TV column for Wednesday, Aug. 6

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “So You Think You Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m.,

Last week was a rough one for the dancers; four were dumping,
including the two who specialized in Latin ballroom. That gives the show its final
10, half of them contemporary or jazz dancers; there are two tappers, a popper
(really), a ballerina and a ballroom dancer.

Tonight, each dances with an all-star, ranging from veteran
Twitch to last year’s champion, Amy Yakima. Also, Christina Perri sings
“Burning Gold”; she was a waitress in 2010, when the show used her ballad “Jar
of Hearts”; she was soon signed, the song broke into the top 20 and both her
albums reached No. 4.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Extant,” 10 p.m., CBS.

In a belated burst of logic, CBS has nudged this show back
an hour. That means the summer’s two scripted ratings leaders (each a richly
crafted science-fiction tale from Steven Spielberg) are at 10 p.m. -- Mondays for
“Under the Dome” and Wednesdays for “Extant.”

Tonight, there are doubts that Molly (Halle Berry) really is
pregnant after her solo space mission. Her husband (Goran Visjnic) frets about
her mental state and disagrees with Julie, his science colleague, about her
treatment. Also, there’s a setback with the android son he helped develop.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Skin Wars” (9 p.m., Game Show
Network) and “Top Chef: Duels” (10 p.m., Bravo) debuts.

On one hand, give these shows zero points for originality;
“Top Chef” copies itself; “Skin Wars” copies every other competition show. On
the other, the contestants show awesome talent.

“Chef” starts its series of one-on-one challenges with Richard
Blais (previously a champion) and Marcel Vigneron (a runner-up); they’re
opposites – one calm, one described as having puppy-dog energy -- in fun ways.
“Skin” brings 10 people who sometimes need day jobs – from firefighter to stilt-walker
-- but also create stunning beauty by painting the human body; even tonight’s
loser does gorgeous work.

Other choices include:

“The Middle,” 8 and 9:31 p.m., ABC. In the first rerun, a strike
forces Frankie to car-pool endangering kids’ chance for the “no tardy party.”
In the second, Mike squirms when required to take vacation days.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Cam is in charge of the spring
dance, with Claire as a chaperone. That means Haley will accompany her dad to
the annual realtors’ banquet.

“America’s Got Talent,” 9 p.m., NBC. Five more people will
advance, giving us the first half of the top 20. If you missed this week’s 12
acts, catch highlights in the 8 p.m. rerun.

“Nashville: On the Record,” 10 p.m., ABC. One night after
its high-octane country special, ABC remembers that the music also has a deep
and tender side. This rerun features actors from the “Nashville” series; the
conversations are hollow, but some of the music is magnificent. Catch Clare
Bowen (Scarlett in the series) singing “This Town,” “Black Roses” and “If I
Didn’t Know Better.”

“The Bridge,” 10 p.m., FX. TV’s obsession with torture
reaches wretched extremes in this otherwise well-made show. Marco should be
busy with big cases, tracing a web of drug deals, police corruption and rape;
instead, he throws his effort into a darkly complex scheme to avenge his son’s

TV column for Tuesday, Aug. 5

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: CMA Music Festival, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

This is billed as “Country’s Night to Rock” – a title it
sometimes takes too literally. Nashville’s sensitive side is set aside for a
cascade of high-octane, macho music.

The show is assembled from four concert nights. This year, those
included a few women – Miranda Lambert, Sara Evans and members of Little Big
Town (which hosts), Lady Antebellum and the Band Perry – and lots of guys. The
line-up had Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean, Keith Urban,
Hunter Hayes, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, Chris Young, Brantley Gilbert, Charlie
Daniels and more.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX.

Last week’s powerhouse episode offered two jolts. Bassam convinced
his brother Jamal to risk his dictatorship in an election. When an ailing sheik
led in polls, Jamal quietly killed him in the rest room.

Or did he? After the show’s first episode, we assumed Jamal
was dead; “Tyrant” is all about surprises. Tonight’s episode – another great
one – shows how fragile and dangerous Jamal is; it also pushes Bassam –
previously a quiet Pasadena pediatrician named Barry – to the extremes of
ethical dilemma.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Mark Twain” conclusion, 8-10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings).

This second half of a rerun starts in 1885, the year Twain
wrote “Huckleberry Finn.” He had one more classic (“A Connecticut Yankee in
King Arthur’s Court”), along with financial disaster (bad investments) and
depression after his daughter’s death. But his speeches and essays were

It’s a richly human portrait, beautifully crafted by Ken
Burns. And it helps viewers get in the mood for “The Roosevelts,” Burns’ brilliant,
14-hour film that will debut Sept. 14-20.

Other choices include:

“Food Fighters,” 8 p.m., NBC. Each week, this show lets an amateur
cook compete with a famed chef. Tonight, at-home mom Annie Smith ends up facing
G. Garvin, the Atlanta chef and TV star.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. This rerun brings back Diane Neal
(formerly of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) as a Coast Guard official.
She helps, probe an explosion on an oil rig.

“Jaws 2” (1978), 8 and 10:30 p.m., AMC. In a change, AMC
focuses strictly onn its “Jaws” week. That pushes “4
th and Loud” (a
reality show about the football team owned by the Kiss guys) to next Tuesday.

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds agents in
Afghanistan (Kensi and Granger) and the U.S. combining to probe a murder that
seems linked to an ancient form of money transfer.

“America’s Got Talent,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. The second batch of
12 acts performs. On Wednesday, five will advance, to become part of the top

“Royal Pains,” 9 p.m., USA. Here are new things to worry
about: Hank may be losing his sense of smell; Emma is on the wrong side of Dr. Oz.

 “Covert Affairs,”
10:01 p.m., USA. Annie is in Azerbaijan with McQuaid (Nic Bishop), searching
for a former CIA agent. Back at home, Auggie gets bad news.

TV column for Monday, Aug. 4

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Murder in the First,” 10:01 p.m., TNT.

If we were watching an ordinary drama, it would be over now.
Last week concluded the murder trial of Eric Blunt, the evil tech-billionaire whom
cops have been pursuing through eight episodes.

But this is something extraordinary from Steven Bochco, who
re-shaped TV drama with “Hill Street Blues,” 33 years ago. Blunt was found
not-guilty – circumstantial evidence, no proof – then whispered to the cops “I
killed the bitch” and winked. Did he? Is he just trying to stir them? With the
finale of a richly crafted series just a week away, police start struggling
with old leads and fresh possibilities.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Bachelors in Paradise” (ABC) or “Running
Wild with Bear Grylls” (NBC), 8 p.m.

Want blue skies and easy living? That’s “Paradise,” with 14
people from “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” meeting in Mexican splendor. Each
week, it will be eight women and six men, or vice versa. The two who don’t make
a match will be sent home; the next week, two newcomers will tip things the
other way.

Prefer the exact opposite? Tonight’s “Wild” has grey skies,
thick fog and rough living. Grylls, a wilderness master, takes Ben Stiller –
who grew up in New York City and has never camped – up and down cliffs on an
unforgiving Scottish island. It’s a rugged experience, but you end up liking
both men.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Partners” debut, 9 and 9:30 p.m.,

Kelsey Grammer really should know about situation comedies now.
He spent 20 years in two great ones, “Cheers” and “Frasier,” and has produced
some fairly good ones; he’s won five Emmys and much praise.

So it’s remarkable that “Partners” is only occasionally
adequate. A pompous lawyer (Grammer, of course) lost his job; a decent one (Martin
Lawrence) lost his marriage. They collide by accident, forming a law-firm of
opposites. The result has a few great moments and a lot of lame, sub-Grammer

Other choices include:

“MasterChef,” 8 p.m., Fox. By the end of the night, the show
will have its top 10. First are two challenges, one of which lets contestants
choose ordinary or high-end ingredients.

“2 Broke Girls,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Max wants to break
up with Deke because he’s been rich.

“Mom,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the terrific opener,
Christy finds a family tradition continuing, with the pregnancy of her teen
daughter. That would make Christy’s sexy mom a great-grandmother.

“Arrow,” 9 p.m., CW. So much for the clever comedy “Seed.”
CW aired it once in an awful timeslot, once in a belatedly changed slot, then
dumped it (along with “Backpackers”). Now reruns will replace it.

“Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words,” 9-10:15 p.m., HBO.
Friday will be the 40
th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation announcement.
First, here’s a film assembled mostly from his White House tapes, intercut with
some news footage. We hear a “paradoxical” man (the description of former aide
John Ehrlichman); he advanced several progressive programs, while privately aiming
slurs at Jews, women, Mexican-Americans and homosexuals. We hear the growing
rage of a once-popular president.

“Under the Dome,” 10 p.m., CBS. Desperate for a way out of
the dome, Dale “Barbie” Barbara and Sam explore a mysterious tunnel … then are
trapped. Meanwhile, a dust storm hits town, bringing a power struggle between
the town’s present and past leaders, Julia and Big Jim.

TV column for Sunday, Aug. 3

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Masterpiece Mystery,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

For PBS viewers, this is the end of a splendid era. For 25
years, David Suchet has been perfect as Hercule Poirot, fastidious
crime-solver; now “Dead Man’s Folly” is his final PBS Poirot film. (Three more
will debut on consecutive Fridays on,
which then will have all 70 Suchet tales.)

Tonight’s chapter has the usual quirks: In one burst, Poirot
suddenly grasps a plot so tangled it would make a mortal’s head explode. Still,
it’s all done against the backdrop of a village picnic, an ideal place for colorful
characters – including Poirot – to collide.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Football, 8 p.m. ET, NBC.

Yes, football. It’s a wildly insignificant game – pre-pre-season,
if you will. The Giants and the Bills play in Canton, Ohio (home of the Hall of
Fame), four days before what is (otherwise) the pre-season opener.

Still, even this game gets national, primetime focus because
… well, right now everything about pro football scores big. Last season, NBC’s
Sunday games topped the Nielsen ratings; this year, the NFL has added a
half-season of Thursday games for CBS. Everyone wants football … even when it
means nothing.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Urban Jungle,” 8-11 p.m., National
Geographic and NatGeo Wild.

The “wild,” it seems, isn’t merely in the jungle. There are
coyotes in Chicago, cougars in Los Angeles. In Tahoe, people find bears in
their vacation homes; in parts of Mumbai, leopards rule the night.

That’s traced in an ambitious, two-network simulcast. It
spans the globe, to show how animals have become increasingly skilled at living
among us, sometimes unnoticed.

Other choices include:

“The Simpsons,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. In the first rerun, Bart
wants to be named the best-behaved student (really). In the second, Lisa faces
her new best friend in the race for class representative.

“The Help” (2011), 8-11 p.m., TBS. Using a light touch, this
film skillfully re-visits the segregated South.

“Rising Star,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. After six weeks of auditions,
this show has its final 13. Tonight, they sing again and then are trimmed to
eight; three weeks later, we’ll have a winner.

“Unforgettable,” 9 p.m., CBS. A parolee has been killed, and
Al – who helped convict him – is the prime suspect. Now Carrie is on her own in
trying to clear him.

“Manhattan,” 10 p.m., WGN America. Like last week’s opener, this
has gifted actors delivering rich dialog; and like last week, it’s maddeningly
difficult. The subject – physicists planning a nuclear bomb – is hard enough.
Thrown into that is the tangled tale of simeone who snuck papers out of the
lab. And at times, the lead character’s stony approach begs us to quit
watching. We won’t, at least yet.

“The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX. For the first time, these two
Centers for Disease Control officers realize the ferocity of the beyond-death
demons … and ponder what they might have to do to try to stop them. The result
continues to be a strong drama, albeit a gory one.

“The Leftovers,” 10 p.m., HBO. Nora – whose husband and
their two children were among those who vanished instantly – heads to a big-city
conference. What follows is bizarre and involving.

TV column for Saturday, Aug. 2

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Crossbones,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC.

This series has a talented movie star (John Malkovich), plus
action, exotic settings … and, alas, a story viewers don’t seem to care about.
Now its two-part finale has been exiled to a Saturday.

Malkovich plays Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard
(despite having only a wimpy white beard); Julian Sands is Jagger, the British
officer obsessed with killing him. Now Teach sets sale with a shaky crew.
Jagger prepares to attack his island; Lowe – originally a spy hired by Jagger –
has divided loyalty.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Sandwiched by “48 Hours” crime stories, this rerun finds
Danny (Scott Caan) with double trouble.

One problem is that he and McGarrett are held captive by an
escaped convict who wants them to prove him innocent. (That’s been a common
plot lately and was in Friday’s “Blue Bloods” rerun.) A bigger problem: His
daughter Grace has punched someone at school.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Drama marathons, cable.

At 9 p.m. today, “Power” has its first-season finale on
Starz and “Hell on Wheels” has its fourth-season opener on AMC. Both are
intense dramas; both also have marathons to help us catch up.

“Power” starts rerunning its first season at 1:30 p.m.; in
the finale, Ghost holds a nightclub party, hoping to get out of the drug
business … while the assassin known as Pink Sneakers gets closer. “Hell” starts
rerunning its third season at 11 a.m.; the new hour finds the aftermath of a
brutal winter: Work is at a standstill, Durant is broke, Elam is considered
dead, Cullen and his pregnant wife are captive.

Other choices include:

“Agents of SHIELD,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Jaimie
Alexander repeats her movie role as Lady Sif, trying to protect the team from Lorelei.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. This
above-average show is now getting a triple run in the summer – its regular
Tuesday slot, plus two more on Saturdays. Tonight’s first rerun has Jake (Andy
Samberg) with a string of failed cases; in the second, he has a crush on the
medical examiner.

Movies, 8 p.m., cable. The highlight for tonight (or for
almost any night it’s on) is “Titanic” (1997), on ABC Family. But there are
also lighter films worth catching, led by “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) on
Bravo, Drew Barrymore’s “Never Been Kissed” (1999) on E and the original,
delightful “Pink Panther” (1963) at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies.

“Gang Related,” 9 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of Thursday’s episode,
Jessica finds shocking news about Ryan.

“Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda,” 9 p.m., Syfy. Long before the
“Sharknado” films (which rerun at 5 and 7 p.m.), Roger Corman was a master of
making fun (but, sometimes, silly) adventures for micro-budgets. He still is at
88, producing this sequel that somehow stars Conan O’Brien.

“Turn,” 10 p.m., AMC. In a rerun of the OK opener, Jamie Bell
(“Billy Elliot”) plays a colonist, torn between his father’s British loyalty,
his friends’ revolution and his wife’s desire to stay out of it.

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Jim Parsons hosts
this rerun, with music by Beck.