TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 25

“This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

After settling for a
quite-good episode last week, “Us” has a brilliant one tonight.
It's even better than the pilot film ... which was one of the best
hours this season.

At the core are
three generations of Pittsburgh Steeler fans – from dad-alone to
dad-daughter passion. Also spanning generations is a question TV
rarely asks: Must married people always seem cheery about becoming
pregnant? And late in the hour, we get a funny-solemn view of the
vagaries of death and life.

II: “American Masters,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS.

Norman Lear;s dad
always had a scheme, always expected to triumph; when Lear was 9, he
saw his dad go to prison and was mostly on his own. He would keep his
dad's optimism ... and would triumph. “He's the most influential
person in the history of television,” producer Phil Rosenthal says

Lear, now 94, turned
his dad into Archie Bunker. At one point, he had six of TV's 10
most-seen shows; at another, he walked away from it all and
campaigned for the concept of liberty. This gorgeous film captures
his mistakes (with family, with shows) and even one lie; it also
captures stunning triumphs.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Middle” (8 p.m.) and more.

Ever since the
“Roseanne” years, ABC comedies have had Halloween episodes that
were thoroughly entertaining. Here are four straight ones ... with
another crop arriving Wednesday.

That starts with the
Hecks facing plenty of distractions. Sue keeps trying to get her room
back from Brick; their brother Axl is cracking from the pressure of
being nice around his girlfriend. And Frankie gets a shock: If she
ever divorces, all three kids would choose to stay with Mike.

Other choices

Baseball preview
(7:30 p.m. ET) and game (8 p.m.), Fox. For the past 113 autumns, the
World Series has been a major part of American life. Now it begins,
continuing on Wednesday, Thursdau, Saturday and (if needed) Sunday
and next Tuesday and Wednesday.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. After a petty officer is kidnapped and escapes,the team finds a
connection to her missing husband. Also, Abby (Pauley Perrette) knits
personalized gifts for the new agents.

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. Here's the second night of “knockouts” -- teammates
competing with each other, this time choosing their own songs. Tim
McGraw and Faith Hill are mentors.

Housewive,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. It's time for the “Zombie Run.”
Katie – trying to top a neighbor – focuses on the “run”; her
husband and younger daughter obsess on being zombies.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 9 p.m., ABC. Halloween is Louis' favorite holiday, but his
wife is focusing only on writing horror novel. Their younger kids
ponder costume choices and Eddie is excited about a chance to party
with the high school kids.

“The Real
O'Neals,” 9:30, ABC. Kenny is pumped up about Halloween, which he
calls “the gay Super Bowl.:” His mom soon regrets letting him
host a party. Meanwhile, his siblings plan an epic prank.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A private plane crashes in the bayou,
killing three sailors.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. After saving a sick street kid from a tunnel fire,
Stella scrambles to get him help. Also, Casey need help with a
persoal matter and Severide has a chance to travel luxuriously.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 24

“Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

Some shows outlive
their titles: “Empty Nest” got full, “@Midnight” moved to
before midnight, “Two and a Half Men” lost its half. This one,
however, remains accurate. Married, with a 1-year-old son, Jane is
still a virgin. A clinical error impregnated her; her new husband is
recovering from a shooting.

Much of tonight's
hour is merely OK, but in the final minutes, things click. There's
Jane's dad, starring in a wonderfully bizarre telenovela about the
Statue of Liberty. There's Rafael's evil wife Petra, being
impersonated by her more-evil sister. And there's a hint that some
day, Jane might be a non-virgin.

“Man With a Plan” debut, 8:30 p.m., CBS.

For comedy fans,
this is a good week – mostly. It's a return to sitcom-stacks (four
straight shows, from 8-10 p.m.), Mondays through Thursdays on CBS or
ABC. That's great, with one catch: CBS is putting all its best
comedies on Thursdays; tonight's shows, by comparison, are merely OK.

This one has the
usual combination – a slick, semi-exasperated wife (Liza Snyder,
who did “Yes, Dear”) and a sort of dolt-ish husband (Matt
LeBlanc, who's done much better shows). She's returning to work, so
he figures he can help with the kids; he can't, of course, because
he's a TV dad.

ALTERNATIVE: “19-2,” any time,

What started as a
French-language series in Montreal has been remade in English.
Sharply written and perfectly played, it gives fresh life to the
cop-show genre. You can catch the first two seasons – if so, skip
the spoilers in the next paragraph – or start now with the third

The mole inside the
precinct was finally exposed and killed himself. Now cops have other
secrets: Some were there during the suicide ... Nick helped his
crooked cousin ... the commander downplayed a spouse-abuse case.
Rumors swirl ... and a sensational traffic case diverts everyone's

Other choices

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. With Amber Rose gone, eight celebrities
remain. That includes all four athletes, but one (Calvin Johnson) had
as close call last week, before Rose was ousted.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. Two superheroines blend, when Supergirl protects the
president –played by former “Wonder Woman” star Lynda Carter.
Also, the alien-vs.-human rights issue heats up.

“Kevin Can Wait,”
8 p.m., CBS. Remember when CBS' best comedies crowded into Mondays?
Here's a reminder, with Ray Romano guesting on Kevin James' show.
During the great “Everybody Loves Raymond” years, Romano guested
four times on James' “King of Queens.”

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. We'd always assumed Lucifer is an action-movie fan. Now
his favorite star has been killed and a rival is a suspect. Also,
Lucifer and Uriel (Michael Imperioli) fight about their mom.

“The Odd Couple,”
9:30 p.m., CBS. Quick and jokey, this has emerged as the best of the
Monday comedies. Tonight, Oscar asks Felix to help save his favorite
bar. Felix, of course, tends to overdo; with the owner (Fred Willard)
out of town for a few days, he takes over.

“Timeless,” 10
p.m., NBC. Desperate to stop Flynn, the team chases him to Nazi

“POV,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). When they learned that their infant son
was dying of cancer, Ryan and Amy Green entered a long medical blur.
But theyalso fashioned a warm life for all three sons ... and a
videogame about the experience. Following the Greens for 18 monthsl,
filmmakers emerged with a warm (if depressing) portrait of good
people facing a cruel turn.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 23

“The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11:35 p.m. and 1:10

Just in time for the
Halloween season, this ratings-champion starts its seventh season,
with Negan's actions haunting Rick's group. And if you need to catch
up or hear commentary, that's easy.

AMC has been
rerunning the entire series this week; the sixth season starts at
3:30 a.m. today and starts its finale at 7:30 p.m. Also, Chris
Hardwick and guests will discuss the opener on “Talking Dead,” at
10:06 p.m. AMC also has the season-openerof Kevin Smith's “Comic
Book Men” at 12:40 a.m.

II: “The Simpsons,” 7 and 8 p.m., Fox.

Last week's
“Treehouse of Horror” was a minor disappointment, but don't fret:
Tonight brings a new episode at 8 – Homer seeks a promotion,
Krusty's candy is suspect – and last year's “Treehouse” at 7.

That rerun starts
with a clever song from John Kricfalusi (the “Ren and Stimpy”
creator), peppered with old Hanna-Barbera characters. The first full
segment (Sideshow Bob kills Bart ... often) is heavy-handed and gory,
but the next two are terrific. A witty variation on “Godzilla”
starts in black-and-white and then goes Hollywood epic; then the kids
use new radiated powers for good and (mostly) evil.

ALTERNATIVE: “Masterpiece: The Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS.

In last week's
genial opener, a harried widow (the terrific Kelley Hawes) moved her
family to a Greek island in 1933. Now her pension still hasn't
arrived and her four kids are in chaos.

Lawrence, an
unpublished writer, hangs with heavy-drinking Germans ... one of whom
Margo is ga-ga for. Leslie is instantly in love with a local woman.
And young Gerald – who later recalled this in three books –
continues his obsession with animals. Then a crisis pulls together
these mismatched (and likable) souls. This is still a good time to
jump into an amiable, six-week series.

Other choices

Football preview, 7
p.m. ET, and kick-off, 8:30, NBC. The Seattle Seahawks – now 4-1
after Russell Wilson pulled off a late comeback last Sunday, visit
Carson Palmer's Arizona Cardinals.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. When a Navy machinist is slain, the hunt
for the killer takes the team all over the city. Bar Paly, the
Russian-born model from Israel, returns as Anna Kolchek, pairing with
Callen while Sam assists Hetty.

“Berlin Station,”
9 p.m., Epix. Last week's opener slogged for a while, then ended
starkly, with the death of a courier for the whistleblower called
“Thomas Shaw.” Is that a collective name? Is murder a sharp
detour for an idealistic effort? We start to see details, in a fairly
good episode ... leading to an OK “Graves” -- heavy-handed lead
character, but great support – at 10.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. These five survivors have decided they need
a road trip. Alas, they soon wear on each other's nerves; in
particular, Gail (Mary Steenburgen) is at her breaking point.

Secretary,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. When American activists are arrested in
China, Elizabeth hits a negotiations stalemate. Meanwhile, her
husband feels one of her former students is their cyber-stalker.

“Quantico,” 10
p.m., ABC. In her CIA training, Alex faces a drill that tests stress
levels. And in the future, a terrorist organization demands a trade,
to end the stand-off.

“The Strain,” 10
p.m., FX. Opposite extremes jolt us, in a pivotal and high-octane
episode. The bad news: New York is overrun; even the police are
fleeing. The good: Eph and Dutch are close to perfecting their
device. And it's nasty-vs.-nasty, as Palmer pushes to extract

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 22

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

On an
election-fueled hot streak, “SNL” has had high ratings and strong
(if inconsistent) quality. Now it has its fourth straight new
episode, this time with extra starpower.

Tom Hanks has his
ninth turn as host – he's also popped up in seven other episodes –
and Lady Gaga (who has hosted once) has her fourth turn as music
guest. And yes, Hanks has been busy: His subtly superb “Sully” is
wrapping up a strong run and his flashier “Inferno” will open

“Good Witch: Secrets of Grey House,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark.

In “Good Witch,”
sweet-spirited Cassie (Catherine Bell) is a widow who has an inn, a
teenager and an ability to sense (and, sometimes, change) things.
It's an amiable, small-town series that won't be back until April;
still, every witch should have a moment in October, so here's a

With a fantasy
author and her editor staying in the inn, Cassie has as plan – a
Halloween festival based on the author's novels. She also tries to
nudge a romance; her own romance, alas, faces a problem: During the
festival, Sam (James Denton) is tied up with a busy time at the

ALTERNATIVE: “Identity Thief” (2013), 8:30-11 p.m., NBC.

Sandy (Jason
Bateman) is a mild-mannered guy whose life is uneventful ... until
someone (Melissa McCarthy) steals his identity. Now he must try to
find her in Florida and bring her to Denver.

This works because
Bateman is an ideal straight man, giving McCarthy room to roar. In
starring roles, she's sometimes excessive; here, as someone with a
gleeful lack of morals, she brings solid laughs.

Other choices

Football, all day.
The tightest match-up could be ESPN's Arkansas-Auburn game, at 6 p.m.
ET. At 8, Fox has Mississippi at Texas Tech; ABC has powerhouse Ohio
State at Penn State.

“North by
Northwest” (1959) and “Jaws” (1975), 5:30 and 8 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies. These have nothing in common – except that they're
wildly entertaining works by masters (Alfred Hitchcock, Steven
Spielberg). They lead a strong night that, at 8 p.m., has “The Dark
Knight” (2008) on TNT, “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” (2010) on FXX
and Oscar-winner “No Country for Old Men” (2007) on IFC.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. Social issues intrude, when Jonah doesn't want to sell
guns and Glenn doesn't want to allow morning-after pills. Those parts
of this rerun are OK; better are some goofy moments involving trying
to get a bird out of the store.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. For Jack (George Eads), this rerun is personal. His former
CIA partner (and former girlfriend) went missing in Venezuela,
shortly after finding evidence about an international arms dealer.
Now the team tries to rescue her; she's played by Amy Acker of
“Person of Interest.”

“NCIS,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun from last spring, personal plans go astray. DiNozzo
bores his date; McGee and Delilah disagree about whether to discuss
work during dinner. More importantly, agents separately spot flaws in
what had seemed like a cut-and-dried case.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. It's been 32 years since Jim
Bullock announced that he's HIV-positive; it's been 20 years since
the AIDS-related death of his partner. His own career – which
peaked when he was a comedy and game-show star known as Jm J Bullock
– has continued. Here are updates on him; on actress/activist
Victoria Rowell; and on Nick Carter, who had a three-million-selling
album at 13 and filed for bankruptcy at 26.

“Son of Zorn,”
11 p.m., Fox. It's not easy to be a cartoon superhero in non-cartoon
suburbia. In this rerun, Zorn embarrasses his son and also is asked
to move his boxes out of his ex-wife's garage.

TV column for Friday, Oct. 21

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” season-opener, 9 p.m., CW.

Suddenly, TV has
re-discovered the joy of musicals. Fox had “Rocky Horror” on
Thursday; coming are “Hairspray” on NBC (Dec. 7) and “Dirty
Dancing” on ABC. And here's “Crazy,” which has at least two big
numbers – with Emmy-winning choreography and Emmy-nominated songs –
each week.

That's fortunate,
because tonight's comedy portions are so-so; the songs, by
comparison, are a delight. One may (or may not) be the first time
you've heard people sing during sex. The other is surely the first
time you've heard someone proclaim: “I'm like a sexy fashion

II: “Great Performances,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local

Here's another
network that savors musicals. Tonight, PBS starts its “Fall Arts
Festival,” which includes a fairly good “Gypsy” (Nov. 11) and
is hosted by Broadway's Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Appropriately, it
starts with a portrait of how Miranda created and starred in
“Hamilton,” the hip hop musical that drew raves, sell-outs, 11
Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize. This starts shortly before the
rehearsals began. With a new apartment and (soon) a new son, Miranda
prepares to transform theater.

ALTERNATIVE: “Wolf Creek,” 10 p.m., Pop.

The opener
(available on hit
with fierce intensity. (To avoid spoilers, skip the rest of this
item.) Vacationing in the Outback, Americans met an amiable Aussie
... who suddenly killed them.

That much is similar
to the “Wolf Creek” movie, which had the same villain (John
Jarrett) and the same writer-director (Greg McLean). The difference
is that this time, one woman survived. Eve (superbly played by Lucy
Fry) is 19 and intent on revenge. This is a six-part mini-series that
meshes with the movie; indeed, the lone surivivor in that film will
re-appear in the final two episodes.

Other choices

“Addams Family”
(1991), 4 p.m., Freeform. Here's an entertaining start to a night of
Halloween treats. The sequel (1993) is at 6:10 p.m., followed by two
Tim Burton films -- “Sleepy Hollow” (1999) at 8:20 and
“Frankenweenie” (2012) at midnight.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. A train has been sabotaged and MacGyver doesn't have a
repair kit, so ... Oh wait, he does have a curtain rod, an armrest
and a toothpick; maybe that will be enough.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
8 p.m., Fox. After a surprising elimination, the contestants have
head-to-head competition in a seafood challenge.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Mike (Tim Allen) can choose a theme for the
family's Halloween party; he decides that each person must dress as
someone else in the family. Soon, tempers flare.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. On Halloween, Allison frets that her son doesn't get
scared. Not to worry, Ken tells a Korean ghost story (acted out by
his co-workers) that could frighten anyone.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Kono and Adam are finally re-united, when he's released
from prison. Also, someone has stolen weapons from a gun range and
plans to make a deadly statement.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Judy Reyes, the “Scrubs” and “Devious Maids”
star, plays an activist who isn't a citizen. Erin and her
investigator (Steven Schirripa) try to keep her from being deported.