TV column for Thursday, Sept. 20

Election Special” (NBC) and/or “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS),
both 8 p.m.

Four years ago, “Saturday Night Live”
scored big with its primetime election specials. Now they're back,
with Seth Meyers again anchoring and being a key writer.

The trouble is that it faces one of the
funniest hours from this past season. That's the two “Big Bang”
episodes in which Howard and Bernadette considered moving up their
wedding date.

Recreation” season-opener, 9:30 p.m., NBC.

All summer, Ben has been in Washington
on a campaign, with April as his intern. Now Leslie and Andy (Ben's
lover, April's husband) visit. Leslie lusts for a chance to visit
history; Andy lusts for April.

Back home, that puts Ron in charge of
the annual picnic barbecue, with vegetables banned. It's an erratic
episode, as usual, but reminds us how much “Parks” has grown
since its sleepy start.

Me,” 6:30 p.m., HBO.

“I felt like I was split in half,”
says Ember, 7. “One half was my dad and one half was my mom.”

This beautifully filmed special has
kids reflecting on divorce. Some were caught by surprise (“we had
happy, happy, happy until the divorce,” says Sophia, 5) and some

While laying out solid rules for
grown-ups, kids discuss the emotions and the logistics. “Home for
me is a car …. Why do their houses have to be so far apart?” asks
Josie, 8.

By comparison, Grace, 7, merely
shuffles between neighboring apartment buildings. :”I'm totally
fine with it,” she says. “I get double Christmases and double

Other choices include

– “Up All Night” season-opener,
8:30 p.m., NBC. Reagan, the overorganized one, hires her
underorganized brother to remodel the bathroom. Meanwhile, Ava's show
has been canceled.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. As
the final season starts, Jim and Dwight fret about their place in
life: Two newnewcomers are called “the new Jim” and “Dwight
Jr.” Meanwhile, Andy is back from Outward Bound training, intent on
revenge against Nellie.

– “Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox. Brittany
Pierce is in a funk, so she turns to Britney Spears music. In New
York, life is rough on Rachel; she finds solace with the handsome and
sensitive Brody.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
A rerun of the season-finale finds the doctors trying to save
theselves and each other after a plane crash. Also, Bailey and Ben
make a decision about their future.

– “Tamar & Vince” debut, 10
p.m., WE. Tamar Braxton and Vince Herbert are the sort of opposites
that work in a reality-show marriage. She's slim and beautiful; he's
not. He's successful (the executive behind Lady Gaga), she's not.
He's quiet; she stirs up loud fusses. The result is silly and
sometimes fun.

– “Scandal,” 10:02 p.m., ABC.
.Quinn finds herself in a compromising and dangerous position, so the
others rush to her defense. Also in this rerun, Billy Chambers'
announcement shakes the presidency.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 19

season-opener, 8-9:30 p.m., CBS.

Eleven years ago, Michael Skupin –
smart, fit, diligent – seemed like the “Survivor” front-runner.
Then he accidentally inhaled smoke, fell into the fire and became the
show's first evacuee.

Now he gets a second chance at 50,
alongside two other evacuees – Jonathan Penner (2008, knee
infection) and Russell Swan (2009, dehydration). The other 15 – in
three teams – are new to the show, including Lisa Whelchel (the
“Facts of Life” star) and Katie Hanson (Miss Delaware USA, 2011).

(Fox) and “The Voice” (NBC), both 8 p.m.

Reality-TV reaches overload, with shows

While CBS has an all-reality night –
one show starting its season, another ending – two shows continue
their audition. It one hour for “The Voice,” two hours for “The
X Factor.”

8 p.m., ABC.

Sure, it's an all-rerun night for ABC.
Still, that includes good shows … and the only scripted ones on a
big-five network from 8-9 p.m.

In this one, Mike and Frankie are
surprised to receive an invitation to the wedding of his brother
(Norm Macdonald) … and more surprised to learn the ceremony will be
in their house. Meanwhile, Brick is bitter that he has to be there;
also, his brother is organizing a business to assure summer jobs.

Other choices include:

– “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006),
8 p.m., Independent Film Channel. Light and witty, this is a road
trip for a tattered family. There were Oscar nominations for Alan
Arkin (who won) and Abigail Breslin, ages 72 and 10. There was also
an Oscar for the script and a nomination for best picture.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30 and 9:31
p.m., ABC. Both reruns have Alicia Silverstone as Eden, the radiant
newcomer loved by George. In the first, she has moved in and George
has doubts about her parenting; in the second, she objects to the
endangered-animal theme at a baby shower.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Claire and Phil find parenting joy when Alex goes to her first prom …
and dismay, when her older sister tells her plans. Meanwhile, Cam and
Mitchell continue seeking a second adoption; Gloria is their
translator … with Jay and Manny at home with little Lily.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Dropping its plan for comedies tonight, NBC
moves “SVU” to its fall time slot. In this rerun, an escort iso
found dead at an upscale party.

– “Big Brother” finale, 9:30-11
p.m., CBS. The all-reality night concludes on CBS with the jury of
evictees choosing a $500,000 winner.

– “Revenge,” 10 p.m., ABC. The
Graysons are crumbling and Emily's vengeance is thriving. Then – in
a rerun that also aired Sunday – comes a jolt. That sets up the
Sept. 30 season-opener.

– “Revolution,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Here's a quick rerun of Monday's opener, with makeshift – and,
sometimes, violent – lives being formed after electricity vanishes.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 18

Experience,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

As the Civil War grew, neither side was
prepared for the staggering toll. There was no national ambulance
corps, no plan for identifying the dead or informing their families.
There was also no plan to bury them and no place to do it.

On an intimate scale, this is a story
of personal tragedy, beautifully told by filmmaker Ric Burns and
author (and Harvard president) Drew Gilpin Faust. On the other, it's
a story of some of the first efforts to expand the effect of the
federal government.

You Can Dance “finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Most years, contemporary and jazz
dancers dominate. This year, there's only one – tiny Tiffany Maher
– in the final four.

She joins two ballet dancers Eliana
Girard and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, plus Cyrus Spencer, who does
“animation/robotics.” Tonight, the show will (for the first time)
pick two winners, male and female.

10 p.m., NBC.

Partners in a recording studio, these
brothers are opposites when it comes to planning. Crosby rarely does
it, avoiding schedules; Adam does it obsessively, even scheduling

Now both approaches crumble, in a busy
hour. One sister, Julia, has a weak storyline (with her adopted son);
the other, Sarah, has a dandy one with her boss (Ray Romano). There
are bright moments … followed by a reminder that “Parenthood”
can leap deftly from joy to tragedy.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. The newest
member of the most-wanted terrorist list eludes the Navy, in a rerun
that has Scott Wolf, Richard Schiff and Jamie Lee Curtis as guest

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9-11 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun of the two-part season-finale, the criminal
mastermind called The Chameleon toys with Sam and Callen, setting up
a confrontation.

– “Go On,” 9 p.m., NBC. Ryan
(Matthew Perry) wants to keep his support group separate from his
“real life,” but it won't be easy … especially with his boss
(John Cho) bungling efforts to help.

– “The New Normal,” 9:30, NBC.
This odd hybrid takes extreme leaps between comedy and melodrama.
(Maybe we should expect that from producer Ryan Murphy, who ranges
from”Glee” to “Nip/Tuck” and “American Horror.”) This
episode, the second, goes from a hilarious doctor's-office scene to
others (including one involving bias against gays) that are
overwrought and over the top.

– “20/20,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.
Alongside lots of clips and comments, we see results of a poll
choosing TV's best moms, dads, dramas, comedies, cop shows and more.

– “White Collar,” 10 p.m., USA.
Last week, these opposites – partners in the CIA – fumed. Neal
met an ex-cop named Sam who knows something about his dad; Peter
intervened and Sam fled. Now this OK episode ends with a revelation;
we'll have to wait for more, because it's a “mid-season finale.”

– “Hot Set” debut, 10 p.m., Syfy.
Here's a companion for the 9p.m. “Face Off.” Each week, two teams
have three days to design a movie set. Tonight, they make worlds for
an astronaut to crash onto. One goes traditional, one tries something
difficult, both make it a fairly interesting debut.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 17

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Perception,”
10 p.m., TNT.

Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack) Is a
brilliant professor who's aware of his mind's tricks. He sees and
talks to people – including the lovely and wise Natalie – who
simply aren't there.

Last week, that finally hit overload.
After reporting a murder that apparently never happened, he agreed to
go to a hospital …. where the real Natalie works. Tonight, that's
resolved in a smart, complex hour.

Festival,” 8-11 p.m., ABC.

Each year, this special lives up to its
subtitle, “Country's Night to Rock.” Nashville's softer side –
yes, it has one – is mostly ignored; things turn rowdy and fun.

That's obvious when the first performer
(Carrie Underwood) shows that silver hot pants go well with an
American-flag shirt. It's clear when Luke Bryan sings “Drunk on
You” and “Shake It For Me.”

He hosts with Kimberly Perry of The
Band Perry. Performers include some newcomers (Eric Church, Brantley
Gilbert, Hunter Hayes) and lot of stars – Blake Shelton, Miranda
Lambrt, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum,
Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town and more.

debut,10 p.m., NBC.

TV often thrives when telling of a
civilization being rebooted. From “Lost” to “Jericho,” from
“Walking Dead” to “Falling Skies,” it finds fresh drama when
humans have to improvise.

This time, we're told that all the
world's electricity suddenly vanished. People scattered and made do.

There are way too many questions and
holes here, but if you get past them you have a skillfully filmed
adventure, with Billy Burke as a tough guy who's bad and/or good.

Other choices include:

– “Bones” season-opener, 8 p.m.,
Fox. Last season ended with Brennan accused of murder. While Booth
scrambles to prove her innocence, she's on the lam with their baby
and her dad (Ryan O'Neal). Now things are settled, with lots of help
from her lab-mates. It's a good hour, despite an odd ending,

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8-9
p.m., CBS. In an offbeat, two-part rerun, Lily is having her baby,
Marshall is racing back … and we get flash-forwards to Barney's
wedding day.

– “Alphas,” 8 p.m., Syfy,
rerunning at 10. Voters keep overlooking sci-fi actors, including
David Strathairn. In other shows, he has two an Oscar nomination and
an Emmy; here, he does great work as Dr. Rosen, facing a painful
decision. On a lighter note, Kat breezes into her first undercover

– “The Mob Doctor, 9 p.m., Fox.
This takes multi-tasking to the extreme: A young doctor (Jordana
Spiro) keeps up her hospital duties, while also keeping a family
obligation to patch up bad guys. Then a crisis makes her worlds
collide; Spiro is fine, but this mostly feels like an overwrought
soap opera.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9-10 p.m.,
CBS. In another two-part rerun, the women scheme to get Martha
Stewart (playing herself) to sample their cupcakes.

– “Warehouse 13,” 9 p.m., Syfy,
rerunning at 11. Laura Innes, of “ER” and “The Event,” guests
as the estranged mom of Steve Jinks. With his life and Claudia's life
in danger, he needs her help.

--”Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS. In
a rerun, one team member is shot and two people are kidnapped.

TV column for Sunday, Sept.16

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

Floating into Sweden is a boat with two
dead drug-runners. The case soon bounces back to the Latvian capital
of Riga, where people call Kurt Wallander “colonel,” bug his room
and duck his questions.

This moves “Wallander” – rich in
Swedish mood and backdrops – to another country. It strips Kurt of
his context and most of his support, creating one of the best films
in a great series.

8-11 p.m., ABC.

This fall, “Revenge” has the
imposing duty of taking the “Desperate Housewives” spot on
Sundays. To prepare us, here are reruns of three key episodes.

First, the stylishly crafted pilot
film. We see an engagement party turned tragic; then we flash back to
the start: A girl saw her father framed and her family destroyed; now
she's a young beauty (Emily VanCamp) with a new identity and new
wealth, ready for vengeance.

At 9 p.m. is the engagement-party
episode. And at 10 is the season finale, with sudden tragedy.

Empire” season-opener, 9 p.m., HBO.

A New Year's Eve party welcomes 1923,
with mixed feelings.

In Washington, D.C., the Harding
administration shows early signs of corruption. In Atlantic City, a
Nucky Thompson is hiding his misdeeds and re-branding himself as a
philanthropist; that won't be easy, especially with the brutal Gyp
Rosetti new in town.

And in Chicago, Al Capone has a new
turf war and Nelson Van Alden, the former FBI agent, finds hard times
and a possible break. It's a busy (but well-crafted) return of a
terrific series.

Other choices include:

– “Broadway or Bust,” 8 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). Sabaa Sharma and Brittany Dankwa grew up in
opposite worlds – Sabaa in a family of doctors and engineers,
Brittany homeless for two of her high school years. Both share a
passion and talent for Broadway; now they're featured heavily in this
mid-section of a three-week series, which shows 60 talented teens,
learning and competing in New York.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., Fox. In the first rerun, Bart schemes to make summer vacation
last forever. In the second, a party for Ned and Edna causes people
to ponder the quirks of marriage.

– Football, 8:15 p.m., NBC. The San
Francisco 49ers (13-3 last season) host the Detroit Lions (10-6).
Both teams won last week's openers, but against opposite opponents:
The 49ers, on the road, upset the Packers (15-1 last season); the
Lions, at home, had a last-second win over the Rams (2-14).

– “Leverage,” 9 and 10 p.m., TNT.
Each week, this clever drama has scam artists trying to cheat the
cheaters. Now here are two new episodes, before its mid-season break:
In the first, the target is a terrorist; in the second, the team must
figure out who framed Sophie for art theft.

– “Hell on Wheels,” 9 p.m., AMC.
Doc Durant (Colm Meaney) bristles with confidence, as he bribed his
way to wealth. Now he's struggling to save his own life and to keep
his railroad alive.

– “Copper,” 10 p.m., BBC America.
A gang schemes to rob some of the richest families in New York.

– “Weeds,” 10 p.m., Showtime.
After an eight-year run, this comedy-drama-soap has its finale.