TV column for Wednesday, March 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Empire” season-finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

With emotions in
hyperdrive (sweetened by occasional songs), “Empire” has soared
in the ratings. Those emotions peaked last week, when Lucious
admitted to a gunman that he's the biological father of the girl his
son had considered his own. We found new reasons to hate him ... or
to admire his courage.

Both views are
common in this show, where Cookie (the superb Taraji Henson),
Lucious' ex-wife, has become our favorite ex-con. Tonight, their sons
have a musical duel; Patti LaBelle also performs.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Melissa & Joey,” 8 p.m., ABC Family.

At a time when
comedies are wobbling, this has great quantity (82 episodes in its
first three seasons) and adequate quality. The stars (Melissa Joan
Hart and Joey Lawrence) are likable, the jokes are OK and the stories
– unlike tonight's “Baby Daddy” – are non-stupid. Here's the
last new one until June.

After raising her
niece and nephew, Melissa is married to Joey and obsessing on getting
pregnant. Now comes a jolt: Her nephew, who left suddenly to work
for AmeriCorps, has returned just as abruptly.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Untold Story of 'The Sound of Music,'” 10 p.m.,
ABC.

Fifty years ago this
month, the “Sound” movie debuted. Many critics grumped, noting
(correctly) that the story is slim and tepid; fans cheered, noting
(also correctly) that the music and Julie Andrews are superb. One
list says only “Gone With the Wind” and “Star Wars” have sold
more tickets.

The songs still
soar, as Lady Gaga and Carrie Underwood have proven lately. Now ABC
-- which shows “Sound” annually -- views the history of the film
and the real events that it (and the Broadway musical) fictionalized
broadly. Diane Sawyer takes Andrews to key Austrian sites she'd never
visited.

Other choices
include:

“Survivor,” 8
and 9 p.m., CBS. So far, the hardy “blue collar” team has been
untouched, while “white collar” lost one person (retail buyer So
Kim) and “no collar” lost two (Vince Sly, a coconut vendor, and
Nina Poersch, an advocate for the hearing-impaired). Now CBS promises
to shake up the teams.

“The Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, a murder victim was a drag queen
AND a member of a secret fight club. Also, a friend (Kelly
Rutherford) takes Laura on a wild night on the town.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. The Hecks learn that Darrin proposed to Sue ... and learn
what she said.

“Baby Daddy,”
8:30 p.m., ABC Family. Loud and cartoonish, this show starts with an
awful plot, then piles things on noisily. Riley kept dating Ben, even
after knowing that she loved Danny (his brother) and Danny loved her.
Also, Ben and his mom wretchedly botch a secret-admirer Web scheme.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Claire grabs the last remaining first-class
seat on the plane, leaving Phil in coach. Also, Sal (Elizabeth Banks)
gets a belated baby shower.

“CSI: Cyber,” 10
p.m., CBS. Someone is hacking into the dispatch system of a car
service, in order to target some of its high-end clients.

More drama, 10 p.m.,
cable. For classy hours, try FX's “The Americans” (Elizabeth has
a tough request) or BBC America's “Broadchurch” (Ellie finds some
distrubing evidence), which follows a terrific “Sherlock” at 8.
For something else, E reruns its debut of the glitzy “The Royals.”

TV column for Tuesday, March 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“iZombie” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

TV people just can't
stay dead these days. Post-death, they've been nasty (“Walking
Dead,” “Z Nation”), perplexed (“The Returned,”
“Resurrection”) or heroic (“A.D”). Now comes bemused.

Liv (Rose McIver), a
diligent medical resident, inadvertently attends a zombie party. She
becomes one of the undead, then gets a morgue job because she must
occasionally eat brains; as a bonus, she gets flashes of memory from
the people she devoured, helping catch killers. Rob Thomas (“Victoria
Mars”), the director and co-writer, adapts this from a comic book;
the result cleverly mixes drama and humor.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Undateable” season-oppener, 9 p.m., NBC.

In its first season,
“Undateable” had some moments that were witty – we expect that
from Bill Lawrence, the “Scurbs” and “Cougar Town” producer –
and some when the cynicism hit overload. The latter problem may
continue tonight; crass Danny teaches earnest Justin to have a
one-stand. Balancing that, however, is the addition of actress-singer
Bridgit Mendler, 22, as a wide-eyed waitress.

Mendler was very
likeable starring in Disney's “Lemonade Mouth” and “Good Luck
Charlie.” We'll hope this season is an improvement, making up for
the lame show (“One Big Happy”) that follows.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “180 Days: Hartsville,” 8 and 9 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

Hartsville is a
hard-scabble town of 7,800, in a state (South Carolina) that finished
45th in the 2013 test scores. Families face cutbacks in
state funding, food programs and more; we meet a mom who leaves for
her first job at 6:15 a.m. and returns from her second at 11 p.m.

Still, local scores
are on the rise. Tracing a school year, “180 Days” is sometimes
discouraging – a parent-involvement meeting draws one person –
but often ripples with idealism and optimism.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. The battle round continues, giving NBC's comedies a big
lead-in.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC. Here's a rerun of the fairly good pilot film,
with Eddie Huang recalling his culture shock at age 11: A big-city
hip-hop kid, he became the only Chinese-American in his Orlando
school. This pilot makes his mom cartoonish, but has enough clever
moments to hold us.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Gibbs is enraged by a scam hitting military
families.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. This reruns an episode that reunited the
“Quantum Leap” stars. Scott Bakula traces a 40-year-old case;
Dean Stockwell plays the father of his city-council enemy.

“One Big Happy,”
9:30 p.m., NBC. Two longtime friends – she's gay, he's not –
agreed to conceive a baby. Then he meets someone with an irresistable
combination -- big breasts and a British accent. This is occasionally
funny (thanks to Elisha Cuthbert as the mom-to-be), but mostly just
blunt and noisy.

“The Mindy
Project,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Now that her pregnancy is showing, Mindy
consults a stylist.

“Justified,” 10
p.m., FX. One of the show's best characters makes a powerhouse
return. Four years ago, Kaitlyn Dever played Loretta, an orphaned
waif mentored by the local crime matriarch. She now plays the
youngest daughter on “Last Man Standing,” but tonight (at 18)
makes a key guest shot here. With guts, brains and inherited money,
Loretta throws a fresh complication into local crime schemes.

TV column for Monday, March 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Dancing With the Stars” opener, 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

OK, many of these
people aren't really stars; they are, however, a varied bunch. They
range in age from 14 (Willow Shields, the “Hunger Games” sister)
to 68 (Suzanne Somers) and 70 (Patti LaBelle). There are athletes:
Michael Sam was the first openly gay pro-football draftee; Nastia
Liukin is an Olympic gold-medal gymnast, paired with frequent winner
Derek Hough. There's also a farmer (Chris Soules, fresh from “The
Bachelor”), a wounded Iraq veteran (Noah Galloway) and a “Shark
Tank” investor (Robert Herjavec), plus Rumer Willis, Riker Lynch,
Charlotte McKinney and Redfoo.

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

For comedy fans, the
bad news is that basketball is taking over the next two Thursdays.
That leaves “Big Bang” -- plus “Odd Couple” and “Mom” --
temporarily homeless.

The good news is
that “Big Bang” gets a Monday spot tonight, for a funny rerun.
The guys consider investing in the comic-book store, after it's
gutted by fire; also, Raj's girlfriend is cold to Penny.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Returned,” 10:01 p.m., A&E.

Quietly compelling,
this drama catches the way people might really react – understated,
maybe unstated – when the impossible happens. In the opener,
Camille calmly walked home, unaware that she had died; she's still
15, her twin sister is now 19.

There was much more,
including a murder; now the probe turns to Simon ... who's not aware
he died six years ago. This sounds goofy, but it's done with a solid
sense of what normal people might do in a paranormal situation; like
the French mini-series it's based on, “Returned” is thoroughly
involving.

Other choices:

“Jamaica Inn,”
any time, www.acorn.tv. With their gothic mood, Daphne du Maurier's
stories were a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock. He made two into
successful films (“Rebecca,” “The Birds”), but stumbled with
“Inn.” Now it's a British mini-series that reaches the U.S. over
the next three Mondays. Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil in “Downton
Abbey”) plays a penniless beauty who finds dark deeds in her aunt's
inn. The performances and visuals are splendid, but the story is grim
and predictable.

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The “battle rounds” continue through Tuesday,
with the possibility of stealing members of other teams. Next week
brings the “knockout round.”

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. In a rerun from November, assassins attack Wayne Manor.
Bruce and Selena (the future Batman and Catwoman) are on the run.

“The Following,”
9 p.m., Fox. Last week, Ryan's FBI boss was kidnapped and brutally
killed. Enraged, Ryan makes a risky move.

“Bates Motel,” 9
p.m., A&E. “Unhinged women seem drawn to you,” Norma Bates
tells her son. She soon shows signs of being the least-hinged of all.
Obsessed with the disappearance of a gorgeous prostitute whom Norman
knew, Norma seems increasingly (an interestingly) berserk.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business Network. While other
small towns lose movie theaters, Berwick – a Pennsylvania borough
of 11,000 – has clung to its theater. Inheriting it from her
grandfather (who had it for 40 years), the new owner says it has no
profits and great importance.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. A relentless Hong Kong detective helps probe a New York
case. Soon, however, Castle suspects that many of the people aren't
who they claim to be.

TV column for Saturday, March 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“In an Instant,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

When Jenna Otter was
18, she celebrated her high school graduation by hiking Glacier
National Park with her dad. Turning a bend, they abruptly confronted
a 400-pound grizzly and her two cubs.

Johan Otter, 43, a
hospital administrator, managed to divert the bear from his daughter;
he ended up with severe injuries ... but survived and even joked
about it. A decade later, their story is the third chapter of
“Instant,” which blends memories and re-enactments to tell
compelling stories.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Portrait of Love,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark.

This plot has fueled
approximately 3.7 million novels and TV movies: A big-city woman,
very successful and mildly happy, visits her little home town, where
her former boyfriend still lives.

That's repeated
here, with few surprises and fewer disappointments. It works, thanks
to an art theme, likable stars (Bree Williamson, Jason Dohring) and
the energetic style of K.T. Donaldson. That's the name actor
Kristoffer Tabori uses when directing, which he's good at ... as was
his dad, “Dirty Harry” director Don Siegel. Even without
gunfights or surprises, vigorous visuals can propel a movie.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Basketball, all day.

On the eve of the
NCAA tournament selections, many conferences have their tournament
finals. For some teams, it's the only chance to move on; for others,
it's simply a shot at a higher seed.

Today, ESPN has the
finals of the Big 12 at 6 p.m. ET, Atlantic Coast Conference at 8:30
and Pac-12 at 11. Fox Sports 1 has Conference USA at 3:30 p.m. ET and
the Big East at 8. ESPN2 has a bunch – American East at 11 a.m.,
MEAC at 1 p.m., MAC at 7:30 and Southland at 9:30. Meanwhile, CBS and
ESPN have the Big Ten and SEC semi-finals at 1; the finals will be at
the edge of Sunday's selections.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a homeless man (former CIA agent
and Marine) has been killed. Going undercover, Deeks and Kensi find a
link to a Mexican cartel.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. This rerun has Backstrom's former fiance (Sarah Chalke)
presiding over his misconduct probe. Also, his tenant is a suspect in
the murder of a drag queen.

“Good Witch,” 8
p.m., Hallmark. Credit this episode with ambition, anyway. It throws
everyone together at the Heritage Festival Ball, with a half-dozen
stories, from important (will the runaway testify?) to some teen
silliness . It's all fairly pleasant, even if most things get
resolved way too easily.

“Safe Haven”
(2012), 8:30 p.m., USA. Based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, this seems
like a standard tale of a woman on the lam (Julianne Hough) and a
widower (Josh Duhamel). The difference is that Lasse Hallstrom
(“Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat”) directed with restraint and
skill.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. A rerun finds the team stumped when victims have little
in common. Also, A.J. is troubled by her sister's death; Candy Clark
(“American Graffiti”) returns as their mother.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. In this rerun, Ichabod flashes back to memories of his
friend Abigail Adams, played by Michelle Trachtenberg of “Buffy”
and “Gossip Girl.”

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Kevin Hart hosts this rerun, with music by
Sia.

 

TV column for Friday, March 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox.

After six fresh and
flashy seasons, “Glee” concludes next week. First, here are some
pivotal points.

Back home, it's time
for the glee-club sectionals, with the Warblers and New Directions.
And in New York, Rachel must decide whether to return to the arts
academy or do another Broadway show with her former love Jesse St.
James. They're played by Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff ... who
really did star together on Broadway (in the Tony-winning “Spring
Awakenings”), just before “Glee” began.

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

Jonathan Knight is
still in the race, but barely. Knight (New Kids on the Block), 46, is
racing with Harley Rodriguez, 41, a fitness trainer and his partner
of seven years. Last week, they finished last ... then were relieved
to learn it wasn't an elimination round; in tonight's round – which
includes the chaos of Bangkok's streets -- they'll face an extra
“speed bump.”

Another couple is
doing much better. Matt Cucolo, 30, and Ashley Gordon, 28, are
hairstylists who have been dating for three years. Last week, he
proposed and she said yes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Banshee” season-finale, 10 p.m., Cinemax.

This could well be
the nastiest hour in TV history. It has two big shoot-em-ups, plus a
beheading, a dismemberment and a cascade of F-words. As usual,
brilliant craftsmanship redeems most of this ... but not the show's
wretched obsession with torture.

Tonight, Carrie --
scam artist and estranged wife of the mayor (a former soldier) – is
the prime target. She's been identified as part of a $6-million
heist; so have two others, leaving only one team member (the sheriff)
free. The season ends with emotions high and death toll higher.

Other choices
include:

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Coming home early from their anniversary
celebration, Mike and Vanessa find that Mandy is planning a party,
including beer for underaged guests.

“Despicable Me”
(2010), 8:15 p.m., Disney. It's an animated evening, with this comedy
followed by two new episodes of “Star Wars Rebels.”

“Cristela,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Cristela's boss wants her to be with him at a fundraiser,
on the same day she'd promised to sponsor her nephew at his
confirmation ceremony. Then new trouble appears.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Trying to protect a young man from gangs, McGarrett and
Odell (Michael Imperioli) end up under siege in Odell's barber shop.

“12 Monkeys,” 9
p.m., Syfy. If this had ended two weeks ago, it would have been a
great miniseries. Instead, it's begun a wild detour. With her
time-travel machine now depleted – and Cole dumped into the wrong
year -- Jones is desperate to get use of the massive machinery
controlled by Col. Foster.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Eddie (Vanessa Ray) has her first undercover
assignment, targeting a group that pretends to have youth hostels.
Also, Frank helps a woman from a long-ago case.

“Helix,” 10
p.m., Syfy. Last week had some brilliant moments, with Brother
Michael (Steven Weber) being imprisoned by his followers/offspring.
Flashing forward 30 years, he was freed, resumed his evil ways and
was disposed of permanently. Now scientists scour the island for a
andidote to the virus.