TV column for Thursday, Jan. 5

“Portlandia” season-opener, 10 p.m. ET, IFC, rerunning at 1:30

Have you ever
wondered what happens when two witches go shopping at Bed, Bath and
Beyond? You'll see tonight, in a hilarious sketch.

This is the sort of
droll absurdism that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein do
brilliantly. In one wonderful bit, they're telling a music duo (Run
the Jewels) how to surprise-release a new album. In another, Vanessa
Bayer is a guest at a hotel where people over-explain everything. For
more great moments, previous episodes rerun from 7:30-11:30 a.m. ET.

“Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

TV has suddenly
discovered the power of re-telling high-profile murder stories. Last
year, the O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey case were retold in
scripted and documentary films; more will follow.

This one is a doc:
In 1989, Jose and Kitty Menendez were murdered in their upscale
California home. Their sons, 21 and 18, promptly went on a spending
spree. After two hung juries, they were convicted.

II: “Superstore” and “The Good Place,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

After a high-profile
start, both shows stepped aside for two months of football. Now
they're back.

First, the store's
tradition involves cleaning out the “lost and found” bin each New
Year; Amy hits the jackpot. Then in “Good Place,” Eleanor
(Kristen Bell) – not the introspective type – makes a personal
discovery. And Michael (Ted Danson) nudges an indecisive Chidi to
make a big decision.

ALTERNATIVE: Fisher/Reynolds interview, 10 p.m., Opray Winfrey

Among Hollywood's
mother-daughter duos, none seemed as interesting – and as
mismatched – as this: Debbie Reynolds' image was endlessly light
and bright; Carrie Fisher was sharply acerbic. After their deaths –
a day apart, at ages 60 and 84 – TV is offering some memories.

This is a 2011
“Oprah Winfrey Show” hour, ranging from Fisher's mental-health
struggles to the famed affair between her dad (Eddie Fisher) and
Elizabeth Taylor. There's more coming: On Saturday, HBO debuts
“Bright Lights,” its Reynolds/Fisher documentary. And on Jan. 27,
Turner Classic Movies has a Reynolds marathon, peaking with “Singing
in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

Other choices

“Hell's Kitchen,”
8 and 9 p.m., Fox. The first hour involves an unusual taste
challenge. The second requires mixing international flavors.

“The Great
American Baking Challenge,” 8 p.m., ABC. A week before the finale,
the challenges are getting tougher. Here are three involving French

“The Big
BangTheory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon and Amy return home and (through
flashbacks) describe their awful trip to Texas. Emmy-winner Laurel
Metcalf is back as his mom.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Here's the ultimate crisis for the
millennials: Jack has left them camping in the woods, without their

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Two “West Wing” Emmy-winners are re-united: Allison
Janney is Bonnie, a recovering (barely) alcoholic; Bradley Whitford
is Mitch, a hard-partying friend of her boyfriend.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., CMT. Last month, the show snuck one episode out early. That
reruns at 9 p.m., before “Nashville” settles into its new cable
timeslot. Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) is back from the crash, unsure
if she'll walk again ... and grumping at Avery's attention. Also,
Rayna (Connie Britton) and Deacon (Charles Esten) are trying to craft
an album about their love story.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 4

“Star,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Few shows have been
as promising and as frustrating as “Star.” It's best moments –
including tonight's final minutes – are sensational; other parts
are often repetitious, sometimes absurd.

Tonight's absurdity
is the idea that it takes $30,000 to make a music demo for a
festival. Its repetition involves attitude: In “Empire” (from the
same producer), we love Cookie's in-your-face attitude; in “Star,”
it's sort of all-Cookie, no-nuance. With few exceptions, characters
keep snapping angry dialog in each other's faces. We almost agree
with the character who says: “I don't like none of them.”

“Match Game” return, 10 p.m., ABC.

It's been a streange
ride for ABC lately. In the regular season, it has strong, smart
shows that draw so-so ratings; in the summer, light game shows draw
big numbers.Now some of those games get extra time.

“To Tell the
Truth” has taken a temporary Sunday spot; now “Match Game”
returns. Hosted by Anthony Anderson and Alec Baldwin, respectively,
they lean to comedy. Tonight's panels have comedy people – Jason
Alexander, Caroline Rhea, Wayne Brady, Cheryl Hines, Ellie Kemper --
and Ice T

ALTERNATIVE: “Nova” season-opener, 9 p.m., PBS.

Two opposite worlds
– careful science and daredevil mountain-climbing – merge. We're
in the Himalayas, one of the last places on Earth that people
settled. Some 6,000 people now live here ... and high above them are
caves that were carved into the rock; at times, artifacts fall from

These are tombs,
created long ago. Now climbers take scientists there, to gather
artifacts and learn about a distant world. The result is factually
intertesting and visually stunning.

Other choices

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. Murtaugh – with a temporary new partner – and Riggs
are in the midst of a turf war. On one side are new drug dealers; on
the other is an established Koreatown gang.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. After a six-week break, this show is back for the second
half of its season... amid big trouble. Patterson is missing and
Roman is wandering with amnesia.

8:30, ABC. Each year, the family takes an impromptu road trip. This
time, Ray has something special in mind. His mom (Minnie Driver)
doesn't like it, but then reacts to an emergency.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. After his Thanksgiving failure, Cam hopes to rebound
with a New Year's Day feast. Mitchell tries to save the day with a
“concierge” ... who turns out to be Cam's former boyfriend
(Kelsey Grammar). Also, Phil finds that his former babysitter is his
dad's new girlfriend.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. Defying orders, Leanne (Marcia Gay Harden) uses the
hospital's helicopter, so a family can be re-united for one last

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia” season-opener, 10 p.m., FXX. Suddenly, Kaitlin
Olson is starring in one show and co-starring in another, both of
which tend to be quite funny. “The Mick,” in its first season, is
Tuesdays on Fox; “Sunny” starts its 12th season with
an offbeat, body-switching tale.

“Man Seeking
Woman” season-opener, 10:30 p.m., FXX. In the first two seasons,
Josh has endured odd nightmares, in search of a girlfriend. Now he
has one, but things remain bizarre. She's played by Katie Findlay,
who was in “How To Get Away With Murder” as the edgy (and then
murdered) Rebecca.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 3

“Bones” season-opener, 9:01 p.m., Fox.

For 11 seasons,
“Bones” has been solving murders, often with a light touch. Now
things are much darker as the final season begins.

Brennan finally
learned the identity of the “Puppetmaster” who was stalking her.
It's Zack (Eric Millegan), who was her protege for three seasons,
before being manipulated by a killer. Now he's captured her; the team
scrambles to find them.

More mid-season shuffles, NBC and Fox.

It's time for the
mid-year moves, often by necessity. NBC won't have “The Voice”
back until Feb. 27; it fills its 8 p.m. Tuesday spot with “The
Wall,” a quiz show that has a techno-wall give random rewards.

And at Fox,
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is on its mid-season break. Its spot (8:31
p.m. Tuesdays) goes tp “The Mick,” which had a brash, fun start
Sunday. Mick likes her sister's mansion ... but dislikes the crabby
kids. Now comes an emergency plan – calling in their hard-nosed

“American Masters”,” 8-10 p.m., PBS.

Sidney Lumet grew up
in a hard-scrabble New York world. He started his career on his dad's
Yiddish radio soap opera; the entire family worked on it, totalling
$35 a week. As a kid, he acted in a dozen Broadway shows. As a young
man, he directed a mini-budget film (“12 Angry Men”) and drew an
Oscar nomination; there would be others for “Network,” “The
Verdict” and “Dog Day Afternoon.”

This is a
fascinating story ... told in the laziest way – a rambling, droning
interview, intercut with clips. It's the second such “Masters”
(after a Mike Nichols one), a terrible trend for an oft-great series.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. It's been another strong start for “NCIS,” which is No. 3 in
the Nielsen ratings for broadcast networks, trailing only “Big
Bang” and Sunday football. Now it starts the second half of the
season, with the team chasing a businessman who uses terror to
maneuver the stock market.

“New Girl,” 8
p.m., Fox. The Deschanel sisters are sharing a night now. Emily stars
in “Bones” and Zooey stars here ... with loft life transformed by
the return of Reagan (Megan Fox).

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. For once, the Hecks have a mutual goal – setting the
record for the quickest family to get out of the local “escape
room,” eluding a “zombie apocalypse.”

“No Tomorrow,” 9
p.m., CW. Life is getting complicated for Evie, now that her old
boyfriend is more confident and her new one is more emotionally
available. Now she finds it hard to choose.

“Good Behavior,”
9 p.m., TNT. Just as Letty finally got a chance to be with her son,
his dad resurfaced and wants custody. There's no solution ... except,
of course, that she intimately knows a hit man.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A combined FBI/NCIS investigation is
centering on someone who is engaged to Pride's family friend.

“David Blaine:
Beyond Magic,” 10 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Blaine uses close-up magic
to dazzle athletes (Steph Curry, David Beckham) and show-business
folks, including Johnny Depp, Dave Chappelle, Drake, John Travolta,
Patrick Stewart, Emma Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 2

Rose Parade, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, ABC, NBC, HGTV, Hallmark and RFD.

Some people
associate the parade and bowl games with hangovers; each year, they
watch them in a New Year's Day blur. But this time (with Jan. 1 on a
Sunday), they were pushed back a day.

Now we can see the
parade with clear eyes. There's much to see, including 41 floats,
lots of horses and 21 marching bands. There are ones from Mexico and
Japan, plus Air Force and Marine bands, a high school all-star band
and ones from the Rose Bowl schools, Penn State and Southern

Football, all day.

As soon as the
parade ends, the first two bowl games begin. At 1 p.m. ET, ABC has
the Outback Bowl, with two 8-4 teams – Florida (ranked No. 17) and
Iowa. ESPN has the Cotton Bowl, with undefeated Western Michigan (No.
15) and Wisconsin (10-3, No. 8).

ESPN follows at 5
p.m. with the Rose Bowl; Penn State (11-2, No. 5) faces Southern
California (9-3, No. 9). At 8:30, it has the Sugar Bowl, with
Oklahoma (10-2, No. 7) and Auburn (8-4, No. 14).

ALTERNATIVE: “The Bachelor” opener, 8-10 p.m., ABC.

TV's favorite
runner-up is now in charge. Nick Viall finished second in Season 10
of “Bachelorette,” was inserted in the fourth episode of Season
11 – and finished second again. Now he does the choosing.

Viall, 36, grew up
near Milwaukee in an 11-kid family. He graduated from the University
of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is in technology sales.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Celebrity Apprentice” opener, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

The show's previous
host was dumped after he drifted into politics, so now a former
politician steps in. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's also a movie actor,
has the usual assortment of semi-celebrities.

Four are mostly just
famous from other reality shows -- Snooki, Kyle Richards, Carson
Kressley and Porsha Williams. Six have been top athletes -- Laila
Ali, Lisa Leslie, Eric Dickerson, Matt Iseman, Chael Sonnen and Ricky
Williams.There are three musicians (Boy George, Vince Neil, Carnie
Wilson) and a comedian (Jon Lovitz), plus TV personalities Brooke
Burke-Charvet and Carrie Keagan.

Other choices

Mysteries,” any time,
Here's the 10th season of this Canadian series, focusing
on an upper-crust, cop a century ago. Known to some
Americans as “The Artful Detective,” it can be slow and stagnant;
but the two-part season-opener – murder among marriage hopefuls – has plenty of
big moments and a solid mystery.

“Kevin Can Wait,”
8 p.m., CBS. Kevin is finally ready to give his wife a proper ring.
Since this is a situation comedy, he decides to surprise her ... and
sees it go very wrong.

“The Odd Couple,”
9:30 p.m., CBS. For the first time in four weeks, here's a new
episode. Charlotte plans to take Oscar to a classy event; instead, he
has Felix in his place.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. During a desert mission, Cabe has been seriously wounded
by shrapnel. To save him, the team tries to freeze him.

Jimmy Kimmel, 10
p.m., ABC. Here's something new – a special designed to follow the
“Bachelor” opener. Mocking opportunists, it's called “Jimmy
Kimmel Live: Here for the Right Reasons.”

“The Wall,” 10
p.m., NBC. This is the second “sneak preview,” before the show
settles into its regular spot at 8 p.m. Tuesdays. Duos answer
questions, with a mega-wall randomly creating rewards.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 31

“New Year's Rockin' Eve,” 8-11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. to 2:13 a.m.,

The original plan
was basic: Tape some Hollywood music in advance, then weave in live
coverage of Dick Clark at Times Square. And now? The live, Times
Square party will have Ryan Seacrest, plus music by Mariah Carey,
Thomas Rhett, DNCE, Gloria Estefan and her Broadway show.

There's also a live
New Orleans portion (with Jason Derulo and Panic at the Disco) to
note midnight, Central time. There's music from Las Vegas (Lionel
Richie) and a ship (Demi Lovato), plus that Hollywood party with
Alessia Cara, John Legend, Hailee Steinfeld, Flo Rida, Niall Horan
and more.

II: Football, 3 and 7 p.m. ET, ESPN.

The Eve celebrations
no longer have a monopoly on Dec. 31; now the day also has the first
round of playoffs for the college football championship.

First is top-ranked
Alabama (13-0) and No. 4 Washington (12-1) at the Peach Bowl in
Atlanta; then No. 2 Clemson (12-1) and No. 3 Ohio State are at the
Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. The winners collide Jan. 9.

ALTERNATIVE: More New Year's Eve.

You can do some
channel-hopping tonight, with lots of music. At 11 p.m., Fox has
Pitbull's annual Miami party; Queen Latifah and Snoop Dogg join him
as hosts. At 11:30, NBC has a Carson Daly special, with Blake
Shelton, Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys and Pentatonix.

There's more, beyond
music. CNN starts its multi-city coverage at 8 p.m. ET, with Anderson
Cooper and Kathy Griffin in New York; it reruns it at 1 a.m. Fox News
starts at 8; at 11, it has Eric Bolling and Kimberly Guilfoyle in
Times Square, with correspondents in Miami and Nashville.

Other choices

“Twilight Zone”
marathon, all day, Syfy. After the movie (1983) at 6a.m, we get a
non-stop flurry, with episodes – some of them brilliant-- every
half-hour, from 8 a.m. today to 4 a.m. Tuesday.

More marathons,
cable. Freeform has the first Harry Potter film at 7 a.m., with
others at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30, 5:30 and 9 p.m. TNT has the second and
third “Lord of the Rings” epics at 4:22 and 8 p.m. And BBC
America alternates “Ghostbusters” films – 11 a.m. and 1:30
p.m., 4 and 6:30 p.m., 9 and 11:30.

“Showtime at the
Apollo,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. Here's a rerun of an amiable special from
Harlem's 82-year-old Apollo Theatre. Steve Harvey hosts and has other
comedians to introduce – Tracy Morgan, Anthony Anderson, Gabriel
Iglesias, Jay Pharoah and George Lopez. There's also music from John
Legend, Flo Rida, Bell Biv Devoe, JoJo, En Vogue and more, including
powerhouse Chaka Kahn.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the team tries to rescue a college student
who was kidnapped by a dangerous vigilante. Also, Max, Kamekona and
Flippa fight for survival, after being shipwrecked.

“A Toast to 2016,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb host a light look at
the year. Their guests include Michael Buble, Dana Carvey, Simone
Biles and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Seth Meyers special,
10 p.m., NBC. Meyers gets his first New Year's Eve show, expanding
his oft-hilarious “A Closer Look,” to eye the bizarre year that's
ending. His guests are Jennifer Lawrence, Leslie Jones and
Schwarzenegger, with Kelly Clarkson singing “It's Quiet Uptown.”

“Saturday Night
Live,” 12:30 a.m., NBC. Tentatively scheduled is a rerun that
opened with some of the show's finest moments. In the election
aftermath, Kate McKinnon sang “Hallelujah”; Dave Chappelle gave a
thoughtful monolog, then joined Chris Rock to satirize middle-class
shock at the results.