TV column for Sunday, March 1


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Battle Creek” debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

A Hollywood
tradition – mismatched cop duos – is done with wit and subtle
skill. Russ (Dean Winters) is a small-town police detective, rumpled
and ragged; Milt (Josh Duhamel) has just arrived from Detroit as an
FBI agent, blessed with optimism, technology and leading-man looks.

They have
interesting colleagues -- including Janet McTeer (a two-time Oscar
nominee) as Russ' boss – and sharp stories. This opener, written 12
years ago by Vince Gilligan before he did “Breaking Bad,” is a
dandy; in the weeks ahead, producer David Shore (“House”)
continues the surprises and the wit.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Secrets and Lies” debut, 9 and 10 p.m., ABC.

One morning in
suburbia, Ben (Ryan Phillippe) is racing back; during his jog in the
woods, he says, he found a body. Soon, the murder case dominates this
pleasant neighborhood and beyond.

Complicating things
is the fact that Ben and others have their own secrets. Yes, he's
flawed ... but is he a killer? With one exception – the usually
terrific Juliette Lewis turns a cop into a cardboard character --
“Secrets” is beautifully written and acted. There are eight more
hours, at 9 p.m. on Sundays.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Last Man on Earth” debut, 9-10 p.m., Fox.

At a time when
same-same comedies are floundering, this one is daringly different.
The first half of this hour has exactly one actor (not counting brief
flashbacks); the second half doubles that.

Will Forte plays the
only guy, seemingly, to survive a global virus. That leads to an
endless string of bittersweet sight gags that are clever at first,
then wear thin. Then he finally meets his dream girl ... or, as
played by Kristen Schaal, a hiliarious variation of his dreams. From
there, “Last Man” shines.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Masterpiece: Downton Abbey” season-finale, 9-11
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The Crawleys are
headed out for a game-hunting vacation, presided over by Rose's
grumpy new father-in-law and his bigoted butler. Back home, the staff
can relax ... or worry about Anna's murder charges.

What follows is mild
– the Anna portions are a bit lame – yet elegantly entertaining.
There's a key departure and then, in the final minutes, a character
connection that is quietly delightful.

Other choices
include:

“Argo” and “Zero
Dark Thirty” (both 2012), 5:30 and 8 p.m., FX. These real-life
stories of international crises drew Oscar nominations for best
picture. “Argo,” which includes some fun moments, won; “Zero”
is compelling, despite its overemphasis on torture.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. After a 10-week break, this lush show returns
to find the people in Storybrooke relaxing – for a moment – after
banishing Mr. Gold. Alas, he's busy linking three classic villains
whom the show introduced briefly in December – Maleficent, Ursula
and Cruella De Vill.

“Madam Secretary,”
8 p.m., CBS. This show and “The Good Wife” are both back from
six-week breaks. Tonight, Elizabeth's staff can't find the corruption
in her micro-loan program.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. It's time for the wedding of Charles'
dad and Gina's mom. All Jake (Andy Samberg) must do is don a tux, get
the ring and help catch a crook; what could go wrong? OK, you
probably guessed what, but it's astill a sharp, funny episode.

“The Good Wife,”
9 p.m., CBS. Can a TV producer be sued for a character who's clearly
based on a real person? Diane and Cary work the lawsuit for Colin
Sweeney (Dylan Baker), while Alicia focuses on her election campaign.
Ed Asner plays a big-time political contributor.

“Christina Millan
Turned Up” season finale, 10 p.m., E. A camping trip with her
sisters deteriorates. Back home, Christina focuses on her music and
her sister gets a grand gesture from her husband.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Jimmy Kimmel post-Oscar show, 8 p.m., ABC.

Some of the best
Oscar-night humor came long after the show had ended. The Oscarcast
was strong on music, but surprisingly weak on humor; afterward,
Kimmel's special (which reruns here) perked things up. “Lie Witness
News” is so-so, but the two-part “Kimmel School of Perfect
Acting” is a gem.

Kimmel teaches Eddie
Remayne how to say “Hello, I'm a fancy British man” .... And Matt
Damon how to be a chair and a lamp. He demands that Sean Penn make
love to the camera (literally) and Susan Sarandon fill a pitcher with
tears. (“Tilda Swinton would have filled three or four.”) It's
brilliant.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Shania: Still the One,” 9 p.m., ABC.

When Shania Twain
created her Las Vegas show, she didn't settle for country casual. She
included a 13-piece band, dancers, horses, a flying motorcycle and
Vegas glitter,.

In December, Twain
wrapped up a two-year run that included 105 shows. This special
combines performances and background footage of the preparations.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Good Witch” series debut, 8 p.m., Hallmark,
rerunning at 10.

There is a worthy
goal that more shows should try: Create a fictional town, flesh out
its people, tell human stories that don't lean much on cops and
hospitals. Such shows (“Northern Exposure,” “Avonlea,” etc.),
are rare; now (with “Cedar Cove” and “When Calls the Heart”)
Hallmark has its third.

In seven amiable
movies (five of which rerun now, starting at 10 a.m.), Cassie
(Catherine Bell) showed a small dose of witch-ly powers and great
doses of goodness, Now she's widowed, with a teen, two grown
step-kids ... and a doctor (James Denton) moving next door. It's
gentle, mild and fairly pleasant.

Other choices
include:

“Jaws” (1975), 6
p.m., AMC. A strong movie night starts early, with this classic and
with “The Fugitive” (1993) at 6:15 p.m. on Sundance. There's
more, including “A River Runs Through It,” beautifully directed
by Robert Redford, at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies.

Hockey, 8 p.m. ET,
NBC. Yes, hockey (Rangers at Flyers) in prime time, on NBC, which
next week has boxing. Both are usually confined to the NBC Sports
Network ... which tonight has soccer.

“Motown 25,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings). On the final day of Black History
Month – and one of the first days of pledge drives – many
stations are rerunning this 1983 classic. It opened with Smokey
Robinson, closed with the Supremes and had other greats in-between,
including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Temptations
and (doing his first TV “moonwalk”) Michael Jackson.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, somet important software has
been stolen and the lead engineer's 10-year-old daughter is missing.
She's someone Sam previously guarded in Saudia Arabia.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. This rerun finds a way to cut through Backstrom's icy
facade: His former fiance (well-played by Sarah Chalke) arrives to
head the Civilian Oversight Committee.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. A rerun of the Dec. 1 episode offers a battle between
good and evil.

“Black Sails,” 9
p.m., Starz. Juggling a precarious peace on her island, Eleanor
brokers a deal.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Dakota Johnson grew up around Hollywood
fame, via her parents (Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith), grandmother
(Tippi Hedren) and stepfather (Antonio Banderas). She showed a nimble
comedy touch with “Ben and Kate,” then tured serious with “Fifty
Shades of Grey.” Now she's back on the light side, hosting “SNL,”
with music from Alabama Shakes.

TV column for Friday, Feb. 27


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Unlikely Animal Friends” season-opener, 10 p.m. ET, NatGeo Wild.

Mr. G, a goat, was
getting an upgrade, moving from a dirt lot to an animal refuge.
Still, he fell into a deep despondency; desperately, people fetched
his old dirt-lot buddy Jellybean, a 1,000-pound donkey. The two
resumed their friendship ... and have topped six-million YouTube
views.

That's one of many
delightful stories tonight. A two-legged chihuaha frolics with a
chicken. A wallaby shares a zookeeper's apartment. A cat joins its
man in rigorous mountain-climbing. And a 100-pound dog patiently
tolerates a squirrel who zips around him ... and sometimes hides nuts
inside his hair.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Amazing Race” and more, 8-11 p.m., CBS.

After being boosted
by a post-“Survivor” debut Wednesday, “Race” settles into its
regular slot. The duos – some dating, some strangers linked via
“blind dates” -- continue their five-continent rush.

That gives CBS a
strong night, when you add in its solid Friday cop shows. At 9 p.m.,
“Hawaii Five-0” has McGarrett and Danny working on their
relationship during a stakeout; guest stars include Cloris Leachman
and Jon Lovitz. At 10, “Blue Bloods” has a rerun, with Danny and
Erin arguing over an old case revived; their brother Jamie faces the
wrath of his fellow street cops.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “12 Monkeys,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

Already a terrific
show, “Monkeys” has one of its best and most pivotal episodes.

Cole, the
time-traveler, may know the starting point of the plague that will
wipe out most of the world. To get him there, Cassie's boyfriend (a
Senate aide) must steal key info. Then events unfold powerfully.

Other choices
include:

Cesar Millan
marathon, NatGeo Wild. “Cesar 911” starts its season at 9 p.m.
ET, surrounded by reruns at 7, 9 and 10 p.m. Earlier, Millan's “Love
My Pit Bull” is at 1 p.m. ET, followed by his Las Vegas stage show
at 2; his old “Dog Whisperer” series continues reruns at 7 a.m.
and 4 p.m. ET weekdays.

“The Night Shift,”
8 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of Monday's opener. TC has been
suspended, but still ends up on a tense medical case with his
ex-girflfriend Jordan and her new boyfriend Scott.

“Glee,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. The club's first public performance may not be an ideal venue.
It's the bar mitzvah of a high-strung and demanding kid.

“Great
Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This concert
offers tunes from Italian movies. Many of them, alas, are
unimpressive on their own; still, two of them are given an awesome
confluence of talent: Renee Fleming (looking Oscar-ready in gold and
then in blazing blue) joins two talented Joshes (Groban and Bell) and
the New York Philharmonic, for some splendid moments.

“Banshee,” 10
p.m., Cinemax. Some “Banshee” episodes are brilliantly written;
others merely glue together a string of brutal fight scenes. This is
the latter, as the sheriff chases a near-invincible killer to
Lousiana. The mega-gruesome result assumes a French Quarter with few
people and zero police.

“Sexbox,” 10,
WE; reruns at 11:58. Two people tell (in TV-safe phrases) something
unsatisfying about their sex lives. Three “experts” -- profoundly
unlikable people, mostly – comment. Then the two go into a box and
emerge saying they've just had better sex. In most ways, this is a
truly awful show.

“Vice,” 11 p.m.,
HBO. Using bold methods – even employing the AIDS virus – test
cases have fought cancer successfully, this report says. It visits
test patients in Philadelphia and Rochester, Minn.

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“How to Get Away With Murder” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., ABC.

“Murder: has
borrowed the formula that helps cable thrive – fewer episodes,
bigger episodes, conflicted heroes, a story that pushes from week to
week, wrapping up as the season ends.

These hours (the
14th and 15th), conclude a season that started
with the death of Lila, a student having an affair with Sam, the
husband of steel-willed law professor Annalise; when he attacked her
students (who were finding the truth), they killed him and hid the
body. Tonight's first hour flashes back to Lila's death; the second
sees whether the cover-up will be effective.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 9:01 p.m., CBS.

TV's funniest show
ended last week's episode with a rare somber moment, when Howard
learned that his mother had died. Carol Susi, who voiced her, had
died of cancer last November at 62.

Tonight, returning
from the funeral, Howard and Bernadette run into airport trouble;
also, an experiment that claims it can make anyone fall in love gets
the ultimate test – Sheldon and Penny. Later, a rerun has Penny
tell Bernadette what her co-workers really think of her.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Artcher,” 10 p.m., FX.

This unusual comedy
– animated, inconsistent, occasionally hilarious – has one of its
best outings. Archer and Lana are taking their baby to meet her
parents – Berkeley academics who think both of them have been
working forever on doctorates.

That deception
evaporates during a gun fight and car chase. Despite a lame ending,
it's a clever episode.

Other choices
include:

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Amelia lectures the other doctors on her plan for
innovative brain surgery to remove Dr. Herman's tour. Meanwhile,
Herman (Geena Davis), accustomed to hearing that the tumor is
inoperable, continues to prepare Arizona (Kate Capshaw) to take over
her speciality.

“The Odd Couple,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Last week's opener – filled with sharp one-liners –
set the basics: Oscar (Matthew Perry), a slovenly sports-radio guy,
is suddenly sharing his aspartment with Felix (Thomas Lennon), a
precise photographer. Now a retired athlete (Geoff Stults of
“Enlisted” and “The Finder”) wants Oscar's help with his
autobiography ... which is fine until Felix also “helps.”

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. A killer dubbed “The Deerhunter” tracks his victims
like prey.

“Mom,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. After a week off, this show slips into its new timeslot,
with Christy finding that she really prefers sex when there's a risk
of being caught.

“The Victoria's
Secret Swim Special,” 10 p.m., CBS. With spring coming – really,
we checked the calendar – it's time to see fashions that will look
good on any woman who happens to have a large frame and zero body
fat. Eleven models are in Puerto Rico, with music by Maroon 5 and
Juanes.

“Vikings,” 10
p.m., History. Even harsh shows usually settle for one dismemberment
scene; this hour has two – a head early, an arm later ... in what
was supposed to be an agrarian mission Ragnar and his ex-wife had
been promised English farm land. They got it ... but were also asked
to join a battle; last week saw a victory over half the enemy forces;
this hour – well-made, if nasty – brings the aftermath.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Now for something
thoroughly original and partially hilarious – an episode that
focuses only on Claire's computer screen. The first moments are
unclear and there are times when the images are too small to grasp on
a smaller TV; stick with it, though, because this builds wonderfully.

Claire is at the
airport and Phil is watching the kids ... except he's really only
watching his new video game. Suddenly, discoveries cascade as images
leap onscreen; some moments are truly brilliant.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Survivor” opener, 8-9:30 p.m., CBS.

For its 30th
edition, “Survivor has hatched a new way to split its tribes. This
one is by job type.

The blue-collar
tribe might be hardy; it has an oil-driller, a cop, a rodeo rider and
a contractor, plus, oddly, a hairdresser and a postal worker. The
white-collar one might be more cunning; it has corporate types,
marketing/media people, a buyer and a former talent-agent assistant.
Then there's the “no-collar” tribe, ranging from a hearing
advocate (partially overcoming deafness with cochlear implants) to a
sailing instructor. a coconut vendor and an aspiring actor who had a
popular YouTube moment.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERATIVE: “The Amazing Race,” 9:30-11 p.m., CBS.

Here's the ultimate
blind date: Strangers meet, then start a race across five continents
and 35,000 miles. That happens to five duos here; two lawyers are
paired, a doctor is with a nurse, etc.

There are also six
couples who were already dating. Some are fairly new -- bronze-medal
Olympians Aly Dudek (speed skating) and Steve Langton (bobsledding)
have been together seven months – and some not. Jonathan Knight
(of New Kids on the Block) and Harley Rodriguez have been together
seven years; two others (ages 26 and 25) have dated 10 years. After
tonight, the race goes to Fridays.

Other choices
include:

“Argo” (2012,
FX) or “21 Jump Street” (2012, FXX), both 7:30 p.m. Here are
dandy films, in opposite ways. “Jump Street” is a
loose-but-clever variation on the TV show about cops going undercover
in high school. “Argo” is Ben Affleck's superb Oscar-winner about
a real-life rescue scheme.

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. In a packed hour, the top 12 men – ranging in age from
15 to 29 -- will sing and viewers will have their first vote of the
season. On Thursday, the women have their turn.

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings). When it comes to helicopter
parenting, nothing matches the orangutan. A mom only has a baby every
eight of nine years, then obsesses on it. In Sumatra, however, young
orangutans have been orphaned by logging or the pet trade. In this
alternatey disturbing and uplifting film, they're taught wilderness
skills, then taken to a reserve.

“Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. It's a “Will & Grace” reunion, when
Eric McCormack guests on Debra Messing's show. He plays her former
fiance ... who's also the prime suspect in a murder.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Brick became a teen-ager three months ago. Alas, his mom
has finally realized that no one remembered his birthday.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. Barry wants to have an epic day, in the tradition of
the movie “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.” It soon goes badly ... and
his brother and grandfather only make it worse.

“Empire,” 9
p.m., Fox. This seems logical – a “legacy album,” featuring
recording mogul Lucious and two sons who are emerging stars. But the
sons are feuding, their brother is scheming and their mom (Taraji
Henson) is ready for a collision with Camilla (Naomi Campbell).

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. Rayna has finally had enough of Jeff Fordham, the scheming
record mogul. She reveals his indiscretions, setting off a chain of
reactions.