TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 23



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

For its 100th episode, this show decides it’s the
100
th anniversary of Orson, Ind. … or, officially, the Orsontennial.”
The Heck family is semi-excited.


Axl wants to make money, Sue wants her boyfriend back and
Brick wants to win the motto contest, possibly with: “Orson: 100 Years of
Moderate Progress.” Also, their parents are driving a giant parade cow.
Naturally, things go thoroughly – and hilariously – wrong.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: World Series, 8:07 p.m. ET, Fox, with
pre-game at 7:30.


Baseball dominates our attention for the next week, in a
battle between teams that had identical records (97 wins, 65 losses) in the
regular season.


The best-of-seven series starts today and Thursday, with the
Boston Red Sox hosting in 101-year-old  Fenway Park. Then it moves to St. Louis on
Saturday.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “This is Spinal Tap” (1984), 9 p.m.,
BBC America; and other cable films.


Rob Reiner’s “Spinal Tap” is a masterpiece, a droll and
witty mock-documentary about a rock band. It’s on a night when cable uses
Hollywood’s best to fight the World Series.


There are epic adventures – “X-Men: First Class” (2011) at 7
p.m. on FX, “The Hobbit” (2012) at 7 p.m. on HBO, “Harry Potter and the Deathly
Hallows, Part 1” (2010) at 7:30 on ABC Family.


There are also a comedies – “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) at 7
p.m. on CMT, “Legally Blonde” (2001) at 8 and 10 p.m. on WE – and even some
animated gems. “Wreck-It-Ralph” (2012) is 6:35 p.m. on Starz, “Finding Nemo”
(2003) is 8 p.m. on Encore.


Other choices include:


“Revolution,” 8 p.m., NBC. 
A Texas Ranger – a figure from Miles’ rugged past – arrives; he might
help battle the Patriots. Also, Zak and Rachel ponder the possibilities of
extreme science.


“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. This
is a tough one for Barba (Raul Esparza), the assistant district attorney. In
the midst of a mayoral campaign, two men he admires face sex charges.


 “Modern Family,” 9
p.m., ABC. Cam and Mitchell ask Pepper (Nathan Lane, a two-time Tony-winner) to
help plan their wedding; his ideas quickly become too big. Meanwhile, Gloria
hires a bad nanny, played by Adam DeVine (“Workaholics”) who has his own
late-night show starting Thursday on Comedy Central.


“Nova,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Often, we assume
robots will be made in man’s image; here, however, see nature copied. There are
robotic bees and drones that copy hummingbirds; some speedy robots copy
cheetahs; others, capable of carrying 400 pounds, copy mules.


“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS. The show’s
300
th episode brings back Marg Helgenberger as Catherine, helping
probe a case that went unsolved 14 years earlier.


“Ironside,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Ironside battles memories while
rushing to keep a hit man from going free.


TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 22



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The African Americans” opener, 8 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings).

It was 500 years ago, Henry Louis Gates tells us, that an
African came to America. He was a free man with the Spanish in 1513; everything
changed a century later, when pirates traded 20 slaves for food.


This first chapter takes us past the successful slave
rebellion in 1791 Haiti.  Slaves had
occasional successes, frequent tragedies. In a moving portion, Gates visits the
wrenching story of a 10-year-old, enslaved in 1715 … then talks to her proud
descendant, seven generations later.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Ravenswood” premiere, 9 p.m., ABC
Family.


After a “Pretty Little Liars” episode (8 p.m.) takes
everyone to the creepy town of Ravenswood, Caleb decides to stay and help a
troubled orphan. Here are supercute strangers (played by Tyler Blackburn and
Nicole Gale Anderson) in a town of dark secrets.


They meet a newspaper editor’s daughter whose boyfriend’s
mom is a murder suspect. The result is stylishly filmed, solidly acted and ends
with a fierce jolt.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Trust Me, I’m a Game Show Host”
debut, 10:30 p.m., TBS.


Try these for bizarre claims: Two grandsons of President
John Tyler (born in 1790) are still alive. “ALF” was based on a drifter who
lived in a writer’s childhood home. Both of President Obama’s daughters have
the middle name Athena. A novel was once written with 50,000 words, none
containing an “e.”


Half are true, half aren’t and a contestant must decide
which is which. The game is flawed and this contestant is overwrought. Still,
the witty hosts (D.L. Hughley and Michael Ian Black) make it fun.


Other choices include:


“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. At a crime scene, Tony spots a suspect
from his Baltimore police days, 15 years ago.


“Mother of All Talent,” 8-9 p.m., TV Guide Network. This
reality show centers on a Staten Island talent agency for kids. One owner is
attractive and likeable; the other, her mother, is so blunt that she quickly
offends an ex-Playmate whose daughter seemed like an ideal client.


“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “New Girl,” 8:30 and 9 p.m., Fox. With
the World Series starting Wednesday, these shows have their Halloween episodes
a tad early. Amy hates the holiday … especially when she needs a costume for
street patrol. Then Jess tries to re-connect with Cece by throwing a holiday
party.


 “NCIS: Los Angeles,”
9 p.m., CBS. The girlfriend of a former Navy officer has been kidnapped and
will only be returned in exchange for intelligence. For this one, analyst Nell
Jones joins the team in the field.


“The Car Chasers” season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m., CNBC.
Jeff Allen hopes to craft the perfect 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. That won’t be
easy: His dad has one so good that it has his own room in his house.


“Frontline,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Bacteria
are growing stronger, we’re told, outstripping the power of antibiotics. This
hour ranges from individual cases to one that ripped through the National
Institute of Health, leaving 19 people sick and seven dead.


“Snooki & JWoww” season-opener and “Awkward” return,
10-11 p.m., MTV. On the reality-show side, JWoww tries to work things out with
fiancé Roger Mathews; on the fiction side, Jenna is still with Colin.


TV column for Monday, Oct. 21



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE:  “Mom,”
9:30 p.m., CBS.


This starts as your average comedy – a bit funny, a bit
forced. Then Regina, played by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer, shows up at an
Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.


Outwardly, she lacks the tattered cynicism of Christy and
her mom (Anna Faris and Allison Janney). She has a designer bag, designer shoes
and deep debts. The result is hilarious, re-affirming that “Mom” is one of the
year’s best new comedies.


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


These two are opposites in the best way. Booth (David
Boreanaz), an FBI agent, has emotions and people skills; Brennan (Emily Deschanel),
a scientist, has neither. They’re decent people who approach cases (and life)
in opposite ways; and now – after eight-plus seasons – they’re marrying.


Or are they? As usual, a murder case intervenes; now the
probe continues while friends scramble for new wedding plans. It’s a fun hour,
filled with guest shots.


Cyndi Lauper returns as Avalon (still flaky, but singing
seriously). Ryan O’Neal is back as Brennan’s dad, bearing suspicious cash. And
David Hornsby plays a perplexed priest.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Life According to Sam,” 9-10:45
p.m., HBO.


We meet Sam Berns at 13, with the mind of a teen-ager and
the body of an old man. He’s one of the rare people – about one in four million
– born with progeria, which accelerates aging.


He’s also from a strong family; parents are doctors, aunt is
a lawyer. They set up a foundation to test a possible drug … following all the
standards except (due to a scarcity of subjects) the use of placebos. “Sam”
bounces beautifully between the human and the technical; stick with it to the
end.  


Other choices include:


“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Things start
with a group number choreographed by Lacey Schwimmer and her brother, “Dancing
With the Stars” champion Benji Schwimmer. Later, Ariana Grande and Mika sing
their duet, “Popular.” Then comes the tricky matter of ousting someone based
partly on viewers’ previous votes. Last week, Christina Milian was ousted
shortly after judges raved.


“2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Competing with “cronuts”
(croissant-donuts), Max and Caroline retaliate.


“The Big Bang Theory,” 9 p.m., CBS. Here’s the second of
three reruns that hold this spot until “Mike & Molly” takes over. It’s the
season-opener, with Sheldon and Penny bonding while Leonard is overseas.


“Unlikely Friends,” 9 p.m., Independent Discovery. On a
routine stop, a cop was shot in the eye and left for dead; every day since
then, he says, is filled with pain. But then he did some remarkable things: He
forgave the shooter, then befriended him, then supported him at parole
hearings. We meet others who have forgiven their children’s killers … and some
who refuse to. The result is deeply involving.


“Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). An
amazing night for documentaries wraps up with this portrait of people –
uninsured, mainly – at a large, public hospital.


“Hostages,” 10 p.m., CBS. This bizarre plot  -- a surgeon and her family held until she
kills the president – keeps requiring extreme stretches of credibility.
Tonight, we must accept that two very smart people have a lunk-headed teen son.


“Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. Joshua Gomez (“Chuck”) plays a
suspected killer who insists he’s a time-traveler, rushing to un-do bad things.


TV column for Sunday, Oct. 20



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Mentalist,” 10:30 p.m., CBS.


What kind of hurdles is Patrick Jane facing? How deep does the
police corruption run?


To find out, he faked a list of Red John suspects … which
was promptly stolen. Suddenly, people on the list were being tortured and/or
killed; Jane’s suspicions were proven … but at other people’s expense.


Now he must scramble to save others. The bad news is TV’s torture
obsession; the good is everything else – a strong story, surprises and even
some fun, early in the marriage of Rigsby and Van Pelt.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Football, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC, with
preview at 7.


Great Colt quarterbacks, past and present, are in
Indianapolis.


The new one is Andrew Luck, 24; last season, he led the Colts
to an 11-5 record while setting the record for passing yards by a rookie. The old
one is Peyton Manning, 37, who won three MVP awards in Indianapolis, before an
injury complicated things. His Denver Broncos are 6-0.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Documentaries, 8 and 9 p.m.,
Smithsonian Channel.


First, the four-part “Terror in the Skies” concludes with a
chilling reminder that sometimes nature causes the most aviation trouble. Birds
cause $1.2 billion a year in damage, it says; the volcanic eruption in Iceland
caused $1 billion in cancelled flights.


Then is “The Incredible Bionic Man,” showing that the whole
can be less than the sum of its parts. Bionic body parts, worth a combined $1
million, are assembled. The robotic result is flawed, but the pieces are
amazing … as proven by two of the key men, whose own bionic limbs work
beautifully.


Other choices include:


“Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Mr. Gold has missions in
both worlds. In Neverland, he confronts Peter about the missing Henry; in Fairy
Tale Land, where he’s Rumpelstiltskin, he looks for a missing Bae.


“Masterpiece Classic,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A
good episode finds mixed feelings at the store and at the mansion. At one,
Denise is temporarily put in charge of the department, drawing ill will; at the
other, Catherinetries to love a good-hearted philanthropist instead of the
distant Moray.


“Boardwalk Empire,” 9 p.m., HBO. Nucky’s nephew is torn by
the tragedies caused by his college stunts; now that sparks family trouble.
Also, Chalky White’s success stirs schemes and violence.


“The Good Wife,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. As Alicia secretly prepares
to leave for the new firm, the shows brings back some of its best guest stars –
Rita Wilson as the commanding Viola, Gary Cole as macho McVeigh and Carrie
Preston as the delightfully odd Elsbeth.


“Eastbound & Down” and “Hello Ladies,” 10 and 10:30
p.m., HBO. Opposite guys – one rude and crude, the other grasping for
California class – share a lack of social instincts. Tonight, “Ladies”
sometimes has enough wit to make up for the character’s steady slide; “Eastbound”
doesn’t.


“Covert Kitchens,” 11 p.m., Spike. In real life, we’re told,
rogue chefs set up instant restaurants in odd spaces. This special, hosted by Graham
Elliot, turns that into the pilot for a reality show. Someone has 36 hours and
$3600 to turn a messy car garage into an attractive spot with great food.


TV column for Saturday, Oct. 19



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


Tina Fey hosts this rerun of the season-opener, boosting it
in two ways.


For one, she’s a master of accents; this episode includes a
morose Albanian immigrant, in a “Girls” take-off. For another, she’s the former
“SNL” head writer; when she guests, the writing sharpens.


The next two “SNL” outings were erratic, but this first one
(with music from Arcade Fire) scored.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “When Calls the Heart,” 9-11 p.m.,
Hallmark.


A decade ago, “Love Comes Softly” offered the quietly
affecting story of a young widow (Katherine Heigl) on the frontier. It drew
solid ratings and as string of spin-offs.


That film reruns at 7 p.m., leading into a new one from the
same people (writer-director Michael Landon Jr., using a Janette Oke novel).
This one sets up a series scheduled for January.


Raised in privilege in 19th-century Canada,
Elizabeth (Poppy Drayton) ponders teaching in the small-town West. She also
reads the unfinished diary of an aunt (Maggie Grace) who did the same. The result
is so-so, but the final minutes point to a promising series, with Jean Smart
and Lori Loughlin in support.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The White Queen” and “Dancing on the
Edge,” 9 and 10 p.m., Starz.


A 10-week period-piece ends and a five-parter promptly
debuts. They remind us how good Starz has become at delivering strong stories
in epic settings.


“Queen” is fiction, but uses the crazed royal politics of 15th-century
England. Now two mortal enemies – the zealous Lady Margaret and the widowed
ex-queen Elizabeth – link. But in battle, will Lord Stanley (Margaret’s
platonic husband) support her son Henry Tudor or Elizabeth’s brother-in-law,
King Richard? In bed, which will Elizabeth’s gorgeous daughter choose? A huge
story ends strongly.


Then “Edge” views a jazz band in 1930s London. The story is
sometimes told in the exaggerated style of old film noir, but the rest –
settings, character, original music, Angel Coulby’s singing – is magnificent.


Other choices include:


Football, 8 p.m. ET, ABC. Two top-five teams collide, with
Florida State at Clemson. Also, NBC has Southern California at Notre Dame, at
7:30.


“How I Met Your Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from last
February, Barney tries to help Ted’s romantic life by using the “playbook”
Robin thought he’d destroyed


“2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. This rerun has a dispute
about the fate of a pre-approved credit card.


“New Girl” and “The Mindy Project,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox.
Reruns of the season-openers find Nick and Jess trying a romantic weekend in
Mexico and (in a funny episode) Mindy briefly in Haiti.


“48 Hours,” 10 p.m., CBS. TV has been fascinated by the man
who claimed to be wealthy Clark Rockefeller. NBC had a “Dateline” documentary
about him; Lifetime had an Eric McCormack movie. Now Erin Moriarty interviews
him about accusations linking him to two 1985 murders.


“Legendary Nights,” midnight, HBO. This documentary traces
the epic, three-match battle between boxers Mickey Ward (portrayed by Mark
Wahlberg in “The Fighter”) and Arturo Gatti.