TV column for Saturday, May 17

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


It’s been a so-so season for “SNL,” especially since Seth
Meyers left. Still, the show perks up whenever a good host (Louis CK, Lena
Dunham) hosts; we have high expectations for Andy Samberg.

When he joined “SNL: in 2005, Samberg brought along two
friends who worked off-camera. Together, they created many of the best “SNL
digital shorts”; now that he’s back to host (with St. Vincent as music guest),
we’re expecting the season to end with a much-needed injection of wit.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Spider-Man 2.1,” 8-11 p.m., ABC.

A lot of different Spider-men (some animated, some not) have
swung through our pop culture. The newest version – starring Andrew Garfield,
directed by the appropriately named Marc Webb – reached theaters two weeks ago;
here’s a reminder that the previous incarnation was splendid.

Tobey Maguire stars, with Kirsten Dunst as his love
interest. Sam Raimi (who added eight minutes to this version) directed, working
with top talent: Alvin Sargent, a two-time Oscar-winner (for “Julia” and “Ordinary
People”) wrote the screenplay; Alfred Molina, a three-time Tony-nominee, plays Dr.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Da Vinci’s Demons,” 9 p.m., Starz.

Last week’s terrific episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.) saw
Leonardo da Vinci barely escape from South America with his friends and one
enemy (the evil Riario). Now he’s back in Florence, which is in limbo.

Prince Lorenzo is still gone, desperately negotiating with
King Ferrante. Duke Federico is ruling Florence sternly. And Riario is actually
trying to reform.

Other choices include:

“The Breakfast Club” (1985) and “Grease” (1978), 7 and 9
p.m., ABC Family. These popular youth films happen to be opposites. “Club” has
a smart story, skillfully underplayed, about teen angst. “Grease” has a ditzy
story, but vibrant songs written in the style of 1950s pop.

“Kitchen Nightmares,” 8 p.m., Fox. In a change, Fox inserts
a rerun of the show’s return to Amy’s Baking Company, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“2 Broke Girls,” 8 p.m., CBS. In another change, we get this
rerun: With their business hurt by the “cronut” (croissant doughnut) fad, Max
counters with fried cake.

“Friends with Better Lives,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. This rerun
finds Will (James Van Der Beek) returning to the dating world and trying to
seem adventurous by “sexting.” Also, control-freak Kate learns that the other
women are planning Jules’ wedding without her.

“The Following,” 9 p.m., Fox. Here’s a rerun of the
season-finale. Ryan and serial-killer Joe Carroll reluctantly work together, to
battle Mark and Luke.

“Orphan Black,” 9 p.m., BBC America. Rachel and Sarah – both
played brilliantly by Tatiana Maslany, as are the other clones – are battling
each other. Now Sarah scrambles to protect her daughter and others.

“In the Flesh,” 10 p.m., BBC America. Kieren had hoped to
leave his little town and start a new life. That may not be possible, now that
an anti-zombie politician has imposed new travel restrictions.

TV column for Friday, May 16

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Barbara Walters: Her Story,” 9-11 p.m.,

Back when she was a “Today” writer, Walters said in her
autobiography, “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt told her frankly: “You don’t
have the right looks …. Forget about being in front of the camera.”

Soon her popularity soared with her on-air reports. She
became a regular, then network TV’s first female morning-show host in 1974 and its
first female news anchor in ’76. Now she’s retiring at 83; she will do her
final “The View” (which she co-created) this morning, then be the center of an
evening of memories.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “24,” 8 p.m., Fox.

At first, Jack Bauer’s mission seemed straight-forward: A
techno-villain’s device could control the American drones, launching chaos,
assassination and world war; find the guy and seize the device.

Except someone else did it first; now she’s bringing the
device to her mother, a terrorist. Jack pursues them while a smart CIA agent (Yvonne
Strahovski) chases him. This is a rerun of the tautly crafted third hour; catch
it tonight, because there are nine new Monday hours to go, spicing our summertime.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “American Masters,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

George Plimpton was a Harvard and Cambridge man with
old-money roots. He edited the Paris Review and knew the greats. Hemingway
praised him; others -- Mailer, Roth, Ginsberg, etc. – partied with him.

Still, he was better known for doing commercials, hosting
“Mousterpiece Theatre” and writing light pieces about becoming a temporary goalie
or trapeze artist or such. His “Paper Lion” (with the skinny intellectual
playing pro quarterback) became a movie. Here’s a fascinating look at an odd
and zestful life.

Other choices include:

“Shark Tank” season-finale, 8 p.m., ABC. Kaeya Majmundar
grew up near Chicago, with big expectations; she was supposed to be a doctor,
like both parents. Instead, she won the national college prize for entrepreneurs.
Now this sophomore takes her notion – boxes that instantly go from flat to
ready – to the investors. Her session wraps up the hour, giving the season an
emotional finish.

“Hawaii Five-0,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, McGarrett probes a
murder while watching the newly adopted baby of his sister (Taryn Manning).

“Whose Line is It Anyway?” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CW. A new
episode has Jack Osbourne, followed by a rerun with Keegan-Michael Key.

“Hart of Dixie” season-finale, 9 p.m., CW. Wade faces a
decision. Also, Grandma Bettie urges Lemon to get serious about finding a guy.

“Blue Bloods,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. The first rerun has
family tangles. Danny negotiates when his sister is one of the hostages; their
brother violates orders, forcing their dad (the police commissioner) to decide
the punishment. In the second, Danny probes a subway death and his dad meets
the inspector general.

“Grimm” season-finale, 9 p.m., NBC. The Monroe-Rosalee
wedding day brings trouble for everyone else.

“Hannibal,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Will hesitates to help
Hannibal, whose life is threatened.

TV column for Thursday, May 15

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang Theory” season-finale, 8
p.m., CBS.

Last week brought a jolt to TV’s best comedy: After twice
turning down Leonard’s proposals, Penny – bitter about a job gone bad –
proposed to him; he said yes … and was carrying an engagement ring.

Now they have to break the news to Sheldon – who really
doesn’t like anything to change. Also, Raj has fresh hopes with Emily; Howard
and Bernadette try to deal with his mom’s injury.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Carbonaro Effect” debut, 10 and
10:30 p.m., TruTV.

At a post office, a clerk opens a long, flat box … and takes
out a bowling ball, round and firm. He opens another box and finds a birthday
cake … with the candles still lit. And he demonstrates a new “portal” delivery
service that defies the rules of time and space.

Welcome to a fresh, funny take on hidden-camera shows. It
works partly because Michael Carbonaro, 32, is so good at sleight-of-hand and
at improvising. His calm “explanations” – even as a chick hatches in a grocery
store’s carton of eggs – add to the fun.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Rosemary’s Baby” conclusion, 9-11
p.m., NBC.

The first half of this mini-series found a young American
couple despairing in Paris. Rosemary (Zoe Saldana) had a miscarriage; Guy
(Patrick Adams) had writers’ block. Then an older couple dominated their lives.
Guy was promoted (after a competitor’s suicide); he and Rosemary had steamy

That’s where we start tonight. On one hand, this is
beautifully directed by Agnieszka Holland, with superb work from Saldana. On
the other, the plot – fairly straight-ahead, except for a final twist -- worked
better as a 1968 movie; stretching it out to twice that length offers no benefit.

Other choices include:

“Grey’s Anatomy,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. After a rerun of last
week’s episode, we get the season-finale. It really should focus on Cristina;
after 10 years and five Emmy nominations, Sandra Oh is leaving. All of that is
soon scuttled, however, when a crisis (apparently terrorist-driven) hits the

“Vampire Diaries” season-finale, 8 p.m., CW. Elena demands
help from Liv and Luke.

“The Millers” season-finale, 8:31 p.m., CBS. Nathan forgets
to get his mom a Mother’s Day present.

“American Idol,” 9 p.m., Fox. Tonight, we learn who will be
in the finale Tuesday and Wednesday. Expanding back to an hour, “Idol” also has
past-champion Scotty McCreery singing “Feelin’ It.” Then someone – Caleb Johnson,
23, Alex Preston, 21, or Jena Irene, 17 – will be sent home.

“Reign” season-finale, 9 p.m., CW. As the king’s madness
escalates, his son (Francis) and daughter-in-law (Mary) take drastic action.
Another crisis comes as Lola goes into labor with Francis’ baby.

“Two and a Half Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. Here’s a rerun of the
episode that assembled some of the greats from TV’s comedy past. Marty (Carl
Reiner) has proposed to Alan’s mom; now a party assembles his pals, played by
Tim Conway, Steve Lawrence and Garry Marshall.

“Elementary” season-finale, 10:01 p.m., CBS. Sherlock Holmes’
brother is accused of murder and treason. Complicating the investigation is the
growing rift between Holmes and Watson.

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.