TV column for Thursday, Nov. 23


TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
Thanksgiving parade, 9 a.m. to noon, NBC and CBS.

For many people,
this is the real start of the Christmas season. It's a three-hour
flurry of bands and balloons and more, plus floats (many with
lip-syncing stars) and, finally, Santa Claus.

NBC has the “Today”
people, CBS has “Entertainment Tonight” people – and both add
extra performances, especially during the first hour. NBC has the
Broadway casts of “Anastasia,” “Once on This Island,”
“SpongeBob SquarePants” and the current Tony-winner, “Dear Evan
Hansen”; CBS has the casts of “Waitress” and “Come From
Away,” plus a performance by country star Kelsea Ballerini.

TODAY'S MIGHT-SEE:
Post-parade, afternoon.

After the parade,
many viewers will stick with NBC for the National Dog Show; it tends
to be quick and fun, from noon to 2 p.m. Then NBC reruns the parade,
from 2-5.

Others jump to the
pro football tripleheader. That's 12:30 p.m. ET on Fox (Minnesota
Vikings at Detroit Lions), 4:30 p.m. on CBS (Los Angeles Chargers at
Dallas Cowboys) and 8:30 p.m. on NBC (New York Giants at Washington
Redskins).

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
Christmas shows, cable and digital.

The Hallmark Channel
usually reserves its new movies for Saturdays and Sundays, but not
this time. It debuts “The Mistletoe Inn” (with Alicia Witt)
tonight, with another new one Friday and Saturday.

Then there's
Freeform, with popular films -- “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at
11:30 a.m. and 8:50 p.m., sandwiching “Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory” (2005) at 1:35 p.m., “Home Alone” (1990) at 4:10 and
“Elf” (2003) at 6:40. Also, getTV (via digital and Dish Channel
373) has Johnny Cash's 1977 Christmas special, at 10 p.m. ET.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars,” 8-9:30
p.m., PBS.

Last year's “Anne
of Green Gables” (rerunning at 9:30) had a popular tale: Two
elderly siblings (Martin Sheen and Sarah Botsford) had a stark, stoic
world ... until an 11-year-old orphan arrived.

Now she's just
become a teen-ager, raising fresh doubts. “I don't care for being
13,” she announces. “It's much more complicated than I thought it
would be.” There are little problems – cooking disasters, for
instance – and bigger ones, from math tests to boys to a runaway
raft. None of this is engrossing, but all of it is entertaining, in a
good-natured, Anne kind of way.

Other choices
include:

“Kevin (Probably)
Saves the World,” 8 p.m., ABC. After failing at almost everything,
Kevin ends up at a farmhouse with his sister (a top scientist) and
her daughter. Then he's informed that he's one of God's chosen
people. This surprises him – and us – but Jason Ritter makes it a
fairly amiable comic-drama.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from a year ago, Sheldon and Amy
are back, describing their disastrous holiday trip to his Texas home
town.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Tonight, we can savor two generations in the same
role. On “Big Bang,” Laurie Metcalf is Sheldon's mom; on “Young
Sheldon,” Zoe Perry (Metcalf's daughter) plays her. Tonight, her
husband – the football coach – gets unexpected help from
Sheldon's statistics.

“The Good Doctor,”
9 and 10 p.m., ABC. Audiences have quickly become fond of this Monday
drama about a young, autistic doctor. Now here are two transplanted
reruns. In the first, he gets some respect from his new colleagues;
in the second, he learns his parents withheld his diagnosis.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Christy's law-school applications ended up costing a lot of
money. Now her mother makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving up
cable-TV.

“S.W.A.T.,” 10
p.m., CBS. One bomber has been killed, but now the team rushes to
find his partner before their are more explosions.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“iHeartRadio Music Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW; concludes Friday.

On the eve of
Thanksgiving, TV starts piling up the specials. This one was taped
during two noisy nights in a Las Vegas Arena, with Ryan Seacrest
hosting. Miley Cyrus performed; so did Lorde, Pink, Harry Styles,
David Guetta, Big Sean, DJ Khaled and The Weeknd.

There was more,
including Coldplay, Kings of Leon and Thirty Seconds to Mars, plus
country's Chris Stapleton and Thomas Rhett. Now that music will fill
two nights, on both sides of the holiday.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” 8-9 p.m., ABC.

Here's a tip for
holiday entertaining: Always check the chef's menu choices.

The meal has been
entrusted to Snoopy and Woodstock. Alas, they plan a feast consisting
entirely of toast and popcorn; now Charlie must save the day. That's
in a 1973 cartoon; rounding out the hour is the Pilgrims portion of
the 1988 miniseries, “This Is America, Charlie Brown.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “A Saturday Night Live Thanksgiving Special,” 9-11
p.m., NBC.

The holiday has
often produced big laughs for “SNL.” That was true 41 years ago,
when Paul Simon attempted to sing “Still Crazy After All These
Years” in a turkey costume; it was true last weekend, with Pete
Davidson's hilarious explanation of why he doesn't want to visit
home for the holiday.

In between have been
other laugh-getters, from Adam Sandler's Thanksgiving song to a
bizarre sketch that had mega-balloons terrifying parade-watchers. Now
here's a collection of sketches.

Other choices
include:

“Titanic”
(1997), all day, AMC. Sometimes, a big, loud movie can also have deep
characters and rich craftsmanship; that's the case for this epic,
airing at 9 a.m. and 1:30, 6 and 10:30 p.m. And sometimes, a movie is
just big and loud; “King Kong” (2005) is 8-11:01 p.m. on TNT.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the fairly good season-opener, Cookie has a
lot to worry about. There's Lucious, making a public appearance with
his memory gone ... and Claudia (Demi Moore), his ambitious nurse ...
and Diana DuBois (Phylicia Rashad), continuing her war against the
Lyons.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. This rerun continues the link between Fox's best dramas. On
“Empire,” Carlotta met Cookie and Lucious; in this hour, she asks
their son Jamal (Jussie Smollett) for advice.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of last year's Thanksgiving episode, Cameron
spares no expense. Haley, however, disappoints her parents: She'd
rather spend the holiday with her much-older boyfriend, TV weatherman
Rainer Shine (Nathan Fillion).

“The Story of Us,”
9 p.m., National Geographic. Last week's hour (rerunning at 8 p.m.)
viewed power; this one meets rebels, from exiles to whistleblowers.

“20/20,” 10
p.m., ABC. This special looks at favorite holiday movies ... an
oft-visited subject. On Dec. 11 and 17, Turner Classic Movies will
rerun its 2011 film on that subject; on Dec. 20, CW has its take.

“Mr. Robot,” 10
p.m., USA. As the FBI closes in, Mr. Robot wants answers.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 9:30 p.m., Fox.

Thanksgiving
episodes keep scoring, by nudging mismatched people together. And
this show's matches miss thoroughly. Amy's parents (Jimmy Smits and
Bertila Damas) are so controlling that they bring an alternate
turkey; Jake's (Brad Whitford and Katey Sagal) can't even control
themselves.

There's an alternate
story that lets Andre Braugher re-live his days as a brilliant
“Homicide” interrogator. But the real joy is in a Thanksgiving
that's both bloody and hilarious.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

How good is this
show? So good that it can create powerful drama while ignoring its
best character.

That's the adult
Randall, who doesn't even appear tonight. Neither does the adult
Kevin; their dad is only around (in flashbacks) briefly. Instead,
this is all about Kate (now and as a teen-ager) and her relationships
with her mom and Toby. Many of the strongest emotions are unspoken,
as they usually are in real life; a few are mega-spoken, in the
soaring monologs that spark some great television.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Chicago Med” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

Wouldn't it be nice
if great shows always led into worthy ones? Sometimes, they don't:
“The Simpsons” was followed by “Babes”; after “Friends”
came “Inside Schwartz.” We learn to use our remotes.

And “This Is Us,”
with its depth, is followed by the surface approach of “Med”;
lots of stories race past us, most of them moderately interesting.
Dr. Charles gets to comment on the insanity plea of the man who shot
him. Robin returns from brain surgery, unsure about herself. Manning
and Halstead, clearly with eyes for each other, work a demanding
case. It's all quick and slick and moderately involving.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Dancing With the Stars” finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

On Monday, the field
was trimmed to three. Now – alongside music by Kelsea Ballerini,
Nick Lachey, Lindsey Stirling and Jordan Fisher – they each perform
two more dances and a winner is chosen.

That requires adding
several things -- judges' scores Monday and today, viewers' votes
Monday and during a five-minute window today. That last part is only
via ABC.com or Facebook -- and only in the Eastern and Central time
zones. In theory, this is one vote the Russians will have to ignore.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. People's Thanksgiving plans are doubly delayed – by the search
for a murderous arms dealer and by Delilah going into labor three
weeks early.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Axl is stunned to learn that his footloose college friend
is acting oddly like a responsible adult. Also, Brick needs his
parents' help in his latest romance scheme.

“The Mick,” 9
p.m., Fox. We always assumed Mick's pal Jimmy had never amounted to
much. But now they go back to his home town for the retirement of his
baseball number. We also learn that Mick may have helped ruin his pro
career. 

“Legends of
Tomorrow” (CW) and “The Vietnam War” (PBS), both 9 p.m. Here
are two views of the Vietnam War, one fictional and one way too real.
On CW, an anachronism thrusts Ray, Amaya and Zari into the war; on
PBS, Ken Burns' brilliant documentary is near an end. The South
Vietnamese, fighting on their own, suffer a fierce defeat; an
agreement finally frees the prisoners of war.

“Who Killed
Tupac?” 9-11:03 p.m., A&E, rerunning at 1:03. Here are the
first two parts of a six-part series that profiles Tupac Shakur and
tries to solve his murder, 21 years ago.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Homeless kids are murder suspects, but
Pride has doubts.

“Damnation,” 10
p.m., USA. All sorts of dark forces have converged on this
sunny-looking stretch of 1935 Iowa. There's the bank, foreclosing on
widows .... the preacher, bringing passion and violence to a farmers'
strike .... the cowboy, hired to stop him .... and now a KKK-type
group with dark hoods and dark intentions. All collide tonight, in a
nasty (but well-crafted) hour.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Dancing With the Stars” finale, 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

It's time to choose
the show's 25th champion. Last week, paralympic champion
Victoria Arlen, a fan favorite, was ousted. Now the final four dance
and viewers vote.

There's Frankie
Muniz, 31, the former “Malcolm in the Middle” star ... Lindsey
Stirling, also 31, the vibrant violinist ... Jordan Fisher, 23, an
actor-singer ... and Drew Scott, 39, who is the real-estate half of
HGTV's “Property Brothers.” On Tuesday, one of them will be the
winner.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Brave,” 10:01 p.m., NBC.

Forget the standard
details of TV dramas – alternating plot lines, arbitrary shifts in
tone, etc. This skips all of that and goes on a rocket ride – no
pauses (except commercials) or shifts, just a high-octane rush.

The goal is to kill
the terrorist who created a deadly beach attack on soldiers and their
families. Then come the twists and the reactions; it's a great
episode for Natacha Karam as Jaz ... except that it doesn't really
have a satisfying ending. That will keep us watching next week.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Mark Twain Prize, 8 p.m., PBS.

Most award shows are
plagued by bland presenters and blander acceptance speeches. Agents
and managers get thanked; nothing interesting gets said. The
exception is this annual comedy prize.

This year's winner,
the 20th, is David Letterman. The presenters included Bill
Murray (last year's winner and a favorite Letterman' guest), Paul
Shaffer (his sidekick) and Steve Martin (a past winner), plus Jimmy
Kimmel, Amy Schumer, Norm Macdonald, Al Franken, Martin Short, John
Mulraney, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Jimmie Walker and musician Eddie
Vedder.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Independent Lens,” 9:30 p.m., PBS.

At its core, this
argues that -- as one man puts it -- forces “seek a perpetual state
of war.” It points to people – from Dick Cheney and Tony Blair to
a Saudi prince – who profited from the defense industry.

It makes that
argument, however, in circuitous ways. There are detours for
everything from astronauts to a human-spinning act and the guy who
threw his shoes at George W. Bush. All of this is fascinating, but
the whole is much less than the sum of its parts.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The “play-offs” are done now, giving us the
top 12. Tonight, they perform and viewers vote; on Tuesday, one
singer will be ousted.

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. We really don't want to find Lucifer on a dating app, do
we? (Or do some people feel they already have?) Tonight, he probes a
murder linked to a celebrity dating site.

“Baltimore
Rising,” 8-9:35 p.m., HBO. From “The Wire” to “The Corner,”
Baltimore has had a tough time on TV. Here's a passionate documentary
– directed by “Wire” co-star Sonja Sojn -- about idealists who
are fueling its comeback.

“The Gifted,” 9
p.m., Fox. Refugees keep reaching the Mutant Underground, but one is
a spy for Sentinel Services. Also, Reed (Stephen Moyer) gets some
useful information from his estranged father.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. There are Thanksgiving episodes on all the CBS comedies
... except “Man With a Plan,” which didn't expect to be here this
soon. In this one, Arthur agrees to invite his estranged daughter ...
but only if Franco invites his estranged father (Cedric the
Entertainer).

“The Good Doctor,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. So far, Shaun has been able to perform despite the
limits created by his autism. During a robbery, however, those limits
put lives at risk. Afterward, Dr. Glassman, his mentor, fears he's
not able to help Shaun.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
American Music Awards, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

Kelly Clarkson and
Pink will open with a duet, launching a night filled with female
stars. Tracee Ellis Ross will host; her mom (Diana Ross) will perform
and get a lifetime award. Also performing are Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato,
Selena Gomez and (in collaborations) Alessia Cara and Hailee
Steinfeld.

There's more,
including Christina Aguilera singing Whitney Houston songs from “The
Bodyguard,” on that film's 25th anniversary. Other
performers: Nick Jonas, Niall Horan, Shawn Mendes, BTS, Portugal,
The Man and a collaboration of Imagine Dragons and Khalid.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Masterpiece: Poldark” season-finale, 9 p.m., PBS.

At first, Ross
Poldark seemed strong, silent and heroic. But as he kept his distance
– refusing chances to be a magistrate or to go to Parliament –
his diffidence began to seem coldly distant. Cruel men (land-baron
George and the Rev. Whitworth) have destroyed life for good people.

Now things peak on
all sides. George's thug strikes ... villagers strike back ... the
French may be attacking ... and a young soldier can offer Ross' wife
the attention he rarely gives her. It's an emotionally powerful
finish to a sometimes-frustrating season.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Madam Secretary,” 10:30 p.m. (10 p.m. PT), CBS.

Sara Ramirez has
made an impact on Broadway (winning a Tony) and in “Grey's Anatomy”
(getting five ALMA Award nominations). Now she becomes a series
regular here.

We meet her as a
former United Nations ambassador. When a Russian dissident reaches
the U.S. after contracting smallpox, she works with Elizabeth and the
Russians to prevent an outbreak.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Secret Life of Lance Letscher,” 7-9 p.m. ET,
Ovation.

This network offers
a mixture of international dramas (“Versailles” on Saturdays,
“The Halcyon” on Mondays, “The Arful Detective”), reruns, old
movies and – especially – shows about the arts.

Here's a prime
example. Making her directing debut, Sandra Adair – nominated for
an Oscar for editing the wonderful “Boyhood” -- beautifully tells
about Letscher. Working with tiny fragments (found objects and pieces
of his own complicated psychology), he creates dazzling mosaics.

Other choices
include:

“Masterpiece: The
Durells in Corfu” season-finale, 8 p.m., PBS. There's a sudden baby
boom – two women and an otter, giving birth. That taxes the town
doctor and gives Leslie a chance to be heroic. Meanwhile, Louisa and
her daughter face romantic choices, in a fairly good end to a
pleasant season.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Foe. To cheer up Moe, Homer and the guys re-unite their old
bowling team. Soon, they're in a fierce competition against arrogant
millionaires.

“Ghosted,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. Two smug actors – from a show called “Ghost Studz”
-- stumble across real ghosts. Now Max and Leroy must save them,
going undercover at an abandoned mental hospital.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:30 p.m. (9 p.m. PT), CBS. The show's 200th
episode has Nell's bossy, older sister arrive to help with a
complicated case, after highway patrolmen are attacked.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Even among the few survivors in this world,
gender politics are tricky. Tandy goes to great lengths to convince
people he's a feminist; Todd tries to be a father figure.

And more, 10 p.m.,
cable. “Search Party” starts its second season on TBS, colliding
with other comedies -- “ Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO, “SMILF”
on Showtime – and a drama. That's TNT's “Good Behavior,”
introducing Holland Taylor as Letty's grandmother, who's also a
con-artist type.