TV column for Wednesday, July 9

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Extant” debut, 9 p.m., CBS.

Steven Spielberg and CBS seem on a mission to save summers
with smart, well-crafted science fiction. Last year was “Under the Dome”; now
“Extant” has the same quality … sort of.

“Dome” has easier appeal, with a big cast and full-blooded
emotion. “Extant” is subtler, with reactions as cool and distant as the show’s
futuristic setting. An astronaut (superbly played by Halle Berry) returns from
a year alone in space, to learn she’s pregnant. That’s overlayed against
stories involving her husband (Goran Visnjic), their son and corporate schemes;
we won’t spoil surprises, but stick with this.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Secrets of the Dead,” 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

It was in 1504, this compelling documentary says, that
Leonardo da Vinci (already famed at 52) painted a portrait of Lisa, the
24-year-old wife of a merchant. Much later, the Mona Lisa would be the world’s most
famous painting, hanging in the Louvre almost non-stop since 1797.

But two years ago, news surfaced of a near-identical
painting, stored in a vault and facing rigid scientific study. Is one a fake?
Was one made by a protégé? Does the Louvre have the improved version, done by
da Vinci closer to his death in 1519? There’s no answer here, but it’s a
fascinating journey.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Bridge” season-opener, 10 p.m.,

The brilliant first season ended with both cops (one in El
Paso, the other in Juarez) mourning murders -- Sonya’s sister long ago, Marco’s
son recently. Marco’s marriage has crumbled; Sonya (brilliant, but lacking
social instincts) meets a link with her past. Now they’ll get a new,
international mystery.

Meanwhile, old issues continue. Eva – rescued after being savaged
in Juarez -- tries for a new life in the U.S. The Quintana house, where $60
million in drug money was found, draws the focus of some of the show’s best
characters, including El Paso Times reporters and a darkly diligent mystery

Other choices include:

“America’s Got Talent” (NBC) and “So You Think You Can
Dance” (Fox), 8-10 p.m. “Talent” continues its auditions, while “Dance” nudges
into its first eliminations. Tonight, all 20 finalists dance; then we learn
which ones were endangered by viewer votes last week and see the judges send
two home.

“The Middle,” 8 and 9:30 p.m., ABC. The first rerun finds
Frankie trying to bring order to her life by only taking kids’ requests during
“office hours,” 5-6 p.m. The second has Mike bonding with his shiftless brother
(Norm Macdonald) during a road trip to Brick’s spelling bee in Chicago.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Phil has found a productive
(and time-consuming) real-estate target – recently divorced women. Also, Cam
concocts a fake funeral for the non-existent wife of Larry the cat.

“Klondike,” 9-11 p.m., Destination America. Six months after
its Discovery Channel debut, this miniseries – set in the 1890s gold rush –
gets a three-week rerun on a sister channel.

“Motive,” 10 p.m., ABC. Vega is pulled away from his father’s
wedding, to probe a skydiver’s death.

“Taxi Brooklyn,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Last week’s
so-so episode ended with Leo, the taxi-driver, being arrested and targeted for
deportation. Now Cat – the cop who uses him as her driver – must clear that up
while probing the murder of his friend, a Holocaust survivor

TV column for Tuesday, July 8

TONIGHT’S MUST SEE: “The 90s: The Last Great Decade?” finale,
9-11 p.m., National Geographic.

Rippling through the decade’s final years was Bill Clinton’s
ability to escape all crises. Some Republicans (Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani)
say here that their party pushed the sexual controversy too far; Democrats
actually gained six House seats in 1998 and Gingrich resigned as Speaker.

Monica Lewinsky – looking great, sounding smart, still
claiming to be a victim – has extensive time here. Others include a guy whose start-up
( made him $100 million in one Wall Street day, then lost it all.
Eight of the 19 Web sites that took Super Bowl ads in 2000 no longer

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8:30 and 9
p.m., Fox.

Two big, splashy Fox shows -- “Riot” and “I Wanna Marry
‘Harry’” – crashed quickly. That’s bad news for people who hate reruns … and
good news for those who like any show (rerun or not) that’s clever.

Tonight’s first episode sees people adjusting to the return
of Boyle, now a wounded hero. The second, a good one, has a birthday party at
the captain’s home; at first, the cops makes a terrible impression.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Night Shift,” 10:01 p.m., NBC.

This hour has all the show’s usual flaws, with absurdly
amped-up stories. There’s a lap dance, parents who resist the obvious and one
of the stupidest crooks in TV history.

But it also shows why “Night Shift” has been a ratings
success, with high-octane stories involving ex-military doctors. And the final
moments set up next week’s emotional season-finale.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Drunk History” and “Nathan for You,”
10 and 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central.

First, a funny “History” has tales that are true, but
loosely told by drunken comedians. We see the creator of the Statue of Liberty,
who kept having his gift rejected. We see heroic reporter Nellie Bly and a
16-year-old girl who rode 40 miles (twice as long as Paul Revere), to say the
British were coming,

Then comes an odd half-hour. The first half simply seems
cruel, as Nathan Fielder tricks people into buying things at a Hollywood gift
shop, thinking they’re extras in a movie. The second half, however, is a
delight, as Fielder schemes to turn the footage into a short and get an award
at a makeshift film festival.

Other choices include:

“Pretty Little Liars,” 8 p.m., ABC Family. The show’s 100th
episode sees Alison return to school.

“NCIS: Lost Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds Sam and
Deeks facing the aftershocks of their ordeal. Nate Getz (Peter Cambor), an
operational psychologist, returns.

 “The Mindy Project,”
9:30 p.m., Fox. In a rerun, Danny tricks Mindy into meeting his dad.

“Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX. After the first two taut episodes, things
slow down as Bassam (known as Barry in Pasadena) helps his brother take over as
ruler of their native land. Then the story picks up, especially in intelligent
moments with his American-born wife (Jennifer Finnigan), who is also a doctor.

“Restaurant Startup” debut, 10 p.m., CNBC. Fresh from two
“Shark Tank” reruns, CNBC launches a show that borrows from that format. Joe
Bastianich and Tim Love hear two restaurant pitches, choose one for a try-out
and consider investing. The OK opener ranges from a kitchen fire to a tardy

TV column for Monday, July 7

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Bachelorette,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

Recent episodes may have been a breeze for Andi Dorfman;
it’s easy, we’re told, to fall in love in old Europe. Tonight comes the key
step – meeting the final four guys in their natural habitats.

For Dorfman, 27, an assistant district attorney in Atlanta, that
includes one huge jump: Chris, 32, is an Iowa farmer. The other three visits may
be less dramatic: Nick, 33, sells software in Chicago; Marcus, 27, is a sports
medicine manager in Dallas; Josh, 29, is a former pro baseball player from Atlanta.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “24,” 9 p.m., Fox.

With only 12 episodes (not 24) to save the world, this
edition has moved quickly. It ends next week.

Tonight, Audrey scrambles to open diplomatic channels that
might prevent war. Meanwhile, Jack Bauer teams with Mark Boudreau
(chief-of-staff to the late president, Audrey’s father) and Kate (the tough CIA
agent), trying to catch the villains in time.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The ‘90s: The Last Great Decade?”
9-11 p.m., National Geographic.

Sunday’s opener was filled with bubbly enthusiasm. The
mid-section of this three-night documentary series goes the opposite way: It
starts with the disastrous Waco, Texas, raids that triggered a burst of
anti-government paranoia; it continues through the Oklahoma City bombing on the
raid’s anniversary.

That’s in a disturbing stretch, that granges from homophobic
murder to the rise of Jerry Springer’s talk show. For this stretch, few people
will think of it as a great decade.

Other choices include:

“Home and Family,” noon to 2 p.m., Hallmark. A “Christmas in
July” week begins, with decorations in the house and snow in the yard. The
hosts discuss holiday fashions – why wait to the last minute? – and building
your own front-yard nutcracker. They talk with Kellie Martin about “The
Christmas Ornament,” a likable 2013 film that reruns at 4 p.m. Saturday and
noon Sunday, with other holiday films nightly.

“MasterChef,” 8 p.m., Fox. Contestants create a “surf-and-turf”
dish and create spring rolls.

“Switched at Birth,” 8 p.m., ABC Family. The families were
startled by the heartbroken Toby’s sudden moving to Iceland. Now he’s back,
with a new career goal. Meanwhile, Bay’s college plans are thrown
off-kilter;  also, Regina’s support of a
development project creates another crisis.

“Mom,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Even after an ankle injury, Christy
refuses to admit she needs her mom’s help.

“Beauty and the Beast” season-finale, 9 p.m., CW. Here’s
some disturbing news for Cat: An old journal seems to say she must kill Vincent
in order to save Gabe.

“Under the Dome,” 10 p.m., CBS. Last week’s season-opener
gave “Dome” a helpful makeover. It added depth to “Big Jim” Rennie and had his
son resist him; it added key characters – a handsome loner (Eddie Cahill) and a
smart science teacher (Karla Crome). The latter is important tonight,
discovering a danger to the town’s food supply. Dale “Barbie” Barbara joins her
scramble to find a solution.

 “Mistresses,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Harry shows up in two stories tonight: Savi is ready to sign their
divorce papers, then has an epiphany; also, he gives startling news to her
sister Joss.

TV column for Sunday, July 6

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The ‘90s: The Last Great Decade” debut,
9-11 p.m., National Geographic.

For Americans, some decades set their identity quickly. The
2000’s descended into darkness on Sept. 11, 2001; the ‘90s seemed to glow after
the 1991 Gulf War.

Borrowing an Alan Greenspan phrase, the film calls the 1990s
“10 years of irrational exuberance.” The economy prospered; politics followed
the ceaseless optimism of Bill Clinton – here dubbed by Tony Blair, James
Carville AND Newt Gingrich as the best politician of his era. Tonight’s film –
the start of a three-night mini-series – is jaunty and fun, giving equal time
to world crises and Anna Nicole Smith.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Last Tango in Halifax” and “Vicious,”
8 and 10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Ever since triumphing in “I, Claudius” 37 years ago, Derek
Jacobi has been a PBS favorite. At 75, he stars in two short-run series (each
with a six-episode season) that are thorough opposites.

“Halifax” is slow and sweet, with Jacobi and Anne Reid as
people who get together after a 50-year gap; tonight brings their first day of
marriage. “Vicious” is loud and brash, with roommates who have sniped fondly for
decades; in other hands, it would be awful, but Jacobi and Ian McKellan make it

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Musketeers,” 9-10:30 p.m., BBC

Others may settle for small stories and small-screen
productions; “Musketeers” tries to create an epic adventure movie each week.

Tonight’s main story would be more than enough, with the
Musketeers arresting a scheming slave-trader. It has clever twists and the gifted
James Callis (Baltar in “Battlestar Galactica”). But there’s another story,
with Athos confronting past pain; it’s played like a sweeping Harlequin
historical novel.

Other choices include:

“The Simpsons,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. These reruns see Homer
look at the past and future. First, people ponder old mistakes; his was selling
his Apple stock to get a bowling ball. Then his dad and two others are staying
at the Simpson house; Homer quickly falls into old-guy habits.

“Masterpiece Mystery,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Almost
a century ago, there were murders at a girls’ school. Now young Endeavour Morse
probes the dreary school, to stop a new round of slayings.

“Reckless,” 9 p.m., CBS. Last week’s opener centered on two
lawyers – a handsome Southerner and a gorgeous Yankee – on opposite ends of a
case involving a cop in a sex tape. That case continues, but tonight they’re
also on the opposite ends of a custody case that turns violent.

“The Last Ship,” 9 p.m., TNT. This tautly terrific series
follows a Navy ship with mankind’s last hope – a scientist who has the sample
and the lab to try to stop a global virus. As last week ended, the ship was
pinned in port by Russians. Some of tonight’s plot twists – especially involving
mid-mission romance – seem contrived. Still, this Michael Bay production is so
sleek and sharp that gripes fade away.

“Witches of East End” season-opener, 9 p.m., Lifetime. All
sorts of spooky things happen tonight, with spells, hallucinations and the open
portal to Asgard. It gets excessive, but is brightened by some fun moments for
both sisters, including a clumsy job interview and a meet-cute feud with a new

“Unforgettable,” 10 p.m., CBS. A champion boxer has been
beaten to death, with no indication he defended himself. Now Carrie probes his
past to see what happened.

TV column for Saturday, July 5

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Blacklist,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Here is a rerun rippling with strong emotions. Many of those
involve the villain, a mild-mannered scientist (Robert Sean Leonard of “House”),
causing mass death for intensely personal reasons. There are also strong
emotions for the two lead characters

Liz finally has hints of happiness, now that she’s convinced
her husband was framed. And Red (James Spader) has deep layers of pain; that
becomes clear in the hour’s explosive (literally) finish.

TONIGHT’S CAN-SKIP: “Bad Teacher,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

In a burst of baseless optimism, CBS gave this weak comedy
one of its best slots. And in a bit of common sense, it yanked it after five
episodes, shelved it for seven weeks … and now exiles the rest of the episodes
to summertime Saturdays.

Tonight’s first episode has scheming Meredith helping
diligent Ginny finish the yearbook in one day. In the second, she wants to join
the principal’s “Divorced Dudes” groups, in hopes of finding a rich guy.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
(1966), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

Onstage, “Woolf” was a blistering powerhouse, the winner of
five Tonys. Then came the Hollywood surprise: The movie version would be
directed by a former comedian (Mike Nichols) known for nimble stage comedies;
it would star fan-magazine royalty, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

A bigger surprise: This became a terrific movie – grueling,
relentless, but well-crafted. It won five Oscars (including Taylor and Sandy
Dennis) and was nominated for eight more, including best picture, Burton,
George Segal and Nichols … who would win the next year for “The Graduate.”

Other choices include:

“The Walking Dead,” all day, AMC. The show’s marathon
continues. The fourth-season opener reruns at 9 p.m. today; 24 hours later,
“Talking Dead” will peek at the upcoming fifth season.

“The Pink Panther” (1963), 8 p.m., BBC America. From the
opening credits – with a clever cartoon character backed by Henry Mancini’s
vibrant music – viewers know this will be fun. It is, with tangled sight gags
and Peter Sellers’ perfect touch. It was be followed by fun sequels and a bad

“Mistresses,” 9 p.m., ABC. “The Assets” has been yanked,
replaced by a rerun of this glitzy show. Savi has a devil-may-care approach
with Zach, while confronting scowls at work, after she and Dominic admitted
their relationship.

“Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a shallow grave, three
bodies have human and animal bite marks.

“Almost Royal,” 10 and 10:30 p.m., BBC America. First is a
new episode of this clever show, with the fake royals visiting Fashion Week in
New York. Then is a rerun of the Texas episode.’

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Paul Rudd hosts this
rerun, with music from One Direction.