TV column for Thursday, July 16

“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” debut, 10 p.m., FX.

Denis Leary's
“Rescue Me” was a revelation for FX, a rare blend of humor, rage,
pain and heroic firefighters. This new show is shorter (a half-hour),
with no heroes but more fun.

Leary plays a rock
singer who blew his shot at fame. His guitarist (John Corbett) and
drummer found success elsewhere, while he stumbled along. Now he
meets a daughter (Elizabeth Gillies) he didn't know; she wants to be
a rock star and he reluctantly re-assembles the band. The result is a
spectacular breakthrough for Gillies, who has ranged from Broadway's
“13” to Nickelodeon's “Victorious.”

“Geeks Who Drink” debut, 11 p.m., Syfy.

Remember when sports
fans got to do most of the drinking? Not any more; some bars have
added trivia contests, letting pop-culture geeks swig and score; now
that's been turned into a game show.

Zachary Levi has
sci-fi cred, after playing Fandral in the second “Thor” movie and
being cast in the “Heroes Reborn” series. He produces this show
and does a smart, fun job as host. In a bar-like setting, we meet
teams that have celebrity captains (Eric Christian Olsen of “NCIS:
Los Angeles,” Scott Porter of “Hart of Dixie”) and regular-folk
geeks. Drinks flow freely; so does knowledge and fun.

ALTERNATIVE: “Astronaut Wives Club,” 8 p.m., ABC; and “Aquarius,”
9 p.m., NBC.

Both dramas are
against the backdrop of a changing 1960s world. “Astronaut”
(starts in 1961) tends to do it with subltety and skill; “Aquarius”
(1967) is heavy-handed, but has one of its better episodes here.

On “Astronaut,”
the civil-rights movement is gaining momentum and Trudy Cooper (a
pilot, married to an astronaut) fumes at attempts to scuttle a
program for female astronauts. On “Aquarius,” a female cop,
mocked by her colleagues, is suddenly key to an intense manhunt. The
result is sometimes overwrought and the ending leaves you feeling
kind of empty; still, there are some strong moments.

Other choices

“The Big Bang
Theory” and “Mom,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., CBS. Here are two excellent
reruns. The first includes a final dinner as a tribute to Howard's
late mom, with food she'd made and prepared; the second sees Violet's
mom and grandmother visit her therapy session.

“Wayward Pines,”
9 p.m., Fox. A week from the season-finale, Ethan is ready to tell
people the truth about their town. Also, he probes past
disappearances, after Harold attempts an escape.

“Dates,” 9 and
9:30 p.m., CW. Last week's debut had a brilliant half-hour, with Oona
Chaplin as Mia, a cynical beauty dating a good-hearted lunk. Now Mia
is back, dating a confident surgeon. He's played by Ben Chaplin,
who's not related to her or anyone else famous; by comparison, she's
descended from Charlie Chaplin (her grandfather) and Eugene O'Neill
(great-grandfather). The second half-hour has Gemma Chan as someone
unable to tell her Chinese family that she's dating a woman.

“Rookie Blue,”
10 p.m., ABC. Nick finally has information about the drunken driver
who killed his parents 18 years ago. Now Juliet worries that he'll
strike on his own.

“Under the Dome,”
10 p.m., CBS. Two frequent foes, Big Jim and Julia, reluctantly link,
trying to discredir Christine (Marg Helgenberger) ... whose plan
brings a deadly result.

season-opener, 10:30 p.m., FX. Visiting a retirement community, Lina
(Judy Greer) finds two surprises: Her mom thinks its Thanksgiving ...
and is sexually active. There is some humor here, but Lina's overall
view – insisting on taking her mother home – is difficult to buy

“Reactor” debut,
11:30 p.m., Syfy. This is a weekly pop-culture talk show. Dave
Huntsberger – who made great micro-versions of “Jurassic World”
and “Mad Max,” using backyard toys – hosts.


TV column for Tuesday, July 14

All-Star game, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox.

Baseball's best
players – some of them, anyway – meet. The American League has
won nine of the last 12, but the National League is helped by
home-field advantage (Cincinnati), quirky fans (choosing four Royals
as American starters) and injuries to Miguel Cabrera and the Royals'
Alex Gordon.

Still, there are
balancing factors: The American League has another superstar (Albert
Pujols) to replace Cabrera. The National League lost Giancaro Stanton
(injuries) and Max Scherzer (ineligible because he pitrched Sunday),
but has Zack Greinke -- on a record-setting pitching streak –
available to start.

II: “Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX.

How thoroughly can
life change a man's inner core? When this series began, Dr. Barry
Al-Fayeed was a mild-mannered Pasadena pediatrician, reluctantly
visiting his homeland for the first time in 20 years. When this
remarkable episode ends, we (and he) will be stunned by who he's

After Barry
attempted a coup, his brother (the dictator) sentenced him to death
... then faked the execution and left him to die in the desert.
Instead, kindly Bedouins saved him; now he's hiding in their village,
as fresh crises descend. Some of this stretches credibility, but all
of it is powerfully crafted.

ALTERNATIVE: “Frontline,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings) or
“Escaping Polygamy,” 8-10 p.m. and 10 p.m., Lifetime Movie

Sadly, these reports
deal with the same issue -- women who are reduced to little more than
sexual servitude. In Northern Iraq, a former lawyer fights to free
the women (from his his Yazidi religion) who are enslaved by ISIS. In
Utah, women who fled polygamy try to rescue others.

Both stories are
important, but the difference in quality is gaping. “Frontline”
has the solid documentary style this subject deserves. Lifetime, by
comparison, tries a reality-show style. The result seems to wobble
uneasily between badly acted fiction and ineptly contrived reality.

Other choices

Baseball preview,
6-7 p.m., Fox Sports 1; 7 p.m., Fox. The cable preview will include
Pete Rose, the great who was banned from baseball, now revisiting
Cincinnati, where he starred. Then Fox has is own preview at 7 ...
and lots of preliminaries at 7:30, before the game really starts.

“America's Got
Talent,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The judges – with Neil Parick Harris
joining them – start making final decisions on which acts will get
to perform live for viewer votes.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of the moderately funny
season-finale, the mom suddenly fears her kids are losing their
Chinese roots; naturally, she soon overdoes everything.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Gibbs should be focusing on an apparent copycat murder case.
Instead, this rerun finds him torm between ex-wifes. One (played by
Melinda McGraw) is familiar to his colleagues; the other (Jeri Ryan)
is new to them.

“Zoo,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. This animals-gone-bad thing is building. Jackson (James Wolk)
looks for the rest of his dad's reasearch on the subject; Jamie
(Kristen Connolly) tries to show a senator what she's found. Also, a
killer escapes after wolves attack a prison.

Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). When New York City
lost its electricity in 1965, this film says, the results were mild;
the outage started in the afternoon, amid cool temperatures and
general prosperity. By comparison, the '77 black-out – starting at
night, amid heat and a recession – quickly turned ugly. This
documentary is well-made, but one-note, piling up layers of despair.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. This reruns the hour that re-united Scott
Bakula with his “Quantum Leap” co-star. Dean Stockwell plays the
father of Councilman Hamilton (Steven Weber); the story involves a
case that Dr. Wade (CCH Pounder) has been tracking for decades.


TV column for Monday, July 13

“So You Think You Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

TV's best
competition show now has its 10-dancer teams ... almost. Last week,
judges chose the “stage” and “street” teams, coached by
Travis Wall and tWitch respectively. The stage kids (two ballet
dancers, a tapper, the rest jazz or contemporary) are younger, with
only three over 20; half of the street dancers (from krump to
waacking to hip hop) are between 28 to 30.

But now one dancer
is out. Tonight, we learn who it is and why; all (including the
replacement) dance and viewers vote. Also, Jason Derulo does a
two-song medley and Michelle Obama talks to Cat Deeley.

“Running Wild with Bear Grylls” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

Sure, Kate Hudson
has had some priviliged time in the Hollywood turf of her mom (Goldie
Hawn). But she also grew up in the Colorado mountains that her
stepdad (Kurt Russell) savors. So she was ready to join Grylls on
this trip to Italy's Dolomite Mountains ... sort of.

Few things could
prepare you for crawling through World War II bunkers, eating bugs
and descending a 250-foot cliff. It's an impressive opener that
Hudson handles with a mixture of fear and zest.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Bachelorette,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

The “overnight
dates” began last week, when Katilyn Bristowe, 30, the former
dancer from Canada, was with Nick Viall, 34. It wasn't their first
time together, fans knew.

Now she has her
nights with Ben Higgins, 26, and Shawn Booth, 30. (Higgins is a
personal trainer; the others are software salesmen.) Then she chooses
the final two, before meeting their families.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Vera,” any time,

In 1984, a year-long
strike pitted miners against Margaret Thatcher's British government,
enflaming rage on both sides. Now that provides the backdrop for this

After a wild chase,
police discover a 30-year-old murder. Vera (Brenda Blethyn, the
gifted two-time Oscar nominee) probes. It's a dark psychological
drama, as was last week's season-opener; there are two more films
this season, which Acorn (a streaming service) will release on the
next two Mondays.

Other choices

“American Ninja
Warrior,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. An earlier round saw 30 contestants
survive in Venice, Cal. Now they compete again, for a shot at the
finals in Las Vegas.

“Penn &
Teller: Fool Us,” 8 p.m., CW. This is a fun show, but CW has been
juggling episodes. Last week, it opened the season with the one
originally scheduled for tonight; next week, it has the one that was
set for the opener. Give it a try, anyway; the magicians are

“Chasing Life,”
8 p.m., ABC Family. Last week's season-opener saw April trying to
adjust to her setbacks in health (her leukemia persists) and career
(she's jobless). She had her engagement partry with Leo, but still
seems fond of Dominic. Tonight, there's room for fun: She and Beth
head to Bermuda for vacation; her sister has an odd time making a
short movie.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. This reruns the episode that introduced Brendan Hines
(“Lie to Me,” “Scandal”) as Ralph's dad; Paige (Katharine
McPhee) tries to manage her son's expectations. Meanwhile, the team
pursues three escapees, one of them a brilliant hacker.

“The 2000s,” 9
p.m., National Geographic, repeating at 11. Combined with Sunday's
opener (which reruns at 7 p.m., this is a quick tour of the decade.
It's slick and surface, but the finale has great, first-person
accounts of the tsumani and Hurricane Katrina and of the exposure of
Abu Ghraib tortures.


“Cuban Chrome,”
10 p.m., Discovery. When it comes to preserving old cars, the Cubans
should be masters. The 1961 embargo has left some people working the
same cars for a half-century. Now this series – the first American
one shot entirely in Cuba – follows the A Lo Cubano Car Club.

10:01 p.m., ABC. People are starting to take Wes' findings
seriouslys; tonight, he tells the president about the mysterious
force behind the voice called Dril. Meanwhile, Claire tries to
communicate with Dril; her husband Sean, who had been under Dril's
influence, faces prison.

TV column for Sunday, July 12

“The Strain” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

On a night packed
with strong cable choices, this one is beautifully crafted. It's also
brutal, nasty and repulsive ... which means it's definitely not for

Guillermo del Toro
(“Hellboy,” “Pan's Labyrinth”), who co-created the show,
directed a stylish preamble that shows Abraham (the ancient Armenian
monster-fighter) in his boyhood. Then we're back to business: A
rag-tag group – two doctors, a hacker, a cop and Abraham – try to
save a New York that's overrun by vampires. It's not easy or tidy,
but it offers visual skill and emotional power.

“Masterpiece: Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Last week ended
powerfully: Ross Poldark – barely surviving on the edge of
England's landowner class – suddenly romanced and married Demelza,
the street urchan he had rescued and hired as a maid.

Now he faces waves
of criticism, alongside other crises. There's a death ... a sagging
marriage ... the financial struggles of local fishermen and Poldark's
miners. And Demelza reluctantly makes her first society appearance. A
tough but well-made hour ends beautifully.

ALTERNATIVE: “The 2000s: A New Reality” (National Geographic) or
“Destination Wild: Real Angry Birds” (NatGeo Wild), both 9 p.m.

Switch between
sister channels and you'll find a winner either way. One side
(concluding Monday) has its latest speed-ride through a decade. It's
sleek and slick and kind of shallow, but does offer occasional depth
– especially when raging about a poorly planned attempt to nab
Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

In a MUCH different
mode, “Destination” travels the globe to find real-life angry
birds. The result is often funny, occasionally harsh and always
visually impressive.

Miss USA pageant, 8-11 p.m., Reelz.

This was supposed to
be the night's big network draw. But after political comments by
Donald Trump, NBC and Univision dropped out; so did both hosts, both
singers and most of the judges.

Now the pageant
moves to Reelz, an obscure channel (once limited to movie promos and
such) that rescued a dumped Kennedys miniseries four years ago. It
found Todd Newton (who has an Emmy and three nominations for cable's
“Family Game Night”) to host, with Alex Wehrley. She was the Miss
Wisconsin in this pageant six years ago and now studies film and
works for E and her own Web site.

Other choices

“Paw Star Game,”
5 p.m., Hallmark, repeating at 8. Copying the “Puppy Bowl”
(Animal Planet's alternative to the Super Bowl), Hallmark offered
cute kittens. Now here's a summer variation.

“Playin' for
Love,” 7 p.m., UP; repeats at 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. Robert Townsend,
once one of the hippest guys around, has made a surprisingly bad
film. Townsend directed, co-wrote and stars as a high school
basketball coach. The basketball portions are awful and the rest is
weak, except for a dandy song score, with Skye Townsend (Robert's
daughter) as music consultant and sometimes singer.

“American Ninja
Warrior: USA vs. The World,” 8-11 p.m., NBC. To fill its sudden
Miss USA vacancy, NBC reruns a special from last year, with five
Americans facing people from Europe and Japan.

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. We get the answer to a nagging
question: Sure, the “Duck Dynasty” people are good at hunting,
businesse and Bible studies, but how are they at game shows? In the
second half-hour, they face the family of Katy Mixon, who plays the
lusty sister on “Mike & Molly”; the first episode has the
families of actresses Niecy Nash and Cheryl Hines.

Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. In a rerun, Jake tries to learn what's
made the captain so gloomy. Also, a suspect pretends to be sweetly
senile whenever Amy and Rosa are around.

“Ray Donovan”
season-opener, 9 p.m., Showtime. Ray quietly tackles other people's
woes (including a kidnapping), while his world crumbles. There's his
father (Jon Voight), an ex-con who goes from babysitter to
opportunist, and his father figure (Elliot Gould). It's a tautly
powerful episode.

“Masters of Sex,”
10 p.m., Showtime. A terrific hour jumps between two key moments –
the first press conference for the “Human Sexual Response” book
and a previous stretch editing the book, at a cottage shared by the
Masters and Johnson families. Soon, big stories revolve around three

TV column for Saturday, July 11

“The McCarthys,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., CBS.

This comedy burst
onto the fall line-up with a fresh perspective. Brian Gallivan based
it on his own life, always feeling like an outsider in a Boston
family filled with sports zealots. Tyler Ritter (Jason's brother,
John's son, Tex's grandson) led an appealing cast.

Ratings were so-so
and it was soon dumped, but CBS still has new episodes to brighten
Saturdays in July. Tonight, the siblings battle over who would be the
best to execute their parents' estate. Then Ronny (Ritter) has a
therapy session ... which is crashed by his entire family.

II: “Celebrity Family Feud,” 8-11 p.m., ABC.

This amiable show
offers two half-hour episodes each Sunday. Now here are reruns of the
firstt six, starting with a battle between the fictional “Black-ish”
family and the real Toni Braxton and her sisters.

That's followed at
8:30 by Monica Potter vs. Curtis Stone. Also: AFC vs. NFC football
stars at 9 p.m., people from “The Bachelor” and “Dancing With
the Stars” at 9:30. At 10, one team is led by Phil McGraw of “Dr.
Phil,” another has comedy siblings Garry and Penny Marshall; at
10:30, teams are led by Kevin McHale, 27, and Fred Willard, 75.

ALTERNATIVE: “Power,” 9 p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10 and 11:05.

Late in this
excellent hour, a strong confrontation sends this series spinning in
new directions.

Last week's episode
(rerunning at `12:55 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7:55 p.m.) saw Angela (Lela
Loren), the assistant district attorney, become convinced that Tommy
Egan is “Ghost,” the drug kingpin. Now she confronts Holly (Lucy
Walters), Tommy's lover, who knows the truth: “Ghost” is James
St. Patrick, Angela's lover. The resulting scene is beautifully
written and played.

Other choices

Movies, 6:30 p.m.
and beyond, cable. For big-scale adventure, try “The Hunger Games”
(2012) at 6:30 p.m. on ABC Family, or two 8 p.m. films -- “Thor”
(2011) on FX or “Oz” (2013) on Syfy. Also at 8, Disney repeats
“Teen Beach 2” (2015).

“The Millers,”
8-9 p.m., CBS. Making up for so-so writing, this show has TV's best
comedy director (James Burrows) leading a terrific cast (Will Arnett,
Margo Martindale, Beau Bridges, J.B. Smoove, more). Now it adds a
dandy guest star, Cloris Leachman as Aunt Louise. That's at 8 p.m.,
with th show's Thanksgiving episode at 8:30. Yes, the second season
never made it to November.

“Running Wild,”
8 p.m., NBC. The second season starts Monday, with Bear Grylls taking
celebrities on tough jaunts. To get us in the mood, this rerun has
Channing Tatum in Yosemite National Park.

“Sharksanity,” 9
p.m., Discovery. On the second-to-last day of “Shark Week,” we
get viewers' favorite shark clips. That hour is surrounded by lots of
reruns, plus new “Sharkopedia” hours at 8 and 10.

“Atlantis,” 9
p.m., BBC America. Ariadne's life teeters, when her would-be resuers
must hide.

“Jonathan Strange
& Mr. Noerell,”10 p.m., BBC America. After helping England win
the Battle of Waterloo, Jonathan Strange expects a comfy life.
Naturally, it doesn't work that way.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Bill Hader hosts, with Hozier as music