TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Last week's episode
was one of the best anywhere this season. A bullied teen took a gun
to school to confront the administrator; she wasn't there, but on the
way out he shot a jock who grabbed him.

This hour is even
better, as we catch the aftermath. There are brief snippets from
real-life people -- teachers from Columbine, kids who were bullied,
the mom of a bullied kid. Alongside that, the story offers quiet
depth and superb performances by Connor Jessup (as the shooter), Lili
Taylor (his mom) and Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman (the coach
and the administrator).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Idol,” Fox.

Viewers finally get
their first votes of the season, as the show nears its top 10.

Last week, judges
trimmed from 24 singers to 14. Now they start by announcing eight who
are already advancing. That leaves six people, pushing for two spots.
Tonight, they sing and viewers vote; on Thursday, we'll have the 10
survivors ... who will promptly sing for another viewer vote.

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

Penguins all seem to
look the same – which is a mixed blessing. It's bad for the baby in
one touching scene; as he tries to find his mom, he keeps guessing
wrong and being rejected.

But for filmmakers,
that sameness was a blessing. They could film an entire Antarctica
colony and imagine that all the key events happened to one baby
(dubbed Snow Chick) and his parents. Narrated by Kate Winslet, the
result finds charm, humor and even warmth amid sub-zero conditions.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Human Face of Big Data,” 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

As masses of data
are scooped up, life in the U.S. is altered. A hospital is quicker to
detect a baby's infection; experts – charting search-engine results
– are quicker to predict a region's flu outbreak.

And this trend
doesn't just involve over-connected Americans. Mobile-phone data has
helped track malaria in Kenya and earthquake victims in Haiti. There
are fascinating stories here ... once this hour gets around to them.
Slickly produced, it spends too much time on interesting (but vague)
generalities.

Other choices
include:

“Furious 7”
(2015), 6:40 p.m., HBO. Action fans have this film, plus “Man of
Steel” (2013) at 7 p.m. on FXX and Brad Pitt plus zombies in “World
War Z” (2013), at 8 on FX. Also at 8 p.m.: the dandy “Ghostbusters”
(1984) on IFC and the Oscar-nominated “Imitation Game” (2014) on
Showtime.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. The first time this tried a “brain-brawn-beauty”
competition, the “brawn” team dominated. It didn't lose anyone
until the fifth week and had the final two. In last week's opener,
however, Darnell Hamilton, a Chicago postal worker on “brawn,”
became the first person ousted.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. After attending a Bar Mitzvah, Brick starts wondering when
he'll become a man. Meanwhile, his sister is trying to learn to flirt
and his brother is living in a Winnebago.

“Brit Awards,”
8:30 p.m. ET, Fuse. The British version of the Grammys has Adele up
for best album, single (“Hello”) and female artist ... where she
faces the late Amy Winehouse, among others. Adele performs, as do
Rihanna, Coldplay, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, James Bay, Jess Glynne
and Little Mix.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. As a storm plunges the area into a blackout, everyone
converges on the one house with a generator. That's Jay's, but he
wants to be out with his friends.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
9 p.m., Fox. For eight editions, Andi Van Willigan was a sous chef on
the show. She's back tonight, as contestants prepare a meal for her
wedding receoption. Van Willigan has been the corporate chef for
Gordon Ramsay's company and a consultant on his “Kitchen
Nightmares” series.

“Nicole &
Jionni's Shore Flip,” 9 p.m., FYI. Nicole Polizzi – known as
Snooki in her wild “Jersey Shore” days – is all grown up now.
Well, she's still 4-foot-8, but now she's 28, married, with two kids;
here, she and her husband (Jionni LaValle) try buying, fixing and
selling a Jersey Shore house.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The People v. O.J. Simpsons,” 10 p.m., FX.

For a while, this
terrific episode suggests, the “dream team” was closer to a
nightmare. Its leader, Robert Shapiro, was self-centered and
self-delusional. Robert Kardashian had little courtroom experience;
F. Lee Bailey had a lot of it, but that was many years (and a
drunk-driving trial) ago.

Into this mix,
however, came Johnnie Cochran. As played by Courtney Vance, he's
bright and passionate. Tonight the defense team transforms ... and
the prosecution realizes it has a problem.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “New Girl,” 8 p.m., Fox.

For the third
straight week, the addition of Megan Fox makes a good show even
better. She plays Reagan, a bisexual beauty who is a temporary
loftmate while Jess (Zooey Deschanel, on maternity leave) is on jury
duty. A strong-minded drug rep, tonight she challenges the guys.

Appalled at the
indeciveness of Nick and Winston, she tells them she'll sleep with
one of them ... if they can decide which one. Meanwhile, Schmidt and
Cece search for a hall for their wedding reception.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Frontline,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

With two hours of
air time, “Frontline” can catch the full scope of the heroin
problem. We meet a guy who shattered his career and his parenting; we
also meet a 20-year-old ex-suburbanite, now six-plus years into her
addiction and using any means – stealing, dealing, sex – to get
$1,000 a week.

Some blame is aimed
at a drug company that promoted OxyContin furiously; in the past 15
years, we're told, deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription
opiods have quintupled. And a possible solution is pondered in
Seattle, where the emphasis is on help – if it's available –
instead of arrests.

Other choices
include:

“American Hustle”
(2013), 7-10 p.m., FX. Four gifted actors drew Oscar nominations in
this bizarre (and fun) tale, based loosely on real life. In 1978, a
con man (Christian Bale) has a shaky wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and a
gifted scam partner (Amy Adams). An FBI guy (Bradley Cooper) pulls
them into what would become the “Abscam” corruption case..

“Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Let others boast about
ancestors who atrived on the Mayflower; Neil Patrick Harris learns of
one who came two years before that ... then survived a massacre and
won the New World's first breach-of-promise case. Also in this
interesting hour, Gloria Steinem learns her grandmother helped a
nephew flee from Nazi Germany and was the first woman elected to the
Toledo school board. Author Sandra Cisneros learns her dad fabricated
a false identiy to get into World War II.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. At the start of the season, Jon Cryer played a quirky surgeon
who saved Gibbs' life. Now he's back, operating on a suspect and
finding a key clue.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. Sonja's childhood friend heads a ring that
manufactures cocaine.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. It's been quite a ride for Liv, who keeps assuming the
personalities of the murder victims she munches. In an early episode,
she was dark and gloomy; now she takes after a relentlessly
optimistic coffee-shop owner.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. As Casey runs for alderman, he faces a rugged
propoganda campaign.

“Limitless,” 10
p.m., CBS. We learn about the dark past of Sands (Colin Salmon), Sen.
Morra's menacing aide. Now he's desperate to have Brian help him,
while keeping it secret from Morra.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The X-Files” season-finale, 8 p.m., Fox.

This is the episode
viewers have wondered about for a month. It may settle some of the
issues raised by a conspiracy theorist (Joel McHale) who suddenly
filled Mulder with doubrts.

What if this has
never been about about outer-space aliens? What if mere humans have
been doing all this, through a government-type scheme? Tonight,
forces seem to be causing illnesses worldwide. Scully must look
inward for a solution; Mulder finds that someone from his past may be
involved.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

Will this become
“Jane the Ex-Virgin”? Tonight, she considers changing her status
– but not with Michael (the cop who was her fiance) or Raphael (the
hotel mogul who – due to a clinical error – fathered her baby).
Instead, it would be with the hot teacher.

Here is a key
episode ... but not in ways we expect. Alongside witty moments and
odd touches, several characters reach pivotal points, in a strong
episode of an entertaining series.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Magicians,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

At times, this has
been “Harry Potter” for gloomy grown-ups. Set at a secret college
for people who do real magic, it's been dragged down by the one-note
cynicism of almost every character. That peaks (or bottoms) here with
Julia's desperation, after being rejected by the college AND a rogue
group.

This time, however,
there's something more. During a challenging exam, freshmen must
strip down (literally) and reveal their inner truth. Skilled actors
give their characters moments of real depth.

Other choices
include:

“Suspects,” any
time, www.acorn.tv. Don't expect
all British crime dramas to follow familiar forms. This one has a
documentaryfeel, with actors improvising their dialog as a police
probe builds. You won't always get a happy ending, but you will gind
a story that propels you forward.

“The Bachelor,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. Ben Higgins meets the final four in their home towns
– three big cities and Hudson (Caila's home), a town of 23,000,
near Cleveland and Akron. Elsewhere, he meets Amanda's two daughters,
Lauren B's doubting sister and Jo Jo's ex-boyfriend.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CBS. Cat adds a second intern – played by Italia Ricci, who
starred in the “Chasing Life” cable series – who tries to top
Kara in everything. Kara has other things to worry about, in her
secret identity of Supergirl; now she battles the Master Jailer.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. Penn Jillette returns as the “couples counselor”
working with colleagues Walter and Harry ... who also must find a way
to stop drugs from being smuggled via drones.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. Fascinated by a fashion-show shooting, Lucifer wants to
get involved.

“Castle,” 10
p.m., ABC. This rarely happens to most people: Castle is kidnapped
and forced to work deranged puzzles.

“Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The winner of a Special
Jury Prize at the Sundance festival, this documentary follows a
63-year-old former black revolutionary, working undercover in
Pittsburgh to probe a convert to Muslim. Then complications and
ethical questions arise.

 

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Disneyland at 60,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

On a hot July day in
1955, Disneyland opened, transforming the notion of a family
vacation. Now (seven months tardy), the anniversary is celebrated
with lots of new people singing old songs.

Derek Hough hosts
and does a “Mary Poppins” tune with Dick Van Dyke; also, Elton
John sings “Circle of Life” (which he co-wrote) and Tori Kelly
sings “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog. Then there's
Ne-Yo, Little Big Town, Pentatonix, Jessie J., Fall Out Boy and
Kelsea Ballerini – plus one modern Disney hit, Idina Menzel singing
“Let It Go.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

When it comes to
making TV comedies in front of an audience, James Burrows is clearly
the best. The son of Broadway writer Abe Burrows (“Guys and Dolls,”
“Can-Can,” etc.), he masters the subtleties of rhythm and timing,
while adding just the right sight gags to get a big pay-off.

Burrows directed
most of the episodes of “Cheers” and “Will & Grace,” many
of the ones of “Taxi” and “Frasier,” plus the pilots of
“Friends,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men” and
more. Now most of the stars of those shows will gather for clips and
laughs and a comedy mega-reunion.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Downton Abbey,” 9-10:15 p.m., PBS.

After tonight,
“Downton” will pause for a week and then have its March 6 finale;
an elegant, six-year tradition will end. For now, viewers wonder if
the earl's daughters will marry ... well, commoners.

Last week, Bertie,
an estate manager, proposed to Edith; she hesitated, unsure about
telling him she has an illegitimate daughter. Mary reluctantly
watched Henry in a car race; when his friend died in a crash, she
broke off the relationship. Now both women reach crucial points. This
is far from a great episode; the stony exteriors of some characters
block out real romance. Still, it's a key night in a great series.

Other choices
include:

“The Simpsons,”
7 and 8 p.m., Fox. A rerun has Lisa becoming a show-biz kid. Then a
new episode has Kate McKinnon (talking) and Natalie Maines (singing)
sharing the role of a homeless woman.

“Madam Secretary,”
8 p.m., CBS. After a shocking event in the U.S., the president sends
Elizabeth to find out how it could have happened.

“The Walking
Dead,” 8 and 9 p.m., AMC. First is a rerun of last week's
season-opener, which had a big start and a spectacular (if hard to
believe) mega-battle finish. Then the new episode finds a scavenger
run become much tougher than expected. That repeats at 12:35 p.m.,
following “Talking Dead” (10:01), a rerun of the subtly clever
“Better Call Saul” opener (11:01) and “Comic Book Men”
(12:05).

“The Good Wife,”
9 p.m., CBS. This well-crafted (and underappreciated) show is
pushing toward its May 8 series finale. Tonight, Alicia joins a
secret panel to advise the government on a controversial case. Also,
Carrie Preston is back as the neatly off-center Elsbeth, with Will
Patton as her ex-husband.

“When Calls the
Heart” season-opener, 9 and 10 p.m., Hallmark. A century ago, a
Canadian town keeps struggling to recover from a mining disaster.
Tonight's episode – slick and pleasant, if a tad shallow – skims
through a troubled preacher, a crooked insurance man, a mournful
orphan and more.

“Vinyl” and
more, 9 p.m., HBO. Last week's spectacular debut saw Richie, on the
verge of selling his recotd label, separately witness a killing and
the collapse of a concert hall. Now comes the aftermath, including
the signing of a punk-rock singer (James Jagger, whose dad Mick
produces the show). That's followed by the season-openers of “Girls”
(Marnie's wedding) and “Togetherness,” at 10 and 10:30.

“Brain Games,” 9
p.m., National Geographic. An interesting hour proves the differing
responses of people who do and don't believe in religion.

“Billions,” 10
p.m., Showtime. Brilliantly written and played, this centers on the
battle of a Wall Street trader (Damian Lewis) and a district attorney
(Paul Giamatti). In a potent scene, they finally negotiate.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 20


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Jeff Gordon's Daytona 500 Kickoff Celebration,” 9 p.m., Fox.

For decades, Gordon
was one of NASCAR's top stars. He won 93 races and four overall
Sprint Cup championships. Telegenic and articulate, he married models
and was a frequent talk-show guest. Now he's retired at 44 and
covering NASCAR for Fox, starting with the Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. ET
Sunday.

Gordon seems fond of
this race; he won it three times and met his first wife there. Now he
hosts a beach-club party that has musicians, drivers and celebrities,
plus Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Rosewood,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Blessed with a great
time slot (leading into “Empire”), “Rosewood” crashed. It was
shelved, then moved to Saturdays, where shows go to die. New episodes
start March 5; first, the pilot film reruns.

As it happens, the
show neatly matches the blue-sky Florida beauty Fox wants in Daytona.
“Rosewood” is set in Miami; our handsome hero (Morris Chestnut)
is a pathologist who zooms around in his yellow convertible, helping
an attractive police detective (Jaina Lee Ortiz). Visually, it's a
gorgeous show; storywise, the whole reluctant-allies stereotype wears
thin almost instantly.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Grammy rerun, 7-11 p.m., Pop.

Here's a true rarity
– an award show so good that it's worth seeing twice. From the
high-octane opener by Taylor Swift, Monday's show captured the
youthful zest of rock, pop and hip hop.

But at times, naked
vocal power – from Adele or (with the passionate “Girl Crush”)
Little Big Town – was enough. And in a rare step, the show zoomed
to Broadway twice – for a number from “Hamilton” and then to
see its brilliant creator (Lin-Manuel Miranda) give an acceptance
speech in rap.

Other choices
include:

“Tarzan” (1999),
11:30 a,m., Freeform. The former ABC Family launches a splendid
marathon of Disney cartoons. There's “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) at
1:30 p.m., “The Princess and the Frog (2009) at 3:30, “Monsters,
Inc.” (2001) at 5:45, “Brave” (2012) at 8 and “Aladdin”
(1992) at 10.

Movies, 7 p.m. and
later, cable. At 7, Hallmark has “Anything for Love,” a clever
film it debuted on Valentine's Day; Sundance has a dandy Tom Cruise
double-feature, with “Top Gun” (1986) at 7 and “A Few Good Men”
(1992) at 9:30. At 7:30, FX has zombies and Brad Pitt, with “World
War Z” (2013). And at 8, IFC offers great fun with “Ghostbusters”
(1984); its sequel (1989) ia at 10:15.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season-opener, Callen is
on a rogue mission and even Sam doesn't know where he is. Hetty
demands that his operation be shut down and be be found.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. A graffiti artist in Detroit is taking things too far,
incorporating body parts into the work. Also, Dr. Lewis (Aisha Tyler)
has trouble finding time for her work and her fiance.

“Doctor Who,” 9
p.m., BBC America. Petronella Osgood, a scientist working for the
UNIT military operation, has been kidnapped. The Doctor, Clara and
UNIT search the galaxy.

“Black Sails,” 9
p.m., Starz. Facing near-certain death, Silver pushes Captain Flint
to take action.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Here's the episode Adam Driver hosted,
shortly after the latest “StarWars” (in which he co-stars) had
made a fortune. It reruns on the eve of the season-opener of “Girls,”
in which he also co-stars.Chris Stapleton, who won two Grammuys on
Monday, co-stars.