TV column for Friday, Feb. 24

“The Patriot,” any time,

An official (Terry
O'Quinn) sends his son John (New Zealand star Michael Dorman) on a
tough undercover mission. He knows John has some strong skills
(killing, for instance) and some flaws: He's a fledgling country
singer who comes close to spilling state secrets when improvising

John soon creates
problems – including the only recent murders in the nation of
Luxembourg. This is a neatly offbeat thriller; it's sort of like
“Breaking Bad,” but available (to subscribers) all in one bunch.

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Darius Rucker has
lots of extra skills. He's been a rock star (with Hootie and the
Blowfish), a country star and, we're told, a pretty good football
player and golfer. He's also had a few acting roles.

Now he guests as a
bombmaker. Once McGarrett and Danny find him, they have a bigger
challenge – getting the bomb out of the jungle before it explodes.

ALTERNATIVE: “African Cats,” 9 p.m. and midnight ET, NatGeo Wild,

Each year (almost),
Disney brings an epic-scale nature film to theaters. Each has a
sprawling scale, intimate moments and great production values; each,
as part of a large deal, eventually reaches Wild.

This gorgeous 2011
epic arrives as “Big Cat Week” ends today (2 p.m. to 3 a.m. ET)
and Saturday, In Kenya, we meet a cheetah who tries – with mixed
success – to keep her five cubs safe ... and an old lion, fighting
for his clan ... and an orphaned lion, desperate to become part of a
foster family.

ALTERNATIVE: “Some Like it Hot” (1959), 8-10:15 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies.

Two days before the
Academy Awards, this reminds us that respect is iffy.

“Hot” has been
named by the American Film Institute as the funniest American film
ever; still, its only Oscar was for best costumes in a
black-and-white film. It drew five other nominations, including one
for Jack Lemmon and two for writer-director Billy Wilder ... but not
for best picture.

Other choices

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. At first, Bozer (Justin Hires) didn't even know what his
roommate does. Now he's part of the team ... and his first overseas
mission goes terribly wrong.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Worried that their daughters don't go to
church any more, Mike and Vanessa vow to make it more interesting.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. This sometimes-silly show adds a serious subject tonight:
Allison finds a lump in her breast; the others rally around her,
while waiting for the test results.

Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS. These two pieces have much in common --
the New York City Ballet, dancing in Paris, doing works that George
Balanchine choreographed to the music of French composers. Still,
they're exact opposites – first a tiny Ravel number, with two
dancers and a pianist; then a massive Bizet number, with almost 50

“Emerald City,”
9 p.m., NBC. Already a dark variation on “Wizard of Oz,” this now
turns ultra-dark. Two people are put in positions where they might
kill a loved one; a third must merely watch a loved one die. Grim
forces collide in nasty (but visually impressive) ways, setting up
next week's finale.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season's second episode, an old woman
has been killed by a stray bullet. Also, Erin must scramble when a
case becomes personal for her investigator

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 23

“Planet Earth II,” 9 p.m. and midnight ET, BBC America.

One of the season's
best shows is buried on TV's worst night. Beautifully filmed and
cleverly narrated, it finds stunning scenes worldwide ... but its new
hours are on Saturdays, when viewership sags.

Fortunately, there
are these Thursday reruns, starting with a splendid visit to islands.
An early snake segment is long and nasty, but mostly we see
predator-free worlds. A stark, volcanic island has 1.5 million
penguins ... Christmas Island has 50 million crabs on the march ...
And in the world's slowest booty call, a male sloth rushes (sort of)
to the sound of a female's voice.

“How to Get Away With Murder” season finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

This short season –
15 episodes, split into two spurts – concludes here, with key
information. We finally learn how Wes died – and why others (Nate,
Connor, Laurel) were there.

Afterward, ABC will
loan the Thursday slot to an impressive mini-series (“When We
Rise”) and then will bring back “The Catch” from Shonda Rhimes,
producer of its other Thursday shows.

“The Blacklist Redemption” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

It's time to warm up
our recording devices: Two series debut at the same time, with
familiar elements.

This one borrowa the
“Blacklist” timeslot and some of its characters: Tom Keen once
seemed to be the mild-mannered teacher married to Liz; he turned out
to be a master of deception. Now Scottie Hargrave (Famke Janssen),
the mercenary, wants him to help rescue a kidnapped CIA agent.

II: “Sun Records” debut, 10:02 p.m., CMT, TV Land; 10 p.m.,

Back in 1952, a
young redhead named Sam Phillips began recording Memphis musicians.
He captured great black performers ... then semi-ignored them after
his engineer recorded Jerry Lee Lewis . The rock 'n roll era was
born, with white singers in the focus.

Based on Broadway's
“Million Dollar Quartet,” this has a few stars – Chad Michael
Murray as Phillips, Billy Gardell as Col. Parker – and lots of
newcomers in classic roles. They play Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash,
Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, Eddy Arnold, Lewis and his cousin, the
future Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.

Other choices

“The Big Bang
Theory” and “The Great Indoors,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., CBS. First,
the guys are surprised that Penny might be going with to Comic-Con.
Then Jack's girlfriend (Maggie Lawson) worries that he doesn't have
any friends. He asks his co-workers (millennials whom he's mocked) to
fake a friendship.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Alex finally returns to the hospital, but finds much has
changed. Also, Jo makes a difficult decision involving a patient and
Arizona tries to keep away from Eliza.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Nudged ahead an hour to set up “Redemption,” the
show finds that Red has been given a deadly toxin. There's a scramble
to find an andidote and learn who betrayed him.

“Riverdale,” 9
p.m., CW. Last week's strong episode dumped the sexy-teacher plot; it
also showed that Jughead is virtually homeless, the son of a
Southside Serpents gangster. Tonight's so-so hour has Jason's funeral
nearing, revealing links between his nasty families and others in

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Adam seems to have a thing for tall, skinny women. Bonnie
(the 6-foot Allison Janney) learns he's still close to his ex-wife
(the 5-10 Wendie Malick).

“Training Day,”
10 p.m., CBS. Having already burned through villainous Mexicans,
Russians and Arabs, the show now has evil Japanese. It also gives
Frank (Bill Paxton) some warmth in dealing with a young informant ...
and reflects Paxton's own fondness for all things Texas.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 22

“The Detour,” 7 and 7:30 p.m., and “Full Frontal,” 10:30
p.m., TBS.

Ever since switching
to all-comedy, TBS has sputtered. It's had Conan O'Brien (11 p.m.)
and great reruns (“Big Bang Theory” from 8-10:30 p.m. today), but
so-so originals.

It's salvation is
the husband-wife team of Jason Jones and Samantha Bee; he has
“Detour,” she has “Frontal” and each works on the other.
Tonight only has reruns, but they're good ones. “Detour” moves
the family to New York, where things crumble in (mostly) funny ways.
“Frontal” sends Amy Hoggart to Scotland, where she finds
hilarious rage toward Donald Trump and his golf course.

“Major Crimes” return, 9 p.m., TNT, rerunning at 10.

For a dozen years,
these people have given us crisp stories set in Los Angeles'
high-tech police depeartment. Now the fifth season (after seven years
of “The Closer”) resumes with a sharp story.

That starts with a
high-octane distraction, then gets to the main plot: The murder
victim had dated a ragged chap with anger issues and a tech innovator
with big money. There are flaws here – an overwrought boss (Camryn
Manheim), a lame side plot involving Rusty – but the basic plot is

ALTERNATIVE: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS.

This feels like
spring-breakers gone wild – rowdies are climbing high towers and
leaping into a pool, splashing onlookers. Except these are monkeys in
India, seizing control of a water trough.

That starts a
delightful hour of bad behavior by animals. Birds steal others' fish
in mid-air; penguins swipe each other's nest stones. Some moments
seem like scenes from “The Crying Game” (a clever bird pretends
to be a female) or “Scarlet Letter” (a meerkat is banished for
unauthorized sex).

Other choices

7-10:30 p.m., AMC. This epic won five Oscars, including best picture
and Russell Crowe as best actor. It faces three more gems -- “Mystic
River” (2003) at 8 p.m. on HBO; “O Brother, Where Art Thou”
(2000) at 8 p.m. on CMT; and – at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic
Movies -- “Roman Holiday” (1953), which won Oscars for a luminous
Audrey Hepburtn and blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. When clues point in several directions, the team splits
into unusual duos – Weller and Roman, Jane and Zapada and Patterson
and Reade.

“The 100,” 9
p.m., CW. Like “Game of Thrones,” this isn't one of those shows
that sputters in neutral. It has major plot twists and is willing to
kill much-loved characters; we're reminded of that with this strong
hour. We're also reminded that it has a bizarre habit of making
everyone self-destructive. “What if (this) is all we are –
torture, kill, destroy?” someone finally asks, in the midst of
high-stakes crises.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Cotton is moving out of the house, after Carlotta (Queen
Latifah) refused to accept the fact that her son is transitioning
into her daughter. Also, Carlotta's beauty salon has been thrown into
chaos by the killing of Simone's rapist foaster father.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. For Phil and Jay, the property-management scheme may
fai. And Gloria's gift – an in-office spa treatment – comes at
the worst time, after Claire ordered budget cuts.

9:31 p.m., ABC. On jury duty, Dre feels compelled to give extra
attention to a young black man who clearly seems guilty.

“Doubt,” 10
p.m., CBS. This second episode, like the first, has great characters,
strong monologs, brief humor ... and weak court cases. The main one
-- a married couple having sex, despite her Alzheimer's disease –
lacks challenges, drama or even a strong prosecutor.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 21

“American Masters,” 8-10 p.m., PBS.

Maya Angelou's
sprawling life covered all the extremes. She was a powerful speaker
with, Bill Clinton said, “the voice of God”; she was also mute
for five childhood years. She was a poet, gifted at arts and
intellect; she also was an imposing physical figure, a six-foot-tall
Calypso dancer.

She was a city kid
from St. Louis and Oakland ... a country kid from Stamps, Ark. ...
an artist in Harlem ... a teacher and social leader in Ghana. She was
reluctant to write an autobiographical books – then wrote seven of
them, plus 32 other books. It was a great 86 years, beautifully
profiled here.

II: “This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Most weeks, this
terrific show juggles six lives, two eras, several stories. But
tonight it focuses – firmly and powerfully – on William, played
with quiet perfection by Ron Cephas Jones.

He's in late-stage
cancer, his son (the superb Sterling K. Brown) has just recovered
from an anxiety attack, but now they've decided on a road trip.
They'll go back to Memphis, William's home town, and gather memories.
Done with subtlety and skill, the result is deeply moving.

ALTERNATIVE: “New Girl,” 8 p.m., Fox.

At first, this
clever series was about four loftmates who didn't really want to be
grown-ups. But now Schmidt is married, Winston is engaged and Jess is
about to become a school principal.

Naturally, this
sends her into panic mode. A road trip -- and a major crisis --
follows. A second story (involving Winston and pranks) is so-so, but
there are hilarious moments as Jess crumbles.

ALTERNATIVE II: “The Detour” season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m.,

All of life is a
detour, it seems. In the first season, the family took a disastrous
road trip while Nate (Jason Jones) kept secret the fact that he'd
lost his job. Viewers also learned that his wife (Natalie Zea) has
bigger secrets ... including lots of alternate identities and
criminal links.

Now life detours to
New York and more trouble ... including people who seem to be living
in their apartment. Like “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” (10:30
p.m. Wednesdays), this was created by Bee and her husband, Jones.
“Full Frontal” is brilliant; “Detour” is inconsistent, but
has great moments.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. You were wondering what skills Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) would
bring? Tonight, he teaches the art of pickpocketing, Also, Bishop has
new hope to avenging Qasim's murder.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 9 p.m., ABC. Heather Locklear guests as Sarah, the ex-wife
of Honey's husband. After accidentally befriending her, Jessica tries
to soothe the rift between Sarah and Honey.

“The Real
O'Neals,” 9:30, ABC. As Shannon's confirmation nears, things may be
moving too quickly between her mom and Vice-Principal Murray ... and
between her brother and Brett ... and maybe even between her father
and a hot ex-babysitter.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. This hour focuses on Dr. Wade, played by
the terrific CCH Pounder. A streeetcar slaying re-opens a painful
case from her past.

“Imposters,” 10
p.m., Bravo. At first, this was simple: Maddie seduced and bilked
guys; two of them chased after her. But they soon had their own scams
... which they're bad at; also, they met another of Maddie's exes –
this time a woman, Now Maddie may be falling for the mysterious

“The Pop Game”
debut, 10:02 p.m., Lifetime, rerunning at 11:04. This has producer
Timbaland coach five aspiring pop stars, with occasional help from
Macy Gray, Nelly Furtado, Jordin Sparks and more.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 20

“The Bachelor,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

It's time for Nick
Viall to visit the home towns of the final four women. That's usually
a strong episode, but this one has an oddity: One of the four --
Rachel Lindsay, 31, a Dallas lawyer – has already been announced as
star of the next “Bachelorette.”

It's good that ABC
will finally have a black star for “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette”
... but that takes some suspense out of tonight. Focus on the other
three visits: Vanessa Grimaldi, 29, is a special-ed teacher in
Montreal; Corinne Olympios, 24, and Raven Gates, 25, have businesses
in Miami and Hoxie, Ark.

“Bates Motel” season-opener, 10 p.m., A&E.

This is the final
season, nudging Norman toward the all-out craziness of “Psycho.”
And yes, he's just about there. He imagines that his mother is still
alive; she has warm talks with him ... and has loud fights with him
... and helps him kill people and dispose of their bodies.

His half-brother
Dylan and sweet Emma have a baby; now Dylan's biological father (via
incest) is back. This may all sound odd and twisted, but it's done
with subtle precision. Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga are perfect
as crazy Norman and dead Norma.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Talk,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

For some races,
we're told, there is no escaping a fear of police. Moving up – in
income, education or prestige – is no sure solution. A New York
Times columnist describes his son being held at gunpoint after
leaving the Yale library; a pastor describes an ordeal that began
because her brights were on.

Several such moments
– some well-known, some not – are detailed here. They're
supplemented by statistics and balanced by a look at the other side –
the agony over a slain policeman, the efforts by police forces to
train and improve. The result is uneven, often disturbing and
sometimes uplifting.

Other choices

“The Hobbit”
trilogy, 1 p.m. (2012), 4:30 (2013) and 8-11 p.m. (2014), TNT. With
lots of people getting a holiday from school and work, cable has
long-form fun. BET repeats its well-made “The New Edition”
mini-series, from 5 p.m. to midnight. And AMC has “Forrest Gump”
(1994) from 7-10 p.m.

“American Ninja
Warrior,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. A week ago in this timeslot, Matt Iseman
won the “Celebrity Apprentice” championship. Now he's back to his
regular show; this is an all-star special, with Iseman and two
co-hosts each choosing a team of past competitors.

“24: Legacy,” 8
p.m., Fox. Grimes – the troubled survivor from Carter's Army Ranger
unit – may finally be helpful. His information could lead Carter to
the terrorists.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. Arthur (Judd Hirsch) is reluctant to let Franco
(Jermaine Flowers) take the shop's money to the bank. Now Franco is
angry about not being trusted.

“The Breaks”
debut, 9 p.m., VH1, rerunning at 11:30 p.m. and 2 a.m. TV has
suddenly remembered that there's big drama in the record business.
Fox alternates “Empire” and “Star” on Wednesdays ... CMT is
putting “Sun Records” behind “Nashville” on Thursdays ...
mini-series have included HBO's “Vinyl,” Netflix's “The Get
Down” and BET's “New Edition Story.” Now VH1 has turned last
year's movie – three young people in 1990's hip-hop – into this

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. This isn't going well: Three team members have fear-based

“Timeless,” 10
p.m., NBC. The last show of the season – and maybe forever –
takes us to 1954 Washington, D.C., where Sen. Joseph McCarthy is in
the midst of his anti-Communist campaign.