TV column for Saturday, Jan. 16

“The Social Network” (2010), 8 p.m., ABC.

Television lost its
best writer when Aaron Sorkin switched from TV shows (“West Wing,”
“Sports Night,” “News Room”) to movies. Fortunately, he keeps
popping up on the TV screen.

Last Sunday, his
“Steve Jobs” script brought his second Golden Globe. Here's the
movie that brought him his first Globe ... and an Oscar. It traces
Mark Zuckerberg from Harvard student to Facebook mogul. Sorkin fudged
the truth – in real life, Zuckerberg had a steady girlfriend
throughout this time – but wrote brilliantly. Director David
Fincher (“Gone Girl”) and star Jesse Eisenberg crafted a gem.

Football, 4:35 p.m. ET, CBS, and 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC,

Last weekend, all
four visiting teams (each with a veteran quarterback) beat home teams
(each with a quarterback in his first play-off games). Now comes the
hard part -- veteran-vs.-veteran.

First, Alex Wilson
and the Kansas City Chiefs visit the Patriots and Tom Brady, who has
won four Super Bowls. Then Aaron Rodgers and the Packers visit the
Cardinals and Carson Palmer, whose 12th season has become
his best. There's more Sunday, with Seahawks-Panthers and

ALTERNATIVE: “Colony,” noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., etc., USA.

The cable people
REALLY want you to see this hour. They ran it twice Thursday, once
Friday ... and now every hour, from noon to midnight. Along the way,
we'll see a husband and wife (Josh Holloway and Sarah Callies)
struggle in a modern world that's controlled by unseen aliens from
another planet.

For years, the USA
Network prospered with breezy, blue-collar shows like “Psych,”
“Burn Notice” and “Royal Pains.” Lately, however, viewers
have leaned to complex shows that have ongoing stories. USA has
sometimes stumbled, but triumphed with “Mr. Robot,” this year's
Golden Globe drama winner.

Other choices

“As Good as it
Gets” (1997), 7:30 p.m., Pop. Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt won
Oscars in James Brooks' beautifully nuanced story about lonely souls,
nudged together. There are plenty of other good movie choices at 8
p.m., led by “Top Gun” (1986) on AMC, “Red 2” (2013) on TNT,
Clint Eastwood's “Gran Torino” (2008) on CMT and the animated
“Incredibles” (2004) on Disney.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
8 p.m., Fox. In an instant rerun of Friday's season-opener, 18 chefs
reach Las Vegas; they're soon cooking in the same kitchen where the
winner will become the $250,000-a-year head chef. Things go well
until the dinner competition, when Chef Gordon Ramsay has his annual

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. This reruns the episode that introduced
Pride's daughter, Laurel. The case involves a Navy SEAL who was
killed at a sorority house.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, three workers have been killed during a
restaurant robbery. Now the team studies another crime in the same
town, six years earlier.

“Second Chance,”
9 p.m., Fox. A bitter ex-cop is killed and then resurrected in a
sleek (if flawed) body. Now he can seek vengeance on his enemies
and/or love from the son and granddaughter he ignored. This may sound
cheesy, but it's solidly crafted.

“Black Sails,”
10:35 p.m., Starz. Next Saturday, this tough, taut drama starts its
third season. To prepare, you can watch its second-season finale
here. Or catch the full season, starting at 2 p.m.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Adam Driver – co-star of “Girls” and
the new “Star Wars” movie – hosts this rerun, with music from
Chris Stapleton.


TV column for Friday, Jan. 15

“The Gershwin Prize,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

From “Crazy” to
“Good Hearted Woman,” Willie Nelson has written and sung some of
the great American songs. Now he gets the annual Library of Congress
award for singer-songwriters.

The first winner
(Paul Simon) helps honor the seventh (Nelson, 82). Both perform; so
do others from country (Roseanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson,
Raul Malo) and beyond. That includes Neil Young, Edie Brickell, Leon
Bridges, Ana Gabriel, Buckwheat Zydeco and Nelson's son Lukas.

“Hell's Kitchen” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

As the hour begins,
an announcer promises “the most unstable, unpredictable,
unbalanced” contestants ever. Well, you do expect adrenaline, when
there's a Marine, a former pro poker player, an amateur boxer and a
tiny, tattooed mother of three, plus someone who says she's “the
epitome of Jersey.”

They get a rousing
welcome – complete with parade – in Las Vegas. Then one side
falls apart (as usual) during the first dinner service. Gordon Ramsay
rages anew ... as he seems to in every opener.

ALTERNATIVE: Movies, 8 p.m., cable.

Imagine being a
videogame villain, forever crashing and smashing things; it must be
rough on the psyche. “Wreck-it Ralph” (2012, Disney Channel), a
clever cartoon, shows a bad guy trying to reform.

There's also a great
plot for “Red” (2010, TNT), as an old hitman (Bruce Willis)
learns he can't retire; the gifted cast includes Helen Mirren, Morgan
Freeman and John Malkovich. By comparison, “Pretty Woman” (1990,
TV Land) has an awful plot, salvaged by Julia Roberts' brilliant,
Oscar-nominated performance. Also, the cowboy classic “Stagecoach”
(1939) is at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies.

Other choices

“Just Add Magic,”
any time, Amazon Prime. Kids are into cooking these days (see next
paragraph), but they need to read the recipes ... including the
warnings about magic spells. This tween tale has three girls
accidentally concoct magic. Dee Wallace and Amy Hill have small
roles, but most of this depends on the kids; they're pleasant and
adequate, as is the show, which makes its whole season available.

Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. Two versions of Gordon Ramsay will be on
display tonight. With grown-ups on “Hell's Kitchen,” he's nasty;
with kids on this show, he's usually charming. The final six kids
visit his home tonight, hoping for spots in next week's semi-finals.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Jay Leno returns to his guest role as Joe
the mechanic. He has a surprising effect on Eve, who's in a funk
after being rejected by West Point.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30,
ABC. Ken really should know the importance of an annual physical;
he's a doctor, after all. But he hasn't had one in years ... and he
wants his wife (also a doctor) to lie for him.

8:30, NBC. This episode starts and ends hilariously, as workers
ponder the death of an old man they didn't really know. In between
are good moments, as they confront a shoplifter and Jonah helps Amy
secretly watch her daughter during work.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Carol Burnett and Taryn Manning return as McGarrett's
aunt and sister. Aunt Deb is on the island on a personal mission,
while McGarrett has something else to worry about: Someone has stolen
unstable, World War II bombs.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. When a mobster is gunned down in his car, Danny must
find the shooter quickly, before a mob war breaks out. He may get
info from the errand boy he finds in the trunk.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 14


“The Blacklist,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Last week, this show
returned from its winter nap with an hour that was both sensational
and silly. (In a close-mouthed world, why would both Red and Ressler
blurt out the location of the witness who could save Liz?) Our heroes
averted a Cabal plot to grab Liz; now she's headed to FBI

That, alas, was the
start of a two-parter. The Cabal people are still determined to kill
her before she can tell what she knows about their schemes; Red
maneuvers to keep her alive. We'll expect a big finish.

“Angel From Hell,” 9:30 p.m., CBS.

Allison (Maggie
Lawson) had a memorable time in last week's opener. She split from
her fiance and her best friend (who had cheated together); also, she
met Amy, who claimed to be her guardian angel.

Now we learn that
Allison had a falling-out with yet another friend; her solution – a
flawed-but-funny one -- includes Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the
Block. Like the opener, this has some funny moments; still, Amy (Jane
Lynch) is written so starkly that it's difficult to find her funny or

ALTERNATIVE: “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,”
10 p.m., IFC

This delightfully
daft series is ending its season almost as soon as it started. If you
missed the first three episodes ... well, they have an early-morning
rerun, from 6-7:30 a.m.; then the final three air tonight.

Todd (David Cross)
has ade up with Alice Bell, the British chef; now his product
(Thunder Muscle) is sponsoring her garden party ... which, of course,
he manages to ruin. Then he's desperate to return to Portland, to
prevent the dream he had from becoming a reality.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Colony” debut, 10 p.m., USA; reruns at 1 a.m.

A year ago, aliens
took over Earth ... then created a Trump-type wall and a system of

We don't see the
aliens, but we do see the Earthlings – politicians and guards and
such – who make it work. And we see tough resisters. Josh Holloway
(“Lost”) and Sarah Callies (“Prison Break” and “Walking
Dead”) play a husband-and-wife, struggling with ethical choices.
Slow-moving and ominous, this is a far cry from the blue-sky dramas
of USA's past, but it's generally worth the effort.

Other choices

“American Idol,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. Here's another two-hour chunk of auditions. They'll
wrap up next Wednesday and Thursday.

World Dog Awards,
8-10 p.m., CW. There are some serious moments, honoring a therapy dog
and re-uniting a solider with the dog who's been waiting at home.
Alongside that, there are moments to honor a bike-riding dog, a
funny-costume dog and more. George Lopez hosts and Kristin Maldonado
of Pentatonix sings “Over the Rainbow,” marking the lifetime
award for Toto of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon grumbles enough when he's healthy;
now imagine him when he's sinck. Soon, the others start scheming
about a Sheldon-free weekend.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Life became complicated when Christy's ex-husband moved in with
Candace (Sara Rue). Now comes a fresh twist: Candace's rich and
charming father (Harry Hamlin, 64) is attracted to Christy (Anna
Faris, 39).

“Shades of Blue,”
10 p.m., NBC. Fresh from watching Jennifer Lopez judge “Idol”
auditions, we can catch the second episode of her cop show. Last
week, she was nabbed for corruption and forced to spy on her tough
boss (Ray Liotta). Now he's increasingly paranoid, trying to find the

ALSO: “Gone With
the Wind” (1939), an all-time classic, airs at 8 p.m. ET on Turner
Classic Movies. At 8 p.m., some viewers may prefer action -- “Mad
Max: Fury Road” (2015), on HBO – or animated sequesl: Disney has
“Cars 2” (2011); FX has “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2”

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 13

“Second Chance” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

Jimmy Pritchard was
a bad father and a tough sheriff who resigned amid corruption
charges. Insisting he was framed, he sank into alcohol, was killed by
an intruder ... and was resurrected by tech wizards.

Yes, this is
fiction, but it's good, solid stuff, more of a character drama than
goofy a fantasy. Rob Kazinsky – Warlow in “True Blood” -- plays
the resurrected Jimmy, now with new physical powers and a
determination to make it up to his son (Tim DeKay of “White
Collar”) and granddaughter.

II: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Animals are clever
about self-protection, you know. (You'd be, too, if lions and tigers
kept trying to eat you.) Starting a terrific, three-week series on
wildlife wisdome, this views defensive mechanisms.

Some animals are
masters of camouflage, but zebras have a more-lasting approach: Their
stripe pattern creates illusions that perplex predators. Then there's
outright trickery: The harmless king snake copies the deadly coral
snake; burrowing owls even makes a vocal sound to imitate a

ALTERNATIVE: “Teachers” debut, 11 p.m., TV Land.

These six young
teachers share a deep disinterest in their work. One lectures to kids
about her divorce and the importance of abandoning dreams; others
range from conservative Christianity to liberal political
correctness. None of them seem to pay much attention to the kids.

In the wrong hands,
this could be brash or silly; “Teachers,” however, is in the
skilled hands of the Katydids. Six clever comedians – each
happening to have a variation on the name “Kate” -- started this
show Online. You can see that here, with a style that is short, odd,
but (generally) quite funny.

Other choices

(1972), 6:30 p.m., Sundance. Burt Reynolds' best film goes against a
terrific Eddie Murphy double feature on IFC -- “Beverly Hills Cop”
(1984) at 8 p.m.. and “48 Hrs.” at 10:30. Also, at 8 p.m., HBO
has Reese Witherspoon in the interesting, true-life “Wild”

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. After a couple two-hour auditions last week (with
another two-hour show Thursday), “Idol” trims to an hour tonight
to make room for “Second Chance.”

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. The older kids find their worlds quaking: Axl starts a
disappointing internship; Sue is challenged by a professor who wants
her to quit being so optimistic.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Lily is planning a sleepover with her friends from the
Vietnamese dance troupe. Meanwhile, Gloria and Cam try to steal some
much-needed hot pepper.

“American Crime,”
10 p.m., ABC. Last week's opener closed with a distraught mom (Lili
Taylor) calling police; her teen son, she said, had been drugged and
raped. Now the second episode (brilliantly done, again) finds the
quiet agony of an investigation ... and the scurrying by the head of
a school's leader and its basketball coach – played by Felicity
Huffman and Tim Hutton, last season's stars.

“Younger,” 10-11
p.m., TV Land. In a fairly good season-opener, Liza (two-time
Tony-winner Sutton Foster) has finally told her boyfriend that she's
really 40. At work, however, people still think she's in her 20s ...
a point that gets complicated when her daughter returns from college.

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia” and “Man Seeking Woman,” 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
FXX. Both comedies use exaggeration for fairly good effect. “Sunny”
sees Frank bump his head and revert back almost a decade, bringing
some big laughs. And “Man”? Last season, someone dated Hitler;
this year, Josh's dream girl is dating Jesus ... played with solid
earnestness by Fred Armisen.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 12

(In Western time zones, please double-check the
times for the non-cable shows surrounding the State of the Union

SHOULD-SEE: State of the Union address, 9 p.m. ET, ABC, CBS, NBC,
Fox, PBS and cable news channels.

Barack Obama's final
“State” talk comes at a time when people are paying attention to
the news.

ABC and CBS will
continue coverage to 10:30 p.m. ET, NBC and PBS until 11; news
channels will go on forever. Fox tends to switch to local news at 10,
with the follow-up continuing on cable's Fox News.

ALTERNATIVE: “Shadowhunters” debut, 9 p.m., Freeform.

Yes, “Freeform.”
Starting today, it's the name for ABC Family ... which has been Fox
Family, Family Channel and Christian Broadcast Network. This show
reflects its push for a hip/zesty image.

That starts with
Clary's mom deciding to tell her something the day AFTER her 18th
birthday. A day sooner would have helped Clary deal with all the
demons and danger she'll confront today. That seems a tad contrived –
well, a LOT contrived – but the rest works. Clary is simultaneously
tough and fragile and beautiful. The action is brisk and the violent
show offers a sort of ... well, freeform fun.

ALTERNATIVE II: More fantasy, 9 and 10 p.m.

Outside of the news
coverage, your top choices are fantasy. At 9 is “Shadowhunters”
or MTV's “Teen Wolf” or CW's “iZombie” ... in which Liv is
livid: Someone killed the star of TV's “Zombie High.”

And at 10 is the
second episode of MTV's “Shannara Chronicles.” In the opener --
gorgeous visually, so-so otherwise – Wil was handed some elfstones
and told he has a magic destiny. Now he'd better figure out quickly
how to use them, because he and Amberle have been kidnapped.

Other choices

“NCIS.” 8 p.m.,
CBS. A rerun of the season's second episode finds Gibbs – recovered
from surgery and sporting a new look – helping a DEA agent with
whom he shares a tragic past.

“Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Lately, Soledad O'Brien
has been viewing the African-Cuban roots on her mother's side. In
this excellent hour, Henry Louis Gates gives her a look at her dad's
side ... and at the Irish roots she shares with two other guests,
Bill O'Reilly and Bill Maher. Opposite people (politically) turn out
to have much in common.

“New Girl,” 8
p.m., Fox. Jess is dating a guy (Taran Killem of “Saturday Night
Live”) who's tremendously dull ... but has fun parents (Henry
Winkler and Julie Haggerty). It's a fairly funny show, spiced by
Nick's efforts to be both a pal and the boss.

“Pretty Little
Liars,” 8 p.m., Freeform. Returning for mid-season, the show jumps
ahead five years. Many of the young women have big-city jobs in
glamorous fields: Now, however, Ali begs them to return to town for
the trial of the person who anonymously tormented them for years.

“The Killing
Field,” 10:01 p.m., Discovery. Last week, this documentary series
introduced a fascinating person – a retired Louisiana cop,
re-opening a 1997 murder investigation. Tonight, the probe continues,
with no guarantee that the case will be resolved.

“Born This Way,”
10:01 p.m., A&E. The first season concludes for this praised
series about young adults who have Down syndrome. Megan tries to help
Elena and says goodbye to her new friends.

Comedies, 10:30
p.m.. ABC and CBS. Tentative plans call for reruns of “The
Goldbergs” (Barry finally gets a dog) and “Mike & Molly”
(Kathy Bates plays Peggy's depressed friend).