TV column for Monday, Dec. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Childhood's End” and “The Expanse” debuts, 8 and 10 p.m.,
Syfy.

While others stay in
holiday mode, Syfy launches an ambitious burst – a mini-series
(“End,” through Wednesday) and series-openers (“Expanse,”
today and Tuesday and “The Magicians,” Wednesday).

“End,” from
Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 novel, has a compelling start as aliens
assume control of Earth; using a farmer (Mike Vogel) as go-between,
they eradicate poverty and pollution ... while people worry about
what's next. By comparison, “Expanse” sseems, at first, to be
cold, distant and military, locked into space ships and asteroid-belt
despair; stick around, because a richly layered story emerges.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Adele Live in New York City,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Let's sympathize
with the “Voice” finalists. For two hours, four talented people
will have their last chances to impress us; but just as we start to
vote, we'll hear THE voice.

That's Adele, doing
songs from her new album – already setting records – and her past
hits. Not a live special (despite the title), this focuses on last
month's concert, her first in four years, at the Radio City Music
Hall. It also includes backstage footage.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Fargo” finale, 10 p.m., FX.

The best new show of
2015 concludes strongly ... we'll assume. This is the only episode
that wasn't available to reviewers; the previous nine, however, have
been simply brilliant.

Last week brought a
shoot-out between police, the Gerhardt gang from Minnesota and a
Kansas City gang. Most people were killed; a key cop survived only
via the distraction of an apparent spaceship. (We'll have to forgive
such quirks in an otherwise-great show.) But the focal points –
good-hearted Ed and Peggy Blomquist – fled, as did Hanzee Dent, who
had turned on and killed his Gerhardt bosses.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Trials of Jimmy Rose,” any time,
www.acorn.tv.

Jimmy (superbly
played by Ray Winstone) is fresh from prison, ready to savor life.
But while he was behind bat – two stints, totaling 24 years – the
world changed. His wife has secrets. His daughter loves him, but his
son resents him. A grandson is happy; a granddaughter faces drugs and
poverty.

This starts a
strong, British mini-series that will be released over the next three
Monday. Like New Zealand's “Brokenwood Mysteries” (which has a
new movie available today), this has accents that are tough to
pierce. Get past that, however, and you have a sharp character drama
with a slick finish.

Other choices:

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. The final four singers have their last chance to
gather votes, with Blake Shelton and Adam Levine on top, as usual.
Shelton has Barrett Baber and Emily Ann Roberts, Levin has Jordan
Smith. Gwen Stefani has Jefferey Austin; Pharrell Williams has no
one.

“Victoria's Secret
Fashion Show,” 8 p.m., CW. Here's a quick rerun of CBS' special, in
case you missed some of the nuance the first time.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CBS. Kara and her Aunt Astra (Laura Benanti) have very
different views of Kara's mother. Also, Cat (Calista Flockhart) could
be ousted from her own company.

“Just in Time for
Christmas” (2015), 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. This starts with a
way-too-familiar tale of alternate paths. It then added a likable
star (Eloise Mumford) and the usual “Hall of Fame” quality.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. It's the baby's first Christmas and his parents have
different views of the holiday. Also, Jane has trouble with her
scholarship; her dad, the telenovela star, distrusts his intern.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. On Christmas Eve, a fierce rain could break a dam and
destroy a town.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. Dark deeds and bright decor combine,
after a suspected spy is killed by a truck carrying Christmas trees.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Madam Secretary” mid-season finale, 8 p.m. CBS.

The entire season,
so far, has pointed toward this powerful hour. To incite American
attacks on Russia, the Ukraines hacked Air Force One ... making it
look like a Russian deed. The president retaliated with a
cyber-attack, plunging Moscow into darkness ... then learned who the
real hackers were.

Now Russia's
cold-eyed leader – the widow of a popular president – prepares to
attack the Ukraine. Key forces are at play ... including the young
Russian spy handled by Elizabeth's husband. This is a strong hour
with no easy answers, wrapping up with some disturbing moments.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Quantico” mid-season finale, 10 p.m., ABC.

Here's another major
storyline being wrapped up. From the opening episode, flashforwards
have shown Alex (the terrific Priyanka Chopra) as the prime suspect
in the Grand Central Station bombing; now we learn who actually did
it ... with new questions for the second half of the season.

And in the training
sessions, these young FBI agents finally get vacation time for
Christmas. After fresh secrets are spilled, some aren't in a holiday
mood.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Breakthrough,” 9 p.m., National Geographic,
repeating at midnight.

On a planet filled
with water, there are brutal shortages. In California, we see a woman
drive around her town, giving bottled water to people whose wells
went dry; in Ethiopia, problems are rougher.

Some women make
three treks – an hour each way – daily for clean water; others
settle for bacteria-filled pools, bringing rampant disease. This
compelling film – directed and narrated by Angela Bassett --
concludes a terrific, six-week series that is filled with people
trying innovative solutions.

Other choices
include:

“Mickey's Once
Upon a Christmas,” 7 a.m., ABC Family. Holiday funs starts early,
with this 1999 compilation of three stories. A second compilation is
at 8:45, followed by two Jim Hensons classics, viewing Christmas
through the Fraggles (10:25) and Emmet Otter (11:05).

“Breakthrough,”
11 a.m., National Geographic. Last week's episode reruns. Directed by
Akiva Goldsman (the “Beautiful Mind” writer), it looks at
intriguing energy solutions.

“Toy Story”
(1995), 4:35 p.m., ABC Family. Here's the dandy trilogy, with other
films at 6:45 (1999) and 9:30 p.m. (2010). In between is TV's “Toy
Story That Time Forgot” at 9.

“Behind the
Magic,” 8 p.m., ABC. In the depth of the Depression, resisting the
advice of his wive and brother, Walt Disney mortgaged his home and
obsessed on making the first feature-length cartoon. Three years
later, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (1937) opened to raves;
it became a cornerstone of an empire that includes ABC ... which airs
this documentary about the film.

“Blood & Oil,”
9 p.m., ABC. Triumphs like “Snow White” are rare, even for Disney
companies; this overheated soap opera concludes its first season,
with no signs there will be a second. Hap (Don Johnson) feels
Christmastime pressure; he battles with his son and considers
aligning with his ex-wife.

“The Good Wife,”
9 p.m., CBS. Three characters who were added this season take key
roles tonight. Ruth (Margo Martindale) frets about the political
repercussions of Alicia's relationship with her firm's detective
(Jeffrey Dean Morgan); now she wants a supporter (Vanessa Williams)
to hire him away.

“CSI Cyber,” 10
p.m., CBS. A hacker was hired to erase the comments of an assault
victim ... and then was killed. The team investigates.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Amazing Race” finale, 8 p.m., CBS.

It's time for
another wild dash to the million-dollar prize. This time, all three
of the duos are couples who have been dating; one is engaged.

That one has Justin
Scheman and Diana Bishop, both 30. They had dominated the race,
finishing first in seven of the episodes ... but last week barely
beat the ex-cheerleaders for the final spot. Now they face Chris
Gordon and Logan Fazio, 46 and 36; and Joey Buttitta and Kelsey
Gerckens, 26 and 25.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Last Man Standing” and “Dr. Ken,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., ABC.

ABC's Christmastime
comedies are usually worth sampling. Tonight, Mike (Tim Allen) fumes
about the meaning of the holiday being lost; instead of giving him a
present, he wants everyone to do a good deek. Also, Chuck is in the
running to be the in-store Santa.

Then there's a
different sort of problem for Ken: He forgot to schedule time for his
Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Now he must beg, bribe and lie, to
influence the office's anonymous “master scheduler.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Muppet Movie” (1979), 7-9 p.m., AMC, and more.

For 60 years -- from
odd little shorts to the clever Tuesday series on now ABC – the
Muppets have offered a rare blend of childlike charm and grown-up
wit. Now we can relive (or record) some of that.

That starts with
their first movie, which – like many road films – is
inconsistent, but has some dandy moments along the way; guests
include Steve Martin. Richard Pryor, Orson Welles and more. That's
followed by a TV special, the 2008 “Muppet Christmas,” at 9 p.m.
and two more movies -- “Muppet Treasure Island” (1996) at 10 p.m.
and “The Great Muppet Caper” (1981) at midnight.

Other choices
include:

“#BlackLove,” 11
a.m. and 7 or 11:01 p.m., FYI (formerly Biography). Here are several
chances to see this fairly interesting opener, which follows the
dating lives of five black women, mostly in their 30s. The second
episode will arrive at 10:15 p.m. Tuesday.

“Hollywood
Christmas Parade,” 8-10 p.m., CW. This offers highlights from the
parade and its concert – which was big on “American Idol”
memories. It included winners (Taylor Hicks, Candice Glover, Ruben
Studdard) and runners-up (Clay Aiken, Diana DeGarmo), plus Chris
Daughtry and Ace Young.

“MasterChef
Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. Kids are supposed to be good at lemonade
stands, right? Still, few face this sort of challenge: In seven
minures, make raspberry mint lemonate for a celebrity chef.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. The brother of a promising boxer has been killed ... and
the current champion is the prime suspect.

“Grimm,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Trubel finally tells Nick and Adalind what she's been up to.
Also, local businesses are vandalized and Monroe is kidnapped.

“Sinatra 100,” 9
p.m., Pop. It's a night of music memories for this cable channel.
First is a shortened version of the concert that aired Sunday on CBS,
with modern stars singing Frank Sinatra songs. At 10 p.m. is “Ray”
(2004), with Jamie Foxx's superb, Oscar-winning work as Ray Charles.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. When his former police partner is accused of planting
evidence, Danny is interrogated. Also, his dad, the police
commissioner, wrestles with freedom-of-speech issues.

 

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Coat of Many Colors,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Let's credit NBC for
remembering some of the notions – music, specials and TV movies –
that helped TV thrive. Last Thursday was its live “The Wiz”;
tonight, this movie follows a Michael Buble hour.

Dolly Parton's great
song told how her mom made a coat out of rags and turned it into a
personal triumph. That's part of this story, set in 1951 in the
Smokey Mountains. Alyvia Lind plays Parton at 9, with Jennifer
Nettles and Rick Schroeder as her parents and Gerald McRaney as her
grandfather.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

We're a week from a
pivotal episode, one that involves Amy, the “Star Wars” premiere
and even dream scenes with the late Professor Proton (Bob Newhart).
Here's the episode that sets it up.

Previously, Sheldon
rejected Amy's suggestion that they date again. Now she tries a
second date with the annoying Dave, played by Stephen Merchant, the
6-foot-7 Englishman who is Ricky Gervais' comedy partner. Meanwhile,
Sheldon finally figures out why a song is stuck in his head.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Bones” mid-season finale, 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

How does a show –
a fairly good one, but not a great one – prosper for 11 seasons?
“Bones” does it partly with variety, deftly going from light to
heavy; these two episodes provide strong examples.

The first is just
this side of silly, as Booth and Brennan (David Boreanaz and Emily
Deschanel) go undercover at a weekend camp where people pretend to be
cowboys. The second is dead-serious, with jolting moments at the the
beginning and end. Wrapping through both are personal stories for Cam
and the married duo of Hodgins and Angela. “Bones” skims all the
bases of good-enough drama.

Other choices
include:

“Toy Story at 20”
and “Toy Story” (1995), 8 and 9-11 p.m., ABC. Back in 1995,
little Pixar was still struggling to prove computer-animation could
be popular. It made commercials, special effects and Oscar-nominated
shorts – then hit it big with “Toy Story.” The idea was clever,
the script was smart and Pixar soared. It has gone on to other gems
-- from “Nemo” to “Inside Out” -- and merged with Disney. Now
ABC (also Disney-owned) reruns “Toy Story,” preceded by a
documentary about it.

Other choices
include:

“Michael Buble's
Christmas in Hollywood,” 8 p.m., NBC. For his fifth holiday
special, Buble includes music from Celine Dion, Tori Kelly and Sharon
Jones & the Dap-Kings. He tries comedy with reality stars Kylie
Jenner and Gigi Hadid and NBC favorites Blake Shelton, Jay Leno and
Eva Langoria.

“Life in Pieces,”
8:31, CBS. While Greg (Colin Hanks) revives a ping-pong grudge match
with his brother, his wife frets about returning to work after being
home with the baby. Also, Heather has second thoughts about her
husband getting a vasectomy. And her mom sees the effects of a stolen
credit card.

“The Originals,”
9 p.m., CW. This show and “Vampire Diaries” will be taking a long
break, before moving to Fridays on Jan. 29. First, this episode finds
Freya scrambling to help an afflicted sibling.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Sara Rue competes with herself tonight. At the same time
that she guests in the second “Bones” hour (as a disheveled
profiler) she returns here as the prosperous girlfriend of Christy's
ex-husband. At a conference with Roscoe's teacher, Christy feels more
threateed than ever.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. An archeologist has been killed, possibly because of
something he found.

“White Christmas”
(1954), 11:30 p.m., AMC. This Bing Crosby musical wraps up a stretch
of Christmas classics. At 4:30 p.m. is George C. Scott's blistering
“Christmas Carol” (1984) performance; the the original “Miracle
on 34th Street” (1947) is at 7 and 9:15.

 

 

 

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Holiday episodes
tend to be fun and tonight ABC has plenty of them.

That peaks here,
with Gloria insisting on the white Christmas she never had in
Colombia; she rents a mountain cabin for the family. Then ... well,
things never seem to go right in situation-comedy cabins.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Taraji and Terrence's White Hot Holidays,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Being an “Empire”
fan – like being a “Sopranos” fan in the old days – can
involve a lot of waiting. Now there won't be another new episode
until March; tonight, Fox tries to ease our pain.

Firtst, it reruns
last week's hour, with Lucious trying a risky business move and
Cookie planning a concert at the prison where was an inmate. Then the
actors who play them (Terrence Howard and Taraji Henson) sing a duet;
the Christmas special also has Mary J. Blige, John Legend and Jamie
Foxx.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “You're the Worst” season-finale, 10:30 p.m., FXX.

For two seasons,
this has traced the hesitant – and humorous -- relationship of two
deeply cynical souls. Last week found Gretchen in a deep funk, while
Jimmy almost had an affair with a gorgeous skiier. His other
roommate, Edgar, pondered moving in with his girlfriend; their friend
Lindsay found she was pregnant via the husband who left her.

Now things peaks at
a party for Lindsay's self-centered sister, who's making a big deal
of announcing her baby's sex. Drinks and words flow freely; it's
quite funny ... with a poignant moment at the end.

Other choices
include:

“Mat Franco's Got
Magic,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, we see the “America's Got
Talent” winner head from his Rhode Island home to the site of his
Las Vegas show – stopping for magic tricks long the way. That's
followed at 10 by “The Illusionists,” a TV version of a Broadway
magic show.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Each Christmas, the Hecks get to the church late and are
confined to the overflow room. This time, Frankie vows to have
everyone watch a service at home on TV.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:31 p.m., ABC. Beverly frets that her family's holiday is too blah.
She expands it into “super Hanukkah” ... which looks suspiciously
like Christmas.

“One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest” (1975), 9 p.m., Sundance. Here's an anti-authority
classic, winner of Oscars for best-picture and for all four acting
categories – including best actor for Jack Nicholson, whose “The
Shining” (1980) precedes this at 5:30.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Dre feels Christmas should be less about getting
things and more about family togetherness. His children don't share
that view.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. This is supposed to be Markus Keen's big break – a live
“Good Morning, America” performance, to spotlight his new album.
As the time nears, however, he doesn't seem to be ready. Meanwhile,
there's trouble between Luke nd Colt and between Rayna and Deacon.

“The League”
series finale, 10 p.m., FXX. For seven terribly inconsistent seasons,
this show has found some humor among friends in a fantasy-football
league. Last week – in an exceptionally solid episode – an
attempt to compute scores by hand failed; now the championship is
settled with one big play-off.