TV column for Tuesday, Aug. 19

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “America’s Got Talent,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

At last, the near-eternal preliminaries are wrapping up and
things are getting serious.

Tonight, we see the final batch of 12 acts that survived the
auditions; then viewers vote. On Wednesday, five acts will advance. After each
judge adds a wild-card choice, “Talent” will have its top 24.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Wizard Wars” debut, 10 p.m., Syfy.

Sure, some magicians spend months honing a trick; not these
contestants. Tonight, they’re handed Spam, playing cards and a Super Soaker water
gun … then told to work all of that into an act. The results – boosted by a
backstage magic shop – are quick, clever and entertaining.

The show’s flaw is cheapness; to win $10,000, a duo must win
this round and then beat experienced pros. Still, there’s a stream of great
illusions, including a mid-show moment with Penn and Teller. They’re judges
here and also show up Wednesdays and Fridays on CW, making August a magical

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Paul Newman movies, all day, Turner
Classic Movies.

Newman was a marvel, forever finding the right mixture of
intelligence, intensity, sexiness and mischief. This marathon includes three of
his best-actor Oscar nominations – the brooding “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) at 5:45
p.m. ET, the buoyant “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) at 10 p.m. and
Tennessee Williams’ brilliant “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958) at midnight.

He directed (but isn’t in) “Rachel, Rachel” (1968, 4 p.m.
ET), a best-picture nominee. At 8 is “The Left-Handed Gun” (1958), with Newman
as Billy the Kid … who, historians now say, was right-handed.

Other choices include:

“Doctor Who,” all day, BBC America. As it prepares for
Saturday’s arrival of the twelfth Doctor, the network is zipping through some
“Who” history. At 10 a.m., the Doctor (David Tennant) adds a medical student,
Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), as his companion. Her episodes continue, sandwiched
by specials with Catherine Tate (9 a.m.) and Kylie Minogue (midnight).

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the team re-examines a
hit-and-run murder case. Also, McGee is increasingly suspicious of Tony’s odd

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds al Qaeda
people pursuing a former Marine who embezzled money from Iraq. Hetty has Nell
(Renee Felice Smith) work with Deeks in the field.

“Below Deck,” 9 p.m., Bravo. Last week launched the second season
of this show, focusing on the crew of a 153-foot, $10-million yacht. Tonight,
we’re told, there’s grumbling about the attitude of Kat Held, 29, a stewardess.
At a beach bar, people probe her past dramas; the night ends with a scary

“Royal Pains,” 9 p.m., USA. Hank and Boris are back from
Argentina; Divya treats a sickly model.

“The Mindy Project,” 9:30, Fox. A policeman rages when Mindy
gives his daughter birth-control pills.

“Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX. Last week’s powerhouse episode saw Bassam
(or Barry) take the first steps in an attempt to overthrow his explosive
brother Jamal and their uncle, the brutal military boss. Now we see the
dangers: Jamal lashes at his opponents; also, the rift between Barry and his
American wife grows.

“A Young Doctor’s Notebook” season-opener, 10 p.m., Ovation.
Mikhail Bulakov was a Russian doctor who used morphine to treat himself in
World War I. He kicked the addiction and became an acclaimed writer. This
series (adapted from his work) finds a 1917 doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) visited
by his 1935 self (Jon Hamm), as war and addiction conspire cruelly. It manages to
be both funny and deeply disturbing.

TV column for Monday, Aug. 18

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Dallas” return, 9 p.m., TNT, rerunning
at 11.


It was back in 1978 that the Southfork ranch house became an
American icon, the home of the rich and ever-troubled Ewings. And it was on
April 14 that its fire erupted.

John Ross’ wife had raged, after discovering his affair; his
mom Sue Ellen had passed out drunk upstairs. Now, after a four-month break, the
show starts the second half of its season in mid-crisis.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “America’s Next Top Model”
season-opener, 9 p.m., CW.

We can think of this as the start of the new season … if we
stretch things a lot. Most fall shows are a month away … and no other CW show will
start until October. But “Top Model” tends to be early.

It was set to debut this Friday, then was nudged ahead four
days. Now the first six episodes will air on Mondays and rerun on Fridays …
which will then become the regular night. This is the 21
st edition
of Tyra Banks’ show, but only the second with guys. At first, seven and seven
women will share the house.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Switched at Birth” and “The Fosters,”
8 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.

The season-finale of “Switched” (which reruns at 10) and the
summer-finale of “Fosters” run back-to-back. That’s a mixed blessing, for
dramas that share so many strengths and flaws.

Each has a good heart and a fine cast. Each has an event – a
graduation, a fund-raiser – that includes soaring music and a speech by a teen
girl (with Maia Mitchell superb as Callie in “Fosters”). And each defies its
own reality, creating smart characters and making them do stupid things for
plot convenience.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: Kids’ shows, PBS and Nickelodeon.

If cuteness sufficed, these shows would triumph. One is “Daniel
Tiger’s Neighborhood,” daytime (check local listings) on PBS. Daniel’s baby
sibling – cute and sweet -- arrives in the second-half hour.

Then “Dora and Friends” debuts at 8 p.m. on Nickelodeon,
before taking its regular spot at noon weekdays. The “Dora the Explorer” days
are gone now; Dora’s 10, living in a city and doing good deeds. The opener
involves puppies, making this roughly the cutest half-hour in television

Other choices include:

“Teen Beach Movie” (2013), 7:30-9:30 p.m., Disney.
Simultaneously, the talented Maia Mitchell stars in the emotional “Fosters” and
this frothy film. She plays a surfer, swept to the set of a 1960s beach film.

“Running Wild” with Bear Grylls,” 8 p.m., NBC. In the first
three hours, Grylls’ wilderness mates (Zac Efron, Channing Tatum, Ben Stiller)
have been mostly young and always fit. Now Tom Arnold -- 55, and with a past of
weight and substance-abuse issues – joins him in Oregon’s coastal mountains.

“An Adventure in Space and Time“ (2013), 8-10 p.m., BBC
America. Five days before introducing the 12
th Doctor (Peter
Capaldi, 56), this channel reruns its movie telling the shaky start of the now-wonderful
“Doctor Who” series, a half-century ago.

“Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart,” 9-11 p.m., HBO. In
1990, Smart admitted to having sex with one of her teen students; he and two
friends then killed her husband. What she’s never admitted to is paying (or
asking) them to do it. She was convicted and has been in prison for more than
half her life; she and others are interviewed, in a compelling portrait of the
effects of media focus.

“Under the Dome,” 10 p.m., CBS. Last week, Dale “Barbie”
Barbara found his dad; now he asks him for help re-connecting with Julia …
without realizing that this guy might not be trustworthy.

“POV,” 10-11:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Mahdi Fleifel
only lived briefly in a Lebanese camp for Palestinian refugees, but his grandfather
has been there 64 years. Here is a dark and disturbing portrait.

TV column for Sunday, Aug. 17


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX.

After a great start, “Strain” almost descended to standard
horror-dom. No more. Tonight has some horror – including a sensational moment
when a villain is exposed to light – but the plot hits overdrive.

Insisting that evil creatures have invaded human bodies,
Ephraim gets little support. His estranged wife doubts him, police arrest him,
his Centers for Disease Control colleague has retreated to help her mom. Then
things change on a spectacular day, as a solar eclipse lets creatures roam
daytime New York.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Football, 8 p.m. ET, Fox.

We’re three weeks from the real season, but networks
conspire to make us watch football almost every night. This week has games
Monday on ESPN, Thursday on NFL Network, Friday and Saturday on CBS.

Tonight’s game, in Kansas City, should include the first
chance to see the Carolina Panthers’ supersized duo. Cam Newton (finally
cleared by doctors to play) can throw to Kelvin Benjamin, the first-round pick
who made a spectacular touchdown catch last week.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “True Blood,” 9 p.m., HBO.

“I’ve (been) flying around, dealing with other people’s relationship
problems,” grumbles Eric, the towering, 1,000-year-old vampire. “Does that
sound like me?”

No, and it doesn’t sound like “True Blood,” which has turned
mellow prior to next week’s finale. There  are some great moments involving the tangled
romance of Jason, Hoyt, Jess and Bridgette. But until the final, strong
minutes, tonight is what would happen if Oprah and Dr. Phil made vampire films.

Other choices include:

“The Simpsons,” 7:30 p.m. ET, after the game PT, Fox. In a
rerun, Homer learns how to steal movies.

“Rising Star,” 9 p.m., ABC. Now we’ll learn who will be in
next Sunday’s finale.

“Unforgettable,” 9 p.m., CBS. In an episode scheduled for
last Sunday and then delayed, a mayoral candidate’s campaign manager is killed.
Carrie and Al dig into the past of Eliot, his friend and their boss.

“Reckless,” 10 p.m., CBS. In another episode delayed from
last week, Jamie and Roy are on opposite ends of a wrongful-death suit against
the city.

“Wicked Tuna: North vs. South” debut, 10 p.m., National
Geographic. OK, it’s a TV contrivance to send the Massachusetts boats to North
Carolina … especially since anything they catch robs from the limited local
quota. Still, this is fun to watch. Tonight ranges from a Southern-style start
– shooting a champagne bottle with a rifle – to a grand swirl when one boat
simultaneously hooks two mega-fish.

“The Leftovers,” 10 p.m., HBO. The hour stars with Kevin the
cop straining for normality, inviting somber Nora for dinner. It ends with his
fierce confrontation with an unflinching Patti. In between, there are also
strong moments for his estranged wife and their daughter.

“Sunday Sports Report” debut, 11:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports
Network. This show will focus on the leagues covered by this network and NBC.
It starts on a quiet day (soccer and IndyCar racing), but later will follow
NBC’s Sunday-night football games.

TV column for Saturday, Aug. 16

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: Movies, everywhere.

It’s a can’t-miss night for movies, including one you don’t
need cable for. That’s “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (2002), 8-11
p.m. on ABC. The second Potter film meanders at times, but has splashy moments
and a great role for Kenneth Branagh, as an egocentric magician.

On cable, the highlight is “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), at
9:30 p.m. on TV Guide, complete with an involving plot, quick twists and even a
musical finale.

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

Once the fresh face of Fox, “Glee” has vanished lately.
Reruns have been on the shelf; new episodes (for a shortened final season) aren’t
expected until January. As a small consolation, the current season’s final two
episodes are rerunning on Saturdays.

This one was written by Chris Colfer, who gives his
character (Kurt) a quirky assignment – the lead role in a retirement-home
production of “Peter Pan.” Meanwhile, Rachel must repair her Broadway image.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Outlander,” 9 p.m., Starz;
rerunning at 10.

Last week’s opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) set the basics – a World
War II nurse, suddenly flung back two centuries to 1743 Scotland. It was oddly
drab and uninvolving, especially in the modern portions.

Now it improves slightly, as she uses the historical
knowledge she got from books and from her husband, a history buff. She meets a
good-hearted cook, an enigmatic ruler and some scary types. She – and viewers –
adjust reluctantly to a rather dreary world.

Other choices include:

“Ray” (2004), 5:30-10 p.m., BET. The great-movie night
starts early. Jamie Foxx won a best-actor Oscar for his perfect performance as
Ray Charles,

“True Grit” (1969), 6-9 p.m., AMC. Here’s another best-actor
Oscar-winner. John Wayne wasn’t an actor with range or subtlety, but he was
perfect for this role as an old marshal, helping a 14-year-old avenge the
murder of her father.

More movies, cable. At 7:30 p.m., Oxygen has the sleek and
smart “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006). At 8, there’s Disney’s animated “Tangled”
(2010) on ABC Family and entertaining comedies – “21 Jump Street” (2012) on FX
and “Vacation” (1983) on VH1.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. The first rerun
has Stacy Keach as a veteran crime reporter who’s ready to write Jake’s wayward
comments. The second is a funny episode’ Amy’s Thanksgiving plans go astray,
with Jake and Captain Holt racing off to work a case.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 9 p.m., CBS. Sandwiched by
“48 Hours” episodes, this rerun starts with a minor crime in an airliner … then
escalates to a murder investigation.

“Katt Williams Priceless: Afterlife,” 10 p.m., HBO. Amid a
flurry of “F-“ and “N-“ words and strident attitude, Williams has sharply witty
comments. Catch him on anything from Cheerios commercials to why he still likes
Paula Deen.

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Anna Kendrick hosts,
with Pharrell as music guest.

TV column for Friday, Aug. 15

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

Sometimes, we wonder why TV characters even bother going to
high school reunions. Something nasty (murder, usually) generally occurs.

In this rerun, it’s Chin’s reunion. Naturally, the daughter
of a macadamia-nut tycoon has been killed via a stiletto heel. Foul play is

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “Cold Justice” season-finale, 9
p.m., TNT.

This well-made show has big-city women – a former Houston
prosecutor and a former Las Vegas crime-scene investigator – revive small-town
cases. Its second visit to Terre Haute, Ind., has its oldest case yet.

In 1975, Earl Taylor told Terre Haute, Ind., police he came
home and found his wife dead in the bathtub, after a radio fell into the water.
He was later convicted for the death of his second wife. Now – with Taylor out
on parole – the first wife’s elderly mother urges that the case be re-opened.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Knick,” 10 p.m., Cinemax.

In last week’s opener, we learned that the head surgeon of
this 1900 hospital is a bigot, an addict and a cruel boss. Now we see that the
administrator is corrupt, taking bribes to cut corners. There are a few good
people, including a black surgeon who’s confined to a basement office and a
slum rooming house.

Don’t expect things to get better soon, in this well-made
but bitter series. Tonight’s episode (again directed by Oscar-winner Steven
Soderbergh) has hints of a typhoid scare and an abortion controversy.

Other choices include:

“Brain Games,” 3-7 pm. and 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., National
Geographic. Here’s a marathon of clever, half-hour reruns, showing quirks of
the brain. An hour-long look at paying attention is at 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.

“Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a quick
rerun of Monday’s hour, Bear and actor Channing Tatum spend two days traveling
the roughest parts of Yosemite National Park.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 8 p.m., CBS. This rerun has
an entire family disappear.

“Bones,” 9 p.m., Fox. A kidnap victim was killed and the
probe brings fresh suspects. Also in this rerun, Brennan might co-mingle her
money (lots of it, from her books) with her new husband Booth.

“Girl Meets World,” 9:45 p.m., Disney. Back in the first
season of “Boy Meets World,” Cory mocked Stuart Minkus, the smartest kid in
class. Now, two decades later, Cory is s teacher and Stuart (still played by Lee
Norris, who was “Mouth” McFadden in “One Tree Hill”) arrives for career day.
Also, Riley (Cory’s daughter) finally gets a peek at the troubled home life of
her friend Maya.

“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. Holt McCallany, who starred as
a boxing champ in cable’s “Lights Out,” plays a guy who meets Erin during
speed-dating … then faces her in court the next day. Also, one of her brothers
tackles a cold case; the other probes the death of a woman who had secret
plastic surgery.

“Jonah from Tonga,” 10 p.m., HBO. In an OK episode, Jonah
flirts with success (a music competition) and disaster (a dare from older guys
in a gang).

“Please Like Me,” 10:30 p.m., Pivot. In last week’s
appealing opener, Josh’s mom was on the high end of a bi-polar swing. Now she
crashes and is taken to a private hospital, where he soon likes her neighbors.