TV column for Sunday, Oct. 6



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Homeland,” 9 p.m., Showtime.

Fresh from winning her second straight Emmy, Claire Danes
gives a brilliant performance.


She plays Carrie, once the lone voice saying that Brody –
prisoner-of-war turned politician – was working for terrorists. Now she’s on
the other side … the one person who feels he’s been framed. She’s alone,
intense, crumbling; it’s a huge role, done stunningly well.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.


For 24 straight Halloween seasons, “Simpsons” has aired a
“Treehouse of Horror.” Each has three offbeat stories, with wit and gore. This
one has more gore and less wit, but is still a fun show.


The opening, from movie director Guillermo del Toro, is busy
and messy. Then there’s a witty “Cat in the Hat” take-off (in verse).
Afterward, Bart’s head is stitched alongside Lisa’s – a bad situation for
sibling rivalry -- and Homer is a side-show killer.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Paradise,” 9 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).


After ignoring the setting for decades, TV suddenly has two
series set in department stores. Both are lushly filmed period pieces for “Masterpiece
Classic.”


The strength of “Paradise” is its central character, a
shop-girl who’s smart, innocent and ambitious. The weakness is the owner; he
has all the arrogance of the “Mr. Selfridge” guy, with none of the charm.


The opening story is a weak one about mistaken blame. Still,
any story flaws are redeemed by the beauty of the store and the likability of
its workers.


Other choices include:


“Miley: The Movement,” 8 p.m., MTV. On the night after Miley
Cyrus’ “Saturday Night Live” gig, MTV expands its hour-long documentary to 90
minutes.


“Jerseylicious” season-opener, 8 p.m., Style. The stylists
leave their salon and party on the Jersey shore.


“Drop Dead Diva” return, 9 p.m., Lifetime. A fresh,
five-week stretch starts with both the law firm and Jane’s personal life wobbling.
The story that follows strains believability, but does offer some good moments
involving Jane’s friends, Stacy and Owen.


“Big Rich Texas” season-opener, 9 p.m., Style. For three
seasons, viewers have shown Whitley Whatley and her socialite mother Bonnie.
Now these six episodes follow Whitley’s pregnancy.


“Boardwalk Empire,” 9 p.m., HBO. There are dark turns for
both Eddie and Gillian. It’s a morose hour that also has one epic moment, with Al
Capone’s mob trying an election-day confrontation.


“The Good Wife,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. Alicia and Cary are suing
the NSA for spying on a client … unaware that the agency may also be spying on
them.


“Masters of Sex,” 10 p.m., Showtime. Dr. Masters’ sex study
is forced out of the hospital and into a brothel … just as he’s trying to dump
Virginia Johnson, who provided a much-needed human touch. It’s an OK episode,
but lacks the fun of the opener.


“The Mentalist,” 10:30 p.m., CBS. As the team probes four
Red John suspects, Patrick Jane comes up with an important clue about his
methods.


“Hello, Ladies,” 10:30 p.m., HBO. The second episode finds
Stephen with a limo and Jessica with dreams of brainy discussions with her
actress friends. Like the first, it alternates between clever and just sad.


TV column for Saturday, Oct.5



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

 In her previous “SNL” stops, Miley Cyrus has gone along politely.
She sang a ballad; she took part (playing Justin Bieber) in one of the “Miley
Cyrus Show” sketches that depict Cyrus as an airhead.


But that was a different Miley. Now, at 20, she’s frisky and
controversial; doubling as host and music guest, she should provide a boost to
a show that got its season off to a good start last week.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Ali’s Greatest Fight,” 8 p.m., HBO.


In 1971, this film says, Justice John Harlan’s world was
crumbling. At 71, he was dying of cancer and his wife was losing her memory. A
Republican appointee and a former Air Force colonel, he felt divided about the court
decision to deny conscientious-objector status to Muhammad Ali.


In many ways, this is a superb drama. It has high stakes,
rich dialog and an awesome cast, led by Christopher Plummet as Harlan, Frank
Langella as Warren Burger and (briefly) Danny Glover as Thurgood Marshall,
beautifully adding clips from Ali.


And in one way, it’s a disappointment. It spends much of its
time on the personal details of law clerk Kevin Connolly, without telling us he’s
pure fiction, partly combining two real-life clerks.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Millers” and “We Are Men,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS.


This is an easy one for CBS. Each of the other big networks
has a college football game; any scripted show on CBS will get an audience.


Alas, that’s tested by rerus of its weakest new comedies.
“Millers” has some funny moments, crushed by bits that reduce two fine old
actors (Beau Bridges, Margo Martindale) to noisy dunderheads. “Men” is filled
with broad – but not terribly funny – moments of guys behaving badly.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: “The White Queen,” 9 p.m., Starz.


Royalty can be fatal for the brilliant Irons men. Friday on
PBS, we saw Jeremy playing Henry IV, dying at 55 after 14 years as England’s
king; tonight, Max (Jeremy’s son) is Edward IV, dying at 40 after 22 years.


Both were of natural causes, at times of fierce in-fighting.
This episode, the eighth of 10, is the darkest hour of this splendid series,
with greedy forces aligning on all sides.


Other choices include:


College football, everywhere. Primetime surrenders to
fooball tonight. At 7 p.m., Fox has Texas Christian at Oklahoma (ranked No. 11
in the ESPN poll); at 8, ABC has Ohio State (ranked No. 4) at Northwestern (No.
16). In between at 7:30, Arizona State and Notre Dame play at a neutral site in
Arlington, Texas … allowing NBC to again use the fancy end-zone camera set-up
it tried earlier at a Cowboys game


Person of Interest, 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from last spring,
the machine suddenly spits out six names instead of one. Soon, Reese and Finch
are in a coastal town, riding out a storm and fearing everyone.


“Hell on Wheels,” 9 p.m., AMC. The season finale of this
strong drama finds Elam trying a rescue and Durant visited by President Grant.


48 Hours, 10 p.m., CBS. Singapore police said Shane Todd had
killed himself. Back in Montana, however, family members refused to accept
that. He was, they said, a brilliant engineer who was murdered for refusing to
give up secrets that would hurt the U.S.; Peter Van Sant reports.


“Orphan Black,” 10 p.m., BBC America. Sarah may know who the
killer is, but pursuing the matter could scuttle her chance to be with her
daughter.


TV column for Friday, Oct. 4



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

In this Hawaiian setting, you really don’t see that many
guys with cowboy hats and rodeo belt-buckles. That’s what you get tonight, when
a Texas Ranger (Tim Daly) arrives in search of his daughter.


McGarrett’s te(TV column for Friday, Oct. 4)


am works with him, when the case interlocks with its own murder
prove. Meanwhile, its friends are in trouble: With their hiding place located,
Kono and Adam scramble to remain free.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “The Michael J. Fox Show” and “Sean
Saves the World,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.


Overwhelmed by the competition on CBS, these comedies have
trouble finding an audience. Now each gets a rerun; they’re energetic shows,
pumped with an interesting set of supporting characters.


For “Sean” that’s important, because star Sean Hayes’ exaggerated
style can wear thin. Here, it’s neatly balanced by his unflinching boss (Thomas
Lennon) and mom (Linda Lavin).


For Fox’s show, it’s a bonus. The star alone would hold our
attention; now he has Betsy Brandt (fresh from “Breaking Bad”) as his wife.
Tonight, they find the real reason their teen likes her art class.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).


By all logic, this “Henry IV, Part 2” should be great drama.
Two brilliant actors – Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston – star in a richly
filmed version of Shakespeare’s father-and-son tale.


The problem, however, is Shakespeare’s obsession with Sir
John Falstaff – blustery and broke, full of ale and food and groundless pride.
A good character in small bites, he virtually consumes the play. He’s
wonderfully played by Simon Beale, but still the definition of too much of a
good thing.


Other choices include:


“MasterChef Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. First, the 12 young
finalists get their first crack at using only the “mystery box” ingredients.
Then they’re given one hour to make a restaurant-quality burger.


“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Mike goes undercover, to
see what’s hurting productivity on the loading dock. Meanwhile, his wife Vanessa
frets that their daughter is missing college fun, because of her back-home boyfriend.
The solution might be to pledge Vanessa’s old sorority.


“The Neighbors,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Now that her father-in-law
has quit supporting them, Jackie has a restaurant job without telling her
husband. The trouble starts when she invites her boss to dinner.


“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. We used to think the Sandman
was a force for good, giving us a cozy night’s sleep. In this rerun, however,
he’s inhabiting dreams, turning them into nightmares.


“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m,. CBS. Here’s a story that many police
shows turn to0 – a movie star shadowing a cops … then getting involved. In this
case, he’s stabbed and Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) comes to his aid.


“Strike Back.” 10 p.m., Cinemax. Last week the team raced to
Russia in search of a mass weapon; then everything went wrong. Now one of the
guys has been infected with small pox and the other is on the run, hand-cuffed
to an angry (and, of course, beautiful) Russian. There’s fierce action,
spirited sex and then an emotional jolt.


“Haven,” 10 p.m., Syfy. The season started with Audrey
disappearing and a lookalike being found. Now Duke and Jennifer (Emily Lahana,
a fun addition to the show) search for her.


TV column for Thursday, Oct. 3



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Welcome to the Family” debut, 8:30
p.m., NBC.

It’s high-school graduation day, bringing opposite
reactions. The Yoders’ daughter barely got through; the Hernandezes’ son is valedictorian,
ready for greatness. Then a pregnancy changes everything.


Of NBC’s four Thursday comedies, this is the lowest-profile –
and the best. It has sharp writing and perfect performances, especially from Mike
O’Malley and Ricardo Chavira as the dueling dads.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox.


Next week, “Glee” has the episode marking the death of Finn
and Cory Monteith, who played him.


For now, however, there’s still fun. This is the second episodes
featuring Beatles music. Also, Tina is up for prom queen; in New York, Rachel and
Santana are working in a Broadway diner.


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


TV shows are usually careful to have an “entry point” – a likable
character amid the chaos. “Vampire Diaries” – which has its season-opener at 8
p.m. -- did that; its spin-off doesn’t.


Klaus is brutal and bitter. He returns to New Orleans, the
city he helped build, where his brother and sister are equally cold and his
ex-friend Marcel is fierce. The show uses its setting beautifully and gradually
adds a couple decent folks, but it takes way too long.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: “Sean Saves the World” debut, 9 p.m.,
NBC.


In a show starring and co-produced by Sean Hayes, the only weak
element is … well, Sean Hayes.


His shtick, which worked in support on “Will and Grace,”
wears thin when he’s the centerpiece, as the gay dad whose teen daughter (from
a long-ago marriage) has moved in. Fortunately, the supporting characters –
played by Thomas Lennon, Linda Lavin, Megan Hilty and Sami Isler -- are much
better.


Other choices include:


“The X Factor,” 8 p.m., Fox. Here’s the second of four sessions
that will choose the top 16.


“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Raj designs a scavenger
hunt that requires scientific knowledge and street smarts. His friends are much
better at one than the other.


“The Millers” debut, 8:31 p.m., CBS. Nathan hasn’t told his
parents that he and his wife separated. They’ll learn during a surprise visit;
they’ll also fight and fuss and maybe end their own marriage. Some moments are
funny, but others are just loud and crude and cringe-worthy.


“Grey’s Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC. Arizona tries to repair her
marriage. Derek and Meredith, by comparison, are doing fine with their marriage
and baby … but miss work.


“The Crazy Ones,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. After last week’s terrific
debut, we see the ad agency chief (Robin Williams) puts his partner/daughter
(Sarah Michelle Gellar) in charge of a Windy City Coffee campaign.


“Two and a Half Men,” 9:31 p.m., CBS. Last week, the show
got a great boost from Amber Tamblyn as Charlie’s zestful daughter. Tonight,
she moves in with her reluctant grandma.


“Scandal,” 10 p.m., ABC. As the season starts, the public
now knows that Olivia is the president’s mistress. Also, her father has become
a factor.


“Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC. Last week’s terrific pilot ended
with a surprise – young Amber accepting a proposal when her boyfriend returned
from military duty. Now come the reactions.


TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 2



TONIGHT’S MUST-TRY: “Ironside” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.


In the first version of this series, Robert Ironside
(Raymond Burr) fit the prevailing image of a paraplegic. He caught crooks, but needed
a full-time aide and two nearby cops.


Now, 46 years later, he’s the toughest guy in town. He has
cops working for him, played by Spencer Grammer (Kelsey’s daughter), the superb
Brent Sexton (“The Killing”) and Pablo Schreiber (fresh from terrorizing Benson
on (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”); still, he seems ready to end
crime alone.


Many critics hate this show’s over-the top approach and its
police brutality. We agree with the second part, but admire the fierce
intensity and Blair Underwood’s blistering performance.


TONIGHT’S MISMATCH: “Modern Family” and “Super Fun Night,” 9
and 9:31 p.m., ABC.


First is the show that has won the best-comedy Emmy every
year; it’s clever, classy, restrained. Then comes the debut of a show that is
none of those things.


Kimmie (Rebel Wilson) has a dreary law job, two friends, a
weekly fun night and little else. Then comes the vague possibility of romance;
she brightens … then flops thoroughly.


Sure, it’s fun to laugh at proud, pompous people who fail.
But Kimmie is merely a well-meaning person who seems beyond hope. We can’t
laugh with her and feel awful about laughing at her.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC; “Top Chef,” 10 p.m., Bravo.


First, we see Cybill Shepherd as a celebrity chef charged
with murder. After a string of rapes in upper-income New York, she shoots a
young man, then gets a strong lawyer (Jeffrey Tambor).


Then … well, real-life people are trying to become celebrity
chefs, as usual. This edition, the 11
th, uses its New Orleans
setting for rich backdrops.


Other choices include:


“Rango” (2011), 7:30 p.m., FXX; or “Madagascar 3” (2012),
7:45 p.m., HBO; or “Wreck-It Ralph” (2012), 8:10 p.m., Starz. Choose between
three immensely popular animated films.


“The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. Early in the auditions, judges
kept changing their minds about which category they were hoping to mentor.
Tonight, that gets settled.


“Revolution,” 8 p.m., NBC. Last week’s season-opener ended
bizarrely, with Zak killed – or maybe not -- and Miles captured. Now Rachel and
her dad (a doctor) try to revive Za.


“The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. The first day of school brings
fear to Brick and Joy to Sue – who can finally enjoy high school without Axl
overshadowing her.


“Back in the Game,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Terry (Maggie Lawson)
scrambles to find a job, so she and her son can move out of her dad’s house.
Meanwhile, that dad (James Caan) has offbeat coaching methods.


“Sixteen Candles” (1984), 9-11 p.m., ABC Family. This is the
movie that ignited John Hughes’ brief-but-important career as a movie director.
He would direct only seven more, peaking quickly with “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris
Bueller.” For a few years, he showed a deft touch with teens in transition.


“The Bridge,” 10 p.m., FX. This excellent series began three
months ago with a body in the middle of the bridge between El Paso and Juarez.
That created the uncomfortable partnership of an American and Mexican cop. Now,
in the season finale, they race to rescue a girl.