TV column for Saturday, May 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live,” 10 and 11:29 p.m., NBC.

The first time Zach Galifianakis hosted
“SNL,” he brought a neatly off-center touch. He even opened with
bits that seemed straight from his wonderfully offbeat stand-up act.

Now he's back , with Of Monsters and
Men as music guest. Before that, the 10 p.m. rerun has Jennifer
Lawrence hosting – predicting (correctly) that she would win an
Academy Award – and the Lumineers as music guest. Its best moments
are in a filmed “Hobbit” take-off.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Following,”
9 p.m., Fox.

If you missed the season-finale Monday,
here's a second chance.

The structure worked wonderfully on
“24”: Create an intense hero, a smart villain and a growing
crisis; build it to an end-of-season climax, filmed with movie
quality.

Be warned, however: Like “24,” this
leans on horrendous torture; unlike “24,” it requires the villain
to conveniently turn foolish. Also, it has an ending that robs us of
the needed closure

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Movie, 8 p.m.,
cable.

A great movie night is filled with
terrific choices, especially at 8.

“Juno” (2007, E) and “The Devil
Wears Prada” (2006, Oxygen) are comedy-drama gems. There's also
action – Arnold Schwarzegger's “Predator” (1984, G4) and
“X-Men:The Last Stand” (2006, FX).

And there's more, including Encore's
month of Elvis Presley films. This one is “Jailhouse Rock”
(1957), not to be confused with the bland-pop films that followed.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote the title song, plus “Treat Me
Nice,” “I Want to Be Free” and “You're So Square But I Don't
Care.”

Other choices include:

– More movies, earlier. You don't
have to wait until 8 p.m. At 7, WE has the Oscar-winning “Titanic”
(1997) and Hallmark has Matthew Perry in the likable, real-life “Ron
Clark Story” (2005). Also, “21 Jump Street” (2012), 7:05 p.m.
on Starz, is fun; “Jerry Maguire” (1996, 7:30, TV Guide) is
terrific.

– “Smash,” 8 p.m., NBC. Last week
saw “Bombshell” gaining traction, while “Hit List” was
wobbling. Jimmy – its composer and star – was fired after
performing drunk at a key showcase for potential producers. Now a
surprising event binds the two shows.

– “Person of Interest,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun of the season-opener, Finch has been kidnapped by his
hacker nemesis. Reese must get the police involved … while also
tracing a new person-of-interest.

– “48 Hours,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS.
The second hour, CBS says, traces the bizarre story of a seemingly
successful restaurateur and chef whose wife disappeared. The
investigation continued for a year and then he jumped off a 200-foot
cliff. Even then, the story wasn't over; grotesque details followed.

– “Mr. Hockey,” 9-11 p.m.,
Hallmark. In a workmanlike way, this film traces the first year that
Gordie Howe teamed professionally with his two sons. It's an
interesting story, told adequately.

– Still more movies, 9 pm., here are
dandy films that deserved bigger audiences. “Salmon Fishing in the
Yeoman” (2011, Showtime) mixes serene drama, perfectly directed by
Lasse Hallstrom, and bursts of wit. “Looper” (2012, Starz) is a
smart time-travel tale, spiced with great support from Jeff Daniels.

TV column for Friday, May 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Happy Endings,”
8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

If networks had stuck with their plans,
tonight would have hit a new low – only three hours of scripted
shows among 11 prime-time hours on the big four networks.

ABC, however, pushed everything back by
a week when a previous Friday focused on Boston coverage. The shift
means it still has these two new “Endings” episodes.

Both include Jane's search for the
perfect and meticulous life. In the first, she and Brad duck their
friends to join an upscale club; in the second, she must plan the
wedding of her more-perfect sister.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Vegas,” 9
p.m., CBS.

This show (plus “Blue Bloods” at
10) provides the steadiest island of scripted, big-network shows on
Fridays. Now, a week from its season-finale, we find a turning point.

When Sheriff Lamb investigates a
lawyer, there's a backlash. Soon, Lamb loses his job and O'Connell,
the assistant district attorney, is in the hospital. Also, Lamb finds
clues about who killed his father.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Queen of
Versailles” (2012), 9 and11 p.m. and 1 a.m., Bravo.

At first, Jaqueline Siegel seems like a
one-person “Real Housewives” series.

She's tall, blonde and attractive, with
clothes that are expensive – at one point topping $1 million a year
– and emphasize her ample bosom. She and her husband (now 47 and
77) have seven biologic children.

As this documentary starts, they're
building the biggest home in America – 86,000 square feet, 10
kitchens, 17 bathrooms, roller-rink, more. Then his time-share
business slumps, construction stalls … and this becomes a much
deeper movie. If you missed its TV debut Monday, catch it now.

Other choices include:

– “Fashion Star,”8 p.m., NBC. By
the end of this hour, “Star” will choose the three for next
week's finale. First, the final four each take an outmoded design and
adjust it to seek current popularity.

– “Remember Sunday” (2013), 8-10
p.m., Hallmark. Two weeks after its ABC debut, this warm “Hallmark
Hall of Fame” film moves to cable. Written by Oscar-winner Barry
Morrow (“Rain Man”) and directed by Emmy-winner Jeff Bleckner, it
gets great work from Zachary Levi and Alexis Bledel.

– “Touch,” 9 p.m., Fox. With her
company's quarterly report coming up, Farington (Frances Fisher)
tightens pressure to get results from the “Righteous 36.” Martin
(Kiefer Sutherland) must hurry.

– “Great Performances,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). Fifty years after its first Paris
performance, the Paul Taylor Dance Company returned for this concert
. Taylor, 82, talks briefly here, but the hour is almost pure
performance, based on two Walt Whitman works. The casual viewer may
find the first to be sterile and repetitious, especially in its
music; the second has much more vibrancy.

– “Da Vinci's Demons,” 9 p.m.,
Starz; reruns at 10. Fearful that her husband would learn she's the
spy, Lucrezia Donati planted evidence on his esteemed mentor; now
come the repercussions. That's in a fairly good hour in which da
Vinci does something very stupid (and unbelievable) and then very
smart.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Danny is emotional about the suicide of someone he'd promise to
protect. Also, his family suffers a loss to gang violence, setting up
next week's season finale.

TV column for Thursday, May 2


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

Two generations of splendid
situation-comedy merge here.

Bob Newhart had some of the best
sitcoms of the 1980s; now he visits TV's best current comedy. Like
Newhart's shows, “Big Bang” has verbal wit, sometimes delivered
with droll understatement.

Sheldon and Leonard both grew up
watching a TV scientist named Professor Proton (played by Newhart,
83); now they invite him to perform. Also, Howard and Bernadette must
watch Raj's dog.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Men at Work,”
10 p.m., TBS.

Is there a graceful way to push someone
away? Apparently not.

Milo wants to politely tell Molly (nice
person, dull relationship) goodbye; he fails in spectacular ways.
Neil does just as badly when he's supposed to fire a co-worker. That
adds up to a fairly good episode.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Hannibal,”
10:01 p.m., NBC.

Here's the sort of hour that seems to
demand a disclaimer.

Yes, it's skillfully written, filmed
and acted. There's great work from Eddie Izzard – as a genius who
continues to brutalize while in prison – and from Anna Chlumsky, as
a young federal agent.

Still, viewers should be warned that
this is episodic. Some hours wrap up a case; this one doesn't.

And they should be wary of the extreme
gore. The most horrid moment comes early, when an FBI profiler (the
superb Hugh Dancy) imagines himself committing the murder.

Other choices include:

– “American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox.
There are, apparently, no more ways to stall this: Tonight, one of
the final four singers –each of them gifted – is sent home.
Before that, David Cook – who topped David Archuleta to be the 2008
champion – sings “Laying Me Low.”

– “The Office,” 8:30-9:31 p.m.,
NBC. Two weeks before the finale, we get two episodes. In the first,
Jim convinces Dwight the office is unsafe; soon, a rented bus becomes
the office. In the second, he convinces Dwight there should be an
assistant to the assistant manager; also, Andy prepares a music
competition, with guest spots by Clay Aiken, Aaron Rogers and Mark
McGrath, the Sugar Ray singer.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. Walden advises a despondent Alan to get a hip look.

– “Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox. In New
York, Rachel is preparing for her “Funny Girl” callback. Back in
Ohio, the glee-clubbers tackle the music of Steve Wonder. Also, news
could have a big effect on Artie and his mom (Katey Sagal).

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
A new surgeon (Hilarie Burton of “One Tree Hill” and “White
Collar”) arrives to help a young patient.

– “Parks and Recreation”
season-finale, 9:31 p.m., NBC. Leslie marks the end of her first year
on the city council. Meanwhile, Andy makes a discovery and contacts a
special agent.

– “Elementary,” 10:01 p.m., CBS
The sinister “M” brings bad news: A man who was listed as a
heart-attack victim was on the hit list of Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes'
nemesis.

TV column for Wednesday, May 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American Idol,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Last week, “Idol” producers
reminded us that they can bend the rules. They had an extra week
cached away, to allow for a “save” that never happened; as a
result, no one was ousted from the final four.

The problem is that the votes carry
over, added to this week's totals; Candice Glover – an amazing
singer – and Amber Holcomb start the week behind . On Thursday,
someone will join the tradition of major talents – Chris Daughtry,
Tamyra Gray, Latoya London, Allison Iraheta – who finished fourth.

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

The first three hours moved Australia
through four billion years. Now the finale has recent history.

Australia split from Antarctica 35
million years ago, it says, and drifted north, its rain forest
becoming desert. Humans arrived perhaps 50,000 years ago, Europeans
just 244 years ago.

The hour is illustrated with stunning
landcapes and grand survivors – a 10,000-year-old Tasmanian tree, a
327-foot Queensland tree, creatures ranging from the giant cassowary
to the quirky kangaroo.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Family Tools”
debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Jack (Kyle Bornheimer) has been
drifting, but now he's needed. His dad (J.K. Simmons) had a heart
attack and his aunt (Leah Remini) needs someone to take over the
handyman business.

Jack, however, isn't very handy. Based
on a British comedy, this is big and broad and inconsistent, with
enough laughs to keep us seated between “The Middle” and “Modern
Family.”

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II: “Manhunt,”
8-10 p.m., HBO.

Two decades ago, six women began
painstakingly analyzing fragments of information about Osama bin
Laden and his colleagues. After the Sept. 11 attacks, they were
surrounded by waves of co-workers.

“Manhunt” suffers from a slow
start, an abrupt end and frequent use of sub-titles that are absurdly
hard to read. Still, it's a fascinating story, for the first time
told on-camera by the people involved.

Other choices include:

– “Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS. The
pressure doubles tonight, with two immunity challenges and two tribal
councils. Last week's council dumped Malcolm Freberg; now only half
the original 10 “favorites” remain, only three of the 10 “fans”
remain

– “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). Here is pure elegance, as Lipizzaner stallions
develop. They run free in the Austrian hills, like a scene from
“Sound of Music”; they train in a splendid arena, waiting 10
years to perform. Despite over-written narration, this has some fine
moments.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. Life
turns higher-tech, when Frankie tries to make her daughter seem
popular on facebook and her sons make a video starring cats and
bunnies.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Phil hopes to make a big Career Day impression, in front of his son
and Manny; alas, his nemesis (Rob Riggle) is there. Also, Cam and
Mitchell botch tooth-fairy duties.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS. A body has been found floating in the mud bath of a
spiritual retreat. Also, Hodges (Wallace Langham) questions his
marriage plans.

– “The Americans” season-finale,
10 p.m., FX. This richly textured show ends its first season with double
peril for the KGB agents who have spent decades posing as typical
Americans in suburbia. Stan, the FBI agent, is increasingly obsessed
with his probe; also, they must go to a meeting that could be a trap.

TV column for Tuesday, April 30


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “New Girl,” 9
p.m., Fox.

In a very adult – and very funny –
episode, people tell stories of losing their virginity.

That lets the actors retreat under
flower shirts, big hair and a prom dress. It also sets up two sexual
sight gags that are prolonged and hilarious. And it leads to an
ending that's sweet and beautifully done.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Mindy
Project,” 9:30 p.m., Fox.

Danny has two intense concerns He's
desperate to have the doctors beat the midwives in the annual
triathlon; also, his ex-wife (Chloe Sevigny) is back, lured by a
letter he wrote but never sent.

Both stories are fairly good, but the
gem involves Mindy. She's willing to change anything – to be
thinner and whiter, for instance – for her boyfriend. But would she
convert from Hindu to Christianity?
That's a rare TV subject
that's handled wittily, with Mindy interrupting a church-school
class.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Inside Amy
Schumer” debut, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central.

This wraps up a neat stretch of comedy
for grown-ups – the two Fox shows, then switching to Comedy Central
for a new “Tosh.0” and this fast-moving show.

The man-on-the-street chats are OK, the
stand-up segments are good … and the sketches are great.

Schumer auditions for an absurd sex
video … can't describe the black clerk who helped her at a store …
has a feeble “I survived” story … and feels morning-after
excitement about a guy who can't remember her. Each portion is quick,
clever, well-acted and (especially) funny.

Other choices include:

– “The Voice” and “Grimm” 8
and 10:01 p.m., NBC. It turns out that “Ready For Love” wasn't
ready for prime time. Now it's been shelved; “Voice” (wrapping up
its “knock-out” round) expands to two hours and “Grimm” moves
to Tuesdays, with Nick now fretting about aliens.

– “The Dust Bowl,” 8-10 p.m.,
PBS. In the second half of this rerun, Ken Burns' compelling film
sees some families endure the entire, 10-year nightmare; others move
to California, where they face biases … and even face officers who
turn them away. It also looks at ecological efforts to rebuild the
plains.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Ignoring
Homeland Security's demand that it step aside, the team continues to
pursue Bodnar, who killed Ziva's father (the head of Mossad) and
Vance's wife.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Callen suspects Hetty's motive, when he's assigned a “missing
person” case that's actually an undercover agent from her past.

– “Golden Boy,” 10 p.m., CBS. A
murder case involving a basketball star stirs Clark's mixed feelings
about his own family. Polly Draper (“thirtysomething”) returns as
his troubled mom.

– “Frontline,” 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). In 2011, “Frontline” looked at the U.S.'
massive intelligence efforts … and at why some plots still go
undetected. Now this hour – partly new and partly rerun – adds a
look at the failure to prevent the Boston bombing.

– Diane Sawyer special, 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. ABC's special – “Murder. Mystery. Amanda Knox Speaks” –
talks to the Seattle college student who was convicted of murder in
Italy … released four years later when the conviction was
overturned … and now may face a new trial. Her book reaches stores
today.