TV column for Wednesday, May 14

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

It’s time for one of this show’s cheeriest traditions –
hometown visits for the final three. That’s Caleb Johnson of Ashville, NC; Alex
Preston of Mont Vernon, N.H.; and Jena Irene of suburban Detroit.

In a fresh twist, the people back home chose which of the
previously performed songs each person will repeat tonight. Each will do two
other songs – one chosen by judges, the other by Randy Jackson.

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

This is the wedding day we’ve looked forward to, with
masters of excess. There’s Cam, always the center of attention and now marrying
Mitchell; and their friend Pepper (Nathan Lane), planning the wedding.

Now that unfolds over the next two Wednesdays. Tonight,
Claire prepares for her “best woman” duties; her husband Phil tries to fit in a
quick eye procedure before the ceremony.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Nashville” season-finale, 10:01
p.m., ABC.

Tonight is heavy on soap-opera, battered by romantic chaos.
Rayna drifts from her passion for Deacon, Juliette may have blown her only true
love and Scarlett may give up and study poetry in college.

Each story is punctuated by overwrought music, but each is also
well-acted; in particular, Hayden Panettiere (as Juliette) has evolved into a
terrific actress. Far less interesting is tonight’s overall story; it’s tough
to get invested in the burning question of whether Rayna’s album will open at
No. 1 or No 2.

“The Americans,” 10 p.m., FX.

A week before the season-finale, pressure tightens on Stan,
the FBI guy. His wife is leaving; his mistress will be sent back to Russia (and
he’ll be exposed) unless he betrays his country.

That scuttles his probe of the Russian spies who were slain
with their daughter. But now a relentless killer chases their orphaned teen
son; in a tense hour, Elizabeth tries to slip him out of the country.

Other choices include:

“Revolution,” 8 p.m., NBC. A week from the season-finale,
Neville and Monroe form an uneasy alliance, to battle the Patriots.

“The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. Mike heads to Chicago with his
bad-news brother (Norm Macdonald) to see Brick’s spelling bee. Also, Frankie
rushes to Axl’s college for what she considers an emergency.

“Suburbia,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Suddenly, these teens seem
older: One (Lisa) is married; more drastically, another (Tessa) has joined a
knitting circle.

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. This
is a vile villain (perfectly played by Joshua Malina), but there’s one
question: Has he broken any laws? It’s a terribly dark hour, setting up the

“Mixology,” 9:31 p.m., ABC. The show improved sharply last
week, when the annoying Bruce actually did something decent. Now he promptly
undoes it and dominates the start of this episode. After this lame beginning,
the show gets much better (and much funnier), when the two most naive people
finally chat.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS. This rerun
brings the return of Marg Helgenberger.   

TV column for Tuesday, May 13

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Goldbergs” and “Trophy Wife” season-finales,
9:01-10 p.m., ABC.

Two clever-but-overlooked shows end their first seasons with
sharply funny episodes.

First, the Goldberg dad, who prefers to do nothing – “you
know I don’t have an interest in things” – reluctantly visits his high school,
where he was a star; that gives his son a chance to throw an epic party. Then
there are hilarious moments, when Pete has to be spokesman for a polluter, at
the same time that his first and second wives trick his third wife into watching
the kids on Mother’s Day.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “NCIS” season-finale, 8 p.m., CBS.

The entire CBS line-up – including “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Person
of Interest” – has finales tonight. For “NCIS,” the team heads to a prison
ship, to see if a fire was an accident or a diversion for an escape.

The exception is Gibbs, who heads home for the funeral of
his father, who was played by Ralph Waite. Waite – who died in February at 85 –
made his TV debut 60 years ago and first became a beloved TV dad (on “The
Waltons”) 42 years ago.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Coming Back” opener, 8 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

The good part is supposed to come after war duty; soldiers
return, people hug, life eases. But in this understated documentary, Wes Moore
(a combat-zone veteran) shows how difficult this can be.

A mom finds that her toddler doesn’t recognize her after six
months away. A dad is in a 15-month limbo; he can only return home on weekends,
while the Army keeps evaluating him. Another veteran strains on the phone,
desperate to save a suicidal returnee. The start of a three-week series is
quietly involving.

Other choices include:

“Glee” season-finale, 8 p.m., Fox. Careers are soaring
quickly in New York. That brings problems for Sam and Mercedes and a showcase
with an imposing figure (Shirley MacLaine) for Blaine. Also, Rachel meets a
famous TV writer (Kristen Schaal of “The Daily Show”) whose eccentric
personality throws her off.

More season-finales, all night. Most shows are finishing a
week early, to avoid colliding with the “American Idol” and “Voice” finales. At
8 p.m., ABC has “Agents of SHIELD” and CW has “The Originals”; at 10, NBC has “Chicago
Fire.” That means at least nine finales tonight, so alert your VCR.

“Frontline,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This
starts a two-week look at government surveillance.

“Riot” debut, 9 p.m., Fpx. Here’s improvisational on
hyperdrive, mixing quick-thinking newcomers with guest stars Steve Carell (who
also produces) and Andy Buckley. Some ideas are so-so, but others –  shadow-puppet charades or a doing a fast-foot
restaurant on a slanted stage – are quite funny.

“Fargo,” 10 p.m., FX. First, a flashback answers a basic
question: How did Lorne Malvo get that loaded shotgun that he used to kill the
sheriff in Lester’s house? (In the quirky “Fargo” style, the answer involves
buying socks.) Then this terrific hour is back to Lester’s current crisis: He’s
in a jail cell with the two thugs from Fargo, who kidnapped him to learn who
killed their drug contact.

“Freakshow” (10 and 10:30 p.m.) and “Small Town Security”
(11 p.m.), AMC. These unscripted shows have just started their seasons.
Tonight, among other things, Todd Ray brings a gathering of tattooed people to
what he calls his “freakshow” at Venice Beach, Cal.  

TV column for Monday, May 12

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Dancing with the Stars” (NBC) or “The
Voice” (ABC), 8-10:01 pm.

A week from their finales, each show is down to its final

For “Stars,” that includes three Olympians – ice-dancers
Charlie White and Meryl Davis and Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy. They join
actors James Maslow and Candace Cameron Bure, with each doing two dances …
after an opening number that has Derek Hough (Purdy’s dance partner during the
competition) and Jessica Lee Keller (“High School Musical”) backed by 26

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Blacklist” season-finale, 10:01
p.m., NBC.

Last Monday brought shellshocks in the tenuous relationship
between Liz and Red (James Spader).

Last week, she refused to work with him, because of his role
in her father’s death. She also figured out that the cases he’s brought to the
FBI were part of a scheme to stop his nemesis, a super-criminal known as
Berlin. Then he lured her back with a big case … just as a prisoner-transport
plane crashed, with Berlin aboard; tonight, police scramble to re-capture the

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “24,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Last week’s opener – both wildly improbable and wildly
entertaining – saw Jack Bauer take an absurdly round-about route to find a
computer hacker. Alas, the guy was soon killed by his phony girlfriend (a
terrorist’s daughter in disguise), who stole his device.

Now Jack chases her through London, while others chase him.
It’s a wild (and involving) ride, in a high-octane story that will be resolved
in 12 episodes, instead of the usual 24.

Other choices include:

“Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. With Booth preparing for congressional
testimony, Sweets fills in. He’s promptly attracted to an intern, played by
Laura Spencer, who is Raj’s new girlfriend Emily on “Big Bang Theory.”

“The (Dead Mother’s) Club,” 9 p.m., HBO. Sure, Madonna and
Rosie O’Donnell seem like opposites. But the moment they met, O’Donnell blurted
out that her mother had died early, too; they became close friends. Now O’Donnell
has produced this documentary, with warm portraits of three young women whose
moms died; intermixed are briefer memories from Jane Fonda, Molly Shannon and O’Donnell.

“Fish Tank Kings,” 9 p.m., NatGeo Wild. Here are two
gorgeous projects – a big, sweeping home aquarium, plus (for “dog whisperer”
Cesar Milan) an aquatic oasis in the California desert.

“Warehouse 13,” 9 p.m., Syfy. For its second-to-last
episode, “13” has a big (and fairly good) story, trying to rescue the warehouse
itself. In a goofier side plot, Pete tries to duck his affection for Myka.

“Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. Fresh from starring as Pete in “Warehouse
13,” Eddie McClintock plays a ne’er-do-well from Beckett’s past, interrupting
her planned wedding with Castle.

“Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A
fascinating film could be made about the 1985 Philadelphia police confrontation
that left six adults and five children dead and 61 homes destroyed. But this
film – no narrator, no interviews, a mish-mash of found footage – tells it

“Louie,” 10 and 10:30 p.m., FX. For good or bad, “Louie”
keeps changing tone. Last week’s season-openers were sharply funny; now humor
is downplayed for other stories – a long dialog about being an overweight woman
… a scary parenthood moment … and quirky aftershocks of an elevator ordeal.


TV column for Sunday, May 11

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Once Upon a Time” and “Revenge” season
finales, 8 and 10 p.m., ABC.

Clearing the night a week before the season’s final Sunday,
ABC has these stylishly filmed tales.

On the two-hour “Once,” Zelena has pulled Emma and Hook into
her time portal; they struggle to get back without changing events. Then
“Revenge” has Emily and Victoria in total warfare; at least one person will be
killed tonight, ABC says.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Rosemary’s Baby,” 9-11 p.m., NBC;
concludes Thursday.

Back in 1968, Hollywood boldly hired Polish director Roman
Polanski, a critics’ favorite, to direct the “Rosemary’s Baby” movie. Boosted
by a popular new star (Mia Farrow), it soared.

Now another acclaimed Pole, Agnieszka Holland, has directed
this new version; she does it beautifully, with Zoe Saldana (“Avatar”)
stunningly good as a prof’s wife who finds strangers obsessed with her
pregnancy. Still, this is a fairly straight-ahead tale, with a final twist;
stretching it out benefits no one.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Penny Dreadful,” 10 p.m., Showtime.

Ethan is a sort of low-rent Buffalo Bill, touring 1891
London with a wild-West show that involves some skill and much hokum. Suddenly,
he meets real people (Eva Green, Timothy Dalton) with real trouble.

Soon, he’s descended into a swirl of killers, both from our
world and beyond. Some of the scenes are way too gory and grisly for most
tastes; still, “Penny” is beautifully filmed and has great dialog emerging from
gifted actors. Green is perfect; Dalton has aged into a Patrick Stewart-style

Other choices include:

Mother’s Day films, cable. Two feel-good channels have holiday
films. Hallmark’s “Mom’s Day Away” (which debuted Saturday) is noon and 9 p.m.;
UP’s “My Mother’s Future Husband” is 7 and 11 p.m. The latter has arbitrary
twists to extend the story, but glides on the immense likability of Lea
Thompson and, especially, Matreya Fedor as a teen who obsesses on her mom’s
romance, ignoring her own.

“The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. Marge and Lisa both swear off
trying new friendships.

“The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. A client’s insensitive remarks
may scuttle a billion-dollar deal.

“Game of Thrones,” 9 p.m., HBO. Tyrion confronts his
imposing father; Daenerys expands her power.

“Nurse Jackie,” 9 p.m., Showtime. Last week, Jackie’s
boyfriend spotted her pill-popping. Now she’s rushing to hide her far-flung
stash, in an episode with an odd (and interesting) non-ending.

“Californication,” 9:30 p.m., Showtime. When Hank decides to
get Levon a prostitute – hey, what’s a father for? – everyone gets involved.
What follows is a terrific scene, both comic and chaotic.

“The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS. While deciding whether to
move away with Agent Pike, Lisbon scrambles with Patrick Jane to stop a
kidnapping ring before the victims are sent overseas.

“Silicon Valley,” 10 p.m., HBO. This oft-quiet comedy comes
up with a big, brilliant gag, when one of the guys gets a ride in a driverless

“Mad Men,” 10 p.m., AMC. Don has a visitor from his past;
also, Harry has a new ally at the agency.

TV column for Saturday, May 10

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Orphan Black,” 9 p.m., BBC America; “In
the Flesh” season-opener, 10 p.m.

This terrific-yet-obscure channel may get noticed with a
night of clones, zombies and sheer talent.

“Orphan” continues Tatiana Maslany’s brilliant work as
Sarah, a drifter and scam artist, and the varied clones she’s still learning
about. As tonight starts, she’s been kidnapped away from her daughter; one
clone is a cult captive, another is in rehab. It’s a fierce and compelling hour.

Then “Flesh” starts its six-week mini-season. The first
season (only three episodes) began four years after the dead inexplicably rose.
They’ve finally been released after years of incarceration; in a little English
village, the mood ranges from understanding to an anti-zombie patrol.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Sports overload, ABC, Fox and cable.

As seasons collide – summer events meet winter-sports
playoffs – sports take half the big-four networks. Fox has NASCAR (7 p.m. ET at
the Kansas Speedway); ABC has basketball, as the Heat-Nets series move to Brooklyn
for the third of a best-of-seven; it’s 8:15 p.m. ET, with pre-game at 7.

Then go to ESPN for more basketball (San Antonio at
Portland) at 10:30 p.m. ET. There’s more on cable, including hockey play-offs
(Montreal-Boston at 7 p.m. ET, Anaheim-Los Angeles at 9:30) on NBC Sports.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” 9
p.m., CNN.

Imagine spending a pleasant day with Shakespeare, Mantle or
da Vinci. That’s how Bourdain felt when he finally met Chef Paul Bocuse, the
88-year-old master of modern French cuisine. Soon, he was sampling Bocuse’s
best dishes … and even duck-hunting, with Bocuse as the driver.

This rerun – beautifully written, as usual – is also at
midnight. Other reruns visit Mexico City (10 p.m. and 1 a.m.) and Las Vegas (8
and 11 p.m.). The next new hour is 9 p.m. Sunday, visiting Russia.

Other choices include:

“Titanic” (1997), 6:45-10:55 p.m., Oxygen; or “Raiders of
the Lost Ark” (1981), 9-11:30 p.m., Syfy. Here are rare and splendid moment,
when master filmmakers had stories that are broadly popular.

“Mike & Molly,” 8 p.m., CBS. Suspicious of her
neighbors, Molly gets her mom involved with spying. Also in this rerun, the
guys discuss their dreams and aspirations during a poker game.

“Mom’s Day Away,” 8 p.m. and midnight, Hallmark. Ignored by
her husband and kids as Mother’s Day approaches, a woman (Bonnie Somerville) samples
a friend’s high-flying life.

“The Millers,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.  With their parents separated, Nathan and his
sister (Will Arnett and Jayma Mays) each think the other has the easier parent
to house. In this rerun, they switch.

“Da Vinci’s Demons,” 9 p.m., Starz. These journeys have
turned out to be dangerous and ill-advised. In South America, Leonardo faces
execution and his friends face servitude; back in Italy, Lorenzo and his
ex-lover Lucrezia separately face peril. Tonight’s final 15 minutes offer a
spectacular blend of this show’s key elements – action, sex, inventiveness and gifted
actors given splendid dialog.

“Saturday Night Live,” 10 p.m. and 11:29 p.m., NBC. First is
a shortened rerun of the Seth Rogen episode, a good one. Then Charlize Theron
hosts, with the Black Keys as music guests; one assumes it will be better than
last week’s ordeal with Andrew Garfield.