TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 25

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Now for something
thoroughly original and partially hilarious – an episode that
focuses only on Claire's computer screen. The first moments are
unclear and there are times when the images are too small to grasp on
a smaller TV; stick with it, though, because this builds wonderfully.

Claire is at the
airport and Phil is watching the kids ... except he's really only
watching his new video game. Suddenly, discoveries cascade as images
leap onscreen; some moments are truly brilliant.

II: “Survivor” opener, 8-9:30 p.m., CBS.

For its 30th
edition, “Survivor has hatched a new way to split its tribes. This
one is by job type.

The blue-collar
tribe might be hardy; it has an oil-driller, a cop, a rodeo rider and
a contractor, plus, oddly, a hairdresser and a postal worker. The
white-collar one might be more cunning; it has corporate types,
marketing/media people, a buyer and a former talent-agent assistant.
Then there's the “no-collar” tribe, ranging from a hearing
advocate (partially overcoming deafness with cochlear implants) to a
sailing instructor. a coconut vendor and an aspiring actor who had a
popular YouTube moment.

ALTERATIVE: “The Amazing Race,” 9:30-11 p.m., CBS.

Here's the ultimate
blind date: Strangers meet, then start a race across five continents
and 35,000 miles. That happens to five duos here; two lawyers are
paired, a doctor is with a nurse, etc.

There are also six
couples who were already dating. Some are fairly new -- bronze-medal
Olympians Aly Dudek (speed skating) and Steve Langton (bobsledding)
have been together seven months – and some not. Jonathan Knight
(of New Kids on the Block) and Harley Rodriguez have been together
seven years; two others (ages 26 and 25) have dated 10 years. After
tonight, the race goes to Fridays.

Other choices

“Argo” (2012,
FX) or “21 Jump Street” (2012, FXX), both 7:30 p.m. Here are
dandy films, in opposite ways. “Jump Street” is a
loose-but-clever variation on the TV show about cops going undercover
in high school. “Argo” is Ben Affleck's superb Oscar-winner about
a real-life rescue scheme.

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. In a packed hour, the top 12 men – ranging in age from
15 to 29 -- will sing and viewers will have their first vote of the
season. On Thursday, the women have their turn.

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings). When it comes to helicopter
parenting, nothing matches the orangutan. A mom only has a baby every
eight of nine years, then obsesses on it. In Sumatra, however, young
orangutans have been orphaned by logging or the pet trade. In this
alternatey disturbing and uplifting film, they're taught wilderness
skills, then taken to a reserve.

“Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. It's a “Will & Grace” reunion, when
Eric McCormack guests on Debra Messing's show. He plays her former
fiance ... who's also the prime suspect in a murder.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Brick became a teen-ager three months ago. Alas, his mom
has finally realized that no one remembered his birthday.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. Barry wants to have an epic day, in the tradition of
the movie “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.” It soon goes badly ... and
his brother and grandfather only make it worse.

“Empire,” 9
p.m., Fox. This seems logical – a “legacy album,” featuring
recording mogul Lucious and two sons who are emerging stars. But the
sons are feuding, their brother is scheming and their mom (Taraji
Henson) is ready for a collision with Camilla (Naomi Campbell).

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. Rayna has finally had enough of Jeff Fordham, the scheming
record mogul. She reveals his indiscretions, setting off a chain of

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 24

“Parks and Recreation” finale, 10-11 p.m., NBC.

For seven seasons,
“Parks” has floated under the radar. Ratings have been low;
praise has been high. There have been 12 Emmy nominations (albeit no
wins), including one for best comedy series and five for Amy Poehler
as best comedy actress ... which she won at the Golden Globes.

Lately, the show has
dropped its understated style, taking big steps. Leslie (Poehler)
married Ben, April married Andy, Jerry even became interim mayor.
Most character made plans to leave tow. Now – after a big, two-hour
lead-in from “The Voice” – the gang has one more task, before a
quality show departs.

“Fresh Off the Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC.

The Huang kids are
wilting in an Orlando heat wave. (Yes, large chunks of the country
will have trouble relating to that now; but try.) Their tight-fisted
mom refuses to cool the house until she gets a job; her solution is
to visit stores and open houses that have air-conditioning.

Meanwhile, Eddie
obsesses about getting money for a video game. The result has its ups
and downs, but ends up with some laughs and even some small bits of
family warmth.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Italian Americans” conclusion, 9 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

When they reached
New York, this fascinating documentary says, Italians distrusted
elections; the Irish ruled. Then came two grand exceptions; Fiorello
La Guardia and Mario Cuomo, masters of speeches and of populist
politics, became mayor and governor, respectively. They created a
landscape that would see Italians as Supreme Court justice, speaker
of the House and vice-presidential candidate.

That has helped
offset the overload of Mafia legend. The combination of news (the
1963 Joe Valachi testinony) and skillful fiction (“The Godfather,”
“The Sopranos”) painted a powerful image.

Other choices

Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. This cooking competition remains a male
monopoly. Boys won the first two editions and also had the runner-up
in the second one. That trend continues now, with Andrew, 11, of New
Jersey, facing Nathan, 12, of San Diego. One of them will win

Roadshow,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Here are highlights
from the first two seasons. In Detroit, for instance, one person
learns about blacks' northward migration early in the 20th
century; in Philadelphia, one learns of an ancestor who may have
helped people escape the Holocaust.

“TV's Hottest
Commercials Countdown,” 8 p.m., CW. This may be what people need in
frigid February – a chance to see lots of slender women in bikinis,
while the overzealous hosts say “sexy” a lot. Other countries,
apparently, don't fret much about the political correctness of women
as sex objects.

“Agent Carter,”
9 p.m., ABC. Howard Stark is back and Peggy (Hayley Atwell) risks
everything, facing Leviathan to save him. That concludes the
eight-episode mini-season, before “SHIELD” returns.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. The murder of a Navy recruiter may have
involved her work or her private life, with two foster children.

“Outlaw Country”
debut, 10 p.m., WGN America. After decades of “Cops” and its
clones, here's something new – a reality show following both the
cops and their targets. A Missouri task force says the Monk brothers
are drug bosses; the Monks say they're a businessman and a born-again
clergyman. Cameras follow tough guys on both sides, filling the
toimeslot where “Sons of Anarchy” once thrived.

Guide to Divorce” season-finale, 10 p.m., Bravo. If you need to
catch up, don't fret; the nine most recent episodes rerun from 6 a.m.
to 3 p.m. Then settle in for the finale; Abby plans to sign the
papers and have a divorce party. Her ex-husband has his own way to
commemorate this.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 23

“The Voice” opener, 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.

In its first seven
editions, “Voice” has topped almost everything (even “American
Idol”) in the ratings. Now Christina Aguilera is back, after
skipping two; it's her fifth edition, Pharrell Williams' second.

So far, she's only
managed one runner-up and two other finalists. “Voice” has been
dominated by Blake Shelton (four winners, three runners-up) and Adam
Levine (two winners, a runner-up, five other finalists). Usher, who's
not back, has the only other winner. Tonight, the swirling-chair
auditions begin.

II: “Sleepy Hollow” season-finale, 9 p.m., Fox.

Borrowing an
approach that works on cable, “Hollow” gives us small seasons –
13 episodes the first year, 18 this time – and big stories. It also
gives us a movie look and wild imagination.

Ichabod Crane
emerged, 230 years after killing (temporarily) the headless horseman.
He linked with Abbie, a cop whose boss Frank Irving was temporarily
killed. (Don't expect much permanence here.) Ichabod's wife Katrina
is also back from the dead, but leaning to the dark side ... as is
their elderly son Henry, played by the great John Noble. Tonight, Fox
says, people will die and relationships will shatter.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Night Shift” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

A hospital show with
a cowboy soul, “Shift” treads a line between solid drama and
noisy melodrama. In a hospital near a San Antonio military base, it
has ex-military doctors and a high-adenaline approach.

Last-season ended in
overload. TC was suspended (after a breakdown), his ex-girlfriend
Jordan was investigated, his friend Topher was shot. Now another
high-pressure event – there are many here – links TC, Jordan and
her boyfriend Scott Clemmons (Scott Wolf). Lives are at stake, once

Other choices

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Here's the show in which the bachelor – Chris
Soules, 32, an Iowa farmer -- invites each of the final three women
for a “fantasy suite” sleepover. Becca, a chiropractic nurse, is
25; Kaitlyn, a dance instructor, and Whitney, a fertility nurse, are
each 29.

“Hate in America,”
8 p.m., Investigation Discovery. We see three examples of hate crimes
– against a black man in Mississippi, at a Sikh temple in
Wisconsin, against gays in New York City. Each is appalling; the
responses, however, indicate a world that will no longer accept this.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. A tech billionaire hires the team to rescue his kidnapped

(2014), 9 p.m., HBO. As a social-political document, this is
profound; as a documentary, it's like watching paint dry. It follows
Edward Snowden as he prepares to release secret documents. Whether or
not you agree with him, you're likely to be struck by what's
apparently a calm, thoughtful person, feeling he must expose a
government gone wrong. It's important ... but slow and stagnant.

Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business. In the first
half-hour, a bequeathed comic-book collection allows a family ice
cream parlor to recover from Hurricane Sandy. In the second, Roy
Orbison's son inherits a never-released song track.

Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Some important issues
are pondered clumsily here. This film views a 1940s study of race
relations and suggests that things haven't really changed. That could
be, but the modern portions are mostly abstract and academic.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Here's a dilemma: An astronaut was killed inside a Mars
simulation. No one there could have done it ... and no one else could
have got in.


TV column for Sunday, Feb. 22

Academy Awards, 8:30 p.m. ET, ABC.

Some years, Oscar
producers grumbled about music, throwing all five best-song nominees
into one dreary number. Not this time; four of the songs have their
original singers – Adam Levine, Rita Ora, John Legend (with Common
rapping), Tegan and Sara (with Andy Samberg's trio rapping). The
fifth is sung by Tim McGraw, in honor of co-writer/performer Glen
Campbell, who has Alzheimer's disease.

There's more: Lady
Gaga, Jennifer Hudson and Anna Kendrick will sing and the “Let It
Go” people have written a song for host Neil Patrick Harris. Add
humor and you could have a great show.

“Chicago Fire,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and
“Chicago PD,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

Cleverly constructed
to link all three Dick Wolf productions, this story reruns in one

It starts with
firefighters rescuing a man who is clutching a suspicious box; they
call in cops Voight (Jason Beghe) and Lindsey (Sophia Bush). Soon,
those two are in New York, where there's an alpha-cop conflict
between Voight and Benson (Mariska Hargitay). Lindsey spots a link to
someone she knows, bringing a messy case back to Chicago.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Book of Negroes,” 6 p.m. to midnight, BET.

After debuting on
Monday through Wednesday, the entire mini-series reruns here.

That takes Aminata
(Aunjanue Ellis) from her African home to Georgia slavery, then on to
New York and Nova Scotia and back to Africa and beyond. Alongside
pain and rage, she finds love (Lyriq Bent of “Rookie Blue”) and
some helpful souls (Cuba Gooding, Lou Gossett).

Other choices

Oscar previews, 1:30
to 8:30 p.m., several channels. Cable's E channel treats this like
the Super Bowl; it has a mega-preview at 1:30, then has Ryan Seacrest
lead the red-carpet coverage from 5:27 to 8:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Pop
(formerly TV Guide Network) uses “Entertainment Tonight”
reporters; after an inept outing at the Grammys, they're back from
5-8 p.m. WGN will carry a Los Angeles station's red-carpet coverage from 6-7:30 p.m., sandwiched (at 5 and 7:30) by an Oscar preview. And ABC is at the red carpet from 7-8:30.

“60 Minutes,”
7-8:30 p.m., CBS. This expanded episode is a tribute to Bob Simon,
who died at 73 in a traffic accident. It three of his “60 Minutes”
stories, plus memories of his colleagues.

“Act of Valor”
(2012,) 8:30-11 p.m., CBS. The network's dramas will be back next
week; for now, CBS inserts this action film, best known for using
active-duty Navy SEALs alongside pro actors.

Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. On the same night that he performs at
the Oscars, Andy Samberg has this rerun. He tries to find the mole,
before the deputy chief (Kyra Sedgwick) arrives.

Downton Abbey,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). An OK episode,
centering on Rose's wedding, sets up next week's excellent

Grantchester” season-finale, 10:15 p.m., PBS (check local
listings). Shaking his romance woes, Sidney (the crime-solving vicar)
probes the murder of a policeman.

“Jimmy Kimmel”
live, times vary, ABC. Kimmel's guests will include John Travolta,
Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Penn, Emily Blunt and many more, possibly
including Oscar-winners. In most areas, that follows the Academy
Award and the news. Some West Coast stations, however, air the Oscars

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 21

“Countdown to the Oscars,” 8 p.m., and “The Social Network”

8:30-11 p.m., ABC.

On the eve of its
Academy Award telecast, ABC offers a handy warm-up. First,
“Countdown” has a preview; then “Social Network” shows us how
good a best-picture nominee can be.

Aaron Sorkin's
script twisted the real-life story. (Mark Zuckerberg, for instance,
had a steady girlfriend throughout the Facebook-creation years.)
Still, it rippled with Sorkin-style wit; “Social Network” won
Oscars for the scrjpt, score and editing. There were five more
nominations, including Jesse Eisenberg bringing boyish charm to
Zuckerberg; sharply directed by David Fincher, this is smart, deep
and fun.

“Bash at the Beach,” 9 p.m., Fox.

On the eve of the
Daytona 500, NASCAR gives viewers – many of them surrounded by snow
and cold – a peek at some Florida fun.

There will be many
drivers, one UFC fighter (“Cowboy” Cerrone) and music fitting the
Southern-party mood: “Little Big Town” reached No. 4 on
Billboard's country chart with “Day Drinking” and No. 1 with
“Pontoon”; Phillip Phillips, the “American Idol” champion,
saw “Home” reach No. 6 overall.

ALTERNATIVE: Independent Spirit Awards, 5-7:30 p.m. ET, IFC; reruns
at 10 p.m. ET.

This has been
another great year for indie films, as proven by the Spirit nominees
for best picture: Four of the five -- “Boyhood,” “Birdman,”
“Whiplash” and “Selma” -- are up for the same award at the
Oscars. (The fifth is “Love is Strange.”) Also, “Selma” gets
the Spirit nominations that Oscar forgot – director Ava DuVernay,
star David Oyelowo and co-star Carmen Ejogo.

Fred Armisen hosts
with Kristen Bell. Presenters include Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig
(his former “Saturday Night Live” colleagues) and Oprah Winfrey,
a “Selma” producer and co-star.

Other choices

“Despicable Me”
(2010) and “Wreck-it Ralph” (2012), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.
Here are two dandy animated comedies for family fun.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. This reruns a flawed-but-fun episode, with a serial
arsonist moving to the edge of murder. It's a tough time for
Backstrom, whose childhood bullies are now firefighters.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. A rerun finds the entire island on lockdown, after a
terrorist turns drones loose on civilians.

More Oscar-winners,
cable. Two best-picture winners – towering films with macho men at
the core – collide. “Patton” (1970) is 8 p.m. ET on Turner
Classic Movies; “Rocky” (1976) is 8 p.m. on Encore. Also, Denzel
Washington won a supporting-actor Oscar in the powerful “Glory,”
at 7:30 p.m. on USA.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. This rerun finds Sylvester accidentally triggering a bomb.
While his life hangs in the balance, his friends search for the
person responsible.

“And the Oscar
Goes to ...,” 9 p.m. ET, CNN, rerunning at 11. Here's a rerun of
last year's documentary, viewing Academy Award history.

“Essence Black
Women in Hollywood Awards,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Shemar
Moore and Tracey Edmonds host; winners include Regina King
(“Southland” and “The Big Bang Theory”), Gugu Mbatha-Raw
(“Beyond the Lights”) and seven “Orange is the New Black”