TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 30

MUST-SEE: “Code Black” debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

all started with a doctor's documentary about his old workplace. Ryan
McGarry showed a Los Angeles emergency room where the most extreme
code (rare in most places) happens almost daily.

that's been turned into a fictional series with a tough, gritty feel.
We meet four new residents (one, Bonnie Somerville, with a
complicated past), the senior nurse (Luis Guzman) and their
no-nonsense chief (Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden). Some of this has
the usual just-play-by-the rules cliches; mostly, however, “Code
Black” is a strong, solid drama.

MUST-SEE II: “Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

show teeters between being a sleekly terrific musical drama and
merely being a silly soap opera in the style of “Dynasty” -- a
title it partly borrows tonight. The silliest parts involve a
prosecutor who flashes big cleavage and withholds medicine;
fortunately, the music and the office politics are first-rate.

week, Lucious squelched one uprising in prison and another – from
ex-wife Cookie and two of their sons – at the record company. Now
Cookie strikes back, boosted and hindered by her mercurial son
Hakeem. The action is fast and flashy ... when it manages to avoid
dynastic soap suds.

ALTERNATIVE: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

week, we met Sam Trull, an American who spends her days in Costa
Rica, with sloths hanging on her. One of the sweetest sloths, hit by
pneumonia, was clinging to his life and clinging to her.

that story concludes and we see Trull at work, nudging another sloth
to swim and to be alone at night. Two other stories – also
involving animal orphans – are from Australia, involving fruitbats
and kangaroos. In each case, we get ernest humans, cute critters and
gentle, feel-good stories.

choices include:

iHeartRadio Music Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW. The second half of this
special has a Jackosn (Janet) and a Jonas (Nick), plus Blake Shelton,
The Weeknd, Puff Daddy, Prince Royce and Fall Out Boy.

8 p.m., CBS. A decade after his brother was a “Survivor”
champion, Vytas Baskauskas had an opposite fate: Last week, Baskauska
(who finished 10th in 2013) became the first person
eliminated. Now the remaining 19 compete; tonight, none of the tribes
is puzzled by a classichallenge.

Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. Last week ended with Sue sitting in her
brightly decorated half of a dorm room ... staring at the empty half
next to her. Now she waits ... then finds that having a roommate
isn't a sure road to happiness. Meanwhile, her brothers have their
own school adventures.

Fluffy Movie” (2014), 8:30-11 p.m., Fuse. This music-oriented
channel has had lots of changes, since merging with SiTV. Now it
debuts a new look and emphasizes two of its stars – Gabriel
“Fluffy” Iglesias in a stand-up comedy film, followed at 11 by
“Big Freedia,” a reality show about the person who popularized
“bounce music.”

Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. With money tight, Mitchell and Cam become
landlords. Meanwhile, Alex doesn't want to make a big deal of her
move to college; she even tells her parents the wrong day.

P.D.” season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. Bokeem Woodbine guests as a
heroin kingpin who tops Chicago's most-wanted list. He kidnaps an
intelligence detective, setting off a furious search. Also, Lindsay
is in a downward spiral and Olinsky tells a secret from his past.

10 p.m., ABC. Last week's season-opener found Juliette raging at
Rayna, living away from her husband and baby and seeming ready to
crumble. Now she does – during a live TV show.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 29

MUST-SEE: “The Grinder” debut, 8:30 p.m., Fox.

real life, Rob Lowe is a lawyer's son who plays lawyers (and others)
on TV. And here? He plays a lawyer's son who played a lawyer on TV
... until the show was canceled. He retreats home and decides to
“help” at the family law office with his father (William Devane)
and brother (Fred Savage).

short on knowledge and long on charisma; his brother is the opposite.
Now they're mismatched in all the right ways. The result is a neatly
assembled comedy, thoroughly entertaining.

II: “Grandfathered” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

After a shabby first
week of the season (introducing the fairly lame “Minority Report,”
“Scream Queens” and “Rosewood”), Fox is springing back with
two of the year's best new comedies. Neither has a lot of huge-laugh
moments, but each is consistently funny, with a great concept and
smart casting.

John Stamos portrays
a slickly handsome womanizer, which doesn't surprise us. Then he
learns he has a son (Josh Peck).and a granddaughter. In an instant,
he's gone from in-control to dazed-and-confused. Peck, a former
kids-cable star, and Christina Milian give solid support to the
perfectly cast Stamos.

ALTERNATIVE: “Frontline,” 10 p.m, PBS (check local listings).

For years, Ken
Dornstein was a story editor for “Frontline,” PBS' superb
documentary series. Now he's tackled the mega-story that has
overshadowed his life.

Dornstein was 19
when his older brother David died in the 1988 bombing of an airliner
that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland. Investigators came up with 10
suspects tied to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but only one was
convicted ... and he was released a decade later, when he had cancer.
Now Dornstein begins a three-week probe that is involving, despite
spending way too much time on process.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Gibbs has a new look, setting off rumors. Stirring things is his
obsession with a case that seems to have strong personal links.

“The Muppets,” 8
p.m., ABC. After a great opener last week, “Muppets” settles into
a fairly good episode. As Miss Piggy implodes, her colleagues decide
she needs a boyfriend ... not just any guy, but the golden-voiced
Josh Groban. But is a happy Piggy even more dangerous than a grumpy

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. After his girlfriend dumps him, Eddie drifts
into despair, playing the same song over and over. Also, his dad
suddenly groans about not having a daughter.

“Agents of SHIELD”
season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. The team faces double trouble – the
disappearance of Simmons and a confrontation with a team that's
interested in finding people with extra powers.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. When a blogger with top-secret documents is
killed, the case leads to dark secrets about a Bolivian mission.

“Scream Queens,”
9 p.m., Fox. Last week's debut introduced a sorority and two skeptics
– the dean (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Grace the reformer (Skyler
Samuels). Tonight, Grace learns secrets and the dean appoints a new

More, 10 p.m. NBC
had planned to slide Neil Patrick Harris' live “Best Time Ever”
to 8 p.m., beginning today; now it stays at 10, at least for another
week. Meanwhile, ABC's show for that slot (“Wicked City”) is
still a month away; instead, here's a rerun of Sunday's so-so

TV column for Monday, Sept. 28

MUST-SEE: “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” debut, 11 p.m.,
Comedy Central.

a bizarre presidential campaign grows, one thing has been missing:
The brilliant, biting satire of “The Daily Show” -- winner of11
best-variety-show Emmys – went on hold when Jon Stewart left.

replacement is a South Africa native, 31, who's only been in the U.S.
for four years. Noah is a gifted comedian with tough experiences; his
mother was jailed for having a mixed-race child. Now we can catch his
humor and see his first guest, Kevin Hart. For additional topical
humor, catch NBC at 12:35 a.m.; Seth Meyers has been brilliant since
deciding to open his show at a desk, news-style.

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

Last week's
season-opener reminded us that this is still TV's best comedy ... and
still knows how to surprise us. Yes, Leonard and Penny finally
married; then she learned that the woman he kissed on the North Sea
is still a co-worker. They fumed and retreated to separate

Now he must confront
that co-worker. And Sheldon – crushed by Amy breaking up with him,
when he had planned to propose – plans a special episdoe of his
“Fun With Flags” podcast.

ALTERNATIVE: “Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Last week, the
season started bizarrely. Beckett got a mysterious phone call and
disappeared. She soon was linked with shoot-outs; she resurfaced to
save Castle's life ... then vanished again.

It was a fascinating
start, but it was too similar to last season, when Castle
disappeared. It also seemed wildly unlikely ... but now we'll learn
more. Tonight, the story is told from Beckett's viewpoint.

Other choices

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Last week, the season started with a jolt –
straight-arrow Jim Gordon committing a robbery and murder (of a
crook), in order to get his police job back. He had leaned to the
dark side; now it sometimes looks like this whole, well-crafted show
has gone there. It opens the hour with a burst of torture and murder.
Then Gordon goes to work, chasing the insane-asylum escapees.

“Life in Pieces,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. Matt has a “bad date” with Colleen, which is
considered a good thing. Also, he walks in on his parents being
intimate; his mom promptly has a family therapy session.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. The young geniuses head to Cuba, to help their FBI
handler. A friend from his past wants help catching a Serbian war

“Minority Report,”
9 p.m., CBS. Dash again links with a cop, trying to stop crimes in
advance. It's hard to do without the siblings who share his ability
to foresee crimes; he tries to reach out to them.

“Chasing Life”
season-finale, 9 p.m., ABC Family. Everything seems to be changing:
April and Beth prepare their trip to Rome, Greer is returning to
Boston and Brenna has mixed feelings about Finn.

“Blindspot,” 10
p.m., CBS. The true identity of “Jane Doe” continues to perplex
everyone – including Jane herself. She's troubled by brief shards
of memory; meanwhile, Weller has a hunch who she is. Also, one of her
tattoos suggests an Air Force pilot has lethal intentions.

“I'll Have What
Phil's Having” debut, 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). After
triumphing as writer-producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Phil
Rosenthal found an enviable mission – traveling the world to sample
food. This opener is in Japan, ranging from a hectic, alley
restaurant to a mellow rural retreat. It lacks the brilliance of
Anthony Bourdain's similar shows, but is still an amiable journey.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 27

“Indian Summers” debut, 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

We're in 1932 India,
just 15 years from independence, but Englishmen assume they'll rule
forever. Each summer, they move the colonial government to the
mountains, to escape the heat.

Ralph, the viceroy's
scheming aide, is in charge; his sweet sister has arrived with a baby
and claims to have a late husband. One person wants to shoot Ralph,
another wants (less understandably) to seduce him. We also meet a
kindly missionary, his ditzy wife, an earnest native clerk, his
activist sister and more. It's a big, rich, nine-part epic,
beautifully acted in grand settings.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” finale, 9-11, CBS.

For a while, CBS
seemed wheezy and wobbly, with an old audience and old-feeling shows.
That changed in 2000: It launched “Survivor” in the summer and
“CSI” in the fall.

“CSI” spawned
three spin-offs (one of which returns next week), but now it's
departing, nine days shy of its 15th anniversary. The
finale sees a catastrophe paralyzes Las Vegas. The original stars
(William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger) return, to work with Ted
Danson, Jorja Fox and more.

Other choices

“Once Upon a Time”
season-opener, 8 p.m., ABC. Powerful forces link, trying to tug Emma
from the dark side. In the Enchanted Forest, she searches for Merlin
and confronts Merida, the arrow-shooting “Brave” heroine; in
Storybrooke, old enemies combine. It's a big and visually impressive

“The Simpsons”
season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox. The 27th season (really)
starts with Homer separating form Marge ... and dating a
20-something. Lena Dunham is the guest star.

Nine-Nine” season-opener, 8:30, Fox. Wisely, Fox's Sunday shows are
pillaging old “Saturday Night Live” talent. This one stars Andy
Samberg, with some hilarious help tonight from Bill Hader; “Last
Man on Earth” stars Will Forte, with help from Jason Sudeikis.
Hader arrives to replace Captain Holt, whose talent is being wasted
in headquarters. Also, Jake and Amy ponder that first kiss.

Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, NBC, with pre-game at 7. Here are two teams with opposite starts:
The Denver Broncos (12-4 last season) are 2-0; they visit the Detroit
Lions (11-5 last year), who are 0-2.

“Fear the Walking
Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC, and “The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX. These
similar (and well-made) horror tales end their seasons next week. In
“Fear,” the National Guard policy forces a tough decision; in
“Strain,” Eph must choose between endangering his son and
endangering the entire city.

“The Last Man on
Earth” season-opener, 9:30 p.m., Fox. Banished from Tucson – the
only place known to have other humans – Phil heads on the road with
Carol. They try some great homes (the White House, for instance), but
she's unhappy. Then comes a bizarre end to a good episode.

debut, 10 p.m., ABC. This starts with a great setting (FBI training),
an intense attitude and a superb new star (Priyanka Chopra); then it
blows it all. A small sin is to copy the how-they-met scene from
“Grey's Anatomy.” Bigger ones follow -- idiotic twists that will
cause some viewers to bail out.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 26

“Cedar Cove” and “Love on the Air,” 8 and 9-11 p.m.,

On a quiet day for
the big networks, Hallmark offers a full night of pleasant-enough
shows. That starts with the season-finale of the likable “Cove.”
It's time for Grace the librarian to finally marry her cowboy ... and
for Olivia to sort out her feelings for Jack and Paul.

Then is a one of the
better Hallmark movies, with a man and woman doing verbal warfare as
radio personalities. You kind of know how it will end, but it has a
smart script and good work from director Kristoffer Tabori (who often
uses the name K.T. Donaldson) and star Alison Sweeney.

II: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

We're now a week
from the start of the 41st season, with Miley Cyrus doubling up as
host and music guest ... and with a busy world waiting to be made fun
of. First, here's a rerun of the 40th-season finale.

Louis C.K. hosts,
offering his usual, brilliantly off-kilter approach; he even
speculates that pedophiles must REALLY like what they do. Rihanna is
the music guest.

ALTERNATIVE: Sports overload, everywhere.

On a night when
college football fills ABC and Fox, NBC somehow decided we needed
boxing. At 8:30 p.m. ET, it has Deontay Wilder defending his WBC
heavyweight title against Johann Duhaupas.

Then there's
football throughout the day, including two primetime collisions
between ranked teams. At 8 p.m. ET, ABC has UCLA (No. 9) at Arizona
(No. 16); at 8:30, with a pre-game show at 8, Fox has Utah (No. 18)
at Oregon (No. 13).

Other choices

(2011), 6 and 9 p.m., E. This launches a good night for comedy
movies. Other strong choices are “Bruce Almighty” (20030 at 6:55
p.m. on VH1, “21 Jump Street” (2012) at 7:30 p.m. on FXX and the
animated delight “Toy Story 2” (1999) at 8 p.m. on Disney.

“Limitless,” 8
p.m., CBS. After debuting on an overcrowded Tuesday, this show can
get noticed by rerunning on an undercrowded Saturday. The 2011 movie
starred Bradley Cooper, who produces this and shows up in the final
minutes. The rest – with Jake McDorman as a drifting musician who
finds a pill giving him great powers – has lots of action and
moderately interesting characters.

“The Carmichael
Show,” 8 p.m., NBC (after the fight in western time zones). Here's
a random rerun of a fairly good summer comedy. As star and writer,
Jerrod Carmichael has topical materiel ... including arguments here
about black protests. The writing is smart, the acting ranges from
so-so (Carmichael and Amber Stevens West) to excellent (David Alan
Grier and Loretta Devine, as his parents).

Brian Regan concert,
9 p.m., Comedy Central. For the first time, Comedy Central has a live
concert. Regan – who is both clean and clever – seems like a
logical choice.

“Doctor Who,” 9
to 10:05 p.m., BBC America. After a big build-up last week, the
channel had only the first half of the season-opener. That reruns at
8 p.m., followed by this conclusion. The doctor finds himself trapped
in a Dalek city, with no Tardis and no one to help him.

“Blunt Talk,” 9
p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10 and 11. When his estranged son is in
town, Walter (Patrick Stewart) tries to patch up their relationship.

Remorse,” 9:30, Starz, rerunning at 10:30 and 11:30. Cam is
launching his line of shoes ... but Chen, who's in charege, sees the
event mostly as a dating opportunity.