TV column for Sunday, Sept. 10

“Top of the Lake: China Girl” opener, 9 p.m., Sundance; reruns at

On a night
overflowing with big-budget shows on big-deal networks, Sundance
counters with a three-night story that is strange, but stunningly
good. It's another triumph for director-writer Jane Campion.

She again has
Elisabeth Moss as Robin, a quiet cop with a troubled soul. And she
gets superb work from others – Alice Englert (Campion's daughter)
as the daughter Robin haf never met ... Nicole Kidman as the girl's
angry adoptive mother ... Gwendoline Christie as the towering
(6-foot-3) underling who seems to worship Robin. The story goes
slightly off-track Monday, then rights itself Tuesday.

“The Orville” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

Seth MacFarlane is
trying for it all – an outer-space adventure that has action,
humor, imagination, splashy visuals and intriguing beings. Give him
an A for effort, a wobbly C for execution.

Visually, “The
Orville” is a delight, with the kind of space ship we'd like to
move into. The scattered humor is OK, but other elements are flawed;
conversations seem stiff and stilted, action scenes require villains
to be awful shots. Still, this is a big, breezy effort that will be
work sticking with.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Deuce” debut, 9 p.m., HBO

We're back in the
1970s and Times Square had a ragged bunch of schemers and scammers.
Vincent (James Franco) runs a bar; his brother (also Franco) gets in
trouble. Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a pimp-free hooker; Abby
(Margarita Lavieva) is a brainy student who would rather make money.

Yes, this is leading
somewhere –to the sudden growth of the porn-film industry. But
we're getting there the HBO way – slowly, while building great
characters in compelling settings.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Outlander” season-opener, 8 p.m., Starz; reruns
at 9 and 10:30 p.m. and 1:10 a.m.

Bouncing between
eras, this can get tangled; fortunately, the entire second season
reruns today. It starts at 6:37 a.m., with the extended finale at
6:30 p.m. That thrusts us into the current tangles.

Claire has married
twice – to Frank in 1940s England and -- after some inadvertent
time travel -- to Jamie in 18th-century Scotland. When a
hopeless battle neared, Jamie urged his pregnant wife to flee to
modern times. Now we see the battle, which is big and brutal; we also
see its dark aftermath. And in 20th-century Boston, Claire
will eventually try some frantic genealogy, to see if her husband

Other choices

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC. The first rerun has Amy Schumer and Kelly
Clarkson, with their families. The second has Chrissy Metz (“This
Is Us”) and Bindi Irwin, who has continued the conservation work of
her late father Steve, the “crocodile hunter.”

Miss America
pageant, 9-11 p.m., ABC. The event that used to fascinate viewers
must now fight through a thicket of TV choices. Chris Harrison again
hosts, with Sage Steele as co-host.

Endeavour” season-finale, 9-10:30 p.m., PBS. When a body is found
near Oxford, people assume it's the botanist who disappeared five
years earlier. Then a deeper mystery unfolds.

“Fear the Walking
Dead,” 9-11 p.m., AMC, or “The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX. Yes, the
zombies and such still abound. “Fear” starts the second half of
its season, just as “Strain” prepares for next week's series
finale. Its few surviving heroes – Eph, Fet, Dutch, Gus, Quinlan –
prepare a final assault.

And more, 10 p.m.
“Get Shorty” -- the clever tale of a good-hearted crook in
Hollywood – has a new hour on Epix; previous ones rerun at 7:05. Also at
10, “Episodes” is on Showtime and football continues on NBC; it's
the first weekend of the pro season, with the Cowboys hosting the
Giants at 8:25 p.m. ET.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 6, slightly out of order

(Here's the Sept. 6 column, which I failed to post here earlier; sorry about that.) 

“Snowfall” season-finale, 10 p.m., FX.

Deftly juggling
three tough storylines, this drama (set in 1983 Los Angeles) delivers
power punches. One story involves Franklin, who has brought crack
into his neighborhood. Another has Teddy, the CIA agent running the
Contra/cocaine scheme; now a young woman can identify his Contra

Both are great
stories ... and both are overshadowed by one involving Lucia, burying
her father and trying to keep her uncle from taking control of the
drug business.It's a fierce finale to a strong season.

II: Reality shows, 8 p.m., NBC and Fox.

In the final weeks
of the summer season, we're getting close to having some big-money
winners. NBC has “America's Got Talent”: Tonight – with help
from a “save” by viewers – we'll learn half of the 10 acts in
the finals; next week will have 12 more acts, with five of them
rounding out the finals.

Meanwhile, Fox's
“MasterChef” has separate hours at 8 and 9. In the first one,
contestants center a dish around chopsticks; then they have a pasta
challenge. That leaves six people for the second hour, which has them
creating a pop-up restaurant in a California vineyard, with chefs and
food writers as guests.

ALTERNATIVE: “You're the Worst” season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m.,

By now, everyone
knows that Jimmy and Gretchen need each other. They're cynical, snide
and self-centered – a perfect match. But after proposing to her,
Jimmy fled; that's where this season starts.

He's retreated to a
trailer park, trying to be just another cranky codger ... she's
relapsed into a deep depression ... and their friends (Edgar and
Lindsay) are in the unfamiliar position of being the reasonable ones.
Under the skilled touch of writer-director Stephen Falk, this is
surprisingly funny.

Other choices

Mountain” (2005), 6 p.m., Showtime; or “American Beauty”
(1999), 6:56 p.m., Starz. Here are two beautifully crafted – and
quite painful – human dramas. They won Academy Awards for their
directors and their scripts; “Brokeback” also won for its music,
“Beauty” won for its star (Kevin Spacey) and its cinematography,
plus the big one – best picture.

“Arrow,” 8 p.m.,
CW. In a rerun, Oliver and Felicity are trapped in the bunker

“Salvation,” 9
p.m., CBS. Grace must reluctantly make an alliance with her ex-lover
Harris, when their children are endangered.

“Marlon,” 9 and
9:30 p.m., NBC. Both reruns focus on Marlon and his son. In the
first, Zach needs surgery; in the second, Marlon coaches his
basketball team.

“Modern Family,”
9 and 10 p.m., ABC. In the first rerun, people find ways to support
gender equality. In the second, Can and Mitchell rush to catch a
plane, despite the effects of sleeping pills.

“Hollywood Game
Night,” 10 p.m., NBC. This thoroughly mixed night ranges from a
former prosecutor (Nancy Grace) to a former drag queen (RuPaul). It
also has a model (Tyson Beckford), an entrepreneur (Daymon John) and
comedy people Margaret Cho and Weird Al Yankovic.

“Greenleaf,” 10
p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network, rerunning at 1 a.m. Grace is shaken by
recurring nightmares. Also, Charity wants to advance her romance with
Jabari. Previous episodes rerun from 7-10 p.m. and again at 11 p.m.
and midnight.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 9

“Halt and Catch Fire,” 9 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 10:04.

In the early 1990s,
the World Wide Web was exploding and people were chasing the
big-money goal – to have the search engine everyone wanted. Now
Donna heads one effort and her ex-husband Gordon has another –
which includes their daughter and their ex-partner Joe.

Cameron – Joe's
lover and the sharpest mind around – is trying to sit this one out.
Tonight, she has what she admits could be “some pathetic,
early-midlife crisis”; Baz, their friend and Donna's colleague, has
a financial crisis. It's an interesting story, given a sudden twist
in the final minutes.

College football, everywhere.

This is only the
second week of the season and ABC already had its second
inter-conference battle between top-5 teams. Ohio State (ranked No.
2) hosts Oklahoma (No. 5) at 7:30 p.m. ET.

And this time, two
other big networks have ranked teams colliding. At 7:30, NBC has
Notre Dame (24) hosting Georgia (15); at 8:30, Fox has Southern Cal
(6) hosting Stanford (14).

Jesse Stone movies, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Hallmark Movies &

There really was a
time when the big networks liked TV movies and, on occasion, did them
splendidly. These films are prime examples; based on Robert B. Parker
novels, most of them aired on CBS.

Stone (Tom Selleck)
is a former Los Angeles cop, tough and despondent, who became police
chief of a Massachusetts town. Selleck and director Robert Harmon
perfectly capture the slow rhythms of this man and this place; strong
mysteries exist alongside subtle character moments. This marathon
goes from the fourth film (2007) at 9 a.m. to the ninth (2015) at 7
p.m.; then hsas the first two at 9 and 11.

Other choices

“Sex and the City”
(2008), 5:30-8 p.m., HBO; and “Sex and the City 2” (2010), 7 and
10 p.m., Bravo. It's sort of a double-feature, if you work the two
networks carefully.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. One petty officer is found dead in a sport
arena, leading the team to a kidnapping case involving another one,
who was last seen in Mexico.

“Hidden Figures”
(2016), 8 to 10:15 p.m., HBO. Here's the true story of three black
women (played by Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae –
who had key roles in the U.S. space effort. It drew well-deserved
Oscar nominations for Spencer, the script and best picture.

9 p.m., CNN ET (barring breaking news). From his bases in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, officials say, Haji Bagcho sent heroin to 27 countries.
He controlled more than one-fifth of the world's supply, often paying
the Taliban for protection; indeed, terrorists got more than
one-third of their money from heroin. This hour tells the elaborate
effort that eventually let to his capture and conviction.

“Oprah's Master
Class,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. LL Cool J discusses his
life and says nothing would have worked out if his mother hadn't
taught him to forgive.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m. (or later,with football overrun), NBC. This rerun
has Kristen Stewart hosting and Alessia Cara as music guest.

ALSO: This is a
night stuffed with crowd-pleasers from the previous millennium. VH1
has “Dirty Dancing” (1987) at 7:30 p.m., “Starz” has the
rousing “Top Gun” (1986) at 8, CMT has “City Slickers” (1981)
at 8 and “Crocodile Dundee” (1986) at 10:30. And going further
back, Turner Classic Movies has “Bullitt” (1968) at 8 p.m. ET;
it's a sleek cop film, with Peter Yates directing Steve McQueen.

TV column for Friday, Sept. 8

“XQ Super School Live,” 8 p.m. Friday, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

Suddenly, the
big-four networks are on a do-good streak. Tonight, they link to pump
up emotion for schools and for innovative education; on Tuesday,
they'll link for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Tonight's hour
includes some music; Andra Day performs and Jennifer Hudson leads a
mega-collection that has Sheryl Crow, Sheila E, Jon Boogz, MC Hammer
and the music groups of Max Weinberg and Yo-Yo Ma. There will also be
comedy sketches, short films and appearances by Tom Hanks, Bill
Hader, Common, Miranda Cosgrove, Samuel L. Jackson, Anna Deavere
Smith and more.

“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.

New York cops
probably don't get many chances to work with Russian agents. Now
Danny does; he and Baez link with them, searching for a dangerous
Russian man who arrived via diplomatic visa.

Also in this rerun,
Danny's sister and her detective try to learn who tampered with
evidence in a case. And their father, the police commissioner, has a
sensitive case involving the archbishop (Stacy Keach).

ALTERNATIVE: “American Masters,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS.

Tyrus Wong died last
year at 106, after feeling the extremes of American history. Arriving
from China at 9 with his father, he would never see his mother or
sister again, Surviving bigotry and the Depression, he went to art
school (via scholarships and jobs) and worked for Disney.

Wong's style was the
core of the masterful “Bambi” ... but he was fired, because
co-workers resented the fact that he hadn't joined their strike. He
ranged from Hallmark cards to sketching the settings for Warner
Brothers films. This sluggish documentary is so-so in execution, but
has a great story.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Skyfall” (2012), 8-11:02 p.m., Syfy.

The bad news is that
Syfy's dandy Friday shows have ended their seasons. Instead, the
channel slips in a movie with James Bond ... who isn't really

And the good? One of
those shows (“Killjoys”) has now been renewed for two seasons ...
Syfy has a classic (the 1991 “Terminator 2”) at 5 and 11:02 p.m.
today. And there are always zombies somewhere: At 8 p.m. today, FX
has “World War Z” (2013); on Sunday, “Fear the Walking Dead”

Other choices

“X-Men” (2000)
and “X2” (2003), 5:30 and 8 p.m., Freeform. Here are classy
people – Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry – amid
action. Other movies tonight include two true stories at 8 p.m. --
“Soul Surfer” (2011) on CMT, “American Sniper” (2014) on TNT
– and the vibrant musical “Descendants 2” (2017), at 8:30 p.m.
on Disney.

“Masters of
Illusion,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CW. While the other commercial
broadcast networks share the education special, CW has its regular,
magic-themed Friday. A new half-hour – with Michael Grandinetti,
Chris Korn and more – is followed by a rerun and, at 9, a “Penn &
Teller: Fool Us” rerun.

“Third Rail With
OZY” debut, 8:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Carlos Watson
heads this series, which centers on debates with guests. The opener
has authors Roxane Gay and Malcolm Gladwell. “Hawaii Five-0,” 9
p.m,. CBS. In a rerun, the murder victim was one of the last
survivors of the USS Arizona, which was bombed at Pearl Harbor. That
leads McGarrett to learn of his grandfather's Pearl Harbor role.
Also, Adam asks Jerry (Jorge Garcia) to investigate bone fragments a
a construction site.

“America's Got
Talent,” 9 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of Wednesday's results
show, naming five acts that will be in the finals; the other five
will be chosen next week.

“Room 104,”
11:30 p.m., HBO. From “Naked Brothers Band” to “The Fault in
Our Stars” and beyond, Nat Wolff has been busy. Now he and Adam
Foster play Mormon missionaries, testing their faith.

TV cplumn for Thursday, Sept. 7

Pro football season-opener, 8:25 p.m. ET, NBC and NFL Network.

Last year, New
England Patriots fans were fuming. Their star, Tom Brady, had been
suspended for the first four games because of the deflated-football
controversy; their future seemed wobbly.

Then everything
clicked. The Patriots went 3-1 without Brady, then 14-1 with him,
winning the Super Bowl. That lets them host this season-opener with
the Kansas City Chiefs, who were a division-leading 12-4 last year,
before being edged in the playoffs. The preview (including music)
starts at 7:30 p.m. ET.

II: “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mom,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., CBS.

It's been a while
since TV's two best comedies shared a Thursday night. Summer
schedules split them apart; beginning Sept. 28, football will
separate them again.

But for three
splendid Thursdays, we can catch their reruns together. Tonight,
Penny considers taking a job offered by her former lover. Then Jill
tries to be a new foster mother and Bonnie tries to convince people
she's a good building manager; neither has any experience at helping
other people.

ALTERNATIVE: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005), 8 p.m. ET, IFC; or
“Crazy, Stupid Love” (2011), 8:20 p.m., Freeform.

Here's a fun tour of
Steve Carell's movie career; in both, he plays (convincingly) a
novice in romance. “Virgin” -- the role that made him a film star
– has friends trying to guide him toward intimacy; “Crazy”
finds him newly divorced, with a swinger (Ryan Gosling) offering

The latter was
written by Dan Fogelman, who went on to triumph with NBC's “This Is
Us.” And it co-stars Emma Stone, who will soon be back onscreen
with Carell; in “Battle of the Sexes” (Sept. 22), they play
tennis stars Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King.

Other choices

“Naked and
Afraid,” 4 p.m. to midnight, Discovery. This marathon peaks from
8-11 p.m., rerunning an adventure that asked six people to survive
for 21 demanding days.

“A Streetcar Named
Desire” (1951), 5:45 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. One of the
best-acted films ever, this won Oscars for Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter
and Karl Malden and nominations for Marlon Brando, director Elia
Kazan and writer Tennessee Williams. It leads a night when great
films start early - Forrest Gump” (1994), 5:05 p.m., Freeform;
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), 6:30, Syfy.

“Battle of the
Network Stars,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. Charlene Tilton and Willie Aames
did this show long ago, when they were on “Dallas” and “Eight
is Enough”; now they're back, on a “famous TV families” team,
with Barry Williams, Beverley Mitchell and Danny Bonaduce. They face
people who have played doctors. (Sorry, no Clooney.) The second hour
has lifeguards and “TV troublemakers.”

“Project Runway,”
9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime. After a slumber party atop the Empire State
Building, the contestants must come up with sleepwear designs. Demi
Lovato is a guest judge.

“Zoo,” 10 p.m.,
CBS. Have you ever had one of those really tricky days? Now toxic
spores leave the team trapped in a plane. Also, Clementine is having
her baby.

“The Gong Show,”
10 p.m., ABC. Courteney Cox joins Will Arnett and Isla Fisher, as
they judge (and sometimes gong) odd acts.

“Girlfriends Guide
to Divorce,” 10 p.m., Bravo. Abby says her final farewell to her
mother. Also, her brother shows up (reconnecting with Phoebe) and an
old boyfriend surprises her.