TV column for Saturday, Sept. 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Dmitri Martin:
Standup Comedian,” 10 p.m., Comedy Central.

One of the best new stand-up comics in
years, Dmitri Martin can do it all.

He offers terse lines – “I wonder
if it's rude for a deaf person to talk with food in hands” –
criticizes signs (he used to think “wet floor” was a command) and
makes clever new ones for bulletin boards.

He strums the guitar, doodles and
analyzes customs. Why, for instance, must we yell “surprise” at a
surprise party. “I come home and people emerge from my furniture, I
don't have to be told how to feel.”

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

Mick Jagger does it all in this rerun.
He hosts, is the music guest and does an “SNL Digital Short” song
with Beck, Arcade Fire and the Foo Fighters; he's also in many of the
sketches, playing an economist, a karaoke novice and Steven Tyler
doing commercials.

Still, the focus at the beginning and
end is on Kristen Wiig, in her last night as an “SNL” regular.”

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE: “Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles” debut, 11 a.m. to noon, Nickelodeon.

Back in 1987, this cartoon became a hit
with its odd blend of action and humor. Now, 25 years later, it's
back; the title song – like everything else in the show (and in
life) – is done at a turbo pace.

This “Turtles” offers a lot of the
back story, plus a mixture of noisy action, clever moments and sheer
silliness. Many kids will like most of it; their parents will find
some redeeming moments.

Other choices include:

--”Homeland,” noon to 12:30 a.m.,
Showtime. When this show swept the top drama Emmys, many viewers had
never seen it. Here's the entire first season, on the eve of the
second season's opener.

– “Vegas,” 8 p.m., CBS. In 1960
Las Vegas, this series says, there were corrupt cops, marauding
bikers and scheming mobsters trying. Into this swirl came Ralph Lamb,
a rancher-turned-sheriff. He's a real guy, played with perpetual
scowl by Dennis Quaid; tonight brings a rerun of Tuesday's so-so
pilot film.

– “Revolution,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Before he can rescue his brother, Miles needs help. He searches for
Nora (Daniella Alonso), who's been fighting the militia.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. This rerun of Wednesday's episode finds
people scrambling to clear Capt. Cragen of a murder charge. There are
some neat plot twists, plus rich guest roles for Dean Winters, Paget
Brewster, Peter Jacobson and more.

– “Elementary,” 9 p.m., CBS. This
rerun of Thursday's debut finds Sherlock Holmes as a transplanted
Englishman in modern New York City; he's a recovering alcoholic, with
a former doctor (Watson, played by Lucy Liu) watching him. The story
is so-so, but these two characters are terrific.

– “Lake Placid: The Final
Adventure,” 9-11 p.m., Syfy. A bus driver – who really should
have paid more attention – inadvertently takes teens into a
restricted area filled with killer crocodiles. That's the start of a
reasonably well-made horror film, with Yancy Butler as tough-talking
Reba.

– “Doctor Who,” 9 p.m., BBC
America. For two years and 35 episode, Karen Gillan has been a
terrific co-star. Here's her final episode. New York's statues come
to life, as she scrambles to save her husband.

TV column for Friday, Sept. 28


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Fringe”
season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox.

For science-fiction fans, this is ideal
– a smart story, compelling visuals, deep emotion, lots of good
actors and (in John Noble) one great one.

As “Fringe”starts its final 13
episodes, Peter and his dad (Noble) have been unfrozen in the year
2036. They scramble to find and thaw Olivia, in a grim world ruled by
the Observers.

And yes,there's hope: Etta – with all
the heroic traits of her parents, Peter and Olivia – is grown now
and a resistance fighter. She brings fresh spark to a great show's
final year.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Made in Jersey”
debut, 9 p.m., CBS.

Reality shows savor the sass and flash
of New Jersey women. Now here's a fictional version.

Martina Garretti has bright clothes,
big hair, a quick mouth and a family that is large, loud and loving.
She also has a law degree; a sudden break gets her noticed at a
classy, New York firm.

Janet Montgomery, who played the young
thief in “Human Target,” is terrific, but she has a tough task.
Tonight's legal story is so-so and some characters – especially one
upscale female lawyer – are cliches.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Haven,” 10
p.m., Syfy.

In last week's season-opener, Audrey
barely escaped a killer and the town barely escaped extinction. Then
she learned that the Colorado Kid may not be dead after all; his
coffin is empty.

Now all of that is set aside for a
normal day – or as close to normal as Haven gets. Some men roaming
the town happen to be excitable, animal-like and naked; police
disapprove, in a fairly good episode.

Other choices include:

– “Grimm,: 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. First
is a rerun, with a mysterious illness advancing. Then a new episode
finds a robbery in a Wesen church; Nick asks Monroe to go undercover.

– “CSI: NY” season-opener, 8
p.m., CBS. A fire chief has been killed in a blaze. The victim was a
friend of Mac's and this looks like the work of an arsonist (Rob
Morrow) who's out on bail.

– “In Time” (2011), 8 p.m., HBO.
In some future world, people carry meters that tell how much time
they have left. There are good ideas here, but some of it is
heavy-handed.

– ”The Cliburn: 50 Years of Gold,”
9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Back in 1962, Fort Worth created
the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, a major event every
four years. This documentary interviews all of the winners and
Cliburn, the event's namesake.

– “Boss,” 9 p.m.,Starz. While
Chicago seethed in reaction to his mass-eviction plan, Mayor Kane was
gone on a secret trip to Canada,getting an experimental treatment for
his neurological disorder. Now he's back and better, but surrounded
by trouble. His wife learns of his obsession with a young assistant.

– “Blue Bloods” season-opener, 10
p.m., CBS. A fierce criminal (Michael Madsen) has kidnapped Jackie ,
to get revenge on her police partner, Danny. Also, Danny's brother
gets a new partner.

TV column for Thursday, Sept. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Last Resort”
debut, 8 p.m., ABC.

On a peaceful day, a submarine gets
orders to fire its nuclear missiles. How much verification should the
captain (Andre Braugher) demand, before killing 4 million Pakistanis
and shattering the world?

So far, you have the tone of the
“Crimson Tide” movie. “Resort” adds corruption in Washington
and intrigue on a tropical island, emerging with the season's best
new show.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Elementary”
debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

The small changes involves moving
Sherlock Holmes to modern times and to New York. Both have been done
before – brilliantly in the case of PBS' “Sherlock.”

The bigger move? Dr. Watson (Lucy Liu)
is actually a former doctor, reduced to keeping an eye on this
recovering drug addict. She's virtually as brilliant and as troubled
as Sherlock (Jonny Miller). Their opening murder case is so-so, but
the lead characters bring great promise.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Scandal,”
10:02, ABC.

The season-opener reveals the good and
bad about this overheated drama.

The good? Blistering dialog and strong
acting, in the high-pressure setting of Washington.

The bad? A show that is often too
clever by half, piling on twists until nothing quite works. We're at
the murder trial of Quinn – who, we've learned, isn't Quinn at all;
she had a clever identity switch, after possibly killing colleagues.
Two other stories are thrown in, but the final minutes are
confounding.

Other choices include:

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. TV's best comedy starts its season with Wolowitz still in space.
Back on Earth, two strong women – his new wife and his mother –
wedge him into an argument.

– “SNL Primetime Election Special,”
8 p.m., NBC. Four years ago, a Palin-fueled election gave “SNL”
endless material. This year, there's less inspiration: Last week's OK
opener ended up spending more time with “Drunk Uncle” than it did
with politics; fortunately, Uncle was quite funny.

– “Up All Night,” 8:30, NBC.
Everything changed when Ava's show was canceled. Now Reagan adjusts
to life as an at-home mom; Ava meets the former accompanist whose
life she may have ruined.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. After his nine years of great work on this show (winning
only one supporting-actor Emmy), it was good to see Jon Cryer
nominated and winning as best actor. Tonight, however, the focus is
on Walden (Ashton Kutcher), planning a surprise for Zoey.

– “The Office,”9 p.m., NBC. Pam
and Jim go to the wedding of her former fiance Roy. Then Roy's toast
causes her to re-examine her relationship with him.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Last season, a plane crash left Mark and Arizona near death, with
others injured. Now we jump ahead three month, with Derek barely
cleared to perform surgery.

– “Farm Kings” debut, 9 p.m.,
GAC. The King kids seem made for TV. There are 10 of them (nine
brothers, one sister); most are telegenic and muscular, many are
likable. This OK reality show watches them struggle to continue the
family farm, bought by the three eldest boys after their parents
divorced.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Modern Family”
season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC.

On his 55th birthday, Jay
wants no surprises. Don't bet on that: One surprise almost drowns
him; another is that his wife is pregnant.

Meanwhile, Haley has a hangover and a
suggestion that her teen boyfriend should move in. And Mitchell –
who won't be adopting a second baby after all – reacts to the giant
stuffed animals already sent by gay friends: “Our community hasn't
learned to modulate baby gifts.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY: “Neighbors”
debut, 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Half the world will dismiss this as too
silly, too strange; the other half will consider it hilarious.

Outer-space aliens have filled a gated
community. When an Earthling family moves in, the aliens try
(ineptly) to seem like us. The result is a little like the “Saturday
Night Live” Coneheads and a lot like British humor at its dryest
and most Python-esque. With luck, you'll be in the lucky half.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Law &
Order: Special Victims Unit,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

TV people often wake up next to naked
corpse. That happened to Skinner on “X-Files,” Falco on “Law &
Order” and others. And at the end of last week's episode, it
happened to Capt. Cragen (Dann Florek).

His colleagues try to prove he was set
up, as part of the deadly battle between escort services. What
follows is an involving two-hour story, with key guest stars playing
an assistant district attorney (Paget Brewster), the interim captain
(Adam Baldwin), an escort schemer (Peter Jacobson of “House”) and
an undercover cop (Dean Winters, who is Mayhem in insurance
commercials).

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II: Key &
Peele season-opener, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central.

Like most sketch-comedy shows, this is
erratic. Like some of them, it has great moments.

The opener, a sight gag with operatic
music, is weak, but better bits follows. Most – from a lost Obama
college video to Jesus rescuing Mary Magdalene from a pimp – are
beautifully acted and filmed.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle” season-opener, 8-9
p.m., ABC. How did the Hecks spend their summer vacation? Well,
Frankie spent much of it asking the kids who is their favorite
parent. Axl tried to make up a failed English class, Brick tried to
grow a tomato and Sue wanted a scrapbook of projects with her dad.

– “Animal Practice,” 8 p.m., NBC.
George – great with animals, bad with people – gets a tough one:
A neglectful dad has dumped his son at the hospital, with his gravely
ill dog.

– “Guys With Kids,” 8:30 p.m.,
NBC. Chris introduces his new girlfriend, played by Eva Amurri
Martino (Susan Sarandon's daughter). It turns out that she and Nick
have a past together.

– “Criminal Minds” season-opener,
9 p.m., CBS. Paget Brewster – guesting tonight on “SVU” –
has left this series and Jeanne Tripplehorn steps in. She arrives as
the team tracks an escapee in Texas.

– “CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Russell's granddaghter is
missing.

– “Top Chef Masters” finale, 10
p.m., Bravo. This started with a dozen pros and is now down to two
executive chefs – Chris Cosentino of San Francisco and Kerry
Heffernan of New York City.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Mindy
Project” debut, 9:30 p.m, Fox.

People with roots in India have often
been consigned to tidy little corners of the TV universe. They've
been doctors and scientists, competent but dull.

Not any more. As writer, producer and
star of one of the year's best new comedies, Mindy Kalin gives
herself a flawed character in a neatly tattered life. Addicted to
movie romances, this Mindy is a gynecologist, reduced to failed
romances, impersonal sex and bad (but very funny) behavior.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: :Ben and Kate”
debut, 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Growing up in a troubled family, Ben
(Nate Faxon) protected his little sister Kate (Dakota Johnson).Then
she became pregnant, responsible and employed; he didn't.

Now she figures she's met the right guy
– just as he blows into town to complicate things.

Johnson – daughter of Don Johnson
and Melanie Griffith, granddaughter of Tippi Hedren – is terrific.
Maggie Jones (“We Bought a Zoo”) is great as her daughter; a
make-up scene is random and hilarious.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Money and
Medicine,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Americans are No.1 in health spending,
this strong documentary says, but near the bottom in health.

Too often, it says, well-meaning
doctors order unnecessary tests. The results worry patients into
unneeded procedures; the results can do more harm than good.

Then there are the end-of-life
expenses. We see doctors carefully explaining that an elderly patient
can't be saved … and family members insisting on continuing with
the hugely expensive efforts.

Other choices include:

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. As last
season ended, Harper Dearing's bomb ripped through headquarters. Now
the team, shattered physically and emotionally, searches for Dearing
(Richard Schiff).

– “New Girl,” 8 and 9 p.m, Fox.
The good news is that Fox finally has a line-up of four funny
situation comedies. (“Raising Hope” returns next week.) The bad
is that this season-opener is a downer, as Jess gets bad news. There
are great moments – catch her “Sexy Girl” dance – amid
surprising despair.

--”Frontline,” 9-11p.m., PBS. Once
known as a “drop-out factory,” a Houston high school tries to
turn things around. This documentary spent a semester with four
students: One's father was deported, another's mother is in and out
of prison, a third has a baby and (sometimes) no home. A fourth
clings to football, as his only reason to stay in school.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9:01 p.m.,
CBS. Last season ended with Callen shooting the Chameleon in public.
Now he's been suspended, Hetty in in forced retirement and the others
have mixed feelings.

– “Vegas” debut, 10 p.m., CBS.
The setting is 1960s Las Vegas, quaking from corruption and the Mob.
Now a cranky rancher becomes the sheriff. This so-so show has Dennis
Quaid – who has somehow turned into Harrison Ford – as Ralph
Lamb, a real-life guy; Michael Chiklis plays a fictional mobster.

– “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Last week ended with Kristina getting grim health news. Now friends
try to comfort her. There's more trouble with Max's new school and
Sarah's new boss (Ray Romano).