TV column for Friday, Jan. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“In Performance at the White House,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

In a swirl of change
in 1965, Congress launched the Civil Rights Act, medicare and the
National Endowment for the Arts. This concert celebrates the NEA's
50th anniversary with a superb concert.

The music ranges
from century-old blues by Queen Latifah to rousing hip-hop from her
idol MC Lyte. It goes from the joy of Smokey Robinson's “My Girl”
to the wrenching power of Usher singing Marvin Gaye's “Mercy, Mercy
Me” and Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald reprising their
“Ragtime” duet. There's James Taylor, Keb' Mo', Usher, Trombone
Shorty and the remarkable Esperanza Spalding

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

This may be CBS'
favorite plot now, with two cops trying “couples therapy” for
their work relationship. Mike and Carol did that Wednesday on “Mike
& Molly”; McGarrett and Danny try tonight.

And yes, there's
also a crime story. This hour flashes back to Kamekona's dangerous
youth.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Cinderella” (2015, Starz) and “The Hundred-Foot
Journey” (2014, Showtime), both 8 p.m.

Feel-good tales –
with the hero overcoming steep odds – are sometimes disparaged.
Still, they're the fabric of storytelling; when done by gifted pros,
they are hugely entertaining.

Kenneth Branagh
molded “Cinderella” into a lovely, live-action drama. And Lasse
Hallstrom brought a sweet beauty to the tale of competing
restaurant-owners – one (Helen Mirren) distinguished, the other a
struggling immigrant, convinced that his son's talent would suffice.

Other choices
include:

“MasterChef
Junior,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. The first hour starts with an odd race,
to see who can make the most deviled eggs in 12 minutes. The second
has Catherine Tosi's mom supervising, when the kids try to re-create
her favorite childhood foods.

“Reign,” 8 p.m.,
CW. Already a young widow, Catherine is being pressured to quickly
marry anew, for the sake of her native Scotland. Meanwhile, the
debate continues over who poisoned her husband, France's king. His
scheming mother Catherine is being accused.

“Undercover Boss,”
8 p.m., CBS. After filling in on Sundays, this show does the same for
Fridays, holding the 8 p.m. spot until “Amazing Race” returns
Feb. 12.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. With their college alumni race coming up,
each parent struggles to have Eve as a teammate. Also, Kristen is
skeptical when Ed hires his girlfriend at the restaurant.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30,
ABC. When Drs. Ken and Oz meet at the airport, there's trouble. Also,
Ken's wife gets way too involved in their daughter's love life.

“Matilda”
(1996), 8:45 p.m., ABC Family. Roald Dahl's dark stories have been
turned into masterful movies, led by “Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory” and this one. A little girl (Mara Wilson), surrounded by
cruelty, discovers special powers. Danny DeVito directed brilliantly
and provided some of the villainry, along with then-wife Rhea
Perlman.,

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Frank's former police partner is writing a tell-all
book – something that could complicate his current life as police
commissioner. Meanwhile, his son Jamie faces a sudden crisis on the
beat; the result could have major repercussions for Jamie and his
police partner.

 

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Shades of Blue,” 10 p.m., NBC; and “American Idol,” 8-10
p.m., Fox.

We can make it an
entire J-Lo night. Jennifer Lopez is back to her judging duties on
“Idol” -- tonight, the auditions are in San Francisco and Little
Rock – while starring in a new cop show.

Lopez, who grew up
in the Bronx, plays a single mom and a detective in a tight-knit
Brooklyn police unit that tends to stray from the law. When she helps
a colleague cover up a shooting, she's nabbed by investigators and
nudged to inform on the others ... while working cases with them. Ray
Liotta plays her boss and Drea de Matteo of “The Sopranos”
co-stars.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Angel From Hell” debut, 9:30 p.m., CBS.

OK, this counts as
progress: CBS made a bad “Angel” pilot, threw it out and then
made one that's sometimes bad and sometimes not. In both cases,
Maggie Lawson plays an overstressed doctor, with a good-guy brother
(Kyle Bornheimer), a widowed dad (Kevin Pollak) and a shaky
boyfriend.

Then she meets Amy
(Jane Lynch), who claims to be her guardian angel. The character is
almost identical to Bonnie on “Mom” -- a tall, slim, older woman
who revels in her vices. But Bonnie is written and played to subtle,
Emmy-winning perfection by Allison Janney; Amy, so far, is merely
blunt.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mom,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Before trying “Angel
From Hell,” we can catch the high standards of “Mom.” Tonight
Bonnie – who's not accustomed to saying “no” -- balks at
Steve's suggestion of advancing their relationship.

Meanwhile, Christy
has bigger problems. Her daughter (Bonnie's granddaughter) is engaged
to an older guy (David Krumholz) with a hard-to-please mom (Linda
Lavin). Bonnie throws them a family dinner.

Other choices
include:

“My Diet is Better
Than Yours,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. Here's a quick reality show, filling
the gap until “Grey's Anatomy” and “Scandal” return Feb. 11.
It follows people using different diets and trainers.

“Heroes Reborn,”
8 p.m., NBC. There are big stakes here, including the possible
extinction of the human race. First, the immediate problems: Noah is
missing. Luke and Malia try to save Tommy ... who must link with Miko
to battle Erica. Also, Carlos and others try to free Matt Parkman's
prisoners.

“Life in Pieces,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. Heather and Tim finally find another couple they like
to hang out with; they also find that their daughter dislikes the
other couple's son. Also, Brenda Song – the former kid-comedy star
(“Suite Life,” etc.) shows up as Matt's ex-wife.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. After a six-week break, this ratings hit returns with
Liz facing trial and Red scrambling to protect her.

“Moonstruck,”
9-11 p.m., Pop. Norman Jewison's neatly nuanced drama-comedy has Cher
as a widowed bookkeeper, falling for her fiance's goofy brother
(Nicolas Cage). It was nominated for the best-picture Oscar and had
wins for Cher, Olympia Dukakis and writer John Patrick Shanley.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Watson fumes when she learns her stepfather is writing a
crime novel, borrowing real-life work she did with Sherlock Holmes.

“The Increasingly
Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
IFC. David Cross' terrific show starts with a colleague going
missing. Todd is sent back to London, to launch the latest energy
drink. Then a major soccer star is landed for a Thunder Muscle
commercial.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 6


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

Last year's “Crime”
was an achingly brilliant journey with all the people surrounding a
murder probe. This second season has different characters, but some
of the same actors (Tim Hutton, Felicity Huffman, Elvis Nolasco), the
same creator ... and the same gripping sense of human detail.

This starts with a
voice reporting an alleged rape; then it flashes back, with no quick
hints about the victim or the perpretator. We're at an upscale
private school that prides itself on diversity. A mom (beautifully
played by Lili Taylor) sees the pain of her son and his girlfriend.
Then emotions build.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Idol” season-opener, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

What has this show
meant to some young fans? “'American Idol' is what I base my life
off of,” one teen says here. Another lives on a distant ranch, with
no electricity; twice a week, she says, her dad would crank up the
the generator so she could watch “Idol.”

Now they audition in
Atlanta and Denver, as the final season begins. So do others, ranging
from huge vocal gymnastics to a quiet ballad sung with heart-tugging
simpliciy and beauty. And so are some shaky talents who somehow get
approved; “Idol” is far from its days of Simon Cowell put-downs.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” season-opener,
10 p.m., FXX.

The comedy of
exaggeration can be tricky. Tonight's “Man Seeking Woman” opener
(10:30 p.m., FXX) tries it and soon becomes one-note; “Sunny,”
by comparison, keeps concocting new, funny twists.

The gang wants to
sell its creation to a board-game executive, so the entire episode
involves playing it with him. Wonderfully wierd, with oddly
expandable rules, the game brings great detours, including some
hilarious sculpture-charades. Then Frank (Danny DeVito) takes things
to extremes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Particle Fever” (2013), 10 p.m., PBS.

This is science on
an epic scale. Underground at a quiet Swiss village, the Large Hadron
Collider stands 300 feet and is variously estimated at $5 to $10
billion. It helps find answers to the start of life.

Now its story is
told by skilled people. “Fever” is co-directed by David Kaplan (a
physicist) and by a Hollywood sound engineer who has a physics
doctorate. Sharply edited by Walter Murch, a three-time Oscar-winner,
it ranges from animation to interesting people. Some are veterans,
their lives' work at stake; one is a young post-doctoral student,
zipping around on her bicycle, being part of epic science.

Other choices
include:

“The Myseries of
Laura” return, 8 p.m., NBC. After taking six weeks off, “Laura”
returns with an “urban treasure hunt” -- from gritty rooftops to
a symphony hall – that becomes a murder case.

Movies, 8 p.m.,
cable. Beautifully directed by Penny Marshall, “Big” (1988, E) is
full of charm, with Tom Hanks as a 12-year-old kid suddenly in a
grown-up's body. Meanwhile, the third “Night at the Museum” film
(2014, HBO) is a pleasant trifle. And MTV has an instant rerun of
“The Shannara Chronicles,” a big-budget adventure in the mode of
“Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones.”

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. The sixth season finally begins, as the
second half of a comedy block with “2 Broke Girls.” Mike and Carl
try couples counseling, after their police partnership wobbles.

“People's Choice
Awards,” 9-11 p.m., CBS. Jane Lynch is busy filling every night. On
Tuesday, she hosted the season-opener of NBC's “Hollywood Game
Night”; on Thursday, she'll star in the opener of “Angel From
Hell.” In between, she hosts this, with music from Jason Derulo and
Shawn Mendes.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Two stories involve friendships with couples. Jay is
sensitive about the fact that the guy is in his 80s; Phil is
challenged by the fact that he always ends up with the check.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. This wraps up the two-night, three-show link between
the Chicago dramas. Police investigate, after four of a doctor's
patients have chemo overdoses.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Grandfathered,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Dr. Phil McGraw
isn't a medical doctor (nor are Dr. Laura, Dr. Dre or Dr. Pepper),
but tonight he plays one on TV. That's in a funny scene, as Jimmy
(John Stamos) has his first health check-up in decades.

It's neatly
juxtaposed with two other stories: Jimmy's granddaughter faces minor
surgery (as her parents feign calmness) and his aides try to figure
out what's locked in his safe. Like other “Grandfathered”
episodes, this is quick and slick; unlike some, it's also very witty.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: More comedies, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

The disappointing
“Scream Queens” is gone and Fox has rebuilt and improved its
Tuesday line-up, with four situation comedies. That starts when the
“New Girl” season-opener has an engagement party implode: Jess
foolishly invites Cece's mom ... and Nick botches getting her at the
airport.

“Grandfathered”
and “The Grinder” slide to 8:30 and 9:30; in between, “Brooklyn
Nine-Nine” takes the 9 p.m. slot with a funny and farflug episode.
Charles battles his nasty ex-wife, Amy turns accident-prone and ...
in some very funny scenes, Gina suddenly becomes an interrogator.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago Med,” 9 and 10 p.m..
NBC.

For the first time,
NBC loops all three of its Chicago shows. That starts when one of the
firefighters is critically wounded in a knife attack. Cruz asks
police to help search for the temperamental young Freddie. And a fire
call leads to the rescue of somone who apparently attempted suicide.

Then things move to
the hospital, where Dr. Rhodes is accused of being too slow to start
surgery on the stabbing victim. Also, police begin to doubt if there
really was a suicide attempt.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Finding Your Roots.” 8 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

For modern people,
it can be shattering to take a close, personal look at slavery. In
this beautifully crafted season-opener, Donna Brazille (who led Al
Gore's presidential campaign) and artist Kara Walker become deeply
emotional when hearing stories of their enslaved ancestors.

Then there's Ty
Burrell, the “Modern Family” dad. After hearing family rumors
that he has a black ancestor, he's delighted to learn about her – a
pioneering Oregon homesteader. But he's shaken by the flip side of
the story: Another ancestor was a rapist whose slave had his baby at
13.

Other choices
include:

“Teen Wolf,” 11
a.m. to 10 p.m., MTV. This is a big day for MTV, launching its
“Shannara” epic. Leading into that, it reruns the first half of
the “Teen Wolf” season, then has a new episode at 9. Scott and
Stiles set their differences aside, as they rush to save the sheriff
from the infection.

“NCIS” and
“NCIS: New Orleans,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. Here's another crossover
tale. When the passengers and crew of a private plane are poisoned,
the chief suspect is Abby's brother (Tyler Ritter), a New Orleans
chef. While Gibbs heads to New Orleans to work with Pride on the
investigation, Sebastian goes to Washington to link with Abby (Pauley
Perrete) on the forensics.

“Hollywood Game
Night” season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC. This amiable show settles into
its new slot, again with Jane Lynch hosting. Writer-director Kevin
Smith is joined by five actors known for comedies – Dave Foley,
Helen Hunt, Tony Hale, Justin Long and Alyson Hannigan.

“Frontline”
return, 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Benjamin Netanyahu
rose to power and controversy with hard-line rhetoric. As Israeli
prime minister, he's clashed often with President Obama, especially
ofer the Iran treaty. This profile interviews people close to both
men.

“Limitless,” 10
p.m., CBS. Bradley Cooper is a guest star on the show he produces.
Eddie Morra – the character he played in the “Limitless” movie
– is a senator now, surviving an assassination attempt. Afraid
people will learn of his use of the superdrug NZT, he wants Brian to
sabotage the investigation.

“The Shannara
Chronicles,” 10 p.m., MTV. For 38 years, Terry Brooks has been
writing epic novels about a world of elves, trolls and a demonic
presence. Now, after the success of HBO's “Game of Thrones,” his
tales are being turned into MTV's most expensive series. Filmed in
New Zealand (as were the “Lord of the Rings” movies), this
focuses on two telegenic young people – a female warrior and a man
who is just learning of his healing powers.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 4


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Bachelor” season-opener, 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

Ben Higgins is a
small-town Indiana guy, ready for a big-time adventure. After
finishing third on “The Bachelorette,” he's now ABC's 20th
“Bachelor.”

Higgins grew up in
Wabash, a town of 11,000, where he played quarterback, taught Sunday
School and took a missionary trip to Honduras. He sold software in
Denver, finished third on “Bachelorette” ... and now has 28 women
to choose from. That includes identical twins from Las Vegas, a Texas
cowgirl, a lawyer, a dentist, a war veteran ... and, we're told, an
esthetician and a “chicken enthusiast.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Biggest Loser” season-opener, 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Ever since this show
began in 2004, Bob Harper has been “the nice one,” nudging people
into exercise without seeming nasty about it. Now he takes over as
the host. He'll still offer some work-out advice, but most of that
will be handled by returning trainers Dolvett Quince and Jennifer
Widerstrom.

Seven of the duos
are people who know each other, but the eighth provides a fresh
twist: Richard Hatch, the first “Survivor” winner, will be paired
with former “Voice” contestant Erin Willett.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Superstore” and “Telenovela,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.,
NBC.

On a night of
competing reality shows, these comedies provide a handy counterpoint.
After some advance samplers last month, they settle into their
regular slots with episodes that are silly, but fun.

At the store,
workers have mock Jonah, after finding a mannequin that like him;
when Cheyenne considers giving her future baby up for adoption, two
colleagues push themselves as perfect parents. At the telenovela, Ana
(Eva Longoria) – a Latina who doesn't speak Spanish – has a date
with the network head (Zachary Levi), a non-Latino who speaks it
well. Also, there are rumors of a ghost.

Other choices
include:

“The Notebook”
(2004) and “The Lucky One” (2012), 6 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.
Clearly, all movies made from Nicholas Sparks novels aren't equal.
“Notebook” is masterful and deeply moving; “Lucky One” is
contrived, leaving the audience to shout: “Just tell her, stupid.”

“Superhuman,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. The 12 contestants in this special are regular humans
in most areas – except each has one extraordinary skill. Now those
skills – sight, smell, touch, taste, memory, etc. -- are
challenged, with chances to win $100,000. Kal Penn, formerly of
“House” and “Battle Creek” -- hosts.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CBS. The evil Astra has been captured by the DEO, the
organization monitoring extra terrestials. That might be a good thing
... except that now her husband has captured Hank, the DEO head,
leading to a standoff. Also, Kara (who is Supergirl) tries to
convince her boss she isn't.

“Paris Terror
Attack: Charlie Hebdo,” 8 p.m., Smithsonian. Thursday will mark the
anniversary of the day terrorists killed 11 people at a satirical
magazine in Paris. This documentary uses interviews and news footage
to trace the three-day search that led to a shoot-out and hostage
rescue.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. Life keeps getting complicated for these geniuses. They're
on a rescue mission to Antarctica, where Happy (Jadyn Wong) is lost
in a blizzard.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. After a security guard is killed by
radiation poisoning, Deeks and Kensi go undercover at a former
nuclear-power plant.

“Bachelor Live,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. For the next four Mondays, ABC will follow “The
Bachelor” with a show talking about what just happened. Chris
Harrison will host this, as he does “The Bachelor.”