TV column for Tuesday, Aug. 12

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX.

Getting better each week, “Tyrant” keeps throwing dramatic
thunderbolts. Last week, we learned that Jamal’s attempt to kill his political
opponent fell short; his brother Bassam (or Barry) – an honorable doctor until
now – finished the job … then suspected that Jamal must be overthrown.

But are secrets possible? Will Jamal learn of the plot and
execute everyone? Will he blurt out that his brother is a killer? And what of
Bassam’s wife, also a doctor? Tough twists are skillfully told.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “20/20: From Hell,” 10 p.m., ABC.

What can go wrong during a vacation? Plenty, we learn from
this collection of previous “20/20” reports. We hear confessions of
baggage-handlers and we see some of the world’s worst passengers; we also meet
a man who somehow survived, after his parachute didn’t open.

Then there are hotels. Some, this report says, advertise one
thing and deliver another. Another had two cases of carbon-monoxide deaths in
the same room … without fixing the problem in-between.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Chasing Life” summer finale, 9 p.m.,
ABC Family.

This odd series continues to blend mismatched elements. At
the core is a solid, well-acted story about a young woman with cancer; tacked
onto that are awful bits of soap-type drama.

Like many bad dramas, that requires people to never quite
tell each other things … until they do it in excess; it also requires
self-destructive idiocy. Tonight, that reaches overload.

Other choices include:

“America’s Got Talent,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. Twelve more acts
perform; on Wednesday, five will advance.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here’s a rerun of the final primetime
performance by Ralph Waite, who died in February at 85. In this episode, he’s intent
on meeting someone who saved his life during the war. When his son Gibbs helps
him, Tony and McGee are left to argue about who should be lead on a case.

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds an
undercover agent killed and the team rushing to find the mole. Meanwhile, Kensi
is missing in Afghanistan and Granger is worried.

“4th and Loud” debut, 9 p.m., AMC. Puffed up with
their usual confidence, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons (the Kiss rockers)
brought pro football back to Los Angeles. They launched an Arena Football
League expansion team, complete with flashy uniforms, sexy cheerleaders and
fireworks. They expected big crowds and a championship; they got one out of
two, with this reality show following them.

“Royal Pains,” 9 p.m., USA. Usually, this show sticks to the
beauty of the Hamptons. Tonight, Hank and Boris head to Argentina, to see a
potential patient for Boris’ clinical trial.

“Matador,” 9 p.m., El Rey. Whisked away on Galan’s private
jet, Tony ends up in Nicaragua, amid drug lords, danger and a life-or-death
(literally) soccer game.

 “The Singles Project”
debut, 10 p.m., Bravo. If you’ve ever been frustrated by the dating decisions
of TV characters or real people, here’s a semi-solution. Bravo says viewers will
be able to steer some young New Yorkers, via social media.

TV column for Monday, Aug. 11

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Murder in the First” season finale,
10:01 p.m., TNT.

Almost 33 years after he remade TV drama with “Hill Street
Blues,” Steven Bochco has done some of his best work. “Murder” has followed one
case all season – an idea he first tried back in 1995.

It’s been filled with beautifully drawn characters, led by
the cops played by Taye Diggs and Kathleen Robertson. They’ve felt an arrogant
tech billionaire killed a woman (who was bearing his child), shortly after
firing her; a jury acquitted him, however, and they’ve been scrambling for
other possibilities.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Under the Dome,” 10 p.m., CBS.

For two summers, we’ve seen a town encased in a dome,
without a way out. Or is there?

Last week, Barbie (Mike Vogel), the show’s hero, plunged
into a tunnel. He was searching for Sam (Eddie Cahill), a newcomer this season.
Now that tunnel leads to a world that seems familiar, but isn’t; Brett Cullen –
a busy TV figure ever since “Falcon Crest” and “Young Riders” -- plays Barbie’s

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “21 Jump Street” (2012), 6:30 p.m.,
FX; and/or “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” 8 p.m., NBC.

Here are two chances to see Channing Tatum go far beyond his
handsome-hunk image.

First is a good comedy; he and Jonah Hill do an offbeat
version of the TV show about undercover cops in high school. Then is a
real-life adventure; Grylls takes him to the toughest parts of Yosemite.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: “The Approval Matrix” debut, 11
p.m., Sundance.

Four people sitting around talking for a half-hour? That can
work if the host is sharp, the guests are clever and the subject is lively; in
this case, all three click.

Neal Brennan – a writer, producer (“Chapelle’s Show”) and
stand-up comedian – is witty … even if he is often wrong in tonight’s debate
over whether this is a new TV golden age. (The correct answer – yes, but only
for drama.) Clever counterpoint comes from comedian-writer Whitney Cummings,
critic Matt Roush and “Today” personality Willie Geist. Only the out-of-studio
interview (Amy Poehler) is so-so.

Other choices include:

“Elephants Can Remember,”
Here’s the first of three Hercule Poirot tales debuting on Mondays. By Aug. 25,
the streaming service will have all 70 films with David Suchet.

“2 Broke Girls,” 8 p.m., CBS. Nicolas (Gilles Marini) has
invited Caroline to dinner in his loft.

“Candid Camera” opener, 8 p.m., TV Land. The classic concept
returns, with Mayim Bialik (Amy on “Big Bang Theory”) hosting with Peter Funt …
whose dad, Allen, launched the original 66 years ago.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies. One of the all-time great actors is celebrated. Marlon Brando stars in
“Streetcar,” followed by “The Wild One” (1953) at 10:15 p.m. and the brilliant
“On the Waterfront” (1954) at 11:45.

“Mike and Molly,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Mike and Samuel
join Carl on a road trip to Memphis.

“Mistresses,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. April finally learns who has
been stalking her. Joss goes to meet Scott’s big family … shortly after Harry
plants some doubts. Also, Karen blurs patient-doctor boundaries (again).

TV column for Sunday, Aug. 10

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Teen Choice Awards,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

The world will promptly forget who won the awards, which are
kind of silly anyway. (Our favorite has Kevin Hart facing Godzilla and others,
for best “movie hissy fit.”) Still, there’s the fun of a live show.

Sarah Hyland (“Modern Family”) and Tyler Posey (“Teen Wolf”)
host; music is from Jason Derulo, Demi Lovato, Rita Ora, Rixton and Magic. There
are plenty of presenters, from Taylor Swift to Kim Kardashian. For best comedy,
“Big Bang Theory,” “Modern Family” and “Glee” face cable’s “Sam & Cat” and
“Austin & Ally.” Dramas are “Hart of Dixie,” “Pretty Little Liars,”
“Twisted,” “Fosters” and “Switched at Birth.”

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: Shark Week, 7 p.m., Discovery.

Yes, it seems like every week is shark week. But Discovery
is the one that created this 26 years ago and has done a fine job … or did,
until it started inserting unidentified fiction alongside its documentaries.

That makes us wary of this start – a rerun of “Return of
Jaws” at 7 p.m., “Air Jaws: Fin of Fury” at 8, “Shark of Darkness: Wrath of the
Submarine” at 9 and a live, nightly talk show at 11. Those last two then rerun,
letting us go to sleep (if possible) at 3 a.m.; it all starts anew, Monday

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “True Blood,” 9 p.m., HBO.

TV’s trend – informing a series in advance that it’s the
final season – has mostly been a good thing. Stories are tightened, characters
are sharpened; “True Blood” offers a prime example.

With the finale two weeks from tonight, this meandering
story is coming together. Tonight starts with two climactic confrontations and
follows with key character moments. Then it propels Sookie to learn that there
may be a true cure. That’s followed by a closing jolt … which must be resolved

Other choices include:

“Maid in Manhattan” (2002), 7-9 p.m., Lifetime. Tyler
Posey’s career passes before us. See him at age 10 as the son of Jennifer
Lopez, who’s in an OK romance; then watch him at 22, co-hosting “Teen Choice.”

“The Simpsons,” 7:30 p.m., Fox. Nudged a half-hour earlier
than usual to make room for the awards, this rerun has Homer giving romance
advice (really) to Comic Book Guy.

Movies, 8 p.m., cable. At one extreme is Quentin Tarentino’s
fierce “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) on IFC; on the other is “To Be or Not to Be”
(1942), a much-praised dark comedy on Turner Classic Movies. Somewhere between
is “The Lucky One” (2012) on ABC Family, which shares a common flaw in fiction:
The story would be settled in 12 minutes, if people just talked to each other.

“Rising Star,” 9 p.m., ABC. The quarter-finals end. Barring
a change, we’ll have a winner in two weeks.

“Unforgettable,” 9 p.m., CBS. One of Eliot’s best friends
has been killed. That forces Carrie and Al to dig into their boss’ past and
into his current demons.

“Reckless,” 10 p.m., CBS. The incendiary relationship
between Jamie and Roy reaches extremes in both directions tonight – they share
an intimate dance … they oppose each other in a wrongful-death case.

“The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX. Last week, Nora decided this
whole business – complete with beheadings and six-foot-long tongues – was too
much for her. Now Ephraim reluctantly partners with Setrakian (all-knowing, but
all-creepy), trying to gather enough evidence to force a city-wide quarantine.

TV column for Saturday, Aug. 9

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.,

Summertime Saturdays are piled high with reruns. Fortunately,
Fox has some good ones; “Brooklyn” – the Golden Globe-winner for best comedy –
has one rerun on Tuesdays, two on Saturdays.

Tonight’s first has a veteran cop take credit for arrests. (He’s
played by Dean Winters, who’s had great cop roles, from “Rescue Me” to “Law
& Order: Special Victims Unit” … but is better known as Mayhem in insurance
commercials.) The second sees Halloween bring a flurry of undercover disguises.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Unforgettable,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Once cancelled by CBS, this show has become a key part of
the network’s summer strategy. New episodes get good ratings at 9 p.m. Sundays;
now there’s also this Saturday rerun.

It’s the season’s second episode, which showed up on the
busy 4
th-of-July weekend. Carrie and Al (Poppy Montgomery and Dylan
Walsh) must figure out how a boxer was beaten to death, apparently without
fighting back.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Outlander” debut, 9 p.m., Starz,
repeating at 10:10 and 11:20.

Fuelled by all the right things – best-selling novels, an
exotic plot, lush production values and a respected producer – this should be
terrific. Surprisingly, it’s often limp and sleepy.

When Ronald Moore re-crafted “Battlestar Galactica,” he
injected instant visual and emotional energy; his “Outlander” production has
none of that. We meet a World War II combat nurse who suddenly finds herself in
1743, amid Scottish warriors. The 20
th-century scenes, alas, are
British-drab; the Highland transformation does little to snap our attention.
Maybe this will get better; maybe not.

Other choices include:

“Agents of SHIELD,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, agents Garrett
and Triplett (Bill Paxton and B.J. Britt) help the team chase the Clairvoyant …
and face the possibility that Deathlok will destroy them all.

“Cedar Cove,” 8 p.m., Hallmark. Olivia finds the past
causing troubles everywhere. Her daughter meets a troubled war veteran; her
friend Grace learns her ex-husband lied during the divorce. Meanwhile, Jack’s
son ponders one job offer from his dad and another from a shady developer.

“Gang Related,” 9 p.m., Fox. With the finale coming
Thursday, here’s a second chance to see the episode that sets it up. Ryan (the
cop) wants his mentor Javier (the gang leader) to make a deal with the district
attorney. Meanwhile, both men find their secrets are being uncovered.

“Hell on Wheels,” 9 p.m., AMC. Cullen plans to challenge the
Swede and escape from the fort. Meanwhile, a new foe arrives in Cheyenne.

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. This
rerun finds a college football recruit in jail. Police soon suspect that an
elaborate hazing scheme went wrong.

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Edward Norton hosts
this rerun; Janelle Monae is music guest.

TV column for Friday, Aug. 8

MUST-SEE: “Dick Cavett’s Watergate,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

It was 40
years ago today (at 9 p.m. ET) that Richard Nixon announced he was resigning
from the presidency. Now PBS looks back at the crisis, through the clips of a
late-night talk show.

A steady
stream of key players – from G. Gordon Liddy to Bob Woodward – reached Cavett’s
show. Some joked, some lied, most were interesting. Alongside clips, we get
fresh comments and even some revisions: Woodward and Bernstein now agree with
the once-hated pardon of Nixon; so does Cavett.

MIGHT-SEE: “Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Here’s a
rerun of the episode that introduced Melanie Griffith as the mom of Danny
(Scott Caan). That mixes two second-generation actors – Tippi Hedren’s daughter
and James Caan’s son.

The mom
reaches the island with a surprise, just as the team has other things to worry
about: A real-estate agent’s body has been found, inside the walls of a house
he was trying to sell.

ALTERNATIVE: “Please Like Me” season-opener, 10:30 p.m., Pivot.

the title; there’s an instant likability to Josh. A young, gay man, he has few
plans, prospects or schemes; he pushes amiably through a life with odd friends
and odder parents.

Thomas – who also stars – used parts of his real life (including his bipolar
mother), but added a baby half-sister. That leads to Josh cleaning the
post-diaper baby in the shower because “Google said it’s OK.” It’s a fun show,
after the 10 p.m. debut of an OK reality show, “Human Resources.” 

choices include:

Crime Scene Investigation,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a rock-star groupie has
been killed and a prostitute has disappeared. Gene Simmons of Kiss guests,
playing himself.

“How to
Train Your Dragon” (2010, FX) or “We Bought a Zoo” (2011, FXX), 8 p.m. Two
sister channels make sure we’ll find a family film. “Dragon” is an animated
tale, zestful and occasionally violent; “Zoo” is a gentle pleasure, based on
the true story of a guy (Matt Damon), his family and a zoo,

9 p.m., Fox. We enter the deadly world of … well, chess. A master has been killed
in this rerun, so Sweets – a skilled player, as you probably suspected – goes

Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. A woman plans to commit suicide, after she kills the
drunken driver who killed her parents; Danny races to stop her. Also in this rerun,
Danny’s dad (Tom Selleck) finds frustration at a grandson’s field trip.

“The Knick” debut, 10 p.m.,
Cinemax. Yes, Steven Soderbergh is a master, with an Oscar (“Traffic”), an Emmy
(“Behind the Candelabra”) and great talent. Still, this opener (which he
directed and helped produce) has a giant obstacle: Its lead character (Clive
Owen) is a brilliant surgeon in 1900 New York, but he’s also a bigot, a drug
addict and a cruel boss. Even jaded cable viewers might reject him.

“Jonah From Tonga” debut, 10
and 10:30 p.m., HBO. The opening minutes are a delight, with wayward schoolboy
Jonah Takalua exiled to relatives on the island of Tongapatu. He misbehaves
there and is sent to a Catholic school in Australia. Soon, “Jonah” -- like
previous Chris Lilley shows -- gets repetitious.