TV column for Friday, Sept.25

“The Amazing Race” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

At times –
especially in the opener and finale – this really becomes a
footrace. If so, one duo – track stars from the University of
California, Riverside – has the edge. Danielle Littleton was Big
West Conference 100-meter hurdle and long jump champion; Jazmine
Lewis was the heptathlon runner-up.

Other duos fit the
usual variety. There are couples (one married, one engaged, two
dating). There are cousins and brothers and a mom and son. There are
co-workers at the TMZ Web site and friends who used to be NFL
cheerleaders. Tonight, they go from Venice Beach, Cal., to Rio de

II: “The Muppets,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.

If you missed
Tuesday's debut, catch this rerun. It has the wit and charm of the
Muppets' glory days.

Miss Piggy has a
talk show now, with her ex-lover Kermit as the frazzled producer.
Elizabeth Banks is the guest star (unless Piggy dumps her), with
music from Imagine Dragons. Meanwhile, sweet Fozzie faces bias
against inter-species romance. It's a fun start.

ALTERNATIVE: “American Masters,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local

Fifteen fascinating
women talk about their lives, past and present. Some were childhood
nerds, openly (Shonda Rhimes, producer of ABC's Thursday shows) or
secretly: In public, Alicia Keys was part of the hip-hop; at home,
she practiced Chopin and graduated early, as the valedictorian.

Some broke barriers;
Nia Wordlaw went to a stranger's funeral, so she could see a black
woman pilot. And many have funny stories: When Madeline Albright was
secretary of state, her 2-year-old grandchild woke up, saw
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ... and promptly broke into tears.

Other choices

(2007), 6:30 p.m., VH1. This zesty musical starts a fun movie night.
The 8 p.m. choices are led by the animated “Hotel Transylvania”
(2011) on FX, “Gremlins” (1984) on TV Land and “Walk the Line”
(2009) on Oxygen.

“Last Man
Standing” season-opener, 8 p.m., ABC. Mike (Tim Allen) is in a
great mood, after a two-month trip for the outdoor-supply store he
works for. Now, however, he finds changes at work and at home ... and
a tornado headed toward both.

“Minority Report”
and “Rosewood,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. These shows opened this week,
with lots of flash annd so-so stories. “Minority” -- set 10 years
after the Steven Spielberg movie – has one young man able to see
crimes in advance. “Rosewood” has Morris Chestnut as a sleek
forensic physician.

“Hawaii Five-0”
season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. The notion of re-opening an old case goes
to extremes tonight: This one is centuries old, involving pirates'
raid of a Oahu palace; a killer is using a stolen painting as a
treasure map. Also, Kono and Adam face danger, on the day after their

“Blue Bloods”
season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS. A terror attack in the Middle East leads
to the police commissioner (Tom Selleck) putting New York on high

“POV,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). For three generations, Mark Landis was a
not-for-profit art forger. He faked the works of Pablo Picasso, Paul
Signac, Dr. Seuss and more, donating them to galleries in the memory
of his parent or an imaginaty sister. This documentary traces Landis
and the Oklahoma City museum registrar who exposed him.

TV column for Thursday, Sept. 24

“Heroes Reborn” debut, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

“Heroes” arrived
in 2006 with hints of optimism. Sure, some people felt plagued by
their extra powers; still, others were intrigued. A cheerleader was
immune to injury; a guy named Hiro pondered heroics.

Now this 13-hour
sequel finds a darker time. People with powers are feared and hunted.
Noah Bennett (Jack Coleman) – known as HRG, for his horn-rimmed
glasses – is under the radar as a car salesman. New people emerge,
including two teens – one in mid-America, the other in the Arctic –
plus a Latino ex-soldier and a perplexed Japanese woman. We can only
hope this lives up to its promising start.

II: “How to Get Away With Murder” season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC.

On an Emmy night
dominated by cable and beyond, Viola Davis' win -- best actress in a
drama – was a rare victory for a broadcast network. Now Davis
starts her second season as Annalise, a law professor who is powerful
in the classroom and the courtroom, but was shattered by her late
husband's cheating.

She's defending a
brother and sister who are accused of killing their parents. She's
also facing her own crisis: Only Annalise and her aide know that
Rebecca (Wes' mysterious neighbor) has been killed.

“The Player” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

As competition
expands and profits shrink, networks keep trying harder ... sometimes
hitting overload.

“Player” starts
as your standard chase-around adventure. A handsome security guy
(Phillip Winchester) races around Las Vegas in his car and/or his
underwear; the action is quick and sleek and Vegas-flashy. Then,
alas, we get the extra twist, via Wesley Snipes: There are big-time
gamblers out there, betting on each case our hero chases. It's a
bizarre twist that diminishes an already-shallow show.

Other choices

Football pre-game
and game, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. ET, CBS. After losing their first two
games (each time after going into the fourth quarter with a lead),
the Giants host the Redskins, who are 1-1.

“Screen Queens,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. Here's a quick rerun of Tuesday's debut, a comic
variation of a sorority horror tale. The comedy is repetitious –
especially when stretched for two hours – so the best moments come
from the skeptical characters, neatly played by Jamie Lee Curtis and
Skyler Samuels.

“Grey's Anatomy”
season-opener, 8 p.m., ABC. Two young patients cause the doctors to
recall times when bullying affected them. Also, Meredith has new
roommates and Bailey fights to be the chief.

season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Olivia is happy (for now), working for a
visiting queen and back with the preesident. Meanwhile, his wife
faces repercussions; so do Cyrus and Huck.

“Project Runway,”
9-10:30 p.m., Lifetime. Contestants create designs based on “Finding
Neverland,” the Broadway musical about Peter Pan creator J.M.

“Married,” 10
p.m., FX. Friendships are sort of shaky for Russ and Lina. His
sorta-friend is a recovering alcoholic who throws himself into new
obsessions; now Russ is ensnared into helping him with a children's
book about addiction. Meanwhile, Lina tries to muffle her habit of
giving a friend too much advice. Both stories start slowly, then have
hilarious moments.

“Fashionably Late”
debut, 10:30 p.m., Lifetime. After years with her own reality show,
stylist Rachel Zoe launches a pop-culture talk show ... arriving,
conveniently, shortly after the Emmys ceremony.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 23

“Empire” season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox.

Last season,
“Empire” soared. In a flashy, record-industry setting, it gave us
Lucious Lyon – a mogul who can charm and kill – plus his fierce
ex-wife Cookie and their three mismatched sons. Then it sent Lucious
to prison and put his empire in play.

That's where we
start now, with Lucious facing challengers in prison (Chris Rock) and
in the board room (Marisa Tomei). We'll have to excuse the fact that
both stories end almost identically ... and that “Empire” often
has an enlarged, soap-opera feel. This is “Dynasty” with a beat
and, mostly, it works.

II: “Black-ish,” 9:31 p.m., ABC.

After a fairly good
first season, “Black-ish” roars back, leaping into controversy.
At a talent show, little Jack does a rap tune that has the “n”
word; he faces the zero-tolerance plan that his mom pushed for.

Attitudes range
wildly. Jack's grandfather hates a word he knows as a weapon ... his
dad takes pride in a generation that reclaimed the word ... his
sister's friends toss it around way too casually ... and his dad's
colleagues are just perplexed, This episode gives everyone a say ...
and still manages to be very funny.

ALTERNATIVE: “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” 8 and 9:30 p.m.,

While other networks
juggle reality, CBS sticks to its big three: “Amazing Race”
starts its season Friday; “Survivor” does the same today, leading
into the “Big Brother” finale and a $500,000 winner.

First, “Survivor”
offers 20 past contestants, voted back by viewers. Most recent are
two people from this past season – Joe Anglim, 26, a jewelry
designer, and Sirin Oskooi, 32, a Yahoo executive. Most distant is
Kelly Wiglesworth, 38, who soared in that first, explosive “Survivor”
edition. A river guide, she won the final four challenges, before
losing the tribal vote to the infamous Richard Hatch.

Other choices

debut, 8 p.m., Fox. Here is the beauty of Miami ... and of a sleek,
yellow convertible ... and of Morris Chestnut, the show's star.
Clearly, “Rosewood” will be a visual treat; the rest is merely
OK. Chestnut plays Dr. Rosewood, a free-lance forensics expert; Jaina
Lee Ortiz plays the cop he argues with, in the usual TV style. The
murder case is quite good; the rest seems rote and predictable.

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings). On a night filled with murder and
despair, here's the pefect counterpoint, filled with cute animals and
sweet people. “Nature's Miracle Orphans,” which concludes next
week, sees Australians go to great lengths to raise motherless
sloths, wombats and koalas.

“The Middle”
season-opener, 8 p.m., ABC. Heading to college, Sue is (as usual)
optimistic. Her brother is less happy about seeing her there; he's
savoring “my last week of Suelessness.” Their mom is OK with
this, but feigns tearful emotions; their dad, of course, keeps any
emotions cleverly hidden. Problems loom; it's a solid episode in a
consistently good episode.

“The Mysteries of
Laura” season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC. When a boy is taken from his
home, family secrets start to emerge.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 and 10 p.m., NBC. A body has washed up on
the same beach where Yates buried his victims. His comment sends the
probe in new directions, with a complex trial.

“Modern Family”
season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Haley scrambles to prevent Andy from
proposing to Beth. Meanwhile, Cam is trying to be supportive of the
jobless Mitchell, but money is getting tight.

season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC. Generations and genres blend
beautifully, when Juliette (Hayden Panettiere, 26) and Steven Tyler,
67, sing “Crazy” -- which Willie Nelson wrote and Patsy Cline
sang 54 years ago. That on-stage high masks tough times. Hayden's
husband and baby have moved back home, Will is adrift after coming
out as gay, Scarlett watches her mom in a coma while denying her love
for Gunnar. In tonight's final minutes, emotions swirl.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 22

“The Muppets” debut, 8 p.m., ABC.

By now, Kermit the
Frog is a global treasure. He's been in show business for 60 years,
been famous since “Sesame Street” began 46 years ago. He's in a
Smithsonian museum, near Archie Bunker's chair.

And he's back on the
air, in a show that comes close to the joyous wit the late Jim Henson
mastered. Kermit is producer of a lateniight talk show hosted by his
ex-lover Miss Piggy. That allows for heckling, pre-show chaos, guests
(Elizabeth Banks tonight), music acts (Imagine Dragons) and outside
stories. Fozzie, often semi-ignored, gets his own controversy, with a
bear-human romance.

II: “NCIS” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

Last season ended
fiercely, with Gibbs (Mark Harmon) shot by Luke, the boy he had
helped and a terrorist group had manipulated. Now Gibbs' life wobbles
in the hands of an eccentric surgeon -- a big, splashy role for Jon
Cryer, who will be back. Meanwhile, Tony hunts the villain in charge.

That part of the
story whisked past us way too quickly. Still, the scenes with Gibbs
pondering (sometimes via imagination) his life, are skillfully played
and solidly emotional.

“Scream Queens” debut, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

After mastering
scares (“American Horror Story”) and laughs (“Glee”), Ryan
Murphy has combined them. He created an overwrought sorority, stuffed
it with young stars -- Lea Michele, Keke Palmer, Emma Roberts,
Abigail Breslin, etc. -- and dumped a killer in their midst.

That's a good idea
that often goes bad. The sorority scenes are terribly one-note,
quickly losing their fun. The show only works when we get its few
smart characters – a sorority newcomer (Skyler Samuels) and the
non-nonsense dean perfectly played by the original scream queen,
Jamie Lee Curtis.

ALTERNATIVE: “On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam,” 10 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

The men of Morenci
often left for the military. In this Arizona mining town, patriotism
was high and career options were low. In 1966, nine football
teammates joined the Marines; six died in Vietnam.

“Two Fronts”
skillfully leaps between that story and the one of Everett Alvarez
Jr., a pilot who spent eight-and-a-half brutal years as a prisoner of
war. There are strong moments from Alvarez, his sistert (who became a
prominent anti-war activist) and the people left behind in Morenci.
This also views a system that often skipped college kids, while
pushing working-class guys into the infantry.

Other choices

“Fresh Off the
Boat” season-opener, 8:30 p.m., ABC. Eddie's mother isn't likely to
go on vacation – or to spend any money – but now the family goes
to Gator World. Fun (but repetitious) moments follow.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 9 p.m., ABC. “Agents of SHIELD” will have to wait until
next week. Tonight, “Stars” wraps up a two-day event, with one
celebrity dumped each night.

“NCIS: New
Orleans” season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. After a military convoy is
bombed in New Orleans, Pride (Scott Bakula) goes undercover.

debut., 10 p.m., CBS. Brian is a musician, handsome and rootless.
Then he happens upon a pill that gives him immense (but brief)
powers. “Limitless” is adapted from a 2011 film that starred
Bradley Cooper – who is one of this show's producers and has a role
late in tonight's hour. Still, it lacks starpower or movie might;
Jake McDorman is OK, but doesn't make Brian anyone to care about.

“Best Time Ever,”
10 p.m., NBC. Last week's opener was an odd hodge-podge – some
clever hidden-camera stunts, a so-so game, a tedious tower race and a
big music number. Much of that was salvaged by Neil Patrick Harris'
charm; now the second try (following “The Voice”) can try to
build from there.

“The Bastard
Executioner,” 10 p.m., FX. At timrs, this reflects Kurt Sutter's
“Sons of Anarchy,” with terse dialog and fierce action. Too
often, however, Sutter has written himself into a corner. His hero
has taken the identity of a guy hired to torture and execute; there's
no good way to get out of this.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 21

“Blindspot” debut, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

Authorities tend to
pay attention when a duffel bag is abadoned in Times Square. They pay
even closer attention when a naked woman emerges from it. She doesn't
know who she is, but soon finds she has a soldier's skills ... and
tattoos that are new, elaborate and clues to crimes.

Certainly, some of
this was taken from “Bourne Identity,” “John Doe” and more.
Still, those are good places to plunder; “Blindspot” has a sharp
story and, in Jaimie Alexander, a strong star.

II: “Life in Pieces” debut, 8:31 p.m., CBS.

The idea sounds kind
of arbirary: Each week, tell four mini-stories – one each about an
older couple (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) and their grown
children. The fourth brings them together.

It's contrived ...
but it works because it's written cleverly and performed perfectly.
Some moments may be too anatomically oriented for some viewers, but
many are sharp, especially when a secret is revealed (before the
scene, fortunately) about Santa Claus. Betsy Brandt (“Breaking
Bad”) shines in that one; Colin Hanks, Zoe Lister-Jones and Thomas
Sadoski also have great moments.

ALTERNATIVE: “Gotham” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

Diving deep into its
dark roots, this beautifully crafted hour offers a pivotal episode.
Jim Gordon – the most honest cop in a nasty city – loses his job.
To get it back, he may have to compromise his ideals.

Meanwhile, his
former fiancee Barbara Kean is in a mental asylum. Bruce (the future
Batman) strains to learn family secrets. The Riddler is ruling the
crime world, with Selena (the future Catwoman) as an aide ... but a
new force promises to create an all-star team of evil. It's a great

Other choices

“The Voice”
opener, 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. Auditions begin, with the judges – Blake
Shelton, Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams –
competing for the singers they like.

“The Big Bang
Theory” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS. It's time for Leonard and Penny
to marry in Las Vegas ... except she's still staggered by his
confession of a kiss during his North Sea project.

season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. The genius team is in limbo, with Walter
(Elyes Gabel) rehabbing his injured hand and their FBI handler fired.
Then they're back together, in an hour that follows the “Scorpion”
formula: The story seems absurd, with extreme feats done instantly,
just in time. But the emotions are beautifully underplayed,
especially by Gabel and Katharine McPhee.

“Minority Report”
debut, 9 p.m., Fox. The 2002 Steven Spielberg movie had “precogs”
identifying “pre-criminals” ... who were arrested before they
could do anything. This version is set 10 years after the program was
abandoned. Spielberg produced it, but it's only so-so, with huge
story flaws.

“America After
Charleston” and “POV,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings). On a giddy night for other networks, PBS counters with
serious subjects – a town hall about racial shootings and a
portrait of a young woman's struggles during 19 years as an
undocumented alien.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles” season-opener, 9:59 p.m., CBS. Callen goes rogue, with a
secret mission. Which is pretty much how “Castle” starts this
season and started last season; maybe shows feel it's required.

season-opener, 10:01 p.m., ABC. Last season started with a
multi-parter that had Castle go off on a secret, seemingly criminal
effort, without telling Beckett. And now? It's a multi-parter that
has Beckett on a secret, seemingly criminal effort, without telling
Castle. We'll give zero points for originality ... but we'll
definitely catch next week, when the story is told from Beckett's