TV column for Friday, Feb. 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Super Bowl's Greatest Halftime Shows,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

When Michael Jackson
soared in 1993, the Super Bowl halftime shows transforemed. Gone were
the days of marching bands, Up With People, Carol Channing, Andy
Williams, Mickey Rooney and (really) a fiddling Miss America; taking
over were rock stars.

Two days before this
year's show – with Coldplay and guests, including Beyonce -- this
looks back at Springsteen, Stones, Madonna and more. It also talks to
some of the performers – Bono (2002), Paul McCartney (2005),
Beyonce (2013), Bruno Mars (2014) and last year's Katy Perry and
Missy Elliot.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Sleepy Hollow” return, 8 p.m., Fox.

When we last visited
“Hollow,” Abbie Mills the cop was trying to rescue her sister
Jenny; she was promptly blasted away. Now – after an 11-week break
– the show returns with a strong hour that starts with a
high-octane motorcycle chase, then adds deep passion.

Ichabod Crane and
Jenny Mills obsess on finding Abbie. Along the way, we see Betsy Ross
and Pandora; flashbacks and fantasy are quite big here.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: More fantasy, everywhere.

The good news is
that the big broadcast networks have taken a fresh interest in
fantasy shows. The bad is that they've stuffed most of them into one
overcrowded night.

At 8 p.m., “Sleepy
Hollow” collides with CW's “Vampire Diaries” (the Phoenix stone
has left Stefan and Damon shattered). At 9, NBC's “Grimm” (the
legendary “lake monster” is linked to a tourist's death) and CW's
“The Originals” (Aya may know of a vampire-killing weapon) face
Fox's “Second Chance”: Duval starts to realize that the guy he's
working with may be his re-incarnated father.

Other choices
include:

“Forrest Gump”
(1994), 6:45 p.m., Freeform. This Oscar-winner leads a strong night
for light movies. At 8 p.m., there's “Finding Nemo” (2003) on
Disney, “The Hangover” (2009) on TNT, “Love Actually” (2003)
on VH1 and the superb “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005)
on IFC. At 9, Starz has the idealistic “Tomorrowland” (2015) and
Showtime has Spike Lee's new Michael Jackson documentary.

“Unercover Boss,”
8 p.m., CBS. This show's eight-episode season, split between two
nights, concludes with the CEO of 4 Wheel Parts. Next week, a new
“Amazing Race” begins.

“Caught on Camera”
return, 8 p,m., NBC. Hosted by Nick Cannon, this had a couple
episodes in 2014, then disappeared. It's based on European shows,
with moments caught on phone-cameras and more.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Living spaces become an issue for all three
sisters. Mike wants Kristin to get a house, not an apartment; Mandy
wants Eve out of the basement, her work space.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30,
ABC. Joel McHale guests as a prominent malpractice lawyer who has
clashed with Ken. Now their kids have a date at a Valentine's Day
dance.

“Live at the
Lincoln Center,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Some of
opera's greats link in a concert for the Richard Tucker Foundation
and its award – sometimes called “the Heisman Trophy of opera.”
Renee Fleming (a previous winner) and Andrea Bocelli top the line-up
– which includes new winner Jamie Barton. She grew up in
Appalachia, listened to bluegrass and rock, then converted.

“Key & Peele
Super Bowl Special,” 10 p.m., Comedy Central. This repeats last
year's special. It follows reruns of the witty “Key & Peele,”
from 2:40 to 4:47 p.m. and 6:53 to 10 p.m.

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Mid-way in its third
season, “Mom” has it all. It has crisp writing -- broad and
jokey, yet believable – plus a strong set of supporting characters
and two gifted-but-opposite stars.

Next week's episode
(a great one) focuses on Christy (Anna Faris); she's small and
overwhelmed, but a survivor. This week is her mom Bonnie (Allison
Janney) – big, brash, plowing through a lifetime of mis-steps.
Bonnie takes pride in her sexual adventures, mostly with men; now she
meets a woman who was her lover. Rosie O'Donnell is solid in a guest
role; Janney, a five-time Emmy-winner, is perfect.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Idol,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

For the swarms of
rejected “Idol” singers, there was always the consolation of
“come back next year.” Caleb Johnson was rejected twice, never
reaching the top 24; the third time, he was the winner.

But this 15th
season is the last; anyone rejected must abandon “Idol” dreams.
That makes tonight more emotional: “Hollywood Week” ends and the
judges choose their 24, leaving lots of others in dismay.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “You, Me and the Apocalypse,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

As a comet streaks
toward Earth, bringing total destruction, our characters scramble. A
mild librarian (Jenna Fischer) took the rap for her hacker son; now
she's escaped from prison with a neo-Nazi (Megan Mullally). A somber
“widower” tries to find out why his wife – not dead at all –
is with someone who looks just like him. And a priest (Rob Lowe)
researches end-of-world prophesies.

All of that is done
with droll wit, reflecting this show's British roots. And now we
learn the librarian's brother is the nation's leading – albeit
inept – post-apocalypse strategist. The story builds.

Other choices
include:

“Cinderella”
(2015), 11:55 a.m. and 9 p.m., Starz. Kenneth Branagh, a master
Shakespearean, has started directing pop-culture hits. He made this
gorgeous film. He also did the first “Thor”; fellow Shakespearean
Tom Hiddleston, whom he cast as Loki, is key to the sequel (2013), at
7:30 p.m. on FX.

“Madoff,” 8-10
p.m., ABC. The conclusion of this two-night mini-series watches
Bernie Madoff's financial scheme crumble, bringing fierce aftershocks
to friends, family and investors.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon has always talked fondly about his
grandmother. Now she finally arrives; she's played by June Squibb,
who emerged from obscurity two years ago (at 84), to get an Acadmy
Award nomination for “Nebraska.”

“Life in Pieces,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. June (Dianne Wiest) has a nephew (Greg Grunberg of
“Heroes”) who manages to annoy everyone. Also, Tyler introduces
his sexy girlfriend to his great-grandmother.

“Project Runway
Junior” finale, 9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime. It's time for Fashion Week
and a winner.

“London Spy,” 10
p.m., BBC America. On one hand, this five-week mini-series has a
compelling story and brilliant actors. On the other, it's painfully
slow. Danny (Ben Whishaw) has apparently been cleverly framed for the
murder of his gay lover; only an older friemd (Jim Broadbent) will
help. Danny seems encased in a perplexing thicket – as do viewers.

“Baskets,” 10
p.m., FX. “I'll take happiness where I can find it,” Chip (Zach
Galifianakis) says tonight. The problem is that he can't find it
anywhere. He has a wife who ignores him, a friend he ignores and a
profession (rodeo clown) no one cares about. This episode goes beyond
the sad-clown traditions of the past; amid some humor and warmth, it
sinks near hopelessness.

 

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Madoff,” 8-10 p.m., ABC; concludes Thursday.

For a while there,
the big networks had forgotten the notion of a mini-series. Now ABC
seems to have the ideal subject – a financial scam that had global
implications.

Bernie Madoff ran
his company for 48 years, was NASDAQ chairman for three years and
more. His work was a fraud; investors – charities, colleges,
friends, even Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel – had total losses
estimated at $10-17 billion. Now that's dramatized, based partly on
ABC reporter Brian Ross' book; Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner
star, with Lewis Black, Charles Grodin and Peter Scolari.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Young & Hungry” season-opener, 8 p.m., Freeform.

With the ABC
comedies taking a week off, we can try the ones on this channel
(formerly ABC Family) or CBS. They tend to be heavy-handed, but with
a fair amount of fun.

In this case, Gabi
and Josh never quite admit they love each other. Now Josh has
financed a food truck for her to share with his handsome brother;
they're headed to a music festival. Some of this gets pretty broad
... but seems downright subtle, compared to Elliot and Alan, back
from their honeymoon.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

For most of the
first four hours, this compelling drama followed a fairly direct
path: At a teen party, Taylor was drugged or intoxicated, then raped
by one of the other guys. His mom called the police.

Then came the
powerhouse moment: He had gone there, he said, to have sex with Eric,
the basketball co-captain; Eric said he'd kept it secret, to hide his
sexuality. That doesn't rule out rape, but it sharply changes the
investigation. Now the guys face aftershocks and a small moment adds
racial overtones.

Other choices
include:

“The Theory of
Everything” (2014), 6:55 p.m., HBO. Eddie Redmayne's superb,
Oscar-winning work as Stephen Hawking launches a strong movie night.
Other good choices include “21 Jump Street” (2012) at 7:30 p.m.
on FXX, “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004) at 8 p.m. on AMC and –
especially – Rob Reiner's triumphant “Stand By Me” (1986) at 9
p.m. on CMT.

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. Here's the third round of “Hollywood Week.” It wraps
up Thursday, with judges choosing the 24 survivors.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Molly's shocked when her mom (Swoosie
Kurtz) tells about her will: It gives the house to Victoria, Molly's
sister.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
9 p.m., Fox. After a surprise elimination, Gordon Ramsay sends the
contestants on a fake “duck hunt,” to determine ingredients for a
duck-dish competition. The winning team frolics on a yacht; the
losers prepare the appetizers for a dinner service and an elimination
night.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Neighbors witness a rape
outside an apartment building, but no one calls the police.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. Violence breaks out, leavingtwo doctors gravely ill. Also,
Boris Kodjoe – who's been doing comedy lately on “Last Man on
Earth” -- arrives, playing a new doctor.

“Preachers of
Atlanta” debut, 10 p.m., Oxygen. This reality show focuses on five
young preachers who use hip-hop music and more to draw interest.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The People vs. O.J. Simpson” opener, 10 p.m., FX.

In other hands, this
could have been tacky and tawdry, a 10-week replay of a sensational
case. But here, a skilled director -- Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “The
Normal Heart”) -- gives it a compelling honesty.

Simpson (Courtney
Vance) shows up only briefly in this first hour, which focuses on his
friends – all rich, white and in disbelief. David Schwimmer is
Robert Kardashian – yes, we see his daughters before they became
pop-culture stars – and John Travolta is Robert Shapiro, gradually
building their “dream team.” On the flip side, Sarah Paulson is
great as an overworked Marcia Clark, ready to fight the titans.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Fresh Off the Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC.

In Orlando in the
1980s, we're told, the Huangs felt like they were the only Asians.
They savored an annual trip to their old Washington, D.C., home, for
a Chinese New Year with fun, food and fireworks.

Tonight, we see that
go wrong, forcing them to improvise. It's an inconsistent episode,
but it does bring some big laughs and even a bit of warmth.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

James Garfield
entered the presidency with idealism; he advocated civil rights and
began sweeping away corruption from civil service in general and the
post office in particular. But there was no Secret Service
protection; four months into office, he was shot by a spurned
job-seeker.

This well-made
documentary focuses on the shooter and on Garfield's biggest
political foe, who had a bizarre scheme to resign and be re-elected.
It's also critical of the medical treatment: At a time when some
doctors were aware of sanitation, it was ignored; after 10 tough
weeks, the president died.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Outsiders,” 9 p.m., WGN America; reruns at 10,
11 and midnight.

Last week's opener
was a strong portrait of the Farrell family, refusing to budge from
the Appalachian mountain (now owned by a coal company) where it's
been for 200 years. The hour failed, however, to give us anyone to
root for; now we get that chance, with all sides of a triangle.

There's Lil Foster
(Ryan Hurst of “Sons of Anarchy”), son of the brutish leader. And
G'Winiveer, his lover. And Asa, who has returned after a decade in
civilization. Mix in some townspeople – including a deputy sheriff
who seems intent on covering up a moonshine tragedy – and you have
a strong story.

Other choices
include:

“Groundhog Day”
(1993), 11:21 a.m. and 2:07, 4:46 and 7:24 p.m., Comedy Central. On
the real Groundhog Day, it's logical to keep re-airing a clever film
about a day that keeps rerunning.

“Super Bowl's
Greatest Commercials,” 8-10 p.m., CBS. By now, CBS feels, we should
be obsessing over the 50th Super Bowl, So Boomer Esiason
and Katharine McPhee introduce the top commercials, with viewers
picking the best. That's followed by “Super Bowl's Greatest
Halftime Shows” on Friday ... another commercials special and “NFL
Honors” on Saturday ... and, oh yes, a game on Sunday.

“The Muppets,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. In real life, this clever show is returning from a
break, amid talk of revaming its approach. So tonight's episode finds
everyone returning from a break and confronting a “branding”
expert who's ready to change the show.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 9 p.m., Fox. Jake's parents – played by Emmy-winner
Bradley Whitford (“West Wing”) and Golden Globe-winner Katey
Sagal (“Sons of Anarchy”) -- complicate his birthday.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. After airing just one new episode in the past two months,
this clever show is back. Liv – who absorbs the personalities of
murder victims – probes a librarian who wrote erotica.

“NCIS,” 10
p.m., CBS. Running two hours later than usual, this rerun has Vance
(Rocky Carroll) return to the field, to work a case involving an
agent he busted long ago.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Recovery Road,” 9 p.m., Freeform (formerly ABC Family).

In last week's
opener, we met Maddie (Jessica Sula), brainy and beautiful and deep
into drugs and alcohol. Her high school guidance counselor – who is
secretly a recovering alcoholic – set the rule: She could only stay
in school if she commuted from an adult rehab center.

Now she's trying to
do it without letting her friends know. Tonight, her deceptions
collide with her former best friend, who's in the same rehab center.
It's a solid start for a promising show.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY:
“The X-Files,” 8 p.m., Fox.

At its best,
“X-Files” switches tone from week to week, going from serious
sci-fi to standard mystery to occasional comedy. Now that hits an
extreme, with an hour that's ... well, just goofy.

Out in the woods,
there's a man who turns into a beast. Or maybe it's a beast that
turns into a man. Or maybe it's not a werewolf, just a werereptile.
This is a broad story, executed in a style that's only a smidgen
short of farce. You may like it, sort of ... while waiting for the
real “X-Files” next week.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “And the Oscar Goes To ...” (2014), 8 p.m. ET,
Turner Classic Movies.

No one else does
Oscar-month as well as TCM. Now this documentary about the Academy
Awards is surrounded by “31 days (and 360 degrees) of Oscar.”
That starts at 6 a.m. today (“Gigi,” 1958) and ends at 6 a.m.
March 3; there are 360 Oscar-winning or -nominated films, each
sharing an actor with the one that follows ... until the final one
links with the first.

Tonight, that
includes a lesson in epics -- “Ben-Hur” (1959) at 4 p.m. ET,
“Laurence of Arabia: (1962) at 10 p.m., “Bridge on the River
Kwai” (1957) at 2 a.m. They're great ... but very long; alert your
VCR.

Other choices
include:

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CBS. Superman has his Bizarro nemesis and now it's his cousin's
turn: Supergirl faces a twisted version of herself. Also, in her
alternate identity as Kara, she befriend's Cat's son.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. It's time for the store's wedding sale, when sweet
brides-to-be converge fiercely. The result is sometimes funny,
sometimes just overwrought. It does, however, get good moments from
one of its best characters, a blithely oblivious young mother-to-be.

“Telenovela,”
8:30, NBC. Mimi has been fretting about raising her kids, but now
she's feels this is crisis time: Her son had hidden a sexy photo of
her friend Ana (Eva Longoria). Soon, everyone at the telenovela is
conferring about how to deliver “the sex talk.”

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Here's another parenthood problem: Jane's baby spills
orange juice on her computer and she can't access her thesis. She
goes to a tech specialist, played by Diego Boneta, the “Rock of
Ages” star and “Scream Queens” co-star.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. Sometimes it's handy to have the Devil as your consultant.
When a movie star's son dies after being persued by paparazzi, Chloe
the cop gets help from Lucifer.

“Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This hour was scheduled
previously, then delayed until tonight; it traces a dark piece of
recent history: At a big Los Angeles hospital, women in labor
(usually low-income, some not speaking English) were pushed into
agreeing to be sterilized. A powerful hour includes some of the women
and the whistleblowing doctor.

“Magicians,” 10
p.m., Syfy. Quentin struggles at this secret magicians college, while
facing obsessions: His childhood friend Julia obsesses on being
rejected by the school; his classmate Alice obsesses on reviving her
dead brother. A promising show is damaged by the fact that Quentin is
tough to care about.

ALSO: The Iowa
caucuses will get heavy coverage on network newscasts and cable news
channels.