TV column for Sunday, March 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Red Widow”
debut, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Marta (Rahda Mitchell), a mother of
three, blends into upscale suburbia. No one would guess her father is
a Russian gangster, her brother is corrupt and her husband ships
marijuana.

Then – suddenly and violently –
she's immersed in it all. “Red Widow” is smartly crafted by
Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the “Twilight” films. Mitchell leads
a terrific cast, with Goran Visnjic (“E.R.”) as the unflinching
crime boss.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Vikings”
debut, 10 p.m., History.

The people who made the lush “Tudors”
are back, this time with a grittier, grimier setting.

In the 8th century, a Norse
chieftain (Gabriel Byrne) send his ships to plunder impoverished
countries to the east. Now a rebel (Travis Fimmel) hears tales of
riches to the west.

It's tough to sympathize with people
whose goal is to pillage, but this nine-week series succeeds.
Against gorgeous, natural backrops, we see strong (and, often,
likable) characters.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Celebrity
Apprentice” opener, 9-11 p.m., NBC.

This one is billed as “All-Star
Celebrity Apprentice” – even though some of its people are
neither stars nor celebrities. Still, it's a colorful bunch that even
has Omarosa and Gary Busey.

She's still mean, he's still vague, but
it's Trace Adkins who reveals the show's flaw: The winner is simply
whoever has the most rich friends donate money. Adkins doesn't even
bother to open his restaurant to the public; he calls it a private
event and waits for the big checks to arrive.

Other choices include:

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Ginnifer Goodwin has the focus in both worlds. In our world,
she's Mary Margaret, scrambling to keep the dagger away from Regina;
in fairytale land, she's Snow White, given an unconventional spell
that could save her dying mother, Queen Eva.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. We
learn that Grampa was once Gorgeous Godfrey, a villainous wrestler.
Naturally, Bart wants to emulate him.

– “The Bible” debut, 8-10 p.m.,
History. Thing start on the ark, where Noah briefly recalls the
events – Adam, Eve, serpent, etc. – that preceded him. Then we
race ahead, wrapping up tonight with Joshua at the edge of Jericho.
This will continue for four more weeks, concluding on Easter Sunday.
It's steeply ambitious, but many of the stories don't translate well
in cold, naturalistic terms.

– “Annie Hall” (1977), 8-10 p.m.
ET, Turner Classic Movies. Here's a true classic, listed by the
American Film Institute as the fourth-best comedy ever. Woody Allen
won Academy Awards as director and co-writer; there were also Oscars
for Diane Keaton and – rare for a comedy – best picture

-- "Great Performances," 9 p.m., KNPB. From a fishing village in Italy, Andrea Bocelli sings love songs. He's joined by music director David Foster, trumpeter Chris Botti ans more.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Eli is battling the government in two courtrooms, with the help of
his eccentric attorney Elsbeth. That leaves Jordan (T.R. Knight) to
prep Peter for a debate. Meanwhile, things are still evolving in
Alicia's new role as a partner in the law firm.

– “The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m.,
AMC. Remember when Rick only had to worry about hordes of zombies?
Now that he's also fighting the government, he schemes to get more
weapons.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The body of an elderly heiress is found in the living room of her
spooky mansion.

TV column for Saturday, March 2


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

After pausing for a week, “SNL” has
another new episode.

Hosting is Kevin Hart – an amiable
little (5-foot-2) guy, who's been busy. He does stand-up, guests on
many shows (including “Modern Family”) and is a regular on the
BET comedy “Real Husbands of Hollywood.” The music is by rapper
Macklemore and DJ/producer Ryan Lewis.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC.

This well-made series has a rerun here,
one day before a new episode airs.

Tonight focuses on Mr. Gold. In
fairytale land, he's Rumplestiltskin, whose actions in the Ogres War
shape his future. And in our world, Emma and Henry take him to
Manhattan, in search of his son.

That brings a surprise. It also gives
Regina, Cora and Hook time to search for his dagger.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Sherlock
Holmes” (2009), TNT; or “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”
(2011), HBO; both 8 p.m.

Holmes seems eternal; his first story
was written 126 years ago, his last was 86 years ago. Still, he's
thriving in three versions – brilliant PBS movies, a pretty good
CBS series and these big-screen films.

The good news is that both movies have
a big-budget look, big-time villains (Lord Blackmore on TNT, Moriarty
on HBO) and dandy casting (Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel
McAdams).

The bad? Director Guy Ritchie's
high-octane style turns Holmes into a standard action hero, with
little chance for him (or viewers) to pause and think.

Other choices include:

– “The Magic of Ordinary Days”
(2005) and “Loving Leah” (2009), 7 and 9 p.m., Hallmark Channel.
Both films debuted on CBS, with “Hallmark Hall of Fame” quality.
Each has a marriage of convenience – a pregnant woman in the
1940s (Keri Russell), a nowadays widow (Lauren Ambrose).

– “Gnomeo & Juliet” (2011),
7:30 p.m., ABC Family. It's a good night for family films. This one
– love among lawn ornaments – is fairly good; at 8 p.m. on
Disney, “Bolt” (2008) is a cartoon delight.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 8 p.m. CBS.
Back in 1975, Ed Asner played a smuggler in an episode of the
original “Five-0.” Now some footage from that hour is included
here: Asner's an ex-con now, asked to help with a sting that would
clear McGarrett's sister of smuggling charges.

– “Golden Boy,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of Tuesday's opener; the show gets one more Tuesday
shot, before sliding to Fridays. Its story starts with the youngest
police commissioner in New York history, then flashes back to follow
his ascent. It's a good idea, but the character is hard to like.

– “The Following,” 9 p.m., Fox.
In a rerun of Monday's episode, Ryan finally grasps Joe Carroll's
plan. Now Ryan's only hope is to taunt the kidnappers, stirring
dissent.

– Chicago Fire, 9 p.m., NBC. In a
rerun, Dawson tries to help her brother (Jon Seda) with an
investigation. Also, Casey and his mom (Kathleen Quinlan) struggle
with their relationship.

– “Joan & Melissa,” 9 p.m.,
WE. At 79, Joan Rivers is still open to new ideas. She decides to
host an Online talk show from her bedroom.

TV column for Friday, March 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Blue Bloods,”
9 and 10 p.m., CBS.

Waiting a week for “Golden Boy” to
move to Fridays, CBS drops in a pair of “Blue Bloods” reruns.
Both deal with what this show does best – the quietly intense bonds
in this police family.

Frank (Tom Selleck), the police
commissioner, deals with a threat to New York; his son Danny (Donnie
Wahlberg) probes an allege suicide. Then Henry (Len Cariou), Frank's
dad, has a heart attack.

In the second hour, Danny's wife
worries about his obsession with catching a friend's killer.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Malibu
Country,” 8:31 p.m., ABC.

Here's a convergence of country music
elite: Reba McEntire stars; Blake Shelton guests as her brother.

She plays Reba; he plays Blake. (This
is not a complicated show.) Tonight, he arrives with a scheme to
market their mom's barbecue sauce; also, he gives Reba's teen son
some iffy advice about his virginity.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Nicolas Cage
movies, cable.

The standard Cage film has a large
concept, with lots of action. At 6:30 p.m., “Sorcerer's Apprentice”
(2010) is on ABC Family; at 8, TNT has“National Treasure” (2004)
and Flix has “The Rock” (1996).

But Cage occasionally diverts. “Family
Man: (2000), at 8 p.m. on Bravo, is a slick drama-comedy about a
soulless businessman, transported into an alternate life.

Other choices include:

– “Undercover Boss,” 8 p.m., CBS.
TV has no sure things, it seems. “The Job” – a combined
production of reality-TV masters Mark Burnett and Michael Davies –
was yanked after two weeks. CBS hurriedly replaced it with a new
“Boss” last week and now with this rerun: The head of Modell's
Sporting Goods tries an elaborate disguise, but is still confronted
by an unhappy employee.

– “Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Secrets create complication here. Kristin hasn't told her son
that she has resumed dating his father Ryan. After a date with Kyle,
Mandy tries to sneak in after curfew.

– “Touch,” 9 p.m., Fox. The kids
are on their own now, as their parents desperately search for them.
Jake sends coordinates to Amanda and both manage to escape their
captors.

– “Cult,” 9 p.m., CW. In a rerun
of Tuesday's episode, the show's second, Jeff continues to search for
his brother. And Skye now suspects that the TV show is sending hidden
messages.

– “Spartacus,” 9 p.m., Starz;
rerunning at 10 and 11 p.m. Already a fierce force on land, Spartacus
plans a sea venture. What he doesn't realize is that young Julius
Caesar is undercover, stirring dissent. Like all “Spartacus”
episodes, this has massive violence; like some, it also has rampant
sex and nudity.

– “Portlandia” season finale, 10
p.m., Independent Film Channel. This terrific series has great fun
with a fictional version of Portland, Oregon. Tonight, it's rather
vague mayor has failed to pay the electric bill; the entire city is
plunged into a black-out.

– “Robot Combat League,” 10 p.m.,
Syfy. In a rerun of Tuesday's OK opener, two-person teams – some
strangers, some co-workers, one father-daughter duo – are given
fighting robots. One person eyes the tech side, the other handles the
fighting. The latter group includes a helicopter pilot, a boxer and a
muscular mixed-martial-arts fighter who is the daughter of filmmaker
George Lucas.

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang
Theory” and “Two and a Half Men,” 8-9 p.m., CBS.

The bad news is that the “sweeps”
ratings period ended Wednesday. Some reruns return.

And the good news? These two are
terrific reruns, well worth re-seeing.

First, Wolowitz is given Sheldon's
parking spot; Sheldon is furious … even though he doesn't drive.
Then a friend's daughter (Miley Cyrus, 20) visits; Walden (Ashton
Kutcher, 35) starts to feel old.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Graduate”
(1967), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

As a story – beginning, middle, end –
“Graduate” is OK. As an exercise in filmmaking, it's genius.

Mike Nichols was a theater director and
former comedian whose only previous film was the seething “Who's
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” He cast a semi-known actor (Dustin
Hoffman) and used songs by then-newcomers (Simon and Garfunkel),
instead of a music score.

He emerged with a brilliant blend of
humor and drama. Nichols won an Academy Award; the film was
nominated, along with its script, the cinematography, Hoffman, Anne
Bancorft and Katharine Ross.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Parade's
End,” 9-10 p.m., HBO.

The conclusion of this three-night,
five-hour mini-series finds Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the
hellish setting of World War I's trench warfare, while his women live
opposite extremes.

His wife (Rebecca Hall) – brash, bold
and beautiful – finds glamor and affairs; Valentine (Adelaide
Clemens) – smart and idealistic – teaches at a girls' school.
These are terrific characters, played with great zest by Hall and
with understated precision by the others. A smart story ends well.

Other choices include:

– “American Idol,” 8-10 p.m.,
Fox. Ten guys sing and five survive, wrapping up the top 20.

– “Zero Hour,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Returning from India, Hank (Anthony Edwards) continues his intense
search for his wife. He learns that his parents have a secret and
none of this has been a coincidence.

– “Community,” 8 p.m., NBC.
People in the study group had hoped to take the “History of Ice
Cream” class; now, they try a tougher one. Also, Chang is back and
Dean Pelton is not happy.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. In
the rerun of an episode with some funny moments, Pam accidentally
brings head lice into the office. When she lets Meredith take the
blame, things get worse.

– “Scandal,” 9-10:02 p.m., ABC.
This rerun – airing an hour earlier than usual – has Olivia's
staffers learning the truth about the rigged presidential election.

– “Elementary,” 10 p.m., CBS and
“Jimmy Kimmel Live,” 10:02, ABC. Both reruns are shows you might
not have been able to stay awake for. “Elementary” followed the
Super Bowl; Sherlock Holmes reluctantly worked with a profiler.
Kimmel followed the Academy Awards.

– “The Ben Show:” debut, 10 p.m.,
Comedy Central. Alongside an ongoing theme (Ben Hoffman buying a
gun), we get sketches that vary sharply. The rap obituaries
(“YoBitchuaries”) are brilliant; the re-tweeting bit is loud and
lame. There's an animated version of one of actor Todd Bridges'
stories from his drug-addict days. And two bits actually get us to
laugh at a man's weight. It's inconsistent but has its moments …
and is infinitely better than the show that debuts at 10:30, “Nathan
For You.”

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 27


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

Last Wednesday, 10 women sang on the
Las Vegas stage; five – ages 17, 17, 18, 22 and 28 – survived.
The next night, five men (three of them 18) survived.

Now that process repeats, with women
tonight and men Thursday. Then “Idol” will have its top 20.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Psych”
season-opener, 10 p.m., USA.

Last season ended with a jolt: Shawn's
dad (Corbin Bernsen), an ex-cop, was shot by a former colleague (Max
Gail of “Barney Miller”). Now he lingers in intensive care, while
his son investigates.

There are flaws here, with some of the
humor seeming terribly forced. Also, “Psych” breaks form by
having Shawn do physical heroics. Still, it remains a reasonably
entertaining show.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Two debuts,
cable.

Yes, viewers like non-fiction crime
shows. Still, these two represent opposite extremes.

“Dark Minds” (10 p.m.,
Investigation Discovery) is horribly overwrought. True-crime author
M. William Phelps ponders the man linked to an unsolved string of 10
murders and 50 rapes in 1976-86 California. Phelps postures about
solving the case himself; he doesn't, of course. He also has phone
conversations with a convict who has nothing useful to say.

“Boston's Finest” (9 p.m., TNT) is
the opposite, solid and sturdy. Produced by Donnie Wahlberg, it
follows some tough Boston cops. They range from an earnest father of
six to a young woman who says she savors the the joy of stopping
someone for a bad taillight and finding a big drug cache.

Other choices include:

– “Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS. The
tribes are even again: After winning the first immunity challenge,
the “fans” lost last week and ousted Allie Pohevitz, a young
bartender.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Frankie continues to flounder at dental-assistant school, flubbing
whenever her imposing teacher (Jane Kaczmarek) is near. Now she also
has trouble at home: The kids broke a window, then tried –
successfully, for a while – to pass the blame to the neighbors.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Sal (Elizabeth Banks) – the wild-party friend of Mitchell and Cam –
is getting married, but doesn't grasp the notion of settling down.

– “Parade's End,” 9-11:05 p.m.,
HBO. The mid-section of this well-crafted, three-night mini-series
finds Christopher trapped by his own earnest decisions. Unwilling to
lie, he left a cozy job and plunged into World War I; unwilling to
leave his cruel wife, he stays away from the smart and caring
Valentine.

– “Stranded” debut, 9 p.m., Syfy.
The “Paranormal Activity” producers use their technique for a
ghost-hunting show. This hour sends three people (including a former
dating couple) to an off-season hotel on Star Island in New
Hampshire; it uses only the cameras they're holding or stationary
ones they set up. The technique is effective, the people and setting
are interesting … but the usual problem lingers: We mostly have to
take their word for it that something really scary just happened.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS. Major poker players are dying.

– “Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC.
Juliette plans a party for Deacon, with real stars – Vince Gill,
Pam Tillis, Kip Moore and more; then, once again her mom causes
trouble.