TV column (slightly out of order) for Monday, Sept. 29

Here's the TV column for Monday, Sept. 29, which is a tad out of order. Righter after this one, you'll find the Wednesday and Tuesday ones:

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Castle” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., ABC.

The season starts spectacularly – a car crash, flames, water
… then a massive missing-person mystery. Beautifully molded by Rob Bowman (also
a key “X-Files” director), it’s deeply involving.

Viewers will demand to know what happened … and, alas, won’t.
Alongside its other blessings (humor, warmth, intelligence), “Castle” has
usually had an answer at the end of each hour. This time, it merely leaves us
waiting – very eagerly – for the episodes to come.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., CBS.

This is good news for “Big Bang” fans and bad news (temporarily)
for fans of “Mom.” In a late switch, CBS decided to put two “Big Bang” episodes
(one new, one rerun) on the next three Mondays. Then “Big Bang” returns to
Thursdays – where “Mom” gets the coveted spot behind it, starting its season
Oct. 30.

Tonight’s new “Big Bang” has Wolowitz throwing the first
pitch at a Los Angeles Angels game. The rerun has Sheldon realizing his “scientific
breakthrough” is a fraud.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Scorpion,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Last week’s debut introduced an awkward band of geniuses,
ready to intermittently save the world. It had its moments, but needed emotion,
humanity and believability. Now two of those have been added.

The hour starts and ends with critically ill children. It’s
passionate, human … but hardly believable. At one point, a genius acts like a
total fool; he was chosen because he could memorize the papers … apparently
because this is the only TV team without a mini-camera. It’s an OK hour, but a
flawed one.

Other choices include:

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. The season’s
first two weeks had, logically enough, a results night; on Tuesdays, track star
Lolo Jones and newsman Tavis Smiley were ousted. Now “Stars” shrinks to one
night; tonight’s busy episode will end with the third ouster.

“Gotham,” 8 p.m., Fox. Last week’s epic-style debut
introduced the young people who will become Catwoman and the Penguin. Selina Kyle
is sleek and silent, Oswald Cobblepot is squirmy and lethal; they’re
beautifully played by Camren Bicondova and Robin Lord Taylor. Tonight, Selina is
grabbed by a child-abduction ring; Oswald makes his deadly way back to Gotham

“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. Last week’s season-opener
glimpsed Crane’s bitter memories of his old boss, Benjamin Franklin (Tim
Busfield). Now we’re back there: In his latest effort to retrieve his wife,
Crane may try to re-create a creature that Franklin envisioned in the
Frankenstein style.

“The 50 Year Argument,” 9-11 p.m., HBO. In its masthead, The
New York Review of Books prints those last two words (“of books”) much smaller.
It reviews life, often stirring arguments. This documentary, co-directed by
Martin Scorsese, views its first half-century, richly illustrated by TV clips
and readings.

“The Blacklist,” 10 p.m., NBC. Red wants to take down a
money-laundering bank that’s just been robbed.

“Gone with the Wind,” 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies. Here’s another chance to see (or, probably, record) this great movie,
which turns 75 on Dec. 15.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 1

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local

For three months, the dad hasn’t eaten; he’s fed his chick,
while shielding it from Antarctic ferocity. Now there’s nothing left to feed
with; death looms. Will the mom return on time? Will she find the dad in that
endless black-and-white mass? And will he surrender the chick to a mom it has
never met?

Stories like that are beautifully told in the second (and
best) chapter of a three-week penguin series. Other views are along the
Peruvian desert and the Falklands coast, where young chicks face swooping
birds, giant sea lions and even kidnapping penguins. There are strong moments
of tragedy and triumph.

“Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Rayna’s life continues to be like a country-music song,
albeit a good one. She agreed to marry Luke, the superstar, startling viewers
and her daughter Maddie … who figure Deacon (Maddie’s biologic dad) was the logical
choice. It also stunned Deacon … who expects to be dumped from Luke’s tour.

Also, Rayna’s album sales are surpassed by Will, who has gay
lovers and an angry wife. And Juliette is haunted by the calculation that her
pregnancy came via nasty Jeff. All of this sounds soapy, but most of it –
except for the suddenly inexplicable Scarlett – is solid, believable and

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Bridge” season-finale, 10 p.m.,

A web of evil officialdom is being uncovered, but there’s
danger everywhere. Captain Robles has been identified as a rapist, but he
stabbed the vengeful Linder and fled. Fausto is on the run, but he has captured
Marco and the drug-addicted daughter of a drug-cartel financier.

Those two overwhelmed hostages are on their own. So are
Sonya and Hank, each following a cartel vehicle. Then there’s lethal Eleanor;
it’s a fairly strong finish to an excellent season.

Other choices include:

“The Mysteries of Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. Laura and her
estranged husband return to the spot where they first met. That’s where they
now to probe the murder of a popular biker-bar owner.

“Halloween Crazy” (etc.), 8-11 p.m., Travel. It’s October,
so cable starts its Halloween barrage. These from pumpkin-carving contests (one
underwater, another with a $1,000 prize) to a zombie run.

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. After a 21-year dry spell, the
Pittsburgh Pirates are in the play-offs for the second straight year. They host
the Giants, to see which National League wild-card team will continue.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Alex, the high-achiever, is
ready to ponder colleges now. That takes her to Cal Tech, where family members
end up in a psychology experiment.

“Black-ish,” 9:31, ABC. After the strong start last week,
we’ll see how the show is from week to week. Tonight, Andre’s mom gives him the
sex talk, figuring the dad is too wimpy to do it. Offended, the dad gives his
own talk … and soon wishes he hadn’t.

“Stalker” debut, 10 p.m., CBS. Fresh from the serial-killer “Criminal
Minds,” CBS gets even nastier. This starts with a woman incinerated in her car.
Then we meet the anti-stalking unit: The leader (Maggie Q) is stark and grim; her
new detective (Dylan McDermott) is sort of a stalker himself. They’re tough to

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 30

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Selfie” debut, 8 p.m., ABC.

Karen Gillan provides the perfect vessel for great writers.
Tall (5-10) and thin, she projects comic clumsiness; once a shy kid from
small-town Scotland, she projects fragility and humanity.

First, Stephen Moffat, cast her as Amy in “Doctor Who”; now
Emily Kapnek (“Suburgatory”) has given her another gem. Gillan plays Eliza
Dooley, who has 263,000 friends in social media and none in real life; she
wants Henry (John Cho) to teach her. This variation on “Pygmalion” is superbly
filmed and acted.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., Fox; or “Makers,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The Fox comedies and ABC’s “Selfie” have key things in
common – female creators, female stars and sharp wit. And airing at the same
time, a PBS documentary reminds us how tough the odds once were.

The comedy-club circuit was 95-percent male, it says; TV
writers’ rooms were similar. “Golden Girls” – with a female creator and stars –
had one female writer and 12 guys. This “Makers” documentary is prone to wild
overstatement – Carol Burnett’s ditzy secretary is somehow described as a
satire on media images – but it has great comments and clips from the late Joan
Rivers and others.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Finding Your Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Just after the final crescendos of Derek Jeter’s baseball
career, here’s a chance to visit his roots. Jeter talks briefly about being a
mixed-race kid in Kalamazoo, Mich.; then experts dig into his family, finding
quick achievers. On one side is an ex-slave man turned preacher and landowner;
on the other is an English immigrant who owned a rowdy bar and then a furniture

Other stars – Billie Jean King (tennis) and Rebecca Lobo (basketball)
– learn about their roots. Lobo’s careens from the Spanish revolution to a
missed boat ride and some unexpected ethnic ancestry.

Other choices include:

“iHeartRadio Music Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW. Here’s the
second half of a concert with One Direction, Lorde, Train, 50 Cent, Ed Sheeran,
Iggy Azalea, Paramore, Weezer, Calvin Harris and Eric Church.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A Navy officer has been killed on the
way to a meeting with the President

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET, TBS. For the first time since 1985, the
Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs. To stay there, however, they must win
this wild-card game; they host the Oakland A’s.

“Manhattan Love Story,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Dana moved to New
York, determined to focus on career success, not romance failures. Peter has
lived there his entire life; his focus is on one-night stands. She’s idealistic;
he’s not. They are, in short, a logical romantic-comedy couple. Like “Selfie,”
this show has a sleek look and funny moments. What it lacks is a consistent
script, a likable guy and Karen Gillan.

“NCIS: New Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. When a Navy lieutenant
dies of bubonic plague, the team must find his colleagues. Several “NCIS”
people – Tony, Vance and Abby – get involved.

“Agents of SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. With his team on the run,
Coulson takes a dangerous step.

“Live Free or Die” debut, 10 p.m., National Geographic. A
former financial advisor lives alone in the Georgia swampland, foraging for
food. A former teacher lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sometimes with his
5-year-old daughter. Two married couples re-define wilderness life. These are
interesting people to follow … even if it is tough to empathize with deliberate

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 28

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Resurrection” season-opener, 9 p.m.,

Last season ended roughly. The sheriff called in the Army
and had most of the returned-from-the-dead people hauled away. The outside
world soon was convinced that it was all a hoax.

Now Martin (Omar Epps), a federal agent, wakes up dazed and
confused. What has happened? Is there a cover-up? This opener gives fresh
energy to an already terrific show; that includes an important arrival and a
powerhouse realization during tonight’s final minutes.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Simpsons” season-opener, 8 p.m.,

First, we get a peek at what “The Simpsons” will look like
in a few millennia. (You really didn’t expect the show to ever end, did you?)

Then come two things that we’ve never seen in the first 25
seasons – a well-deserved roast of Krusty the Clown and a long look at a Jewish
Heaven. There are great moments, with brief guest spots from Sarah Silverman,
Jackie Mason and master roaster Jeff Ross.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Once Upon a Time” season-opener, 8
p.m., ABC, with preview at 7.

Driving home from a drunken party, two ruffians really don’t
expect this – a blonde beauty in an elegant ballroom gown, trudging down the
road. They zoom toward her; she blasts their truck into ice.

Ah yes, more trouble in this dandy show’s two worlds. In
fairy-tale land, we meet Elsa the Ice Queen (of “Frozen” fame) and her sister;
we see newlyweds Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. But Elsa finds Storybrooke … which
is already shaken by Emma saving Marian, whose husband Robin Hood had a romance
with Regina. Will Regina return to her evil ways? Will Storybrooke freeze? It’s
fun finding out.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: “The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX.

Yes, this hour delivers the big monster moments that “Strain”
fans expect. Eichhorst invades the pawn shop; Palmer, the mogul, learns whether
his deal with the devil will bring renewed life.

Alongside that, however, are quietly powerful emotions. We learn
the back story of Setrakian’s monster quest. And Ruta Gedmintas has great
moments as Dutch Velders, the young hacker now trying to make amends, after
realizing Palmer had hired her to do evil.

Other choices include:

“Masterpiece,” 8 and 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). In
1875 London, John Moray ran a department store and prepared to marry Katherine,
the owner’s daughter … until she realized he loves Denise, the shopgirl. Moray
was banished; Katherine left. Tonight, both return, in a lush hour that starts
the second and final season of “The Paradise”; that’s followed by the season’s
third and final Miss Marple mystery.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” season-opener, 8:30 p.m., Fox. Last
season ended with Jake (Andy Samberg) pretending to be a dirty cop, so he could
work undercover. Now he’s already cozy with the Mob. (Hey, he’s a charming
guy.) That’s the start of a fast, funny episode that also has station-house

“The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. The season started powerfully
last week, with Cary charged with aiding a drug deal. It’s apparently a ploy to
get to the drug kingpin he and Alicia represent … complicated by the
prosecutors’ rage at Alicia and her husband. Maneuvers continue, while Diane
prepares to switch firms.

“Ray Donovan” and “Masters of Sex” season-finales, 9 and 10
p.m., Showtime. Ray’s dad has a new scheme. Then Masters and Johnson finally
release their research results to the public.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” season-opener, 10 p.m.,
CBS. Starting its new night, “CSI” has a bomb in Finlay’s car … a call from
(maybe) the Gig Harbor Killer … and a double role for Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 27

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

The 40th season opens with Chris Pratt – a comedy
guy on “Parks and Recreation,” an action hero in “Guardians of the Galaxy” -- hosting
and Ariana Grande as music guest. It also brings key changes.

Michael Che (briefly of “The Daily Show”) joins “Weekend
Update,” becoming its first black anchor. Unfortunately, Colin Jost stays and
Cecily Strong will focus on sketches. Also, Nasim Pedrad has left, Pete Davidson
will be a writer and others (Brooks Wheelan, Noel Wells, John Milhiser) were

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Music for Change: The Global Citizen
Festival,” 9 p.m., NBC.

This last-minute addition is stuffed with stars. Hugh
Jackman hosts from New York’s Central Park, in an annual concert designed to
fight worldwide poverty.

No Doubt is expected to have its first performance in two years.
Also scheduled are Carrie Underwood, Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Fun, Tiesta and The

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Friday Night Lights” (2004) and “The
Blind Side” (2009), 6:30 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.

Both movies have true stories with football backdrops; both
have country star Tim McGraw in support.

And both are well-crafted. Based on a non-fiction book about
high school football, “Lights” isn’t as good as the TV series that followed,
but it’s still a strong movie. “Blind Side” is propelled by Sandra Bullock’s
brilliant, Oscar-winning work as a rich Southerner who provided a home for a
good-hearted giant.

Other choices include:

Westerns, all night. Choose young or old Clint Eastwood.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966) is 4:45 p.m. on AMC; the Oscar-winning
“Unforgiven” (1992) is 8 p.m. on Reelz. Both are slow (“Ugly” is ultra-slow),
but well-crafted. AMC also has “Hell on Wheels” at 9; Cullen scrambles to free
his workers.

Football, 8 p.m. ET, Fox and ABC. Fox has 7th-ranked
Baylor and Iowa State; ABC has 8
th-ranked Notre Dame and Syracuse.
Cable has much more, all day.

“Madam Secretary” and “Scorpion,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. Here
are reruns of two pilot films, both so-so. “Madam” is earnest, but try; “Scorpion”
is fun, but strains believability.

“The Voice,” 8 p.m., NBC. This rerun is a logical lead-in
for the concert. One of the new “Voice” judges is Gwen Stefani, who will also
be performing in the Central Park show with her group, No Doubt.

Cedar Cove,” 8 p.m., Hallmark Last week, every blonde woman
was in dismay, but many of the brunettes were OK. Tonight, troubles – guy woes,
cyber-bully woes – are equal-hair offenders. 
All this is against the gorgeous backdrop of waterfront Washington. In
snappy little scenes (written and acted competently), beautiful and
well-meaning people face life’s problems.

“Outlander” mid-season finale, 9 p.m., Starz. Last week’s
episode (rerunning at 8) saw Claire marrying a Scotsman in 1742, to legally
block the English from interrogating her. It turns out that she really likes
the guy … but then she spots a possible link to her 1940s self. It’s a strong
scene, setting up a cliffhanger. 

“Doctor Who,” 9 p.m., BBC America. The fierce Skovox Blitzer
is ready to destroy mankind.

“The Intruders,” 10 p.m., BBC America. New information may
block the ascension of Rose (Miranda Cosgrove). Also, she asks Jack why Amy
(Mira Sorvino) has been acting so odd lately.