TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

It was bravado that
made Bonnie and Clyde famous ... and ended their short run. Clyde was
a small-time crook; Bonnie was a waitress with a love for movies and
poetry. Like many Depression people, they robbed banks and such;
unlike others, they posed for brash photos with guns and cigars.

When officials found
and processed the film, Bonnie & Clyde became famous and
most-wanted. Later, they dared to raid a prison and free five
inmates. Enraged, police created a mega-force and killed a legendary
duo.This is a fascinating story, told with rich historical detail.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Agent Carter” season-opener, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Peggy Carter has
been on a media whirl lately. As played by the terrific Hayley
Atwell, shes been in four Marvel movies, two “SHIELD” episodes, a
short and this series, which is now changing.

In the first season,
she was working in the New York offices of the Strategic Scientific
Reserve; visually, things were dark and drab. Now the SSR sends
Carter to Los Angeles, where she finds sunshine, blue skies and a
murder case; eventually, she'll also become entangled in the movie
industry.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Comic-book specials, 8 p.m., ABC; 9 and 9:30, CW.

Remember when
comic-book heroes were just for kids? Now they pack movie theaters
and boost TV networks. And tonight, two networks pause to celebrate
them.

On one side is
Marvel Comics; ABC's “Captain America: 75 Heroic Years” views the
hero who has spawned movies and set up the “Agent Carter” series.
On the other is DC Comics, viewed in two films. The first eyes the
characters in “Legends of Tomorrow,” which debuts Thursday on CW;
the second, hosted by comics buff Kevin Smith, previews the movies
“Suicide Squad” and “Batman v. Superman.”

Other choices
include:

“Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Post-slavery stories
offer rich details. Maya Rudolph's kin inherited land from a
guilt-ridden slave-owner ... then won in court when that was
challenged. The ancestors of Shonda Rhimes and Keenan Wayans quickly
achieved land-ownership. But another Wayans kin was freed during a
trip to Canada ... then fled South to re-enter slavery.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. As storms and power-outage rock the city, the team probes a
human-slavery ring.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. The team suspects that an apparent suicide
was staged. Also, there's an effort to create a dating profile for
Pride.

“Chicago Med,” 9
p.m., NBC. Earlier, we met Dr. Rhodes' rich and arrogant father. Now
he's honored, after giving a substantial donation; dark family
secrets emerge.

“The Grinder,”
9:30 p.m., Fox. Starting a two-parter, Dean (Rob Lowe) is being
nudged out: He's supposed to move from his brother's home. Also, he's
being recruited by a rival law firm ... despite the fact that he's
not really a lawyer.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. A storm heads toward Chicago ... and, possibly,
Herrman's house. Also, Chili's erratic behavior engangers a life and
causes concern.

“Just Jillian”
debut, 10 p.m., E. On “Biggest Loser,” Jillian Michaels had a
tough-as-nails image. Now this reality show visits a gentler side at
home, with 15 pets, her partner Heidi Rhoades and a pair of
3-year-olds, one adopted from Haiti.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Superstore.” 8 p.m., NBC.

When Jonah gets a
perfect score on the work test, his supervisor (America Ferrera) is
not amused. She prides herself in being the best; soon, they're
locked in an unproclaimed competition.

That part develops
slowly, but leads to some great sight gags. Another part – trying
to detect who's the “secret shopper” -- is overwrought. Even
then, “Superstore” remains bright and likable.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“MasterChef Celebrity Showdown,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Already a night of
reality overload – with “Bachelor” and “Biggest Loser” --
this adds a reality special. Gordon Ramsay eyes competitions
involving three past “MasterChef” winners (Luca Manfe, Christine
Ha and Claudia Sandoval), plus “MasterChef Junior” kids and
celebrity duos.

Supermodels Gigi
Hadid and Devon Windsor face duos from three Fox shows. There's
Kaitlin Doubleday and Ta'Rhonda Jones from “Empire”; Terry Crews
of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and his wife Rebecca; and Boris Kodjoe of
“Last Man on Earth” and his wife Nicole Ari Parker.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “War & Peace” opener, 9 p.m., History, A&E
and Lifetime; repeats at 11:02 p.m. and 1:02 a.m.

Leo Tolstoy's
sprawling novel keeps tempting filmmakers. There have been at least
four movies, two mini-series and more. Now Andrew Davies – who's
written some of the best mini-series, from “Bleak House” to the
original “House of Cards” -- has crafted a new, eight-hour
version.

Over four Mondays,
we'll meet Russia's aristocratic families, early in the 19th
century. Lily James (“Cinderella”) plays Natasha, with James
Norton (the “Grantchester” mysteries) as sturdy Andrei and Paul
Dano (“Love & Mercy”) as the rich and awkward Pierre.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Forty years ago, Dr.
Bernard Rosenfeld made a startling claim: At the Los Angeles County
hospital, low-income Latinas were being tricked or pressured into
involuntary sterilization.

Many people ignored
him; Antonia Hernandez – 26 and fresh from UCLA Law School – won
a historic suit. Renee Tajima-Pena spent six years on this compelling
film, interviewing Hernandez, Rosenfeld, other doctors and six of the
women whose lives were transformed four decades ago.

Other choices
include:

“19-2,” any
time, www.acorn.tv. Cop shows are
an American specialty, but the Montreal people seem good at it. This
series starts with a stereotype – the reluctant partnership of a
veteran black cop and a small-town transfer – then adds neatly
understated dialog and performances. The first two episodes are out
today, with others weekly through March 14. Also, the spooky
“Midwinter of the Spirit” continues.

“The Bachelor,”
8 p.m., ABC, with follow-up at 10:01. Last week, Ben Higgins was
jolted when one of the women actually refused his rose. This time, he
receives bad news from back home.

“Just For Laughs,”
8-9:30 p.m., CW. Howie Mandel hosts a stand-up special at a New York
festival. It has Pete Holmes, Jim Breuer, Jeff Ross and more, plus
old footage of Joan Rivers and Jon Stewart.

“Telenovela,”
8:30 p.m., NBC. As a hurricane howls toward Miami, the cast may be
doomed. Gael is the inept safety captain and food is scarce among
actors who've all been dieting. The result is inconsistent, but has
some great moments.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. Jeff Fahey plays Sylvester's estranged father, a retired
general who says an African general has found a powerful weapon from
the World War II era.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. The murder victim is a tech whiz who
developed a program to collect undetectable data.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Billions” debut, 10 p.m., Showtime.

For Damian Lewis,
this has become a fine habit: Each year he stars in a sharp, smart
Sunday drama series. Last year was the Golden Globe-winning “Wolf
Hall,” playing King Henry confronting a clever lawyer; now
“Billions” has him as a Wall Street king, facing a clever (and
obsessed) lawyer.

Bobby Axelrod is a
street-smart, New Jersey native who conquered finance; the district
attorney (Paul Giamatti) is determined to convict him. Try to ignore
the blitz of insider details; this hour (on a night when most cable
systems offer Showtime free) has great actors tackling richly layered
characters.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Downton Abbey” and “Mercy Street,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS.

Sure, last week's
“Downton” was an in-betweener, quieter than most. That set up
this strong hour.

As the Carson/Hughes
wedding nears, no one's sure where it will be held. Arguments about
the local hospital heat up, spurring even Cora to have a mean moment.
There's a neat surprise in the final minutes ... and then the debut
of an ambitious period piece: “Mercy Street” begins with a
widowed abolitionist becoming a nurse, in a Virginia mansion that's
been converted to a Civil War hospital.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Angie Tribeca” marathon, 9 p.m., TBS.

Here is a brash way
to introduce a show – a 25-hour, commercial-free marathon. The
10-episode season starts at 9 p.m., then re-starts at 1:19 a.m., 9:04
a.m., 1:23 p.m. and 5:42 p.m. Monday.

And this show
clearly needs to be treated brashly; a broad parody of cop shows,
it's in the spirit of “Naked Gun.” Angie (Rashida Jones) is a
tough cop, dealing with an unwanted partner and some daft suspects.
Steve and Nancy Carell created it; he directed the opener and she
plays the mayor's wife. Some scenes (Lisa Kudrow as a maybe-mistress)
are hilarious, some fail, but “Angie” booms ahead.

Other choices
include:

Football, 1:05 p.m.
ET, Fox and 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS. Superstar quarterbacks collide in the
play-offs. Russell Wilson's Seattle Seahawls visit Cam Newton's
Carolina Panthers; then (if injuries permit) it's Ben Roethlisberger
and Peyton Manning, as the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Denver
Broncos.

“Galavant,” 8
and 8:30 p.m., ABC. To get in the mood for the loopy “Angie
Tribeca” humor, try this show, which leaps between broad parody and
clever songs. In tonight's first episode, Galavant is wedged between
feuding giants and dwarves; in the second, we meet his father, an old
knight.

Critics Choice
awards, 8 p.m., A&E, Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network. The
best-picture winners at the Golden Globes (“The Revenant” and
“The Martian”) collide here, alongside “Spotlight,” “The
Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,”
“Carol,” “Brooklyn,” “Room” and “Sicario.” Then
there are all the subcategories – action, animated, sci-fi, etc. --
plus TV, acting and more.

“Cooper Barrett's
Guide to Surviving Life,” 8:30, Fox. Heading to her ex-boyfriend's
wedding in Mexico, Kelly wants Cooper to pretend to be her date. He'd
rather be her real date, but he goes along ... soon bumbling
thoroughly. What follows is a slick and funny parody of “24.”

Debate, 9 p.m. ET,
NBC. After getting some awful timeslots for previous debates, the
Democrats get a broadcast-network spot on TV's best night.

“Sunshine
Superman,” 9 p.m. ET, CNN; reruns at midnight ET. After losing a
year of his childhood to polio, Carl Boenish roared through life. He
became a pianist, an engineer, then a master of “base jumping” --
parachuting from cliffs and skyscrapers and such. That led to his
fame, his belated romance and his death. The story is told warmly ...
with, of course, some glorious footage.

ALSO: An busy night
has lots of cable non-fiction. At 8 p.m. on Ovation, the fairly
interesting “Tour of Beauty” sends Rachel Hunter to Paris. Also
at 8, “Million Dollar American Princesses” includes the
compelling story of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, John's sister. At 9,
the American Heroes Channel has “The Hunt for James Earl Ray.” At
10, AXS airs David Bowie's “Ziggy Stardust” (1973) concert film.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Social Network” (2010), 8 p.m., ABC.

Television lost its
best writer when Aaron Sorkin switched from TV shows (“West Wing,”
“Sports Night,” “News Room”) to movies. Fortunately, he keeps
popping up on the TV screen.

Last Sunday, his
“Steve Jobs” script brought his second Golden Globe. Here's the
movie that brought him his first Globe ... and an Oscar. It traces
Mark Zuckerberg from Harvard student to Facebook mogul. Sorkin fudged
the truth – in real life, Zuckerberg had a steady girlfriend
throughout this time – but wrote brilliantly. Director David
Fincher (“Gone Girl”) and star Jesse Eisenberg crafted a gem.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Football, 4:35 p.m. ET, CBS, and 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC,

Last weekend, all
four visiting teams (each with a veteran quarterback) beat home teams
(each with a quarterback in his first play-off games). Now comes the
hard part -- veteran-vs.-veteran.

First, Alex Wilson
and the Kansas City Chiefs visit the Patriots and Tom Brady, who has
won four Super Bowls. Then Aaron Rodgers and the Packers visit the
Cardinals and Carson Palmer, whose 12th season has become
his best. There's more Sunday, with Seahawks-Panthers and
Steelers-Broncos.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Colony,” noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., etc., USA.

The cable people
REALLY want you to see this hour. They ran it twice Thursday, once
Friday ... and now every hour, from noon to midnight. Along the way,
we'll see a husband and wife (Josh Holloway and Sarah Callies)
struggle in a modern world that's controlled by unseen aliens from
another planet.

For years, the USA
Network prospered with breezy, blue-collar shows like “Psych,”
“Burn Notice” and “Royal Pains.” Lately, however, viewers
have leaned to complex shows that have ongoing stories. USA has
sometimes stumbled, but triumphed with “Mr. Robot,” this year's
Golden Globe drama winner.

Other choices
include:

“As Good as it
Gets” (1997), 7:30 p.m., Pop. Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt won
Oscars in James Brooks' beautifully nuanced story about lonely souls,
nudged together. There are plenty of other good movie choices at 8
p.m., led by “Top Gun” (1986) on AMC, “Red 2” (2013) on TNT,
Clint Eastwood's “Gran Torino” (2008) on CMT and the animated
“Incredibles” (2004) on Disney.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
8 p.m., Fox. In an instant rerun of Friday's season-opener, 18 chefs
reach Las Vegas; they're soon cooking in the same kitchen where the
winner will become the $250,000-a-year head chef. Things go well
until the dinner competition, when Chef Gordon Ramsay has his annual
implosion.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. This reruns the episode that introduced
Pride's daughter, Laurel. The case involves a Navy SEAL who was
killed at a sorority house.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, three workers have been killed during a
restaurant robbery. Now the team studies another crime in the same
town, six years earlier.

“Second Chance,”
9 p.m., Fox. A bitter ex-cop is killed and then resurrected in a
sleek (if flawed) body. Now he can seek vengeance on his enemies
and/or love from the son and granddaughter he ignored. This may sound
cheesy, but it's solidly crafted.

“Black Sails,”
10:35 p.m., Starz. Next Saturday, this tough, taut drama starts its
third season. To prepare, you can watch its second-season finale
here. Or catch the full season, starting at 2 p.m.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Adam Driver – co-star of “Girls” and
the new “Star Wars” movie – hosts this rerun, with music from
Chris Stapleton.

 

TV column for Friday, Jan. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Gershwin Prize,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

From “Crazy” to
“Good Hearted Woman,” Willie Nelson has written and sung some of
the great American songs. Now he gets the annual Library of Congress
award for singer-songwriters.

The first winner
(Paul Simon) helps honor the seventh (Nelson, 82). Both perform; so
do others from country (Roseanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson,
Raul Malo) and beyond. That includes Neil Young, Edie Brickell, Leon
Bridges, Ana Gabriel, Buckwheat Zydeco and Nelson's son Lukas.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Hell's Kitchen” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

As the hour begins,
an announcer promises “the most unstable, unpredictable,
unbalanced” contestants ever. Well, you do expect adrenaline, when
there's a Marine, a former pro poker player, an amateur boxer and a
tiny, tattooed mother of three, plus someone who says she's “the
epitome of Jersey.”

They get a rousing
welcome – complete with parade – in Las Vegas. Then one side
falls apart (as usual) during the first dinner service. Gordon Ramsay
rages anew ... as he seems to in every opener.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Movies, 8 p.m., cable.

Imagine being a
videogame villain, forever crashing and smashing things; it must be
rough on the psyche. “Wreck-it Ralph” (2012, Disney Channel), a
clever cartoon, shows a bad guy trying to reform.

There's also a great
plot for “Red” (2010, TNT), as an old hitman (Bruce Willis)
learns he can't retire; the gifted cast includes Helen Mirren, Morgan
Freeman and John Malkovich. By comparison, “Pretty Woman” (1990,
TV Land) has an awful plot, salvaged by Julia Roberts' brilliant,
Oscar-nominated performance. Also, the cowboy classic “Stagecoach”
(1939) is at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies.

Other choices
include:

“Just Add Magic,”
any time, Amazon Prime. Kids are into cooking these days (see next
paragraph), but they need to read the recipes ... including the
warnings about magic spells. This tween tale has three girls
accidentally concoct magic. Dee Wallace and Amy Hill have small
roles, but most of this depends on the kids; they're pleasant and
adequate, as is the show, which makes its whole season available.

“MasterChef
Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. Two versions of Gordon Ramsay will be on
display tonight. With grown-ups on “Hell's Kitchen,” he's nasty;
with kids on this show, he's usually charming. The final six kids
visit his home tonight, hoping for spots in next week's semi-finals.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Jay Leno returns to his guest role as Joe
the mechanic. He has a surprising effect on Eve, who's in a funk
after being rejected by West Point.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30,
ABC. Ken really should know the importance of an annual physical;
he's a doctor, after all. But he hasn't had one in years ... and he
wants his wife (also a doctor) to lie for him.

“Superstore,”
8:30, NBC. This episode starts and ends hilariously, as workers
ponder the death of an old man they didn't really know. In between
are good moments, as they confront a shoplifter and Jonah helps Amy
secretly watch her daughter during work.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Carol Burnett and Taryn Manning return as McGarrett's
aunt and sister. Aunt Deb is on the island on a personal mission,
while McGarrett has something else to worry about: Someone has stolen
unstable, World War II bombs.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. When a mobster is gunned down in his car, Danny must
find the shooter quickly, before a mob war breaks out. He may get
info from the errand boy he finds in the trunk.