TV column for Monday, Aug. 4

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Murder in the First,” 10:01 p.m., TNT.

If we were watching an ordinary drama, it would be over now.
Last week concluded the murder trial of Eric Blunt, the evil tech-billionaire whom
cops have been pursuing through eight episodes.

But this is something extraordinary from Steven Bochco, who
re-shaped TV drama with “Hill Street Blues,” 33 years ago. Blunt was found
not-guilty – circumstantial evidence, no proof – then whispered to the cops “I
killed the bitch” and winked. Did he? Is he just trying to stir them? With the
finale of a richly crafted series just a week away, police start struggling
with old leads and fresh possibilities.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Bachelors in Paradise” (ABC) or “Running
Wild with Bear Grylls” (NBC), 8 p.m.

Want blue skies and easy living? That’s “Paradise,” with 14
people from “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” meeting in Mexican splendor. Each
week, it will be eight women and six men, or vice versa. The two who don’t make
a match will be sent home; the next week, two newcomers will tip things the
other way.

Prefer the exact opposite? Tonight’s “Wild” has grey skies,
thick fog and rough living. Grylls, a wilderness master, takes Ben Stiller –
who grew up in New York City and has never camped – up and down cliffs on an
unforgiving Scottish island. It’s a rugged experience, but you end up liking
both men.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Partners” debut, 9 and 9:30 p.m.,

Kelsey Grammer really should know about situation comedies now.
He spent 20 years in two great ones, “Cheers” and “Frasier,” and has produced
some fairly good ones; he’s won five Emmys and much praise.

So it’s remarkable that “Partners” is only occasionally
adequate. A pompous lawyer (Grammer, of course) lost his job; a decent one (Martin
Lawrence) lost his marriage. They collide by accident, forming a law-firm of
opposites. The result has a few great moments and a lot of lame, sub-Grammer

Other choices include:

“MasterChef,” 8 p.m., Fox. By the end of the night, the show
will have its top 10. First are two challenges, one of which lets contestants
choose ordinary or high-end ingredients.

“2 Broke Girls,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Max wants to break
up with Deke because he’s been rich.

“Mom,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the terrific opener,
Christy finds a family tradition continuing, with the pregnancy of her teen
daughter. That would make Christy’s sexy mom a great-grandmother.

“Arrow,” 9 p.m., CW. So much for the clever comedy “Seed.”
CW aired it once in an awful timeslot, once in a belatedly changed slot, then
dumped it (along with “Backpackers”). Now reruns will replace it.

“Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words,” 9-10:15 p.m., HBO.
Friday will be the 40
th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation announcement.
First, here’s a film assembled mostly from his White House tapes, intercut with
some news footage. We hear a “paradoxical” man (the description of former aide
John Ehrlichman); he advanced several progressive programs, while privately aiming
slurs at Jews, women, Mexican-Americans and homosexuals. We hear the growing
rage of a once-popular president.

“Under the Dome,” 10 p.m., CBS. Desperate for a way out of
the dome, Dale “Barbie” Barbara and Sam explore a mysterious tunnel … then are
trapped. Meanwhile, a dust storm hits town, bringing a power struggle between
the town’s present and past leaders, Julia and Big Jim.

TV column for Sunday, Aug. 3

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

For PBS viewers, this is the end of a splendid era. For 25
years, David Suchet has been perfect as Hercule Poirot, fastidious
crime-solver; now “Dead Man’s Folly” is his final PBS Poirot film. (Three more
will debut on consecutive Fridays on,
which then will have all 70 Suchet tales.)

Tonight’s chapter has the usual quirks: In one burst, Poirot
suddenly grasps a plot so tangled it would make a mortal’s head explode. Still,
it’s all done against the backdrop of a village picnic, an ideal place for colorful
characters – including Poirot – to collide.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Football, 8 p.m. ET, NBC.

Yes, football. It’s a wildly insignificant game – pre-pre-season,
if you will. The Giants and the Bills play in Canton, Ohio (home of the Hall of
Fame), four days before what is (otherwise) the pre-season opener.

Still, even this game gets national, primetime focus because
… well, right now everything about pro football scores big. Last season, NBC’s
Sunday games topped the Nielsen ratings; this year, the NFL has added a
half-season of Thursday games for CBS. Everyone wants football … even when it
means nothing.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Urban Jungle,” 8-11 p.m., National
Geographic and NatGeo Wild.

The “wild,” it seems, isn’t merely in the jungle. There are
coyotes in Chicago, cougars in Los Angeles. In Tahoe, people find bears in
their vacation homes; in parts of Mumbai, leopards rule the night.

That’s traced in an ambitious, two-network simulcast. It
spans the globe, to show how animals have become increasingly skilled at living
among us, sometimes unnoticed.

Other choices include:

“The Simpsons,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. In the first rerun, Bart
wants to be named the best-behaved student (really). In the second, Lisa faces
her new best friend in the race for class representative.

“The Help” (2011), 8-11 p.m., TBS. Using a light touch, this
film skillfully re-visits the segregated South.

“Rising Star,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. After six weeks of auditions,
this show has its final 13. Tonight, they sing again and then are trimmed to
eight; three weeks later, we’ll have a winner.

“Unforgettable,” 9 p.m., CBS. A parolee has been killed, and
Al – who helped convict him – is the prime suspect. Now Carrie is on her own in
trying to clear him.

“Manhattan,” 10 p.m., WGN America. Like last week’s opener, this
has gifted actors delivering rich dialog; and like last week, it’s maddeningly
difficult. The subject – physicists planning a nuclear bomb – is hard enough.
Thrown into that is the tangled tale of simeone who snuck papers out of the
lab. And at times, the lead character’s stony approach begs us to quit
watching. We won’t, at least yet.

“The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX. For the first time, these two
Centers for Disease Control officers realize the ferocity of the beyond-death
demons … and ponder what they might have to do to try to stop them. The result
continues to be a strong drama, albeit a gory one.

“The Leftovers,” 10 p.m., HBO. Nora – whose husband and
their two children were among those who vanished instantly – heads to a big-city
conference. What follows is bizarre and involving.

TV column for Saturday, Aug. 2

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Crossbones,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC.

This series has a talented movie star (John Malkovich), plus
action, exotic settings … and, alas, a story viewers don’t seem to care about.
Now its two-part finale has been exiled to a Saturday.

Malkovich plays Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard
(despite having only a wimpy white beard); Julian Sands is Jagger, the British
officer obsessed with killing him. Now Teach sets sale with a shaky crew.
Jagger prepares to attack his island; Lowe – originally a spy hired by Jagger –
has divided loyalty.

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

Sandwiched by “48 Hours” crime stories, this rerun finds
Danny (Scott Caan) with double trouble.

One problem is that he and McGarrett are held captive by an
escaped convict who wants them to prove him innocent. (That’s been a common
plot lately and was in Friday’s “Blue Bloods” rerun.) A bigger problem: His
daughter Grace has punched someone at school.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Drama marathons, cable.

At 9 p.m. today, “Power” has its first-season finale on
Starz and “Hell on Wheels” has its fourth-season opener on AMC. Both are
intense dramas; both also have marathons to help us catch up.

“Power” starts rerunning its first season at 1:30 p.m.; in
the finale, Ghost holds a nightclub party, hoping to get out of the drug
business … while the assassin known as Pink Sneakers gets closer. “Hell” starts
rerunning its third season at 11 a.m.; the new hour finds the aftermath of a
brutal winter: Work is at a standstill, Durant is broke, Elam is considered
dead, Cullen and his pregnant wife are captive.

Other choices include:

“Agents of SHIELD,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Jaimie
Alexander repeats her movie role as Lady Sif, trying to protect the team from Lorelei.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. This
above-average show is now getting a triple run in the summer – its regular
Tuesday slot, plus two more on Saturdays. Tonight’s first rerun has Jake (Andy
Samberg) with a string of failed cases; in the second, he has a crush on the
medical examiner.

Movies, 8 p.m., cable. The highlight for tonight (or for
almost any night it’s on) is “Titanic” (1997), on ABC Family. But there are
also lighter films worth catching, led by “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) on
Bravo, Drew Barrymore’s “Never Been Kissed” (1999) on E and the original,
delightful “Pink Panther” (1963) at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies.

“Gang Related,” 9 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of Thursday’s episode,
Jessica finds shocking news about Ryan.

“Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda,” 9 p.m., Syfy. Long before the
“Sharknado” films (which rerun at 5 and 7 p.m.), Roger Corman was a master of
making fun (but, sometimes, silly) adventures for micro-budgets. He still is at
88, producing this sequel that somehow stars Conan O’Brien.

“Turn,” 10 p.m., AMC. In a rerun of the OK opener, Jamie Bell
(“Billy Elliot”) plays a colonist, torn between his father’s British loyalty,
his friends’ revolution and his wife’s desire to stay out of it.

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Jim Parsons hosts
this rerun, with music by Beck.

TV column for Friday, Aug.1

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Magic, 8-8:30 and 9-10 p.m., CW.

There are some talented magicians out there now, ones who
mix trickery with humor and showmanship. Now we see some of them on mostly
family-friendly Fridays.

First “Masters of Illusion” reaches its third network. Dean
Cain introduces eight acts in a busy half-hour. Then – after a pause for “Whose
Line Is It Anyway?” – is a rerun of Wednesday’s “Fool Us.” Four talented acts
try to fool Penn and Teller … who then do a classic trick that’s very clever
and a tad gory.  

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “Great Performances,” 9-11 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Verdi’s “Requiem Mass” is a grand creation, conductor
Gustavo Dudamel says here. “The theatrical elements of the piece are amazing.”
That makes it ideal for this passionate conductor, these musicians (the Los
Angeles Philharmonic, plus choir and soloists) and this setting.

The Hollywood Bowl is where Dudamel first led the
Philharmonic, as a 24-year-old guest conductor. “Everybody has been here,” he
says, backed by clips ranging from the Beatles to the Beverly Hillbillies. Now –
at 33, the orchestra’s music director for five years – he leads a vibrant night
at the Bowl.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Jane Fonda films, all day, Turner
Classic Movies.

For its annual “Summer Under the Stars,” TCM spends each
August day with one actor. Fonda is first, with lots of light films and then the
intense “China Syndrome” (1979) at 5:45 p.m. ET.

Her recent American Film Institute tribute is at 8 and 11
p.m. ET, surrounded by two terrific Oscar-winners: Lee Marvin won best actor in
her cowboy comedy “Cat Ballou” (1965), 9:15 p.m. ET; Fonda won best actress in
the detective thriller “Klute” (1971) at 12:15 a.m. ET.

Other choices include:

“Hell on Wheels” marathon, 3 p.m., AMC. This gritty western
starts its fourth season Saturday, after rerunning the first three. The pilot
introduces a former Confederate officer, a former slave and a corrupt
businessman. Their fate keeps changing, amid the relentless effort to finish the
transcontinental railway.

“Roughing It with Bear Grylls,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a change, NBC
is exiling the final “Crossbones” hours to Saturday. Instead, it reruns Monday’s
“Roughing” opener, with Zac Efron in the Appalachians.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 8 p.m., CBS. Amid a torrential
Las Vegas rain – yes, it rains in the desert – a body is found. Also in this
rerun, Sanders is accuses of framing a murder suspect, seven years ago.

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds Chin being
probed about his father’s death, 15 years ago. Internal Affairs feels his
relationship with Malia (Reiko Aylsworth) may have hampered the investigation.

“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. Danny (Donnie Wahlberg, who
also directed the hour) investigates the death of drag queen Tiffany Lamp. Also
in this rerun, Danny’s sister Erin re-examines a case after being abducted by
the suspect’s mother.

“Hannah Anderson: Anatomy of a Kidnapping,” 10 p.m., NBC. A
year ago, officials say, a 16-year-old California cheerleader was kidnapped and
her mother and brother were killed. A week later, she was rescued and the
suspect – a 40-year-old family friend – was killed by FBI agents; the story is
retold here.

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.