TV column for Thursday, Sept. 1

“Holy Hell,” 9 and 11 p.m. ET, CNN (barring breaking news).

Will Allen grew up
comfortably in Long Beach, got a film-school degree, but was unsure
of life. Then his sister pointed him toward sweet-spirited young
people, living communally. For 22 years, he would film their
celebrations, shows and more ... even making movies, a commercial and
a music video.

But he began to
doubt the group's leader, a man given to spending his day in Speedo
and sunglasses, preaching love, fitness and ballet. When he finally
left, Allen took some of his films with him. Mixing in new interviews
with some of the departees, he's fashioned a compelling look at cult

II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

“Big Bang” is at
its best when throwing characters together in odd combinations. And
the season finale, rerunning here, is one of its oddest and funniest.

We'd already met
Sheldon's devoutly religious mom (Laurie Metcalf) and Leonard's
coldly scientific mom (Christine Baranski). The latter is recently
divorced and we meet Leonard's dad (Judd Hirsch). Add those three
together and you have six Emmys and 23 more nominations. There could
be more wis ahead: This year, Metcalf and Baranski are nominated for
these roles ... and Metcalf is for two others.

ALTERNATIVE: “Code Black,” 9:59 p.m., CBS.

Boris Kodjoe has
been a busy TV star lately, ranging from international espionage in
“Undercovers” to being the too-perfect “Phil #2” in “Last
Man on Earth.” This reruns the episode that added him as Dr. Will
Campbell; he'll be a regular on the show this fall.

It's also the
episode in which Christa (Bonnie Somerville) and Neal (Raza Jaffrey)
officially started their romance ... after, of course, informing
Human Resources. (Is some of the secret glamour missing these days?)
Also, everyone is questioned about an incident that left two doctors
gravely injured.

Other choices

“Wedding Crashers”
(2005), 6 p.m., Spike. Some fun movies start early, including tyhis
comedy. The classic “Dirty Dancing” (1987) is 6:15 p.m. on
Freeform, with “Iron Man 3” (2013) at 7 p.m. on FX and the
animated delight “Rio” (2011) at 8 p.m. on Nickelodeon.

“BattleBots,” 8
and 9 p.m., ABC. The night starts with the top eight teams. By the
end of the second hour, we'll have a champion.

“Running Wild with
Bear Grylls,” 8 p.m., NBC. This rerun finds singer-dancer Julianne
Hough in Africa. There, her adventures involve the landscape –
remote canyon, treacherous waterfalls, etc. -- and the wildlife, from
elephants and big cats to a face-to-face moment with a big snake.

“American Ninja
Warrior,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. This reruns the round that saw half the
finalists tackle the first stage, with four new obstacles. The other
half get their turn next Monday.

“Beauty and the
Beast,” 9 p.m., CW. Pausing for a rerun, this finds Cat and Vincent
grasping for normalcy, despite the looming threat of a beast bounty.

season-finale, 10 p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:05 p.m. and 1:38 a.m.
Last week's terrific episode (rerunning at 10:33) threw the band into
verbal and physical combat. Now we get the aftermath, with Gigi's mom
(Callie Thorne) insisting she fire everyone. Things start with a
sizzling song from Gigi and end with a shrug; a great season
concludes fairly well.

“Queen of the
South,” 10 p.m., USA. Teresa and Brenda try to start a new life,
using knowledge from Gero's book. Meawhile, their mentor Camila goes
underground, aligning with the Jimenez cartel.

TV column for Wednesday, Aug. 31

“The Night Shift” season-finale, 10 p.m., NBC.

Here is a TV hybrid
– an action-adventure medical show. Set at a San Antonio hospital,
most of its doctors and some of its patients are former or current
military people.

Last week, Scott and
Jordan – who used to be engaged to each other – headed into a
wildfire. Tonight, the flames are getting closer as they perform
field surgery. Meanwhile, Syd (Jennifer Beals) is along the
Syria-Turkey border; she's caught typhus (as have many of her
patients), so TC goes to extremes to get medication. Back home, the
effort continues to find a buyer for the hospital.

“American Gothic,” 10 p.m., CBS.

While “Night
Shift” is wrapping up, another ambitious show sets up next week's
two-hour finale.

“Gothic” centers
on the Hawthornes – rich, respectable ... and maybe housing the
“silver bells killer” from years ago. The matriarch (Virginia
Madsen) killed her husband in his hospital bed; her children range
from a mayoral candidate to a guy who had simply vanished for years.
Tonight, they catch each other's lies and revisit a crucial night in

ALTERNATIVE: “You're the Worst” season-opener, 10 p.m., FXX,
reruning at 10:30.

What happens when
two immensely cynical people actually say “I love you”? That
happened at the end of last season, but Jimmy was drunk at the time;
now he can neither remembr or acknowledge it.

Skeptical love is at
the core; as are the woes of their friends: Edgar is an ex-soldier
with post-traumatic troubles; Lindsay simply has a dippy husband.
“Worst” is smart and funny, but be warned: The sexual talk (and
action) is extremely frank; some viewers will be delighted; others
will depart quickly.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:14.

In three seasons,
this has gone from overwrought to good to – in a darkly disturbing
way – great. The final transition began when terrorists killed the
daughter of Bassam (“Barry,” when he lived in the U.S.), the
temporary president of his homeland. He became harder; his wife
became fierce.

Now pressure
tightens on Daliayah (an idealist loved by Bassam and by his
ex-friend Fauzi) ... Leila (presidential candidate and widow of the
previous dictator) ... Cogswell (American general in love with Leila)
... and more. Forces converge, including a surprise in the final
minutes of this expanded episode.

Other choices

“Greenleaf,” 10
a.m. to 11 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. You can catch the entire
season, starting with strong episodes that brought a big-city TV
reporter back to her family-run church. The finale, at 10, has a
confrontation between sisters, played by Winfrey and Lynn Whitfield.
Then the last three hours rerun.

8-10 p.m., Fox. Last week eliminated both blue-colllar New Yorkers,
Eric Howard and Terry Mueller. That leaves two guys from Las Vegas
(David Williams and front-runner Shaun O'Neale), plus a waiter (Dan
Paustian), a tuxedo salesma (Nathan Barnhouse) and three women filled
with Southern charm (Brandi Mudd, Katie Dixon and Tanorria Askew).
Tonight, their challenges involve limited utensils, then a picnic
platter and a pop-up restaurant.

“America's Got
Talent,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. First is a trimmed down version of
Tuesday's episode, with 10 acts performing. Then we learn which
ones will comprise the first half of the season's top-10.

“Modern Family,”
9 and 10 p.m., ABC. The first rerun finds the boys babysitting for
little Lily; things soon go wrong. The second sees Gloria buy a
family seminar at the school auction.

9:31 p.m., ABC. For the second straight year, the show closed its
season with an elaborate dream scene, transporting everyone into a
past era. This time, they're “Good Times” characters.

“Mr. Robot,”
10:01 p.m., USA. By now, Elliot and his sister Darlene aren't sure if
Dark Army is for or against them. Meanwhile, Angela realizes E Corp
can't give her what she wants.

TV column for Tuesday, Aug. 30

“Pretty Little Liars” mid-season finale, 8 p.m., Freeform.

If you've missed
this season – hey, summers are busy sometimes – don't worry. The
entire year reruns, beginning at 11 a.m.; after that things wrap up
for this show and for “Dead of Summer.””.

On “PLL,” one of
the women learns a crucial secret about her past; another finds
something about her future. A chaotic fight with enemies turns

“America's Got Talent,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

After three months
of winnowing, “AGT” has its finalists. Tonight, 10 perform and
viewers vote; on Wednesday, we'll learn which five reach the finals.
Next week, the other 11 step in.

Tonight has lots of
singing – from groups (Musicality, Edgar) and individuals (Laura
Bretan, Sal Valentinetti and 12-year-old whiz Grace Vanderwaal). But
there are also two magicians (Blake Vogt, Jon Dorenbos), plus
comedian Lori Mae Hernandez and physical acts Tapehead and Deadly

ALTERNATIVE: New shows everywhere, 9 p.m.

Remember when
summers were mired in reruns? In this hour, we can try five new
shows. Two are reality (“AGT” on NBC, the “Bachelor in
Paradise” post-show on ABC), but three are scripted.

CBS has “Zoo,”
with Jackson finally getting answers and Mitch and Jamie facing an
animal attack at the Russian embassy. CW has the sketch comedy of
“MadTV.” And Freeform's “Dead of Summer” sees the summer camp
wrap up its season. It's already been a deadly one; now, we're told,
a centuries-old battle between good and evil will finally be settled.
We're rooting for good.

Other choices

“Video Music
Awards,” 7:10-10 p.m., MTV. Here's a rerun of Sunday's ceremony,
which planned music from Britney Spears, Rihanna, Nick Jonas, Future
and a Nicki Minaj/Ariana Grande duet. “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. It's a
busy time for Gibbs. He suspects that a 14-year-old who stopped a
home invasion is whithholding information; also in this rerun, he
goes to Washington to meet Michelle Obama (playing herself), in a
program supporting military families.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. When you suspect a drug operation at the neighborhood
youth center, who ya gonna call? In this rerun, a priest calls

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Apparently, it's not just grub any more.
Now a Navy “culinary specialist) is targeted, while visiting her
family's classic restaurant in the French Quarter.

““Better Late
Than Never,” 10 p.m., NBC. Last week's debut (sometimes fun,
mostly silly and contrived), William Shatner, 85, climbed 800 steps;
he also squeezed into a Tokyo “capsule hotel room” the size of a
refrigerator. Now he says he wants to “find his Zen” in Kyoto; in
Hong Kong, he insists that he and colleagues (Henry Winkler, George
Foreman, Terry Bradshaw) have a fine hotel and a yacht. Also in
Kyoto, the guys range from a festive geisha house to a serious
Samurai school.

“Halt and Catch
Fire,” 10 p.m., AMC. At home, the Mutiny founders struggle with a
crowded house and frayed emotions; Gordon grasps for the solitude of
his ham-radio days. At work, they've been wobbling since
super-programmer Ryan left to work for Joe, the imposing Steve
Jobs-type figure. In a good episode tonight, Ryan tries to find his
role with Joe; Mutiny chases an acquisition.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 10:30 p.m., ABC. Eddie's parents tend to be serious sorts.
Tonight, his mother learns to relax; his father combines a business
trip with a family trip to Gator World.

TV column for Monday, Aug. 29

“So You Think You Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

One of TV's best
competition shows has its 250th episode .... sort of. This
season bears the sub-title “The Next Generation”; it's not quite
the show that for 12 seasons offered stunningly gifted grown-ups.

Still, credit
“Dance” for persisting. Its final six contestants are ages 10,
10, 12, 12, 13 and 14; two prefer hip hop, the others range from tap
to ballet. For the first time, they'll do their own choreography
tonight. Also, one number will be choreoraphed by Tony-winner Savion
Glover. Another will be by Emmy-winner Travis Wall; he'll dance it
with Maddie Ziegler, the show's 13-year-old judge.

II: “Mom,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

This witty comedy
hit a peak with an episode that aired in May. As usual, Christy (Anna
Faris) was mad at her mom Bonnie (Allison Janney); as usual, she had
good reason to be: Bonnie was indifferent to the fact that Christy
had made the Dean's List, against great odds. That leads to a
hilarious fight scene ... and to a funny dream scene that recalls
Janney's Emmy-winning work on “The West Wing.”

That's the first of
two reruns tonight. In the second, also a good one, there are
conflicting accounts of Christy's daughter Violet's break-up. Linda
Lavin returns as the mother of Violet's ex-fiance.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Fosters” mid-season finale, 8 p.m., Freeform.

Like a “Scandal”
episode in overdrive, this piles every trouble into one crowded hour.
As Stef (Teri Polo) weighs risking her police career to stop a
corrupt cop, her kids (foster/adopted/biologic) implode.

Callie scrambles to
save a prisoner, while juggling her friend Aaron and AJ, her hothead
boyfriend. Mariana frets over grades and her boyfriends past (and
dangerous) and present (and leaving); she keeps taking medication
stolen from her brother. There's more, building to an odd but
involving crescendo.

Other choices

“Janet King,”
any time, In the
eight-episode second season, Janet (Marta Dusseldorp, an Australian
star) becomes Royal Commissioner of serious gun crime in New South

“American Ninja
Warrior,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The finals begin, with the first of four
obstacle phases.

“Supergirl,” 8
and 9 p.m., CW. In the first rerun, Cat (Calista Flockhart) suspects
Kara is Supergirl (which, of course, she is); in the second, she
hires Lucy (Jenna Dewan-Tatum.). In the first hour, Hank (David
Harewood) is captured by Astra's husband; in the second, he's asked
by Alex (Chyler Leigh) to use his powers to help uncover Maxwell
Lord's plans.

“The Odd Couple,”
9:30, CBS; and “Odd Mom Out,” 10 p.m., Bravo. Joanna Cassidy is
everyone's mom these days. In the “Odd Couple” rerun, she's
Emily's mom, whom Felix thinks (wrongly) would be fun to meet. In
“Odd Mom Out,” she's Jill's mother-in-law; in tonight's
season-finale, her other son has a vow-renewal ceremony that could go
terribly wrong.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. To test the security sytem, the team is hired to breakinto
Fort Knox. The problem, in this rerun, comes with trying to do it

“Running Wild With
Bear Grylls,” 10 p.m., NBC. We've never thought of Shaquille O'Neal
as the nimble type. But now he's in the Adirondacks, facing a dense
forest, blood-sucking leeches and more.

10:01 p.m., ABC. Two weeks from its season-finale, this is another
show with cascading events. Joss and her class friends go to find the
man who killed their friend; she also tells the truth to Harry ...
who has his own troubles, juggling business opoortunities. Also, Marc
is furious at April; Karen is furious at Lydia, who was posing as her
online. No one, it seems, is terribly happy.

TV column for Sunday, Aug. 28

“Video Music Awards,” 9 p.m., MTV, VH1, CMT, BET, Spike, TV Land
and Comedy Central; repeats at 11:30 on MTV and VH1.

Once a year, MTV
remembers music videos and assembles starpower. This time, the VMA's
have Britney Spears performing for the first time in a decade. Other
performers include Rihanna (the Video Vanguard winner), Nick Jonas,
Future and a duet with Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande.

There will be comedy
commentary, led by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Beyonce and
Adele lead with 11 and 8 nominations; for Video of the Year, they
face Drake, Justin Bieber and Kanye West.

“The Strain” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

This third season
begins just 23 days after the first attacks by long-tongued
creatures. Now New York is a war zone, with soldiers facing steep
odds; still, the personal stories are far more interesting.

Ephraim scrambles
for an answer in the lab, while searching for his walking-dead
ex-wife, who took their son; even getting gasoline is perilous
Setrakian searches an ancient book. And Fet leads a tunnel search; he
remains refreshingly vibrant, in a dark (but well-crafted) adventure.

ALTERNATIVE: “America's National Parks at 100,” 8 p.m.,

In the early years,
this was a learning experience. With no walking paths, some
Yellowstone visitors died in fiery cauldrons ... bears and burros
came up to cars ... Yosemite offered a nightly fire cascade.

And now? In its
100th year, the National Park Service has guides who
converse, not recite. It has parks in Washington, D.C. and New York
City ... and on distant islands. One park has exactly one employee;
others swarm. This hour is smartly written and beautifully
illustrated, mixing past and present.

ALTERNATIVES II: Finales, 9-10:45 p.m., HBO; and 10-11 p.m.,

HBO's “The Night
Of” began with a Pakistani-American college student, working as a
taxi driver; after a wild night with a woman, he woke up next to her
body. Now his murder trial concludes.

Showtime's “Roadies”
has been a richly human story of life on a rock 'n' roll tour; now
its season concludes with a memorial concert ... and with questions
about who will be working the European tour.

Other choices

Football, all day.
Two networks combine for a pre-season tripleheader. Fox has the San
Diego Chargers at the Minnesota Vikings at 1 p.m. ET and the Arizona
Cardinals at the Houston Texans at 4. Then NBC has the Cincinatti
Bengals at the Jacksonville Jaguars, at 8 p.m. ET.

“WE Day,” 7
p.m., ABC. This is the 10th year for this event, which
urges young people to give time and money to children's charities.
It's only the second, however, to have an hour on a broadcast
network. There will be music, documentaries and talks, with Demi
Lovato. Selena Gomez, Jennifer Hudson, Ciara, Common, Joe and Nick
Jonas, Zooey Deschanel, Paual Abdul, Big Sean and Kermit the Frog

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC. TV viewers know Steve Harvey and Sheryl
Underwood from “Feud” and “The Talk,” respectively, but she
also contributes to his radio show. Here, she faces Gus Kenworthy, an
Olympic silver-medalist skiier. Another round has Alan Thicke and
David Chokachi.

“VMA Pre-Show,”
8 p.m., MTV. This won't be just babbling about gowns. There will be
music by Alessia Cara, Jidenna and Lukas Graham; DJ Khaled hosts,
with Lizzo and Charlamagne Tha God.

“Madam Secretary,”
9 p.m., CBS. Elizabeth's husband (Tim Daly) seems to merge Mr. Chips
and James Bond. A former Marine captain, he's a college-professor who
doubles as a top-level spy. In this rerun, he's involved in a mission
to Islamabad, to eliminate the world's most-wanted terrorist.

“BrainDead,” 10
p.m., CBS. When her brother Luke, the senator, needs an anti-war
film, Laurel works with an ex-boyfriend. Then there's the alien-bug
thing; she worrues about the health of Luke's baby.