TV column for Saturday, Feb. 27

Academy Award warm-ups, cable.

On Oscar Eve, we can
get in the mood by watching previous best-picture winners. “Chariots
of Fire” (1981) is at 5:45 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies; “12
Years a Slave” (2013) is 8 p.m. on BET.

Or we can sample the
indie-film world. Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) and
Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) host the Independent Spirit
Awards, at 5 p.m. ET on IFC, rerunning at 10. “Carol,”
“Spotlight,” “Tangerine,” “Anomalisa” and “Beast of No
Nation” are up for best picture. A strong best-actress race
includes the “Carol” stars (Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara) and Brie
Larson of “Room.”

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

Lots of people have
been mocking the all-white Academy Award nominations, but “SNL”
did it especially well. A hilarious sketch shows the nominatons going
to minor, bit players.

That was in the Jan.
23 episode, which went on despite a snowstorm that paralyzed most of
New York. Ronda Rousey hosted and had a great sketch as the new kid
confronting mean-girl types. Also, Taran Killam had a funny
“Bachelor” bit as “Bland Man,” Tina Fey mocked Sarah Palin's
endorsement of Donald Trump and Selena Gomez showed up twice, in
addition to her music numbers.

ALTERNATIVE: “Black Sails,” 9 p.m., Starz; rerunning at 10 and 11
p.m. and 2 a.m.

This richly crafted
series finds deep emotions on three islands. On one, John Silver
copes with the aftershocks of his amputation. On another, three
potent pirates – Blackbeard, Flint and Vane – collide; they might
merge ... or might rip each other apart.

And on Nassau, the
British control is iffy ... especially since officials don't know
where the money swent. That treasure is becoming the key to a growing
battle of the titans.

Other choices

“Key and Peele,”
1:59 p.m., Comedy Central. With the all-white Oscars being mocked,
here's the perfect counterpoint – a marathon of this gifted
sketch-comedy duo. It's followed by stand-up comedy from Kevin Hart
(6:52, 7:55 and 8:53 p.m.) and by Trevor Noah at 10.

Sports, 8 p.m., ABC
and NBC. It's basketball vs. hockey, with pre-game shows at 8. At
8:30, ABC has Golden State at Oklahoma City; NBC has outdoor hockey,
with Detroit at Colorado, on Coors Field.

“Rosewood,” 8
p.m., Fox. Next week, this will do double duty on Wednesdays (with
new episodes) and Saturdays. For now, however, here's a rerun: Dr.
Rosewood hopes to nail a rich man for murder ... and to pacify his
mom, who disapproves of his romance.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. A Navy pilot was using a black-market drone
for military surveillance. The team must figure out why and whether
that was the reason he was killed.

“NCIS,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. David McCallum, 82 – the long-ago “Man from UNCLE” co-star
– gets the focus here, as Ducky. When a colleague is killed, he
admits he has a secret society of crimesolvers.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. In this rerun, a movie star's son is killed after being
chased by paparazzi.

“Trevor Noah:
African American,” 10 p.m., Comedy Central. Noah has turned out to
be a terrific “Daily Show” anchor. He's no match for Jon Stewart
(no one is), but he offers wit, charm and a fresh perspective. He's
also a gifted stand-up, using his South African roots, as we'll see

TV column for Friday, Feb. 26

“In Performance at the White House,” 9 p.m., PBS. (check local

Some truly great
talents, old and (mostly) young, combine to perform the music of Ray
Charles. Paired with a Fats Domino profile (see below), that gives
PBS a night of splendid sounds.

The White House
concert, taped Wednesday, was scheduled to include Usher, plus Sam
Moore, 80 (of Sam & Dave fame), gospel's Yolanda Adams and lots
of emerging stars. That includes Jussie Smollett (of “Empire”),
Demi Lovato, Andra Day, Leon Bridges, The Band Perry and Brittany

“Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

These crossover
episodes was set in motion last week when Rayna Cruz, a fierce
vampire-hunter, reached Mystic Falls (the “Diaries” home). Now
Stefan tries to lure her to New Orleans, where the “Originals”
people may or may not be able to protect him.

Once he arrives, he
finds he might be crucial to the survival of Freya and her brothers.
Klaus and Elijah can't help, because they're stuck inside a magical

ALTERNATIVE: “American Masters,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local

Most “Masters”
hours trace the wild twists and turns in complicated lives. Not this
time: Fats Domino's personal life has been remarkably straight-ahead:
He was born in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and remained there with his
wife and 13 children. After Hurricane Katrina, friends rebuilt his
home there.

With few personality
quirks to follow, this hour focuses on great music, via TV and movie
clips. Before rock music had a name, Domino played it; before Elvis
Presley had a hit, Domino had several.

Other choices

“The Amazing
Race,” 8 p.m., CBS. This has been tough on the two-generation
teams. In the opener, Dr. Scott Fowler and his daughter Blair were
last ... and lucky to be in a non-elimination week; in the second
episode, Marty Cobb (known for her flight-attendant video) and her
daughter Hagan Parkman finished last and were dumped. Now the 10
surviving duos retrieve a clue from Colombian catacombs.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Here's another reunion of the “Home
Improvement” stars. Mike (Tim Allen) is determined to get the
miniature tanks that were owned by a neighbor; alas, the guy's widow
(Patricia Richardson, Allen's former TV wife) has already sold them.

“Inside Out,”
8-9:40 p.m., Starz. Two days before the Academy Awards, catch this
gem. It's nominated for its script – filled with wit for kids or
grown-ups – and as best animated feature.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. There's a conflict-of-interest, when Allison (Ken's wife)
realizes their daughter is dating the son of one of her psychiatry
patients. She also suspects the boy is cheating ... which leads to a
revelation about the early days of the Ken-Allison romance.

“Second Chance,”
9 p.m., Fox. Things get complicated when you return to life in a
different body. Pritchard learns his daughter is dating the guy she
knew in high school. He didn't like the kid then ... and finds him
immersed in a new crisis now.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. In previous episodes, Michael Imperioli (“The
Sopranos”) played Odell Martin, an ex-con barber. Tonight,
McGarrett asks him to help an infomant accused of murder.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Erin ponders a former mentor, a judge handing out
unfair rulings since he was widowed. Her brother Danny tries to help
his wife's co-worker, who has an angry ex-husband. And their dad, the
police commissioner, faces an angry city council chief (Whoopi

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 25

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

TV's best comedy has
its 200th episode tonight. Over the first 199, it's shown
no signs of decline. Characters have remained consistent, while
evolving: Leonard married Penny, Sheldon met and slept with Amy,
Howard met and married Bernadette ... who announced last week that
she's pregnant.

Now everyone decides
to give Sheldon his first real birthday. It's a crowded epiasode,
complete with Kripke, Stuart, Leonard's mom (Christine Baranski) and
Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert), Leonard's long-ago labmate and
girlfriend. Also, Adam West (“Batman”) and Wil Wheaton play

(or record): “You, Me and the Apocalypse,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

At the core of this
odd comedy-drama is Jamie, searching for the wife who left seven
years ago. He's learned that he has an evil twin, Ariel; last week,
he rescued his birth mother from a mental home. In this fairly good
episode, he finds stunning news about his wife and why his mom
abandoned him.

All of that is
complicated by the comet that will destroy the Earth in three weeks.
Meanwhile, a cynical priest (Rob Lowe) and a sweet nun probe would-be
saviors. A falsely accused librarian (Jenna Fischer) is fleeing with
a white supremacist (Megan Mullally), unaware that her brainy son was

ALTERNATIVE: “Portlandia” (IFC) or “Baskets” (FX), both 10

The perverse TV gods
have put these two shows – both with Jonathan Krisel as a writer
and the prime director – in the same slot. We prefer “Portlandia,”
which goes for the laughs, including a funny “science chic”
sketch tonight; still, “Baskets” has its odd appeal – even as
Chip wallows in despair.

He's a rodeo clown.
Last week's episode (rerunning at 10:30) offered some hope, when his
mom (Louie Anderson) ousted his greedy wife. In tonight's morose (but
sometimes funny) episode, Zach Galifianakis does double duty as Chip
and his brother visit with the adopted twins mom likes best.

Other choices

“American Idol,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. The season's first live show has another fresh touch
– chances to vote on consecutive nights. On Wednesday, judges
picked eight of the top 10, leaving viewers to choose two of the
other six. Tonight, we'll learn who survived; then all 10 will sing
and viewers will vote again.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Using flashbacks, this traces the relationship of
Jackson (Jesse Williams) and April (Sarah Drew), from the moment they
met. It also traces one of his patients.

“Life in Pieces,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. John (James Brolin) has been kind of daft lately, but
this takes it further: Suddenly, he has a pony.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Red apparently isn't the only one who seems to know
everything. Now he pursues “the caretaker,” whose vault is filled
with key secrets about criminals.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Maybe we should spend less time pondering the Trump wall
with Mexico and more on this: Bonnie convinces people to help her
smuggle maple syrup from Canada.

“How to Get Away
with Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Wes and Laurel try to learn more about
his mother's murder, but some things don't add up. Also, Phillip
continues to threaten Annalise.

“Prey,” 10 p.m.,
BBC Ameica. Fresh from its fascinating (and frustrating) “London
Spy,” the channel offers another mini-series. This is a
three-parter in which a homicide detective (John Simm, who starred in
the “Intruders” cable series) goes on the run, after being framed
for murder.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 24

“American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Last week's episode
was one of the best anywhere this season. A bullied teen took a gun
to school to confront the administrator; she wasn't there, but on the
way out he shot a jock who grabbed him.

This hour is even
better, as we catch the aftermath. There are brief snippets from
real-life people -- teachers from Columbine, kids who were bullied,
the mom of a bullied kid. Alongside that, the story offers quiet
depth and superb performances by Connor Jessup (as the shooter), Lili
Taylor (his mom) and Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman (the coach
and the administrator).

II: “American Idol,” Fox.

Viewers finally get
their first votes of the season, as the show nears its top 10.

Last week, judges
trimmed from 24 singers to 14. Now they start by announcing eight who
are already advancing. That leaves six people, pushing for two spots.
Tonight, they sing and viewers vote; on Thursday, we'll have the 10
survivors ... who will promptly sing for another viewer vote.

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

Penguins all seem to
look the same – which is a mixed blessing. It's bad for the baby in
one touching scene; as he tries to find his mom, he keeps guessing
wrong and being rejected.

But for filmmakers,
that sameness was a blessing. They could film an entire Antarctica
colony and imagine that all the key events happened to one baby
(dubbed Snow Chick) and his parents. Narrated by Kate Winslet, the
result finds charm, humor and even warmth amid sub-zero conditions.

ALTERNATIVE II: “The Human Face of Big Data,” 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

As masses of data
are scooped up, life in the U.S. is altered. A hospital is quicker to
detect a baby's infection; experts – charting search-engine results
– are quicker to predict a region's flu outbreak.

And this trend
doesn't just involve over-connected Americans. Mobile-phone data has
helped track malaria in Kenya and earthquake victims in Haiti. There
are fascinating stories here ... once this hour gets around to them.
Slickly produced, it spends too much time on interesting (but vague)

Other choices

“Furious 7”
(2015), 6:40 p.m., HBO. Action fans have this film, plus “Man of
Steel” (2013) at 7 p.m. on FXX and Brad Pitt plus zombies in “World
War Z” (2013), at 8 on FX. Also at 8 p.m.: the dandy “Ghostbusters”
(1984) on IFC and the Oscar-nominated “Imitation Game” (2014) on

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. The first time this tried a “brain-brawn-beauty”
competition, the “brawn” team dominated. It didn't lose anyone
until the fifth week and had the final two. In last week's opener,
however, Darnell Hamilton, a Chicago postal worker on “brawn,”
became the first person ousted.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. After attending a Bar Mitzvah, Brick starts wondering when
he'll become a man. Meanwhile, his sister is trying to learn to flirt
and his brother is living in a Winnebago.

“Brit Awards,”
8:30 p.m. ET, Fuse. The British version of the Grammys has Adele up
for best album, single (“Hello”) and female artist ... where she
faces the late Amy Winehouse, among others. Adele performs, as do
Rihanna, Coldplay, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, James Bay, Jess Glynne
and Little Mix.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. As a storm plunges the area into a blackout, everyone
converges on the one house with a generator. That's Jay's, but he
wants to be out with his friends.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
9 p.m., Fox. For eight editions, Andi Van Willigan was a sous chef on
the show. She's back tonight, as contestants prepare a meal for her
wedding receoption. Van Willigan has been the corporate chef for
Gordon Ramsay's company and a consultant on his “Kitchen
Nightmares” series.

“Nicole &
Jionni's Shore Flip,” 9 p.m., FYI. Nicole Polizzi – known as
Snooki in her wild “Jersey Shore” days – is all grown up now.
Well, she's still 4-foot-8, but now she's 28, married, with two kids;
here, she and her husband (Jionni LaValle) try buying, fixing and
selling a Jersey Shore house.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 23

“The People v. O.J. Simpsons,” 10 p.m., FX.

For a while, this
terrific episode suggests, the “dream team” was closer to a
nightmare. Its leader, Robert Shapiro, was self-centered and
self-delusional. Robert Kardashian had little courtroom experience;
F. Lee Bailey had a lot of it, but that was many years (and a
drunk-driving trial) ago.

Into this mix,
however, came Johnnie Cochran. As played by Courtney Vance, he's
bright and passionate. Tonight the defense team transforms ... and
the prosecution realizes it has a problem.

II: “New Girl,” 8 p.m., Fox.

For the third
straight week, the addition of Megan Fox makes a good show even
better. She plays Reagan, a bisexual beauty who is a temporary
loftmate while Jess (Zooey Deschanel, on maternity leave) is on jury
duty. A strong-minded drug rep, tonight she challenges the guys.

Appalled at the
indeciveness of Nick and Winston, she tells them she'll sleep with
one of them ... if they can decide which one. Meanwhile, Schmidt and
Cece search for a hall for their wedding reception.

ALTERNATIVE: “Frontline,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

With two hours of
air time, “Frontline” can catch the full scope of the heroin
problem. We meet a guy who shattered his career and his parenting; we
also meet a 20-year-old ex-suburbanite, now six-plus years into her
addiction and using any means – stealing, dealing, sex – to get
$1,000 a week.

Some blame is aimed
at a drug company that promoted OxyContin furiously; in the past 15
years, we're told, deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription
opiods have quintupled. And a possible solution is pondered in
Seattle, where the emphasis is on help – if it's available –
instead of arrests.

Other choices

“American Hustle”
(2013), 7-10 p.m., FX. Four gifted actors drew Oscar nominations in
this bizarre (and fun) tale, based loosely on real life. In 1978, a
con man (Christian Bale) has a shaky wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and a
gifted scam partner (Amy Adams). An FBI guy (Bradley Cooper) pulls
them into what would become the “Abscam” corruption case..

“Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Let others boast about
ancestors who atrived on the Mayflower; Neil Patrick Harris learns of
one who came two years before that ... then survived a massacre and
won the New World's first breach-of-promise case. Also in this
interesting hour, Gloria Steinem learns her grandmother helped a
nephew flee from Nazi Germany and was the first woman elected to the
Toledo school board. Author Sandra Cisneros learns her dad fabricated
a false identiy to get into World War II.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. At the start of the season, Jon Cryer played a quirky surgeon
who saved Gibbs' life. Now he's back, operating on a suspect and
finding a key clue.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. Sonja's childhood friend heads a ring that
manufactures cocaine.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. It's been quite a ride for Liv, who keeps assuming the
personalities of the murder victims she munches. In an early episode,
she was dark and gloomy; now she takes after a relentlessly
optimistic coffee-shop owner.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. As Casey runs for alderman, he faces a rugged
propoganda campaign.

“Limitless,” 10
p.m., CBS. We learn about the dark past of Sands (Colin Salmon), Sen.
Morra's menacing aide. Now he's desperate to have Brian help him,
while keeping it secret from Morra.