TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 21 (slightly out of order)


(This is the Wednesday TV column, out of order. The Thursday one, out of order, is right below this.)

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Designated Survivor” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

The season's best
new show is done with subtlety and skill. During the State of the
Union address, it seems, one cabinet official is tucked away in case
there's an emergency. This time, there is one; soon, an obscure
official (Kiefer Sutherland) becomes president.

This could have been
overwrought, but that's not Sutherland's style. Instead, we get the
depth and drama of a quietly decent man, thrust into world-changing
events.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Lethal Weapon” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

For four movies,
this formula has paid off: A careful, cautious cop is paired with a
mad-dash one. They bicker amid chases and shoot-outs and more.

Now the TV version
adds extra warmth: The older guy (Damon Wayans) has good reason to be
careful; fresh from a health crisis, he's a new dad. The younger one
(Clayne Crawford) has solid humanity below his suicidal facade.
There's still lots of action, but there are also good reasons to
care.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Empire” season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox.

Don't be tardy for
this; within the first couple minutes, we're belted by power-punch
moments. That's the “Empire” style; in the season-finale, Lucious
married the scheming and pregnant Anika to keep her from testifying
against him; soon, she was battling on the rooftop with his
daughter-in-law.

Now emotions are
stirred by Lucious' mother and son (both bipolar) and his
half-brother. The result is overheated, but engrossing. It has few of
the usual music moments, but one epic song is worth the wait.

Other choices
include:

“Survivor,”
8-9:30 p.m., CBS. For its 33rd season, “Survivor” has
a generational battle. The millenials tribe ranges from a high school
student, 18, to an Internet videogame host, 31; the generation-X
tribe ranges from a model, 33, to a mechanic, 52. The millennials
includes a bartender and a barista; the gen-X'ers includes two
lawyers, a cop and a pastor.

“Speechless”
debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC. Maya (Minnie Driver) is a passionate parent,
scrambling to find the perfect school district for her son, who had
cerebral palsy ... often while ignoring the rest of the family. She's
sometimes a delight and sometimes just overbearing. Fortunately, some
side characters – especially Cedric Yarbrough as the school
groundskeeper – add extra fun.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. When a little boy is found
alone in Central Park, the investigation ranges from terrorism to
rape. The story is solidly told, but not necessarily satisfying.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. The family manages to re-unite, after separate trips
take people to New York, Mexico and the Midwest.

“Big Brother,”
9:30-11 p.m., CBS. Here's the finale, with a $500,000 winner.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. As a kid, Dre feels, he never had a big-deal family
vacation. Now he takes everyone (including his father) to Disney
World.

“American Horror
Story,” 10 p.m., FX. This is the season “AHS” kept secret.
During last week's opener, viewers finally learned that it centers on
a couple that may have bought a house haunted by the vanished Roanoke
Colony. The show's complicated interview/flashback approach offers
lots of work for actors – including new Emmy-winners Sarah Paulson
and Cuba Gooding Jr., as the couple.

TV column for Thursday, Sept. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Good Place,” 8:30 p.m., NBC.

In the terrific
pilot -- which will rerun Friday -- Eleanor (Kristen Bell) found a
bureaucratic error: She'd been sent to a better afterlife than she
deserves. Instead of telling the guy in charge (Ted Danson), she'll
try to fake it ... or to learn from her “soul mate” how to be
nice.

That won't be easy,
especially when she's annoyed by her neighbor ... played by Jameela
Jamil, a beauty who towers almost 10 inches above Bell. The result is
always fun and sometimes quite funny.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Pitch” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

Two summers ago,
Mo'ne Davis became the first girl to pitch a shut-out in the Little
League World Series. Now this well-made drama imagines the next step:
After working her way through the minors, a young woman a lot like
Davis is ready for her debut with the San Diego Padres.

The Padre reactions
vary, from bitterness by a displaced pitcher to hesitent guidance by
the star catcher (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), but the general manager (Mark
Consuelos) sees a business boost. “Pitch” tends to take a
realistic view of baseball and of human quirks, while giving us
characters we can root for.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Grey's Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder”
season-openers, 8 and 10 p.m., ABC.

At times, we might
criticize Shonda Rhimes productions, with their overheated moments.
Then we see another producer try the same genre and fail ... which
“Notorious” does tonight. Suddenly, Rhimes' shows – with their
hyper plots balanced by strong dialog and performances – seem quite
good.

On tonight's
“Anatomy,” a doctor ends up in the hospital, while Bailey tries
to figure out what happened; also, Meredith juggles secrets. On
“Murder,” Annalise and her students create a law clinic.

Other choices
include:

Football pre-game,
7:30 p.m. ET, and game, 8:30. Here's a collision of two teams with
2-0 records: The Patriots (thriving during the first half of Tom
Brady's four-game suspension) host the Texans, who have found early
success after signing Brock Osweiler as quarterback.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. Last season, Glenn ignored company policy and gave
Cheyenne maternity leave; when he was fired, everyone walked out. As
the new the season starts, no one can agree on what to do next ... or
even if this is a strike. “Superstore” isn't the great show NBC
imagines, but with dandy sight gags and two likable stars (America
Ferrera and Ben Feldman), it overcomes occasional flaws.

“Rosewood,” 8
p.m., Fox. Eddie Cibrian joins the show as the new captain and
Villa's boss. In the season-opener, the murder victim is the protege
of Miami's hot-shot mayor.

“Notorious”
debut, 9 p.m., ABC. Julia (Piper Perabo) produces a talk show that
has a vile host. Jake (Daniel Sunjata) is a lawyer whose clients may
be rich and mean. Pretty much everyone on this show is wealthy,
attractive and thoroughly unlikable; we're left with little reason to
care.

“Chicago Med”
season-opener, 9 p.m., NBC. It would be handy if NBC had a classy
show to counteract “Notorious.” Alas, this hour trudges through
the hospital-show traditions, while rarely finding any believable
humanity. Two bursts by authority figures seem absurdly contrived.

“The Blacklist”
season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. Red adjusts to the fact that Liz has
been captured once again. The task force adjusts to the news that
she's alive.

“Better Things,”
10 p.m., FX. With just enough laughs to qualify as a comedy, these
stories sneak up on us beautifully. One is about a friend's
no-account husband; another has a director (perfectly played by Lenny
Kravitz) visit Sam's home for dinner and a moment of human
connection.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“This is Us” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

Here is one of the
best pilot films in years ... but we don't want to reveal too much.
You'll meet some wonderfully mismatched people. There's a
sweet-spirited couple, awaiting childbirth ... a handsome TV star in
an awful show ... a rich man probing his roots ... a woman despairing
her weight and her life. Savor some great moments – especially from
Gerald McRaney as a kindly doctor – and see how it fits together.
We're not sure where it can go, but it's a great start.

TONIGHT'S CAN-SKIP:
“Bull.” 9 p.m., CBS.

Long before he
became Dr. Phil the advice-giver, Phil McGraw was a consultant,
telling lawyers how to choose and work a jury. So now CBS has created
a character a lot like him; it cast former “NCIS” star Michael
Weatherly, then wedged the show between the two “NCIS” hours.
That seems logical.

But somewhere in
there, any warmth or humanity was squeezed out. A fun guy in “NCIS,”
Weatherly plays a cold figure here. “Bull” has lots of high-tech
devices, but little sense of human inhabitants.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Defying the Nazis,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Like many people,
Waitstill and Martha Sharp spoke out against evil; he was a Unitarian
minister, decrying the rise of Nazi Germany. And unlike most people,
they did something about it. Using codes and cover-ups, they managed
to help hundreds of Jewish children reach freedom.

They left their home
(and children) for long stretches, while doing risky spy work. It's a
great story of regular people triumphing; beautifully by Artemis
Joukowsky (the Sharps' grandson) and Ken Burns.

Other choices
include:

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. It's time for the season's first ouster.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The ratings-champion opens its 14th season with a
reworked cast. Now that Michael Weatherly is gone, Duane Henry
becomes a regular and there are new roles for Jennifer Esposito and
for Wilmer Valderrama ... who plays a guy who disappeared when
working undercover.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8 p.m., Fox. The first two seasons have been mixed –
praise, two Golden Globes, an Emmy and so-so ratings. The third
starts with Jake and Captain Holt in Witness Protection in Florida.
Their only contact is a federal marshal (Maya Rudolph) ... until a
video goes viral.

“New Girl,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. Last season ended with big laughs and big plot moves –
Schmidt and Cece married, Winston and police colleague Aly started a
long-distance relationship and Nick plunged into a romance ... just
as Jess realized (again) that she wanted him. Now Nick is back,
Winston is adjusting and the newlyweds are having trouble finding
their first home.

“Scream Queens,”
9 p.m., Fox. A disappointment (in quality and ratings) last year,
“Scream” was given a second chance to try again, with the same
characters in a different setting. Jumping ahead years, the dean
(Jamie Lee Curtis) starts a hospital with hunky doctors (John Stamos
and Taylor Lautner) and many of her old students (Emma Roberts,
Abigail Breslin, Lea Michele, Keke Palmer).

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Vanessa Ferlito joins the cast as a special
agent who's here (at first) to investigate the team. It has other
concerns, with a sniper targeting crowds.

“Agents of
SHIELD,” 10 p.m., ABC. Hydra has been defeated, SHIELD is
legitimate ... but the world thinks Coulson is dead. He has to go
back to field work (paired with Henry Simmons), with the team waiting
for a new boss.Also, May (Ming-Na Wen) trains strike teams.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Good Place” debut, 10 and 10:30 p.m., NBC.

Eleanor (Kristen
Bell) has been richly rewarded for her good deeds. Her afterlife is
in the good place, carefully designed by Michael (Ted Danson), a
novice planner.

Alas, Michael made a
bureaucratic mistake: She's not a good person. Now she must admit she
doesn't belong here ... or quickly learn (or fake) goodness. The
result is filled with wonderfully imaginative touches. It debus in
this great slot after the “Voice” opener ... then goes to
Thursdays, a bad place.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Kevin Can Wait” debut, 8:30 p.m., CBS.

CBS has pushed hard
to convince us – and maybe itself – that this is the next big
thing and Kevin James is “the king of comedy.” It's not, he's not
... but the show is fairly pleasant and well-constructed.

James plays a cop
who is newly retired, with lots of energy and extra time. He figures
he'll party with his pals, who are also retired cops. Then his
daughter drops out of school and brings her boyfriend, who has a
computer project. Life changes ... in moderately amusing ways.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Gotham” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

It's a night of DC
domination. One network (CW) has two more reruns of “Supergirl”
reruns, which starts its season Oct. 10. Another (Fox) has more DC
Comics characters, via “Lucifer” andd this one.

Jim Gordon – an
honest cop in the past, the police commissioner in the future – is
now working as a bounty hunter. Gotham is overrun with monsters and
the escapees from the Indian Hills asylum are being killed by their
own powers. Also, young Bruce Wayne has a double roaming the streets.

Other choices
include:

“Capital,” any
time, www.acorn.tv. Fresh from
showing Toby Jones in a difficult period piece (“The Secret
Agent”), this streaming service now has him in a lighter, modern
tale. Everyone on the street gets a postcard saying, “We want what
you have.” Rachael Stirling and Gemma Jones also star.

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. The season starts with Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys
joining Blake Shelton and Adam Levine as judges. A sampling showed
that Cyrus brings a lively counterpoint.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Last season ended hilariously, with an
unexpected tryst involving Leonard's dad (Judd Hirsch) and Sheldon's
mom (Laurie Metcalf). They're both back, as a wedding also brings
Penny's family from Nebraska; there's her dad (Keith Carradine), her
anxiety-ridden mom (Katey Sagal) and her drug-dealing brother (Jack
McBrayer).

“The Case of
JonBenet Ramsey” conclusion, 9-11 p.m., CBS. Here's the second half
of the four-hour docudrama, as experts re-examine the 20-year-old
murder case.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. Wouldn't you have trouble focusing on work, if you'd just
learned that your mother had escaped from Hell. That happens to
Lucifer tonight; Mom is played by Tricia Helfer, known to fantasy
fans as the sexy “Battlestar Galactica” villain.

“Match Game,” 10
p.m., ABC. With the new “Conviction” series still two weeks away,
ABC fills the void with a stray episode of its Alec Baldwin game
show.

“Erin Brockovich”
(2000), 10:30 p.m., AMC. Give her a so-so story – such as “Pretty
Woman” (1990), at 8 p.m. -- and Julia Roberts can be terrific. Give
her a great story and she's even better. Now AMC has her
Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning roles, back-to-back.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Emmy awards, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

Amid a ton of
trophies, there should be laughs. Jimmy Kimmel hosts; his presenters
include clever types - James Corden, Chris Rock, Andy Samberg, Aziz
Ansari, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and more.

FX's “People vs.
O.J. Simpson” should grab many of the awards. For drama series, the
final year of “Downton Abbey” and the first of “Mr. Robot”
compete with “Homeland,” “Game of Thrones,” “House of
Cards” and “The Americans.” For comedies, ABC's “Modern
Family” and “Black-ish” face cable's “Veep,”
“Trtansparent,” “Silicon Valley” and “Unbreakable Kimmy
Schmidt.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
JonBenet Ramsey films, CBS and Investigation Discovery.

While the O.J.
Simpson mini-series dominates praise and Emmys, other networks look
at another high-interest mystery. That involves the 1996 murder of
6-year-old JonBenet.

From 1-4 p.m., ID
reruns its scripted series. Then CBS launches what it calls a
docuseries, From 8:30-10:30 p.m. Sunday (8-10 p.m. PT) and 9-11 p.m.
Monday, it has experts re-examine the case.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Royal Wives at War,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

In 1967, the former
King Edward reluctantly returned to England, to celebrate a plaque to
his late mother. For the first time in decades, his wife (Wallis
Simpson, a twice-divorced American) met his sister-in-law (Elizabeth,
the Queen Mother), who despised her.

This film dramatizes
monologs by both women, plus re-enactments, news footage and comments
from historians and others. The settings are elegant; the words are
often harsh and abrasive.

Other choices
include:

“Snow White and
the Seven Dwarves,” 2:30 p.m., Freeform. This all-time classic is
at the center of an animated marathon. It's “Horton Hears a Who”
at 8 a.m., “Gnomeo and Juliet” at 10, “Tarzan” at 12:15 p.m.,
“Wreck-It Ralph” at 4:45, “The Incredibles” at 7 and
“Aladdin” at 9:45.

Emmy previews.
Cable's E channel has a preview at 4:30 p.m. ET, then works the red
carpet from 6-8 p.m.; ABC adds its own red-carpet preview at 7.

“Sisters”
(2015), 8 p.m., HBO. It's a busy night for Fey and Poehler. They star
in this so-so comedy and will be presenters at the Emmys, after
winning the comedy-guest prize in the preliminary ceremony.

Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, with preview at 7. The Vikings' billion-dollar stadium has its
first regular-season game. Appropriately, it's against the rival
Packers; both teams won their openers.

“Masterpiece,” 9
and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Two lush series share the
night. First is a preview of “Poldark,” which starts its season
next week. At 10, “Indian Summers” finds Aafrin saving a friend
and paying steeply for it.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. For a while, at least, Phil (Will Forte)
gets closer to the older, smarter brother (Jason Sudeikis) he used to
compete with.

“The Strain,” 10
p.m., FX. As the epidemic reaches a new stage, Fet wants to
celebrate. The others fear – correctly, perhaps – that there's
much more work ahead.