TV column for Thursday, Jan. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

TV shows, like
people, can grow and improve; most don't, this one has done it
quickly. In its first season, “Mom” was sometimes funny,
sometimes just goofy; now here's a dead-serious detour.

At the core is Anna
Faris as Christy, who became a teen mom, as did her daughter Violet
(Sadie Calvao) and mother Bonnie (Allison Janney). These are skilled
actresses; in the first season, Janney won an Emmy, her sixth. Now
Bonnie has reunited with Christy's dad (Kevin Pollak); life is
blissful ... until a sudden change shows off the depth of this cast
and of “Mom.”

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

Imagine Dr. House
probing crimes, not diseases. He would be rude, crude, sometimes
bigoted; he would also catch killers in oddly entertaining ways.

That's Everett
Backstrom, created in Swedish novels. Hart Hanson wrote the script,
using the same formula that works for “Bones” -- an eccentric
genius, short on social skills, with complementary people nearby.
Rainn Wilson brings the same quirky touch he did to Dwight in “The
Office”; others – led by veteran Dennis Haysbert and newcomer
Genevieve Angelson – offer the skills Backstrom lacks.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Parenthood,” 10 p.m., NBC.

One week from its
finale, this terrific series faces issues of life and death and more.
At the core is Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), making a medical decision with
his wife (Bonnie Bedelia).

Their sons, Adam and
Crosby, dispute their recording-studio business. Their daughter Sarah
makes a key decision. And Sarah's daughter Amber is rushed to the
hospital, as she goes into labor.

Other choices
include:

“The Taste”
finale, 8-10 p.m., ABC. First, the final five chefs make a dish that
uses opposite concepts. Two are ousted and the others have two hours
to make a three-course dinner.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. This rerun brings hilarious moments, as
Sheldon and Raj test to see if they might survive salt-mine research.
Amy provides their skeptical link to the outside world.

“The World's Worst
Mom” debut, 9 p.m., Discovery Life. The opener introduces a mom who
quickly frays the patience of her son, her husband and viewers.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. Joining a group for adoptive fathers, Walden
finds it a nice relief from being around Alan.

“The McCarthys,”
9:31 p.m., CBS. For Ronny, the gay assistant basketball coach, this
gets complicated. He's dating the referee whom his dad (the coach)
hates.

“Babylon,” 10
p.m., Sundance. Skillfully blending comedy and drama, this British
series watches a sleek public-relations whiz (Brit Marling) try to
guide an unflinching police chief (James Nesbitt). Tonight, the drama
part takes over, with a bomb threat and a jolting finish.

“Archer,” 10
p.m., FX, rerunning at 10:30. Archer really should start reading his
instructions. In a funny episode, he's on a treacherous
mountain-climbing expedition and knows he's supposed to kill someone
... but forgot to learn who is the target.

“Elementary,”
10:01 p.m., CBS. A two-parter begins with Watson starting her job as
an insurance investigator. She and Holmes both probe a threat to
young Kitty.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Black-ish,” 9:31 and 10 p.m., ABC.

The bad news is that
ABC is all-reruns tonight. The good is that good shows are being
repeated... including double helpings of “Modern Family” (9 and
10:30) and of “Black-ish.”

In its first
episode, Dre's mother (Jenifer Lewis) arrives; she fills him with
food and attention, while creating instant problems for his wife,
Rainbow. Then comes the Halloween episode: Dre wants to maintain the
family tradition of wild pranks; the kids, alas, have lost interest.

TONIGHT MUST-SEE II:
“American Idol” and “Empire,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

These shows – one
full of music, one about music – fit neatly, getting “Empire”
off to a strong ratings start. Now “Idol” starts its final week
of auditions (concluding Thursday) and “Empire” continues.

Tonight, Lucious
Lyon takes his family to his Philadelphia roots, to show what their
lives would be like if he hadn't become a record mogul. Also, he
encourages his son's relationship with a hip-hop star.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Horror Story” season-finale, 10 p.m., FX.

With its
annual-anthology format, this series tends to end each season with a
strong episode. Here's the end of a season that centers on a rag-tag
“freak show.”

Now Dandy Mott –
rich and spoiled and a mass murderer – has bought the show for a
measly $10,000. Tonight, he makes his performance debut; also, the
freaks finally have their rebellion.

Other choices
include:

“The Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. At home, Laura frets about finding a
replacement nanny; at work, she's not sure if a double-murder had a
religious motivation.

“The Story
Behind,” 8:30-9:30 p.m., Pop. After debuting last week with
“Everybody Loves Raymond,” this show moves into its regular spot
by profiling “Home Improvement.”

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Amaro reluctantly attends the
wedding of his dad (Armand Assante, 65) to a 28-year-old. A fight
breaks out and Amaro faces an ethical dilemma.

“Modern Family,”
9 and 10:30 p.m., ABC. The first rerun finds Phil tempted to edit the
wedding video, to cover up his transgression. The second (the
season-opener) finds fresh chaos when Alex returns from her summer
humanitarian mission and Cam and Mitchell return from their
honeymoon.

“The Mistress”
debut, 10 p.m., Discovery Life. Each week, an ex-mistress tries to
push others out of such relationships. The result is mostly
repugnant, with no one to really root for.

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FXX. The guys discover three-on-three
blind dates and Dee discovers the male art of love-'em-and-leave-'em.
The result ranges from laughs to sheer excess.

“Man Seeking
Woman,” 10:30 p.m., FXX. This oddity is filled with sight gags ...
big amd weird and (at times) funny. That peaks early, when an
exorcist tries to remove Josh's obsession with his ex-girlfriend.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
State of the Union address, 9 p.m. ET, everywhere.

President Obama's
speech (plus the Republican response by Jodi Ernst, the new Iowa
senator) will dominate the networks tonight.

Afterward, the
follow-up coverage continues. It goes to 10:30 p.m. on ABC, CBS and
Fox ... until 11 p.m. on NBC and PBS ... and approximately forever on
CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and Fox Business.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Justified” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

The final season
begins with the usual “Justified” attributes – richly drawn
characters and hours that somehow juggle droll wit and sudden bursts
of violence.

Raylan's old life
has crumbled. Winona – his ex-wife and true love – has moved to
Florida with their baby daughter. His boss (as a U.S. marshal) barely
survived a shooting. Boyd, his nemesis is free and Boyd's angry wife
Ava is out of prison. Now Raylan can move to Florida, if he helps
bring down Boyd ... who, in this terrific opener, plans a bank
robbery, aided (sort of) by dim Dewey Crowe.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Living Different” debut, 9 p.m., Oxygen.

On opposite coasts,
likable young women have lives molded by religion. Hannah. a Muslim
convert, sells real estate; her clients, in the free-form California
world, eye her traditional garb warily.

In New York, Dalia
Shusterman, a widowed mom, and Perl Wolfe have a modern look and (in
their rock band, Bulletproof Stockings) a modern sound, but they
follow Hasidic Jewish rules – no shaking hands with men, no
performing when men are in the audience. They seem to have strong
talent, so we're soon rooting for them to succeed with female-only
nights at bars.

Other choices
include:

“Parks and
Recreation” (NBC) or “MasterChef Junior” (Fox), 8 p.m. Some
networks are sticking to reruns (to avoid State of the Union
complications), but these two hours are new. NBC has Leslie (Amy
Poehler) battling her old boss Ron over the future of possible park
land. Fox's cooking show presents -- briefly and behind glass – a
crocodile and a rattlesnake.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, the team probes whether a murder was random or the
result of the victim's scheduled meeting with the presaident.

“Agent Carter,”
8 p.m., ABC. In a quick rerun of last week's episode, Peggy is close
to finding the stolen technology. Then Jarvis is arrested and a
secret is revealed.

“Supernatural,”
9 p.m., CW. This is the one broadcast network that's skipping the
speech. After a new “Flash” at 8 p.m. (Captain Cold and Heat Wave
pull off a kidnapping), this show finds Sam and Dean redoubling their
efforts to stop the Mark of Cain, after the massacre at the ranch.

“Switched at
Birth,” 9 p.m., ABC Family. Settling into dorm life, Daphne finds
that someone is pranking the deaf kids; she soon challenges him.
Meanwhile, Bay faces an obsatacle in getting her work into an art
showcase; also, Regina finds a new guy, owner of a coffee house she
likes.

“Girlfriends'
Guide to Divorce,” 10 p.m., Bravo. Just as she prepares to pitch
her new idea, Abby is thrown off by the arrival of her flashy, brassy
friend (Alanna Ubach) from college days.

“Black-ish,”
10:30 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, things go badly when Dre insists his
kids get jobs.

“Mike &
Molly,” 10:30 p.m., CBS. This reruns the so-so season-opener, with
Molly back from the eight-week writers' workshop, already toting a
book deal.

 

TV column for Monday, Jan. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

After a month of
reruns, “Jane” returns, toting some honors. The American Film
Institute named it one of the year's 10 best shows; the Golden Globes
gave it a win (for Gina Rodriguez) and a nomination (best comedy).
What remains is for this clever show to get viewers.

As a storm rages
through Miami, Jane – a virgin, accidentally impregnated via
clinical error – has new problems. She frets about her grandmother
(who is hospitalized) and her friends (who face lay-offs). There are
serious, moving moments, alongside the offbeat humor from a droll
narrator.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Scorpion,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Fresh from its
Sunday spotlight – a coveted slot after the AFC playoff game --
“Scorpion” returns to its regular spot. It offers the episode
that was originally set for Sunday, then was nudged back a night.

David James Elliott
(“JAG”) plays a former Secret Service agent, now injured and
impaired; the team must jog his memory, to prevent a nuclear launch.
Also, Paige worries about her son: His father insists he would be
better off if he moved to Maine.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Nightly Show” debut, 11:31 p.m., Comedy
Central.

For a decade, Comedy
Central has had brilliance four nights a week, with Stephen Colbert
following Jon Stewart. Now Colbert is gone – his CBS show starts in
September – and Larry Wilmore arrives.

He's an unusual
choice – older (52) and quieter than most new stars – but a good
one. As a producer (“Bernie Mac Show,” early episodes of
“Black-ish” and “The Office”) and as one of Stewart's
correspondents, he's shown great wit; now he plans to take a
round-table approach to the news.

Other choices
include:

“Glory” (1989),
5:45 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Martin Luther King Day is
celebrated with a string of powerful dramas, including this look at
the Civil War's first all-black unit. That's followed by Sidney
Poitier films -- “The Defiant Ones” (1958) at 8 p.m. ET, “To
Sir With Love” (1967) at 10 and “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner”
(1967) at midnight.

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Jimmy Kimmel, who says he's a fan of the show,
arrives to help Chris Soules and the remaining 18 women. He plans
dates and even joins a hot-tub party.

“2 Broke Girls,”
8 p.m., CBS. Caroline has been learning how to live cheap. Now comes
a surprise – a Lamborghini her father ordered (to be delivered on
her birthday) before being convicted of embezzling.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. When he gets a letter about his parents'
troubles, Samuel considers moving back to Africa.

“Sleepty Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. In flashbacks, Michelle Trachtenberg (“Buffy”) plays
Abigail Adams, the outspoken wife of the second president.

“Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local lisatings). The accounts by Adam
Winfield are chilling: In Afghaistan, he said, his unit sometimes
murdered innocent civilians, then planted weapons on them; the
sergeant in charge encouraged this and collected fingers of the
victims. His colleagues (subsequently convicted) now confirm this;
the Army seems to have acted slowly – then gone after Winfield, the
whistle-blower. That's told in a compelling and disturbing
documentary.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. On the night that “Jane the Virgin” brings
telenovela-style fun, this show has the murder of a telenovela
actress. The suspects are as flamboyant as the characters they play.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Grantchester” debut, 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Riding a new high,
the once-struggling “Masterpiece” now adds new series alongside
“Downton Abbey.” Tonight, it introduces Sidney Chambers, a World
War II veteran who is now a clergyman,

zooming around his
village by bicycle while accidentally solving crimes.

As played by James
Norton (accurately described by “Masterpiece” chief Rebecca Eaton
as “gorgeous”), Sidney remains optimistic, despite a doomed love;
he forms a mismatched friendship with a semi-weary cop, skillfully
played by Robson Green, a “Masterpiece” favorite.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: Football, 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS, followed by “Scorpion.”

By the end of the
night, we'll know who's in the Super Bowl. At 3:05 p.m., Fox has the
Packers at Seattle; then CBS has the Colts at New England ...
followed (at 10 p.m. ET or so) by “Scorpion.”

That's a key spot
for a first-year show that's already a ratings hit. “Scorpion”
had planned an episode with David James Elliott as a memory-impaired
officer, then slid that to Monday. Tonight, the team tries to find a
mole inside the CIA; also, Paige (Katharine McPhee) teaches Walter
to flirt.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Galavant,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Over the past two
Sundays, Galavant has launched his quest to win back his former love
Madalena. Now (a week from the finale) he reaches her castle, unaware
that she prefers being queen (“I really like stuff”) ... And that
the princess – who loves Galavant – has been forced to lead him
into a trap.

There's some funny
stuff here, sparked by two guest roles – Weird Al Yankovic as a
monk who's taken a vow of song, Rickey Gervais as Xanax, the
feel-good advisor. Weaved in are some witty songs; an early one –
with Madalena's mirror images singing back to her – is especially
clever.

Other choices
include:

“Bridesmaids”
(2011), 8-11 p.m., NBC. Here's the zillionth rerun of a broadly funny
comedy, which Kristen Wiig co-wrote and starred in during her
“Saturday Night Live” days.

“Downton Abbey,”
9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A quiet episode sets the tone for
bigger moments ahead, as we worry about Lady Mary's tryst ... and the
war memorial ... and Cora's overattentive friend ... and who killed
the valet who raped Anna Bates (Golden Globe-winner Joanne Froggatt).

“Shameless,”
9-10 p.m., Showtime. It's a busy Father's Day for Frank, one of the
world's worst dads His daughter gropes for romance on the day before
her ankle-tether is removed ... one son (breaking family tradition by
going to college) has a summer job, another schemes revenge on a
bigoted pastor.

“Girls,” 9 p.m.,
HBO. In a big detour, this Manhattan-centric show send Hannah to
Iowa, for a writers' workshop. It's fun to see her in a world where
apartments are huge and bikes are unlocked.

“Togetherness,”
9:30, HBO. The husband-wife relationship remains only moderately
interesting. Better are the scenes between her sleek sister and his
lumpy friend, sharing the house during tough times. That's followed
by an OK “Looking,” with Patrick facing a health scare.

“Revenge,” 10
p.m., ABC. Jack and David race to stop Emily and Victoria from
killing each other.

“Episodes,”
10:30, Showtime. Last week, Matt LeBlanc (playing a perverse verion
of himself) learned that half his money was embezzled. Now come
great moments, as he ponders cutting back.