TV column for Thursday, Nov. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

Things start at a
new low for Christy (Anna Faris) andr her mom Bonnie (Allison
Janney). Recovering alcoholics, they're sharing a friend's fold-out
couch when Christy's daughter comes home drunk.

The result is
simultaneously touching, tragic and funny. It also finally nudges
Bonnie into a job search. Naturally, she does it her way – by lying
outrageously. It's a grand showcase for Janney, who won two Emmys
this year, one for this role. It's also a reminder that this is one
of TV's best comedies.

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

Over its first eight
weeks, “Murder” has been a solid ratings success. Now it will
take a break, before showing the season's final six episodes. First,
it promises to settle key plot points tonight.

We know that Sam –
married to Annalise, the domineering law professor – had an affair
with his student; she was three months pregnant when she was killed.
A flash-forward has shown that he'll be killed and the law students
will hide his body; now we see what happened that night.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Ivory Tower,” 9-11 p.m., CNN.

This
higher-education documentary is sort of like college itself –
filled with things that are fascinating, but (at times) wildly
unrelated. It visits a working-ranch college in Death Valley, a free
school in New York, a once-homeless Harvard student and more. Each is
interesting; each detours from the subject.

In three decades,
the film says, states' support for education has plummeted, while
some schools pour money into fancy facilities and million-dollar
presidential salaries. A typical college grad doubles the lifetime
income of others, but with college debts topping $1 trillion, some
people question the value.

Other choices
include:

“Jaws” (1975),
6:15 and 9 p.m., IFC; or “The Birds” (1962), 8 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies. Two master directors use the animal kingdom to
frighten us – Steven Spielberg with a shark, Alfred Hitchcock (in a
flawed but interesting film) with birds.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. When Maggie and Meredith link, they disagree with Derek.
Meanwhile, Callie blames herself when one of the veterans is pushed
too far.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. Everyone Olivia knows seems to be in danger. Also, Cyrus
must face the consequences of his actions as the president's chief of
staff; Huck and Quinn finally figure out what Elizabeth North is up
to, but may be too late to prevent it.

“Gracepoint,” 9
p.m., Fox. Last week hit hard, when Tom Miller – a friend of the
slain Danny Solano – was angry about adult attitudes and ran away.
His bike was found in a woods as his mom (a police detective) became
increasingly desperate. Tonight's hour – the eighth of 10 – sees
the Solanos returning to work and school; also, new suspicion is
aimed at the cranky Susan Wright.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. This plan is getting serious now: Walden and
Alan, with their sham marriage, meet a pregnant woman who may let
them adopt her baby.

“The McCarthys,”
9:31 p.m., CBS. Jackie's doctor gave her a list of things she can't
do, now that she's pregnant. To show solidarity, her brothers and
parents try to forego the same things.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Sherlock Holmes isn't the type to admit a computer can
outthink him. When he takes a case involving software theft, he seems
more interested in debunking the program.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 19


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Thanksgiving comedies, 8-9:31 p.m., ABC.

From “Cheers” to
“Friends” and beyond, TV has set its best comedy episodes on
Thanksgiving, when all the characters can be slammed together in
fresh and funny ways. Now we get three straight.

That starts with
“The Middle” and a sink hole (literally) in the kitchen; new
problems come from the kids' dates. Then “The Goldbergs” (8:30)
has Erica trying to skip the feast and Uncle Marvin arriving as a
guest. “Modern Family” (9) has Phil taking over the cooking, with
his wife watching skeptically. Jay and Gloria thought they'd be out
of town, then (with rough results) don't tell anyone that they're
not.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
More Thanksgiving, cable.

If you want a
traditional Thanksgiving, switch to “Top Chef” at 10 p.m. on
Bravo, rerunning at 11:30: Contestants must prepare a feast, using
only the incredients the Pilgrems had.

And for a
less-traditional time? “Party Down South: Drunksgiving” is 9 p.m.
on CMT, rerunning at 10:17. As you may have assumed, it includes beer
and deep-fried turkey.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Fast, smart and and
tough, the killer whale (or orca) is imposing. “It's probably the
most terrifying predator since tyrannosaurus rex,” one scientist
says here. And now global warming gives it new turf.

Twenty of them
travel 2,500 miles in eight weeks, then create stunnig teamwork,
driving the narwahl near shore for a huge harvest. For now, Inuit
hunters (also hunting narwahl) are happy to have the help. Despite
flatly written narration and so-so music, this is an interesting
hour.

Other choices
include:

“Looper” (2012),
7:30-10 p.m., FX. Here's an exceptionally smart take on time-travel.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hit man, assigned to kill an older
version of himself. There are some great scenes with Jeff Daniels and
then a powerhouse ending.

“The Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. As Laura scrambles to find yet another nanny,
she also probes a double murder that may or may not have had a
religious motivation..

“The 100,” 9
p.m., After a sharp change of attitude, Kane leads a mission to try
to make peace with the Grounders. Also, Jarvis agrees to be part of a
risky experiment.

“Blackish,” 9:31
p.m., ABC. Dre's mother (Jenifer Lewis ) arrives, clashing quickly
with his wife.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. For the second straight time, this fictional show uses a
real ABC one for backdrop. Last week was “Dancing With the Stars”;
now it's the Country Music Association awardcast, with guest
appearances by Trisha Yearwood, Joe Nichols and the Band Perry. Rayna
and Luke (with a

combined 11 CMA
nominations) are happy– until she sees his papers for a pre-nuptual
agreement.

“American Horror
Story,” 10 p.m., FX. Since arriving as the show's strongman, Dell
Toledo (Michael Chiklis) has managed to bully everyone. Now the women
revolt.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

This had the making
of grand theater ... or disaster. In 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita
Kruschev toured the U.S. for two weeks, ranging from an Iowa corn
farm to the Hollywood set of “Can-Can.”

On one hand, this
uneducated man struck many Americans as “a warm, funny, vital
person,” historian William Taubman says. On the other, he angrily
warned that his people were “turning out missiles like sausages.”
It was a wild exaggeration, his son Sergei (now an Ivy Leaguer an and
American citizen) says in this fascinating film. “He said,
'Americans have to believe we have enough.'”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“MasterChef Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Gordon Ramsay, it
seems, actually has a mother ... and a seemingly pleasant one, at
that. Ramsay – who spends TV time cursing at grown-ups –
introduces his mum; then the kids make one of her favorites –
shepherd's pie, a meat/mashed potatoes dish that some of them had
never tried.

That's preceded by
goofy fun involving tied ankles and three-legged cooking. Then 10
chefs (ages 8-13) meet Ramsay's mom Helen, a young-ish woman (she
married at 17, had four kids by 22 and has said she faced years of
spousal abuse), who tells them Gordon didn't start cooking until he
was 17.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
Mickey Mouse, 9 a.m. to 8:05 p.m., Disney Channel.

It was 86 years ago
today that “Steamboat Willie” debuted. The black-and-white
cartoon (with scattered sounds) introduced Mickey Mouse. In recent
decades, the Disney monolith has mostly ignored its classic cartoons
... but has offered a slick, new computer-animated Mickey.

That's what we get
today. A “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” marathon starts at 9. Regulars
shows take over at 2 – but with a new-style, three-minute cartoon
every half-hour; there's a new Minnie Mouse one at 2:25 p.m., then
Mickey reruns at 2:55, 3:25, etc. That concludes with a new Mickey
short at 8.

Other choices
include:

“Shark Tank,” 8
p.m., ABC. Things are rough for comedy fans. Fresh from dumping the
so-so “Manhattan Love Story,” ABC also cancelled its Tuesday
companion, the fresh and witty “Selfie.”

Reality reruns fill
in -- “Shark Tank” tonight, “Dancing With the Stars” in some
other weeks.

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. Two people will be ousted, giving the show its top 10.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. A Navy corpsman who served two Afghanistant tours is charged
with illegally providing medical aid, after she helps victims of a
crash.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. A slain sailor has bought a wedding ring and
planned to propose ... but a probe can find no evidence his
girlfriend exists.

“Agents of
SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. The team has a face-off with Hydra. Also, the
terrific Hayley Atwell returns as Peggy Carter, a role she's played
in two Captain America movies, two upcoming Marvel movies, a couple
“SHIELD” episodes ... and the upcoming “Agent Carter” series.

“Marry Me,” 9
p.m., NBC. Here's the start of the annual rush of Thanksgiving comedy
episodes. This one has Annie (Casey Wilson) insisting she do the
feast – usually the province of her fiance's mom (JoBeth Williams).
Much of this is too heavy-handed, but the final minutes are quite
funny.

“About a Boy,”
9:30 p.m., NBC. Will's ex-girlfriend (Aimee Garciin a) has sued him,
insisting she co-wrote his song. And now Fiona (Minnie Driver) is
starting to sympathize with her.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. A helicopter crash fills a city block with wreckage and
injuries. Soon, Brett finds herseslf cornered by a dangerous man and
Dawson learns why the crash happened.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 17


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

A week from its
finale, this show has a surviving old-timer. Tommy Chong, 76, is the
oldest person ever to reach the semi-finals; he survived last week
(despite a calf injury), ousting Lea Thompson.

Chong is older than
three others combined – Sadie Robertson, 17, of “Duck Dynasty”;
actress Janel Parrish, 26; and Internet star Bethany Mota, 19, paired
with frequent winner Derek Hough. They join actor Alfonso Ribeiro,
43, with music by Christina Grimmie, Noah Guthrie and Time for Three.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“State of Affairs” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

With a big build-up,
a familiar star and a strong time slot (vacated by “Blacklist,”
which moves to Thursdays in February), this has almost everything to
be a hit. Except a story that makes sense. Katherine Heigl is
excellent as a CIA figure who briefs the president (Alfre Woodward),
the mother of her slain fiance. Tonight, she bypasses the president
on a crucial decision; ordered detained, she easily eludes police and
strolls into the Oval Office. It's quite absurd, yet sleek enough to
hold our attention.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Banksy Does New York,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Like a modern
Batman, street-artist Banksy has kept his identity secret while
building fame. He daringly announced a 31-day “residency” in New
York City: A new piece would appear each day, with Tweets only
hinting how to find them; the result triggered a fascinating blend of
human reactions.

Many people viewed
it as a geek scavenger hunt, racing to find each spot. Some building
owers painted over the graffiti; others preserved it in plexiglass.
And some, realizing these sell for big money, hauled them away. For
one month, this jaunty film says, Banksy stirred curiosity, greed,
humor and sheer fun.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. The show finally has its top 12. On Tuesday, 10 will
survive.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Rushing to solve the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents,
Harvey Dent wants Gordon to link with the mayor (Richard Kind). Also,
the Pengun meets Liza, Mooney's secret weapon.

“2 Broke Girls,”
8 p.m., CBS. There may be some gaps in Max's street-smarts. Preparing
to deliver cupcakes, she admits that she doesn't know how to ride a
bike.

“The Millers,”
8:30, CBS. Urged by Kip (Sean Hayes) to be more daring, Carol
confronts her former work nemesis (Molly Shannon).

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. A surprising spirit seems to have a deadly impact at
Tarrytown Psych.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. This case becomes personal for Cabe (Robert Patrick). His
ex-wife (Jessica Tuck) is in danger, after finding evidence about a
congressman's death.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. After some hilarious moments in previous episodes, this
one is more

serious, amid key
turning points. Jane is torn between her fiance and her boss (the
biological father of her baby-to-be, due to a lab mix-up); her own
biological father is drawn anew to her mom, who has a big audition.
Much of that is settled in a busy, well-made episode that also has a
police breakthrough.

“Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Amid the mountains of
the Southeast Asian kingdom of Bhutan, there's stunning beauty ...
and relentless quiet. We meet a 9-year-old boy whose widowed mom
tends the yaks by day and wants him to become a monk. Still, he (ike
others) dreams of watching TV, as soon as electricity arrives. This
documentary, ironically titled “Happiness,” has an ending that
will jolt anyone who's unhappy in a 500-channel cable world.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Rick is a big-city author, not a cowboy. Tonight, however,
he and Kate go undercover to investigate a murder at a dude ranch.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Once Upon a Time,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

On any
week, this show gives us epic, imaginative stories. Tonight, it
expands to movie length, with stories in Arendalle (of “Frozen”
fame) and in Storybrooke.

In the
former, the Snow Queen -- Elizabeth Mitchell of “Lost,” “V”
and “Revolution” -- tries to split the sisters, Elsa and Anna. In
the latter, Emma flees after her powers spin out of control. David
and Mary Margaret try to find her; Mr. Gold suggests stripping her
powers. Then there's Regina (searching for the storbyook author),
plus Hook, Robin Hood, Will Scarlet and others.

TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE II: “Masterpiece Contemporary,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

Last
week ended with a great escape: Using his island connections, Johnny
(Bill Nighy) fled with Margot (Helena Bonham Carter). Now they're on
the run; powerful people – including the prime minister (Ralph
Fiennes) – want to find him and the documents he has, outlining
their schemes.

Tonight's
film is talky – hey, it's English – but the talk is beautifully
written and acted. There's great work from gifted actresses,
including Judy Davis, Felicity Jones, Saskia Reeves and Olivia
Williams.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Newsroom,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Last
week's superb season-opener followed this news team after the Boston
Marathon bombing. Now comes a cascade of fresh stories, many of them
strong enough to fill out the show's final season.

Two
involve ethics – insider trading, overhearing conversation. One
involves a carelessly conceived, latenight Tweet. A bigger one, with
ownership of the operation in balance, includes a spectacular little
moment for Jane Fonda. And the bigges crisis carries the spectre of
espionage charges; that brings out the full, stunning brilliance of
Aaron Sorkin (“West Wing”), Hollywood's finest screenwriter.

Other
choices include:

“Paper
Angels,” 7 and 9 p.m., UP. Richly filmed and solidly acted, this is
the sort of film UP (formerly- Gospel Music Channel) seeks – a
Christmas tale with hard times, good hearts and some religion. Josie
Bissett plays a waitress, struggling to raise teens; Matthew Settle
plays a businessman and dad-to-be, with his own troubles. Jimmy Wayne
(who co-wrote the song and book it's based on) sings three songs.

“The
Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. A new teacher vows tor crush Bart's spirit.

“Madam
Secretary,” 8:01 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), CBS.
Elizabeth digs back into the plane crash that killed the previous
secretary of state, played by Brian Stokes Mitchell in flashbacks).

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. The precinct is on lockdown for
Thanksgiving, with Jake in charge. Things soon fall apart.

“The
Good Wife,” 9 p.m., (or later), CBS. Alicia is urged to go negative
in her election bid. David Krumholz plays a campaign advisor and
David Hyde Pierce returns as a commentator.

“CSI:
Crime Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m. (or later), CBS. Here's the
hour – delayed previously by football – with suspicions that the
Gig Harbor Killer is back. Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays twins.

“Revenge,”
10 p.m., ABC. The FBI closes in on Victoria, who also faces a new
enemy.