TV column for Monday, March 20


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

This sort of line-up
propels ratings. The previous edition had an Olympian (Laurie
Hernandez) who became the show's champion); this has two top Olympic
stars, Simone Biles and Nancy Kerrigan.

Other years had
quirky figures from long-ago pop culture; this has two – the
massive Mr. T, 64, and the tiny Charo, 75. It also has the recent
“Bachelor” star (Nick Viall), a “Saturday Night Live” alumnus
(Chris Kattan), two singers, an actress and three athletes, one
bringing a comeback story: A rodeo accident left Bonner Bolton
paralyzed from the neck down; now he's recovered and dancing.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Man With a Plan,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.

After a slow start,
this has become a fairly good comedy. The early notion – dad as a
doofus – is set aside for better, slice-of-life stories. Helping
that is a broadened cast; this is the second episode with the
talented Swoosie Kurtz (an Emmy-winner and nine-time nominee) and
Stacy Keach (a Tony nominee).

Adam (Matt LeBlanc)
is appalled that his dad (Keach) doesn't go to the doctor. His mom
(Kurtz) and others push hard. It's not a great story, but it does
have some funny moments, well-handled by pros.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

It's election time –
to decide who will be the room mom at school. Jane – formerly known
as the virgin, now “the hot-mess mom” -- faces Petra, formerly
evil and now oddly good.

We'll forgive the
character switches. At its core, this show is so bright and fun that
flaws are tolerable. Tonight, we fret about the police probe ... and
about Jane's mother's engagement (to Bruce, Jane's father's lawyer)
... and about Jane's grandmother's love life. Don't worry; the
narrator will explain it.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: All-“Taken” or all-“Psycho.”

Cable and broadcast
combine to give us two versions of characters. There's Brian Mills,
with his soldier skills: In “Taken” (2008, 8 p.m., Lifetime),
he's Liam Neeson, tearing France apart to find his daughter; in the
TV version (10 p.m., NBC), he's Clive Standen, defying orders to
rescue a girl.

And there's Marion
Crane: In the brilliant “Psycho” (1960, 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies), she's Janet Leigh, checking into a creepy motel. Now “Bates
Motel” (10 p.m., A&E) introduces her, played by Rihanna; she's
having an affair with Sam, the hardware store owner, infuriating
Norman Bates.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. The battle rounds begin, with two teammates dueling. The
coach chooses one; the other could be stolen by another coach. To
help, each coach adds a mentor; Blake Shelton has his former
award-show co-host, Luke Bryan; others have John Legend, DJ Khaled
and Celine Dion.

“24: Legacy,” 8
p.m., Fox. As the CTU searches for Carter, Donovan has doubts about
Rebecca.

“APB,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. A killer seems ready to target Gideon at a technology
convention. Police try a high-tech scanning system to find and stop
him.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. When Franco is injured, people take up a collection to
pay expenses.

“Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The pledge drives are
over and PBS' line-up is back, sometimes with intense shows like
this. We're at a last-chance high school in the Mojave desert,
rooting for students who face fierce odds. The results leave us both
encouraged and deeply depressed.

“Quantico,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. After the hostage crisis, the president assembles a
secret task force with Alex and friends from the CIA and FBI, trying
to uncover a global conspiracy.

TV column for Sunday, March 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

When it comes to
quality – deeply layered portraits of interesting people – this
is first-rate, with rich subtlety to its writing and acting. But
“subtle” can go too far; at the end of this second hour, we still
don't know what the central story is.

A social worker has
a personal crisis, at the same time that she deals with a 17-year-old
prostitute. A young farmworker is drug-addicted; an older one
searches for his son. And a trailer fire has killed 15 workers. These
are potent stories; when they're weaved together – eventually --
“Crime” could be great.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Shades of Blue,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Now for the exact
opposite of “American Crime.” Devoid of subtlety, “Blue”
crashes through each scene with noisy ferocity. It's overwrought and
overzealous ... yet does hold our attention.

Last week, Wozniak
(the cop) and Stahl (the FBI guy) had a war of hidden-camera footage.
It destroyed both men's families and ended with and Woz holding a
deadly choke on Stahl's neck. Now we learn if Stahl survived ... and
if Harlee (Jennifer Lopez) can keep her own secrets, including the
fact that she killed her daughter's father. It's an intense episode;
and, like last week, it ends with a fierce jolt.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
“The Good Fight,” any time, CBS All Access.

So this is how “Good
Fight” will use the freedom available on a pay-extra streaming
service. It's not with nudity or violence or such; there are plenty
of places for that. It's with an adult approach to a serious subject
– in this case, cyber-hate, using rampant (but fictional, we hope)
examples and a brilliant guest performance by John Cameron Mitchell.

The basic plot –
top-tier lawyers, spending their time arguing the specifics of an
E-mail – is absurd. Within that, however, there are powerful
moments. Other storylines also move well and there are great moments
with Elsbeth (wonderfully played by Carrie Preston). the odd “Good
Wife” lawyer.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Weapon Hunter” season-finale, 9 p.m.,
Smithsonian.

Some weapons become
more than shooting machines; they carry human stories. As Paul Shull
tries to re-create the one-of-a-kind “stinger,” he comes across
the Tony Stein story.

Stein grew up in
Dayton, the son of Jewish immigrants. A machinist before World War
II, he managed to turn an airplane gun into a portable machine gun.
Amid the horrors of Iwo Jima, he kept using it to charge the enemy
and bring back Marines. Shull makes the gun and learns the Medal of
Honor story.

Other choices
include:

College basketball,
noon to midnight ET. CBS limits itself to three games today (noon and
2:30 and 5 p.m. ET, handing the evening slot(7:30 p.m. ET) to TruTV.
There are also doubleheaders on TNT (6 and 8:30 p.m.) and TBS (7 and
9:30). At the end of the night, we'll have next week's “sweet 16.”

“Making History,”
8:30 p.m., Fox. It's easy to impress a girl when you have a time
machine. Now, however, Deborah Revere (Paul's daughter) is starting
to realize that Dan didn't invent the thing.

“Madame
Secretary,” 9 p.m., CBS. The secretary of state is leading a
landmark, 200-nation treaty to fight climate change globally. (As you
can tell, this is set inn an alternate reality.) Then China threatens
to pull out because Elizabeth is meeting the ailing Dalai Lama.

“Time After Time,”
9 p.m., ABC. After a strong start, “Time” is sputtering. It has a
bland H.G. Wells, a so-so Jack the Ripper and the same problem as
“Timeless” -- if you can't change the past, you (and viewers) are
helpless. Those problems complicate this episode, as Wells visits a
1980 party.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Scrambling for an answer to her illness,
the guys must dig deeply into Melissa's life before the virus
destroyed most of mankind.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. A detection system claims to have heard a gunshot, but
police can find no evidence. Meanwhile, Shinwell (Sherlock's ex-con
colleague) is linked to an unsolved murder.

TV column for Saturday, March 18


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Fast Five” (2011), 8-11 p.m., NBC.

Tonight, the
big-four networks are all about high-octane, high-stakes action. Two
(CBS, ABC) have basketball; the other two have speeding vehicles –
bikes on Fox (Supercross, 7 p.m.), cars here.

A street racer (Vin
Diesel) is linking with a former FBI agent (Paul Walker), trying to
rob a drug lord. But an FBI guy (Dwayne Johnson, also known as The
Rock) is pursuing them. There are lots of chases and gun fights, plus
Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and
more.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Planet Earth II,” 9 p.m. ET, BBC America, rerunning at
midnight.

Much of the Earth –
one-quarter of its non-water – involves grasslands, narrator David
Attenborough tells us. There, cameras find big creatures – lions
chasing buffalo, wolves chasing caribou – and tiny ones: A
five-million-ant colony combines to turn grass into fungus, eating a
half-ton of it every year.

There's humor here
from the birds – some hitch rides on ostriches, others leap in
frantic mating rituals – and spectacle from the arctic fox. It
leaps up and plunges head-first into the snow, surprising its prey.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
Robert Osborne tribute, all day, Turner Classic Movies.

Osborne, who died
March 6 at 84, had a rich knowledge of movies and their stars. This
48-hour marathon starts at 6 a.m. ET with a 2014 special that had
Alec Baldwin interviewing him; that repeats at 1:30 and 8:05 p.m. ET
and 12:45 a.m. There's also a 2015 tribute to him, at 9 a.m. and 4:15
p.m.

Alongside that are
interviews -- Norman Jewison at 7:30 a.m. ET, Alan Arkin, 10:15;
Luise Rainer, 11:30; Liza Minnelli, 12:15 p.m.; Eva Marie Saint, 3
p.m.; Peter O'Toole, 5:30; Kim Novak, 6:45; Debbie Reynolds, 9:30;
Betty Hutton, 10:30 p.m.; Liza Minnelli, 11:45 p.m. and more.

Other choices
include:

College basketball,
four networks. A new tournament round begins, with 32 teams left. CBS
has games at noon and at 2:30, 5 and 7:30 p.m. ET, with cable doing
the rest. That's 6 and 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT and 7 and 9:30 p.m. on
TBS.

“Ice Age” films,
3:40 to 10 p.m., cable. You could catch an animated triple-feature.
The first two “Ice Age” films are on Freeform at 3:40 (2002) and
5:40 p.m. (2006). The latest (2016) is 8 p.m. on HBO.

“Jerry Maguire”
(1996), 6:39 p.m., Starz. A strong movie night starts with this
sharply written Tom Cruise film. You might also try Tina Fey's “Mean
Girls” (2004) at 7:06 and 9:14 p.m. on Bravo and Freeform cartoons
-- “Despicable Me” (2010) at 7:45 and the clever “Wreck-It
Ralph” (2012) at 9:50.

Pro basketball, 8:30
p.m. ET, ABC, with preview at 8. LeBron James and the Cleveland
Cavaliers visit the Los Angeles Clippers.

“The History of
Comedy,” 9 and 10 p.m. ET, CNN. Barring another late change, this
will offer two strong reruns. The first looks at people – from
Jonathan Winters to Robin Williams – who managed to mix great
comedy with serious personal problems. The second views topical
humor, from the mild Hope/Carson days to the rush of “Daily Show,”
Samantha Bee, “Saturday Night Live” and beyond.

“Kicking and
Screaming,” 11 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the opener, 10 survival
experts are paired with non-experts – including a cheerleader, a
chess champion, a model and a self-described “Malibu princess.”
Despite the stereotypes, these turn out to be interesting people, fun
to watch.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Here's a rerun of the episode Casey Affleck
hosted, before winning his Academy Award for “Manchester By the
Sea.” Chance the Rapper is the music guest.

TV column for Friday, March 17


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Originals” season-opener, 8 p.m., CW.

A week after fans
mourned the end of the eight-year “Vampire Diaries,” its sequel
returns. The visuals are gorgeous, the violence is nasty and the
stakes are high.

Marcel is still king
of New Orleans' vampire/werewolf world; to prove it, he has Klaus
(the founder) in a dungeon. (Kings are big on dungeons, you know.)
But now witches and outsiders – including the arrogant Alistair –
may disrupt things. Meanwhile, Claire and Hayley take strong measures
to try to revive Elijah. There are plenty of gory moments, as lethal
forces keep colliding.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: Basketball, noon to midnight, CBS and beyond.

CBS – which even
scuttled its soap operas for a couple days – again starts the
action; it has Michigan and Oklahoma State at 12:15 p.m. ET. Others
follow, with TruTV at 12:40 (Baylor-New Mexico State), TNT at 1:30
(Arkansas-Seton Hall) and TBS at 2 (Oregon-Iona).

Each has four games,
one of the last ones an intra-state battle (Kentucky-Northern
Kentucky) at 9:40 p.m. on CBS. By the end of the night, we'll have
the 32 teams for Saturday and Sunday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: St. Patrick's Day shows.

The big networks
forget to have anything Irish today, but others step in. That's via
broadcast (some PBS stations have pledge-drive specials), streaming
(an excellent acorn.tv series, listed below) and cable.

Syfy takes the
perverse route, a marathon of evil-leprechaun movies – most of them
with Warwick Davis, once a beloved ewok – from 7 a.m. to 5 a.m. But
Turner Classic Movies has an all-Irish day, led by Francis Coppola's
brilliant “Finian's Rainbow” (1968) at 11:30 a.m. ET and John
Ford films -- “The Informer” (1935), 6:15 p.m. ET, “Rising of
the Moon” (1957), 8; “The Quiet Man” (1952), 9:30.

Other choices
include:

“Striking Out,”
any time, www.acorn.tv. Remember
“Harry's Law,” with Kathy Bates going from an upscale law firm to
a storefront? Here's the same idea, but even better. We won't spoil
the surprises, but the first hour does a great job of moving a young
Irish lawyer (Amy Huberman) to the side of a coffee shop, with a
maybe-felon (Emmet Byrne, who's excellent) as her office manager.
Some things are never explained – who, exactly, is Vincent? – but
the cases are fairly good and the characters are great.

“Grimm,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. Let's try to remember to never walk through a mirror unless we
know what's on the other side. That worked OK for Alice (who found
Wonderland), but it's perilous for Eve and Nick. They find a grisly
world of human-type creatures eating each other. The result –
intense and sometimes disturbing – starts a two-parter that
continues next Friday.

“Rosewood,” 8
p.m., Fox. The music business turns old-school (very old): On his
yacht, people fine a producer's mummified body.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. Somehow, a mysterious woman is in the vault. The team
tries to find out who she is and who's side she's on.

“Reign,” 9 p.m.,
CW. In France, King Charles' odd behavior is threatening his reign;
his mother scrambles into image control. In Scotland, Lord Darnley
tries to prove his loyalty to Mary.

“Truth and Lies:
The Family Manson,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. This series of occasional
documentaries began with the Menendez Brothers; now it revisits the
Charles Manson case. There are interviews with two of his women and
(from 1994) with Manson, who's now 82. Also interviewed are Mike Love
of the Beach Boys (who encountered Manson) and friends of slain
actress Sharon Tate.

Stand-up comedy, 10
p.m., Showtime. This is the second half of a Natasha Leggero show at
the SXSW Festival. It includes Emo Phillips, Sean Patton, Ian
Edwards, Kurt Braunohler and Eliza Skinner

TV column for Thursday, March 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Basketball, noon to midnight, CBS and beyond.

For the next three
weeks, the NCAA tournament will gobble up large chunks of our TV time
and our thought processes. The games will even supplant CBS soap
operas. Really.

CBS has today's
first game, tipping off at 12:15 p.m. ET, with Notre Dame and
Princeton. (Yes, Princeton. This is also the first tourney for
Northwestern and California-Davis; even the smart schools got in.) It
also has one of the night's last – Wisconsin and Virginia Tech at
9:40 p.m. -- with two others in between. Other four-game sprees start
at 12:40 p.m. on TruTV, 1:30 p.m. on TNT and 2 on TBS.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Comedies, 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

On Thursdays, the
CBS gems -- “Big Bang,” “Mom,” etc. -- usually grab most of
the comedy viewers. Now that they're resting for a couple weeks, we
can catch some undernoticed NBC comedies.

At 8 p.m.,
“Superstore” has Amy (America Ferrera) help her parents move from
her childhood home; Tony Plana – terrific in everything, including
the “Lethal Weapon” season-finale – plays her dad, just as he
did in Ferrera's “Ugly Betty.” At 8:30 is a rerun of the
hilarious “Trial & Error” opener.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Catch,” 10 p.m., ABC, and more.

The entire ABC
line-up is an ideal counterpoint to basketball, wrapping up with the
revamped “Catch.” It's a show that has a sleek look, clever
dialog and a big obstacle: The central characters, Alice (Mireille
Enos) and Ben (Peter Krause), are tough to like, even in a
“Sopranos”/”Breaking Bad” world.

One solution is to
spend time with Sophie, Alice's more-human employee; another – a
great one – is adding Tommy (T.R. Knight), Alice's oft-flailing
brother. Tonight, Tommy helps track the people who put millions in
his bank account, Ben cons a restaurant and Alice protects her nasty
nemesis.

Other choices
include:

“Snatch” debut,
any time, Crackle. Like “Catch,” this is about scams and cons.
Still, it's the opposite – no slickness, just the amiably ragged
style that reminds us it's based on a Guy Ritchie movie. There are
lots of Londoners to root for -- most of them low-income and one
(played by Rupert Grint of “Harry Potter” fame) quite prosperous.
A boxing story is so-so, but there's a bigger one unfolding.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Jackson and April travel to Montana to perform surgery,
but his focus isn't there. She has to try get him back on track.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. At last, flashbacks will show exactly what happened on
election night, when Francisco Vargas was killed. Also, Olivia must
make a live-changing decision about the campaign; and her father,
Rowan, is surprised when someone from his past resurfaces.

“Kicking and
Screaming,” 9 p.m., Fox. First, we must learn what happened to the
wilderness novice whose face puffed up with a severe allergy. Then
it's a new, fairly fun round: Each duo pairs an expert (one praises
eating rabbit eyes because “they're full of electrolytes”) with
their opposite; that includes a chess champ who observes that he's
“almost an encyclopedia of perfection.”

“Planet Earth II,”
9 p.m., BBC America. There are clever creatures in the desert, we
learn from this terrific rerun of Saturday's hour. Moles slide
through the sand, almost undetected ... beetles climb huge dunes,
just to absorb some mist ... birds fly two hours, store water and fly
it back to their young.

“The Blacklist:
Redemption,” 10 p.m., NBC. Terrorists have escaped from a secret
Manhattan prison. Now the team must lock down the city – no easy
task – and find them.

“History of
Comedy,” 10 p.m., CNN. Don't be sure of anything here, because CNN
keeps making last-minute changes in prime time. Tentatively
scheduled, however, is a good hour that looks at topical humor when
it was scarce – Mort Sahl, etc. -- and during our current time of
topical abundance.