TV column for Thursday, April 24

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Parks and Recreation” season-finale, 8
and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

For six seasons, “Parks” has delivered quietly clever episodes.
It has received 10 Emmy nominations (including one for best comedy series),
without ever winning … or making much of a ratings splash.

Now it ends its season with a busy hour. The unity concert (planned
by Leslie and Ben) lets Andy realize a rock-and-roller’s dream. Tom opens his
restaurant, Leslie makes a life-changing decision … and Ron (Nick Offerman)
again confronts ex-wife Tammy 2 (Megan Mullally, Offerman’s real-life wife).

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “SNL Digital Shorts,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

The quality of “Saturday Night Live” varies wildly. Through
it all, however, the “digital shorts” have been fresh and (usually) funny. For
this special, there were plenty to choose from.

Over eight years, subjects have ranged from Chuck Norris and
Batman to flags, lettuce and a French-kissing dog, plus the famed “(Bleep) in a
Box” and the ragged “Laser Cats” tales. Stars have included Tom Hanks, Steve
Martin, Robert De Niro and Scarlett Johansson, plus athletes (Peyton Manning,
Michael Phelps) and musicians (Bono, Gaga, Bon Jovi, Rihana, Katy Perry, Miley
Cyrus, Justin Bieber and more).

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Black Box” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

ABC keeps trying (foolishly, perhaps) to insert brains into
a broadcast-network show. First was “Mind Games,” with brilliant work from
Steve Zahn; audiences promptly ignored it. Now Kelly Reilly – a British
actress, unknown to Americans – is equally good, in another show that’s a tough

She plays a brilliant neurologist who is also bi-polar. When
she ditches her medicine, it makes bad drama (self-destructive characters are rarely
interesting), but flashy and highly sexual scenes. Oscar-winner Vanessa
Redgrave plays her therapist, in a show that is superbly acted and hard to

Other choices include:

“Grey’s Anatomy,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. First is a rerun of
last week’s episode, with Cristina seeking help with a possible acceptance speech.
Then a new episode sees the return of Derek’s oft-troubled sister Amanda
(Caterina Scorsone); also, Richard pays a surprise visit to Catherine (Debbie
Allen) in Boston.

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Leonard re-instates “anything
can happen Thursday,” hoping it will help Sheldon free his mind. Alas, a
spontaneous Sheldon brings trouble for everyone.

“The Millers,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Nate pitches a children’s
show based on his dad’s imaginary comic-book world. His dad, however, won’t
tolerate any changes.

“Life Below Zero,” 9 p.m., National Geographic. Last week’s
season-opener re-introduced some sturdy Alaskans. Tonight, many of them are
hunting – for moose, mountain goats and caribou.

“Bad Teacher” debut, 9:31 p.m., CBS. Freshly divorced, with
a bad pre-nuptial agreement, Meredith (Ari Graynor) has no money or skills. She
lies to a gullible principal (David Alan Grier), landing a teaching job. Her
colleagues are suspicious (Kristin Davis), impressed (Sara Gilbert) or merely
amused (Ryan Hansen).

“Chicagoland,” 10 p.m., CNN. As Mayor Rahm Emanuel gives his
budget address, problems range from the pension crisis to security at the Chicago
marathon. Also, Fenger High holds a fund-raiser.

TV column for Wednesday, April 23

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

With six singers left, “Idol” tries something new: Each person
does two songs, one rock and one country.

It has the right voices for it, with hints of Southern-based
country and blues. Jessica Meuse and C.J. Harris are from the Alabama towns of
Slapout and Jasper; Caleb Johnson (usually a rock belter) and Sam Woolf (who
does intimate pop) are from North Carolina and Florida. The country part may be
more of a stretch for Alex Preston, from New Hampshire, and Jena Irene, a
powerhouse from suburban Detroit.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Nashville on the Record,” 10 p.m.,

Late in its first episode, “Nashville” showed that it wasn’t
your standard music drama. The song was “If I Didn’t Know Better,” co-written
by John Paul White of the duo The Civil Wars; it was sung with extraordinary
passion by Clare Bowen, in her Scarlett O’Connor character.

Now this concert special has Bowen singing that one plus
another great duet (“This Town”) and the gorgeous “Black Roses.” There’s strong
work from others, including Sam Palladio, Charles Esten, Chris Carmack and
Hayden Panettiere. (Connie Britton, who stars with Panettiere, isn’t included).
There are also conversations, filled with hollow praise; ignore them and wait
for the music to resume. 

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The 100,” 9 p.m., CW.

For once, CW ha a first-rate show, written with intelligence
and acted with quiet skill.

Tonight, we learn the full story behind Bellamy’s obsession
with protecting his sister, Octavia. That has led to big problems among teens
testing life on a ravaged Earth; now he leads a perilous mission to rescue her.
Also, the newly arrived Raven realizes her lover (Finn) had an Earthly fling with

Other choices include:                                                          

“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS. In the Japanese highlands, snow
monkeys lead troubled lives … eased because humans turned the swimming hole
into a hot tub. Beautifully filmed, this has some cruelty, plus genuine warmth:
An exhausted mother raises an orphan; a cheery youth bonds with a grumpy

“Nova,” 9 p.m., PBS. Wrapping up the three-week “Inside
Animal Minds,” this asks which animal is the smartest. It focuses on ones that
form complex societies – dolphins, apes and elephants.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Phil brings everyone to Australia,
where he was conceived. Alas, he finds rejection; his wife and father-in-law
are overworked. Rhys Darby – the New Zealander who co-starred in “Flight of the
Conchords” and “How to Be a Gentleman” – plays an annoying celebrity

“Mixology,” 9:31 p.m., ABC. The link between the bartender and
the waitress has been based solely (and cheerfully) on sex. Now she wants a
real relationship … and he has to find out what that is. Also, Liv is getting
drunker and funnier. It’s a dandy episode, marred a little (as usual) by the
unfunny Bruce.

“Your Inner Fish,” 10 p.m., PBS. This three-week series
started with fish evolving into land creatures, 375 million years ago. Now the
finale has monkey-like tree-dwellers becoming … well, us.

“The Americans,” 10-11:11 p.m., FX. Oliver North, who helped
plan the secret Nicaraguan Contra schemes 30 years ago, co-wrote the story for
this deeply emotional episode. Philip and Elizabeth – Russian spies, planted
here long ago – sneak in to photograph Contra training; things go so wrong that
he’s off-kilter everywhere. Also, FBI guys find things crumbling at work (Gaad)
and in marriage (Stan).

TV column for Tuesday, April 22

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

Five years ago, Rachel was a small-town teen who was ignored
(at best) or mocked, trying to spark a ragged glee club. And now? Tonight’s
episode sees her star in a “Funny Girl” revival on Broadway.

That’s perfect for Lea Michele, who plays her; at 27, she’s
already done four Broadway shows. Now Rachel’s Ohio friends show up for opening
night, in an episode that includes Will, Sue and Sam.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “American Masters: A Fierce Green
Fire,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

On the 45th Earth Day, this documentary reminds
us how thoroughly life has changed.

In the American West, national parks were crippled by dams;
the Grand Canyon was barely spared. In New York State, a study showed 56
percent of children near a chemical-laden canal had birth defects; at first,
that was dismissed as coincidence. In the Amazon, an opponent of de-forestation
was slain. Back then, issues seemed simple; Richard Nixon was an
environmentalist. Now, this strong film says, things are tangled; climate
change is “the impossible issue – impossible to deal with, impossible to

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Fargo,” 10 p.m., FX.

Last week, a delicious pile of coincidences descended on
mild-mannered Lester. He grumbled about bully Sam Hess to odd stranger Lorne
Malvo … who promptly killed Hess. He took an uncharacteristic swing at his wife
… and killed her. He was then visited by the police chief … whom Malvo killed.

All of this is so unexpected in Bemidji, Minn., that only
one deputy (Molly) even suspects Lester. Tonight, Hess’ crime colleagues arrive
from Fargo, N.D. Malvo stirs mischief here and terror in Duluth … where a
single-dad cop (Colin Hanks) quietly regrets letting him out of a traffic
tickets. It’s another great hour.

Other choices include:

“Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011), 7:30 p.m., FX;
or “Agents of SHIELD,” 8 p.m., ABC. Marvel heroes compete for our attention.
The movie tells of Steve Rogers’ transition from World War II soldier to hero.
The ABC hour (with roots in the “Avengers” movie) sees Coulson race to save his
true love.

“The Voice,” 8 p.m., NBC. Last night’s bottom three will try
again. Only one advances to the top 10.

 “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS.
In the middle of a murder case, Gibbs leaves to help his father (Ralph Waite).

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun has Sam and
Callan working with an elite Nepali soldier who specializes in knives. Ernie
Reyes Jr. – the young karate star of the long-ago “Sidekicks” series and
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” movie – is the guest star.

“New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox. What happens when lots of
restaurant menus get dumped at the loft’s door? Tonight, that leads to a series
of bizarre events

“The Mindy Project,” 9:30, Fox. A cop (Tim Daly) is angry
when Mindy gives his daughter birth-control. Also, a rabbi might send a lot of
business … because he assumes Danny is Jewish.

“Celebrity Wife Swap,” 10 p.m., ABC. In Las Vegas, Robin
Leach lives the sort of life he described in “Lifestyles of the Rich and
Famous,” with champagne and elegant dinners. In Los Angeles, Eric Roberts lives
a quieter life, with a squirrel sanctuary. Now Roberts’ wife Eliza (a busy
actress) switches with Leach’s friend Joan Severance, an actress and former top


TV column for Monday, April 21

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

Earlier, “Castle” flung its actors into a flashback, having
them play 1940s characters. This time, it has a simpler time-transit: A mobster
seems lost in the 1970s; to get his information, police must humor him.

Rick Castle’s mother, an actress, leaps into it, complete
with script and costumes. Beckett (Stana Katic) looks great in 1970s clothes;
then again, she looked great in the ‘40s. The fun is when the supporting
characters – Ryan, Esposito, Dr. Parish – go to funny extremes. Sometimes
goofy, this is stylishly directed by Kevin Hooks, who was a kid star (“Sounder,”
“White Shadow”) during the real ‘70s.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Independent Lens,” 9-11 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Rick Hall grew up in a dirt-floor house with no utilities.
When his little brother died (falling into boiling laundry water), he says, his
mom left and became a prostitute. Hall grew up to be a record producer, intense
and combative; one alcohol-fueled fight cost him Aretha Franklin and more.

He lived and knew the blues … and in little Muscle Shoals,
Ala., he produced great blues-based records. A hospital orderly named Percy
Sledge did a song he used to sing in the cotton fields; “When a Man Loves a
Woman” became a classic. Eventually, Hall’s bandsmen started their own studio,
but the Shoals sound soared. This superb documentary ranges from Bono to Aretha
to a stirring finale by Alicia Keys.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Warehouse 13,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

With just five episodes left, there are key things to
settle. Pete and Myka – great (but platonic) partners – ponder their
relationship; Claudia learns about the sister she wasn’t aware of.

There’s also a standard (for this show) story, with
seemingly unrelated people drowning internally. That part is OK; the others
remind us that these are well-drawn characters, on the way out.

Other choices include:

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, teen
singer Cody Simpson was ousted. Now the eight surviving contestants have a cheery
theme, dancing to popular party tunes.

“The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The final 12 contestants

“Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays,” 8-10 p.m., HBO. Here’s a
second chance to see Crystal’s moving, one-man show. The first half catches a
childhood so blessed that he saw his first movie sitting on the lap of jazz
great Billie Holliday; the second half is bittersweet, battered by a changing world
and sudden deaths.

“Friends with Better Lives,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. After moping
about his divorce, Will (James Van Der Beek) is trying to be more adventurous,
by sexually texting a girlfriend.

“The Following,” 9 p.m., Fox. A week before the
season-finale, Joe Carroll sets his plan in motion.

“The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. In a funny,
transplanted rerun, Amy shocks Sheldon by pointing out (accurately, alas) the
flaw in the great movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“The Blacklist,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Red warns that the
Pavlovich Brothers are ready to kidnap a high-profile target; he also has a job
for them to do.

TV column for Sunday, April 20

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “In My Dreams,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Natalie (Katharine McPhee), a restaurant-owner, and Nick
(Mike Vogel), an aspiring architect, are attractive and busy. They’ve never
met, except in simultaneous dreams.

The story is stretched out way too long, leaving clear
flaws. Still, this has all the lush quality we expect from a “Hallmark Hall of
Fame” film. Kenny Leon -- who directed the “Steel Magnolias” and “Raisin in the
Sun” remakes – provides a gorgeous feel that makes the fantasy parts … well,

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Animation everywhere.

On Easter, families can snuggle together for cartoons. At 7
p.m., ABC has the 1974 “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” and the ’66 “Charlie
Brown All-Stars.” At the same time, Fox has its four-cartoon stretch including
(at 8 p.m.) Homer giving dating advice to Comic Book Guy in a “Simpsons” rerun.

Then again, they can watch ABC Family all day. It’s “Cinderella”
(1949) at 2:30 p.m., “Little Mermaid” (1989) art 4:12 and “Tangled” (2010) at
5:57. “Hop” (2011) – an amiable oddity with live actors and a cartoon Easter
Bunny – is at 8 and 10 p.m.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Game of Thrones,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Weddings are lethal in this world. Last week, nasty King
Joffrey was poisoned before the consummation; tonight, one person flees,
another is jailed, a third chooses a profoundly inappropriate place for sex.

There are strong, intimate moments … followed by fierce
initiatives from the Wildlings and Daenerys.

Other choices include:

“Apple Mortgage Cake,” 7 p.m. ET, UP. A string of bad breaks
left Angela Logan teetering toward foreclosure. Then, in this true story, she baked
her way to solvency. At times, Logan’s character might seem tiresome and
repetitive … except that Kimberly Elise injects so much charm and warmth.

“Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Zelena has stolen Regina’s
heart – literally. This is bad behavior, so Regina talks to her dead mom Cora;
we soon see Rose McGowan as the young Cora.

“The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. Last week, Michael J. Fox
returned to the role (cunning lawyer Louis Canning) that has already brought
him three Emmy nominations. Now he’s joining the Lockhart firm, making life
complicated for Diane. In the competing firm, Alicia learns who’s been spying
on her.

“Masterpiece: Mr. Selfridge,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings). The war is just starting and Lord Loxey is already a corrupt profiteer;
tonight, Harry faces him in cards. Also, Miss Mardle has a surprising tenant.

“The Bletchley Circle,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
In the second half of a fairly good story, the women come across a much bigger
plot. After straining believability, this ends well.

“Mad Men,” 10 p.m., AMC. Last week saw tough times for both
of the key ad-agency women. Now Peggy gets flowers at work and Joan is put in
an awkward position.

“Devious Maids” season-opener, 10 p.m., Lifetime. Eva
Longoria, who is also one of the producers, directed this episode, which offers
a stylish blend of humor and soap-style excess.

“Veep,” 10:30 p.m., HBO. For the second straight week, “Veep”
sharply satirizes the politics of expediency. This time, it’s through the eyes
of a crusader for universal child care. Selena wants her in the background as
she announces her candidacy for president; then doubters intervene.