TV column for Thursday, March 29

“Will & Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC.

On a dozen episodes
of the original series, Debbie Reynolds played Grace's bubbly mom.
Reynolds died (at 84) in 2016, but her photos are prominent as the
family gathers for the late mom's birthday.

Sara Rue returns as
Grace's brassy sister Joyce, but the others have been recast –
Robert Klein as the dour dad, Mary McCormack as the cynical sister.
Add two more stories and James Burrows' directing and you have the
ideal: Sharp verbal comedy is peppered with great bursts of visual

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

For two Thursdays,
TV's best comedy sat on the bench while CBS had basketball. Now “Big
Bang” is back, with a fairly funny episode.

Penny hosts Bill
Gates at work, sending the guys into envy and/or denial. The result
isn't as funny as a typical “Big Bang”; that happens sometimes
with special-guest-star episodes. Still, this is better than just
about any other TV comedy.

“Young Sheldon,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

Most weeks, this
settles for a quiet, sweet sort of humor. Tonight, however, it goes
for the big laughs.

Sheldon rages –
justifiably, perhaps – when his well-thought-out science project is
defeated by a pretty blonde making her hair go a-flutter. He quits
science and goes to the high school drama class, where the teacher
(Jason Alexander, a Tony-winner before TV) is obliging. The result
has some great moments.

ALTERNATIVE: “Siren” debut, 8 p.m., Freeform.

“Splash” and
Disney had convinced us that mermaids are sweet and warm. Not so, it
seems. In the water, they see humans as prey; on the land, one is
overwhelmed ... but capable of flinging a guy through a windshield.
Local folks aren't aware of this, but the military is looming

Soon, a good-hearted
researcher from a bad-hearted family meets a wordless woman who seems
wary on land. Well-filmed, this is a solid look at a quiet little
place, not yet aware it's into something big.

Other choices

Baseball, all day,
ESPN and beyond. It's Opening Day, a time for optimism everywhere,
and ESPN has a quadruple-header. It's the Cubs at the Marlins at
12:30 p.m. ET, the Astros at the Rangers at 3:30, the Giants at the
Dodgers at 7 p.m. and the Indians at the Mariners at 10.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Some unusual patients make an impact. Meredith treats a
transplant surgeon; April (in the middle of a crisis of faith) has a

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Alongside the show's cascade of comedy, there's the somber
underside: These characters share a lifelong struggle with alcoholism
persists. Now Jill is losing the fight; it's a quietly moving
episode, with moderate humor.

9:30, NBC. Business is dwindling at the gym, partly because a
Curves-type, women-only spot has opened nearby. Vince retaliates, in
a so-so episode.

“Scandal,” 10
p.m., ABC. After skipping a week -- for the two-hour debut of
“Station 19” (which continues at 9 p.m. today) -- “Scandal”
is back for more of its final season. Charlie is arrested for
highjacking the vice-president's plane; that sort of behavior always
upsets officials.

ALSO: “Marcia
Clark Investigates” (9-11 p.m.) and “Grace vs. Abrams” (11),
both A&E. Two former prosecutors get their moments, going back to
old cases. Clark headlines s show; Nancy Grace has verbal duels with
Dan Abrams. In the opener, oddly, both shows eye the Casey Anthony

TV column for Wednesday, March 28

“Empire” return, 8 p.m., Fox.

At first, we can
only wince: A demented caregiver (Demi Moore) has kidnapped Lucious
and taken him to a cabin, where he's supposed to learn to love her. A
proud show has descended into silly soapdom.

But stick around:
Tonight's final 10 minutes smartly define two of TV's best and most
complicated characters. Given great dialog, Terrence Howard and
Taraji Henson are perfect as Lucious and Cookie. Rumer Willis has the
only music number, while her real-life mom (Moore) is busy being daft
and evil.

“Star” return, 9 p.m., Fox.

As Carlotta (Queen
Latifah) emerges from the hospital, her world is shattered. Her hair
salon burned down; arson investigators and insurance people are
suspicious. Now she'll learn who did and didn't die. And now her
conniving mom and sister (Patty LaBelle and Brandy) arrive.

That much is sharply
written and played. Alas, scenes involving Take 3 (which Carlotta
manages) feel as forced and overwrought as Star's ugly outfit. Alex –
whose real boyfriend is paraplegic – is faking a relationship with
a star, Noah. But is it really fake? Things get loud and angry and
often a mess.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Americans” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

This all started
with two Russian spies posing as a married couple in 1980s American
suburbia. Elizabeth (Keri Russell) was the most intense; Philip
(Matthew Rhys) sometimes wavered.

Now he has retired
from the spy business -- or is trying to, anyway – and focuses on
their travel agency. She's still intense – as shown in a sudden,
startling moment tonight. Other complications are personal – their
daughter is an emerging spy – and political: Mikhail Gorbachev's
centrist approach leaves Russian hard-liners talking overthrow. A
terrific show launches its final season with great potential.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Krypton,” 10 p.m., Syfy.

In many ways, this
Superman prequel is extraordinary. Its visuals are stunning; its
scripts are smart (mostly) and sharp. “Krypton” is easy to like –
despite gnawing flaws.

The background music
booms relentlessly. The main character (who's been told he'll be the
grandfather of the future Superman) teeters toward lunkheadedness.
And what kind of government lets a guy walk around a bar with a
computer bearing all its secrets? Or chooses a military commander via
a fight to the

death? At moments
like that, we want to exit ... except that the rest is way too good
to ignore.

Other choices

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. “I don't know who you've become,” Archie's mom tells
him. Neither do we; this cheery comic-book character is siding with a
conniving businessman and challenging mobsters. That part of
tonight's hour is pretty bad; two other parts, involving Cheryl and
Betty, are much better.

“Alex, Inc.”
debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC. A family guy (Zach Braff) quits his job to try
a long shot, making his own podcast. The characters are likable and
there are reasonably amusing moments ... sort of like “Splitting Up
Together,” which reruns Tuesday's OK pilot at 9:31 p.m. today.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Haley has never been considered brilliant, but her
boyfriend (Chris Geere of “You're the Worst”) is. Now Phil and
Claire compete to seem like the smarter parent.

“Life Sentence,”
9 p.m., CW. Applying for a job as manager, Stella learns another
secret about her life. Meanwhile, the family house has been sold,
forcing her dad and brother into an odd arrangement.

Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. While the president is in Camp David,
trying to broker a deal between warring nations, Seth and Emily are
trying to decide whether to move forward as a couple.

“Andrew Lloyd
Webber: Tribute to a Superstar,” 10 p.m., NBC. Four days before its
live, concert production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” NBC has a
special focusing on its composer.

TV column for Tuesday, March 27

All night.

In some ways,
Roseanne Barr and Dolores Huerta are opposites. Barr is an outspoken
Trump supporter; Huerta – who once said “Republicans hate
Latinos” -- is not.

But in a bigger way,
they're the same: Savvy women with working-class smarts, they stepped
into male-dominated fields and won. They've persisted; at 65 and 87,
they are strong forces. Tonight, they're back-to-back – Barr's
comeback at 8, a Huerta profile at 9. We'll talk about them

“Roseanne” debut, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Can a show really
return after a long break? “Will & Grace” did it
successfully after 13 years; now “Roseanne tries it after 21. It
wisely adjusts the time -- Dan and Roseanne are grandparents, with no
empty nest in sight – and even finds a way to include both
actresses who have played Becky.

The opener subtly
refers to the fact that it used to say Dan had died. Still, subtlety
has never been the “Roseanne” style; many lines are written and
played like sledge hammers, but they work.

II: “Independent Lens: Dolores,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

Popular history says
Cesar Chavez created the United Farm Workers and led it to triumph.
That's half the story. Dolores Huerta co-founded the group, became
its prime organizer, then negotiated its labor agreements. “I don't
know why he likes to argue with me,” she told a friend. “He knows
I'll win.”

The cost was steep,
physically (one attack left her in critical condition), financially
(“she always told us, 'We're poor by choice,'” a son says) and
emotionally. Her 11 children were often left with others; it took 10
months to learn her son had dropped out of school. But she kept
winning; it's a great story.

ALTERNATIVE: “For the People,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Kate and Sandra are
the same person, yet opposite. Each is intense, driven, an
overachiever; one is a rules-follower who works for the prosecution,
the other defends the rules-breakers. In its third episode, “For
the People” has them collide, with intense results.'

There are other
cases – a sort of silly one involving a stranded boat, an intense
one about sentencing software – but this one dominates. Britt
Robertson and Susannah Flood mold passionate characters.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. A body is found on the headquarters roof, alongside bomb

“The Social
Network” (2010), 8 p.m. Pop. As Facebook goes through its current
woes, we can savor this smart film about its birth. Also at 8, Disney
has its bright “Descendants 2”(2017) musical; HBO has the second
half of “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” with the first half
rerunning at 6.

“Rise,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Jason Katims' shows have great depth and detail. “Friday Night
Lights” and “Parenthood” were high-quality; they also never
drew big audiences, because the emotions were so complicated. Now we
see the the same thing here. There are great moments tonight for the
assistant theater director (Rosie Perez), the overprotective mom
(Broadway's Stephanie Block), even the cheating husband and his
ex-mistress. “Rise” is deep and smart ... and not easy to

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. Bringing everyone together for Easter gets complicated.
Dre's family and Bow's family have different food customs; also, some
cousins scoff at an Easter egg hunt.

“Splitting Up
Together” debut, 9:30. ABC. Here's an ABC-style comedy – quick
and slick and moderately funny. A husband and wife are divorcing, but
can't afford two places. Instead, they alternate weeks, with one
living in the garage. Oliver Hudson and Jenna Fischer make these
characters bright, attractive and likable ... so much so that it's
tough to believe (or enjoy) their deep divide.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A former colleague asks for help in South
America. Pride heads there with Tammy and Sebastian.

TV column for Monday, March 26

“One Strange Rock” debut, 10 p.m. ET, National Geographic,
rerunning at 11:01..

Every now and then –
not too often – television does something that's truly splendid.
BBC America does that with its “Planet Earth” shows; now Nat Geo
matches that, delivering TV at its best.

The subject,
literally, is the planet Earth. We visit some of its most unusual
spots ... and we hear from the astronauts who have seen it from afar.
In tonight's opener, about oxygen, Chris Hadfield has s compelling
story about being temporarily blinded in space. Director Darren
Aronofsky (“Pi,” “Black Swan”) offers stunning visuals; with
soaring music and Will Smith's hosting, you have a great hour.

“American Idol” (ABC) or “The Voice” (NBC), 8-10:01 p.m.

The auditions are
done now and both shows are into the new phases.

For “Voice,” the
battle rounds continue. And for “Idol,” it's the start of
“Hollywood Week”; that continues Sunday, trimming the field to
50. A week later, it should be down to 24.

II: “Good Girls,” 10:01 p.m., NBC.

At first, these
women were driven by financial desperation; they would pull one
robbery and return to normal. But the desperation continues – along
with, for Beth (Christina Hendricks), a sense of adventure. So
they're working with a gang to pass counterfeit bills via returns at
big-box stores.

It's a bad plan,
both evil and unworkable, but we'll just have to suspend disbelief –
a lot of it. Then we'll find an amiable mixture of humor and drama,
as ordinary people tackle unfamiliar worlds.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” 8 p.m., HBO.

Back around 1983, a
16-year-old landed a radio interview with Shandling, They would later
be colleagues and friends. Shandling would transform cable comedy
with two series; the kid, Judd Apatow, would become one of
Hollywood's top comedy producers.

Now, two years after
Shandling's death at 66, Apatow has put together an extraordinary
biography, running four-plus hours over two nights. Using both comedy
clips and excerpts from Shandling's diary, it traces someone who
juggled comedy and philosophy, while being both warm and distant.

Other choices

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. Wouldn't you hate it if you wanted to go to Hell and
Lucifer wouldn't let you? That happens to Maze, when she's a murder
suspect. She turns to Det. Pierce for help.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. There's some fun here, as usual: Liv takes the personality
of a tough Canadian hockey player; Major takes a road trip with some
angry cargo. Mostly, however, this is a serious episode, with
Renegade – the kindly human smuggler – in custody. That sets up
big changes ahead.

“Into the Night,”
9-11 p.m., PBS. Now PBS tackles one of the most perplexing subjects –
death itself. It follows nine people who are confronting it for
themselves or for loved ones.

“The Terror”
debut, 9 and 10 p.m., AMC. In the mid-1800s, it was scary enough when
ships headed into the Arctic. Now imagine what it's like to have your
ship get stuck when a fierce monster is looming. In this series, the
sailors will try anything, including native magic, to survive.

Biblically,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. Some Biblical rules can seem
especially difficult. Chip struggles with “honor thy father,”
when his overwhelming dad (Christopher McDonald) visits.

“The Good Doctor,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. The team scrambles to find what's behind a college
student's unexplained injuries. And Shaun is distracted during
surgery, after losing his most prized possession.

TV column for Sunday, March 25

“Trust” debut, 10 p.m., FX.

“All the Money in
the World” seemed to be the definitive retelling of a big story –
the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty's grandson. But now, three
months later, here's a fresh version.

Like the movie, this
is beautifully crafted; Donald Sutherland and Hilary Swank are
excellent as Getty and his daughter-in-law. Unlike the film, “Trust”
says young Getty was in on the plot, then saw it implode. Also
different is Getty's security chief; in the movie, Mark Wahlberg
played him as an average chap; now Brendan Fraser makes him a
bigger-than-life Texan, dominating every room.

“Call the Midwife” season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m., PBS.

Maybe we need a new
category: “feel-good tragedy.” That fits “Midwife,”
especially in the first hour.

As London struggles
with the fierce winter of 1962-3, we see crises at both ends of life.
A lonely woman gives birth; a dying woman clinging to her home
despite eviction orders. The stories are brutal – but most of the
people are earnest and good-hearted.

ALTERNATIVE: “Barry” debut, 10:30 p.m., HBO.

Working as a hit
man, Barry shows a lot of competence and little joy. Then he meets
people with opposite lives: Would-be actors, they have friendship,
fun and few prospects.

It's hard to juggle
both worlds ... especially with people trying to kill you. This is an
interesting start, a drama (mostly) filled with comedy people,
including Bill Hader, Stephen Root and Henry Winkler.

Other choices

12:35 p.m., Starz. Here's a chance to catch up on the entire season
in one gulp. This opener has a lowly bureaucrat (J.K. Simmons) learn
of an alternate world, where he has a near-identical counterpart.
This continues to a new episode at 8:05 p.m., leading to next week's

Basketball, 2 and
about 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS. Today's winners head to San Antonio,
rounding out the final four in the NCAA tournament.

“Instinct,” 8
p.m., CBS. Matching last week's opener, this again has interesting
characters in a so-so mystery. Tonight, that involves archery and

“Legends &
Lies” season-opener, 8 p.m. ET, Fox News. The first season took a
fresh look at the Old West; the second viewed the Revolutionary War.
Now we're in the Civil War era, with John Brown. Bill O'Reilly, who
hosted and produced the first two seasons, is replaced by Brian
Kilmeade as host.

Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. Charlie Robinson – whose “Ghosted”
used to have this slot – guests as Jake's sometimes-crooked friend.
It's a broad and funny episode, with an elaborate scheme.

“CSI: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. Callen scrambles to find a way to free his
father (Daniel Travanti), who's been apprehended by the Diplomatic
Security Service.

“Dark Angel”
opener, 10 p.m., PBS. In the 1870s, Mary Ann Cotton was accused of
killing three of her husbands and most of her children. Her story is
told in this drab and dreary rerun.

season-opener, 10 p.m., Showtime. Things look rough for Axe (Damian
Lewis). He's been indicted and his wife is threatening to pull her
money from his company.