TV column for Friday, Nov. 1

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

Ever since reaching Earth a decade ago, the aliens have worn
golf shirts and driven golf carts. Now Larry, their leader, has finally seen
golf. “It’s just walking around with sticks,” he groans.

So he’s switching to football … just as Debbie (an
earthling) wants to avoid it. “Love doesn’t exist in this house between
September and Super Bowl Sunday,” she says. This could have been played for
broad laughs; instead, it’s fairly funny, but adds moments of real warmth.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “MasterChef Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox.

This all started with 24 chefs, young (ages 8 to 13), bright
and surprisingly talented.

Now we’re down to four. Two – Dara and Troy – are California
12-year-olds; Alexander, 13, is from New York City; Jack, 10, is from East
Rockaway, NJ. Tonight, they each make a chicken dish; next week – wrapping up
what was once planned as a two-hour finale -- the final two make three-piece

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Grimm” and “Dracula,” 9 and 10 p.m.,

After all the Friday reruns, we’re glad to see NBC with two
new scripted shows, flaws and all.

“Grimm” starts where last week’s season-opener left off: Partly
overcoming the effects of a fierce injection, Nick escaped kidnappers. Now he’s
loose and dangerous: Will his fellow cops find him in time? Will they cover up
his violent deeds? It’s a taut and reasonably well-made hour.

Then “Dracula” gives us a newspaper reporter who is earnest,
honest, underpaid and unappreciated; all of that rings true in real life. He
also is terribly handsome and is offered lots of money; that part doesn’t. He’s
an interesting character; alas, Grayson (Dracula’s new identity in Victorian
England) is not. He lacks the charisma of a vampire hero or – despite some tries
– the depth of an anti-hero.

Other choices include:

“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Mike is suspected of
stealing his neighbor’s campaign signs. Also, Eve gets mixed messages when she
asks her sisters for romantic advice

“Great Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). “Moby-Dick”
is the “Les Miserables” of operas, with thundering choruses, powerhouse solos
and a story built on sheer obsession. This multi-media production from the San
Francisco Opera provides a macho, high-adrenaline experience.

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. A day late, here’s an episode
set on Halloween, with a zombie-like man killed. Rumer Willis (daughter of
Bruce Willis and Demi Moore) returns as Max’s girlfriend.

“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. The focus shifts to Jamie, the
youngest of the Reagan-family cops. His actions are questioned after the death
of a gang member he was chasing.

“Strike Back: Origins,” 10 p.m., Cinemax. Last week’s opener
saw former colleagues go in opposite directions after a shootout. One (Andrew
Lincoln of “Walking Dead”) heads a commando force; the other crumbled into
alcohol and despair. Now he has his comeback try, after a TV reporter (Orla
Brady) is kidnapped. This hour is excessive – he intentionally becomes a
prisoner – but packs kinetic power.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 3

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

As NBC scrambles, it makes quick shifts. Last week, it cancelled
“Welcome to the Family” (good comedy, bad slot) and talked vaguely of doubling
the “Parks and Recreation” episodes. So far, however, it has improvised – a
“Voice” rerun last week and now a “Saturday Night Live” compilation.

We won’t complain too much, though. From the Coneheads in the
1970s to Edward Norton’s perverse treats last Saturday, “SNL” tends to do funny
things for the holiday.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie
Brown,” 8 p.m., ABC.

When the trick-or-treating is done, families need time to
wind down and munch some candy. That’s what this 1966 cartoon accomplishes.
Some people love it, despite its solemn tone.

To round out the hour, ABC has the 1972 short, “You’re Not
Elected, Charlie Brown.”

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Returned” debut, 9-10:15 p.m., Sundance.

The dead seem to get a lot of negative attention when they
return to life. That might be because of the whole zombie thing – the decaying
and staggering and such, plus killing and eating people.

But what if they didn’t do that? What if they simply
returned as if nothing had happened? That happens in the gripping start to an
eight-week French (with English sub-titles) mini-series.

A town was shattered when 38 teens were killed in a crash …
except that suddenly, at least one calmly returns. There are hints of a broader
supernatural tale; mostly, however, this is quietly compelling.

Other choices include:

Comedy movies, cable. At times, even horror can be funny.
ABC has an “Addams Family” double-feature (1991 and ’93) at 7 and 9 p.m.; Comedy
Central has the delightful “Ghostbusters” (1984) at 8:30.

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 9:30 p.m., CBS. Here are two
funny reruns. In the first, the guys are on a shaky road trip (in costume) and
the women ponder a bizarre comic book. In the second, there’s competition for
the one tenure-track position.

Horror movies, 8 p.m., cable. “Gremlins” (1984, CMT) is an
odd-but-pleasing blend of gore, humor, adventure and (with Steven Spielberg
producing) pretty pictures. Others are dead-serious – Julia Roberts as Dr.
Jekyll’s maid “Mary Reilly” (1996, TV Guide), the Poe classic “The Pit and the
Pendulum” (1961, Turner Classic Movies) and young vampires in “The Lost Boys”
(1996, VH1).

Baseball, 8:07 p.m., Fox, with preview at 7:30. It’s the
seventh and final World Series game … unless the Series ended in six (see
Sports). In that case, here are reruns: “X Factor” introduces the finalists,
then a “Glee” – great music, repetitious drama, great finish – marks Finn’s

“The Millers,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Nathan and his sister take
her daughter trick-or-treating. They also learn about one of their mom’s
long-ago lies.

“The Crazy Ones,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. Will an award go to Sydney’s
dad or the guy she had a teen crush on?

“Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC. In the midst of wedding crises,
Julia tries to get the whole family into her door-to-door mayoral campaign.

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 29 (out of order)

(Here's the TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 29, a tad out of order. If you scroll down, you'll find the Wednesday, Oct. 30 one is next.) 

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

Back in 1938, Orson Welles wanted a radio adaptation of “War
of the Worlds,” but found the script dull. He decided to borrow a technique
he’d heard a few days earlier – a drama, done as a fake newscast.

It worked well … too well. People thought Martians had
invaded; some panicked, some fled.

Now, on the eve of the broadcast’s 75th
anniversary, that story is recalled, adding a new technique. At a college
library, a student discovered a treasure trove of letters from listeners,
telling their reactions. Those are recited by actors in a faux-interview
setting, as part of a richly entertaining hour.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox; “The
Voice,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Here’s a rare collision of the two music shows. That’s
because “X Factor” evacuated its usual nights (Wednesday and Thursday), in case
they’re needed for the World Series.

Tonight, “X Factor” has its first live show, with the 16
finalists; “Voice” continues its “knockout round.”

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Doomsday Preppers,” 9 p.m., National

Like many teens, Megan Dial says her dad is kind of weird.
“I think it’s embarrassing …. I would rather be hanging out with my boyfriend,”
she says.

Like some, she may be right. Her dad (an Alaskan tattoo
artist) invested $100,000 in food and shelter in case of a tsunami … then more
to hide food underwater … and more for a former British tank.

In Colorado, another guy settles for converting his truck
into a tank-like vehicle. His home is a perfect fortress … until a forest fire
forces him to retreat.

Other choices include:

“The African Americans,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Even in slavery days, Henry Louis Gates says, blacks had triumphs. One filed
the 1781 suit that ended slavery in Massachusetts. Another started the AME
church, now with 7,000 congregations; and Frederick Douglass became a stirring

“Agents of SHIELD,” 8 p.m., ABC. Here’s another chance to
see this show’s terrific pilot. Writer-director Joss Whedon showed his “Buffy”
knack for spicing adventure with humor and the human touch.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. The team links with an investigator (Diane
Neal) from the Coast Guard.

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. A 15-year-old hacker is
causing trouble, so Callen goes undercover.

“The Goldbergs” and “Trophy Wife,” 9 and 9:31 p.m., ABC. The
annual ABC splurge of Halloween comedies begins. There are two tonight, three
more on Wednesday.

“Naked Vegas” debut, 10 p.m., Syfy. A zombie wedding isn’t
weird enough, so one couple chooses a naked zombie wedding. The bride, groom
and four others strip down (mostly) and have tattered tuxes and gory gowns
painted on. That helps launch this OK reality show about a Las Vegas body-paint

“Trust Me, I’m a Game Show Host,” 10:30 p.m., Tonight’s
contestant, a youth pastor, faces odd claims: 
Ben Franklin went to a sex club? A penguin was knighted? Those and
others are offered by D.L. Hughley and Michael Ian Black, along with witty
comments. The trick is to guess which are true.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 30

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

Ever since “Roseanne,” ABC has had great Halloween comedies.
Here are more prospects.

First, the Heck kids flounder. Brick doesn’t know how to ask
a girl to the dance; Axl does, but his teammates are hazing and won’t let him
into the party. Also, Sue has a Ouija-board fright.

Then “Back in the Game” (8:31 p.m.) has Danny no longer
trick-or-treating with his mom; she tries a grown-up party. At 9, “Modern
Family” repeats last year’s episode, with Phil’s real-estate open house.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,”
9-11 p.m., NBC.

Last week, NBC swept house. “Ironside” and the excellent
“Welcome to the Family” were ousted after four episodes … topping the three
weeks for CBS’ “We Are Men” and two for ABC’s “Lucky Seven.”

Oddly, the network has no replacement for either until
January. Tonight, it fills in with an “SVU” two-parter (last season’s finale,
this season’s opener), with Benson held captive.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Nightmare Factory,” 8 p.m., Epix and

Who are these people who craft the visual horrors of
Halloween and beyond?

“We all were the kids (your) mothers wouldn’t let you play
with,” Andy Schoneberg says here. They read monster magazines, made home movies
and fashioned gore while their parents showed dismay. “You guys will do nothing
with that (long) hair,” Greg Nicotero’s dad, a Pittsburgh doctor, said.

Nicotero and his friends have done everything, crafting
special effects for tiny movies, big ones and the hit “Walking Dead” series. They’re
the center of a fascinating documentary.

Other choices include:

“Twilight” (2008), 7:30-10 p.m., ABC Family. On Halloween
eve, we’re reminded that vampires can bring both love and horror.

“Revolution,” 8 p.m., NBC. Can Monroe be trusted? Miles –
once his friend, then his enemy – and his colleagues have doubts.

Baseball, 8:07 p.m. ET, Fox. The best-of-seven World Series
returns to Boston for its sixth game.

“Halloween” (1978), 8-10 p.m., AMC. In the Epix film, John
Carpenter analyzes horror filmmakers: “You have to have an unnatural motivation
to do this.” Fortunately, he has the skill to go with it. Working on a tiny
budget, he made this beautifully crafted film that launched the modern horror

“Nova,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Yes, cold can be
a good thing. Doctors found – sometimes by accident – that it can save lives.
Now its use in medicine is one of many things pondered here.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS. A homeless
man is killed after winning big.

“Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC. Next week, Robin Roberts will
have her annual interview of real country stars. First, she guests on this
scripted show, interviewing Rayna … who then searches for financing.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 28

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Pete Holmes Show” debut, midnight,

Vertically, vocally and geographically, Holmes seems to fit
the job.

He’s 6-foot-5 – the same as former late-night host Craig
Kilborn, an inch above Conan O’Brien (whom he follows). He’s from
Massachusetts, the same as O’Brien and Jay Leno. And he’s the voice of the “E-Trade
baby,” in popular commercials he sometimes helps write.

A sampling indicates he’s clumsy but clever. One sketch
(“X-Men”) is brilliant, others are very good. In the opener, his guest is
comedian-actor Kumail Nanjiani (“Franklin & Bash”) and he visits Jon

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 9 p.m., CBS.

This wraps up the three-week stretch in which “Big Bang”
reruns fill in on Mondays. Tonight, in a funny episode, Howard and Raj try to
learn why Sheldon seems to disappear at 2:45 p.m. daily.

The Monday shift began when CBS yanked “We Are Men” and
nudged “2 Broke Girls” to 8:30 p.m. “Mike & Molly” will take the 9 p.m.
slot, with a hilarious episode Nov. 4 and then two overwrought ones.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Chastity Salas lives with her mom in a South Bronx homeless
shelter; she’s a gifted poet eyeing top colleges. Stephanie Alvarado’s dad
moved the family from El Salvador to escape violence, then found violence in
Chicago; she’s a top student, even helping in Senegal and speaking at a
teachers-union rally.

At first, Darlene Bustos of Tulsa lacked their optimism. She
says her pregnancy (before her sophomore year) was almost intentional; now she’s
rebuilding her life. These stories – and boys’ stories next week – are told in
rich detail, peppered by the recollections of Latinos who overcame past hurdles.

Other choices include:

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Things got
scrambled when the wrong phone numbers were shown on the screen. As a result,
no one was ousted last week and only the judges’ votes carry over. Tonight,
each duo dances twice – once by itself and then in a group number

“The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The “knock-out round”
begins, with contestants choosing their songs.

“The Graduate” (1967), 8 p.m., Turner Classic Movies. This
became a true classic, thanks to Mike Nichols’ brilliant direction and Dustin
Hoffman’s breakthrough performance.

“Seduced and Abandoned,” 9 p.m., HBO. Following Alec Baldwin
and writer-director James Toback to the Cannes Film Festival, this movie has
opposite extremes. The good side: Talented people discuss the changes in
getting a movie made; their views are smart and thoughtful. The other: Toback
seems more like a huckster when pursuing financing for a shaky idea, sort of a
new version of “Last Tango in Paris.”

“Hostages,” 10 p.m., CBS. Last week’s dumbfounding episode
had the parents risk their lives so their teen children could escape … only to
have the lunk-headed son blow it. This hour has the mom (a brainy surgeon) be
the foolish one. She meets the kidnapper on his turf; also, her troubled sister

“The Blacklist,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Liz must probe a beautiful
corporate terrorist … while also being confronted by her husband … who insists
the box of fake passports is simply someone framing him.