TV column for Tuesday, April 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “In Performance
at the White House,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Memphis was once the center of the
blues and soul world. The Stax record label and its subsidiaries
triumphed with Otis Redding, Mavis Staples, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas
and more.

Now that music is celebrated by people
ranging from Sam Moore, 77, to “American Idol” alumnus Joshua
Ledet, 20. Booker T. Jones leads the band, backing many of the
originals—Staples, William Bell, guitarist Steve Cropper and
harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite. They're joined by Memphis native
Justin Timberlake, plus Alabama Shakes, Queen Latifah, Ben Harper and
Cyndi Lauper.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Central
Park Five,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

Fresh from the multi-racial joy of the
White House concert, we go in the opposite direction.

In 1989, crime and fear had soared in
New York City. Then a young corporate-finance officer was raped and
left for dead in Central Park. She was white, a Wellesley and Yale
alumna from a wealthy family; the five suspects were black and Latino
teens.

They were convicted amid noisy rage; 13
years later, they were exonerated amid quiet reactions. It's a
compelling story, superbly told by new filmmaker Sarah Burns, her
father Ken and David McMahon.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The '80s”
conclusion, 9-11 p.m., National Geographic.

Desperate to exit East Germany,
Hans-Peter Spitzner approached a stranger (visiting U.S.soldier Eric
Yaw) and asked if he could hide in the trunk with his 7-year-old
daughter. Yaw agreed; his hidden passengers were reportedly the last
escapees through Checkpoint Charlie.

Ten weeks later, in November of 1989,
the Berlin Wall came down, offering an appropriate finish to a decade
of change. Such stories wrap up this excellent, three-night series.
The previous night reruns at 7 p.m. and both nights rerun together,
from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. The full series will rerun Saturday.

Other choices include:

– “Awkward,” 10 a.m. to 11:03
p.m., MTV. Things start with the weirdly funny pilot film, when an
odd accident makes people think wallflower Jenna tried suicide. The
other reruns follow, leading to the third-season opener (10 p.m.);
Jenna ponders a wild summer, a death and a post-high-school future.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The two “NCIS” shows have switched spots for tonight's
reruns. This one wrap up a two-parter involving the search for a
ring of Russian super-agents.

– “NCIS,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, a hacker may be the key to finding the most-wanted
cyber-terrorist.

– “DancingWith the Stars,” 9
p.m., ABC. By the end of the hour, we'll learn who is the fourth
person gone. First, however, there will be young singers – Selena
Gomez, The Band Perry and Kerli.

– “Who Gets the Last Laugh”
opener, 10 p.m., TBS. A temp worker is put in charge of an envelope
with $100,0000 … which disappears. A club-goer emerges to find her
car covered with goop; a driver is pulled over by eccentric cops.
Yes, we're in practical-joke turf. The jokesters are celebrities
(Bill Bellamy, Jeff Dye, Kunal Nayyar), the targets are not and the
stunts are only moderately clever.

– “Body of Proof,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. A Bernie Madoff-type financier has cheated clients out of a
billion dollars. As he emerges from court, he's kidnapped … and a
video claims he's been killed.

TV column for Monday, April 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Defiance”
debut, 9-11 p.m., Syfy.

Some 33 years ago, aliens invaded and
chaos began. Now an ex-Marine travels and scavenges, joined by an
angry alien whom he rescued long ago and considers his daughter.

They reach Defiance (formerly St.
Louis), where races have found peace … almost. Two powerful
families – one alien, one Earthling – feud and tougher forces
invade. In its mid-section, “Defiance” is sort of a too-grimy
cowboy film. At the start and finish, however, it's great sci-fi.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS.

Two stories of North Korean missions
entwine. One, a flashback, is a prequel to the show's pilot film; the
other is a current story involving the retrieval of a body.

We'll have to overlook the fact that
both missions strain plausibility and the second is relatively
pointless. In both, we get lots of slam-bang adventure, alongside
sturdy passion.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Top of the
Lake” conclusion, 9-11 p.m., Sundance.

At times, this five-week, seven-hour
mini-series has been as slow and quiet as its New Zealand setting. At
its core, however, is a darkly compelling story.

A 12-year-old won't say (or doesn't
know) how she got pregnant. Robin (Elisabeth Moss), a cop, suspects
the girl's father … who is also the father of Robin's lover.

After briefly visiting a women's
retreat, the girl is hiding on an island. Tonight, good and bad
forces rush to find her first. There are some gripping moments and then a
strong, surprise ending.

Other choices include:

– “The '80s,” 7-11 p.m., National
Geographic, re-running, 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.. First we get a rerun of
Sunday's well-crafted opener; which starts with the “miracle on
ice” hockey game. The mid-section of this three-night film starts
at 9, watching new ideas soar (cell phones) or crash (New Coke). It
follows the rise of Madonna, “Dynasty,” Wall Street and a
greed-is-good philosophy.

– “The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.
The auditions are finished now and “battle rounds” begin.

-- "Dancing With the Stars," 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, Lisa Vanderpump was the third person out. That leaves Victor Ortiz (who was in the bottom two), D.L. Hughley and Andy Dick among the survivors, despite some misadventures.

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. Alongside
an OK mystery (the victim doubled as stockbroker and stripper), Booth
meets the mom who abandoned him. That's mostly lame, but gets better
in the final minutes.

– “The Following,” 9 p.m., Fox.
Now Sheriff Nelson is brought into the search for Joe Carroll. That's
a problem, because Nelson is actually the underling Carroll calls
Roderick.

– “Dallas” season-finale, 9-11
p.m., TNT. John Ross is intent on learning who killed his dad, the
crafty J.R. Ewing. There's more to it, though; Bobby says his brother
J.R. had a scheme to stop his enemies. Can the feuding Ewings band
together to fulfill the plan and learn who killed J.R.?

– “Mike & Molly,” 9:30 p.m.,
CBS. For their birthdays, some people expect the impossible. Mike
wants his wife and his sarcastic mother to get along.

– “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). Created in 1941 (by a guy who also helped
invent the lie detector), Wonder Woman was as strong as the
comic-book guys; she was tied up a lot, but promptly broke free. The
character became weaker and blander for a time, then boomed back. Her
story is the backdrop of a richly illustrated view of what's now a
Xena-Buffy-Bionic Woman landscape.

-- "Revolution," 10:01 p.m., NBC. Rachel starts a daring attempt to restore power globally.

TV column for Sunday, April 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The '80s”
opener, 8 p.m. Sunday, National Geographic; repeats at 10 p.m. and
midnight; two more parts, Monday and Tuesday.

Here's a surprisingly sharp, smart
documentary series, with people who were at the heart of changes.

Tonight, we meet the guy who solved
Rubik's cube …. The surgeons who saved President Reagan … The
hockey player who saw a gun-wielding KGB agent on the Russian team …
and many more.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Call the
Midwife” and “Masterpiece Classic,” 8 and 9 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

On a sleepy night for the other
broadcast networks, PBS continues its strong Sunday dramas.

First, Jenny is temporarily transferred
to a London hospital, where she finds an intimidating doctor and a
past acquaintance. At her old workplace, a case involves identical
twins, one of them pregnant.

Then Selfridge is fascinated by Isadora
Duncan, the dance great. In a strong episode, she becomes a new
symbol for his store, amid crises for his wife, his mistress and a
clerk who has a drunken dad.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: MTV Movie
Awards, 9 p.m., MTV. \

This starts with a music mash-up from
the “Pitch Perfect” cas. Then Rebel Wilson, from the film, hosts.

There's more music, from Selena Gomez
and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. There are special awards – Jamie
Foxx, Will Ferrell and Emma Watson – and silly awards. Presenters
include Brad Pitt, Zac Efron, Chris Rock, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda
Seyfried and more.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II:
Season-openers, 9-11 p.m., Showtime and HBO.

On this quiet broadcast night,
pay-cable swoops in. Showtime has a moving “Nurse Jackie” and an
epic “Borgias”; HBO follows “Game of Thrones” with a funny
“Veep.” We'll preview them separately.

Other choices include:

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. With Sunday distractions from basketball and country music, it's
been difficult to keep up with this excellent show. This is a special
that looks at what has happened so far and previews the season's
final four episodes; ABC's other dramas tonight are reruns.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Marge is fed up with Homer (again). Also, Milhouse turns bad-boy.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Alicia represents a student who accuses her classmate of rape. The
case suddenly gets national attention, when a hacker group gets
involved.

– “Nurse Jackie” season-opener, 9
p.m., Showtime, rerunning at 9:30. A clean-and-sober Jackie, it turns
out, is just as interesting – and just as sad – as a
drug-addicted one.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The owner of a rundown Wild West tourist town has been killed.

– “The Borgias” season-opener, 10
p.m., Showtime. Last season ended with Pope Alexander (Jeremy Irons)
being poisoned, shortly after one son, Cesare, admitted killing
another. Now Cesare seethes with revenge on the poison-plotters,
while his sister Lucrezia turns to early-stages science. The
cardinals wait semi-patiently for the pope to die and power to shift.
It's a big hour, visually and emotionally.

– “Veep” season-opener, 10 p.m.,
HBO. For the vice-president (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the bad news is
that her party was crushed in the mid-term elections; the good is
that she's more popular than the others. That leads to some funny
moments as she stretches for new power.

TV column for Saturday, April 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night
Live,” 10 and 11:29 p.m., NBC.

First is a rerun of last week's
episode, one of the year's best. There are great moments from host
Melissa McCarthy – as an abusive basketball coach and as herself,
wobbling in heels – and from Bobby Moynihan. He starts the show as
a rambling King Jong-un, then returns as Drunk Uncle, this time with
Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) as his rambling pal Peter
Drunklage. Phoenix is the music guest.

Then a new episode has Vince Vaughn
hostig,with music by Miguel.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Orphan
Black,” 9 p.m., BBC America.

In the first two weeks, young drifter
Sarah has kept coming across people who look just like her. Two are
dead, one is an angry suburban mom, another is a brainy grad student.

Sarah buried one lookalike and has been
impersonating the other (Beth, a cop). She grabbed $75,000 from
Beth's safe-deposit box, but her police partner temporarily has the
money.

Another great episode starts to give us
some answers, while adding to the splendid work of Canadian actress
Tatiana Maslany – tonight pretending to be someone pretending
(clumsily) to be a cop.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Louis C.K.:
Oh My God,” 10 p.m.,HBO.

Last season, Louis C.K. dominated the
Emmys, with two writing wins(for his series and his stand-up special)
and five more nominations. He's skipping the series this year, but
here's a great stand-up hour.

He wonders about sharks (do they know
their fins are showing?) and women. And in a big finish, he
acknowledges the incorrect things the bad part of his mind is saying.

Even slavery, he says, gave us the
pyramids and more. Now Third-Worlders are virtual slaves at
electronics factories, “just so you can make a mean comment on
YouTube while you're (on the toilet).”

Other choices include:

– “Bet on Your Baby” debut, 8 and
9 p.m., ABC. The newest – and, maybe, strangest – reality show
takes tykes (ages 2 to 3-and-a-half) to the “babydome” with one
parent, while the other bets on the result. Which toy will he choose?
Can he repeat an obstacle course? Can he name seven grocery items?

– “Smash,”8 p.m., NBC. This
sometimes-wonderful show drew dreadfully bad ratings last week, when
it moved to Saturday. Now NBC is nudging it one hour earlier
(followed by reruns of “Voice” audition). “Bombshell” is
almost ready for its Broadway opening, but there's an onstage
accident.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In this
rerun, Ziva's dad insists he's just in town to have Shabbat dinner
with her. She's skeptical that the head of Mossad would do anything
casual.

 

– “Doors Open,” 8 p.m., Ovation.
Here's an amiable little gem, the story of mismatched guys who feel
so cheated that they'll try a daring art theft. Stephen Fry – Hugh
Laurie's comedy partner in their early years – produced it though
his company and co-stars. The result is light, slight and
entertaiing.

– “Joan and Melissa”
season-finale, 9 p.m., WE. Joan Rivers' staff-appreciation party –
aboard a yacht, no less – has problems. Also, Melissa's boyfriend
is visiting … just as she fears she may be pregnant.

– “Body of Proof,” 10 p.m., ABC.
In the rerun of a fairly good episode, Henry Ian Cusick (“Lost”)
plays a grief counselor. When he seems close to too many murders,
Megan becomes suspicious.

– “Life With LaToya,” 10:30 p.m.,
Oprah Winfrey Network. LaToya Jackson, 56, starts a reality show. We
soon learn she's “very grand” and “a germophone”. And she
made a childhold pact with her brother Michael and friend Kathy (now
Kathy Hilton) to each name a child Paris. The others did; she had to
settle for having Paris the dog.

TV column for Friday, April 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Happy Endings,”
8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

This starts with a hilarious sight gag
– a pinata party gone bad – before getting to its plot: On
couples game night, the hyper-competitive Jane and Brad face Penny
and her fiancee, plus Max and a sort of random stalker. There are big
laughs, followed by a key plot change.

The second episode has Penny's reaction
as she creates the theater event, “Black Plague: A Love Story.”
That's moderately funny – but the final scenes are hilarious …
which is how this hour starts.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Live From
Lincoln Center” and “Michael Feinstein's American Songbook,” 9
and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

First, Josh Groban has an intimate
concert, mixing his older songs with ones from the current “All
That Echoes” – his third album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard
chart and seventh in the top 10.

Then Feinstein visits radio, both new
(his own NPR show) and old. With old film footage, he avoids our
expectations. It's Martha Raye as a gifted jazz singer, not a
comedian. And Cole Porter's “Don't Fence Me In” sung by Bing
Crosby, not Roy Rogers. And Rose Marie, long before “The Dick Van
Dyke Show,” as a 4-year-old radio superstar; she reminisces about
that, 85 years later,

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Spartacus”
finale, “Da Vinci's Demons” debut, 9 and 10 p.m., Starz.

One series concludes and another
starts, each with an epic, international story. Each is beautifully
crafted and richly overstated; then come the differences.

“Spartacus” is tied to the
real-life limits of its character and his slave rebellion. It manages
to be honest about that, while offering smidgens of hope.

Leonard da Vinci, by comparison, brings
few limits. “Demons” takes legends about him as an inventor,
dreamer, swordsman and lover, then expands them to the max. It
surrounds him with nasty schemers, gorgeous settings and beautiful
women. Except for some excess brutality, this is a strong start.

Other choices include:

– “Kitchen Nightmares,” 8-10
p.m., Fox. Gordon Ramsay needs two hours to straighten things out. At
Boston's La Galleria 33, he feels, the recipes are tasteless and the
two sisters who run it have a hostile attitude toward their workers
and their customers.

– “Fashion Star,” 8 p.m., NBC.
This time, the store people aren't just sitting on a panel making
bids; they have one-on-one consultations with the designers.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. Disney
reruns “Toy Story” (1995), an animated gem. Hallmark has “Hachi:
A Dog's Tale” (2008), a Japanese film about a man and his dog;
Lasse Hallstrom (who has two Oscar nominations as director), showed
his usual subtle skill. Based on a true story, this is quietly
moving.

– “Grimm,” 9 p.m., NBC. Jaime Ray
Newman – now a “Red Widow” co-star – has her third guest shot
as Angelina. This time, she has bad news for Monroe, who then needs
Hank's protection.

– “Vegas,” 9 p.m., CBS. Last
week, Yvonne landed a music audition and the sheriff's son lost his
brief-but-hot romance with a starlet. Tonight, those two arrive in
Los Angeles.

– “Blood Brothers,” 10 p.m., CBS.
It's a husband-vs.-wife conflict: Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) wants to
interview a key witness who's hospitalized; Linda won't let him until
after surgery.