TV column for Saturday, Nov. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Cold Blooded,” 9-11 p.m., Sundance; concludes Sunday.

Herb and Bonnie
Clutter offered an idealized vision of Americana. On their 640-acre
farm, they built a home that became a gathering point for friends,
church groups and their teen daughter's busy social life. Then
strangers entered the unlocked home and killed everyone.

Those murders drew
national interest, even before Truman Capote arrived. His “In Cold
Blood” was brilliant non-fiction; so is this new, four-hour
documentary. Emmy-winning director Joe Berlinger blends new
interviews and old transcripts, retaining a sense of a quiet place
caught in a nightmare.

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

It's a two-rapper
night: Chance the Rapper hosts, with Eminem as the music guest.

Eminem, 45, has done
that six times before, but for Chance, 24, everything is new. This
year, he's been named best new artist by the Grammys, the Image
Awards and BET – which also gave him his humanitarian award. He's
been the “SNL” music guest once, but this is his first time
hosting.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Night of Too Many Stars,” 8 p.m., HBO, rerunning at
9:30.

Every two years, Jon
Stewart gathers other comedy geniuses for this fund-raiser for autism
research.

This time, that
includes Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock, John Oliver, Sarah Silverman,
Kumail Ninjiani, Will Forte and more. There are even people –
Robert De Niro, Edie Falco – known for serious drama.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “I Am Elizabeth Smart,” 8 p.m., Lifetime,
rerunning at 12:02 a.m.

Elizabeth Smart was
14 when she was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home. By the time
she was found – nine months later, in a nearby town – people
found the story compelling.

Now, at 30, she's
telling the story on two sister networks. A&E had a documentary;
Lifetime has this scripted movie (rerunning Sunday), which Smart
narrates.

Other choices
include:

“The Wizard of Oz”
(1939), 7 and 9:15 p.m., TBS. Families can catch a classic, ranked
No. 10 on the American Film Institute's top-10 list.

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
ABC and Fox. There's a West Coast feel tonight. ABC has Southern
California (ranked No. 11) hosting UCLA; Fox has Stanford (No. 22)
hosting California.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from Halloween-time last year,
Callen faces a personal crisis: His father (Daniel Travanti of “Hill
Street Blues”) has been found in a victim's hospital room; now
Callen must interrogate him.

“Will &
Grace,” 8 p.m., NBC. This rerun sees big career opportunities for
both people. Will could become a partner in his law firm; Grace could
be hired to design a string of boutique hotels. It's a good episode,
often smart and sometimes – Leslie Jordan returns for a flashy
guest role – quite silly.

“Superstore,”
8:30 p.m., NBC. The bad news is that a work crew has found a body;
the worse news is that customers assume it's a Halloween decoration.
That leads to some hilarious scenes.

“Dirk Gently's
Holistic Detective Agency,” 9 p.m. ET, BBC America, rerunning at
midnight. As Dirk gets closer to learning the identity of “The
Boy,” the villains are linking to stop him.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

Isabel Allende has
been a literary giant for decades. She's won top awards in at least
10 countries, from ones in her native South America to the
Presidential Medal of Freedom in her adopted U.S. homeland. And now
she plays a key part in this story.

Jane's first novel
has been published, at a time when fewer people go to the sort of
book store she's loved since childhood. This hour has lots of plot
twists – some of them making no sense in the timeline – but
Allende, 75, helps give it a feeling of heart and hope.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Once Upon a Time,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.

For way too long,
this was alongside the clumsy “Inhumans”; now the latter has
ended and “Once” has the night to itself. In the first hour's
fairytale portions, Hook seeks a powerful magic, but Rapunzel may be
too much for him; in the second hour, Henry follows a distressed
Alice to Wonderland.

There are also the
portions in modern Seattle. In the first hour, Henry tries to find
the missing Eloise Gardner; in the second, Jacinda makes a desperate
effort to regain custody of her daughter.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

We've applauded the
ambition of PBS' fall Fridays – a string of Broadway shows. We're
less happy about the choices: Three of them -- “Falsettos,”
“Present Laughter” and now “Indecent” -- are poorly suited
for TV. Onstage, they may be delightful; on TV, they seem forced and
exaggerated.

“Indecent” has
the true story of a play that was acclaimed throughout Europe. In the
U.S., it brought controversy – especially over its lesbian scenes –
and arrests. That's an interesting story, told here with zest; on TV,
however, we mostly get people screaming toward the back row of the
theater.

Other choices
include:

Movies, all night,
cable. It's a night of big-time fantasy, including the two-part
“Harry Potter” finale, at 4:30 (2010) and 8 p.m. (2011) on
Freeform. Elsewhere, there's the middle of the great “Lord of the
Rings” trilogy (2002) at 8 p.m. on AMC and the start of “The
Hunger Games” (2012) at 8 p.m. on TNT. Also, the delightful
“Princess Bride” (1987) is 8 and 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. While chasing a deadly bomber, Jane finds a secret from
her youth.

“Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend,” 8 p.m., CW. The “crazy” part was merely an
expression at first, but Rebecca has sunk deep into depression, even
attempting suicide. Her friends rally around her, in an hour that has
a couple strong songs, a few laughs (Valencia is key to both of
those) and some serious moments.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Things get complicated for the show's side characters:
Riley is visited by her estranged father (Billy Baldwin); Bozer is
sent to a spy-training camp. Then, of course, there's a big case to
solve. Armed with a shoelace and a tablecloth, Mac and Jack must
steal a priceless painting

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Adjusting to an empty home without Kono, Adam also faces
a crisis: He must back up McGarrett, when a bank heist forces him
into what could be a heartbreaking mistake.

“The Exorcist,”
9 p.m., Fox. An exorcism begins, with the future of the foster home
at stake.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. The focus shifts to Danny's police partner, Eddie
(Vanessa Ray); she arrests someone she hated in college. And Frank,
the police commissioner, is hesitant to mar the record of a cop – a
decorated U.S. veteran – who tested positive for marijuana.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Project Runway” finale, 9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime.

Last week's episode
(rerunning at 8 p.m.) saw the five surviving designers each prepare
10 pieces for a Fashion Week show. Then the judges saw two pieces
each and sent Kenya Freeman home.

Now the final four
are in New York, with one becoming the show's 16th
champion. Kee – a young (24) and stoic designer from San Francisco
– has dominated. The others are Ayana Ife, 27, of Salt Lake City;
Kentaro Kameyama, 38, of Los Angeles; and Margarita Alvarez, 30, of
San Juan, Puerto Rico.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Life in Pieces,” 9:31 p.m., CBS.

John (James Brolin)
manages to keep a cheery distance from pragmatism or reality. Mostly,
he sees the world into what-me-worry terms. So it shouldn't surprise
us that he blissfully refuses to accept the fact that he has a
hearing problem. That leads to some hilarious moments, in the last of
tonight's four pieces.

The others? Joan
(John's wife) gambles at cards ... their three kids search for a time
capsule ... Jen has an abysmal score with hired drivers. Each tale is
fairly good; then John provides the strong finish.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Better Things” season-finale, 10 p.m., FX.

This subtly
brilliant comedy-drama ends with another episode that barely
remembers the comedy part. Sam (Pamela Adlon) prepares for her oldest
daughter's high school graduation, with all the emotional baggage
that this complicated family keeps hefting. As usual, there are
setbacks.

This ends a season
that's been great on-camera and tragic behind the scenes. Louis C.K.
(who wrote this episode) admitted that sexual-harassment accusations
about him are true. FX dropped him as producer of this and other
shows; he leaves (for now) a track record of great and eccentric
television.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: All night, ABC.

It's time for what
ABC calls the “mid-season finales” of its strong Thursday shows.
On “Grey's Anatomy” (8 p.m.), a hacker busts the hospital's
computer system, creating chaos. On “Scandal” (9 p.m.), the
network will only say there are shocks and revelations; there usually
are.

And “How to Get
Away With Murder” (10 p.m.) has had a pattern of wrapping up key
storylines twice a year. Tonight, the probe of Wes' murder comes to a
head; also, we learn where Laurel's baby is.

Other choices
include:

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. We kind of figured nothing good would come of someone
named Professor Pyg. He continues to torment people, even showing up
as the chef at a fundraiser for the orphanage.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Leonard and Howard are furious when they
learn that Sheldon is working with the military without them. They
even turn to the disliked Kripke for help.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Here are two turning points for the 9-year-old
version of Sheldon: He develops a fear of solid foods – ALL solid
foods – and a love of comic books.

“The Orville,” 9
p.m., Fox. At first, crew members had doubts about their chief
security officer. Alara (played by Halston Sage, 24) is young and
small, with immense strength. She's proven herself so far ... but now
has doubts, after a deadly fire and other troubles.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Christy (played by Anna Faris, 40) was afraid she wouldn't
fit in, as a mid-life student in law school. Now she befriends a
fellow student, played by Michael Angarano, 30.

“S.W.A.T.,” 10
p.m., CBS. The stakes are high tonight, with Filipino immigrants
endangered by a drug ring. During this, the new cop is distracted by
his mother (Sherilyn Fenn of “Twin Peaks”), who's in prison for
killing his abusive dad. Despite its monotone nature, “S.W.A.T.”
has some strong moments.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Thanksgivings offer
the ideal situation-comedy formula – wedge all the family members
together, add some mismatched outsiders and let people talk. ABC has
four straight episodes tonight, from 8-10 p.m.

“Modern Family”
thrives on such chaos, so we can expect good things here. Jay toasts
all the “successes” of the past year, while people try not to
reveal that most of these were closer to failures.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Riverdale,” 8 p.m., CW.

Last week ended
powerfully. A disguised caller – billed as the “Black Hood”
serial killer – demanded a name of someone to kill. Betty wavered,
then named of a young rapist.

Now she races to
prevent a new murder. It's a strong start to an episode that merely
becomes OK afterward. Jughead persists in joining his dad's old gang
... Veronica's parents scramble for financing ... and the sunny world
of Archie comics just doesn't seem the same.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Beyond a Year in Space,” 9 p.m., PBS.

From the beginning,
PBS covered Scott Kelly's record, 340-day stay in space. Some of that
coverage is rerun at 8 p.m., but then an interesting new hour looks
backward and forward.

We see Kelly's
return (20 months ago) and face the next question: What would happen
to people during a two-year round trip to Mars? Kelly, 53, continues
to undergo testing and talks about the after-effects. Also, we see
two newer astronauts -- Jessica Meir and Victor Glover, 40 and 41 –
train. Neither looks like the old-school astronauts (all of them
white males); either could be the first person on Mars.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Mythbusters” return, 9:02 p.m. ET, Science,
rerunning at 12:08 a.m.

This was an early
cable giants, persisting for 15 years and 282 episodes. It did
endless experiments, blew lots of stuff up, disproved hundreds of
myths and found that a few are possible. The Discovery Channel
finally canceled it, but this sister channel had a reality show to
choose new hosts.

Now we can sample
some of the old episodes (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), see the full reality
show (1-9:02 p.m.) and then see the debut with the new hosts. The
reality finale reruns at 11:06 p.m..

Other choices
include:

“The Blacklist,”
8 p.m., NBC. Here's what NBC calls the “fall finale.” Tom is
missing and Liz retraces his steps; Red's search for the suitcase of
bones may put him on a collision course with Tom.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. The oft-split family links together to support Hakeem in a
custody fight. No one, however, is prepared for the revelations Anika
soon makes against him .

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Last week, a vibrant music event suddenly crashed: A nervous
cop, given little provocation, shot and killed a young black man
during a traffic stop. Now come the aftershocks; also, the trio tries
to convince a star (played by Teyana Taylor) to sing a verse on one
of its songs.

“Dynasty,” 9
p.m., CW. For a guy who runs a mega-company, Blake Carrington can be
pretty thick-headed. Last week, he rushed to stop someone from
hurting an enraged widow ... and promptly crashed his car into her.
Tonight, he ignores a lesson we all know: NEVER strip and enter a
bathtub, without checking to see who else is there. Add some
cardboard performances and you have a so-so episode.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. Turkey's president demands the extradition
of an activist who has been stirring protests in the U.S. Also, a
controversy threatens the future of the president's teen son.

ALSO: It's a
Batman-vs.-Superman night. At 8 p.m., “Man of Steel” (2013) is on
FX, facing Tim Burton's classy “Batman” (1989) on CMT and “The
LEGO Batman Movie” (2017) on HBO. For a past master, catch Alfred
Hitchcock's superb “Vertigo” (1958), at 8 p.m. ET on Turner
Classic Movies.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Middle” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” 8-9 p.m., ABC.

For situation
comedies, Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday. It throws together
mismatched people, often with great results; bow ABC has these shows
tonight, then all four Wednesday sitcoms.

For “Middle,”
this is the ninth – and, alas, final -- Thanksgiving show; the
Hecks keep running into problems, while racing to get to the home of
Frankie's sister (Molly Shannon). On “Boat,” Louis invites the
English teacher (George Takei) Grandma has flirted with; she decides
to make the entire dinner.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Mindy Project” finale and “Future Man,” any time,
Hulu.

If you get some of
the pay-extra streaming services, things have been busy lately. One
(acorn.tv) had the charmingly low-key “Doc Martin” season finale;
another (CBS All Access) had the mid-season finale of “Star Trek:
Discovery,” then the sometimes-hilarious start of a droll comedy,
“No Activity.”

Now Hulu introduces
“Future Man” -- a dandy blend of science-fiction whimsy – and
wraps the sixth and final season of “Mindy.” It ends in ways that
mirror the first episode – a wedding reception, a rambling speech,
a frantic bike ride, good people bumbling through life in funny ways.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Horror Story” finale (FX) or “Damnation”
(USA), 10 p.m.

There's a trend that
ripples through many of the 10 p.m. cable dramas – superb direction
and camera work, sharp writing, strong actors ... and a story that's
tough to watch. That's true of most rounds of “Horror,” including
this one, with small-town terror; and now it's true of “Damnation.”

In 1930s Iowa, a
preacher is trying to stir a farmers' revolution; a tough cowboy (his
brother, actually) was hired to stop him. Tonight, the farmers face
retaliation, then mass angrily. Also, the preacher's past – a messy
one, apparently – looms. This is tough, taut, sometimes messy, not
terribly entertaining.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. A strange voice guides a runner to find a body. The murder
victim turns out to be someone the team has been seeking in a
bribery and fraud case.

“The Long Road
Home” documentary, 8-10 p.m., and new episode, 10 p.m., National
Geographic. Last week, the channel had the compelling start of a
mini-series about an Army unit ambushed in a Baghdad suburb. Now
Martha Raddatz has an advance look at her documentary, “The Heroes
of The Long Road Home.” That's followed by a new chapter, with the
first attempt to rescue the trapped Americans.

“This is Us,” 9
p.m., NBC. Kevin's world has been crumbling, ever since he skipped
surgery and began gobbling pain pills. Now he heads back to his high
school to accept an award.

“The Mick,” 9
p.m., Fox. Life has been complicated for Mick and her niece and
nephews, ever since they accidentally burned the mansion of their
parents. Now they show up – quite unwanted – at a relative's
house; in strange (and sometimes funny) ways, that leads to a fresh
possibility.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 9:30, Fox. The Vulture – played by Dean Winters,
who's been Mayhem in all those insurance commercials – is back,
bringing trouble for Jake and Amy. Also, a popular police horse has
been kidnapped; Boyle and Rosa are searching.

“Law & Order:
True Crime” finale, 10 p.m., NBC. After the Menendez brothers
survived the first trial with a hung jury, the judge (Anthony
Edwards) and prosecution clamp down on defense options.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. There's a family crisis for Dr. Wade, the
team's forensics chief. Danny, her adopted son, was attacked at the
home of his girlfriend, who's now missing.