TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 28

“The Americans” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

One crowded hour
offers this show's dizzying extremes. Early on, there's a fierce,
smash-gut action scene; at the end, sex and violence merge
powerfully. And in between is subtle character drama.

Elizabeth and Philip
(Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are 1980s suburbanites ... except
that they're really Russian spies, planted there decades ago. Now
their bosses want to recruit their teen daughter, who knows nothing
about this.We're in a richly drawn maze of ethical choices. Even
tonight's final shock is transformed via quick expediency; the spy
world can turn anything into an advantage.

II: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Welcome to the
southern-most post office on Planet Earth. A former British research
station in Antarctic, 700 miles south of Argentina and Chile, it's
open four months a year. An average of two ships a day unload
tourists to send post cards and view its museum, gift shop ... and
3,000 penguins.

This charming hour
splits time between the four women who work there – including a
teacher and a law-school grad – and the penguins. Those penguins
are sometimes charming, sometimes rude – stealing nests, stealing
stones, cheating on a spouse – and usually great fun to watch.

ALTERNATIVE: “American Idol” and “Empire,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

In this year's
auditions, judges insist, the San Francisco auditions were the best.
Now we'll see them, spread over the next two nights and leading into

Tonight, “Empire”
has Lucious trying to steal a top act from a rival record company.
One son (Jamal) struggles with his songwriting; another (Hakeem) sees
his mom try to overcome their estrangement.

Other choices

“The Mentalist,”
8 p.m., CBS. The focus is again on Abbott, neatly underplayed by
Rockmond Dunbar. With his old boss (Dylan Baker) going after him, he
needs help from Patrick Jane.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, a college student's
troubles started with a modeling ad. Soon, she was in
online-pornography and then an apparent rape victim.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. This rerun is stuffed with guest stars: Steve Zahn
(“Treme,” “Mind Games”) and Andrea Anders (“Joey,”
“Better Off Ted”) play the noisy new neighbors; Tyne Daly, the
six-time Emmy-winner, is Lily's tough teacher.

9:31-11 p.m., ABC. For the second straight week, ABC has made late
switches in its comedies; now we get three straight “Black-ish”
reruns. In the first , Andre wants his son to have more black
friends. In the second, he tries to invoke a “Team Johnson”
family approach. In the third, the kids have lost interest in the
tradition of Halloween pranks.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. Murder victims have dollar bills pinned to their
chests, in this rerun. Voight jumps into the case when his friend is

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia” and “Man Seeking Woman,” 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
FXX. First is a semi-odd episode about the return of a reputed
cannibal. Then is an ultra-odd one, complete with a talking hand and
a missing male member; it's clearly not for general audiences.

“Kart Life”
debut, 10 p.m., Tru TV. At a go-kart track in South Haven, Ind., we
meet three boys and one girl who have shots at the top. We also meet
their parents, pouring money and emotion into this. Some are likable,
most are not, but the result is moderately interesting.





TV column for Monday, Jan. 26

“Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials” and “Scorpion,” 8 and 9
p.m., CBS. This popular special is in its 15th year, now
with the public voting. Boomer Esiason, who has played in a Super
Bowl (his Bengals lost to the 49ers, 20-16), hosts with Katharine
McPhee, who hasn't.

Afterward, stick
around to see McPhee in a “Scorpion” rerun. She's Phoebe, a
waitress who brings normality to a team of geniuses; tonight, she
prepares her son for the arrival of his dad (Brendan Hines). Also,
three people – one of them a brilliant hacker – have escaped from

II: “Sons of Liberty” mid-section, 9-11 p.m., History.

If you missed
Sunday's opener, catch it at 7 p.m.; or see the full mini-series,
from 5-11 p.m. Tuesday.

The opener gave us a
hot-headed Sam Adams, ignoring the caution of his cousin John and a
mealy-mouthed John Hancock. Now things get serious; tonight starts
with the Boston Tea Party and ends with the ride of Paul Revere and
Dr. Joseph Warren ... a key figure in this version. There are
excesses – an escape during the ride seems way too easy – but
it's a ripping-good tale of righteous underdogs.

ALTERNATIVE: “Night Will Fall,” 9-10:30 p.m., HBO.

As Allied troops
liberated the World War II death camps, their cameramen caught
jolting views of human horror. Soon, top filmmakers were crafting a
documentary; even Alfred Hitchock was involved.

Then politics
intervened and the film was scrapped. Almost 70 years later,
restorers finished it; now this documentary skillfully weaves
elements. Portions of the film are merged with memories of the people
involved, plus a history of the film. The result is brutal to watch,
but compelling.

Other choices

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Yes, brash people tend to get noticed; at a lake
party, two women each shed half their bikinis. Still, Chris Soules'
three sisters pick a shy woman for a one-on-one date.

Apprentice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The first hour, fortunately, avoids
the heavy-handed question of who can get rich friends to donate the
most money. Instead, each team arranges a boat tour, with the
customers choosing a winner.

“Top Gear”
season-opener, 8:30-10 p.m., BBC America. Backed by the droll wit of
writer-producer-star Jeremy Clarkson, this car show has long been
popular in the U.S. and England. A rerun marathon started at 6 a.m.
Sunday, setting up the new episode.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Jane is juggling jobs as a teacher, a waitress ... and
now an aspiring scriptwriter on her dad's telenovela. Meanwhile, her
mom regrets an uncharacteristic vow of chastity ... and Jane's
ex-boyfriend (a cop) is spying on her current boyfriend, Less
humorous than the earlier episodes, this packs together a busy night
of drama.

“Mud, Sweat and
Gears” debut, 10 p.m., BBC America. Two British car buffs are
organizing odd competitions in the U.S. -- starting with makeshift
cop cars. The result is sort of like “Top Gear,” except louder,
faster and much less clever.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Fresh from the season-opening episodes that saw Castle on
the lam, this rerun has him trying to return to normal life with
Beckett. Meanwhile, they probe a slain pool shark.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 25

“Galavant” and “Resurrection” season finales, 8-9 p.m. and
9-10 p.m., ABC.

Two distinctive
shows finish their seasons early, avoiding a face-off with Super Bowl

“Galavant” is a
cleverly odd musical comedy with a four-week, eight-episode run.
Galavant finally realizes that Isabella (not flighty Queen Madalena)
is the one he loves; now he must break out of prison with her ... and
then help King Richard with a duel. Then “Resurrection” sees a
church group converge to stop Rachael from giving birth; Bellamy,
Henry and Fred arm themselves in defense.

“Sons of Liberty” opener, 9 p.m., History; rerunning at 11.

The names are
familiar in this three-night mini-series, but the rest feels new. Sam
Adams is a handsome rogue, brash and bold and sometimes endangering
others; John Adams, his cousin, tries to keep him calm. John Hancock
is a mousy yes-man ... until pushed too far.

We meet others,
familiar (Washington, Franklin, Revere) and not; Dr. Joseph Warren
plays a key role. At times, the characters – Hancock, especially –
can seem like hollow cartoons. Still, “Sons” -- continuing
through Tuesday – is sharply filmed, as it shows the huge odds this
rag-tag bunch faced.

ALTERNATIVE: “Away & Back,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; rerunning at

At age 11, Maggie
Elizabeth Jones has already been delightful in a movie (“We Bought
a Zoo”) and a TV series (“Ben and Kate”). Now comes a TV film,
under the classy Hallmark Hall of Fame banner.

Frankie (Jones)
obsesses on the orphaned swan eggs in her family pond. That sets off
debates between her dad (Jason Lee) and a research scientist (Minka
Kelly). Some of this feels forced and the grown-up actors are so-so;
still, director Jeff Bleckner, a two-time Emmy-winner, has created an
involving film, boosted by great settings and a likable young star.

Other choices

Miss Universe
pageant, 8-11 p.m. ET, NBC. Natalie Morales of “Today” and Thomas
Roberts of MSNBC host; it's live, but Pacific stations air it twice,
at 5 and 8 . There's music by Nick Jonas, Gavin DeGraw and Prince
Royce, whose music merges urban American and Dominican influences.

Screen Actors Guild
awards, 8 p.m. ET, TNT, rerunning at 10. Awards are given for movies
and TV, including ensembles ... plus a lifetime prize for Debbie
Reynolds. It's live, making it 5 and 7 p.m. PT.

“Downton Abbey,”
9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A fairly good episode finds
relationship trouble everywhere: Lady Mary makes a decision about
Tony ... Lord Merton stuns Isobel ... and Robert again battles with
Sarah, the strong-minded teacher who is Tom's friend.

“Rain Man”
(1989), 9-11:30 p.m., Ion. Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise are perfect
as a savant and his self-centered brother. One of the best movies
ever, this won Oscars for best picture and for its script, its
direction and Hoffman.

“Girls,” 9 p.m.,
HBO, rerunning at 10:30. A funny-yet-sad episode finds the friends
toying with self-destruction. At the prestigious writers' workshop in
Iowa, Hannah doesn't get around to writing, but does manage to insult
everyone. Back in New York, Marnie stumbles a little, Jessa stumbles
a lot and Shoshanna is truly odd in her first job interview.

Mystery: Grantchester,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Last
week's debut introduced James Norton as a crimesolving priest,
forming a mismatched friendship with a skeptical cop (Robson Green);
it also saw him shattered by the news that his secret love is getting
married. In tonight's excellent tale, he reluctantly attends her
engagement party ... then comes across a new murder.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 24


“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

In its 40 seasons,
this show has only had about 20 people pull double-duty – hosting
and being music guest in the same show. From Desi Arnaz to Frank
Zappa, they're an interesting bunch.

A few country-music
people – Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift – have had host-and-music
nights. Now Blake Shelton – already a big deal on NBC from “The
Voice” -- gets his turn.

II: U.S. Figure Skating Championships, 8-11 p.m., NBC,

Here are the women's
finals, filled with familiar names from last year's Olympics.

Gracie Gold finished
4th then, with Ashley Wagner 7th and Polina
Edmunds 9th; now comes the new battle for the national
title, with NBC airing the free-skate portion. The men (rarely given
primetime spots) have their finals from 4-6 p.m. Sunday.

ALTERNATIVE: “Black Sails” season-opener, 9 p.m., Starz,
rerunning at 10 and 11.

Even the pirate
world has regime changes, it seems. Flint is a brilliant captain, but
he's also brutal and a liar; as last season ended, the crew voted him
out. Now he's set aside, with only John Silver – whom he hates –
to scheme with. Meanwhile, the treasure remains heavily guarded;
Flint seems finished.

Tonight and next
week, we'll see him scheme and scramble. And back on the pirate
island, Eleanor is losing control; she may need nasty Vane, in an
episode that is tough, taut and well-crafted.

Other choices

“Grease” (1978)
and “Grease 2” (1982), 7 and 9:30 p.m., ABC Family. In the first
film, bouncy music and bright stars saved a lame story; the sequel
simply couldn't be saved. For a really superb use of music, catch a
Turner Classic Movies pairing of best-actress Oscar-winners – Sissy
Spacek in “Coal Miner's Daughter” (1980) at 8 p.m. ET, Barbra
Streisand in “Funny Girl” (1968) at 10:15 p.m. ET.

“Mirror Mirror”
(2012), 8-10 p.m., ABC. An evil queen (Julia Roberts) takes control
of the kingdom. She banishes the sweet Snow White (Lily Collins,
daughter of rock star Phil Collins) ... who needs the help of seven
rebels. You may have heard the story already.

“CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season-opener,
Finlay (Elisabeth Shue) deals with a bomb planted in her car; Russell
(Ted Danson) gets a call from someone who says he's the Gig Harbor
killer. Guest stars include Mark-Paul Gosselaar (as twins) and Mark

(2013), Showtime. Amazing and mostly true, this story was crafted
beautifully by director Stephen Frears, co-writer and co-star Steve
Coogan and the amazing Judi Dench. She finds stunning twists, while
searching for the man she gave up as a baby, long ago.

“Stalker,” 9
p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a bride has been shot during the ceremony.
Beth and Jack must determine if the shooter was the same person who
stalked her previously.

“The Musketeers,”
9-10:15 p.m., BBC America. A kidnapper doesn't realize he's a become
a kingnapper. He grabbed King Louis, who was disguised as a commoner.

“Nightwatch,” 10
p.m., A&E. Two days after its debut, here's another chance to see
this non-fiction detour for Dick Wolf, the producer of the “Law &
Order” and “Chicago” cop shows. In New Orleans, his crew
follows the night-time police, fire and the emergency medical people.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 23

“American Masters,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Ricky Potash's
grandfather rippled with money and magic; he was a Wall Street
accountant who spent his free time with great magicians. Ricky liked
him and disliked his parents; when the grandfather died, the boy, 17,
left home and became Ricky Jay, a magic master.

He did magic in
bars, in comedy clubs, at rock concerts; he also became a favorite of
movie director David Mamet. This profile is so-so by “Masters”
standards, but splendid by Friday-TV standards.

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.

In the rerun of an
earnest epispde from last season, an attempted murder leads to the
investigation of a murder that happened the World War II internment

The case itself
seems too unfold way too easily. Still, it's a solid and serious
story, using Pearl Harbor memorials for its backdrop and Hawiian
history for its roots.

ALTERNATIVE: “12 Monkeys,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

In last week's
terrific opener, time-traveler Cole was whisked back to prevent an
epidemic that would destroy most of civilization. He killed Goins
(the mogul responsible), but the disaster persisted.

Now he must return
to find Goins' daughter, confined to a mental institution, and learn
about the elusive “12 Monkeys” organization. But time-travel is
shaky and he's supposed to avoid shattering the timeline of Dr.
Cassandra Railly. The result is tough, taut, sometimes violent and
often intriguing.

Other choices

“Thor: The Dark
World” (2013) and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014),
7 and 9 p.m., Starz. An action double-feature launches cable's
popcorn-movie night. For comedy, try “Bridesmaids” (2011) at 7:30
p.m. on E or Amy Adams' delightful “Enchanted” (2007) at 8 and 10
p.m. on Bravo.

“Constantine,” 8
p.m., NBC. Throughout Brooklyn, thousands of people – including
Chas' daughter -- have mysteriously slipped into comas. John
scrambles to learn why.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. This reruns an episode that put a serious
issue into a comedy setting: Mike learns that his grandson hasn't
been vaccinated for chicken pox.

“Cristela,” 8:30
p.m., ABC. This rerun see Josh trying to impress the boss by feigning
an interest in sports. Alas, he assumes Mark Cuban (the Dallas
Mavericks owner) is there to fix the reifrigerator.

“Grimm,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Monroe has been kidnapped and his life hangs in the balance. Now
Nick leads a search; also, Juliette learns the new reality of her
life, now that she's a Hexenbiest.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Danny and Baez face an attack when they're
transporting drugs. She's seriously wounded; he's trying to track
down the drug cartel involved.

“Helix,” 10
p.m., Syfy. In last week's odd season-opener, the team reached a
creepy island controlled by the cult led by Brother Michael (Steven
Weber). Tonight, there's a warning to get out.