TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 24



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Black-ish” debut, 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Life is comfy for Andre and Rainbow (Anthony Anderson and
Tracee Ellis Ross). He’s an advertising executive, she’s an anesthesiologist
and money is abundant.


The trouble, he feels, is that their kids have no feel for
their black heritage; their son wants to have a bar mitzvah, like his
classmates do. Produced by Anderson and Laurence Fishburne (who plays his dad),
this is a smart show, but a one-note one that leaves us wondering if there’s
enough story to keep going.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” 8 and
9:30 p.m., CBS.


Right before “Brother” ends its season, “Survivor” starts one.
And for the second time, it has each person competing with someone close to him
or her.


There’s a father and son, a mother and daughter, a father
and daughter. There are brothers and twin sisters (the Andersons, from two
rounds of “Amazing Race). There’s a married couple, some college sweethearts
and two dating duos. One includes John Rocker, the former major-league pitcher
whose comments – “the biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the
foreigners” – preceded his decline.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Bridge,” 10 p.m., FX.


Last week was clouded by Marco’s absurd decision to head
into Fausto’s armed compound virtually alone, to suggest a surrender. The suggestion
was rejected and he was captured.


Now the Mexican government’s Marines consider an attack,
while Sonya digs through Eleanor’s crime ledger. It’s a fairly good hour with
some superb moments. One little gem comes when a calm avenger briefly visits
the office of Robles, who is a corrupt police captain and a rapist.


Other choices include:


“The Mysteries of Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. In last week’s opener
– entertaining, but overwrought – Laura (Debra Messing) dealt with her nasty
sons and showed that her police boss was a killer. Alas, the new boss is her estranged
husband. Yes, that’s wildly unlikely; so were parts, but we’ll give this a
chance as it moves into its time slot. When a woman is killed during a date set
Online, Laura goes undercover.


“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A delightful,
three-week penguin documentary starts with the frantic extremes these creatures
face, as they head to their breeding ground.


“Nova,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Yes, there are
brilliant hackers out there, stealing our identities. This hour views the other
side – squadrons of geniuses, trying to combat cyber-theft.


“Modern Family” season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Fresh from its
fifth straight best-comedy Emmy, “Family” eyes some changes at the end of the
summer. Cam is still in his honeymoon mood; Mitchell is more matter-of-fact.
Also, Alex’s return transforms her family’s dynamics.


“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” season-opener, 9
p.m., NBC. The season starts with Olivia raising a foster baby and Amaro exiled
to traffic duty. Then those fates merge, when he arrests a teen prostitute.


“Chicago PD” season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. After being off
the air for two months, this show returns with troubles everywhere. Voight is a
crash victim while driving undercover … Burgess dislikes her new partner … and
Lindsay (Sophia Bush) meets her mom (Markie Post) for the first time in
decades.


TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 23



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “NCIS: New Orleans” opener, 9 p.m., CBS.

We’re used to all the just-the-facts characters on “NCIS,”
“CSI” and “Law & Order” shows. Some have pristine offices; many seem to
have pristine lives.


Not this one: Dwayne Pride (Scott Bakula) runs his little
NCIS bureau in of an old building surrounded by the music and flavor of New
Orleans. He sometimes lives there (his marriage seems to be wobbling), savoring
his co-workers (Lucas Black, Zoe McLellan) and others. In tonight’s opener, the
victim was once a troubled young man Pride mentored. In the “NCIS” mode, it’s a
fairly solid, straightforward tale.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Forever,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.


After a terrific debut Monday, “Forever” settles into its
time slot. It has another good mystery, alongside the ongoing story of Dr.
Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), a medical examiner.


Henry (has been around for 200 years, reviving after each
death. Only one person (Judd Hirsch) knows this; a cop (Alana De La Garza)
knows only that this odd guy is worth linking with. Tonight, they try to learn
why a young woman plunged from a bridge; only Henry feels it wasn’t suicide.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: All night, PBS (check local
listings).


Real lives can create some of the best storytelling. Tonight
starts at 8 p.m. with “Finding Your Roots,” tracing three people – Stephen
King, Gloria Reuben, Courtney Vance – who knew little about their dads; they
get big surprises. It ends with a late addition -- “Joan Rivers: A Piece of
Work” (2010) at 10:30 p.m.


In between is an “American Masters” detour, “The Boomer List.”
Here is one person for each baby-boomer year, from 1946 (author and Vietnam vet
Tim O’Brien) to 1964 (actor John Leguizamo). Individually, their stories range
from dull to fascinating; together, they offer a snapshot of an era.


Other choices include:


“Awkward,” 4-10:33 p.m., MTV. First, catch up on the season
so far. Then the show returns (after a three-month pause) with Jenna facing
finals. Also, “Faking It” opens its season at 10:33.


“Dancing With the Stars,” 8 p.m., ABC. This is the second
and final week of a Tuesday results show. Next week, “Stars” reverts to the
clumsy one-show-a-week format.


“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. The season starts with action. Escorting
a computer engineer, Gibbs and McGee are on the run from Russian mercenaries. Their
colleagues try to find them with techno-skills.


“Candid Camera,” 8 p.m., TV Land. Imagine an overgenerous
yogurt machine; it just won’t stop. Or a waitress who samples all your food.
That’s in the finale of the first season of this “Candid” revival. Mayim Bialik
and Peter Funt host, with Carnie Wilson as the waitress.


“Agents of SHIELD” season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Now fugitives,
the “SHIELD” people still must save the world. Guest stars include Lucy
Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Adrian Pasdar, George Stephanopoulos (really) and Hayley
Atwell, in the role (Peggy Carter) she’ll play in the mid-season “Agent
Carter.”


“Chicago Fire” season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. Last season
ended with a deadly hospital explosion. Now the chief tries to pull his squad back
together; Severide has disappeared and Casey goes looking for him.


TV column for Monday, Sept. 22



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Gotham” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

Each year, directors and technical people keep getting
better; writers stay about the same. Viewers get dramas that are stunning to
look at, so-so to think about; now “Gotham” is a prime example.


The story is kind of monotone: In Gotham City before Batman,
there’s one honest cop; nastiness and torture prevail. Alongside that is a
potent look and feel. In an elusive time – partly 1940s noir, partly now –
tough men (and a superb Jada Pinkett Smith) growl through their richly
cinematic lives.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Forever” debut, 10:01 p.m., ABC.


This “might seem a little implausible,” Dr. Henry Morgan
(Ioan Gruffud) says. Or a lot; for 200 years, he’s been dying and returning.
Now he’s a medical examiner, with one friend (Judd Hirsch) who understands.


In most hands, this would be nonsense. But Gruffud adds British
precision; the visuals dazzle and the stories are smart. There’s too much
Sherlock-ian know-it-all, but noone said this would be plausible.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE III: “The Voice” and “The Blacklist, 8
and 10 p.m., NBC.


Starting their seasons, here are two shows that propelled
NBC back to the top. That starts with Pharrell Williams moving into a “Voice”
chair, alongside Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani.


Then “Blacklist” finds Red still battling Berlin, while
facing a new villain, Lord Baltimore; Liz is bouncing back from confronting her
scheming husband. The brilliant Mary-Louise Parker joins the show.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “POV,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).


Ed Koch’s story is so big and brash that this re-telling is
wildly entertaining. Koch startled his mayoral opponent, Mario Cuomo, by somehow
getting the endorsement of a prime Italian political boss. He gathered black
support by implying he would preserve the neighborhood’s hospital – then closed
it.


He ducked questions of his sexuality (back when that was an
issue), then raged at “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo” signs. Soon, he was prominently
holding hands with former Miss America Bess Myerson. Koch, who died last year
at 88, comments extensively during this jaunty view of past and present.


Other choices include:


“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, track
star Lolo Jones was the first celebrity ousted. Now the second week begins,
with a results show Tuesday.


“The Big Bang Theory” season-opener, 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.
It’s a double helping of TV’s best comedy. Upset by the Leonard-Penny
engagement, Sheldon has fled; now Amy and Leonard try to retrieve him.
Meanwhile, Penny applies for a job at Bernadette’s company, with Steven Root as
the boss.  


“Scorpion,” 9 p.m., CBS. Already stuffed with geniuses (via “Big
Bang” and “Elementary”), CBS adds more: A high-IQ team is drafted to prevent
disaster; as in “Big Bang,” a beautiful waitress (Katharine McPhee) provides
balance. There’s potential here, but the opener strains believability.


“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. Things are never easy for
Ichabod Crane, who ended last season buried in a coffin by his eternal son (the
superb John Noble). Meanwhile, police Capt. Irving is jail on murder charges
and Jenny is in an accident. This epic-looking show should fit well with “Gotham.”


“Dallas” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., TNT. Bobby is cheated
by the cartel and links with his former sister-in-law Sue Ellen. Her son John
Ross risks everything; Bobby’s son Christopher rushes to save Elena.


“Under the Dome” season-finale, 10 p.m., CBS. With the dome
closing in, there’s an exit possibility.


TV column for Sunday, Sept. 21



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife” season-opener, 9:30
p.m., CBS, or later with football overrun.

There’s no casual build-up here; the season starts at
full-throttle, with schemes whirling wildly. Cary plunges into a bizarre crisis
…. Alicia (his law partner) is urged by Eli to run for state’s attorney … That
idea upsets the governor (Eli’s boss, Alicia’s husband) and endangers Cary.


All of this happens while Diane is scheming to leave one law
firm – the one with her name on it – and link with Alicia and Cary. It’s all
kind of dizzying; still, it’s beautifully done and actually makes sense.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Masterpiece Mystery,” 8 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).


Jane Marple has spent a lot of time in drawing rooms and
quaint villages, but not now. She’s vacationing for her health in the
Caribbean; naturally, murders follow her there.


There are a few flaws: Two women (Molly and Lucky) are hard
to tell apart …. island accents are random … and (in Agatha Christie style)
Jane knows way too much all at once. Still, it’s a fun story, with great
characters in a splendid setting; a second Marple tale, “Greenshaw’s Folly,”
follows at 9:30.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Secret Life of Cats,” 10 p.m.,
NatGeo Wild, rerunning at 1 a.m.


Alongside lots of cute close-ups, we get neat facts. Cats
have 30 times better smell than humans and six times better night vision, but
they have poor close-up vision and see no colors except blue and yellow.


More compelling are the real-life stories. We meet the cat
that survived a 19-story fall without breaking a bone … the one that kept
nudging its human, just in time to prevent a gas explosion … and the cat that
was nasty to everyone else, but a loving friend to a blind dog.


Other choices include:


“60 Minutes,” 7:30 p.m. or later, CBS. The 47th
season begins, for the longest-running primetime show in TV history. Next are
“Monday Night Football” and “20/20,” this fall starting their 44
th
and 37
th seasons; outside prime time, “Today” and “Tonight” are
turning 61 and 60.


“The Simpsons,” 7:30 and 8 p.m., Fox. Speaking of
long-lasting shows, this is the all-time scripted leader, starting its 26th
season next week. Tonight’s first rerun has Bart mastering voodoo dolls; the
second has Marge vowing to quit having friends … until Lisa makes the same vow.


“Madam Secretary” (8:30 p.m. or later, rerunning at 10:30).
Once a top CIA analyst, Elizabeth (Tea Leoni) is happy teaching and living on a
horse farm with her family. Then the president (Keith Carradine) needs her as
secretary of state. To its credit, this resists the cliché of a fractured home
life; Tim Daly provides a handsome and caring mate. Beyond that, the opener is
bland and so-so.


“Resurrection,” 9 p.m., ABC. After resting all summer, ABC’s
Sunday shows start their seasons next week. First, catch up on their
season-finales. “Once Upon a Time” (8 p.m.) and “Revenge” (10) surround this
one; it has many more formerly dead people returning to town, turning things chaotic.


“The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX. Packing visual and emotional
power, this grips us. Now the heroes plunge into tunnels, in search of the strain’s
master. That leaves Eph’s son to watch Nora’s confused mother.


TV column for Saturday, Sept. 20



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

A week before “SNL” opens its 40th season, it
reruns the episode that closed the 39
th, with Andy Samberg hosting
and St. Vincent as music guest. It’s uneven (as usual), but has its moments.


The best come is the opening, a clever sketch about the fight
between Solange and Jay Z; the worst is a return of the one-note “kissing
family” sketch. Even that one is semi-salvaged by a flood of past stars. This
busy night includes Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Fred Armisen, Maya
Rudolph and more.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History”
conclusion, 8 p.m., PBS, rerunning at 10.


Franklin Roosevelt talked longingly of retiring, spending
long days staring at the sunset; Eleanor did not, she knew only action. They
loved each other, Daisy Suckley (his friend and admirer) said, but “the fact
that they could not relax together or play together is the tragedy of their
joint lives.”


He died at 63, less than a month before victory in Europe,
but not before propelling the United Nations and the GI Bill. She lived to 78,
becoming a powerful UN force. The end of this superb series is boosted
immensely by the memories of Edna Gurewitsch, who became Eleanor’s warm friend
56 years ago.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Cedar Cove,” 8 p.m., Hallmark.


Maybe blondes don’t have more fun, after all. This hour has
four of them, spread over two generations; each is forlorn, ranging from a
shattered marriage to mere suspicion. By comparison, half the brunettes are
quite cheerful, including Olivia (Andie MacDowell), who is a judge and
dispenser of wisdom.


The result is an OK drama in a gorgeous setting. Its
depiction of newspaper work is wildly off-kilter, but that sets up a new crisis
at the end of the hour … and may create another grumpy brunette next week.


Other choices include:


Football, 7:30 and 8 p.m. ET. Fox has Oklahoma (ranked No.
4) at West Virginia at 7:30 p.m., but ABC may have the top game – Clemson (No.
22) at Florida State (No. 1) at 8. There’s much more, on cable.


Movies, 7:50 and 8 p.m., cable. “Rio” (2011), an animated
delight, is at 7:50 p.m. on Disney, launching a great movie night. At 8, there’s
a clever drama (“Julie & Julia, 2009, Bravo), plus action (“Transformers:
Dark of the Moon,” 2012, FX) and Matthew McConaughey in the OK “The Lincoln
Lawyer” (2011, TNT). But the best may be the sharply witty “His Girl Friday”
(1940), at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies.


“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Things get complicated in this rerun,
when a link is found between a murder victim and the boyfriend of Diane
Sterling (Melinda McGraw), who’s the ex-wife of both Gibbs and Fornell.


“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, the murder of
a railroad security guard points to a possible terrorist plot involving a
train.


“Beyonce and Jay Z,” 9 p.m., HBO. We can expect some
powerful moments from this power couple. Wrapping up their tour, this concert
was taped last weekend in Paris; it’s part of a strong HBO night, with Ben
Stiller’s “Walter Mitty” (2013) at 7 p.m.


“Doctor Who,” 9 p.m., BBC America. The Doctor must break
into the universe’s most dangerous bank.


 “Hell on Wheels,” 9
p.m., AMC. Campbell hires a new federal marshal. That’s part of a big Western
night, with “Rio Bravo” (1959), a Howard Hawks classic with John Wayne, at 6
p.m.