TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 22

“The Muppets” debut, 8 p.m., ABC.

By now, Kermit the
Frog is a global treasure. He's been in show business for 60 years,
been famous since “Sesame Street” began 46 years ago. He's in a
Smithsonian museum, near Archie Bunker's chair.

And he's back on the
air, in a show that comes close to the joyous wit the late Jim Henson
mastered. Kermit is producer of a lateniight talk show hosted by his
ex-lover Miss Piggy. That allows for heckling, pre-show chaos, guests
(Elizabeth Banks tonight), music acts (Imagine Dragons) and outside
stories. Fozzie, often semi-ignored, gets his own controversy, with a
bear-human romance.

II: “NCIS” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

Last season ended
fiercely, with Gibbs (Mark Harmon) shot by Luke, the boy he had
helped and a terrorist group had manipulated. Now Gibbs' life wobbles
in the hands of an eccentric surgeon -- a big, splashy role for Jon
Cryer, who will be back. Meanwhile, Tony hunts the villain in charge.

That part of the
story whisked past us way too quickly. Still, the scenes with Gibbs
pondering (sometimes via imagination) his life, are skillfully played
and solidly emotional.

“Scream Queens” debut, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

After mastering
scares (“American Horror Story”) and laughs (“Glee”), Ryan
Murphy has combined them. He created an overwrought sorority, stuffed
it with young stars -- Lea Michele, Keke Palmer, Emma Roberts,
Abigail Breslin, etc. -- and dumped a killer in their midst.

That's a good idea
that often goes bad. The sorority scenes are terribly one-note,
quickly losing their fun. The show only works when we get its few
smart characters – a sorority newcomer (Skyler Samuels) and the
non-nonsense dean perfectly played by the original scream queen,
Jamie Lee Curtis.

ALTERNATIVE: “On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam,” 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

The men of Morenci
often left for the military. In this Arizona mining town, patriotism
was high and career options were low. In 1966, nine football
teammates joined the Marines; six died in Vietnam.

“Two Fronts”
skillfully leaps between that story and the one of Everett Alvarez
Jr., a pilot who spent eight-and-a-half brutal years as a prisoner of
war. There are strong moments from Alvarez, his sistert (who became a
prominent anti-war activist) and the people left behind in Morenci.
This also views a system that often skipped college kids, while
pushing working-class guys into the infantry.

Other choices

“Fresh Off the
Boat” season-opener, 8:30 p.m., ABC. Eddie's mother isn't likely to
go on vacation – or to spend any money – but now the family goes
to Gator World. Fun (but repetitious) moments follow.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 9 p.m., ABC. “Agents of SHIELD” will have to wait until
next week. Tonight, “Stars” wraps up a two-day event, with one
celebrity dumped each night.

“NCIS: New
Orleans” season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. After a military convoy is
bombed in New Orleans, Pride (Scott Bakula) goes undercover.

debut., 10 p.m., CBS. Brian is a musician, handsome and rootless.
Then he happens upon a pill that gives him immense (but brief)
powers. “Limitless” is adapted from a 2011 film that starred
Bradley Cooper – who is one of this show's producers and has a role
late in tonight's hour. Still, it lacks starpower or movie might;
Jake McDorman is OK, but doesn't make Brian anyone to care about.

“Best Time Ever,”
10 p.m., NBC. Last week's opener was an odd hodge-podge – some
clever hidden-camera stunts, a so-so game, a tedious tower race and a
big music number. Much of that was salvaged by Neil Patrick Harris'
charm; now the second try (following “The Voice”) can try to
build from there.

“The Bastard
Executioner,” 10 p.m., FX. At timrs, this reflects Kurt Sutter's
“Sons of Anarchy,” with terse dialog and fierce action. Too
often, however, Sutter has written himself into a corner. His hero
has taken the identity of a guy hired to torture and execute; there's
no good way to get out of this.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 21

“Blindspot” debut, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

Authorities tend to
pay attention when a duffel bag is abadoned in Times Square. They pay
even closer attention when a naked woman emerges from it. She doesn't
know who she is, but soon finds she has a soldier's skills ... and
tattoos that are new, elaborate and clues to crimes.

Certainly, some of
this was taken from “Bourne Identity,” “John Doe” and more.
Still, those are good places to plunder; “Blindspot” has a sharp
story and, in Jaimie Alexander, a strong star.

II: “Life in Pieces” debut, 8:31 p.m., CBS.

The idea sounds kind
of arbirary: Each week, tell four mini-stories – one each about an
older couple (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) and their grown
children. The fourth brings them together.

It's contrived ...
but it works because it's written cleverly and performed perfectly.
Some moments may be too anatomically oriented for some viewers, but
many are sharp, especially when a secret is revealed (before the
scene, fortunately) about Santa Claus. Betsy Brandt (“Breaking
Bad”) shines in that one; Colin Hanks, Zoe Lister-Jones and Thomas
Sadoski also have great moments.

ALTERNATIVE: “Gotham” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

Diving deep into its
dark roots, this beautifully crafted hour offers a pivotal episode.
Jim Gordon – the most honest cop in a nasty city – loses his job.
To get it back, he may have to compromise his ideals.

Meanwhile, his
former fiancee Barbara Kean is in a mental asylum. Bruce (the future
Batman) strains to learn family secrets. The Riddler is ruling the
crime world, with Selena (the future Catwoman) as an aide ... but a
new force promises to create an all-star team of evil. It's a great

Other choices

“The Voice”
opener, 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. Auditions begin, with the judges – Blake
Shelton, Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams –
competing for the singers they like.

“The Big Bang
Theory” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS. It's time for Leonard and Penny
to marry in Las Vegas ... except she's still staggered by his
confession of a kiss during his North Sea project.

season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. The genius team is in limbo, with Walter
(Elyes Gabel) rehabbing his injured hand and their FBI handler fired.
Then they're back together, in an hour that follows the “Scorpion”
formula: The story seems absurd, with extreme feats done instantly,
just in time. But the emotions are beautifully underplayed,
especially by Gabel and Katharine McPhee.

“Minority Report”
debut, 9 p.m., Fox. The 2002 Steven Spielberg movie had “precogs”
identifying “pre-criminals” ... who were arrested before they
could do anything. This version is set 10 years after the program was
abandoned. Spielberg produced it, but it's only so-so, with huge
story flaws.

“America After
Charleston” and “POV,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings). On a giddy night for other networks, PBS counters with
serious subjects – a town hall about racial shootings and a
portrait of a young woman's struggles during 19 years as an
undocumented alien.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles” season-opener, 9:59 p.m., CBS. Callen goes rogue, with a
secret mission. Which is pretty much how “Castle” starts this
season and started last season; maybe shows feel it's required.

season-opener, 10:01 p.m., ABC. Last season started with a
multi-parter that had Castle go off on a secret, seemingly criminal
effort, without telling Beckett. And now? It's a multi-parter that
has Beckett on a secret, seemingly criminal effort, without telling
Castle. We'll give zero points for originality ... but we'll
definitely catch next week, when the story is told from Beckett's

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 20

“Emmy Awards,” 8 p.m. ET, Fox.

Sure, this gets
repetitious. “Modern Family” could set a record with its sixth
best-comedy win; “The Daily Show” and “The Amazing Race” have
eached topped their categories 10 times.

So some changes are
key: There's a new host (Andy Samberg). First-year shows are
nominated for best drama (“Better Call Saul”) and comedy
(“Transparent,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) ... and have the
frontrunners for best drama actress (Taraji Henson and Viola Davis).
A category (sketch-comedy) was added. And it's the last shot for two
Jons (Stewart, Hamm) plus David Letterman and “Mad Men.”

“Once Upon a Time,” 8-11 p.m., ABC.

On the eve of the
new season, this lush show lets us catch up. And yes, there's a lot
to catch.

The first hour
includes a fairytale-land confrontation between the sometimes-evil
Regina and her thoroughly evil mother Cora (Barbara Hershey). Then
the two-hour finale has the Author linking with Gold, creating a
force so powerful that Emma and the others feel helpless. Young Henry
rushes to try to put things in order ... leading to an end-of-season

ALTERNATIVE: “Arthur & George” finale, 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

Tonight is all about
author Arthur Conan Doyle. At 9 p.m., we see his creation: In the
last of this fall's “Sherlock” reruns, Holmes confronts a master

First, is the
conclusion of this three-part film, based very loosely on a true
story. At the height of his fame, Doyle (Martin Clumes) felt a
village lawyer had been convicted because of bias against his ethnic
roots in India. Tonight, merely solving the case is only part of a
complex and well-told tale.

Other choices

“Doctor Who,”
all day, BBC America. Yes, these British people can be clever. On the
same day as PBS' Doyle films , this cable channel continues its
marathon of the wonderfully bizarre “Who.” That continues,
virtually non-stop, until noon Monday.

“Big Brother,”
8:01 p.m., CBS. Tonight's episode sets up the finale, from 9:30-11
p.m. Wednesday.

Football, 8:20 p.m.
ET, NBC, with pre-game at 7. Two powerhouses – each 12-4 in the
regular season last year – collide, when Seattle visits Green Bay
... where fans still fume about a 2012 call. Both had tight games to
open this season, with the Packers winning and the Seahawks losing in

“Madam Secretary,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season-finale, Elizabeth confronts her
former friend, who's been arrested for treason. Also, a flashback
shows when she was first offered a CIA job.

“CSI: Cyber,” 10
p.m., CBS. Video games become much too real in this rerun, when young
players are tricked into getting weapons.

“The Strain,” 10
p.m., FX. After lots of good work, this show descends into TV's worst
trend – an obsession with captivity and torture. The scenes with
Dutch – a strong young woman when this started – and Eichorst are
especially despicable. Some good moments (including flashbacks
showing how Eichorst became a Nazi) can't redeem the hour.

“Vicious,” 10:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Last week's episode was hectic: As
their wedding neared, Stuart and Freddie fought ... and ended their
50-year romance; also, young Ash woke up in bed with not-young
Violet. Tonight's episode manages to be over-the-top, hilarious and
quite touching.


TV column for Saturday, Sept. 19

“Cedar Cove,” 8 p.m., Hallmark.

This drama gives us
pretty-and-pleasant (mostly) people, in a pleasantly pretty chunk of
the Pacific Northwest. Now it wraps its third season over the next
two Saturdays, centering on the wedding of Grace, the
librarian-turned-city-administrator, and Cliff, the rancher.

There are
complications, of course, especially for Grace's friend Olivia (Andie
MacDowell), the judge. She's worrieed about the past of her boyfriend
Jack (Dylan Neal), who's now plunging into his newspaper work. Then
Paul (Colin Ferguson) stirs some new questions.

II: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m. (or later, with football
overun), NBC.

Two weeks from now,
“SNL” will start its season with high-profile hosts – Miley
Cyrus ... then Amy Schumer (whose show competes with “SNL” in
this year's Emmys) ... and Tracy Morgan, returning 15 months after
being critically injured in a truck-fan collision.

For now, however,
the show has its reruns. Tonight, Chris Rock hosts and Prince is the
music guest.

ALTERNATIVE: “Doctor Who” opener, 9 p.m. ET, BBC America.

For 52 years, a
dozen stars and countless worlds, aliens and eras, this show has
provided some of TV's quirkiest moments. Now a new round begins, with
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman still starring.

You can get in the
mood with a marathon all day today. That pauses at 10:05 p.m. ET for
a “Graham Norton Show” with Capaldi, then continues through
Sunday late-night.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Vet School” debut,10 p.m., NatGeo Wild.

Here's that rare
reality show that will quickly have you liking the regulars and
loving their patients. Those are animals – dogs and cats in the
opener – brought to Cornell University's veterinary hospital.'

Tonight, Dan Cimino
– a former linebacker at nearby Ithaca College – meets
emergency-room chaos, facing two crises. One fourth-year student
(Aria Hill) must extract 10 teeth from a cat; another (Singen
Elliott) prefers working with horses, but instead helps a tiny

Other choices

“Twilight Saga:
Breaking Dawn Part 1” (2011) and 2 (2012), 6:30 and 9 p.m., FX.
These films wrap up the vampire-werewolf-human triangle. The night
also has the lush “Great Gatsby” (2012), at 7 and 10 p.m. on AMC,
the fun “40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005) at 7:45 p.m. on Comedy
Central. At 8 p.m. is the odd gem “Fight Club” (1999) on Sundance
and James Bond's “Skyfall” (2012) on Syfy.

Football, 7:30 p.m.
ET, Fox, and 8 p.m., ABC. On Fox, Texas – which scored three points
in its first game – hosts California, which scored 35 in its first
QUARTER. Sure, the opponents (Notre Dame and Grambling State) were
different, but it's still a fun comparison. ABC has Stanford at
Southern California; bigger games are 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC (Georgia
Tech-Notre Dame) and CBS (Auburn-LSU).

“American Ninja
Warrior,” 8-11 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of Monday's finale.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the team tries to determine
whether a Navy recruiter was killed because of her work or because of
her home life as a foster mother.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. Things turn personal for Kate (Jennifer Love Hewitt) in
this rerun. Her niece and a friend have been kidnapped; the team
suspects an Online predator who does sex trafficking.

“Blunt Talk,” 9
p.m., Starz, repeating at 10 and 11. When a poker game gets out of
hand, the talk show is forced to book a guest whom Walter Blunt

TV column for Friday, Sept. 18

“American Masters,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Pedro Guerrero grew
up in two worlds. His dad was a successful Arizona businessman, but
the Mesa schools, he said, sent him to all-Mexican classes where
students were sometimes treated demissively.

One man who did take
him seriously, this excellent profile says, was architect Frank Lloyd
Wright. Guerrero, then 22, became his photographer; he surprised
Wright – a father-figure and ardent pacifist -- by enlisting in the
Army before Pearl Harbor. Then came a top photography career;
Guerrero was blacklisted for Vietnam protests, but continued what he
called “a gorgeous life” until his death at 95.

“Gotham,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

Three days before
the second season starts, here are the final episodes of the first
season. The Ogre manipulates Barbara Kean ... whose ex-fiancee (Jim
Gordon) races to the rescue. The Penguin ignites a Mob war and
battles Fish Mooney. Also, young Bruce Wayne learns his family's
business secrets.

All of this has a
stylish feel, in a show that has Emmy nominations for costumes and

ALTERNATIVE: “Last Man Standing” and “ABC Fall Preview,” 8
and 8:31 p.m., ABC.

“Last Man”
re-unites Tim Allen with his “Home Improvement” wife, Patricia
Richardson. She plays a neighbor who upset him by using her power
tools early in the morning.

Then Ken Jeung hosts
a look at the network's new shows, a mixed lot. The dramas -- “Blood
& Oil,” “Quantico,” “Wicked City” -- have enough rich
craftsmanship to sometimes overcome so-so plots. And comedies? “The
Muppets” is very promising; Jeung's own “Dr. Ken” is not.

ALTERNATIVE II: “POV: Cutie and the Boxer,” 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

Ushio Shinohara fit
neatly into the 1960s pop-art surge, with his offbeat sculptures and
the canvases he pounded with paint-soakeds boxing gloves. Moving to
New York, he found praise but few sales.

He was 41 when
Noriko – 19, visiting New York and financed by her parents – met
him; within six months, she was pregnant. We see them 40 years later,
still married, still struggling with poverty in the aftermath of his
alcoholism. He prepares new exhibits and she creates an illustrated
version of their hectic life. This is a tough watch, mostly with
sub-titles, but gradually becomes involving.

Other choices

“Best Time Ever,”
8 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of Tuesday's live debut. Neil
Patrick Harris leads the free-form stunts and such, with Reese
Witherspoon as the guest announcer.

“Elementary,” 8
p.m., CBS. This show will disappear for a couple months, before
returning when CBS wraps up its Thursday-football lineup. For now,
here's a rerun of the unsettling season-finale, with Sherlock fearing
that his former Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor may have resumed his
drug habit.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. You really didn't expect the Kono-Adam wedding to go
smoothly, did you? On the day before, colleagues find evidence that a
nuclear bomb may be detonated on the island.

Movies, 9 p.m.,
cable. Two terrific films are based on true stories. AMC has “Erin
Brockovich” (2000), with Julia Roberts winning an Oscar as a
law-office employee who battled a giant utility. CMT has “Friday
Night Lights” (2004), based on a book about a Texas town obsessed
with high school football.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. A week before the new season begins, here's a rerun of
the season-finale. Someone from the family has been shot and Danny
rushes to find the gang member responsible.

“Z Nation,” 10
p.m., Syfy. Last week's season-opener found these rag-tag heroes
scattering after a bomb detonation. They're back together now, but
face a double threat – from zombies and from bounty hunters who
want to capture the only person known to have zombie immunity.