TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 15

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Nature: Animal Misfits,” 8 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

If you think you have romantic troubles, imagine the leaf
chameleon – so tiny he has trouble finding a mate (literally). Or the parrot whose
females only want to mate every five years.

They’re part of a fun jaunt. We meet fish that fly and
parrots that don’t; we see penguins waddle in the New Zealand jungle and mud
skippers flounder on fins. In a typical day, pandas eat for 16 hours and defecate
40 times; sloths, by comparison, rest for two days after every meal.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Toy Story of Terror” and “It’s the
Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

The 1966 Charlie Brown cartoon is considered a classic …
even if it does seem slow and spare by modern standards. For contrast, there’s
the dandy, 2013 “Toy Story” special.

During a road trip, the gang stops at a motel. Then – shades
of “Psycho” – a toy disappears. The result has a few scares and a lot of laughs;
Carl Weathers (as Combat Carl) joins the voice line-up that brings back Tom
Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles and (as Mr. Pricklepants) Timothy

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “How We Got to Now” debut, 9 and 10
p.m., PBS.

We take a lot for granted, assuming things have been like
this forever. Not so. In the second half of the 19
th century, Americans
knew little about health; they also couldn’t agree on what time it was.

The first hour (“Clean”) includes two Chicagoans’ bizarre
gambles: One raised the buildings to make room for a sewage system; another
chlorinated the drinking water … an untested (and successful) concept. The
second hour views an era before time zones. Four more fascinating hours are

Other choices include:

“Arrow,” 8 p.m., CW. Bad news for Oliver’s image: Another
archer, Komodo, has a lethal impact.

“The Mysteries of Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. At first, it seems
that someone was killed in his own bathroom. Then the real home-owner shows up;
Laura’s first job is to figure the victim’s identity

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. After
creating a video about his troubles with women, a young man goes on a killing

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. With their house under repair,
the Dunphys are confined to a cramped hotel room. Phil thinks this will be a
great time for bonding; the others disagree.

“Blackish,” 9:31 p.m., ABC. Dre as supermom? He tries to take
over Rainbow’s projects for a week.

“Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC. 
Rayna is intent on landing rising star Sadie Stone (Laura Benanti) for
her label. For Benanti, 35, this is already the eighth recurring series role,
alongside a busy time in musicals. She’s had four Tony nominations (winning for
“Gypsy”) and played Elsa Schrader in NBC’s “Sound of Music.”

“American Horror Story,” 10 p.m., FX. Last week’s stylish
opener was led by the introduction of a two-headed woman, a triumph for the
technical people and actress Sarah Paulson. It was a great start, despite a
surplus of gore. But now a circus strongman (Michael Chiklis) arrives, bullying
and badgering. The visual charm is still there, but this second episode turns
darker and tougher to watch.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 13

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

Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is beautiful and dutiful, choosing to
remain a virgin until marriage. That’s a notion her grandmother pushed; her
boyfriend (a cop) and mother (a lover) disagree strenuously.

Then she’s accidentally inseminated – a simple error at the
clinic – and pregnant; wilder twists follow. Adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela,
“Jane” finds that perfect balance, being offbeat without being silly; it shows
that Rodriguez is a gifted star and the CW is (after a long lapse) a real

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., CBS.

First is a new episode, with the three women in Las Vegas …
where Penny (usually the fun one) is accused of being a buzzkill. Back home,
the guys try to invent the next big thing.

Then is a rerun that merges two of the great forces in TV comedy:
Bob Newhart – drolly, dryly brilliant as usual – makes his third visit to TV’s
best comedy. This time he plays an afterlife vision, still very funny.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 10-11:30 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

The places and people are different, but the basics are the
same – kids cruelly mocked for being different. One is gay, another is called
“fishface,” others are dismissed as geeky or stupid.

Even with a camera there, kids bully them in buses and
schools. Even with a camera there, officials offer bromides (“buses are
notorious”; “boys are like that”). “Bully” is a deeply disturbing film that
shows the devastation; its lone bright spot comes at the end, with the rise of
an anti-bully movement.

TODAY’S ALTERNATIVE: “Blaze and the Monster Machines” debut,
noon to 1 p.m., Nickelodeon.

We kind of appreciate the way NASCAR has precise rules. In
this animated world, one monster truck is able to use giant turbo-chargers;
another encases his opponents in bubbles, so they’ll float away.

“Blaze” is mostly a high-octane, fun show, but also poses
engineering questions for pre-schoolers. They’re asked which is better for
floating on a river, a rock or a board. (Hint, one of them sinks like a rock.)
It also asks whether to use the steep ramp (with a trajectory to the hill top)
or a less-steep one (pointing to a fierce hillside crash). We answered these

Other choices include:

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. The partner
shake-up is in effect – which is good news for Sadie Robertson, the “Duck
Dynasty” teen. She’s paired with frequent-champ Derek Hough; Bethany Mota
switches to Mark Ballas. Nine celebrities remain, after the ouster of designer
Betsey Johnson.

“The Voice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The battle rounds begin,
pitting teammates.

“Gotham,” 8 p.m., Fox. As a key vote nears, council members’
lives are in danger.

“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. A child is missing and a Pied
Piper type is suspected.

“The Blacklist,” 10 p.m., NBC. Normal people are suddenly
becoming killers; Red suspects someone is doing a social experiment. He also
has a proposition for Naomi (Mary-Louise Parker) and her husband.

“Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. Rick and Kate return to normal
life, after the quirks of his disappearance. Meanwhile, a pool shark is dead
and there are notions that the killer had paranormal powers.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 12

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Walking Dead” season-opener, 9
p.m., AMC.

The calendar is adamant, you know: October is Halloween’s
month, stuffing our TV sets with vampires and werewolves and such. And each
October opens a “Walking Dead” season.

To catch up, watch the marathon that continues all day. Rick
and his friends – already plagued by a zombie-ruled world – end up trapped in a
boxcar, with Terminus people outside. That set up tonight’s action hour,
launching a season that will include new locations and rumors of a possible zombie

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “The Simpsons” and “Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox.

For years, Fox derailed its line-up each fall, to make room
for the baseball playoffs. Not any more; tonight’s game (San Francisco at St. Louis
at 8 p.m. ET) slides to Fox Sports 1; the big network only takes baseball on
Saturdays and for the World Series.

That leaves more room for its sometimes-splendid shows. On “The
Simpsons,” Marge opens a sandwich shop … then finds the same franchise opening
across the street. On “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Jake launches precinct games while
Holt deals with his nemesis, the deputy chief (Kyra Sedgwick).

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Homeland,” 9 p.m., and “The Affair”
debut, 10 p.m., Showtime.

In two masterful hours, Showtime seizes the quality crown on
TV’s best night. First, “Homeland” follows up on last week’s sensational
season-opener. Carrie is back in Pakistan, running the CIA station and trying
to figure what led to Sandy’s murder; it’s another stunning performance for
Claire Danes.

Then “The Affair” begins, offering deep (and deeply flawed)
characters in turmoil. Tonight, we see the same pivotal day through the eyes of
a teacher/author (Dominic West) and a waitress (Ruth Wilson). Their versions
vary in small details (even the clothing) and large; it’s a quietly compelling

Other choices include:

“Heavenly Match,” 7, 9 and 11 p.m. ET, UP. At 30, Casey
(Samaire Armstrong) feels her life and career are going nowhere; she’s ready to
quit the ministry. Then complications grow. The result is earnest and fairly
entertaining, despite a couple bizarre plot twists and a lead character whose perpetual
hesitance soon becomes maddening.

“Madame Secretary,” 8:01 p.m., CBS. A Chinese student, seeking
asylum, could sabotage peace talks.

“The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. After scoffing at the idea,
Alicia ponders running for state’s attorney.

“Boardwalk Empire,” 9 p.m., HBO. Just two weeks from the
series finale, Nucky is out of the loop, drinking with two barflies. Meanwhile,
two foolish ventures conclude: one – Eli and Van Alden try to steal Al Capone’s
ledger – ends oddly; the other – Chalky tries to free his daughter – ends powerfully.

“Mulaney,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Dating a doula, John panics when
she discusses her duties at births. That brings two very funny scenes (at a
restaurant and involving an air-conditioner) and many lame ones.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS. When a
crime-scene is contaminated by a pathogen, Sara and Greg (Jorja Fox and Eric
Szmanda) are quarantined.

“Talking Dead” season-opener, 10 p.m., AMC. Here’s the
return of the talk show for “Walking Dead” fans. There’s a “Dead” rerun at 11
and the return of Kevin Smith’s “Comic Book Men” at midnight.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 11

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Baseball, 8 p.m. ET, Fox.


The National League’s championship series begins, with the
San Francisco Giants at the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s the first time this
season that baseball reaches prime time on a broadcast network.

Until the World Series, cable gets most of the action. Fox
Sports 1 will have the weekday National League games; TBS has the American
League. The latter includes 4 p.m. ET today, with Baltimore -- the only team among
the top four in the regular season to survive the first round – hosting Kansas

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “The Hunger Games” (2012), 8-11:02
p.m., ABC Family.

A recent PBS documentary (“Makers”) reminded us of this
film’s place in Hollywood history: It proved that action-adventure – once the
Stallone/Schwarzenegger turf – could be ruled by a female star.

The story has a government forcing 24 teens into an
elaborate war game to the death. When her sister is chosen, Katniss (the terrific
Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. The result made $408 million
in the U.S. and Canada, $691 million worldwide. Its sequel brought $424 million
and $847 million, with the two-part finale set for the pre-Thanksgiving
weekends of this year and next.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Survivor’s Remorse,” 9 p.m., Starz,
rerunning at 9:30, 11 and 11:30.

Recent pro-football controversies focused on the cultural
and generational gaps over the idea of parents “whupping” their kids. Now comes
a fresh take, from another angle.

Last week’s debut (rerunning at 8:30) introduced a likable
young basketball star, moving to Atlanta with his entourage. Tonight, his mom (great
work by Tichina Arnold) cheerfully tells an interviewer about the beatings she
delivered. It’s a sharp episode … written, ironically, by Mike O’Malley, who
offered a much different view of parenting when he played Kurt’s dad on “Glee.”

Other choices include:

Racing, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC. Here’s NASCAR, from Concord, N.C.
That’s on a rare Saturday with no prime-time football on a broadcast network.
Cable has lots of it, of course, led by an ESPN doubleheader – Alabama (ranked
No. 7) at Arkansas at 6 p.m. ET; Mississippi (No. 3) at Texas A&M (No. 14)
at 9.

“The Mysteries of Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. Barring a late change
– a problem on Saturdays – this will be a rerun of Wednesday’s episode. A
congressman’s sex scandal leads to a probe of Online gaming.

“Person of Interest,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from April,
Reese and Shaw infiltrate a class reunion.

“NCIS: New Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. Here’s a rerun of the
excellent season-opener. It’s a case that Pride (Scott Bakula) takes
personally, involving a young man he had mentored.

“Intruders” season-finale, 10 p.m., BBC America. James
finally realizes the immensity of the organization that took his wife (Mira
Sorvino). Also, Richard is on the run and young Madison has a fatal fight.

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Here’s the third
straight new episode … and the second straight with a former cast member. This
time it’s Bill Hader, with Hozier as music guest. Last season, Hader  brought his popular Stefon character to Seth
Meyers’ “Weekend Update” farewell. Now Stefon may be back; in the first two
weeks, “Update” has been greatly expanded.


TV column for Friday, Oct. 10

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Live from Lincoln Center,” 9 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

In the burlesque houses of 1937 New York, Chauncy Miles
plays a “nance,” a broad parody of a gay man. In real life, he’s gay; it is, he
says, a bit “like a Negro doing blackface.”

Now officials are arresting gays and cracking down on
burlesque; his world is fading. “The Nance” mixes so-so comedy with quietly
affecting drama, salvaged by Nathan Lane’s Tony-nominated performance. This
production (not live, despite the title) brings TV viewers a flawed but
interesting stage experience.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS; earlier,

CBS has the week’s new episode, with Danny (Donnie Wahlberg)
temporarily switching police partners. Also, his brother Jamie tries to
re-claim an arrest that was taken by a pompous detective. And their dad (Tom
Selleck), the police commissioner, clashes with the archdiocese when he speaks about

That’s preceded by reruns at 4 and 5 p.m. on WGN America
(Danny tries to stop a Mob war, then probes a case involving a sleeper cell)
and then on Ion: At 7 p.m., Danny accidentally shoots an undercover cop. At 8,
Jamie gets a new police partner; at 9, their sister re-opens an old rape case
their dad worked on.

TONIGHT’S DISAPPOINTMENT: “Cristela” debut, 8:31 p.m., ABC.

When ABC re-did the pilot film, we had high homes. Cristela
Alonzo is a smart and likable comedian; the script she co-wrote had some OK
gags. Most of it was heavy-handed, but that could have been fixed.

It wasn’t, alas. “Cristela” has a decent concept, with
Alonzo breaking family tradition to become a law-firm intern; however, it’s
bluntly written and poorly acted. The best line (about poison) is borrowed;
it’s been credited to Winston Churchill in 1912. We’ll hope future material is
less than a century old.

Other choices include:

“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Joely Fisher guests as Ed’s
assertive girlfriend. Since Ed (Hector Elizondo) owns the business, she thinks
he should be its public face, not Mike (Tim Allen).

“The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here’s a first, with racers
on Scotland’s Shetland Island in Scotland, herding sheep. Nine teams remain,
after the ouster of a dating duo and Miami realtor sisters.

“On the Menu,” 8 p.m., TNT. The show’s second hour has four
interesting home chefs, from a 22-year-old tech guy who cooks with his mom to a
58-year-old marketer who likes to sing opera music in the kitchen (and maybe in
his future restaurant). People assume he’s ultra-Italian, he says, but he’s
really Russian-Polish-Jewish. The winner will have a specialty appear on the
Denny’s menu, starting Saturday.

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. After robbing a bus, women
have something that makes them a target.

“Gotham,” 9 p.m., Fox. In this rerun, Oswald Cobblepot (the
future Penguin) is back and working for a crime boss. Also, someone is killing
corrupt people and attaching them to weather balloons.

“The Knick,” 10 p.m., Cinemax. Set in the early 1900s,
“Knick” launched a crisis last week, with naval warfare keeping cocaine from
New York. Hospitals are desperate; Dr. Thackery, an addict, is worse. This hour
– well-made, but extremely grim – finds him at his low point, while two other
doctors face crises.

“Standup Revolution,” midnight, Comedy Central. It’s a busy
night for Gabriel Iglesias, co-starring in “Cristela” and hosting “Revolution.”
The latter starts and ends well, but has sub-par comedians.