TV column for Wednesday, April 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Skin Wars” debut, 10 p.m., Game Show Network.

These contestants
vary widely. They come from Mexico, Colombia, Australia ... and
distant chunks of the U.S. One grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm;
another is from Georgia, where his mom dubbed him “Black Jesus.”
One is from Brooklyn and rarely shows her work to her Orthodox Jewish
family.

The work, after all,
involves painting directly onto near-naked bodies, The artists –
including two professional clowns and an industrial painter – do it
brilliantly. “Skin Wars” copies familiar formats, but stands out
because of a sharp, witty judge (RuPaul Charles) and remarkably
gifted contestants.

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

Last week, we saw
Lucious shoot a deeply personal video, focusing on growing up with a
troubled mother. That brought sympathy from some people ... and rage
from his son: Knowing his mother was bipolar, Lucious never told or
helped Andre, who struggles with the same affliction.

Now Andre tries to
learn more. Lucious releases the video and tries to maneuver back
into control of his company ... now led by his youngest son Hakeem,
who is in charge at a key shareholders' meeting.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Time Traveling Bong” debut, 10:30 p.m., Comedy
Central.

If you use a
time-travel device, it's best to have one that controls when and
where you go. In dinosaur times, you might get stomped; in old Salem,
you might get burned .

That's something
Sharee and her cousin Jeff learn, in the start of a goofy and funny
mini-series for grown-ups. It was written by “Broad City” star
Ilana Glazer and by Paul Downs and Lucy Aniello, a co-star and
director of that show. Here, Glazer and Downs star, Aniello directs
and there's silly fun.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “There Goes the Motherhood” debut, 10 p.m.,
Bravo.

At first, this is a
crisp view of opposite parents. One woman has a free-spirit style;
another locks the kids' doors from the outside. One divorcee feels
shattered; another, with four kids and a former $60,000-a-month life,
exudes optimism ... and looks great in a yellow bikini. These are
interesting people; one had a girl-group and a TV show (both with
Fergie) and married a top record executive.

Then the show goes
to Bravo's mainstay – an arbitrary party, an absurd feud. One woman
says another called her fat (she didn't) and grumbles; others offer
flimsy complaints. A strong start soon fizzles.

Other choices
include:

“Jurassic Park”
(1993), 7 and 10 p.m., AMC, or “E.T,” (1982), 8-10 p.m.,
Showtime. Here are two Steven Spielberg gems – one scary, one warm,
both brilliantly crafted. They lead a night of classics, each worth
recording -- “Die Hard” (1988) at 7 p.m. on Sundance, “Ghost”
(1990) at 7:30 on Oxygen, “Dr. No” (1962), at 8 and 10:30 p.m. ET
on BBC America.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. Last week, Debbie Wanner (a chemist) was ousted. That
leaves only two people from the original “brains” tribe, with
three apiece from “brawn” and “beauty.”

“Rosewood,” 8
p.m., Fox. While probing the murder of a telenovela star, Dr.
Rosewood and Det. Annalise Villa also have personal crises. She's
re-connecting with her mom (played by Lisa Vidal of “The
Division”); he agonizes when someone has stolen his gorgeous
convertible.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. This rerun finds a tough parenting week for Phil and
Claire: Luke is arrested for driving without a license; Alex is seen
leaving a liquor store.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. Thomas Rhett sings “Die a Hapy Man” tonight ... but
don't expect to see happy people. Rayna and Deacon agonize when
Maddie runs away ... Juliette fumes over the link between her
estranged husband Avery and Layla. And Luke must replace Riff, who's
missing.

“The Americans,”
10 p.m., FX. Slow and somber, this is the hour we knew was
inevitable. It's been fun to see the schemes of Philip and Elizabeth,
Russian spies embedded deep in 1980's America. He convinced Martha,
an FBI secretary, that he's Clark, a U.S. agent investigating her
bosses; he even married her, sort of. But now the FBI is suspicious
and he needs drastic action. This hour is painfully slow and slowly
painful ... but the final scene will bring us back next week.

TV column for Tuesday, April 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“New Girl,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox.

This delightful –
and under-noticed – show peaks with each “Jess-out”: Jess
(Zooey Deschanel), fueled by pure emotion – becomes crazed or
brilliant or both. There are hilarious ones in both of these
episodes, first during a test drive, then while getting stuck in a
football helmet ... really.

Both stories play
off the jealousy between Jess' previous boyfriend (Nick) and her
past-and-current one

(Sam). In each case,
a secondary story – Winston's pranks-obsessed girlfriend, a
show-business audition for Ferguson the cat – is mostly silly; the
Jess ones, however, have moments of hilarity.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Containment” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

Lately, CW has been
into fantasy flings. Now, however, comes something that seems
terribly real and possible – a deadly virus spreading across
Atlanta ... and maybe beyond.

It starts in a
hospital, where “Patient Zero” quickly leaves. Stricken doctors
are isolated, other people – including visiting schoolkids – are
quarantined. Then comes the broader push, led by a federal official
(Claudia Black of “Farscape” and “Stargate”) and a local cop
(David Gyasi) whose girlfriend is trapped amid the horror. This is
stark drama; it's involving, but not necessarily entertaining.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “10 Towns That Changed America,” 8 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

City-planning is
nothing new to Americans. The oldest colonial town (St. Augustine,
Fla.) began in 1565, using 148 rules from Spain. Then the concepts
kept changing, this slick, surface report says.

William Penn planned
Philadelphia to have wide streets; Seaside, Fla., has narrow ones,
encouraging bikes and pedestrians. Levittown, NY, was dedicated to
autos, sweeping people to suburbia; the Pearl District of Portland,
Ore., makes drivers compete with a new streetcar line. A District of
Columbia neighborhood plowed most of its old buildings; Portland
celebrates the old, as part of its quirky mood.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Night Manager” opener, 10 p.m., AMC.

We'd kind of assumed
that hotel night managers have dull lives. Not so, apparently. In
1993, John le Carre's first post-Cold War novel had a manager
suddenly enmeshed in a world of Latin American drug lords, Caribbean
bankers and timid government officials.

Now this mini-series
has modernized the tale, starting it during Egypt's 2011 uprising.
Tom Hiddleston – famous for everything from Shakespeare to Thor's
quirky Loki – stars; Hugh Laurie convincingly plays the the
terribly proper villain. Quietly and intelligently, this opener grips
our attention.

Other choices
include:

Election coverage,
all night, cable news networks. New York's presidential primaries,
suddenly crucial in both parties, will get thorough attention.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Everyone – the NCIS, the FBI and Homeland Security – gets
involved, when two British prisoners (one of them a spy) escape and
slip into the U.S.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. This reruns an episode that includes a
citywide blackout. In the midst of the chaos, Pride probes a case
involving a family friend.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine” season-finale, 9 p.m., Fox. Like “New Girl,” this
show has delivered solid laughs and flimsy ratings. Now the team goes
after a hit man ... then feels Holt may be in danger.

“The Grinder,”
9:30 p.m., Fox. Chances are, the network has been lecturing producers
about simplifying their stories. This episode starts and ends with
discussions of simple-vs.-complex; in between, it has an immensely
tangled plot. Four characters are working on deceptions, some of them
colliding with each other. The result, like a theater farce, is both
bizarre and funny.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. When a teen is an innocent victim in a gang war, Casey
tries to use his clout as a councilman. Also, Severide helps an
undercover cop, watching her son at the firehouse.

TV column for Monday, April 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Detour,” 9 p.m., TBS.

Even the messiest
family vacations aren't as messy -- or as funny – as this one. The
car is being fixed, the mom is drinking, the police are here ... and
the guy administering the blood test is awfully shaky. During it all,
the parents (Jason Jones and Natalie Zea) have secrets from each
other.

“Detour” is
well-acted and cleverly written ... which probably shouldn't surprise
us. Jones and his real-life wife (Samantha Bee) created this show –
as they did her satirical “Full Frontal” at 10:30 p.m. One couple
is filling our Mondays with lotsof laughs.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” season-finale, 8 p.m., CW.

A strange – and
sometimes splendid – season ends by returning everyone to chaos.
Rebecca (writer-star Rachel Bloom) recently ditched her unhealthy
obsession with Josh and fell madly in lust with good-guy Greg. Now
the show strains to find a way to leave everything open for next
season.

That feels
arbitrary; by the high “Crazy” standards, this hour is merely OK.
Still, it has good moments and great songs. There's a rousing one by
Donna Lynn Champlin (who plays Paula); and at the wedding, there's a
soaring ballad by Tony-winner Lea Salonga.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: More season-finales, 8 p.m. CBS and 10:05 p.m., FX.

The TV season still
has five more weeks, but some shows are bailing early. For CBS'
“Supergirl,” the stakes are especially high tonight: Non and
Indigo plan to destroy every person on the planet.

And for “Saul”?
FX reruns the season's first nine episodes – from the opener at
12:30 p.m. to last week's story at 8:53. Then comes the
season-finale, with Jimmy facing some hard choices.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Gotham,” 8 p.m., Fox.

As head of the
mental asylum, Dr. Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong) is ambitious, scheming,
cruel and ... well, strange. Now he deliberately frees Barbara Kean,
Detective Gordon's crazed ex-girlfriend.

But don't take
anything for granted here. Beautifully played by Erin Richards, Kean
isn't easy for anyone to figure out. She manages to perplex people,
in a complex and well-told episode.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice”
(NBC) and “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC), 8-10:01 p.m Last week,
“Voice” found its top 12 singers (three per team.) Now the
sifting begins; all 12 sing and viewers vote, with one person leaving
on Tuesday. And last week, “Stars” dumped Marla Maples, Donald
Trump's ex-wife; the new round has Ginger Zee and Paige VanZant
leading in judges' scores, with Doug Flutie at the bottom.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. In the soap-opera and telenova tradition, evil twins and
lookalikes abound. Now Petra discovers a twin who looks just like her
and behaves the opposite. And Jane has her own alter-ego, the heroine
of the novel she's writing. Both spice an erratic but fun hour.

“12 Monkeys,” 9
p.m., Syfy. The second season starts with crises in two time frames.
In current time, Cole and Ramse must repair their fractured
friendship while on the run in Budapest; in the future, Railly and
Jones are unlikely partners, trying to preserve the time machine
needed to save the world.

“Lucifer,” 9:01
p.m., Fox. “Sympathy for the Devil,” it turns out, is more than a
Rolling Stones song; it's a real emotion. This well-written episode
gets us to feel sympathetic toward Lucifer ... who is having a REALLY
bad day. It's an interesting hour with a surprising ending and a
story to be continued.

“Hunters,” 10
p.m., Syfy. Last week's debut introduced big troubles: Aliens from
another planet are among us, disguised as humans. Most are lethal;
one (Regan) works to stop them. Tonight, in another strong episode,
we see how nasty they are ... especially McCathy, played zestfully by
Julian McMahon.

“Blindspot,”
10:01 p.m., NBC. Jane and Weller are in the uncomfortable position of
needing help from their former target, Rich DotCom. He's the only
person their current target will meet with.

TV column for Sunday, April 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.

For seven years,
“Good Wife” has delivered smart, well-crafted drama. Resisting
waves of cable dramas, it's won a Golden Globe (with 14 nominations)
and five Emmys (with 39 nominations).

Now, after two weeks
off, it starts the final four episodes of its final season. Alicia
and Lucca try to help an NSA agent who was stopped at the Canadian
border, returning to the U.S. Also, two women worry about their
husbands: For Diane (Christine Baranski), it's Kurt (Gary Cole), who
is ready to retire and sell his business to his rival (Megan Hilty).
For Alicia, it's Peter, who might return to jail.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Mr. Selfridge,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local lisintgs).

Like Harry Selfridge
himself, this hour veers between extremes. It has a giddy start – a
black-and-white movie, filmed at the store and starring the flighty
Dolly sisters; then we see that Harry's been spending a fortune on
his lover (one of the Dollys), his gambling and more. A mobster
demands payback.

This is all
well-made, but has a feeling of inevitability. More interesting are
others: Frank Edwards and his savvy wife Kitty reach a turning point;
Grove, with only a year to live, grasps for serenity.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Vinyl” (9 p.m.) and “Girls” (10 and 10:30)
season-finales, HBO.

Two big-impact shows
wrap their seasons, making room for three bigger ones -- “Game of
Thrones,” “Silicon Valley” and “Veep” -- next Sunday.

On “Vinyl,” the
Alibi label is ready to launch, but Zak (Ray Romano) schemes against
his boss (Bobby Cannavale); also, the Nasty Bits are wracked by
jealousy. On “Girls,” Hannah delivers news to Principal Toby,
Marnie tries to patch things with Desi ... and Jessa and Adam have an
epic fight.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Good Witch” season-opener, 9 p.m., Hallmark.

Here is the precise
opposite of HBO in every way – pleasantly undemanding tales of good
(mostly) people whose lives get tilted a tad. The original “Good
Witch” movie (2008) reruns at 11 a.m., with other movies at 1,3, 5
and 7 p.m.; then the one-hour series starts its second season.

Cassie (Catherine
Bell) -- who rarely uses her witchly gifts -- is widowed, with a teen
daughter (Bailee Madison). A doctor (James Denton) and his teen son
have moved next door. Life is sweet – except for his scheming
ex-wife, Cassie's self-centered cousin and the ordinary (and
entertaining) quirks of life.

Other choices
include:

“Little Big
Shots,” 7 and 8 p.m., NBC. First is a rerun, with kids' skills
ranging from math to Motown, from fiddling to karate-fighting. Then a
new hour has a music emphasis – a pianist, a jazz singer, a rock
band, an orchestra conductor and even a yodeler.

“Madame
Secretary,” 8 p.m., CBS. Elizabeth's plan to link with the Russians
to stop terrorism may collide with her husband's effort to save
Dmitri's ill sister.

“The Family,” 9
p.m., ABC. Two weeks from the finale of a compelling tale, we learn
what Hank's link to the kidnapping might have been. Also, Nina
follows Adam, who slips out of the house each night. And Willa must
play dirty to keep a political opponent from revealing her mom's
drinking problem.

“The Story of
God,” 9 p.m., National Geographic. Last week's richly detailed hour
(rerunning at 8 p.m.) viewed religions' end-of-the-world views. This
one surveys varying views on who God is.

“Last
Man on Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Last week, “Tandy” (Will Forte)
found a shock: While he was sleeping, his brother (Jason Sudeikis)
shaved half his face bald. “You look like two different serial
killers,” he's told here. Now the prank war – sometimes funny,
sometimes just repetitious – begins.

“Quantico,”
10 p.m., ABC. Alex keeps getting surprises. In the training-days
flashbacks, she and others learn a secet about Drew; flashing
forward, she learns what happened to Cale.

TV column for Saturday, April 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
was just 21 when she joined “SNL,” back in 1982. Her three-year
stay included two of the show's worst years and then the start of its
comeback.

She would go on to
much better things -- “Seinfeld” and “Veep” and 16 Emmy
nominations for acting, winning five times. Still, she's never
returned to host “SNL.” Now eight days before “Veep” starts
its new HBO season – she does, with Nick Jonas as the music guest.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Hear My Song,” 8-10 p.m., CBS.

For 65 years,
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” has delivered some of TV's best moments.
It started with the “Amahl” operetta, peaked with “Promise”
and other Emmy-winning movies ... and then, oddly, was dumped off to
cable-only. Now it returns to CBS, but on TV's weakest night.

This story – a
tough-luck kid joins a fancy boychoir – lacks believability at ever
turn. Still, it's crafted exquisitely by director Francois Girard and
a cast that includes Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Confirmation,” 8-10 p.m., HBO.

At the same time as
“Hear My Song,” here's another movie that's thoroughly
unbelievable. The difference is that this one really happened, during
a bizarre stretch in 1991.

When civil-rights
pioneer Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court, George H.W.
Bush chose Clarence Thomas, a black conservative who opposes
affirmative action. It was a controversial choice ... even before
Anita Hill, a law professor, accused him of sexual harassment. Kerry
Washington and Wendell Pierce star, with Greg Kinnear as Joe Biden
and Treat Williams as Ted Kennedy.

Other choices
include:

“Back to the
Future” (1985), 4 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., AMC. Here are some more
chances to see this fun adventure. It's sequels air at 6:30 p.m.
(1989) and 9 p.m. (1990).

Fights, 8 p.m. ET,
Fox, and 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC. It's combative overkill, taking up half
the big-four networks. Fox's Ultimate Fighting Championships card is
topped by Tony Ferguson against Khabid Nurmagomedov; NBC's boxing
includes the WBO cruiserweight title fight between Krzystof Glowacki
and Steve Cunningham.

“America's
Funniest Home Videos,” 8 and 9 p.m. Here are two reruns, the first
one having 10 videos compete for a $100,000 mid-season prize.

“The Carmichael
Show,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, Jerrod is delighted to have tickets
to see his childhood comedy hero, Bill Cosby. His girlfriend, citing
all the date-rape accusations about Cosby, refuses to go. That sets
off a thoughtful (and sometimes quite funny) family debate.

“Outlander,” 9
p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10 and 11. Last week's season-opener
(rerunning at 11:55 a.m. and 8 p.m.) offered a quick jolt – a dazed
Claire returning to 1948, but pregnant with the child of Jamie, her
husband in 18th-century Scotland. Then it flashed back, as
she and Jamie arrived in France. Now they're living at his cousin's
estate and struggling for a way to prevent the Jacobian rebellion.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. A decade ago, Greg Smith
received a Master's Degree from the University of Virginia. He was
16, a kid in a hurry. He was reading at 2, started high school at 7
and college at 10. Now we see what he's been up to since; the hour
also visits Genie Francis – who was soaps' mos popular actress, on
“General Hospital” -- and model Iman.

“Party Over Here,”
11 p.m., Fox. Here's a “best of” collection of sketches from the
first season. It's followed at 11:30 by a “Cooper Barrett's Guide
to Surviving Life” rerun, with the return of Cooper's angry
ex-girlfriend.