TV column for Thursday, Jan. 15

“American Idol,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

After looking
splendid at the Golden Globes, Jennifer Lopez returns to the
less-glitzy neighborhood of her roots. The auditions are in Long
Island, but we see her visit the Bronx neighborhood where she grew up
with her father (a computer technician), mother and two sisters.

Adam Lambert fills
in as judge. He subbed for Keith Urban, who was back home in
Australia for the funeral of his father-in-law, Antony Kidman, a
biochemist and psychologist who died at 75.

“The World Dog Awards,” 8-10 p.m., CW.

Humans get plenty of
awards, so now dogs have a turn. This show has some moments for
real-life heroes, but focuses on show business.

Hosting is George
Lopez, whose “Beverly Hills Chihuaha” is nominated for best dog
movie in the past 25 years – a category that excludes Lassie, Benji
and Rin Tin Tin. The other nominees are “Marley & Me,”
“Turner & Hooch,” “Beethoven” and “Air Bud.” Jason
Gann is a presenter and a nominee for best actor playing a dog ...
which he really does in “Wilfred”; the others in the category
just do voices.

ALTERNATIVE: “Babylon,” 10 p.m., Sundance.

Last week's debut
introduced a public-relations whiz (Brit Marling), trying to manage
the image of London's blunt police chief (James Nesbitt). Now we see
just how good this show can be, as they face a crisis: Arrested on
drug charges is the son of the deputy mayor who has been battling the

It's clever TV, but
faces three problems: The British accents are thick ... the side
stories about street cops are so-so ... and the show collides with a
comic gem (“Portlandia”) on IFC. “Portlandia” airs at 10 p.m.
and 1 a.m. ET., at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. PT; Babylon is 10 p.m. and 1
a.m. in both zones.

Other choices

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. A funny rerun finds the three women in Las
Vegas, where Penny – usually the party type – is accused of being
a “buzzkill” because of her new job. Back home, the guys want to
invent the next big thing; mostly, they find ways to procrastinate.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. Like Penny in “Big Bang,” Christy never planned to be
a waitress this long. Now she takes steps toward a new career.

“Critics Choice
Movie Awards,” 9-11 p.m., A&E. On Sunday, viewers saw Golden
Globes go to “Boyhood” (drama) and “Grand Budapest Hotel”
(comedy). This time, those filma are lumped with eight others for
best picture, with Michael Strahan hosting. “Boyhood” has eight
nominations and “Grand” has 11, trailing “Birdman” (13). This
comes on the day Oscar nominations are announced.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. Walden hits a snag in his plan to keep Louis:
The social worker (Maggie Lawson) learns that Walden and Alan have
only been pretending to be a gay couple.

“The McCarthys,”
9:31 p.m., CBS. Gerard (Joey McIntyre) clings to memories of sports
stardom; now his mom (Laurie Metcalf) lets him believe he's been
inducted into the high school hall of fame.

“Parenthood,” 10
p.m., NBC. Two weeks from the finale of this richly layered series,
the grandparents find mysterious rolls of film. Also, while Sarah
ponders Hank's offer, she and her sister Julia discuss their
relationship woes. And Joy intervenes in the decision about the
future of the record studio.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Holmes and Watson – each with major news for the other –
probe the murder of a brilliant bio-engineer.

“Archer,” 10
p.m., FX. The team must work with Conway Stern (Coby Bell) again,
possibly facing some resentment; last time, Lana cut his hands off.
Also, Archer and Lana pose a key question: If they're killed, who
gets their baby? His mom thinks she would qualify, but promptly loses
the tyke.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 14

“Melissa & Joey,” 8 p.m., ABC Family.

In last week's
season-opener, Mel fell off the roof and her marriage to Joey
remained unconsummated. Back home, alas, the secret romance of her
niece and his nephew keeps being re-consummated.

Clearly, this isn't
traditional family viewing (despite the network's name); also, its
humor is inconsistent. Still, there are some sharp lines, delivered
by pros. Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence are solid in the title
roles and Taylor Spreitler, 21, is excellent as Lennox, the lustful

II: “The Mentalist,” 8 p.m., CBS.

In its final season,
this show is finally letting its stoic crime-solvers get personal.
Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) is dating his former boss, Teresa Lisbon
(Robin Tunney); tonight, we meet her underachieving brother Jimmy
(Rob Belushi, Jim's son and John's nephew), who's a murder suspect.

Belushi, 34, will be
back Feb. 18, when “Mentalist” ends its seven-year run.

ALTERNATIVE: Debut of the channel called Pop, all day.

The TV Guide Channel
needed a makeover; it reached 80 million homes and interested few
viewers. Now it has a new name and a new emphasis, reflecting pop
culture, especially for ages 35-45 or so.

That includes the
new “The Story Behind”; its opener profiles “Everybody Loves
Raymond” at 9 p.m., rerunning at 11. There's also a New Kids on the
Block deluge, from 9-11 a.m., 4:30-6 p.m., 8-9 p.m. and 10-11 p.m.
Some previous shows remain, including the “Pop Sugar” fan show at
6 p.m., followed by soap reruns -- “The Bold and the Beautiful”
at 6:30 and “The Young and the Restless” at 7.

Other choices

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. The Kansas City auditions conclude. New York is

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Frankie tries working odd jobs – at Mike's quarry and
(for one day) at her old used-car job. Also, Axl's grandfather wants
him to replace the damaged kitchen sink.

“Baby Daddy,”
8:30, ABC Family. Lifelong friends Ben and Riley are finally lovers
so, of course, there's a crisis. He frets that she loves his brother,
a hunky hockey star. Then come anonymous notes, misunderstandings and
lots of blunt, so-so comedy, leading to a funny scene in the hockey

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. The terrific Steve Zahn and Andrea Anders are back, as
awful neighbors. Now Phil brings in his dad (Fred Willard), to rally
his retiree friends for retaliation.

“Empire,” 9
p.m., Fox. Last week's opener ended powerfully, with record-mogul
Lucious killing his lifelong friend Bunkie. Now the police probe
beginsl also, he and Cookie (Oscar-nominees Terrence Howard and
Taraji Henson) argue over which of their sons will be the focus of a

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. Working her task-force case , Lindsay needs help from

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia” season-opener, 10 p.m., FXX. Legend says baseball
great Wade Boggs once drank 64 beers on a road trip, then had a great
game. (Boggs has said he doubts the specific number, but doesn't
dispute the general account; in fact, he shows up briefly tonight.)
Now the gang tries to break his record during a flight. The result is
wildly irresponsible and sometimes quite funny.

More comedy, 10:30,
cable. FXX follows with the debut of “Man Seeking Woman,” with an
extreme sort of offbeat humor. It has its moments ... but faces the
season-opener of Comedy Central's “Broad City,” which drew waves
of praise last year for creator-stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 13

“Parks and Recreation” season-opener, 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

This quiet comedy
has been a modest success. Ratings have been mild, but praise and
awards have been strong. Amy Poehler has received an Emmy nomination
in each of its five seasons; the show has had five other Emmy nods
(including best comedy series), but no wins.

Now the final season
starts. Leslie battles for park land. Then she and Ron (Nick
Offerman) try to rescue Jamm from Ron's ex-wife – played by Megan
Mullally, Offerman's real-life wife.

II: “American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The North Carolina
of the early 1960s was an American favorite. On TV, it was the
setting for Andy Griffth's Mayberry; in real life, it was the South's
most moderate state. Then, bizarrely, it became the home of the
largest Ku Klux Klan chapter.

This well-made film
shows how the Klan fueled the frustrations of low-income whites.
(Becoming a Klansman was “the happiest day of my life,” one man
says.) It follows Bob Jones' organizing skills as leader ... and his
downfall, after taking the fifth amendment concerning money

ALTERNATIVE: “Face Off” season-opener, 9 p.m., Syfy.

Three previous
winners – Rayce Bird, Anthony Kosar and Laura Tyler – return to
coach five-person teams of aspiring movie make-up people. They split
up a field of talented contestants (from an 18-year-old cosmetology
student to a 41-year-old collision technician) who soon craft odd

One of TV's best
reality competitions, this is filled with people who master their
craft. Ve Neill, a judge, has three Oscars; Rick Baker, this week's
mentor, has seven. McKenzie Westmore, the host, doesn't have any ...
but her dad, Michael Westmore, won for “Mask.”

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The team looks for a homegrown terrorist. Marisol Nichols and
Joe Spano play federal agents who help.

“The Big
Interview” (8 p.m.) and “Discovering Lucy Angel” (9 p.m.,
repeating at 9:30), AXS TV; repeating, 10 p.m. to midnight. This
music channel sees Dan Rather start his season by interviewing
Wynonna Judd; next week is Carlos Santana. Then is the debut of a
reality show about an emerging trio of generically attractive
country-music blondes ... one of whom is a grandma and the mother of
the other two. The family is moderately interesting; its music (used
too sparingly) is buoyant.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. An admiral's daughter is the prime supect in
a double murder.

“Agent Carter,”
9 p.m., ABC. Peggy is close to finding the stolen technology ...
until the arrest of Jarvis reveals a secret that complicates things.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. A storage-unit fire yields clues on who might have
started the blaze that killed Shay. Also, Boden's dad (Richard
Roundtree) arrives, bringing unwanted parenting advice.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). This probes Russian chief Vladimir

“My Big Fat
Fabulous Life” debut, 10 p.m., TLC. Whitney Thore's “fat girl
dancing” videos drew millions of viewers. Most didn't realize her
weight gain (to 5-foot-2, 390 pounds) was fairly recent, caused by
polycystic ovary syndrome. He reality-show debut follows a “Kate
Plus 8” debut at 9.


TV column for Monday, Jan. 12

Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, with pre-game at 8.

The first
college-playoff year worked beautiflly. This championship game has
two teams with 13-1 records, each riding a late-season surge.

Oregon's only loss
was Oct. 2; since then, it has scored at least 42 points each game,
including 51-13 in its conference championship and 59-20 in the Rose
Bowl. Ohio State lost on Sept. 6, while adjusting to losing its
starting quarterback. It lost another quarterback, but won big
(59-0) in the conference championship and upset top-ranked Auburn in
the Sugar Bowl. Now they collide; it should be fun.

II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

With football to
worry about, CBS juggles the schedule. It has drama reruns
(flip-flopping their order); it also inserts the third run of the
“Big Bang” season-opener.

After wanderig off,
Sheldon finally wants to be retrieved in Arizona. Leonard heads
there, with Amy joining him. Meanwhile, Penny is ready for
life beyond being a Cheesecake Factory waitress; she interviews with
Bernadette's boss, played by the terrific Stephen Root.

ALTERNATIVE: “Friends to Lovers?” debut, 10 p.m., Bravo,

After a while, it
seems, that mysterious line between friendship and romance becomes impossible to cross. Or does it? In the weeks ahead, we'll see three pairs

One involves two gay
men; the others are man-woman duos. Attractive and likable, they have
strong friendships, despite some big differences. In this appealing
opener, people nervously suggest a first date.

II: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m, PBS (check local listings).

As a graduate
assistant in New York University's prestigious film school, Darius
Monroe never told faculty members what his documentary would be. It
involved a past he'd never mentioned.

As a Texas teen,
Mason had good grades and college ambitions. He also heard about his
family's gnawing money problems; with two friends, he robbed a bank.
“The Evolution of a Criminal” starts slowly, then gathers
emotional power, as Monroe visits his past and the people he hurt.

Other choices

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Fates vary wildly this week. Some women have a
cozy bikini pool party; some are shooting zombies with paintballs.
Some race tractors; one has a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.
At the end, Chris Soules has to trim the field from 22 to 17.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. Here's a second chance to see this show's fairly good
pilot film, with Oscar-nominees Terrence Howard and Taraji Henson as
founders of a record label.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. In CBS' only non-rerun tonight, Mike feels
guilty after flirting.

“NCIS: LA,” 9
p.m., CBS. This rerun sees Hetty being investigated in Washington;
also, a corruption probe finds one of the team members compromised.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. Back from war, the sheriff's son is acting strangely.

“Scorpion,” 9:59
p.m., CBS. These geniuses aren't exactly military-type heroes. Now,
however, they're needed to grab the technology from a military plane
that was shot down in Bosnia.

“Eye Candy”
debut, 10 p.m., MTV. After four upbeat seasons of “Victorious,”
Victoria Jackson turns serious. She plays Lindy, who dropped out of
college, moved to New York and became a computer hacker, focused on
finding her abducted sister. Now she may have a lead in finding a

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Forbidden from working with Kate or her colleagues, Rick
gets a private-eye license and hopes to handle the same cases. The
plan soon sputters.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 11

Golden Globe awards, 8-11 p.m. ET and PT, NBC.

For the third
straight year, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host. We can expect lots of
sharp humor from them and the presenters, including Tom Hanks,
Kristen Wiig, Seth Meyers, Kevin Hart, Lily Tomlin, Anna Faris,
Melissa McCarthy and former host Ricky Gervais.

In movies, dramas
are strong (“Selma,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “The
Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything” ), comedies are
quirky (“Birdman,” “St. Vincent,” “Pride,” “Grand
Budapest Hotel,” “Into the Woods”); TV has “The Good Wife,”
“Downton Abbey,” “Jane the Virgin” and lots of cable.

II: “Chimpanzee” (2012), 8-10 p.m., NatGeo Wild, rerunning at 11.

Each Earth Day, the
Disney people debut a gorgeous nature film in theaters. Now six of
the movies will skip all the Disney-owned channels and go to NatGeo,
starting with this beauty.

In the African rain
forest, a band of chimps lives among lush food choices ... making it
the target of a bigger, nastier crew. There's humor, violence,
tragedy ... and then a remarkable twist involving an orphaned
3-month-old chimp and the cranky leader. The result is richly moving.

ALTERNATIVE: Season-openers, 9-11 p.m., HBO and Showtime.

The two pay-cable
giants stuff tonight with openers, led by strong ones at the start
and finish.

At 9 p.m., HBO's
“Girls” has a dizzying shift, with Hannah (a zealous
city-dweller) going to Iowa for its writing workshop; today's
transitional episode is fairly good and next week's is a delight.
Even better is Showtime's “Episodes,” at 10:30. Matt LeBlanc
plays a perverse version of himself, an actor in an awful TV comedy.
He was happy to see it cancelled ... then appalled to see it

Other choices

Football, 1:05 p.m.
ET, Fox and 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS. The Packers host the Cowboys and then
the Broncos host the Colts, with the winners a step away from the
Super Bowl.

“Downton Abbey,”
9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). On the same night that it's up
for a Golden Globe, this classy drama has key moments, both personal
(Lady Mary's tryst) and global: Despite Robert's grumbling, a radio
arrives so people can hear the king's speech.

“Ultimate Survival
Alaska,” 9 p.m., National Geographic. The second episode of this
terrific race has all the elements, from dog sleds to river rafts,
with grand adventure and near-tragedy.

season-opener, 9-10 p.m., Showtime. Fiona's back from prison, working
as a waitress and in a chaste relationship with her boss. Her
brother is on college break, re-adjusting shakily to his rough life.
Their older sister tries hard to shock their dad Frank ... who, if
course, is unshockable. Back from his deathbed, Frank has a grand
project, in a sharp (and sometimes funny) episode.

debut, 9:30, HBO. This starts shakily, with a stale husband-wife
relationship, but then gets much better when two troubled souls –
his lumpy friend, her flighty sister (Amanda Peet) -- arrive.

“The Good Wife,”
10 p.m., CBS. An hour later than usual, due to football, this show –
another Globe-nominee – has the key debate between Alicia and Frank
Prady (David Hyde Pierce).

season-opener, 10 p.m., HBO. These gay friends depart San Francisco
for a vacation that's supposed to involve no drugs, no sex and many
trees. Plans change, sometimes thoroughly.

“House of Lies,”
10 p.m., Showtime. Marty is back from prison (flashbacks tell us what
happened), Jeannie is pregnant and their seedy consulting firm is
crumbling in funny ways.