TV column for Saturday, March 3

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

In the middle of a
big season – high ratings, sharp (if uneven) material -- “SNL”
had to skip three weeks for the Olympics. Now that it's back, it
should find plenty to make fun of.

Charles Barkley, the
former basketball star, hosts. It's his fourth time, spread over a
quarter-century. His first time, the music guest was Nirvana, no
less; this time, it's the rap trio Migos.

“Showtime at the Apollo,” 9 p.m., Fox.

If you missed this
show's debut Thursday – hey, it was a crowded night – catch this
quick rerun. Yes, it sounds cheesy – a talent contest with a
theater audience that can hoot the performers off the stage.

Still, this is no
“Gong Show.” Steve Harvey hosts it – as he seems to host
everything these days – and Pitbull does a song. More importantly,
the performers are first-rate. Some are odd (6-year-old rappers,
dancing rollerskaters, a blindfolded glasswalker), some aren't, but
most are immensely talented.

ALTERNATIVE: “Gandhi” (1982), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

In generations past,
the best-picture Academy Awards went to epics that were huge in scale
and rich in idealism. On the eve of the Oscars, here are strong

“Gandhi” --
rippling with non-violent confrontation – is followed at 11:30 p.m.
ET by “Braveheart” (1995), filled with mega-violence. Then the
massive “Ben-Hur” (1959) is at 2:45 a.m.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Independent Spirit Awards, 5-7:30 p.m. ET,
rerunning at 10, IFC.

These days, the
Oscars tend to avoid mega-movies and go with well-crafted little
indies. That's clear in these awards, designed to help
modest-budgeted indies; many of its nominees are also up for Oscars.

Today's best-picture
nominees include three films -- “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Call
Me By Your Name” -- that are up for that same award in the Oscars;
they're joined today by “The Rider” and the quirky “Florida
Project.” Other categories have “I, Tonya” and “Three
Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Other choices

“Jurassic Park”
(1993), 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., Paramount. Steven Spielberg's brilliantly
filmed adventure is followed by its sequel (1997) at 2 p.m. and 10
p.m.; “Jaws 3” is at 5.

Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. This reruns the first half of Friday's
amiable opener. Twenty girls (ages 8-13) prepare filet mignon and (in
some cases) a specialty dish; 12 of them will advance.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles, 8 p.m., CBS. Sam goes undercover, probing the murder of a
banker who had ties to the Russian Mob.

Sports, 8 p.m. ET,
NBC and A BC. Two winter sports collide. NBC has hockey, with
Washington and Toronto; ABC has basketball, with pre-game show at 8
and Celtics-Rockets at 8:30.

“Planet Earth:
Blue Planet II,” 9-10:30 p.m., BBC America. The first six episodes
– rerunning from 2-9 p.m. -- have had gorgeous underwater views.
Now the series closes with portraits of mankind fouling the seas ...
and saving the seas. Global action has saved the massive herring run
in Norway and has revived sperm whales. Individual heroics saved
1,000-pound turtles that bring their eggs to Trinidad.

“Falling Water,”
10 p.m., USA. The team tries a sting operation to catch Shadowman.

“Top Gear”
season-opener, 10:30 p.m., BBC America. At times, “Gear” is way
too British, with references to people, shows and cars that Americans
have never seen. And at times, the show goes too far in pretending to
be unscripted. Still, the talk is clever, the cars are great and the
filming is vibrant.

TV column for Friday, March 2

“Frontline,” 9 p.m., PBS.

Two days before the
Academy Awards celebrate Hollywood at its best, we see it at its
worst. Harvey Weinstein financed great movies (“The English
Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” etc.) amid reports of awful
behavior. Accusations by more than 80 women launched the new focus on
sexual abuse.

Many stations will
surround this probe with contrasting shows. At 8:30, “Me Too, Now
What” asks “Is patriarchy on the way out?” At 10 is a rerun of
“Makers,” viewing such strong forces as producer Shonda Rhimes,
producer-writer-star Lena Dunham, writer Linda Woolverton and star
Jane Fonda.

“Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

Here's a lighter,
brighter view of the same subject PBS explores – sexual advances
from an uneven power balance. Long ago, Jane savored her
almost-sexual relationship with a college teacher who wasn't her
advisor. Now, years later, she has mixed views of it.

That's part of a
story in which every key character – Jane, her mom, her dad and her
lover Rafael – ponders a new job. Alongside the serious bits, there
are plenty of fun moments ... including Eva Longoria offering a
delightful little satire of herself.

ALTERNATIVE: “MasterChef Junior” debut, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

This is the nice
one; facing kids ages 8-13, even Gordon Ramsay behaves. And Joe
Bastianich, who joins the show this year? “He's so stern,” one
girl says. “We can't read anything from his face.”

These are serious
chefs. “It's my lifelong dream to win 'MasterChef Junior'” says
one guy, whose life (12 years) hasn't been that long. A girl says
she's “dreamed of this moment my whole life.” In the first hour,
20 girls start with filet mignon; in the second, 20 boys start with
chicken breast. Many bring confidence. “I'm a really good cook,
probably a Level 10,” proclaims the youngest girl.

Other choices

“Flint Town,”
any time, Netflix. From Michael Moore's documentaries to basketball
stars and the water crisis, Flint, Mich., has been known for its
blue-collar grit. Now this eight-part series follows cops.

“Jaws” (1975), 7
p.m., AMC. This starts a strong movie night. At 8, there's “The
Girl With the Dragon” Tattoo” (2011, TNT) and “The Help”
(2011, E); at 9, “Wayne's World” (1992) is on Comedy Central.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. After an 11-week break, “Once” offers a
big-scale story. Robin Hood's baby girl (also named Robin) is older
now and hoping to harness her magic skills; that leads to a risky
link with Mother Gothel. In Hyperion Heights, Roni and Kelly,
desperate to save Lucy, strike a deal with Eloise. There's more, ABC
says, including a maybe-fatal moment with Victoria and Ivy.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Trying to get close to the son of a Serbian war criminal
at a resort, the team – Mac, Leanna, Riley and Bozer – poses as
two honeymoon couples.

“Annie Hall”
(1977), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. It's a night of
best-picture Oscar winners. Woody Allen's comedy is followed at 10 by
“Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), which mixes humor and solid drama; at
midnight ET is the smart historical piece, “A Man For All Seasons”

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Here's more undercover work: Tani and Junior (Meaghan
Rath and Beulah Koale) pretend to be parents considering a private
school where a headmaster was killed.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. The sexual-harassment issue appears again, this time
involving Nicky in her internship. She tries not to involve her mom
(a lawyer), uncles (cops) or grandfather (the police commissioner).
And Danny, her uncle, probes the death of a rich man and considers
taking a new job.

TV column for Thursday, March 1

“The Big Bang Theory” and “Young Sheldon,” 8 and 8:31 p.m.,

After retreating to
reruns on three Olympic Thursdays, these shows are back big-time.
Tonight's episodes are among the best in the long history of “Big
Bang” and the short one of “Sheldon.”

The former starts on
Bernadette's due date; the baby isn't here yet and she's not happy.
It's a broadly funny episode, with great work from Melissa Rauch and
Simon Helberg. And “Young Sheldon”? Often, this is a gently quiet
show, sprinkling the humor out slowly; not this time. The mom
suddenly has a full-time job, leaving Sheldon and his sister home
alone. The result brings some strong laughs.

II: “Showtime at the Apollo” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

For two decades,
this was a talent show for unknowns. For a couple recent specials, it
became a big-time variety show. Now it's back to being a talent

Steve Harvey again
hosts – just as he did the specials and some hours of the old show.
Except for one number by Pitbull, tonight's performers are newcomers;
most of them are also mega-talented. There are quirky acts –
walking on glass, dancing on roller skates, blending the moves of
Michael Jackson and Bollywood, mini-rappers – plus two immensely
gifted singers. The result is thoroughly entertaining.

ALTERNATIVE: “Straight Outta Compton” (2015), 7 p.m., and
“Atlanta” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

First is the TV
debut of “Compton,” the story of the rap group N.W.A. In
theaters, it drew praise and an R-rating. That movie version will run
here, with no TV edits but with lots of warnings.

Afterward,we see rap
on a much smaller scale, with Earn (Donald Glover) working for his
cousin who's a semi-star. Tonight's opener starts with a full-scale
shoot-out and ends with a long and quite funny-scene with
comedian/actor Katt Williams; it reruns at 10:40 and 11:19 p.m.

Other choices

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. A well-made spin-off called “Station 19” is still
three weeks away, but now we meet two of its people. We already know
Ben Warren (Jason George), who's married to Dr. Miranda Bailey; a
former surgical resident, he left to become a firefighter and EMT.
Now he and Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz) head to the hospital with
two boys rescued from a fire.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. After hearing about the latest attack – a bomb attached
to a model plane by The Toy Maker – one guy grins. “That's so
Gotham,” he says. It is. Tonight's hour is filled with rich
visuals, colorful characters (Poison Ivy returns spectacularly) and
strange ways to attack.

“An American in
Paris” (1951), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. It's a night of
musicals that won the Academy Award for best picture. “My Fair
Lady” (1964) is at 10:15, with “Oliver” (1968) at 1:30 a.m.

“A.P. Bio,” 8:30
and 9:30 p.m., NBC. There are occasional funny moments here, amid the
usual flaw: Comedy is full of attacks on the powerful and arrogant;
here, the victims are powerless high school students. One scene –
being forced to throw away textbooks – is about as funny as a

“Will &
Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC. This starts mildly, including a so-so
Will-and-Karen sub-plot. Then it gets to the real fun, as Grace's
vigorous dating life crosses generations. The result brings big

“Scandal” and
“How to Get Away With Murder,” 9 and 10 p.m., ABC. Two of TV's
great characters finally meet. Annalise (Viola Davis) is a powerhouse
lawyer in Philadelphia; Olivia (Kerry Pope) is a power-broker in
Washington, D.C. They merge on a class-action suit involving prison

“S.W.A.T.,” 10
p.m., CBS. Hondo ends up at the center of a citywide debate about
immigration. Also, his affair with Jessica, a superior officer, is
discovered by the police commissioner.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 28

“The X-Files,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Here's a giddy
surprise: This show's 214th episode, late in its 11th
season, may be its best ever. The basic theme – technology taken
to obsess – has been around forever, from “Frankenstein” to
rampant robots-gone-wild. But now, writers Kristen Cloke and Shannon
Hamblin perfectly re-imagine it for our time.

Their story starts
in the most impersonal restaurant ever, then spreads to drones,
self-driving cars, home-security systems and much more. Virtually no
dialog is needed; Mulder and Scully are the only humans in sight
until the final two minutes ... which provide the right ending for a
great hour.

II: “Survivor” opener, 8-10:01 p.m., CBS.

Remember when we
thought this would be a fad? Well, it's time for the 36th
edition, leaning heavily on the first 35. This is called “Ghost
Island” and is sprinkled with reminders of past mistakes.

The 20 contestants
range from Michael Yerger, 18, a Knoxville real-estate agent, to
Angela Perkins, 42, who retired as an Army captain and started a
construction company near Cincinnati. There are students, a teacher,
a yoga instructor, a fishing guide, a model and more.

ALTERNATIVE: “Maigret” debut, any time,

Jules Maigret has
been solving crimes almost forever. He's in 75 Georges Simenon novels
and 28 short stories, plus plenty of movies and TV series. At least
11 actors have played him, including Charles Laughton, Michael
Gambon, Richard Harris and now – surprisingly – Rowan Atkinson.

In books, Maigret is
big, broad-shouldered and French. Atkinson is none of those; he's a
comedy genius (“Mr. Bean,” “Black Adder”) who's dead-serious
here. The first film (“Maigret Sets a Trap”) is a quiet tale with
a retro feeling; the second (“Maigret's Dead Man”) is a big, busy
story of multiple murders.

Other choices

“The Looming
Tower” debut, any time, Hulu. It's a strong day for the streaming
networks. Alongside Britbox is a very American – and painfully real
– drama. Jeff Daniels stars as someone facing bureaucratic tangles,
while warning of the type of attack that then happened on Sept. 11,

“The Blacklist,”
8 p.m., NBC. Martha Plimpton plays a therapist who must approve
before Liz can return to FBI duty. Also, tonight's target is someone
who molds alibis for killers.

“Bridge on the
River Kwai” (1957), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Four days
before the Oscars, here's a night of best-picture winners, all set in
wartime. “Kwai,” slow and elegant, is followed by “Patton”
(1970) at 11 p.m., “From Here to Eternity” (1953) at 2 and
“Casablanca” (1942) at 4:15 a.m.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Cassidy (Dean Winters) makes
trouble again. Now his testimony causes a mistrial; a doctor, accused
of sexually abusing his patients, goes free.

Modern Family,” 9
p.m., ABC. For the first time in six weeks, we get a new episode.
This one is full of Valentine's Day aftershocks. Mitchell and Cam may
have ruined the day for Luke, so they try to make amends. Jay also
botched the holiday, so Phil suggests a drastic solution.

Housewife,” 9:31 p.m., ABC. Katie takes the field-day competition
way too seriously.

Survivor” return, 10 p.m., ABC. After a long break, the show
returns to find the president deep in grief, 10 weeks after his wife
died in a car crash. Aides nudge him toward a therapist (Timothy
Busfield). Then, however, he faces a crisis that tests him as

“Waco” finale,
10-11:08 p.m., Paramount. For 51 days, there was a standstill.
Federal forces massed outside the Waco compound, while a negotiator
tried to get a compromise with Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.
Then things exploded, leaving 76 dead. This mini-series views the
tragic finish.

“The Assassination
of Gianni Versace,” 10 p.m., FX; rerunning at 11:13 p.m. and 12:26
and 1:45 a.m. Riddled with insecurities, Andrew Cunanan kept finding
ways to sabotage his life. This hour starts with him at the top,
sharing an old man's wealth; he ruins it all, descending toward the
murders that this well-made (but painful) mini-series is all about.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 27

“Unsolved” debut, 10 p.m., USA.

In the hip-hop
world, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls (also known as The Notorious
B.I.G.) were giants. Then both were slain in drive-by shootings, six
months apart; they were 25 and 24.

Neither case has
been solved, but this 10-week mini-series jumps between two probes, a
decade apart. Jimmi Simpson and Josh Duhamel are terrific as the lead
cops ... and in this first hour we get beyond any “rap war”
cliches. Shakur, we're told, was an intellectual with an imposing
library; Smalls was a sweet spirit who loved his mom. Alternately
friends and enemies, they left a perplexing tale.

“NCIS” and “NCIS: New Orleans,” 8 and 10 p.m., CBS.

Even the strongest
shows retreated during the Olympics, Now these two – among the top
shows in Nielsen ratings – are back to new hours, after two weeks
of reruns.

First, the team
needs information from Paul Triff (French Stewart); in exchange, it
gives him a 48-hour furlough in his former home – where McGee now
lives. Then Isler, an FBI special agent, asks Pride to help with an
off-the-books probe; Percy (Shalita Grant) joins, working undercover
as a getaway driver.

ALTERNATIVE: “On the Waterfront” (1954), 8 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies.

An all-Oscar
February wraps up wonderfully, with best-picture winners today and
Wednesday. Tonight includes “All the King's Men” (1949) at 10
p.m. and Laurence Olivier's “Hamlet” (1948) at midnight.

First is a
black-and-white gem; Elia Kazan's “On the Waterfront” may be the
best-acted movie ever. Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint won actor
and supporting actress Oscars; Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb or Karl
Malden might have won, if they weren't all in the same
supporting-actor category.

ALTERNATIVE II: “We'll Meet Again,” 8 p.m., PBS.

Each week, this
doubles as a lesson in recent history. Previous hours have ranged
from the Holocaust to civil rights; now comes a stark reminder of
what gays faced in the 1950s.

“The rest of your
life will be a living Hell,” a lecturer warns. When the University
of New Hampshire adds a club for homosexuals, the state's biggest
newspaper demands: “Boot the pansies out.” Now we meet two men
who survived those times and want to find the people who brought
comfort and support. One search is fairly easy; the other involves
finding someone living a free-form life in the redwoods.

Other choices

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. The Heck kids head in many directions: Sue celebrates her
21st birthday at a bar with her mom ... Brick is at a
sci-fi convenion with his dad ... And Axl heads to Ohio in the RV, to
make a toast at Kenny's wedding.

“This Is Us,” 9
p.m., NBC. After an Olympic break, this starts the season's final two
episodes. Kate and Toby go to Las Vegas for their pre-wedding fun; in
a flashback, we see her parents' anniversary.

“Black Lightning,”
9 p.m., CW. There are lots of slow moments, as Jefferson vows to kill
Tobias, who killed his dad. There's also the most pointless fight
scene since Batman battled Superman. Still, if you stick around,
there's a key moment at the end.

“American Creed,”
9 p.m., PBS. Two Stanford professors – Condoleezza Rice (the former
secretary of state) and David Kennedy (the historian) – search for
common ground among disparate Americans. They find strong moments
from the famous (Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon) and the others;
they even find a tad of agreement between people from the Tea Party

“Chicago Med,”
10 p.m., NBC. It's a tough time for Dr. Manning: Recovering from a
head injury (that came after witnessing a drive-by shooting), she has
a teen patient with an overbearing older husband.

“The Quad,” 10
p.m., BET. The college president – played by the gifted Anika Noni
Rose – is being charged with driving with Xanax in her system. Now
she points to the cop's history of racial profiling.