TV column for Saturday, Jan. 7

“This is Us,” 1-11 p.m., USA.

In an era when new
shows draw shrugs, this has soared,. Ratings have been good, praise
has been high. The American Film Institute called it one of the
year's 10 best; the Critics Choice awards named it “most exciting
new series.” The latter also nominated it for best drama, as did
the Golden Globes.

We won't spoil any
surprises here. Watch the opener, with a doctor subtly transforming
lives. He's superbly played by Gerald McRaney, who comes back briefly
in the third episode (3 p.m.) and is key to the tenth (10 p.m.),
which has compelling moments that set up NBC's next new hour, at 9
p.m. Tuesday.

“Ransom,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Let's credit CBS for
inserting a new, scripted series into a night that's been a profit
center for reruns and non-fiction. It does that by splitting the
costs between production companies in Canada (which makes excellent
TV), France, Germany and the U.S.

The show centers on
a hostage negotiator, but this hour – its first Saturday one, after
a Sunday debut – is different: A top baseball prospect needs a
specific bone marrow ... which is being ransomed.

Football, 4:35 p.m. ET ESPN, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC.

The wild-card teams
get their shots today and Sunday, in games that will trim the Super
Bowl field to eight. First are the Oakland Raiders; they had a great
season (12-4), but their quarterback was injured and his back-up was
banged up last week. Suddenly, Connor Cook – who had never before
dressed for a pro game – was playing; he may now be facing the
Houston Texans (9-7).

Then it's the
Detroit Lions (9-7), whose quarterback has been playing with a
throwing finger in a splint. He's done well with it – but the Lions
have lost three straight; they visit the Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1).

Other choices

“The River Wild”
(1994), 7:08 p.m., Starz; or “Julie & Julia” (2009), 8 p.m.,
Pop. Two first-rate movies offer opposite views of Meryl Streep. In
one, she's an action hero, saving her kids from nasties; in the
other, she's Julia Child in flashbacks, as a modern woman (Amy Adams)
tries to master her recipes.

Jimmy Kimmel
special, 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of an hour that followed Monday's
“Bachelor” season-opener. Kimmel talks to Nick Viall (the new
bachelor) and others.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
8 p.m., Fox. In an instant rerun of Friday's season-opener, Ichabod –
stunned by Abbie's death – is in Washington, D.C., with her sister,
searching for the next Witness.

“Now More Than
Ever,” 8 p.m. ET, CNN, rerunning at 10. If you missed this in its
debut Sunday, catch it now. With frankness and detail, we get a
history of Chicago, the band that's now in its 50th year.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. This rerun of Wednesday's episode has great music, compelling
characters ... and an overheated plot that wants us to think someone
needs $30,000 to make a music demo for a festival.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the episode that brought Paget
Brewster back to the show, as Emily Prentiss. She helps probe the
disappearance of three women.

“World War Z”
(2013), 10 p.m., FX. Brad Pitt tries to save the world from a zombie
overload. Apparently, that's just one of our problems. This is
preceded at 8 p.m. by “Underworld Awakening” (2012), with
vampires and werewolves and such.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 6

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

Here's a rare
pleasure – a double scoop of a show that's fresh, original and
(despite being uneven in quality) often quite clever. And after a
stagnant stretch, both hours propel the plot sharply.

In the first, there
are major moments in the romance of Rebecca's ex-boyfriend Josh and
in the marriage of her friend Paula; that leads to a child-raising
misadventure in a strip club. And in the second, there's a huge
change in her work world. That episode, in particular, has some
wonderfully witty songs. “Crazy” does get excessive at times, but
usually pulls back in time for some dandy fun.

“Grimm” final-season opener, 8 p.m., NBC.

What do you do if
the world's gone mad and Evil runs the government? “We regroup; we
rebuild,” Trubel said. That will have to be quick, because “Grimm”
only has 13 episodes and steep odds.

The mayor and other
officials are monsters (literally); Nick, the monster-fighter, was
called a criminal and attacked by a horde of killers. He survived,
for reasons he doesn't understand. (It had something to do with a
magic piece of wood and a little girl's doll; it's that kind of
show.) Now he's trying desperately to escape, which will take more
than one episode. This one is solidly crafted.

II: “Emerald City,” 9 and 10 p.m., NBC

Kansas must be
filled with great adoptive parents. The Kents were good to Clark; in
this version, the Gales were great to Dorothy. Like him, she's a
solid Midwesterner, flung into a bigger mission.

An earnest young
nurse, she propelled by a tornado and inadvertently kills a witch.
The good news is that this has great visuals and a likable star,
Adria Arjona; the bad news is that this relentlessly dark version of
“Wizard of Oz” isn't for kids (or some adults). But it will
please most “Grimm” fans.

ALTERNATIVE: “One Day at a Time,” any time, Netflix.

Ponder the awesome
length of Norman Lear's career. This guy was writing TV for Dean
Martin and Jerry Lewis in 1950; he wrote for Martha Raye, George
Gobel, Tennessee Ernie Ford ... all more than a decade before his1971
“All in the Family” changed television.

And now, 94 and
still witty, he's a producer of this remake of his show. Justina
Machado – who was impressive as a regular in “Six Feet Under”
and “Queen of the South” -- plays a single mother of two. Rita
Moreno, 85 and one of the few EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony)
winners, plays her mom.

Other choices

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Mac has to figure out who's the mole, trying to disrupt
the organization. Sarah (Amy Acker) is back; Nikki's back, too, but
we don't know who's side she's on.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Parenting issues get debated here. When
Mike and Vanessa turn down Eve's financing request, Kristen steps in.
Soon, there's a debate over family dinner.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. In real life, Tisha Campbell-Martin (who plays Damona) had
a fairly busy music career. In this fictional version, we learn that
Damona was the lead singer on “Gonna Make You Sweat.” Also, Ken's
new intern (Gillian Jacobs of “Community”) is either admiring or

“Shark Tank,” 9
p.m., ABC. When was the last time you saw a rich financier with a cat
comb in his teeth? That's part of a fun start for an hour rhat ranges
from frustration to a moving moment.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Chin life is in danger, after he's captured by a drug
cartel in Mexico.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. All the Reagans get involved tonight. Jamie and his
police partner are enmeshed in a complex adoption fight and want help
from his sister, a lawyer.. His brother learns that his son plans to
join the Marines. And their dad, the police comissioner, hears
reports of cadet cheating.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 1 (out of order)

(Here's the TV column for Sunday, Jan. 1, a tad out of order. If you scroll on down, you'll see the ones for the 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd; sorry about that.)

“The Mick” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

Mickey (Katilin
Olson) is sort of drifting through life, without a job or a clue.
Then her rich sister is arrested and asks her to watch the kids. Mick
is glad to help out ... since it involves living in a mansion that
has a swimming pool and a liquor cabinet.

“The Mick” is a
variation on “Uncle Buck” and Olson is a variation on Allison
Janney in “Mom” -- a tall, slender woman who somehow seems
charming in her unapologetic decadence. The humor gets a bit broad at
times, but the show – which will air on Tuesdays – remains fun.

“Now More Than Ever,” 8 and 10 p.m. ET, CNN (barring late news).

At first, Chicago
was an anomaly – a horn band making classy album-rock music. Then
it began to have hit songs and things changed ... often.

Here is a
wonderfully frank assessment by the guys who were there. It's sort of
like the history of rock – fame, money, drugs, departures, rebirth
– in a first-rate band that is now entering its 50th

II: .“Ransom” debut, 8:30 p.m., CBS.

In rare moments of
budgetary sanity, U.S. networks try co-productions with other
countries, spreading out the costs. A few of those shows (ABC's
“Rookie Blue,” CBS' “Flashpoint”) succeed; most don't.

Now that's pushed
further: Four countries – Canada, France, German and the U.S. --
are involved. The story, partly based on a real-life figure, is about
a hostage negotiator. The stars – from England, Canada and Ireland
– are mostly unknown here, which may be why the series will be
pushed to Saturdays.

ALTERNATIVE: Football, all day.

Aren't there
supposed to be a lot of football games on New Year's Day? Yes, but
these aren't the ones we expect. Since this is a Sunday, the bowl
games (and the Rose Parade) will wait a day.

Instead, we get the
pros, with titles and play-off spots at stake. Most of the games are
at 1 and 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox and CBS; at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC, the
Detroit Lions host the Green Bay Packers, with the winners becoming
the division champions.

Other choices

Murder marathon,
3-10 p.m., Investigation Discovery. This starts and ends with current
series, led by Joe Kenda (3 p.m.) and Paula Zahn (9 p.m.). In between
are advance debuts of five crime shows, concluding with the 8 p.m.
“Murder Chose Me”: Rod Demery was 3 when his mother was killed;
he grew up to become a homicide detective in Shreveport, La. Now
retired, he discusses his cases.

Performances,” 7:30-9 p.m., PBS. Gustavo Dudamel is guest conductor
of the Vienna Philharmonic, which this year will have its 175th
birthday. Here's the annual New Yearls Day concert, which includes a
chorus and ballet dancers; some stations will also carry it at 2:30

Nine-Nine,” 8:30 and 9 p.m., Fox. When prisoners escape from a van,
it's a crisis for the precinct ... and an opportunity for Jake and
Amy, who make a bet about who can catch the most people.

Sherlock,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS. Fresh from his triumphant work as
Richard III in PBS' Shakespearan trilogy, Benedict Cumberbatch
returns to another classic role. He's probing a mystery, while his
friend Dr. Watson copes with the mysteries of parenthood.

“To Tell the
Truth” return, 9 p.m., ABC. What happens when three different
people claim to have invented the hashtag ... or a “Game of
Thrones” language. Tonight's panelists – Ashley Graham, Jalen
Rose, Angela Kinsey, Donald Faison – try to figure it out. They
also meet a Sumo wrestling champion, a bear-attack survivor and one
of the original “Soul Train” dancers.

“Conviction,” 10
p.m., ABC After a night with Wallace (Eddie Cahill), Hayes (Hayley
Atwell) ponders her relationships. Meanwhile, she's trying to free a
woman convicted of killing a basketballl star.


TV column for Thursday, Jan. 5

“Portlandia” season-opener, 10 p.m. ET, IFC, rerunning at 1:30

Have you ever
wondered what happens when two witches go shopping at Bed, Bath and
Beyond? You'll see tonight, in a hilarious sketch.

This is the sort of
droll absurdism that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein do
brilliantly. In one wonderful bit, they're telling a music duo (Run
the Jewels) how to surprise-release a new album. In another, Vanessa
Bayer is a guest at a hotel where people over-explain everything. For
more great moments, previous episodes rerun from 7:30-11:30 a.m. ET.

“Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

TV has suddenly
discovered the power of re-telling high-profile murder stories. Last
year, the O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey case were retold in
scripted and documentary films; more will follow.

This one is a doc:
In 1989, Jose and Kitty Menendez were murdered in their upscale
California home. Their sons, 21 and 18, promptly went on a spending
spree. After two hung juries, they were convicted.

II: “Superstore” and “The Good Place,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

After a high-profile
start, both shows stepped aside for two months of football. Now
they're back.

First, the store's
tradition involves cleaning out the “lost and found” bin each New
Year; Amy hits the jackpot. Then in “Good Place,” Eleanor
(Kristen Bell) – not the introspective type – makes a personal
discovery. And Michael (Ted Danson) nudges an indecisive Chidi to
make a big decision.

ALTERNATIVE: Fisher/Reynolds interview, 10 p.m., Opray Winfrey

Among Hollywood's
mother-daughter duos, none seemed as interesting – and as
mismatched – as this: Debbie Reynolds' image was endlessly light
and bright; Carrie Fisher was sharply acerbic. After their deaths –
a day apart, at ages 60 and 84 – TV is offering some memories.

This is a 2011
“Oprah Winfrey Show” hour, ranging from Fisher's mental-health
struggles to the famed affair between her dad (Eddie Fisher) and
Elizabeth Taylor. There's more coming: On Saturday, HBO debuts
“Bright Lights,” its Reynolds/Fisher documentary. And on Jan. 27,
Turner Classic Movies has a Reynolds marathon, peaking with “Singing
in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

Other choices

“Hell's Kitchen,”
8 and 9 p.m., Fox. The first hour involves an unusual taste
challenge. The second requires mixing international flavors.

“The Great
American Baking Challenge,” 8 p.m., ABC. A week before the finale,
the challenges are getting tougher. Here are three involving French

“The Big
BangTheory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon and Amy return home and (through
flashbacks) describe their awful trip to Texas. Emmy-winner Laurel
Metcalf is back as his mom.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Here's the ultimate crisis for the
millennials: Jack has left them camping in the woods, without their

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Two “West Wing” Emmy-winners are re-united: Allison
Janney is Bonnie, a recovering (barely) alcoholic; Bradley Whitford
is Mitch, a hard-partying friend of her boyfriend.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., CMT. Last month, the show snuck one episode out early. That
reruns at 9 p.m., before “Nashville” settles into its new cable
timeslot. Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) is back from the crash, unsure
if she'll walk again ... and grumping at Avery's attention. Also,
Rayna (Connie Britton) and Deacon (Charles Esten) are trying to craft
an album about their love story.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 4

“Star,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Few shows have been
as promising and as frustrating as “Star.” It's best moments –
including tonight's final minutes – are sensational; other parts
are often repetitious, sometimes absurd.

Tonight's absurdity
is the idea that it takes $30,000 to make a music demo for a
festival. Its repetition involves attitude: In “Empire” (from the
same producer), we love Cookie's in-your-face attitude; in “Star,”
it's sort of all-Cookie, no-nuance. With few exceptions, characters
keep snapping angry dialog in each other's faces. We almost agree
with the character who says: “I don't like none of them.”

“Match Game” return, 10 p.m., ABC.

It's been a streange
ride for ABC lately. In the regular season, it has strong, smart
shows that draw so-so ratings; in the summer, light game shows draw
big numbers.Now some of those games get extra time.

“To Tell the
Truth” has taken a temporary Sunday spot; now “Match Game”
returns. Hosted by Anthony Anderson and Alec Baldwin, respectively,
they lean to comedy. Tonight's panels have comedy people – Jason
Alexander, Caroline Rhea, Wayne Brady, Cheryl Hines, Ellie Kemper --
and Ice T

ALTERNATIVE: “Nova” season-opener, 9 p.m., PBS.

Two opposite worlds
– careful science and daredevil mountain-climbing – merge. We're
in the Himalayas, one of the last places on Earth that people
settled. Some 6,000 people now live here ... and high above them are
caves that were carved into the rock; at times, artifacts fall from

These are tombs,
created long ago. Now climbers take scientists there, to gather
artifacts and learn about a distant world. The result is factually
intertesting and visually stunning.

Other choices

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. Murtaugh – with a temporary new partner – and Riggs
are in the midst of a turf war. On one side are new drug dealers; on
the other is an established Koreatown gang.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. After a six-week break, this show is back for the second
half of its season... amid big trouble. Patterson is missing and
Roman is wandering with amnesia.

8:30, ABC. Each year, the family takes an impromptu road trip. This
time, Ray has something special in mind. His mom (Minnie Driver)
doesn't like it, but then reacts to an emergency.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. After his Thanksgiving failure, Cam hopes to rebound
with a New Year's Day feast. Mitchell tries to save the day with a
“concierge” ... who turns out to be Cam's former boyfriend
(Kelsey Grammar). Also, Phil finds that his former babysitter is his
dad's new girlfriend.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. Defying orders, Leanne (Marcia Gay Harden) uses the
hospital's helicopter, so a family can be re-united for one last

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia” season-opener, 10 p.m., FXX. Suddenly, Kaitlin
Olson is starring in one show and co-starring in another, both of
which tend to be quite funny. “The Mick,” in its first season, is
Tuesdays on Fox; “Sunny” starts its 12th season with
an offbeat, body-switching tale.

“Man Seeking
Woman” season-opener, 10:30 p.m., FXX. In the first two seasons,
Josh has endured odd nightmares, in search of a girlfriend. Now he
has one, but things remain bizarre. She's played by Katie Findlay,
who was in “How To Get Away With Murder” as the edgy (and then
murdered) Rebecca.