TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Rookie” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

John Nolan is your
average guy – middle-aged, middle-income, with an uneventful,
small-town life. Then comes a random act of heroism and a leap: At
40, he becomes a Los Angeles cop.

That's possible; LA
has no age limit and this fictional story began with a true one about
a middle-aged rookie. Nathan Fillion, 47, makes it work. Along the
way, ABC gets what it needs – a show that knows how to mix action,
humor and drama, while wrapping up its key stories each hour.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Kids Are Alright” debut, 8:31 p.m., ABC.

Tim Doyle wrote
other people's comedies -- from “Roseanne” to “Last Man
Standing” -- for 24 years. Now he has his own, a delight based on
growing up in a Catholic family that was stuffed with boys.

There are eight of
them here, from a toddler to a seminarian; only Timmy wants to be in
musicals. His parents could been cliches, but they're well-written
and well-played by the always-good Mary McCormack and Michael
Cudlitz. We see two smart, weary people, making a habit of
good-enough.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

A century ago,
leaders urged eugenics – improving the human stock via genetics.
The Carnegie Institute financed its study, Alexander Graham Bell
chaired the Eugenics Record Office, W.H. Kellogg led forums. “Society
has no business allowing degenerates” to reproduce, Theodore
Roosevelt said.

States approved
involuntary sterilization; Congress sharply reduced immigration. “Can
we build a wall huge enough around this country so as to keep out
these cheaper races?” asked the ERO founder. His idea would fade
after scientific doubts and Nazi extremes; here's a compelling look
at its history.

TONIGHT'S BIG
QUESTION: “The Conners” debut, 8 p.m., ABC.

Yes, this is ABC's
big night, with the best new drama (“Rookie”) and comedy
(“Alright”) of the broadcast networks' fall season. Still, its
success depends on this revision-of-a-reboot.

Last season's
“Roseanne” was a gem, with the smart humor we expect from
Roseanne Barr. Then she sent a not-smart, latenight tweet; she was
fired and the show was renamed. Now the Roseanne character is dead
and her daughter-in-law, a military lieutenant, is back from
Afghanistan.

Other choices
include:

“The Great
American Read,” 8 p.m., PBS.A week before the finale, revealing
Americans' favorite novel, this hour looks mostly at fantasy. We also
see humble beginnings: “Dune” was rejected by more than 20
publishers ... “The Martian” was a series of blog chapters –
then spent 19 weeks at as the top-selling paperback ... “The Shack”
was self-published as a gift for 15 people – then sold 23 million.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Did Gibbs really think he would have a quiet cabin vacation?
He's interrupted by a visit from Fornell and Capt. Brooks ... and by
the news that a robber is hiding in the nearby woods.

“This Is Us,” 9
p.m., NBC. Flashbacks take Jack back to his Vietnam time.

“Black Lightning,”
9 p.m., CW. When his school was in trouble, the principal did the
logical thing – arriving in his Black Lightning disguise to save
the day. But now he's losing his principal job ... for being absent
during a crisis. It's a tough hour, boosted by action and a great
scene near the end.

“Black-ish”
season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Junior decides he needs a “gap year”
before college. It's an OK episode, dragged down by a lame sub-plot
involving the twins.

“Splitting Up
Together” season-opener, 9:31 p.m., ABC. So far, divorce has been
good for Lena and Marty; they're back together romantically. It's a
fairly good episode that ends with a fresh crisis.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Investigating a murder, the team finds a
secret in a tight-knit fishing community. Also, LaSalle waits for
results of the tax-fraud probe of his family's company.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Arrow” season-opener, 8 p.m., CW.

It's perilous to be
a good guy on CW. In the “Riverdale” opener, Archie Andrews –
the ultimate hero – confessed to a murder he didn't commit and went
to juvenile detention. In “Black Lightning” and “Arrow,” the
heroes are hounded by police for their vigilante deeds.

Now Oliver has
confessed to being Green Arrow. As the season starts, he's spent five
months in prison, trying to keep a low profile; that isn't easy, with
old enemies nearby. On the outside, some people (Diggle and Dinah)
have abandoned their costumes behind; others haven't.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Neighborhood,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Dave (Max
Greenfield), the overeager type, really wants to give his house key
to his neighbor Calvin (Cedric the Entertainer). Calvin, the
undereager type, really doesn't want to reciprocate.

That slender story
isn't much to hang a half-hour on. Still, “Neighborhood” has
enough elements – a good cast and crisp direction – to make a
slight story work. And a “trust fall” gag is worth catching.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Sentence,” 8-9:30 p.m., HBO.

After some chaotic
years, Cindy Valdez Shank had settled in. She was married, with three
young daughters. “We had just bought our first house,” she says
here. “We were growing.”

Then came the
early-morning knock: Six years earlier, her boyfriend was killed and
police had found guns and drugs. Local officials decided she was just
a bystander, but now federal officials invoked laws that charged her
with conspiracy; a 10-year sentence was mandatory. Her brother, Rudy
Valdez, has made this deeply moving, Sundance-winning documentary
about the effect on the people back home.

Other choices
include:

“Bang,” any
time, www.acorn.tv. This drama
starts with a disturbing murder, then jumps ahead to the contrasting
lives of the victim's son (a loner) and daughter (a cop). This is
stylishly filmed and told, but it's a chore to keep up with dialog
that jumps between Welsh (with sub-titles) and English.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. In a fresh twist, each couple is joined by
someone from the show's past. Among the 10 guests are two former
champions Rashad Jennings and Melissa Rycroft and four runners-up –
Lindsey Stirling, Joey Fatone, Riker Lynch and Amy Purdy.

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. The auditions conclude and the battle rounds begin,
with mentors – Keith Urban, CeeLo Green, Thomas Rhett and Halsey –
preparing singers for their duet duels.

“Happy Together,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. After a dunking disaster, Jake and Claire are urged
to get back in shape. It's an OK concept, spoiled by some clumsy
moments ... and by the fact that these two actors (Damon Wayans Jr.
and Amber Stevens West) look like they're already in great shape.

“Magnum PI,” 9
p.m., CBS. A friend of Higgins hires Magnum to test the security
system for his art. When the guy is found murdered, our hero is the
prime suspect.

“Constantine: The
Legend Continues,” 9 p.m., CW. Four years ago, Matt Ryan starred in
a stylishly filmed series about Constantine, the demon-hunter. It was
cancelled, but then was revived as animated shorts on the CW Seed
site. Now they've been assembled into this special; Ryan heads the
voice cast.

“Manifest,” 10
p.m., NBC. Following a mysterious message, Saanvi meets an attendant
from the flight. She and Ben uncover a secret about the plane.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Masters: Itzhak,” 10 p.m., PBS.

This is a great
story – even if it is told in scattered pieces. Skipping any
chronology, the documentary takes a slice-of-life approach; viewers
must piece together Itzhak Perlman's story from random bits.

Still, these are
slices of a fascinating life. At 73, Perlman glows with passion for
food, friends, humor and music. This film starts with his love of
baseball and ends with the “Schindler's List” theme, played on a
violin that had been in Auschwitz. “It is not music,” a curator
says. “It is prayer with a violin.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Supergirl” season-opener and “Charmed” debut, 8 and 9
p.m., CW.

In one swoop,
broadcast-TV adds a new night: Nine years after abandoning Sundays,
CW is back. It moves in its best show (“Supergirl”) at 8 and adds
a surprisingly good “Charmed” reboot at 9.

“Charmed” starts
with the same notion as “Black Lightning”: The older sister is a
strident activist, the younger just wants to have fun, neither is
aware of special powers. Then it takes a new path -- a death, an
unknown half-sister, an English chap to explain it all. He provides
some healthy doses of humor, alongside the scares, the thrills and
the topical references to female power and “witch hunts.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Alec Baldwin Show,” 10 p.m., ABC.

This is the biggest
enigma of the new season. Sure, Baldwin has proven to be a smart guy
and a good interviewer. And sure, he promises to have excellent
guests; for the opener, he has two movie stars, one old (Robert De
Niro) and one new (Tiffany Haddish).

But will audiences
stick around for long-form interviews in prime time? Starting
tonight, we'll see.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Masterpiece: Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS.

After two-plus
seasons on a Greek island, the show has a delightful, one-week
detour. Louisa (the superb Kelley Hawes) and her eldest son Larry
accompany her aunt's body back home to London.

Larry is an author
and in this 1930s world, they meet new experiences – a painter, a
writer, a naked Henry Miller. Back at home, Larry's siblings flail
on. The result ripples with both humor and drama.

Other choices
include:

“The Simpsons,”
7 and 8 p.m., Fox. First is a rerun – in New Orleans, Lisa likes
the jazz, Bart likes the voodoo and Homer likes the beer. Then
there's a new episode, with Springfield people recalling their divine
encounters. In between, at 7:30, is a rerun of the fun “Cool Kids”
pilot.

“God Friended Me,”
8:30 p.m. (8 p.m. on the West Coast), CBS. When Miles' wallet is stolen, the “God account”
on facebook suggests a private detective. Miles agrees ... but uses
the guy to investigate the account.

“Masterpiece:
Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS. Last week, Ross was elected to Parliament –
a fact that is promptly brushed off in a few brief glimpses. He's
soon back at home, where there are fresh hints of upcoming despair,
in a so-so episode.

“You,” 10 p.m.,
Lifetime. At a remote and lavish summer home, Joe meets someone who
matches his obsession with having Beck's love.

“Camping” debut,
10 p.m., HBO, rerunning at 10:30. Two of the “Girls” producers
(Lena Dunham and Jennifer Konner) have adapted a British series about
a camping trip gone awry. Jennifer Garner plays the cheery, organized
one whose plans are destined to unravel; David Tennant plays her
husband.

“Madam Secretary,”
10:30 p.m., (10 p.m. on the West Coast), CBS. The White House attack was done by white-power
Americans, but Elizabeth learns they were helped by outsiders. Can
they be caught without igniting a war?

 

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 13


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

After opening the
season with a couple fairly good episodes, “SNL” brings back two
of its favorite people: Seth Meyers hosts, with Paul Simon as the
music guest.

Meyers has never
hosted “SNL,” but he was its head writer for nine years and
anchored “Weekend Update”; he's also hosted the Golden Globes,
the correspondents' dinner and his own latenight show. And Simon has
been at “SNL” from the start – literally. He appeared briefly
in the first episode (43 years ago) and hosted the second. He's
hosted three more times; this is his ninth time as music guest.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“9-1-1,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

It's always nice to
break into a job gradually. For TV characters, that never happens.
Just starting as a 911 dispatcher, Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt),
Buck's sister, confronts a brutal day.

In reruns of the
season's second and third episodes, an earthquake rocks Los Angeles.
Athena (Angela Bassett) rushes to the site where a freeway overpass
has collapsed; Bobby (Peter Krause) and his team are at a crumbling
hotel, rescuing people under the rubble and high above ground.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Sniper” (2014), 5-8 p.m., TNT.

To some moviegoers,
the new “A Star is Born” is a revelation. Here is one of the
best-acted, best-crafted films in year ... and it had a first-time
director (Bradley Cooper), with two stars (Cooper and Lady Gaga) who
aren't always taken seriously. Should we have expected this from
Cooper?

Actually, yes. He's
kept turning subtle, naturalistic acting into an artform. Cooper
received three straight Oscar nominations – for “Silver Linings
Playbook,” “American Hustle” and this film, in which he plays
real-life sniper Chris Kyle. Beautifully directed by Clint Eastwood,
he brings a quiet depth.

Other choices
include:

“Frozen” (2013),
5 p.m., Freeform. One of the all-time classics launches an animation
evening. It's followed by “Monsters, Inc.” (2001) at 7:25 p.m.
and “Monsters University” (2013) at 9:30.

Football, 7:30 p.m.
ET, ABC. Michigan (ranked No. 12) hosts Wisconsin (No. 15).

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun of her second-to-last episode, Abby (Pauley Perrette)
must choose one co-worker to join her at a dinner reservation.
Meanwhile, a woman tells Gibbs that the wrong man may have been
convicted of her mother's murder.

“Magnum P.I.,” 9
p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the reboot's second episode, Carl Weathers
plays a fisherman whose 300-pound tuna (worth $350,000) has been
stolen.

“Above and Beyond:
NASA's Journey to Tomorrow,” 9-11 p.m., Discovery. Rory Kennedy is
a gifted documentary-maker who has won an Emmy and been nominated for
four more Emmys, plus an Oscar for “Last Days in Vietnam.” Now
she traces the past and future of the agency her uncle (John Kennedy)
urged to go to the moon and beyond.

“Under the Autumn
Moon,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark. A business executive (Lindy Booth) is
sent to study a dude ranch that her company might acquire. She
develops a fondness for the outdoors ... and for the ranch owner (Wes
Brown).

“Anthony Bourdain:
Parts Unknown,” 10 p.m. ET, CNN (barring breaking news). At 9 p.m.
Sunday, CNN plans to have a special on the late Bourdain. First,
here's a rerun of his visit to Asturias; it's surrounded by reruns of
Indonesia at 9 p.m. and Kenya at 11.

TV column for Friday, Oct. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Romanoffs,” any time, Amazon Prime (www.amazon.com/video)

Generations ago, TV
offered anthologies; great writers, unfettered by the notion of a
series, had the freedom to surprise, stun or just amuse. Now Matthew
Weiner (“Mad Men”) has crafted a variation.

These films have
nothing in common, except that a character may be descended from the
Russian royal family. In the first, Marthe Keller has a stunning
Paris apartment, an empty life and a nephew with a greedy girlfriend.
In the second, Corey Stoll ignores his sweet wife and lusts after a
jury colleague. These are clever stories with surprising endings.
There are six more, including a great one next Friday.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Blindspot” season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC.

The season starts
spectacularly: Jane has a one-on-four, rooftop fight with martial
artists. Like a Bruce Lee movie, this is impressive and exciting ...
even if it's thoroughly unbelievable.

Then we move to the
main story: Stripped of her memory, “Jane Doe” worked for the
FBI, even marrying sturdy agent Kurt. But now she remembers that
she's part of Sandstorm, a guerilla group; in fact, she may be its
lone survivor. In a strong hour, she hallucinates talking to her late
brother.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Raven's Home” (8 p.m., Disney) and “Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend” (9 p.m., CW) season-openers.

“Crazy” soars
when its music numbers mix witty lyrics and clever filming; it sags
when sinking too deeply into the mind of the overthinking,
self-destructive Rebecca. Surprisingly, this opener has only one
so-so music number; instead, its has lots of Rebecca, perplexing her
friends ... and viewers.

As it happens,
there's more music – eight songs – stuffed into a Disney
half-hour: Raven envisions her son, Booker, starring in the school
musical. But that's the story of a boy who loves basketball and
hip-hop – two things that Tess, the streetwise neighbor girl,
excels at. Booker's sister urges her to audition.

Other choices
include:

“Dynasty”
season-opener. 8 p.m., CW. The mega-company is ready to celebrate its
100th anniversary, amid family feuds and corporate
schemes. Fallon, often the troublemaker, tries to hold things
together.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. It's back to college for Mac and three of his young
colleagues. They're undercover, on a campus where a deep-cover
operative is recruiting students for terrorism.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., Fox. Ed and Mike fret about the possibility of a
corporate takeover at Outdoor Man. Jay Leno returns to his role as
Joe, one of their employees.

“The Cool Kids,”
8:30 p.m., Fox. Hank (David Alan Grier) and Charlie (Martin Mull)
need to revive their sex lives. They bungle, they fume ... and their
friends (Leslie Jordan, Vicki Lawrence) try to help with some online
deception. The result is loose and goofy ... but goofiness is
something “Cool Kids” does well. Just as a gag seems to be
wearing thin, the show manages a fresh twist.

“Speechless,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. Maya came to London to beg money from her estranged
dad (John Cleese). Now that he's so happy to see her, she doesn't
have the heart to mention it. The Cleese scenes are great; the
sub-plots are mostly so-so.

“Shakespeare
Uncovered,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS. This has become a cliche – man
and woman bicker, battle, and fall in love. Helen Hunt – who won an
Oscar for such a role, in “As Good As It Gets” -- takes us back
to where it started, with “Much Ado About Nothing,” 419 years
ago. It's a richly detailed hour, followed by F. Murray Abraham
looking at “The Merchant of Venice.”

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. A heat wave brings a crime overload ... including a
stolen cop car.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. A woman shot her husband while she was drunk; Danny's
instincts tell him there's more to the story. Also, Anthony ignores
Erin's order to drop an assault case.