TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 2

All night, NBC.

Two fun competitions
have reached their key points now: “America's Got Talent” (8
p.m.) finally names half its top 10. “Last Comic Standing” (10
p.m.) already as its 10; they have one-on-one face-offs tonight,
leaving us with the final five for next week's season-finale,

Meanwhile, the hour
between these two shows has imroved, now that the lame “Mr.
Robinson” has vanished and the better “Carmichael Show” has
stepped in at 9 and 9:30 p.m.. “Carmichael” has some clever
moments in the first episode, when Jerrod convinces is dad to eat

II: “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.

What could possibly
go wrong on Mother's Day? A lot, this hilarious rerun says.

Frankie's kids are
inept at buying gifts ... her husband is worse at making a tea-party
reservation ... and her own mom (Marsha Mason) brings more troubles.
Also, Frankie asks the kids what they'll do differently when they're
parents; the kids, alas, answer honestly – and at length.

ALTERNATIVE: “Young & Hungry” and “Kevin From Work,” 8
and 8:30 p.m., ABC Family.

Roommate problems
complicate both of these likable comedies. For “Young” (which
often suffers from bluntness), Sofia is jobless and miserable; Gabi
must convince her that a non-existent job is real.

And for “Kevin”
(one of the summert's better surprises), the bad roommate is his
sister. He wants her out ... but also frets that she's having an
affair with Roger, her work colleague. Kevin disapproves; she's
played by Jordan Hinson, 24, and Roger is played by Fred Willard, 75.

Other choices

“High Scool
Musical” (2006), 2 p.m., and “High School Musical 2” (2007), 8
p.m., Disney. Just before the real school year gets serious, kids can
see how much fun a fictional one is. These two films offer buoyant
music, zesty visuals and an OK story; “High School Musical 3”
airs at 8 p.m. Thursday.

“America's Next
Top Model,” 8 p.m., CW. Two complications emerge – a romance
between two models ... and despair over the notion that there will be
no touch-ups after this photo shoot.

“Extant,” 9
p.m., CBS. A week before the season-finale, Molly keeps groping for
answers. She tries to learn about her late husband's mysterious
colleague; also, she asks Charlie, the tech guy, to figure out who
Lucy (her human-like robot) is really getting orders from.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. A valedictorian battle, decided by (literally) a
run-off? That happens here, when Alex is tied for the honor; both
teens have a gym incomplete, so their run could settle this. Also,
Gloria prepares for her citizen test, but she's distracted by Manny's
dad (Benjamin Bratt).

9:31 p.m., ABC. Dre is convinced his son needs some black friends.
Meanwhile, his wife picks the wrong day to take their daughter to

“Mr. Robot,” 10
p.m., USA. Here – after being delayed a week – is the
season-finale of this compelling and complex series about a rogue
hacker and the war inside his mind.

“Twinning,” 10
p.m., VH1. Two mismatched elements are juggled here – the
intriguing psychological question of whether twins think alike ...
and the messy, name-calling style of reality TV. Now that reaches a
mid-point; after starting with a dozen sets of identical twins, the
show trims to six.


TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 1

“Tyrant” season-finale, 10 p.m., FX.

No show – not even
“Empire” or “Scandal” -- has matched this show for powerhouse
plot twists. And this season – unlike the first – has somehow
maintained depth and even some subtlety.

The big blows have
been to Jamal, the tyrant in this fictional, Middle Eastern country.
His wife and son have moved to overthrow him; his brother Bassam (a
Pasadena pediatrician named Barry when this started) led a resistance
against him. Now new questions emerge: Will Jamal be killed? Where
will his family fit into this new world? And can Barry really go back
to his old life after this mega-adventure?

“In Their Own Words” debut, 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Here's a different
approach to profiles – using mostly quotes from the subjects, mixed
with reflections and photos from people who knew them.

Coming are Muhammad
Ali (Sept. 8) and Jim Henson (Sept. 15). First, however, is Queen
Elizabeth. This includes comments from former national leaders
(George H.W. Bush and Britain's John Major), plus actor Ben Kingsley,
“King's Speech” screenwriter David Siedler and Elizabeth herself.

ALTERNATIVE: “iZombie” (CW) or “Dusk Till Dawn” (El Rey),
both 9 p.m.

This is what passes
for variety these days – choosing between different styles of
zombie/vampire shows. CW has the light, amiable type; when Liv
munches brains in the morgue, she gains memories and moods; that's
fun in this rerun, when the victims are teens and she adds some giddy

By comparison, El
Rey (via cable or satellite) has a dead-serious effort. This is a
series of great scenes that don't always make a good show. Robbers
scheme, a killer stalks, a cop frets, two women (a wife and a
girlfriend) seem overwhelmed; so do viewers, but there are impressive
moments along the way.

Other choices

“America's Got
Talent,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. A dozen acts are back to start a new
round. On Wednesday, some of them will become half of the show's top

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. Here are four reruns of this above-average
comedy, many of them focusing on Eddie's odd mom. In the first
episode, she gives the boys extra homework. In the third (9 p.m.),
she delays taking her Realtor exam; in the fourth, her sister and
rich brother-in-law visit.

“NCIS.” 8 p.m.,
CBS. This rerun continues the efforts of NCIS' cyber expert. Evidence
says people are using the Internet to recruit children for acts of

“Zoo,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. The entire team is on the run now, trying to find a cure for the

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Phil was happier when he thought he really
was the last guy on Earth, responsible for all procreation. Now he
fumes because there's another guy ... chubby Todd, who seems to be
having lots of spirited sex with the beautiful half (January Jones)
of the female population.

“Public Morals,”
10 p.m., TNT. In the show's second episode, Muldoon (Edward Burns),
the show's creator and star) investigates the murder of his uncle,
who's a cop.

“Hollywood Game
Night,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. This fun show mixes singer Joe Jonas,
dancer Cheryl Burke and comedian Jeff Dye with actors Jenna Elfman,
Seth Green and Michelle Trachtenberg

TV column for Monday, Aug. 31

“The Whispers” finale, 10:01 p.m., ABC.

This oft-compelling
story began eerily, with the unseen Dril whispering evil schemes to
children. It peaked last week, when officials were sure Dril was
occupying the body of little Minx; they decided to kill her and end
him. Her dad rescued her just in time, as we learned the truth:

Dril is actually in
the body of the president's daughter ... who stood up at a live
telecast and screeched. That seems to be part of Dril's endgame ...
but what is it? And can anyone stop it? We'll see soon.

II: “So You Think You Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m.. Fox.

By the end of
tonight, the show will have its final four dancers, propelling them
to a two-Monday “season finale.” First, however, we get to see
six amazing – and varied -- talents.

“Team Street”
has Virgil Gadson, 28, a 5-foot-3 firecracker who's already been on
Broadway ... Jaja Vankova, 23, a Czech krumper (really) who's already
an “America's Best Dance Crew” champion ... and Megz Alfonso, 29,
a Long Island hip hopper. “Team Stage” has people who specialize
in ballet (Jim Nowakowski, 26) ... tap (Gaby Diaz, 19) ... and jazz
(Hailee Payne, 20).

ALTERNATIVE: Lea Thompson shows, all night, cable.

For many people,
Thompson's key role was in the dandy “Back to the Future” films.
AMC has them at 11:30 a.m. (1985), 2 p.m. (1989) and 4:30 p.m.
(1990), then repeats the first two at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

But nowadays, she's
co-starring in “Switched at Birth,” an above-average drama.
Tonight (8 p.m., ABC Family), dreams of mounting her own musical ...
unaware of financial problems. Meanwhile, college life is tough on
the teens: Daphne lost her scholarship; Bay – finally taking a
Spanish class – is struggling with her break-up ... and is seen by
most people as “the girl from the assault investigation.”

Other choices

“Bachelor in
Paradise,” 8 p.m., ABC. Life is complicated for the Ashleys. Nick
is eager to dump Ashley S., so he goes on a date with Chelsea; Ashley
I., determined to nab the semi-interested Jarred, asks for a special
chance to use the fantasy suite for an “overnight date.”

“Fashion Police”
return, 8 p.m., E. For a time, it looked like “Police” had
imploded. Joan Rivers died, Kelly Osbourne quit (protesting Giuliana
Rancic's quip about Zendaya's dreadlocks) and the show was suspended.
But now it's back, with a look at Sunday's Video Music Awards.
Melissa Rivers (Joan's daughter) and Brad Goreski host join Rancic,
with NeNe Leakes and Margaret Cho as guests.

“The Odd Couple,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Felix – who tends to overdo everything
– becomes a substitute yoga teacher. Meanwhile, Oscar and Dani –
no fans of city living – are stuck in a subway. Guest stars are
Weird Al Yankovic (doing yoga) and Regis Philbin (in the subway).

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. Stolen rockets are hidden on a cruise ship, so the team
has to go undercover as crew members. Also in this rerun, Valentine's
Day nears and young Ralph has his first crush.

“Gone Girl”
(2014), 9 p.m., HBO. If you haven't seen the movie or read the book,
settle in for a great ride. Ben Affleck and the Oscar-nominated
Rosamund Pike are suburb in a smart and dizzying tale.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. A dangerous sniper has escaped from a
veterans' hospital in this rerun. Scrambling to stop him, Kensi
recalls her own time as a sniper.

“POV,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). This deeply depressing film tells the
story (with English sub-titles) of young Cambodians who are duped
into slavery abroad. We meet an “agent” who ships them away and
enjoys luxury. And we meet a teen-ager who barely survived her
two-year ordeal.


TV column for Sunday, Aug. 30

“MTV Music Video Awards,” 9 p.m., MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central;
rerunning at 11:20.

Once a year, MTV
remembers music videos; then it does it up big. Tonight, it has Miley
Cyrus hosting, Kanye West getting a Vanguard Award and Taylor Swift
(in the 8 p.m. pre-show) debuting a video.

And there are lots
of performances – Pharrell Williams, Demi Lovato, Macklemore &
Ryan Lewis, Tori Kelly, Weeknd, A$AP Rocky and Twenty One Pilots.
Kendrick Lamar leads with five nominations, including
video-of-the-year, alone (“Alright”) and with Swift (“Bad
Blood”). They face Beyonce (“7/11”), Ed Sheeran (“Thinking
Out Loud”) and Mark Ronson with Bruno Mars (“Uptown Funk”).

II: “Save My Life, Boston Trauma” finale, 10 p.m. Sunday, ABC.

Tossed around the
weekend schedule, this well-made ABC News series hasn't had the
attention it deserves. Tonight's finale sees the results of two
falls: A young woman, about to win a rock-climbing event, fell 25
feet; a man tried to stop his wife from plunging down the stairs, but
they both fell.

Also, a man's wife
and kids fume because he didn't take his blood-pressure medicine ...
then turn somber when they learn he could die or lose his leg.

ALTERNATIVE: “Explorer” return, 8 p.m., National Geographic; and
“Elephant Queen” 9 p.m., NatGeo WilD.

Back in 1985, when
basic-cable channels were scrambling for anything new, “Explorer”
arrived. Produced by National Geographic, it bought documentaries
from around the world. It drew praise and awards, while shuffling
between five cable channels ... then disappeared in 2012.

Now it's back and
ambitious. This opener uses a fake elephant tusk to trace the link
between the slaughter of elephants and the arming of warlords. It's a
grim hour, but afterward switch channels; NatGeo focuses on one
elephant-family's trek, reminding us why these animals are worth

Other choices

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
NBC. A weekend filled with pre-season football concludes with two
teams that have had opposite success. The Arizona Cardinals were 11-5
last season, but are 0-2 this pre-season; they visit the Oakland
Raiders, who were 3-13 last season, landing receiver Amari Cooper as
the No. 4 draft choice overall. He's caught four passes for 62 yards
this pre-season, with the Raiders at 1-1.

(2010), 8-9:45 p.m., Disney. A weekend stuffed with animated hits
concludes with this musical version of the Rapunzel tale.

Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. Garret Dillahunt (“Raising Hope”)
guests in this rerun, as the best police detective in New York. Jake
is happy he's there ... until he plans to ask Amy for a date.

Secretary,” 9 p.m., CBS. Shaken by the attack in Iran, Elizabeth
tries to prevent ecological disaster in the Amazon. Also, she and her
husband disagree about their son's security at his new school.

“Fear the Walking
Dead,” 9 p.m. Sunday, AMC, rerunning at 10:01. Like last week's
opener (which reruns at 7:30 p.m.), this is relatively light on gore
and strong on character depth and emotion. We're still in the first
moments of a zombie apocalypse, through the eyes of two smart, decent
people, beautifully played by Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis. They know
something is wrong and want to flee to the desert, but must retrieve
his son, her daughter and her drug-addicted son.

“The Strain,” 10
p.m., FX. As soon as “Fear” ends, you can switch to another
well-crafted horror story. As vampire-like creatures (including his
wife) roam New York, Eph gropes for his son's respect. Now they must
work together, performing impromptu surgery under field conditions.

“Falling Skies”
finale, 10 p.m., TNT. For five seasons, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), once
an American history professor, has led a guerilla fight against alien
conquerers. Here's the final showdown.

TV column for Saturday, Aug. 29

“Inside Hurricane Katrina,” 8-10 p.m., National Geographic; also
at 11 p.m.

It was 10 years ago
today that Hurricane Katrina reached Louisiana, delivering brutal
damage. Two months later, National Geographic aired this compelling
film; now it's back, with a few updates.

Yes, this is a type
of footage and information we've had before. Still, there's fresh
power in re-assembling it into a sharp package, showing how it all
evolved. The first half praises agencies for advance efforts; the
second condemns their failure to adjust and react to a transforming

“Cars” (2006), 8-10:30 p.m., ABC.

The Disney people
want us to watch animated hits this weekend. The Disney Channel had
“Brave” on Friday and follows with the gorgeous “Mulan”
(1998) at 8 p.m. today and“Tangled” on Sunday. And tonight, ABC
(owned by Disney) adds to the primetime animation..

In “Cars,” race
whiz Lightning McQueen suddenly finds himself in the broken-down town
of Radiator Springs. There, he meets all sorts – including a clunky
tow truck -- and finally finds real life.

ALTERNATIVE: “Blunt Talk” and “Survivor's Remorse,” 9 and
9:31 p.m., Starz.

It's no surprise
that this “Blunt” episode is terrific. In last week's opener,
Patrick Stewart was brilliant as a news-talk host; he raged, cowered,
fought, interviewed himself and then (given the wrong medication)
collapsed. Now he comes to, while envisioning a dance number, and
faces fresh crises.

The real surprise,
however, is the “Remorse” that follows. The season-opener (like
the first season) was a comedy-drama that rarely included any comedy.
But tonight's episode – involving domestic violence to guys, not
usually a funny subject – gets big laughs. The two shows repeat at
10 and 11:05 p.m.

Other choices

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
CBS. The Seattle Seahawks visit the San Diego Chargers. The Seahawks
were 12-4 last year, but lost their first two pre-season games; the
Chargers, 9-7 last year, won their first two.

“Cedar Cove,” 8
p.m., Hallmark. Jack (Dylan Neal) risks his job to help Jeri, his
colleague and boss. Also, Paul (Colin Ferguson) warns Olivia to be
wary of Liz.

“Doctor Who”
marathon, 8 p.m. ET, BBC America. Here are three reruns with the
Doctor travelling with Amy (Karen Gillan). She fights aliens with
Vincent Van Gogh at 8 p.m., is endangerted (along with the TARDIS) at
9:15 and is quarantined at 10:30. Those rerun at 11:30 p.m., 12:45
a.m. and 2 a.m.

“Hell on Wheels,”
9 p.m., AMC, repeating at 10. In Salt Lake City, Cullen and Durant
meet with President Grant to discuss the railroad's future. Also, the
Swede launches his plan against the Mormons.

finale, 10 p.m., NBC. Somehow, this show managed to do three seasons
while drawing few viewers. Now it has the final effort by Will (Hugh
Dancy) to catch serial-killer Francis Dolarhyde, using Hannibal
Lecter. Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) warns that he's putting too many
lives in danger.

“Last Man
Standing,” 10:30, ABC. In a rerun of the season's second-to-last
episode, Vanessa tries to set up a date for her youngest daughter
Eve. But Eve may already have a suitor; Mike and his neighbor Chuck
(Jonathan Adams) figure it's Chuck's son.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Taraji Henson – whose “Empire” work
brought her Emmy and Television Critics Association nominations –
hosts the rerun, with music by Mumford & Sons.