TV column for Friday, March 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), 6 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

Elizabeth Taylor
could have spent her career working with simple scripts and bland
stars; instead, she kept trying daring roles. This Tennessee Williams
story is one of her best; Taylor plays Maggie, a sizzling sex symbol
to everyone except her husband (Paul Newman).

That's preceded at
4:40 p.m. by an “Intimate Portrait” of Taylor and followed by
some more of her films. She's with Katharine Hepburn in Williams'
“Suddenly, Last Summer” (1959) at 8 p.m. and then with Marlon
Brando in the botched “Reflections of a Golden Eye” (1967) at
10:15.

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

First of all, make
sure the room doesn't have any young fans of the Tooth Fairy or Santa
Claus; both are discussed frankly. Then settle in for an hour that
mixes some comedy with solid drama.

As she struggles
with writer's block, Jane is told it might help to focus on the side
characters. The show does just that, viewing Rafael's sister and
ex-wife and Jane's mom. The final minute is moving.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Striking Out,” any time, www.acorn.tv,
and more.

Every Friday seems
to be big for Netflix. This time, that includes two series, one
that's fiction (“On the Block,” focusing on inner-city Los
Angeles teens) and one that's not (“Wild Wild Country,” probing
deaths in an Oregon commune). There's even a new “Benji” movie,
based on the 1974 cute-dog gem.

But tonight includes
another streaming service. On the eve of St. Patrick's Day, Acorn has
the second season of this above-average Irish series. The cases are
small and sometimes disappointing, but the main character – whose
makeshift law firm collides with a big,arrogant one – is easy to
root for.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: Stephen Hawking shows, 4-11 p.m., Science Channel.

In the wake of
Hawking's death (Wednesday, at 76), this channel and others have
already rerun some of his shows. Here are more – three hours of
“Into the Universe” and then “Stephen Hawking's Grand Design,”
confronting powerful issues of God and the meaning of life.

“Into the
Universe” also reruns from 8-11 p.m. Saturday on Discovery. Also,
“Theory of Everything” (2014) is on streaming services; Eddie
Remayne won an Oscar for his great work as Hawking.

Other choices
include:

Basketball, all day.
The second full day of the NCAA tournament starts at 12:15 p.m. ET on
CBS, 12:40 on TruTV, 1:30 on TNT and 2 on TBS. Your best chances to
see a tight game (according to the seeding) are that CBS opener (Providence-Texas A&M), then
3:10 p.m. on TruTV (Butler-Arkansas), 4:30 p.m. on TBS
(Texas-Nevada), 6:50 on TNT (Creighton-Kansas State) and 9:50 on TBS
(Missouri-Florida State).

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. For the next two Fridays, CBS' cop shows will step aside
for basketball. That makes this a logical time to try NBC's shows.
Tonight, a prisoner warns of a dangerous plot ... but the team isn't
sure this is the truth. Zapata is caught between the FBI and the CIA.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Ignoring Tilly's warning, Rogers strikes a deal
with Eloise. And in a faraway realm, Hook confronts Ahab about a
talisman that could free Alice.

“Agents of
SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. We've always kind of taken gravity for
granted. Now evil forces are at work; the team tries to find
gravitonium (a mythical element in Marvel tales) to save the world.

“Taken,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. A nuclear scientist has long been thought to be dead. Actually,
he's in a North Korean prison; now Bryan and Santana try to extract
him.

“The Quad,” 10
p.m., BET. Here's a rerun of Tuesday's episode, a key one: The
trustees make it clear that they plan to merge this historically
black college with a mostly white. state-operated school.

TV column for Thursday, March 15


TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
Basketball, everywhere.

For the next three
weeks, the NCAA tournament will seize our time and attention. Today
and Friday, it fills up CBS – no soaps, comedies (including “Big
Bang”) or cop shows – plus three cable networks.

CBS has a
doubleheader at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m. ET, pauses for news, then goes at
7:10 and 9:40. There are also four games apiece on TruTV (starting at
12:40 p.m.), TNT (1:30) and TBS (2). If you go by the seeding,
you're best chances for a close game are at 12:15 on CBS
(Oklahoma-Rhode Island), 4:30 on TBS (Seton Hall-North Carolina
State) and 9:30 on TNT (Alabama-Virginia Tech).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Will & Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Sure, there are
times when this show strains too hard. (Last week's episode, with
Jack as the world's worst TV corpse, was juvenile.) But then there
are ones like this, when all the forces align.

There's a sharp,
topical story; reversing the original controversy, a baker refuses to
make a cake for a Trump event. There's a funny guest star (Vanessa
Bayer), smart dialog that's perfectly delivered ... and even a greats
sight gag. That's verbal/visual combination is something you get when
James Burrows directs Debra Messing; it's as if Murphy Brown and Lucy
inhabit the same comic body.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Scandal,” 9 p.m., ABC.

With only five
episodes left in its final season, “Scandal” views the latest
scheme of Vice-President Cyrus Beene. His plane landed successfully
and he's proclaiming himself a hero.

President Mellie
Grant strains to learn who was behind the highjacking. Meanwhile,
Olivia tries to bridge the gap with the Gladiators by offering her
theory on what Beene is really planning.

Other choices
include:

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Meredith had been optimistic about getting the polymer
she needs for her research; the patent, after all, was held by Marie
Cerone, a long-ago friend of her mother. But now she's learned those
two had a falling-out; she tries to learn more about their history.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. The employees are offered amnesty for anything they want
to confess. We'll assume they have endless possibilities.

“Butterfield 8”
(1960), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Elizabeth Taylor tackled
plenty of deeply intelligent scripts, but she won an Oscar for this
glossy, soap-style tale. She won another Oscar (for the powerhouse
“Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) and drew three other
nominations – two for films (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and
“Suddenly Last Summer”) that will air at 6 and 8 p.m. ET Friday.

“Showtime at the
Apollo,” 9 p.m., Fox. Give this show, hosted by Steve Harvey, a
try. The first two hours have been filled with fun novelty acts and
some stunningly good singers.

“Champions,”
9:30, NBC. In last week's disappointing opener, a gym owner suddenly
learned he has a 15-year-old son ... who's moving in with him while
studying musical theater. There's potential there, disrupted tonight
by the fact that both father and son are tough to care about.

“How To Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. A death leads to a shocking arrest, ABC
says. Now Annalise and her young colleagues deal with the aftermath.

“Atlanta,” 10
p.m., FX. In a very funny opener, a distraught mom reads the words to
a Paper Boi rap. Naturally, it soon goes gold, leading to a catch:
Earn finds Atlanta is tough on a guy with money.

TV column for Wednesday, March 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Life Sentence,” 9 p.m., CW.

Last week's opener –
as bright and bubbly as its lead character – grabbed our attention.
Diagnosed with terminal cancer at 16, Stella (Lucy Hale) had been
living life to the fullest; then she learned she'd been cured. At 23,
she has little education and no skills; she's married to an
Englishman she barely knows.

Now she's learning
how much everyone has sacrificed for her. Her siblings are drifting;
her parents are divorcing and broke. Somehow, this is throughly
entertaining. One of tonight's final scenes – with the entire
family gathered in the yard – offers a masterful mix of humor and
despair.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Speechless,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Others can grump and
grumble about jury duty, but not Maya. This is a chance to ditch her
chaotic home, read a novel, have snacks and get paid. It's a big,
funny notion that Minnie Driver masters – even doing a
song-and-dance number. And it brings back Sarah Chalke as her enemy,
Melanie.

That's in the second
episode; Driver also has the best moments in the first one, as we
learn her dark family secret. J.J.'s stories – directing a horror
film and trying online dating – are fairly good; another story,
with Ray being ignored by his dad, is lame until the final couple
minutes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The X-Files,” 8 p.m., Fox.

“I've always
wondered how this was going to end,” Mulder says. So have we; in 11
seasons (sprawled over 25 years) and 218 episodes, “X-Files” has
seemed eternal. But Gillian Anderson (as Scully) says she's leaving;
others may do the same, making this possibly the second-to-last
episode of a great show.

Well, a
great-but-erratic show. “X-Files” works like an anthology,
varying wildly from week to week. Two weeks ago, its near-wordless
episode was brilliant; this one is not. Fiona Vroom is terrific as a
former TV star, but the rest is a clumsy mixture of gory
organ-harvesting and thick philosophy.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Trauma,” any time, Britbox.

There are some
gifted actors and smart writers back in the Old World, it seems.
We've already learned that via PBS and the Acorn streaming service;
now Britbox adds a new stream of quality.

In this three-part
mini-series John Simm plays a grieving father whose life – at work
and home – is crumbling; he focuses his rage on a sturdy surgeon
(Adrian Lester). “Trauma” is tough to watch, but Simm is
brilliant. This is the rare character that we can simultaneously
bring fear and sympathy.

Other choices
include:

“The Blacklist,”
8 p.m., NBC. As Liz probes a case from early in her career, she also
talks with her therapist (Martha Plimpton) about her dark side.

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. Jughead makes a major discovery about Hiram Lodge,
Veronica's scheming father. That comes just as Archie has a new
worry: Is his dad (now running for mayor) a Lodge stooge?

“9-1-1,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Here are some supersized problems – a homeless man crushed in
a garbage truck, a mother and son in a crashed elevator and extreme
hoarders entombed in their home.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Jay convinces everyone to vacation on a
houseboat. Also, Mitchell runs into his former love interest.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. The president faces multiple problems: A
video surfaces, showing him visiting prison; also, a demostration has
deeper ties to him than people realize.

“The Assassination
of Gianni Versace,” 10 p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:30 p.m., and 1 a
.m. A week before the finale of this well-crafted mini-series, we
view some shaping moments – Versace as an emerging designer, Andrew
Cunanan (his assassin) growing up with a brutal father.

TV column for Tuesday, March 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“This Is Us” season-finale, 9 p.m., NBC, and then ...

A great season ends
tonight, presumably with fresh waves of emotion. It's time for Kate
and Toby to marry in Las Vegas; we'll meet his parents and we'll see
someone from the past of her sister-in -law Beth; we'll even get a
glimpse of what Kate's dad would look like if he were still alive.

But the real
surprise comes afterward. In a moment of TV overkill, the season's
best new shows debut simultaneously -- “Rise” on NBC, “For the
People” on ABC. We'll look at those two separately.

TONIGHT'S 10 P.M.
MUST-SEE: “Rise,” NBC.

In a gritty,
Pennsylvania town, the steel factory has closed, the economy is
slumping, only the football team is thriving. A teacher, desperate
for something good in his life, takes over the school musical.

Writer-producer
Jason Katims does for theater what he did for football in “Friday
Night Lights” -- capturing the passion of kids who have found the
one place where they're special. Loosely based on a true story, this
often strains credibility, but is worth giving some leeway. There's
great work from Josh Radnor, Rosie Perez and their students, led by
Auli'i Cravalho, the terrific “Moana” star.

TONIGHT'S 10 P.M.
MUST-SEE II: “For the People,” ABC.

It was 13 years ago
that ABC introduced a workplace drama that was crafted to run
forever. “Grey's Anatomy” is set in a hospital; this one, also
from producer Shonda Rhimes, is in a courthouse.

It's an historic
courthouse – site of the Titanic and Rosenberg trials, home to
Aaron Burr and others.

Six young lawyers –
three defense, three prosecution – start work. Some are linked (a
friendship, a romance), some are strangers, all are interesting.
Britt Robertson – already in her sixth series at 27 – is
terrific, surrounded by strong newcomers plus Vondie Curtis-Hall and
Anna Deavere Smith.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Fosters” finale, 8 and 9 p.m., Freeform.

This is called a
“spring finale,” but it's really the end of “The Fosters” as
we've known it. The show will return briefly, for three episodes that
set up a flash-forward spin-off with two of the young people.

For now, catch an
earnest show that has a lot in common with “This Is Us” ...
including, tonight, a ceremony (graduation), a dead dad's imagined
return and some deep tears. At times, this has too much
pop-psychology, flowing too easily; at other times, it offers deep,
rich emotion. Tonight even flashes ahead, to see where people are
headed. It's been a tough and passionate ride.

Other choices
include:

Basketball, 6:40 and
9:10 p.m. ET, Tru TV, , with preview at 6. Before the big fuss starts
Thursday, games today and Wednesday will determine the last four
spots in the 64-team tourney. In experience, tonight's teams range
afar. The first game has teams (Radford and Long Island University
Brooklyn) that have never won a game in the tourney; the second has
UCLA, which leads the nation with 11 championships. It faces St.
Bonavenure, which hasn't won an NCAA tourney game since 1970.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Lots of old folks watch shows about antiques. So tonight, Ducky
(David McCallum, 84) is watching one and spots what might be the
weapon from a long-ago case.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. After a rough week, Frankie just wants to have a good cry.
Mike, however has a different issue: He got a promotion he might not
want to accept.

“Black-ish,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., ABC. First, parents ponder discipline and support,
when their kids are in trouble at school. Then come differing
responses when their son and daughter are sexually active.

“The Mick,” 9:30
p.m., Fox. Sabrina refuses to babysit; soon, she and Mick are in
jail.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. For 61 years, an event – now called the
Louisiana Pirate Festival – has celebrated the stories of Jean
Lafitte. Tonight, a Navy captain is killed during the festival.

TV column for Monday, March 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Jane,” 8 p.m., National Geographic and NatGeo Wild; reruns at
9:34.

When Jane Goodall
reached Tanzania, she was 26, with no college education or science
background: She was becoming the first person to do a close-up study
of chimpanzees in the wild.

At 83, she still has
a research station there, continuing to study generations of chimps.
She also has a doctorate and world fame. This is an epic story, with
sweeping emotions in her own life and in the lives of the chimps.
“Jane” (shown commercial-free) tells it beautidully. It uses
gorgeous film by Hugo van Lawick (Goodall's ex-husband) and
resounding music by Philip Glass, plus Goodall's own rich writing.

TODAY'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Good Girls,” 10 p.m., NBC.

These women have
already learned a life lesson: Robbing a grocery store and grabbing
$500,000 isn't as much fun as it seems. The money belonged to a gang
that wants it back; some of it has already been spent, so now they
women must do a dangerous favor for the gangsters.

Two side stories –
a church crisis for Ruby, a custody meeting for Annie – are so-so.
The main plot, however, has this show's knack for serious drama,
sprinkled with occasional comedy.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Idol” (ABC) or “The Voice” (NBC), 8-10
p.m.

Two music-reality
giants collide. “Idol” is the original one and spent years at No.
1 in the Nielsen ratings; “Voice” is the latecomer that helped
topple it.

Now, after missing a
year and jumping networks, “Idol” is back. Its opener Sunday
offered talented contestants, feel-good stories and likable judges.
There's Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan ... who's a lot like
the guy he used to host award shows with, Blake Shelton of “The
Voice.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Mary Kills People” season-opener, 10 p.m.,
Lifetime.

By the end of the
first season, Mary and Des had strayed far from their original plan
to simply help dying people end their lives. They framed Grady for
the deaths of their patients; also, Des took a prison sentence to
protect her. Now he's out and their world gets more complicated.

She's in Mexico to
buy deadly drugs .... they're both dealing with a patient who adds a
moral complication ... and Des meets a mysterious beauty (Rachelle
Lefevre) who launches a season-long crisis. It's a strong hour,
stylishly filmed.

Other choices
include:

“The Departed”
(2006), 6:30-10 p.m., AMC. This tangled crime tale won the Academy
Award for best picture, plus Oscars for the editing, the screenplay
and director Martin Scorsese. On the light side, Turner Classic
Movies has early Elizabeth Taylor, including “National Velvet”
(1944) at 8 p.m. ET.

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. A music superstar's life has been threatened. Now Lucifer,
who has known other hellish conditions, enters the world of arena
rock.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Its Thursday spot goes to basketball this
week, so TV's best comedy slides to a Monday. This rerun finds Raj
with divided loyalties: His friend Bernadette suspects that his
sometimes-lover Ruchi is trying to steal her job.

“Young Sheldon,”
9 p.m., CBS. Here's another Thursday show, temporarily displaced. To
satisfy his mother, 9-year-old Sheldon goes on a quest to find one
friend in high school.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. Liv, the reluctant zombie, keeps assuming the personality
of the murder victim whose brain she's just eaten. That gets messy
tonight, when she munches a romantic-novel buff. It's a funny story,
sandwiched inside a serious one (continuing next week) about a serial
killer.

“The Good Doctor,”
10 p.m., ABC. A patient has the option of dangerous surgery that
could change his life. He asks Shaun – a doctor with little life
experience – what he would do.