TV column for Friday, Oct. 9


TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE: “Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings).

For
the next eight Fridays, the PBS Arts Fall Festival” has big-deal
performances. That starts with a splendid hour -- great music, given
the fresh approach of gifted musicians.

From
Jean Rodriguez's opening “Billie Jean” to Judith Hill's
powerhouse “Earth Song,” Michael Jackson's songs soars. Sheila E.
offers some vibrant drumming and hosts, introducing Jon Secada, Angel
Lopez, Michael Stuart, Jennifer Pena and more. Then everyone –
backed by a chorus and a terrific, 37-piece band – turns “Man in
the Mirror” into a glowing anthem.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Reign” season-opener, 9 p.m., CW.

On
one level, this is history-turned-soap-opera, with iffty dialog
deliverec by adequate (and telegenic) young actors. It pretends that
France's King Louis and his bride, Mary Queen of Scots, were vibrant,
earnest, healthy and (in soap style) deeply in love. Often, it's
merely so-so drama.

On
another level, there's Megan Follows. In the three decades since
triumphing in “Anne of Green Gables,” she's done TV and
heavy-duty theater. Here, she's Catherine de' Medici, widow of the
French king. Her son is king and she's scheming with Queen Elizabeth
I. Tonight gives her some big moments.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Red Oaks” debut, any time, Amazon Prime.

Teen
lives can be transformed, it seems, amid the grown-up playgrounds of
summertime. We saw that in “Dirty Dancing,” “Adventureland,”
“The Way Way Back,” “The Flamingo Kid” and now this amiable
show, a half-hour comedy with the feel of a good independent movie.

David
doesn't want to be like his folks (Richard Kind and “Dirty Dancing”
star Jennifer Grey), who don't particularly like each other. As a
country club's assistant tennis pro, he samples new worlds. The
result is an upbeat mixture of comedy and drama, with occasional
nudity, drugs and tennis.

Other
choices include:

“PJ
Masks,” 11 and 11:30 a.m., Disney Channel. This likable new show
has three kids donning superhero masks (and pajamas) for nightime
adventures. Today, they compete with Luna Girl. The show also airs on
the Disney Junior channel, at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and
Sundays.

Baseball.
This is the first night of full play-off action, with doubleheaders
from both the National League (on TBS) and American League (various
channels); see Sports for specifics.

The
Amazing Race,” 8 p.m., CBS. The third leg begins. So far, two duos
– cousins and TMZ co-workers – have been eliminated.

“Undateable”
season-openerm 8-9 p.m., NBC. Over two seasons and 23 episodes, this
has been a fairly funny view of 30-somethings in a Detroit bar. It's
been inconsistent, but last seaaon it did two things right – adding
youthful enthusiasm (Bridget Mendler, 22, as Candace) and trying a
live episode. That worked well, so now the entire season will be
live. Tonight, Justin, the good-hearted bar-owner, is about to get
serious with Candace. Alas, Danny offers advice; that's rarely a good
thing

“Dr.
Ken,” 8:30, ABC. If the live “Undateable” isn't amusing you,
switch to this comedy, with Ken sent to a sensitivity seminar. The
writing is blunt and the performances are poor, but there are fairly
good moments at the beginning and with his parents at the end..

“Hawaii
Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. McGarrett is ready to propose to Catherine
(Michelle Borth). Meanwhile, there's a case to probe; a scuba diver
was killed by a gun that was used in another murder.

“Blue
Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. A reporter has been shot during a
ride-along, while he was wearing police gear. Frank suspects someone
was targetting cops.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 8


TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE: “The Blacklist” (NBC) or “Sleepy Hollow” (Fox),
both 9 p.m.

Both
shows had tough, taut season-openers last week. “Blacklist” saw
Liz – apparently framed as a killer and a Russian spy – taking a
desperate escape route: She vaulted the fence of the Russian embassy,
insisted she really is a spy and demanded sanctuary. Now Red
scrambles to help.

Then
again, things may be even tougher in Sleepy Hollow. A beauty named
Pandora has just reached town ... and she's carrying a box.

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

Last
week's season-opener was bizarre: Booth, the sturdy FBI guy, was part
of a heist; he was wounded and his brother was killed. It was a poor
episode, hurt by a ludicrous character (an FBI agent played by Kim
Raver), but it propelled tonight's stronger follow-up.

Booth
clings to life, surrounded by bad guys. Brennan (his wife) has
quickly discarded her vow to quit work and stay at home. Back in the
lab, she and her old colleagues face a tangle of clues.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Vampire Diaries” season-opener, 8 p.m., CW.

This
takes makeovers to an extreme. The sheriff was killed (at her
wedding, no less), others are gone and Elena (the show's hero) will
stay a coma as long as Bonnie is alive. Bonnie, alas, is young and
healthy. And the brother's mom is back, with a house full of people
who are witches AND vampires.

That
leads to a major change that we think damages the show. What doesn't
change is romance among terribly attractive people. “My best
friend's gone, my mom is dead, the whole town is destroyed,”
Caroline says before a warm kiss. “But when I'm with you, I'm
happy.”

Other
choices include:

Football
pregame, 7:30 p.m. ET, and game, 8:30 ET, CBS. This one looked great
on the advance schedule, with Indianapolis (11-5 during the regular
season last year) at Houston (9-7). Alas, the Colts are 2-2 this
year, averaging only 18 points a game; the Texans are 1-3.

“Heroes
Reborn,” 8 p.m., NBC. Around the globe, people are grasping for
pieces of their destiny. Noah (also known as HRG) breaks into
corporate headquarters; Miko continues her rescue mission, while
searching for the sword. And after suppressing his ability, Tommy
needs it to save a life.

“Grey's
Anatomy,” 8 p.m., ABC. Alex faces a tough decision involving
newborn twins; also, Jo has been keeping a secret from him.
Meanwhile, Richard distrusts Bailey; Maggie re-considers some of her
choices, after getting an invitation to a former boyfriend's wedding.

“Scandal,”
9 p.m., ABC. Olivia and the president face some big-time retribution,
as the estranged First Lady brings in someone to make sure she gets
her way. Also, Abby shows skills at the White House.

“The
Originals” season-opener, 9 p.m., CW. Marcel has control of the
French Quarter again, but there's trouble ahead. Returning to New
Orleans are the first three people the Mikaelsons turned into
vampires.

“How
to Get Away with Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Annalise's defense of
siblings stumbles when a new motive surfaces. Meanwhile, a new case
takes the law students to a high-end sex club.

“Haven,”
10 and 11 p.m., Syfy. After a 10-month break, this show is back for
it final 13 episodes. Duke's troubles have grown and now the town is
enshrouded in a fog. People panic; Nathan tries to get the power
restored as Audrey grasps for a final way to end the trouble.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 7


TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE: “Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

From
“Dynasty” to “Real Housewives,” we've learned that dinner
parties are dangerous; drinks get thrown, tables get tipped. Tonight,
Cookie (Taraji Henson) tops that spectacularly,.

Her
rage grows as her new record label struggles. At the core is Hakeem,
a gifted but unreliable rapper and producer who's trying to mold a
sexy (and dysfunctional) girl group. Her ex-husband's label (where
son Jamal is weighed down by administrative duties) has its eye on a
fiery female rapper. In the “Empire” style, strong music links
with deep drama and moments of “Dynasty”-style excess.

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

These
are the cartoon characters of the bird world – giant bodies, tiny
heads, a bizarre inability to fly or sing. Collectively, they're
called ratites; they range from the hard-to-see kiwi (small and
nocturnal) to the hard-to-miss ostrich (nine feet high, 300-plus
pounds, yet running 40 miles per hour).

Their
ancestors knew how to fly, David Attenborough tells us, but when the
dinosaurs vanished, there was no incentive. They became bigger,
terrestial ... and thoroughly entertaining.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Horror Story: Hotel” debut, 10 p.m., FX'
rerims at 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m.

“I'm
going to give this place a bad review on Yelp,” a gorgeous tourist
vows. That seems fair: The hotel clerk is rude, there's no Wi-Fi and
creepy, “Shining”-type kids are in the hallways. Also, an
almost-dead guy is inside the mattress. Consider this any traveler's
worst-case scenario.

At
first, “Hotel” is just a series of nasty and pointless (albeit
brilliantly crafted) scenes of gore, sex and Lady Gaga. Belatedly, we
meet a cop (Wes Bentley) who's deeply decent and deeply hurt; a story
takes form. By then, some viewers will have fled; others will
consider it their favorite show ever.

Other
choices include:

“Casual,”
any time, Hulu. Michaela Watkins plays a therapist who feels life's
burdens; Tommy Dewey plays her brother, who doesn't. As her life
falls apart, she moves into his bachelor pad with her teen daughter.
The result has its funny moments.

Basetball,
8 p.m. ET, TBS. The Cubs visit the Pirates, in a one-shot fight for
the National League's wild-card spot. These teams only had the
second- and third-best records in their division. Then again, they
also had the second- and third-best records in all of baseball. It's
been a weird season.

“Arrow”
season-opener, 8 p.m., CW. Neil McDonough has already been a chilling
villain on “Justified”; now he's this season's prime nemesis, as
Davien Darhk. That chops away at the blissful state of Oliver, who
set his Arrow persona aside, to vacation with Felicity.

“Supernatural,”
9 p.m., CW. When this show began, few people would have predicted it
would reach its 11th season – one more than “Friends”
and “Murphy Brown,” two more than “Seinfeld” and “X-Files,”
10 more than “Manimal.” But here it is, with the brothers
battling the forces of darkness.

“Modern
Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. This season started with Haley's parents
reluctantly nudging her back with Dylan. Now comes the next, tricky
step: Can he live with her – in the family home? Also, Mitchell
needs a job and accepts one with his dad's competitor.

“Nashville,”
10 p.m., ABC. Scarlett faces the painful question of whether to take
her mother off life-support. And with Juliette continuing to be
self-destructive, Avery is ready to file for divorce.

“Code
Black,” 10 p.m., CBS. Christa (Bonnie Somerville) has saved a
woman's life, but can she convince the by-the-books Neal (Raza
Jaffrey) to perform surgery to save the patient's reproductive
future? Also, Mario's diagnosis gets him into a fight with a hockey
player.

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 6


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

For
a while, it was easy to ignore the CW, with its so-so shows aimed at
a narrow audience. But last season started with “Jane the Virgin”
and ended with “iZombie”; both had originality and wit.

Liv
(Rose McIver) is a doctor and a reluctant zombie. Now she works in
the morgue, munches brains ... and absorbs memories, helping solve
crimes. She also absorbs attitudes; tonight, after munching a crabby
old man, this 27-year-old is grumbling about kids-these-days. We also
see aftershocks of last season's decision -- making her ex-boyfriend
a zombie. That saved his life, but he's not happy about it.

TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE II: “The Grinder,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

In
the terrific opener, Dean (Rob Lowe) – fresh from playing a lawyer
on TV – returned home. He decided he could help his father and
brother (William Devane and Fred Savage) at their law office.

Now
“Grinder” fills in the details. We see delightful clips of Dean's
old show; it was, as a newcomer helpfully tells him, cheesy and
melodramatic. We see that Dean has instantly charmed his dad and
nephew ... while the brother ponders his role in life. And we meet a
young woman lawyer who is refreshingly immune to Dean's charms;
“Grinder” has few big laughs, but is thorougly entertaining.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Schedule changes, 10 p.m., NBC and ABC.

The
TV season has barely started and two networks are already fiddling
with this timeslot. NBC's original plan was to air Neil Patrick
Harris' “Best Time Ever” at 10 p.m. for two Tuesdays, then slide
it to 8; instead, the show now has its fourth straight run at 10.

ABC
had once set “Quantico” for 10 p.m. Tuesdays. When a Sunday show
was delayed, a plan was hatched -- “Quantico” to Sundays, a
“Shark Tank” spin-off temporarily on Tuesdays. But now, for the
second straight week, ABC has a “Quantico” rerun here. On the
lam, Alex scrambles to clear her name.

Other
choices include:

Baseball,
8 p.m. ET, ESPN. The play-offs begin in a classic site – Yankee
Stadium. The Yankees face the Astros, in a one-and-done series, to
see who continues Thursday in the next round.

“The
Voice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The teams have been decided now, but
“Voice” will rerun audition highlights (including some new
footage) and have the judges reflect on their choices.

“The
Flash” season-opener, 8 p.m., CW. Already a mournful man – his
mom was killed and his dad was convicted of the murder – Barry now
feels he triggered tragedies at the end of last season. Tonight's
hour spends too much time with his funk, but stick around. There are
big, pivotal moments tonight.

“Fresh
Off the Boat,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. This comedy is set in 1990s Orlando,
when Shaquille O'Neal was the biggest (literally) star in town. Now –
following a “Muppets” with Gonzo trying Online dating -- he has a
guest role; the episode centers on Eddie's water slide and his
parents' anniversary.

“Agents
of SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. An ancient monolith has swallowed Simmons.
This is not a good thing, so the team hopes an Asgardian can help.

“NCIS:
New Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. The team must determine if a crash was
caused by pilot error or plane error. That follows an “NCIS” in
which McGee and Bishop must pose as a married couple.

“Frontline,”
10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). After the 1988 airliner bombing
that killed 259 people, investigators focused on a Swiss timing
device designed by Edwin Bollier. Then came a detour: Bollier said he
was the one who (using an alias) had correctly pointed them to
Libyans as the prime culprits. Bollier, about 77, remains an enigma.
He's questioned in the second of three hours, with Ken Dornstein
studying the bombing that killed his brother. Like the first part,
it's both fascinating and frustrating.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 5


TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang Theory” and “Life in Pieces,” 8 and
8:31 p.m., CBS.

At
the end of the month, CBS will scuttle its long tradition of Monday
comedy. These two shows will slide to Thursdays, once football
vacates that night. For now, however, let's enjoy the fun.

“Big
Bang” has started the year with gems about the new marriage of
Leonard and Penny; tonight, the guys take him to Mexico for a belated
bachelor party and the women ask her for the story of the elopement.
Meanwhile, “Pieces” has been witty ... albeit with an overload of
anatomical humor. Tonight, Matt coaches his girlfriend before she
meet his entire, eccentric family.

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

On
one hand, “Gotham” is unmatched for stylish visuals, taut
emotions and jolting moments. One twist tonight (involving scheming
Galavan and a cohort) delivers a powerhouse surprise.

On
the other, tonight's centerpiece – a hostage situation at a charity
fundraiser – mostly feels prolonged and unsettling. A show with
this much talent can come up plots that are more clever than this.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Doc Martin” season-opener, any time, www.acorn.tv.

For
six seasons, this British show has had a vagabond existence in
America – airing at scattered times on a patchwork collection of
public-TV stations. Now this streaming service takes over.

Martin
Clunes plays a village physician, devoid of social skills. His wife
is with her mother, leaving the marriage unclear. Ready to sink into
self-pity, he instead must worry about his ditzy receptionist and a
lot of villagers who keep ignoring symptoms. Two episodes – one
very good, the next one pretty good – are available today; others
arrive each Monday, with all seven seasons available after Nov. 16.

Other
choices include:

“Dancing
With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. The celebrities will do pieces
reflecting their most memorable years. That's expected to include
Nick Carter reflecting his “Backstreet Boys: days, Gary Busey
recalling his Buddy Holly film and Bindi Irwin recalling her late
father, the “crocodile hunter.”

“The
Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The blind auditions conclude, setting
the teams. There will be a recap Tuesday, with the “battle rounds”
starting next week.

“Penn
& Teller: Fool Us,” 8 p.m., CW. On Tuesday, the CW will finally
plnge ahead with seven season-openers in a four-night stretch. First,
we can enjoy the season-finale of a fun magic show.

“Scorpion,”
9 p.m., CBS. Sylvester isn't your macho, behind-bars type. But to
save the lives of three judges, he goes undercover in a federal
prison.

“Minority
Report,” 9 p.m., Fox. Once a lonely outsider, Stark may become the
analyst for a new police program. Still, there are questions about
the program's intentions.

“Castle,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. Probing a fraternity guy's death, Rick goes
undercover as a professor.

“Blindspot,”
10:01 p.m., NBC. A thief, captured during a jewel heist, bears the
same Navy SEAL tattoo that Jane has. Also, Jane gets a warning from
the man who was in her first memory.