TV column for Sunday, Feb. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Super Bowl, 6:35 p.m. ET, CBS.

Fans love this – a
battle of opposites. An old master (the Denver Broncos' Peyton
Manning is 39, a five-time most valuable player) meets a young phenom
(the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton is 26).

Newton soared
through a 15-1 regular season; Manning had an awful, injury-plagued
year – nine touchdown passes, 17 interceptions – then came back
in the playoffs. Now they lead a big night that includes Coldplay
(joined by Beyonce and the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra) at halftime.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Downton Abbey,” 9 p.m., PBS.

Last week ended with
a jolt, when Robert became violently sick in the midst of an elegant
dinner party. Now, in an excellent episode, he's bed-ridden while the
world changes around him.

There are key
developments for his daughters ... and in the dispute between his
wife and mother, involving the local hospital's future. And for the
first time, tourists visit the mansion ... including a great scene
with a little boy who wanders into his sickroom.

PRE-GAME FUSS (CBS,
all times ET):

Specials, 11 a.m. to
2 p.m. First, NFL Films has two hours – one with current and former
stars visiting their hometown schools, another the annual “Road to
the Super Bowl.” At 1 p.m., Phil Simms has people who symbolized
different Super Bowl decades.

“The Super Bowl
Today,” 2 p.m. Here is four hours of football and more, including
music and Gayle King's live interview with the Obamas.

Pre-game show, 6
p.m. Simms and Jim Nantz take over, with Lady Gaga singing the
National Anthem.

POST-GAME SHOWS:

10 p.m. ET ... or
later (much later), CBS. Stephen Colbert is live from New York, with
Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Margot Robie, Key & Peele and Meghyn
Kelly.

11:30 p.m. ET or
later (after local news), CBS. James Corden – who grew up thinking
soccer is football -- has Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick and Adam DeVine,
plus a tailgate party, parodies of Super Bowl commercials and
“Carpool Karaoke” with Elton John.

MORE ALTERNATIVES:

Cute pets, cable.
You can simply watch critters. It's the Kitten Bowl on Hallmark (noon
to 9 p.m.), Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet (noon to 1:02 a.m.) and Fish
Bowl on NatGeo Wild (6-10 p.m.).

“The Simpsons,”
7 and 8 p.m., Fox. The first rerun is this season's fairly good
“Treehouse of Horror,” with Bart being killed (often). The second
has the family trapped in Krustyland's “Halloween Horror Night.”
At 8:30 is a rerun of the funny “Cooper Barrett's Guide to
Surviving Life” opener.

“Pitch Perfect”
(2012), 8:30-11 p.m., NBC. Outside of football, this is Anna
Kendrick's night. You can watch her star in this show (about college
women in a singing group) and then be Corden's guest.

“Mercy Street,”
10 p.m., PBS. Based on Civil War situations, this drama has the Green
family continuing to live in its Virginia mansion, after it's
converted to a Union hospital. During a Union ball, Alice Green
(AnnaSophia Robb) conspires with her sister, a volunteer nurse, for
the escape of her beau, a Confederate soldier who's a patient.

“Billions” 10
p.m., Showtime. Being super-rich is a mixed blessing, we see in this
strong episode. Bobby Axelrod jets to a Metallica concert ... then is
consumed by a financial crisis back home.

 

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

After virtually
ignoring “SNL” for decades,. Larry David has become one of its
favorites at 68. He's drawn praise as Bernie Sanders in debate
sketches; now he hosts, with 1975 as music guest.

David had never done
the show, except for uncredited blips. In 1980-82, he was one of the
regulars on ABC's lookalike “Fridays.” It faded into obscurity;
so did David ... until he became rich and fanous by writing and
producing “Seinfeld” and starring in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“NFL Honors,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

On the eve of the
50th Super Bowl, pro football pauses for fun (Conan
O'Brien will host) and awards.

As usual,
quarterbacks will get lots of attention. Cam Newton has a strong shot
at most valuable player; Hall of Fame prospects include Brett Favre,
Kurt Warner and Ken Stabler. There are lots of other high-profile
people among the Fame finalists, including Terrell Owens and coach
Tony Dungy. Other awards are for the top rookies, defensive player,
sacks leaderm comeback and more – including the best play.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Republican presidential debate, 8-11 p.m. ET, ABC.

The Iowa caucuses
are were just five days ago, but now there are new debates. The
Democrats had one Thursday on MSNBC; another will be next Thursday on
PBS); Republcans have the ABC one tonight, with a CBS one a week
later.

For the first time,
Republicans have no “undercard”; candidates are in the main forum
or are out. ABC's David Muir and Martha Raddatz anchor with Josh
McElveen of ABC's Manchester, N.H., station.

Other choices
include:

“Super Bowl's
Greatest Commercials All-Star Countdown,” 8 p.m., CBS. A two-hour
special Tuesday offered brilliant commercials and dim-witted hype.
Now CBS will take another look at the top 10, while shoveling in more
hype. Kevin Frazier, relentlessly cheery on Tuesday, hosts.

“The X-Files,” 8
p.m., Fox. In a change of plans, Fox is rerunning the season-opener,
which had Mulder suspecting that all of his beliefs have been wrong.
The result is well-made, but terribly gloomy; it doesn't really have
an ending, but “X-Files” will return to that story for the Feb.
22 season-finale.

“Manson's Lost
Girls,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; rerunning at 12:02 a.m. Why would smart
people follow Charles Manson? This film focuses on Linda Kasabian,
once considered a bright and romantic teen in small-town New
Hampshire. After an angry home life, and two failed marriages, she
became a Manson follower at 20 ... and then the prime witness against
him.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. In another change, Fox is rerunning this fairly good
opener of the series that follows “X-Files” on Mondays. Bored
with his assigned purspose in life (eternal retribution), Lucifer
visits Las Vegas. When a friend is killed, he tries to help catch the
person responsible.

“Black Sails,” 9
p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10 and 11. Last week's episode (rerunning
at 2:30 and 8 p.m.), included sensational storm scenes. Flint and
Silver survived, but now they're stranded at sea. On the island.
Rackham shows some fresh backbone, while preparing for an attack that
seems imminent.

“Beyond the
Headlines,” 10:02 and 11:02 p.m., Lifetime. The first hour looks at
the real-life events behind “Manson's Lost Girls”; the second
views the Ariel Castro kidnappings in Cleveland.

“And the Oscare
Goes To ...” (2014), 10:30 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. This
view of Academy Award history reruns during a monthlong marathon of
films that won or were nominated for Oscars. It's preceded at 8 p.m.
ET by “Broadcast News” (1987), a smart comedy-drama that didn't
win any, but was nominated for seven, including best picture and
actors Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Albert Brooks.

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.