TV column for Sunday, Oct. 16


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

A new crime-solver arrives for three
movies – a fairly good one this week, then two terrific ones.

Haunted by a childhood tragedy, Jackson
Brodie has blown his marriage and his police job. He clutches
remnants of both in relationships with two females – his daughter
and his former colleague.

Tonight, Brodie meets mismatched
sisters and probes their long-ago tragedy. It's a tough ride, but
Jason Isaacs (Lucius in the Harry Potter films) brings depth to a
tortured and caring soul.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Desperate
Housewives,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Joy Lauren was 14 when she began
playing Bree's daughter Danielle. Now Danielle is back, after her
husband has left; her mom ranges from I-told-you-so to fretting about
maybe-unsavory details.

The other housewives also have trouble.
Susan feuds with an art teacher, Gabrielle has PTA warfare and
Lynette suspects her separated husband is already seeing someone.

TONIGHT'S ALTERATIVE: “The Walking
Dead” season-opener, 9-10:30 p.m., AMC.

In any situation, a missing child can
be wrenching. Now imagine she's lost in a woods with zombies.

That's what happens here. With zombies
overrunning the world, survivors had pinned their hopes on rumors of
safety in Atlanta. There wasn't, so now a ragged convoy begins. It
soon finds a traffic jam that leaves opportunity and then the crisis
involving the missing girl. It's a compelling start.

Other choices include:

– “Visionaries” debut, 8 p.m.,
Oprah Winfrey Network. Growing up around an angry father, Tyler Perry
says, he was determined to control his life. He kept failing, then
scored big. Now he has movies, TV series and his film studio. He's a
fascinating subject, despite the lazy approach of this series. It
lets him do all the talking, with no follow-up questions, no outside
perspective, not even clips of his work.

– Football, 8:15 p.m., NBC. The Bears
and Vikings – with a combined seven losses in 10 games – collide.
Some fans may try baseball on Fox; it has the American League series
finale, if neccesary.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Will and Diane try to sort out the firm's future, with Lisa Edelstein
(“House”) back as Will's former love interest.

– “Ask Oprah's All Stars”
season-opener, 9 p.m., OWN. Quickly – sometimes too quickly – the
“Dr. Phil” and “Dr. Oz” stars and Suze Orman advise on
everything from tipping to heart health. The highlight comes near the
end, with the return of someone who previously said she was a virgin
at 51.

– “Boardwalk Empire,” 9 p.m.,
HBO. This hour starts and ends with fierce moments involving “the
Commodore” (Dabney Coleman). In between, Nucky scrambles to get new
alcohol supplies.

– “CSI: Miami,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Carlos Bernard (Tony in “24”) plays Horatio's new nemesis.

– “Our America” season-opener, 10
p.m., OWN. Lisa Ling does solid documentaries, sometimes on brash
subjects. Tonight, she meets a grandmother and a married couple who
make cable-porn in their homes. It's a non-judgmental approach that
lets us both like and doubt these people.

– “Pan Am,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. When
the flight is diverted to Rangoon, Kate might not be able to complete
her courier mission for the CIA; also, her sister Laura sees the
wilder side of life.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Five,” 8 p.m.,
Lifetime; also, midnight and same times Sunday.

If you missed this on Monday, catch it
now. Splendidly crafted, it's the best TV movie in years.

It's actually five movies, each with a
breast-cancer theme, but feels seamless. The little girl in the
first film becomes the centerpiece (Jeanne Tripplehorn) of the fifth;
she appears briefly in the others.

Novice directors – Demi Moore,
Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys – made the first three films, with
Penelope Spheeris and Patty Jenkins doing the others. There's humor,
tragedy, joy and deep emotion.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Two and a Half
Men,” 8 p.m., CBS.

In a late change, CBS reruns this
season-opener, which ranges from pretty good to hilarious.

It opens at Charlie's funeral, in a
scene that's typical for “Men” – sometimes funny and sometimes
heavy-handed. Stick around; in the second half, Alan (Jon Cryer)
meets Walden (Ashton Kutcher), a lovelorn billionaire. Their
two-person moments are gems, fine actors given sharp material.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Front of the
Class (2008),” 6:30 and 8:45 p.m., Hallmark; or “Finding a
Family,” 8 and 10 p.m., Hallmark Movie Channel.

Both channels have true stories of
someone facing steep odds. In “Class,” a would-be teacher has
Tourette's syndrome; in “Family,” a teen in an orphanage
struggles get into Harvard.

“Class,” originally on CBS, is
brilliant, with great work from star Jimmy Wolk. “Family” feels
over-stretched at times, but remains involving.

Other choices include:

– Sports, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Fox.
ABC has NASCAR, from Charlotte, N.C.. Fox counters with the sixth
game of the American League's best-of-seven series, unless this ended
in five.

– “Harry's Law,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Camryn Manheim, one of the stars of David Kelley's “The Practice,”
plays the antagonist in this rerun. She's the prosecutor in a
cyberbullying case.

– “How to Be a Gentleman,” 8:30
p.m., CBS. Let's credit CBS for putting a new, scripted comedy
episode on Saturdays – even though it's not the one promised. The
network set “Rules of Engagement” for last Saturday, then made a
late switch. “Rules” gets a better night (Thursdays); “Gentleman”
is dumped here. Tonight, Andrew reluctantly goes to the wedding of
his former fiancee.

– “CSI: Miami,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of an episode from last March. After kidnapping
Natalia, an escaped convict insists – perhaps convincingly – that
he was framed.

– “Welcome to Sweetie Pie's”
debut, 9 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Once a back-up singer for Ike
and Tina Turner, Robbie Montgomery lost her singing voice and found a
career owning a soul-food restaurant in St. Louis. This reality show
catches some amiable people, including Montgomery, 71, and her son,
an ex-convict who turned his life around and nervously prepares to
propose to his girlfriend.

– “Don't Tell the Bride” debut,
10 p.m., OWN. Each week, a couple is given $25,000 for its wedding,
with one catch: The groom must plan every detail, surprising the
bride. The opener – with an easygoing guy, a precise bride and some
sniping commentary from Caroline Rhea – is moderately fun.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Anna Faris hosts, with Drake as the music guest.

 

 

TV column for Friday, Oct. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “A Gifted Man,”
8 p.m., CBS.

At its core, this show started with
three terrific talents – Tony-winner Patrick Wilson as Michael, a
gifted surgeon; Tony-winner Jennifer Ehle as Anna, the late ex-wife
he keeps seeing; and new Emmy-winner Margo Martindale as his
assistant. Now it broadens, giving more time to two others.

One is Rachelle Lefevre as Kate, hired
last week to run Anna's clinic; tonight, her first day is an ordeal.
The other is Pablo Schreiber (a familiar cable co-star from “Lights
Out,” “Weeds” and “The Wire”) as Anton, a new-age guy;
Michael reluctantly asks him to help with a patient who years voices.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Last Man
Standing,” 8-9 p.m., ABC.

Chances are, you didn't see Tim Allen's
comedy Tuesday. Here's a second chance on a slow night.

Surprisingly, the grown-up portions –
Allen alone or with his wife (Nancy Travis) or boss (Hector Elizondo)
seem flat and forced; his guy's-guy bits range from clever to wildly
outdated. Much better are the scenes involving his three daughters –
an athletic 13-year-old, a frilly 17-year-old and a hard-working
single mom who's 20. In their scenes, “Standing” becomes moderate
fun.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “H.M.S.
Pinafore,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The good news is that PBS has a fresh
emphasis on performance, covering nine straight Fridays. It will
offer rock (twice), classical (twice), dance (three times) and banjo,
with moments of brilliance.

Still, it was an odd choice to start
all of this with an operetta. On stage, this Gilbert-and-Sullivan
show (done by Minneapolis' esteemed Guthre Theatre) might feel bright
and vibrant; on camera – in the scenes we've seen – it mostly
just feels slight and silly.

Other choices include:

– “The Office” and “Parks and
Recreation,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC. In a late change, NBC is
switching these comedy reruns for the ones it had scheduled. In “The
Office,” the new CEO perplexes people with his two lists; it's a
funny episode that lets Andy (Ed Helms) have his first strong moment.
Then a fairly good “Parks” has Leslie deciding whether to dump
her secret romance and run for office.

– “Make Your Mark,” 8:30-9:30
p.m., Disney Channel. Way too many reality shows seem to go on
forever. This one, by comparison, starts here and concludes Sunday,
with young dancers competing for a spot on the channel's scripted
“Shake It Up.”

– “Dateline,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. Two
real-life murder stories are told, both involving couples that seemed
to have ideal marriages.

– “Modern Family” and
“Suburgatory,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., ABC. In a change, ABC is
rerunning Wednesday's episodes. FClaire considers running for office;
then Tessa transforms the school paper.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. For
decades, Walter has been away from the outside world – being
institutionalized, then staying in the lab. Now he must accompany
Olivia to study old files at Massive Dynamic; the outside world soon
seems difficult.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. Danny
takes the rookies to a bar and they become involved in a shoot-out.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Erin re-opens in which her dad (Tom Selleck), now the police
commissioner, was the arresting officer. Meanwhile, her brother
probes the murder of three teens.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

CBS comedies are usually solid, steady
and unchanging. Not this year; after two so-so episodes, CBS halted
production of “How To Be a Gentleman” and banished the remaining
episodes to Saturdays.

That will move the funny “Rules of
Engagement” season-opener – scheduled for last Saturday – to
next Thursday. For tonight, we get a double-helping of TV's best
comedy.

First is a new episode with “Star
Trek: The Next Generation” co-stars (Wil Wheaton, Brent Spiner) as
themselves. Then, in a funny rerun, Leonard is urged to have sex with
a big college donor.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TAPE: “Community”
and “Parks and Recreation,” 8 and 8:30, NBC.

While CBS masters studio-audience
comedies, NBC prefers ones that are filmed movie-style.

First is a “Community” based on
alternate time streams – six different scenarios for the same
night. The humor starts slowly, but keeps building.

Then Ron headd into the woods with his
Pawnee Rangers, whose handbook has only three words: “Be a Man.”
Alas, Leslie is in the same woods with her cheery Pawnee Goddesses.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Charlie's
Angels,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Back in 1976, this show's fourth
episode put the women in a brutal prison. It drew quick controversy.

Now the fourth episode of this new
edition is adapted from that 35-year-old screenplay. Posing as
tourists, the “Angels” are thrown into a Cuban prison, where
there's someone else to rescue. Trying to save them, Bosley brings
his former girlfriend, played by Erica Durrance of “Smallville.”

Other choices include:

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. There's a
rich range of choices here. “Christine” (1983, AMC) has John
Carpenter's sharp direction of a clever Stephen King story about a
killer car. “The American” (2010, HBO) is a George Clooney story
that's involving, even when its story is flawed. “Tom Sawyer”
(1973, Turner Classic Movies) is a squeaky clean musical with Johnny
Whitaker and a radiant Jodie Foster.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Debbie Allen plays Jackson Avery's mother, a famed surgeon who makes
a splashy arrival at the hospital, to perform a historic transplant.
Also, Teddy throws a party for couples, while Bailey isn't sure who
she really wants to be a couple with.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC.
Dwight wants to impress the boss by throwing a party at the farm.
Tougher to impress are his parents and his brother, who's played by
singing great Josh Groban.

– “Project Runway,” 9-10:30 p.m.,
Lifetime. The designers create mini-collections, to show their range.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
At a political rally, Patrick Jane spots a man with a gun. Now he
must prove – quickly – that the guy plans to commit murder.

– “Saturday Night Fever” (1977),
10 p.m., TV Guide. A strong cable-movie night adds one of the best,
as a strong story links with a zesty disco feel.

– “Private Practice,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. As Pete recovers from his heart attack, others crumble. Violet
struggles with her alone-with-baby time; Amelia has moving moments
with her alcoholism.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The X Factor,”
8-9:30 p.m., Fox.

The auditions and “boot camp” are
done and “X Factor” is down to 32 acts, split between four
judges.

Simon Cowell mentors eight female
singers, ages 13 to 22; L.A. Reid has eight males, 15 to 30. Nicole
Scherzinger has the older people, 30 to 60. Paula Abdul has the
groups.

Over the next three episodes, we'll see
them perform at their mentors' homes.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Modern Family”
and “Happy Endings,” 9 and 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Top comedy talents show up as guest
stars here.

First is David Cross (“Arrested
Development”) as an annoying councilman – so annoying that Claire
might run for office. Also, the guys are seething with frustrations.

Then Megan Mullally (“Will &
Grace”) plays the mother of Penny (Casey Wilson). In a fairly funny
episode, she's a cheery, chirpy singer – so upbeat that we suspect
she's covering something.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Work of Art:
The Next Great Artist,” 9 p.m., Bravo.

How do you build a competition show
about art? By finding interesting artists like these.

Some are big-city types, including The
Sucklord (yes, that's his chosen name), a New York City native. One,
Dusty Mitchell, teaches art in Mountain View, an Arkansas town of
2,900. Others are traveled: Lola Thompson went to 20 schools;
Jazz-Minh Moore spent summers in an Oregon hippie commune.

There are more, from a handsome
Frenchman to a deaf Malaysian. Their first challenge is fun.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. The
boys have opposite problems – Brick with bullies, Axl with tests.

– “The Manchurian Candidate (1962),
8-10:15 p.m., Turner Classic Movies. Here's a black-and-white
classic, beautifully directed by John Frankenheimer. It's a stylish
tale of covert action, brightened by a cast that makes Frank Sinatra
the hero and Angela Lansbury as (really) a villain.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
When George is popular with the moms, the PTA queen is jealous. Also,
his daughter helps turn the school paper into a cynical tabloid.

– “Harry's Law,” 9 p.m., NBC.
Camryn Manheim – one of the stars of David Kelley's “Boston
Legal” – shows up in this very similar show from Kelley. She
plays an assistant district attorney who pushes a negligent homicide
charge against someone whose blog resulted in a suicide by a gay
teen.

– “Revenge,” 10 p.m., ABC. Under
her sweet exterior, Emily is ready to destroy another person who
cheated her late father. This is well-filmed, but her solution seems
too easy; also, it's brutal to third parties and leaves us with no
one to like.

– “Luther,” 10 p.m., BBC America.
The prime story tonight – a silent man whose vandalism and assaults
are random – is quick, violent and compelling. The secondary story
– Luther tries to protect the young woman who's being sought by an
ominous porn boss – ends the hour powerfully.

– “Psych” season-opener, 10 p.m.,
USA. This starts simply enough, with a stolen “Star Wars” item.
Soon, there's a murder case; Shawn soon risks his reputation.

– “American Horror Story,” 10
p.m., FX. Troubles pile up. Now people want to re-create a sadistic
night in this house 43 years ago. Like the opener, this is
well-crafted, but far from entertaining.