TV column for Thursday, July 31

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Even by the high “Big Bang” standards, this rerun is

With her dreams of being an actress forever floundering,
Penny has a big break; she’s filmed an “NCIS” scene, flirting with Mark Harmon.
After she gathers friends to watch, the experience triggers a key change. It’s
a funny episode – Sheldon is learning about humor – and an involving one.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “You’re the Worst,” 9:30 p.m., FX.

Jimmy and Gretchen are “poison people,” a friend says; their
toxic personalities scuttle any chance for a romance with normal people. But
together, can they maintain an all-sex, no-sentiment relationship?

As this episode begins, the sex is thriving. (Consider this
very R-rated, especially in the final minute.) Then she asks for a key to his
home; a large (and funny) crisis builds inside his twisted mind.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Sixties,” 9 p.m., CNN; “NY Med,”
10 p.m., ABC.

On a night overflowing with comedies, these excellent
documentary series offer a detour.

First, CNN visits 1968, with heroes (Martin Luther King,
Robert Kennedy) slain, Saigon overrun and politics in chaos -- Lyndon Johnson
deciding not to run again, the Democratic convention quaking.  Then “Med” starts gently with Dr. Amy
Caggiula (“nobody thinks I’m a doctor, because I’m 4-foot-11 and look like I’m
12”); it soon has the emotional story of a 2-year-old with a potentially fatal
brain ailment.

Other choices include:

“The Quest” debut, 8 p.m., ABC. Imagine “Lord of the Rings”
or “Game of Thrones” as reality shows. A dozen people are transported to a
world in which fictional creatures – dragons, ogres, agents of a dark lord –
are created via animation, prosthetics and beyond. A mixed-martial-arts
fighter, a personal trainer and a trick horse-rider compete alongside a waiter,
a bartender, a homemaker and more.

“Project Runway,” 9-10:30 p.m., Lifetime. Designers use
material found at a theater and on a movie set.

 “Welcome to Sweden,”
9:01 p.m., NBC. This episode asks us to believe that Bruce (Greg Poehler), a
big-time accountant, gave no thought to money or employment when he moved to
Sweden. Once you get past that, it’s another amiable half-hour, clever and

“Working the Engels,” 9:30, NBC. Jenna has a chance to land
a much-needed client. Alas, her mom has just ruined the computer system and her
sister is crumbling after getting divorce papers.

“Last Comic Standing,” 10 p.m., NBC. Tonight, the show
chooses its final four comedians. Getting this far are Nicki Carr, Rocky
LePorte, Joe Machi, Rod Man and Lachlan Patterson.

“Married,” 10 p.m., FX. As his vasectomy nears, Russ likes
the concept (no more children), but not the specifics. To cheer him up, his
wife agrees to a weekend that seems romantic … until they’re in the room next
to a young couple with a more-vigorous relationship. It’s a so-so episode with good

“The Honorable Woman” debut, 10 p.m., Sundance. Two jolting
scenes – one at the start of this hour, the other at the end – will keep us watching.
Still, they frame an hour that is slow and tangled, with Maggie Gyllenhaal as a
half-Israeli baroness in a world of money, schemes and lies.

TV column for Wednesday, July 30


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Middle,” 8 and 9:31 p.m., ABC.

This quietly clever show has never grabbed the attention it
deserves. In five seasons, it has exactly one Emmy nomination, for make-up.

Still, it remains consistent. Tonight’s first rerun, the
show’s 100
th episode is terrific, catching the town’s centennial;
Brick is zealous about the city’s motto contest, his parents are grumpy about
driving a giant cow in the parade. The second one has Dave Foley as the
counselor, when Brick shows rampant fears.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” debut, 8
p.m., CW.

Four talented magic acts perform, with the Penn-and-Teller
duo watching closely. If those guys can’t guess how the trick is done, the act
gets a spot in their Las Vegas show.

That gimmick is only mildly interesting; even when the guys
have the answer, they usually don’t share it with the viewers. More important
is the chance to see some fine work. Two acts – Mark Shortland and Young &
Strange – are thoroughly entertaining; then Penn & Teller wrap things up
with a classic gem.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Sharknado 2: The Second One,” 9-11
p.m., Syfy.

After years of making deliberately loopy movies with
deliberately goofy titles, Syfy had a winner. “Sharknado” (2013), rerunning at
7 p.m., drew a big audience; now the sequel offers more of the same.

Having survived a Los Angeles tornado that flung sharks at
them, Fin and April (Ian Ziering and Tara Reid) fly to New York. Their plane is
hit by a bigger storm, with meteorologists calmly predicting 3-6 inches of
sharks. Soon, they’re battling the creatures with everything from chainsaws to
a pizza oven. Filled with odd cameos and occasional gore, “Sharknado 2” is
usually silly and sometimes fun.

Other choices include:

“So You Think You Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. Last week was
tough for dancers who specialize in Latin ballroom. Two of them, Brooklyn
Fullmer and Marcquet Hill, were ousted. That leaves 14 dancers tonight; also,
Academy of Villains – one of the groups competing for a spot in the finale –

“Tombstone” (1993, CMT) and “Escape from New York” (1981,
Sundance), both 8 p.m. These films have Kurt Russell at his gritty best. In
one, he’s Wyatt Earp; in the other, he must rescue the president, whose plane
landed in the prison island of Manhattan.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Phil’s rivalry with another
Realtor reaches obsession in this rerun.

 “Extant,” 10 p.m.,
CBS. In a late switch, CBS is nudging this show back an hour. Tonight, there
are efforts to quarantine Molly, who became pregnant during a solo space
mission. With her husband and son, she retreats to an island where her
estranged father (Lou Gossett Jr.) lives.

 “The Bridge,” 10
p.m., FX. Increasingly dark and tangled, this story sees people whose lives
crashed when drugs and money were seized. A rancher (Annabeth Gish) is on the
run … a shunned Mennonite woman has terrorized a banker. Tonight, each person’s
story wobbles and one ends with a jolt.

“Taxi Brooklyn,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Cat found her fame by
catching the Park Slope Stalker. Now the Stalker’s wife has been killed and Cat
reluctantly leads the investigation.

“The Meltdown,” 12:30 a.m., Comedy Central. An uneven comedy
night is boosted by a wittily perverse song by Nick Offerman (“Parks and
Recreation”), about the Importance of always having a handkerchief.

TV column for Tuesday, July 29

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Mark Twain,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local

We’re five weeks from “The Roosevelts,” Ken Burns brilliant,
14-hour tale of three strong and eccentric people (Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor)
who combined to reshape America. It’s one of Burns’ best.

First, however, here’s a rerun of a less-crowded tale. Over
two Tuesdays and four hours, we’ll see the man who went from a Tom Sawyer-like
childhood to offer an appealing blend of wit and wisdom.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “America’s Got Talent,” 9-11 p.m.,

The long audition phase has finally ended and the show has
trimmed (somewhat) to a final 48.

Now the new phase begins, with 12 acts performing tonight
and five of them advancing on Wednesday. That process continues for a month,
until the ratings-powerhouse has its top 20.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX.

Here’s that rare show that keeps getting better. Tonight,
all of the weak sub-plots involving the families have been swept aside; what
emerges is a pivotal hour, with a nation’s future at stake.

Physically recovering and emotionally fragile, Jamal is
clinging to his late father dictatorship. He was close to attacking the masses,
when his brother (until recently, a Pasadena pediatrician) brought back a
long-time opponent to create a temporary peace. Now the crisis builds; Jamal
makes a surprising compromise in public … and takes a jolting step in private.
It’s a stunning hour.

Other choices include:

“The Haves and Have Nots,” all day, Oprah Winfrey Network.
The two-day marathon continues, with all 36 epospes so far. That sets up the 9
p.m. summer finale, which the show says has a twist and a death.

“Extreme Weight Loss,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. After giving up her son
to adoption, a Milwaukee woman put on almost 200 pounds over 18 years. Now, at
347, she wants to shed pounds before meeting him; Donald Driver, the former
Green Bay Packer great, helps.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In France to retrieve an admiral’s
daughter, Tony enters a controversial crime scene.

“Holes,” 8-10:05 p.m., Disney. In a dandy change-of-style,
Andrew Davis (“Fugitive”) directed this whimsical and clever film about a kid
(Shia LaBeouf) who is sent away to simply dig and fill holes.

“Brooklyn Nine Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. The romance between
Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, 43) and a fellow food buff (Marilu Henner, 62), was
quick, hot and charming. In this rerun, Jake tries to slow it down.

“New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox. To impress a date in this rerun,
Coach uses Schmidt’s loft … a plan that goes bad when Schmidt brings his own
date home.

“The Mindy Project,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. A disastrous tape of
Mindy is floating around the Internet.

“Celebrity Wife Swap,” 10 p.m., ABC. For Tiffany Burress,
we’re told, responsibilities are steep. With her husband (pro-football star
Plaxico Burress) retreating to his “man cave,” she does the cooking, cleaning
and child-raising; she’s also a law-firm partner and has her own clothing line.
Now she temporarily swaps with rapper DJ Paul’s fiancee, whose life is filled
with parties at home and on the Las Vegas strip.

“Covert Affairs,” 10:01 p.m., USA. Working undercover in
Paris, Annie is invited to the Russian embassy.

TV column for Monday, July 28

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Bachelorette” finale, 8 p.m., ABC,
with follow-up at 10.

When Andi Dorfman was on the other end of this, she simply
walked away. Dorfman (then an assistant district attorney in Atlanta) was one
of the final three in “The Bachelor,” when she realized – belatedly? – that Juan
Pablo Galavis, a former soccer player, wasn’t her perfect guy; .she quit.

Now she’s in charge, trying to choose the right guy. Dorfman,
27, could go with Josh Murray, 29, a former baseball pro who also lives in
Atlanta; or Nick Viall, 33, a software sales executive in Chicago.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Under the Dome,” 10 p.m., CBS.

Last week, Big Jim and Rebecca offered their plan to deal
with limited resources – reduce the population. That really didn’t go over
well, so now Julia (Rachelle Lefevere) is in charge.

Meanwhile, Melanie is still trying to figure out who she is
and how she got there. Joe and Norrie help her look for clues on the dome wall.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Young Hollywood Awards,” 8-10 p.m.,

Kelly Osborne hosts this show, filled with quirky
categories. “Favorite actor” has both hunks (Channing Tatum, Taylor Lautner)
and humor (Johah Hill, Andy Samberg); “favorite actress” has established stars
(Jennifer Lawrence, Kaley Cuoco, Shailene Woodley) and newcomers.

Woodley has two of the “on-screen couple” nods, via
“Divergent” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” (They face the “Glee” guys, the
“Spiderman 2” duo and Sheldon-Amy from “Big Bang Theory.” Her films are up for
“favorite flick,” facing “Maleficent” and sequels to “Hunger Games,” “X-Men”
and “21 Jump Street.”

Other choices include:

“Running Wild with Bear Grylls” debut, 8 p.m., NBC. In cable
shows, Grylls has mastered the art of going solo in the wilderness. Over the
next six weeks, NBC will have him take four actors, a news anchor (Tamron Hall
of “Today”) and an athlete (Deion Sanders). That starts with Zac Efron in the

“MasterChef,” 8 p.m., Fox. The final 12 contestants must
make romantic meals for couples celebrating anniversaries. The winning team
will pass to next week; others must create a recipe for truffles.

“Hotel Hell,” 9 p.m., Fox. As its 90th
anniversary nears, this show says, a hotel faces multiple problems, including
the owner’s alcohol addiction. Gordon Ramsay tries an intervention.

“Mike & Molly,” 9 p.m., CBS. The season started with
Molly abruptly quitting her teaching job. Now Mike, after being wounded, vows
to quit being a cop and savor each day.

“Going Deep,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., National Geographic. Tonight,
we learn how to swat a fly and then how to open a door. Really.

“Two and a Half Men,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. Walden hangs with
Jenny and her young, hard-partying friends.

“Murder in the First,” 10:01 p.m., TNT. The trial of a nasty
tech-magnate is wrapping up now, but the story continues. After tonight, this
richly crafted Steven Bochco series has two more episodes.

TV column for Sunday, July 27

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Separated by almost a century, two wonderfully eccentric
writers combine for a tangled tale.

One is Agatha Christie, whose 1927 “The Big Four” is full of
odd twists, including (it seems) the death of Hercule Poirot, the master crime-solver.
The other is Mark Gatiss, who has written some terrific episodes of “Sherlock”
(in which he plays the detective’s brother) and “Doctor Who.” He’s adapted Christie’s
tale into a story that’s often overwrought, yet always interesting.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Manhattan” debut, 9-10:15 p.m., WGN

In the 1940s, some of America’s smartest people have moved
to a sad stretch of New Mexican desert. They’ve brought spouses, kids and idealism.
They know their work has something to do with the world war; most don’t know
it’s a race to build a super bomb before the Nazis do.

This is a complex story for casual TV viewing, but stick
with it. There are human stories about the scientists – all fictional, except
for Robert Oppenheimer – and their families. And there’s the rich direction of
Thomas Schlamme (“West Wing”), who brings a bleak-but-optimistic world to life.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX.

This intriguing hybrid juggles two forms: It’s partly a
global thriller, a medical mystery that could see humanity destroyed; and it’s
partly just a gruesome and gory horror tale.

Originally, only four people had survived whatever virus
rippled through an airliner. One was the pilot, but he’s deteriorating; now Centers
for Disease Control doctors try desperately to keep him alive. Meanwhile, a
Holocaust survivor, familiar with devastation, tries to stop this from

Other choices include:

“The Simpsons,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. The first rerun finds
Bart cheating to win a school race. The second sees Homer the hero, delivering
a baby in an elevator.

“Unforgettable,” 9 p.m., CBS. A Coast Guard officer was
killed after being thrown out of a restaurant by a celebrity chef. Also, some
explosives are missing. Carrie tries to link these mismatched events.

“Reckless,” 10 p.m., CBS. The show’s primary story – the
firing of a policewoman who says she was drugged before appearing in a sex tape
– continues; tonight, the case creates a moral dilemma for Knox, who may run
for mayor. Meanwhile, Jamie and Roy, opponents on that case, link on another.

“Gunslingers,” 10 p.m., American Heroes Channel. Billy the
Kid’s story has been told – and mis-told – often, including in the movie “The
Left Handed Gun.” (The Kid wasn’t left-handed, this interesting hour says; the
only photo of him was a reversed image.) He was befriended by a rancher whose
horse he tried to steal. When the rancher was killed by a corrupt sheriff,
retaliation began; so did some epic escapes.

“Falling Skies,” 10:01 p.m., TNT. At last, Tom is back with
his family and his rebel unit. Then he faces fresh trouble, when Lexi has a
medical crisis.

“The Lottery,” 10:01 p.m., Lifetime. Last week’s opener
found the government taking control in a world that’s suddenly unable to re-produce.
A scientist saw her breakthrough project seized; a widower saw his son Elvis –
one of few surviving children – taken. Now Elvis faces a medical crisis.