TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS.

The new machine age
was ruled by people like Edison and Ford – men with a cunning knack
for adding other people's ideas to their own. Lost in the process
were geniuses like Nikola Tesla.

When Tesla arrived
from Serbia in 1884, he was 28, tall, thin and rather regal. He
perfected the use of alternating current (AC), topping Edison's use
of DC. He kept trying new ideas – wind power, radio signals,
X-rays, wireless communication, even contacting aliens. Some of his
ideas were great, a few were wacky; he died broke, but now draws deep
respect, including this fascinating documentary.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“This is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

After three superb
episodes, we get one that is merely very good. In flashbacks, we see
the parents head to the pool with their three kids – twins, plus an
adopted son who was born the same day. Nowadays, all three face
troubles, one trying the difficult transition from TV star to New
York theater actor.

This time, the usual
realism slips a bit. Problems arise too arbitrarily; jobs appear too
easily. Still, there are spurts of great dialog delivered skillfully
– expecially by Sterling Brown. Fresh from his Emmy for “The
People vs. O.J. Simpson,” he captures another man who's wairly
juggling black and white worlds.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “American Housewife,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Like Billy Crystal
in “City Slickers,” Katie (Katy Mixon) manages to have a personal
crisis in the middle of a grade-school class. Reading a cat book, she
begins to ramble about roads not taken.

Moments like that
give this show extra oomph; so does a wayward Skype to her husband's
History 101 class. Alas, “Housewife” often loses its balance;
Katie's parenting is so dreadful – and her former job so enticing
– that it's tough to empathize with her, At least, we can enjoy the
funny spurts.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Scream” (MTV) and “Scream Queens” (Fox), both 9
p.m.

You know Halloween
is near when screamers fill two networks. The “Scream” season
ended two months ago, but here's a holiday special; Noah and Stavo
create graphic novel about the murders.

Meanwhile, the
original “scream queen” (Jamie Lee Curtis) runs a hospital and
plans to lure the killer by holding a Halloween party. Also hunky
doctors (John Stamos, Taylor Lautner) face a crisis.

Other choices
include:

“Jack Reacher”
(2012), 7-10 p.m., FX; and/or “Jerry Maguire” (1996), 9 p.m. and
midnight, Pop. Choose your Tom Cruise film tonight. He's a tough
detective in “Reacher,” which will have a sequel in theaters
Friday; he's a sports agent in “Maguire,” beautifully written and
directed by Cameron Crowe.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. This is slowly absorbing new cast members. Duane Henry is as a
British agent, searching for a colleague. Also, Quinn (Jennifer
Esposito) painfully tells why she left field work.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Axl's new girlfriend, we learned last week, is both
beautiful and empty-headed. That's fine enough for him; he keeps
driving to see her, giving Orson no way to get to class

“No Tomorrow,” 9
p.m., CW. Xavier keeps trying to convince other people that a meteor
will destroy the Earth. When his latest attempt gets him arrested,
Evie wonders if he's really crazy?

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Don't you hate it when you're trying to
have a nice chat with your mom and people kidnap you and force you to
aid a prison break? That happenns to Sebastian.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). On the eve of the second
presidential debate, we're reminded that security problems are much
worse in Europe. Nations link poorly; until recently, they didn't
even share don't-fly lists. Borders are porous and sentences are
light: One man, convicted of promoting terrorism, was given 18
months; afterward, he led the massacre at a Paris satiric magazine.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Odd Couple” season-opener, 9:30 p.m., CBS.

This comedy is often
overlooked by critics, by viewers ... and by the network itself. Last
season, CBS kept it on the shelf until April; now, however, it's a
key part of the return to four-comedy Mondays.

“Odd Couple”
rarely shows the wit of “Big Bang Theory,” “Mom” or even
“Life in Pieces.” Still, it's quick and slick and jokey. Tonight,
Oscar (Matthew Perry) has romantic plans with Charlotte (Teri
Hatcher). But Felix is distraught while his girlfriend is away; it
becomes friendship vs. romance.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY
II: “Jane the Virgin” season-opener, 9 p.m., CW.

Over its first two
seasons, “Jane” has drawn a Peabody Award, a Golden Globe (for
it's terrific star, Gina Rodriguez) and praise (plus three Television
Critics Association nominations) from critics. It hasn't, however,
had many viewers. Maybe that can change, now that it's nestled behind
“Supergirl.”

Tonight, Jane learns
that Michael was shot. Then there's evil Petra: Her more-evil twin
has poisoned her and assumed her identity; the twin pretends to help
the investigation ... but soon draws suspicion.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “POV,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Here is a film that
tells us a little about a Chinese protester ... and a lot about China
itself. The government goes to extremes to silence and detain her and
her supporters.

Ye Haiyan (known as
Hooligan Sparrow) mixed humor and rage, while protesting the
treatment of sex workers. Like her, filmmaker Nanfu Wang grew up in
rural poverty in China; she returned there and filmed a protest ... a
principal accused of raping six girls. Officials attacked the
protesters; Sparrow, 38, and her buoyant daughter, 13, were detained
and chased. At times, this feels like a warped thriller.

Other choices
include:

“The Walking
Dead,” 6 p.m. to midnight, AMC. Over the next five nights, AMC has
reruns from 6 p.m. to at least midnight. That gets even busier over
the weekend, leading into the season-opener at 9 p.m. Sunday. Tonight
starts in the middle of the second season, with Rick and Glenn
searching for Hershel.

“The Voice”
(NBC) and “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC), 8-10 p.m.. Tonight and
Tuesday, “Voice” has the second half of its “battles,” with
teammates trying to outdo each other in a duet. Meanwhile, “Stars”
is back to business, after having a no-elimination night last week.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Can the Amy/Sheldon relationship survive
cohabitation? Last week, when her place was unavailable, they agreed
to share an apartment and (platonically) a bed. But what happens when
your boyfriend is also the world's most persnickety roommate? We'll
see.

“2 Broke Girls,”
9 p.m., CBS. Now that they've turned the diner into a dessert bar,
Max and Caroline are hoping for upscale customers. Those hopes are
dashed when an arm-wrestling team arrives.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. It's a busy timefor Chloe the cop. She works with Lucifer
to find someone who poisoned two young Los Angeles transplants; she
also goes out for drinks with Maze, who seems to be offering
friendship ... but may have a scheme.

“Timeless,” 10
p.m., NBC. Enough of the dark journeys of the first two weeks, when
we visited the Hindenburg disaster and the Abraham Lincoln
assassination. Now we're in the Rat Pack era of 1962 Las Vegas, where
Rufus meets his old mentor. Meanwhile, Lucy's personal life is
crumbling.

“Conviction,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. What happens if a bad person is convicted for the
wrong reasons? The team may re-open the case of someone convicted of
bombing a mosque.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Masterpiece: The Durrells in Corfu” opener, 8 p.m., PBS.

Running out of money
and patience, Gerald Durrell's widowed mother took a drastic step in
1933: With her four eccentric kids, she moved to a Greek island.
Durrell would turn that experience into three books; now they've been
adapted into a thoroughly enjoyable, six-week mini-series.

Don't expect the
brooding beauty of the shows that follow (“Poldark” and “Indian
Summers”). “Corfu” has a breezy charm, especially with the
superb Keeley Hawes as the mom. The other PBS shows have worlds at
stake; “Corfu” has low stakes, casual rewards and gentle fun.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Killing Reagan,” 8 p.m., National Geographic, reruns at 10 and
midnight.

For the fourth time,
a Bill O'Reilly books has become a solidly competent movie. The
others dealt with the killing of Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy and
Jesus; this is the wounding of Ronald Reagan.

Neither the shooter
nor his scheme are interesting. Wisely, this shifts the focus to the
victim and the aftermath. It depicts Ronald Reagan (Tim Matheson) as
an affable guy who prefers to skip details ... Nancy Reagain (Cynthia
Nixon) as deeply devoted and (with astrology) a tad daft ... and
Alexander Haig as merely creepy. Their worlds transform.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Nothing is forever
in television ... except this. Here is the 27th annual
“Treehouse of Horror” edition, which is also the 600th
episode overall. That's celebrated by a big, “Goldfinger”-style
song.

That's a great
ending to a half-hour that's merely OK. It starts cleverly, with Mr.
Burns hoarding all of Springfield's water, then trails off, with lots
of gore and occasional wit. (It really is funny, actually, when a
grief counselor is killed by a falling “It gets better” sign.)
Then comes the big “600” finale.

Other choices
include:

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Visiting the past, we see Jekyll develop his
formula to separate a man's good and evil sides. In the present,
alas, his evil side (Hyde) is trying to steal the formula.

“Secrets and
Lies,” 9 p.m., ABC. After taking a debate break last Sunday, the 9
p.m. and 10 p.m. shows are back. Eric – suspected of killing his
wife – tries to find her missing assistant; he soon has questions
about her secret life ... just as a cop finds new questions about
Eric's secrets.

“The Walking Dead:
The Journey So Far,” 9 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11:05. Next Sunday,
the seventh season begins; first, here's a quick summary of the first
six. If you prefer the slower approach, reruns begin with the first
episode, at 6:50 a.m. They'll continue from 6 p.m. to midnight on the
five weekdays, then take up much of next weekend.

“Berlin Station”
debut, 9 p.m., Epix, rerunning at 11:10. CIA schemes abound in
Berlin, some involving leaks of secret material. Great actors –
Richard Armitage, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Forbes, etc. – and rich
production values partly make up for the monotone gloom encasing each
character.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Now that they know they're not the last
people on Earth, Tandy and Melissa each fashion a sort of alarm
system. Also, everyone decides on a change of scenery.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. This never seemed to happen to Sherlock in the Victorian
and Edwardian eras: A gang leader kidnaps him, demanding he find who
was responsible for a hit.

“Graves” debut,
10 p.m., Epix, rerunning at 10:35. Some 25 years after leaving
office, Richard Graves (Nick Nolte) starts to suspect he was a bad
president. His personal journey begins. Graves' rampages are
heavy-handed and unfunny, but there are great supporting characters,
led by Sela Ward as his wife.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

It's been a strong
start for the “SNL” season. In the first two weeks, ratings were
high and quality was good ... if, as usual, uneven. The election has
been kind to all comedy shows and “SNL” -- with Alec Baldwin as
its new Donald Trump, opposite Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton –
has thrived.

Now Emily Blunt –
starring in “Girl on the Train” and preparing to be the new Mary
Poppins – has her debut as host. Bruno Mars will be the music
guest; he's done it three times before, once while hosting.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Lethal Weapon,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

As TV scrambles to
remake movies or old series, it occasionally gets it right. This
time, it did. The characters – cautious old cop, wild young one –
could have been cartoonish; instead, each makes sense.

Murtaugh (Damon
Wayans) has good reason for his caution; he has a new baby and he's
fresh from a medical crisis. Riggs (Clayne Crawford of “Rectify”),
jolted by his wife's death, mixes despair and a near-suicidal
abandon. They meet in the first rerun and solve an arms-dealer case
in the second.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Southwest of Salem,” 8-10 p.m., Investigation
Discovery, reruns at 11.

This 1994 case
stirred rage in San Antonio: Two girls, ages 7 and 9, said they were
stripped and abused by their aunt and three of her friends.
Prosecutors emphasized that the women are lesbians.

The defendants said
this was simply a scheme by the girls' angry father. (One was even at
work during an alleged incident.) They rejected plea bargains that
would have kept them out of jail ... and were sentenced to 15-37
years. Now – after one girl recanted and the medical testimony has
been disputed – they are free; this documentary offers a chilling
view of justice transformed by emotion.

Other choices
include:

Movie marathons, 7
a.m., cable. Freeform has another Harry Potter spree, with films at 7
and 10:30 a.m. and 2:30, 5:30 and 9 p.m. AMC counters with scary
stuff: The “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies are at 7, 9, and 11
a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m.; the original repeats at 5 p.m., followed by
“Child's Play 2 and 3” at 7 and 8:57 p.m. and “Bride of Chucky”
at 10:57. Then, if possible, we're supposed to sleep.

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
ABC. After a bye week, the surprising Wisconsin (4-1 and ranked No.
8) hosts Ohio State (undefeated and No. 2). There are plenty of
alternatives, of course. At 7 p.m. on ESPN, for insantce, Mississippi
(No. 12) visits Arkansas (No. 22); at 7:30 on NBC, it's Stanford at
Notre Dame.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a woman was murdered in her home. Her young
daughter has a deep connection with one of the Five-0 people.

“Kevin Hart:
Seriously Funny,” 9 p.m., Comedy Central. Here are reruns of hours
from some of the channel's biggest draws. This 2010 special is
followed by Amy Schumer's 2012 “Mostly Sex Stuff” at 10 p.m. and
Dane Cook's 2014 “Troublemaker” at 11.

“Joy” (2015), 9
p.m., HBO. As a divorced mother of three, Joy Mangano scrambled to
hold day jobs and ponder inventions. One was a mop she made in her
dad's body shop and sold on QVC. Its a mop-to-riches tale that soared
by relinking the “Silver Linings Playbook” people – Jennifer
Lawrence (nominated for an Oscar), Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and
writer-director David O. Lawrence.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. It was 42 years ago that Ben
Vereen soared in Broadway's “Pippin” ... following that three
years later with “Roots.” At 70, he remains busy, including a
role coming up Thursday in TV's “Rocky Horror Picture Show”
remake. This hour visits him, plus Kate Piersonof the B-52s and Kenny
Rogers.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
11 p.m., Fox. Chefs rarely get a chance to work with ostrich cuts.
They do that in this rerun ... adding other ingredients hidden inside
giant ostrich egg.

TV column for Friday, Oct. 14


TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
“Goliath,” any time, Amazon Prime.

Billy McBride (Billy
Bob Thornton) was a great lawyer. Juries loved him; he built a super
firm ... then sank into alcoholism and despair. Now he lives in a
tacky motel while that firm – which includes his ex-wife (Maria
Bello) and is run by his enemy (William Hurt) – has become a
colossus.

This could be grim
... but not with David Kelley in charge. From “L.A. Law” and
“Chicago Hope” to “Monday Mornings,” Kelley's shows have been
beautifully written. Now he and Jonathan Shapiro (“The Practice,”
“Boston Legal”) are back in the courtroom. The result is superbly
written and acted.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Supergirl” and “Frequency,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

Once a minor
distraction for teen girls, the CW network has grown enormously in
both scope and quality. These reruns should help you catch up.

First is the
“Supergirl” season-opener, the first episode made after the show
moved from CBS; it's big -- complete with the arrival of Superman and
of Lex Luthor's adopted sister – and well-made, especially in the
scenes with Kara and her boss (Calista Flockhart). Then “Frequency”
has a young cop talking to her late father via odd radio signal; it's
done well enough to have us almost believe it.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Grammy Salute to Music Legends,” 9-11:30 p.m., PBS.

The sheer starpower
is dazzling; here are music masters, performing and being honored.
It's the first time the Grammy Lifetime Achievement awards get their
own telecast.

A few honorees –
Jefferson Airplane, Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind & Fire –
perform; for others – Linda Ronstadt, Run-DMC, the late Celia Cruz
and Ruth Brown and more – there are performances by such stars as
Martina McBride, Kris Kristofferson and Andy Garcia. For brief spurts
– especially in the second half – this is splendid; too often,
however, it's flat, stagnant and talky, lacking musical joy.

Other choices
include:

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Even in this computer age, we need MacGyver and his duct
tape. In Russia, that's pretty much all he has available to stop an
antiquated warhead and computer from iginiting war.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
8 p.m., Fox. Nobody seems to enjoy making sausage – or seeing it
made. The losers of tonight's first challenge must make it from
scratch; the winners will go surfing.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. When this show started, Boyd was just a
toddler. Now he's 10 and his grandpa wants to give him a shotgun and
take him hunting. His dad, Ryan, disapproves.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Shocked by his parents' split, Ken frets about his own
marriage.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. The “Five-0” people seem to spend a lot of time
being captured. Now it's McGarrett and Alicia (Claire Forlani), being
held by a serial killer.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. After Lt. Gormley is beaten by a mob outside his home,
Danny and Frank get help from a police detective (Steve Schirripa)
with a link to the neighborhood.

“Van Helsing,”
10 p.m., Syfy. Vanessa “Van” Helsing – descended from the
long-ago vampire-hunter – is now the captive of a vampire brood;
escaping may put her in a tougher spot. Meanwhile, the refugees have
a serial killer in their midst; also, they scheme to seize control
from Axel.