TV column for Sunday, March 2

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: Academy Awards, 8:30 p.m. ET, ABC.

The awards will be fun, with no sure thing. “American
Hustle,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” loom large, but the other
best-picture nominees are key in several categories; they are “Her,” “Captain Phillips,”
“Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Last year, the producers had a controversial host (Seth
McFarlane) and a fresh surge of music. Tonight brings a gentler host (Ellen
Degeneres), but continues the music push. Pink and Bette Midler perform and more
stars -- U2, Pharrel Williams, Idina Menzel and Karen O – do the nominated

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC.

While others retreat into reruns, “Dead” thrived against the
Olympics and now faces the Oscars.

Our heroes are wandering without shelter, in a zombie world;
tonight, a simple request leads to a bizarre mission. This reruns at 11 p.m. …
following a 10 p.m. “Talking Dead” that has co-stars Norman Reedus and Emily
Kinney (they play Daryl Dixon and Beth Greene) and comedy actor J.B. Smoove.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “True Detective,” 9 p.m., HBO.

On the night Matthew McConaughey might win an Oscar, he and
Woody Harrelson do Emmy-level work.

So far, we’ve bounced between two eras. They’ve been police
partners (with growing rage toward each other) 17 years ago and broken ex-cops
being interrogated today. Now, reluctantly, they get back together to revive a
case. It’s a so-so hour plot-wise, but brilliantly performed.

Other choices include:

Oscar previews, all day. Cable’s E channel starts its
red-carpet preview (with Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic) at 5:30 p.m. and
its pre-preview at 1:30; ABC adds its own red-carpet show at 7.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), 6:23 p.m., Syfy; or “ET”
(1982), 8 p.m., TNT. Choose between Steven Spielberg’s back-to-back triumphs.

“The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m., CBS. Last week’s debut saw a double
blow: The twins were ousted; William Minton (of Team Kentucky) withdrew due to
an inflamed pancreas. Mark Jackson, 47, found himself paired with Mallory
Ervin, 28, who also happens to be from Kentucky. She’s done the show twice in a
father-daughter duo, but now she’s with a stranger; tonight, their
communication problems continue.

“The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. In a rerun, Homer tries movie

“The Voice,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. In two weeks, NBC will start filling
its Sunday gap with a pair of new dramas. For now, we get “Voice” reruns; this one
is of Monday’s season-opener.

“The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS. This rerun has John Noble
(the brilliant “Fringe” star) as Alicia’s former client. He bequeaths her
millions – but her old law firm fights the will.

“Girls,” 10 p.m., HBO. So you thought Hannah was kind of
unstable? She’s a rock compared to her mom, aunts and cousin; in a funny-sad
episode, they gather under the assumption her grandmother is dying.

TV column for Saturday, March 1


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Social Network” (2010), 8-11 p.m.,

Three immense talents – Aaron Sorkin, Jesse Eisenberg and
director David Fincher – linked beautifully.

Yes, Sorkin toyed too much with the facts in this tale of
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Still, he wrote it so cleverly – and Eisenberg
played it so charmingly – that all is forgiven. Sorkin won an Oscar; the others
were nominated, as was the picture itself, making it perfect for Oscar eve.

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

After a three-week Olympic break, “SNL” is back, with
Emmy-winner Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) hosting and Beck as music
guest. It will also show off the “Weekend Update” change.

Cecily Strong remains, but Seth Meyers has moved to his own
show. Replacing him is Colin Jost, who is (like Meyers and Tina Fey before him)
a co-head-writer. Jost has stayed off-camera, creating such people as Drunk
Uncle and Strong’s “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at
a Party.” 

TONIGHT’S MUST-RECORD: Movie marathon, 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. ET,
Turner Classic Movies.

Back in 1967, two powerful forces were captured by some of
Hollywood’s greatest talents.

One was civil rights, via “In the Heat of the Night” and
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” The other was the angst and alienation in “The
Graduate,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Cool Hand Luke” and more. It was an overflow year,
with stunning work (Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Audrey Hepburn) unrewarded.

Now TCM airs the best-picture nominees, starting with the
winner (the splendidly acted “Heat”) at 8. “Graduate” is at 10, “Dinner” at
midnight, “Bonnie” at 2 and “Doctor Dolittle,” the weak link, at 4.

Other choices include:

More movies, cable. Here are some more great ones on Oscar
eve. At 6:30 p.m., try “Cinderella” (1949) on ABC Family. At 9, catch “Raiders
of the Lost Ark” (1981) on Syfy or “Traffic” (2000) on Sundance.

“Almost Human,” 8 p.m., Fox. In a rerun, Gina Carano (“Fast
and Furious 6”) plays a rampaging cyborg.

“Two and a Half Men,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the funny season-opener,
the guys are startled to learn Charlie had a daughter (Amber Tamblyn). She
shares traits with her late dad, including a lust for women.

“The Crazy Ones,” 8:30, CBS. Saffron Burrows plays a
potential client in this rerun. She’s so glamorous that everyone at the firm
wants to be her friend, her lover and/or her business colleague.

“Person of Interest,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds Reese
abducted by someone he knows.

“When Calls the Heart,” 9 p.m., Hallmark. There are crises
large (the only survivor of the mine tragedy finally returns home) and small (a
hurry-up school pageant). It’s a tough hour, but ends beautifully.

“Ripper Street,” 9-10:15 p.m., BBC America. The mood of this
brooding series hits dark extremes in an episode viewing the troubled lives of
the physically deformed.

Independent Spirit Awards, 10 p.m., IFC. Patton Oswalt hosts
this ceremony, honoring films that were made independently on tidy budgets. And
yes, some of those also reach the Oscars. The two ceremonies share nominees for
best picture (“Nebraska,” “12 Years a Slave”); those films – plus “Blue Jasmine”
and “Dallas Buyers Club” – have acting nominees for the Spirit and Oscar

TV column for Friday, Feb. 28

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Hannibal,” 10:01 p.m., NBC.

The season opens with a surprise -- two careful, cautious
men are suddenly at war. Hannibal Lecter, a therapist and serial killer, and
the FBI’s Jack Crawford are trying to kill each other.

It’s fierce, jolting … and a gimmick. This is a
flash-forward to the end of the season; “Hannibal” promptly returns to its
natural pace – slow, sleepy, elegantly acted. Will Graham (the brilliant Hugh
Dancy) is in jail, unable to convince anyone that Lecter has framed him; the
final scene is stunning.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: Business reality shows, all night,
four networks.

Fox’s “Kitchen Nightmares” starts its season at 8 p.m., opposite
CBS’ “Undercover Boss,” with ABC’s “Shark Tank” at 9. And filling out the
night, TNT debuts two shows from those producers.

“Inside Job” (9 p.m.), from the “Undercover” producer, is
kind of fun; four people compete for a job, unaware that one is a spy for the
employer. “Save My Business,” from the “Nightmares” producer, is merely OK;
Peter Jones, a 6-foot-7 British entrepreneur, grumbles about and then fixes a

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Casablanca” (1942), 8-10 p.m. ET,
Turner Classic Movies.

Two days before the Academy Awards, it’s appropriate to
catch this masterpiece.

“Casablanca” won Oscars for best picture, its direction and
for a screenplay filled with lines that have become eternal. In 1997, the
American Film Institute picked “Casablanca” as the second-best movie ever,
trailing only “Citizen Kane”; in a 2007 revision, it put it No. 3, behind
“Kane” and “Godfather.”

Other choices include:

“Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. What’s it like to have Brennan – ever
observant, never emotional – on the jury at your murder trial? We see in this
rerun … and then see a fresh murder case that follows.

“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Eve has a secret boyfriend
and her mom nudges her into a heart-to-heart talk. Then her sisters learn that
both teens will be at the same ROTC sleepover.

 “The Neighbors,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Debbie invites her old friends to an Oscar party. Feeling left out,
the neighbors from outer space plan an extreme party; Erik Estrada and Carrot
Top play themselves.

“Jazz and the Philharmonic,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local
listings). This concert links jazz greats – singer Bobby McFerrin, trumpeter
Terence Blanchard, pianists Chick Correa and Dave Grusin – with the Henry
Mancini Institute Orchestra, in Miami.

“Enlisted,” 9 p.m., Fox. Pete is confronted by the
girlfriend he left (without telling her) for Afghanistan.

“Raising Hope,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. The new boyfriend (Tommy
Chong) of Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) dares her to take chances … a challenge
soon faced by her daughter and grandson.

“Helix,” 10 p.m., Syfy. Alan Farragut and Julia Walker –
once married to each other, both still doctors at the Centers for Disease
Control – make a daring attempt to destroy the virus.

“Banshee,” 10 p.m., Cinemax. Often terrific, this show makes
a detour tonight, with an hour so brutal that even revenge leaves viewers
feeling awful.

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 27

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Community,” 8 p.m., NBC.

This show has the remarkable ability to change form each
week. Tonight’s excellent episode is more drama than comedy (albeit with funny
moments peppered in), with three tales.

One has Duncan (John Oliver) making a romantic move at
Britta, who promptly faces an identity crisis; another is a supernatural tale
with Chang. But the real gem has Abed and Hickey (Jonathan Banks, the
Emmy-nominated hit man from “Breaking Bad”) in a neatly crafted, two-man

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Scandal” return, 10 p.m., ABC.

After their Dec. 12 episodes, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”
vanished for 11 weeks.

Now they’re back and Olivia has a challenging new role. There’s
a jolting announcement from Vice-President Sally Langston and a look at aftershocks
to Mellie, when she was raped by her father-in-law.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Red Road” debut, 9 p.m.,

In a backwoods town, hard-scrabble groups co-exist. There
are whites, blacks and members of an American Indian tribe that is still
scrambling for federal recognition.

Now a quiet cop juggles crises. His wife (Julianne
Nicholson) blames Indians for her brother’s death, 20 years ago; she snaps when
their daughter dates an amiable Indian teen. Now a visiting student has
vanished and a giant ex-con (Jason Momoa) has returned; Nicholson and Momoa are

Other choices include:

“Countdown to the Oscars,” 8 p.m., ABC; “And the Oscar Goes
To …,” 9-11 p.m., CNN. Three days before the Academy Awards, we get a full
night of documentaries. ABC profiles Jonah Hill and Lupita Nyong’o and views
stars’ early days; CNN’s film (which aired on Turner Classic Movies) is a fun
history ride, with great clips and comments … and a reminder that acceptance
speeches can (occasionally) be interesting.

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Two big decisions loom
-- Wolowitz considering another space mission; Leonard buying a table.

“Hollywood Game Night,” 9 p.m., NBC. Sean Hayes produces
this show and is one of the players tonight … as it takes over the time slot,
shelving his own “Sean Saves the World” plus “The Michael J. Fox Show.”

“Grey’s Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC. The show returns amid discontent.
Meredith is angry at Derek for reneging on a promise; Arizona and Callie decide
whether or not they’ll stay together.

“Two and a Half Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. This show has now
swapped time slots with “The Crazy Ones.” Tonight, Alan wants Lyndsey to choose
between him and Larry.

“Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC. After a month-long break, the
show returns with consternation. Julia and Joel have split; Crosby and Jasmine
have moved in with his parents, while work is done on their home.

“Vikings,” 10 p.m., History. The first season’s finale saw Ragnar
have sex with Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland). Now she visits his world,
creating quick aftershocks. First, however, it’s brother-vs.-brother when
Ragnar fights for King Horik and Rollo for Jarl Bork. The result is brutal and fairly

“Portlandia,” 10 p.m., IFC. This oft-wonderful show launches
its new season of short-form comedy.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 26

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Survivor” opener, 8-10 p.m., CBS.

The battle of the reality giants resumes tonight. It’s
“Survivor” – which started the U.S. splurge in 2000 – against “American Idol,”
which took over the TV world two years later. Both have slipped a bit, so “Survivor”
has a fresh theme – “brawn vs. brains vs. beauty.”

Each tribe starts with three men and three women. “Brawn”
has, among others, two cops, a martial arts instructor and former
pro-basketball all-star Cliff Robinson. “Beauty” includes a model, a former NFL
cheerleader and a former Miss Kentucky Teen USA. “Brains” has two lawyers and a
nuclear engineer.

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

Here’s the phase that people seem to prefer: Finalist
perform live each Wednesday; viewers vote and one is ousted the next night.

Last week, viewers and judges set the line-up, with seven
females (ages 16-24) and six males (17-24). Now each has chosen a song that
says “this is me”; on Thursday, we’ll see who is the first to go.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Americans” season-opener, 10
p.m., FX.

Last season was a rough one for “Phillip” and “Elizabeth.”
Soviet spies who have been in a contrived American marriage, they prepared to
divorce. Then they were almost discovered and she was shot.

Tonight starts with him on some quick, slick missions as she
recovers and returns home. Then a third mission turns fierce; it’s a great hour
with (as usual) stellar work from Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.

Other choices include:

“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). As soft and
soothing as a lullaby, this film captures a year on Ireland’s Shannon River. It
offers gorgeous visions of everything from bats to butterflies.

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Chicago PD,” 9
and 10 p.m., NBC. The “SVU” case involves a rude comedian (Jonathan Silverman)
who may have triggered a rape. Also, a story begins in that hour and continues
in the next one, as Chicago faces a string of rapes and murders.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Having lost a social
chairmanship to his nemesis, Phil obsesses when their sons face each other in
wrestling. Also, Gloria must chaperone a museum trip.

“Mixology” debut, 9:30 p.m., ABC. Newly split from his
fiance, a decent chap arrives at a bar, fueled by alcohol and bad advice. This
season, we’ll see that night, each week from a different perspective. Tonight’s
humor is sometimes blunt, but mostly quick and clever, with flashbacks to liven
the fun.

“Legit” season-opener, 10 p.m., FXX. Jim Jefferies (the
Australian actor playing himself) is at a low point, after blowing a big role.
Things get worse when Dr. Drew Pinsky suggests he quit watching porn and attend
sex-addict therapy. The result teeters between the crude and the clever, but
ends well.

“Ali G: Rezurection,” 10:30 p.m., FXX. A decade ago, Sacha
Baron Cohen did a dozen sometimes-brilliant half-hours of “Da Ali G Show” for
HBO and British TV, doing hidden-camera work as Ali and other odd chaps. Now
Cohen re-introduces those 12 episodes, plus six previous ones only shown in