sprawling scale, intimate moments and great production values; each,
as part of a large deal, eventually reaches Wild.

This gorgeous 2011
epic arrives as “Big Cat Week” ends today (2 p.m. to 3 a.m. ET)
and Saturday, In Kenya, we meet a cheetah who tries – with mixed
success – to keep her five cubs safe ... and an old lion, fighting
for his clan ... and an orphaned lion, desperate to become part of a
foster family.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Some Like it Hot” (1959), 8-10:15 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies.

Two days before the
Academy Awards, this reminds us that respect is iffy.

“Hot” has been
named by the American Film Institute as the funniest American film
ever; still, its only Oscar was for best costumes in a
black-and-white film. It drew five other nominations, including one
for Jack Lemmon and two for writer-director Billy Wilder ... but not
for best picture.

Other choices
include:

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. At first, Bozer (Justin Hires) didn't even know what his
roommate does. Now he's part of the team ... and his first overseas
mission goes terribly wrong.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Worried that their daughters don't go to
church any more, Mike and Vanessa vow to make it more interesting.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. This sometimes-silly show adds a serious subject tonight:
Allison finds a lump in her breast; the others rally around her,
while waiting for the test results.

“Great
Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS. These two pieces have much in common --
the New York City Ballet, dancing in Paris, doing works that George
Balanchine choreographed to the music of French composers. Still,
they're exact opposites – first a tiny Ravel number, with two
dancers and a pianist; then a massive Bizet number, with almost 50
dancers.

“Emerald City,”
9 p.m., NBC. Already a dark variation on “Wizard of Oz,” this now
turns ultra-dark. Two people are put in positions where they might
kill a loved one; a third must merely watch a loved one die. Grim
forces collide in nasty (but visually impressive) ways, setting up
next week's finale.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season's second episode, an old woman
has been killed by a stray bullet. Also, Erin must scramble when a
case becomes personal for her investigator

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Planet Earth II,” 9 p.m. and midnight ET, BBC America.

One of the season's
best shows is buried on TV's worst night. Beautifully filmed and
cleverly narrated, it finds stunning scenes worldwide ... but its new
hours are on Saturdays, when viewership sags.

Fortunately, there
are these Thursday reruns, starting with a splendid visit to islands.
An early snake segment is long and nasty, but mostly we see
predator-free worlds. A stark, volcanic island has 1.5 million
penguins ... Christmas Island has 50 million crabs on the march ...
And in the world's slowest booty call, a male sloth rushes (sort of)
to the sound of a female's voice.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“How to Get Away With Murder” season finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

This short season –
15 episodes, split into two spurts – concludes here, with key
information. We finally learn how Wes died – and why others (Nate,
Connor, Laurel) were there.

Afterward, ABC will
loan the Thursday slot to an impressive mini-series (“When We
Rise”) and then will bring back “The Catch” from Shonda Rhimes,
producer of its other Thursday shows.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Blacklist Redemption” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

It's time to warm up
our recording devices: Two series debut at the same time, with
familiar elements.

This one borrowa the
“Blacklist” timeslot and some of its characters: Tom Keen once
seemed to be the mild-mannered teacher married to Liz; he turned out
to be a master of deception. Now Scottie Hargrave (Famke Janssen),
the mercenary, wants him to help rescue a kidnapped CIA agent.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY
II: “Sun Records” debut, 10:02 p.m., CMT, TV Land; 10 p.m.,
Nickelodeon.

Back in 1952, a
young redhead named Sam Phillips began recording Memphis musicians.
He captured great black performers ... then semi-ignored them after
his engineer recorded Jerry Lee Lewis . The rock 'n roll era was
born, with white singers in the focus.

Based on Broadway's
“Million Dollar Quartet,” this has a few stars – Chad Michael
Murray as Phillips, Billy Gardell as Col. Parker – and lots of
newcomers in classic roles. They play Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash,
Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, Eddy Arnold, Lewis and his cousin, the
future Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory” and “The Great Indoors,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., CBS. First,
the guys are surprised that Penny might be going with to Comic-Con.
Then Jack's girlfriend (Maggie Lawson) worries that he doesn't have
any friends. He asks his co-workers (millennials whom he's mocked) to
fake a friendship.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Alex finally returns to the hospital, but finds much has
changed. Also, Jo makes a difficult decision involving a patient and
Arizona tries to keep away from Eliza.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Nudged ahead an hour to set up “Redemption,” the
show finds that Red has been given a deadly toxin. There's a scramble
to find an andidote and learn who betrayed him.

“Riverdale,” 9
p.m., CW. Last week's strong episode dumped the sexy-teacher plot; it
also showed that Jughead is virtually homeless, the son of a
Southside Serpents gangster. Tonight's so-so hour has Jason's funeral
nearing, revealing links between his nasty families and others in
Riverdale.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Adam seems to have a thing for tall, skinny women. Bonnie
(the 6-foot Allison Janney) learns he's still close to his ex-wife
(the 5-10 Wendie Malick).

“Training Day,”
10 p.m., CBS. Having already burned through villainous Mexicans,
Russians and Arabs, the show now has evil Japanese. It also gives
Frank (Bill Paxton) some warmth in dealing with a young informant ...
and reflects Paxton's own fondness for all things Texas.