TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 3 (out of order)

(This is the TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 3; scroll down and you'll find Wednesday, Feb. 4.)

“New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox.

For 15 years,
Schmidt and Nick have been a part-time business team, concocting bad
ideas. So far, Schnick Industries has made ... well, nothing. But now
it has a pitch session with Lori Grenier, of “Shark Tank” and
home-shopping fame.

What follows is a
wondrous series of mis-steps and bumbles. We'll overlook a lame
sub-plot – Coach and Winston invest in Cece's education – and
savor some hilarious, Schnick-style moments.

“Forever,” 10 p.m., ABC.

In his 200-plus
years, Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) has faced the joy and despair
of immortality. He's seen the darkest edges of humanity, but this
hour goes deeper and darker than ever.

It starts with the
murder of a man who had made a fortune from art the Nazis stole from
the Jews. Now Henry flashes back to his family's own dark secret,
while solving the murder. It's a solemn, solid hour that also gives
Abe (Judd Hirsch) a peek at his own roots.

ALTERNATIVE: “American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local

Back in 1910, the
U.S. Forest Service was only five years old, with little experience
fighting fires. Then one swept across the Northern Rockies. In 36
hours, it devoured three million acres (the size of Connecticut),
destroyed towns and killed 78 firefighters, plus many more who had
delayed deaths.

“The Big Burn”
is based on a book by Timothy Egan, whose previous book led to PBS'
brilliant “The Dust Bowl.” Like that one, this has
socio-political context, dramatic storytelling and richly human
moments; we see Ed Pulaski, who saved lives while surviving (barely)
a searing ordeal.

Other choices

“Parks and
Recreation,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC. Once profoundly unambitious,
April is now busy. In the first episode, she's managing the wedding
of Donna and Joe. In the second, she accompanies Leslie to Washington
and ponders her future; back home, Andy looks for the perfect job for

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. After a slow stretch – two new episodes in nine weeks – this
ratings hit is back in business. Tonight, a murder victim was about
to be the first openly gay Medal of Honor winner.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. A Naval officer has received a lethal dose
of radiation. Now the team races to solve the murder of someone who
has not yet died.

“Street Art
Throwdown,” 9 p.m., Oxygen. Considered vandalism by some and an
energetic art form by others, “street art” now gets a show of its
own. It's a lot like all the other shows – including the excellent
“Face Off,” at the same time on Syfy – but fun to watch. In the
opener, artists climb to a towering billboard, descend to a creepy
tunnel, and do good work in bad conditions.

“Being Mary Jane”
season-opener, 10 p.m., BET. Crushed by her break-up, Mary Jane
(Gabrielle Union) is dangerous to her friends, her family and her
goldfish. At an elegant dinner party, she implodes. What follows is
an hour of rage and regrets. It's difficult to like Mary Jane, but
easy to root for her. With the exception of her mother (poorly
written and acted), this is a sharp, well-played hour.

“Justified,” 10
p.m., FX. Smart and sexy, alternately fierce and fragile, Ava Crowder
has gradually become one of TV's great characters. Formerly Boyd
Crowder's sister-in-law (before killing her abusive husband), she's
now his fiance ... except that Raylan (a U.S. marshal and her
ex-lover) is forcing her to inform on him. Tonight, Joelle Carter
does great work as Ava, trapped between forces.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 4

“Fresh Off the Boat” debut, 8:30 and 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Eddie Huang figures
he would have been happy staying in Washington, D.C., surrounded by
hip-hop music and hip Chinese-American friends. But when he was 11,
his family moved to Orlando.

This situation
comedy has little to do with Huang's oft-angry memoir; still, it;s an
enjoyable look at a newcomer to suburban strangeness. His mom is
reduced to a sitcom stereotype, but the rest of “Boat” has solid
humor. After launching alongside ABC's Wednesday hits, it will be
dispatched to Tuesdays.

“Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Rippling with giant
plot twists that are downright operatic, this ratings-success keeps
aiming big. Tonight's hour starts and ends with mega-twists, with
more scattered between.

Parts of this make
no sense. How could a basic music video (cavorting in front of a
green screen) be $1 million over budget? But for all its excesses,
“Empire” scores with music, passion and Taraji Henson.

ALTERNATIVE: “Nashville” return, 10 p.m., ABC.

Here's the country
cousin of “Empire,” suggesting that Nashville can be just as
treacherous as the hip-hop world. Rayna was oblivious to two things
that viewers knew – that she really loves Deacon and that he has
liver cancer; she almost married Luke, then called it off on their
wedding day,

Now there's rage –
cars and guns can be dangerous to wedding cakes and champagne bottles
– and more, in a good (if overwrought) hour: Layla, whose husband
Will is gay, tried suicide ... Gunnar fights for custody of Micah ...
Sophie has a gun ... and the Juliette/Avery marriage starts shakily.

Other choices

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. These judges are an agreeable lot and they sent more
than 200 singers to the “Hollywood Week” round. Now more than
three-fourths of those hopefuls will be sent home quickly. Over the
next two weeks, we'll see the field trimmed to 48.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Frankie's Aunt Edie has died; now the entire family is
accompanying her body by train to South Dakota. The result brings
arguments, crises and sudden life changes.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. As a teen, Luke spends less time with his dad; Andy
(Adam DeVine) fills in. Also, Mitchell finds revelations when working
with his sister Claire at their dad's company.

“Earth: A New
Wild,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Over five hours
on four Wednesdays, we'll see new ways that humans and animals
co-exist. The first hour has Jane Goodall and her chimps, plus
delightful footage of pandas, born in captivity but trained for
“re-wilding.” The second ranges from Africa to the Arctic. It
includes a fascinating look at the Saiga antelope, on a remarkable
comeback after losing 95 per cent of its herd in the lawless years
after the Soviet empire fell.

“Chicago P.D.”
10 p.m., NBC. Continuing a “Chicago Fire” story, the team closes
in on a suspect in the arson that killed Shay.

“The Americans,”
10 p.m., FX. Last week ended with a woman being choked to death,
after confessing to her lover that she was a Russian spy. Now Phillip
turns a tragedy into an advantage – disposing of the body (it's
terribly messy) and compromising the killer. Then, in a solid hour,
we're back to the ongoing debate over whether Phillip and Elizabeth
should tell their teen daughter about their secret life.

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FXX. A health inspector is coming, on
the worst possible day: The bar is full of chickens, the toilet is
clogged and Frank has no shoes. What follows is a furious crescendo
of visual humor, some of it excessive and some quite funny.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 2


“Scorpion” (CBS) or “Jane the Virgin” (CW), both 9 p.m.

Yes, it makes a
difference what network you're on; these two first-year shows have
received praise ... and opposite fates. In a recent week, “Scorpion”
finished No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings; “Jane” -- despite wit,
sparkle and a Golden Globe for its star – finished No. 107 out of

Tonight, “Scorpion”
has a rerun about a computer guy with an algorithm to create hit
songs; he helps trace the murder of a music blogger. If you've
already seen it, try “Jane.” Tonight, Jane continues to write for
her dad's telenovela; Rafael frets that his father has the hotel
enmashed in crime connections.

“Celebrity Apprentice,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC.

By the time he chose
Joan Rivers as his 2009 champion, Donald Trump was a fan. “She was
76 years old,” he recalled. “She had more strength, more brain
power. I'll never forget. We had athletes (who) were exhausted after
a couple weeks, and Joan was killing.”

She returned as
board-room advisor in two rounds of this edition; then, he said, she
visited his office in September. “I said, 'She'll be around
forever. She is unbelievable.'” A few days later, she died during
an outpatient endoscopy exam for her throat. Tonight's second hour
has her final board-room appearance.

ALTERNATIVE: “Foyle's War,” any time,

The rich legacy of
British dramas is in good hands everywhere now – PBS (where
“Masterpiece” keeps expanding on Sundays), BBC America and Acon,
a streaming and DVD service.

On the next three
Mondays, the final “Foyle's War” episodes will debut; on Feb. 16,
all eight seasons (most of them previously on “Masterpiece”) will
be available. That said, today's film sometimes feels slow and
stilted. In 1946, Christopher Foyle is searching for spies, secretly
aided by his former military driver. The result is solid and sturdy,
if (at times) a tad sleepy.

Other choices

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Carley and Britt get one-on-one dates, while the
other nine end up with white-water rafting ... and one plunges into
the water. Also, Kelsey's burst for attention goes awry.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Two great characters collide anew, when Fish Mooney (Jada
Pinkett Smith) reveals a secret about Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord
Taylor), the future Penguin.

“2 Broke Girls,”
8 p.m., CBS. Oleg is moving in with Sophie (Jeennifer Coolidge) ...
who promptly starts throwing out his stuff.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. In the show's 100th episode,
Molly is shocked to learn that Mike hasn't been to a doctor in more
than a decade.

Inheritance,” 9 p.m., Fox Business Channel. We meet a man who
assumed the coin he inherited (a 1913 Liberty nickel) was a fake ...
but then learned it could be worth millions. He heads to an auction
house to find out.

“Independent Lens:
A Path Appears,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Deep poverty
isn't confined to distant places. We see a deserate quest for
education in Haiti ... and in West Virginia. Returning to her native
state, Jennifer Garner sees a boy reach pre-school and a woman –
one of 12 people sharing a rented trailer – return to school. This
documentary has so-so execution, but a big story to tell.

“Mud, Sweat and
Gears,” 10 p.m., BBC America. If you like sheer destruction (many
folks do), this is your hour, as two teams convert cars into
demolition vehicles, then attack a sort of ghost town. It's noisy and
chaotic (with no way of resolving disputes), but will appeal to
smash-and-crash buffs.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. In his private-eye work, Castle is supposed to learn if
someone's husband is having an affair. He learns much more,
witnessing a murder ... but has trouble proving it.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 1

Super Bowl, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBC.

After a pre-game
marathon (starting at noon ET), the action moves to the field, in
Arizona. At 6 p.m. ET, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth take over
coverage, with Michele Tafoya on the sidelines.

Idina Menzel sings
the national anthem and John Legend does “America the Beautiful.”
Kick-off is at about 6:30, with Tom Brady's pass-heavy New England
Patriots facing the run-pass-scramble approach of Russell Wilson,
Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks. Katy Perry sings at

“Downton Abbey” and “Grantchester,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

While others put
reruns against the Super Bowl, PBS' “Masterpiece” boldly
(foolishly?) booms ahead. This happens to be a relative weak round of
“Grantchester,” the usually excellent tale of a crimesolving
village priest; leading into it, however, is a typically terrific
“Downton Abbey.”

There are painful
moments for Thomas (juggling his fondness for the upper-crust
Crawleys and for Sarah and her socialist ideals) and for Edith, who
kept her pregnancy a secret, with the baby now being raised by a farm
family. And Robert, the Earl of Grantham, has an explosively
un-earl-like moment.

ALTERNATIVE: “Shameless,” 9 p.m., Showtime,

Even HBO is ducking
the Super Bowl, resting its shows for a week. Showtime not only has
new ones – including “House of Lies” at 10 and the dandy
“Episodes” at 10:30 -- but it has a pivotal “Shameless.”

At the core is
Frank's scheme to get a big insurance settlement; it worked, but he
soon forgets where the money is. Then there are his brainy kids –
Fiona (who met a music guy) and Lip, who heads to the lush Miami home
of his college lover. There are great moments that shouldn't be
blocked by football.

Other choices

Football pre-game,
noon ET, NBC. Bob Costas opens the deluge and will do one of the key
interviews, of Brady; Dan Patrick does the other, of Wilson. There
will be other profiles of the Patriots (by Rodney Harrison) and
Seahawks (Tony Dungy and Josh Elliott). Beyond football, Elliott
interviews Katy Perry, Savannah Guthrie talks to President Obama,
Jimmy Fallon adds humor and Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski visit the
tailgate party, with music and celebrities.

“Puppy Bowl,” 3
p.m. to 5 a.m., Animal Planet. Here are 14 hours of puppies –
actually, six hours, repeated two-and-a-third times. For alternate
cuteness, Hallmark has The Kitten Bowl (three hours, repeated three
times) at noon, leading into “Puppy Love” (2012) – yes, it's
cute – at 9 p.m.

Family movies, 6
p.m., cable. TBS has the three “Shrek” films, from 6 p.m. to
midnight; FX counters with “Ice Age 4” (2012) at 6 p.m. and “How
to Train Your Dragon” (2010) at 8 and 10. Also, ABC Family has the
great “Back to the Future” (1985) at 7 p.m. and its sequel (1989)
at 9:30.

“The Simpsons,”
7:30 and 8 p.m., Fox. A Fox night of comedy reruns is highlighted by
the Halloween segment in which the Simpsons meet the early,
primatively drawn version of themselves. That's followed at 8 p.m. by
Apu becoming a rock star.

“And the Oscar
Goes to ...” (2014), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. This
documentary launches TCM's Academy Award month. The first
best-picture winner, the silent “Wings” (1927), airs at 10.

“The Blacklist,”
post-game, NBC. Sometime after the locker-room interviews -- maybe at
10:30 p.m. ET – this show returns from its three-month break. Red
is arrested and meets a man from his past. That starts a two-parter;
this reruns at 8 p.m. Thursday, setting up a 9 p.m. conclusion in the
new timeslot.

“The Tonight
Show,” after local news (maybe midnight ET), NBC. This will be live
from near the Super Bowl, with plans to include the game's hero ...
which could be difficult, if that's the silent Lynch.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 31

“Saturday Night Live Presents a Sports Spectacular” (8 p.m.) and
“NFL Honors” (9-11 p.m.), NBC; red-carpet at 8 p.m. on NFL

On the eve of its
Super Bowl telecast, NBC has lots of football, a smidgen of other
sports and some good bursts of humor. There are old “Saturday Night
Live” sketches at 8; then Seth Meyers -- the wittty “SNL”
alumnus, now a late-late-show host -- leads the awards show.

That peaks with Most
Valuable Player. Ohers are for best offensive and defensive players,
best offensive and defensive rookies, coach of the year, comeback of
the year and more.

“Black Sails,” 9 p.m., Starz.

The terrific
season-opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) found Captain Flint no longer a
captain. He'd lied to his crew, killed the quartermaster and failed
to get the treasure. Still, he insisted he'd be back in charge.

His first plan was
outrageous: Forget about the well-guarded treasure on shore; steal
something more valuable, the ship itself. But how can he get back the
captain's chair? What follows shows both that he's brilliant and
morally rotten. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to keep control of the
pirate island.

ALTERNATIVE: “Mel Brooks Live at the Geffen,” 9 p.m., HBO,
repeats at 10.

This is basically a
one-man show – two if you count the pianist for the opening and
closing songs. In between those, it's simply a guy, 88, talking about
his life.

But what an amazing
life it's been. A small, sickly kid who grew up poor (he was 2 when
his dad died), Brooks played the drums and did comedy. He began
writing for Sid Caesar and then for himself. He married a beautiful
method actress (Anne Bancroft) and won everything – Oscar, Tony,
Emmy, Grammy, American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. And
he tells it all with wit and warmth.

Other choices

Movies, 7 p.m. and
later, cable. At 7, ABC Family has “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,”
the third of the five “Twilight” films; at 7:30, Pop has the
well-crafted drama “Fried Green Tomatoes” (1990). For lighter
fun, go with “Vacation” (1983) at 8 p.m. on IFC or Amy Adams'
“Enchanted” (2007) at 9 on E.

“Despicable Me”
(2010), 8-10 p.m., ABC. Now for animated fun, with a scheme to steal
the moon.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. Here's a rerun of the pilot film, with Rainn Wilson as
someone who's bigoted, grumpy, self-destructive ... but good at
catching crooks. There are plenty of flaws here, but there's a great
supporting cast, led by Dennis Haysbert as a touring cop who's also a
lay minister.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a bad tip leads McGarrett and Danny to a
warehouse that's rigged to explode.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. This reruns the Oct. 1 episode that added Jennifer Love
Hewitt to the cast. She works on a case involving murders that left
the victims unidentifiable.

“Red Band
Society,” 9 p.m., Fox. This earnest show, focusing on attractive
teens in a hospital, failed during Fox's disastrous fall. Now it has
three new hours left – one today, two next Saturday. Tonight, one
person returns, one fights for freedom and there's a tragedy.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. J.K. Simmons -- a Golden Globe winner and
Oscar-nominee for “Whiplash” -- hosts, with music from D'Angelo
and Vanguard.