TV column for Saturday, Oct. 7

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m. ET, NBC.

Last week's
season-opener topped 7 million viewers (not counting delayed
viewing). That was shy of last season's politics-fueled opener (8.3
million), but better than any other opener since 2008,

More importantly,
the show was slick and funny ... a so-so opening sketch, followed by
several sharp ones and a wickedly funny “Weekend Update.” Now Gal
Gadot hosts, with music from Sam Smith.

II: “Will & Grace,” 8 p.m., NBC.

This has been the
young season's happiest surprise: After 11-plus years of dormancy,
the show has returned as sharp as ever – or sharper. Four gifted
actors (plus guest stars) handle slick, smart dialog, perfectly
molded by director James Burrows. And then there are the sight gags.

The opener had a
good one, an Oval Office pillow fight; this second one has a great
one – Grace and Karen caught in a shower, as the water rises. That
was funny with Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, 55 years ago; it's
hilarious now. Add a dead-serious monolog by Will and you have a
great rerun.

ALTERNATIVE: “Spielberg,” 8-10:30 p.m., HBO.

Here are two master
filmmakers. One, of course, is Steven Spielberg: From “Jaws” and
“ET” to the Indiana Jones films, he mastered the art of the
blockbuster; then – from “Schindler's List” to “Lincoln”
and “Bridge of Spies” -- he showed he's also good at deeply
detailed dramas.

The other is Susan
Lacy, who made this film. She created PBS' “American Masters” and
ran it for two decades, setting a new standard for deep biographies.
Now she's taken that skill to HBO.

ALTERNATIVE II: “The Wonder List” debut, 9 p.m. ET, CNN (barring
breaking news).

As a young man, Doug
Tompkins savored the outdoors. He started two companies (North Face
and Esprit), made a fortune and then bought land in Patagonia. He
took two million acres (bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island
combined) and donated them for national parks in Chile and Argentina.

This is a feel-good
story ... but it also brings objections from locals who have lost
their chances for hunting and farming. Bill Weir tells the story with
warmth, depth and gorgeous scenery.

Other choices

Football, 7:30 p.m.
ET, ABC, and 8 p.m. ET, Fox. ABC has Michigan (ranked No. 7) hosting
Michigan State; Fox has Washinton State (No. 11) at Oregon. And
cable, of course, has much more.

“Wisdom of the
Crowd,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of Sunday's pilot film, with a
tech mogul (Jeremy Piven) using his fortune to tackle high-tech
crimesolving. Like last year's failures (“Pure Genius,” “APB”),
this has lots of computer screens, but few people to care about.

8:30 p.m., NBC. Jonah digs into Garrett's past and Amy feels Dina has
anxiety. Also in this rerun , Mateo and Cheyenne try to avoid work by
claiming they were close to the late Brett.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. While Pride is on a deep-sea oil rig, a gas
leak is discovered, creating fears of an explosion. Also in this
rerun, Sebastian starts his NCIS training.

“Halt and Catch
Fire,” 9 p.m., AMC; reruns at 10:15. The closing minutes last week
were brilliantly crafted and instantly jolting, as Gordon died. Now
come the aftershocks of a tangled life. Donna – once his wife, now
his competitor – must pack up. Haley -- their 14-year-old daughter
and a computer whiz in his company – retrieves a keepsake, with
Joe's help.

“The Departed”
(2006), 10 p.m., MTV. After decades of great filmmaking, Martin
Scorsese finally won his Oscars (best picture, best director) for
this richly layered cop story. His dream cast included Jack
Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.

TV column for Friday, Oct. 6

“Great Performances: Havana Time Machine,” 9 p.m., PBS.

As lead singer of
the Mavericks, Raul Malo has given country music two unique touches –
a soaring (almost operatic) voice and a Cuban heritage. Both are on
display here.

Malo meets musicians
in his parents' homeland, then takes them to a great spot – a
former beer garden and palace, just outside Havana, that's partly
abandoned and overtaken by the jungle. There, we hear the Mavericks,
Ivette Cepeda, Eliadel Ochoa and two truly amazing groups – Roberto
Fonseca's jazz fusion band and Sweet Lizzy Project, a superb
indie-pop group that cut its album in a tiny apartment.

“Once Upon a Time” reboot, 8 p.m., ABC.

Last season could
easily have have been the last, wrapping up its storylines. “We did
it,” young Henry Mills says now. “We have our happy ending.”

Still, he's
determined to find new ones; years later -- with a new actor playing
Henry -- he finds two. In the fairy-tale world, he meets a
steel-willed Cinderella; in Seattle, he meets a struggling Cindy
type. Both are played by Dania Ramirez, who's new to the show; still,
a few of the regulars – Lana Parilla, Robert Carlyle, Colin
O'Donoghue – are back. The result has warmth, whimsy and great

ALTERNATIVE: “The Exorcist,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Friday-night scares
are a bit iffy right now. The Syfy channel had planned to debut Mario
Van Peebles' promising “Superstition” at 10 p.m. today, right
after the offbeat “Z Nation.” That's being delayed for two weeks,
however; for now, try the reworked “Exorcist,” which juggles
three mismatched stories.

One – Tomas and
Marcus try to save a distraught woman – is terribly gruesome and
disturbing, even by horror standards. The other two, however, are
quite good. One has schemes inside the Vatican; the other has the
talented John Cho as an earnest foster father, on what may be a
haunted island.

Other choices

Baseball, all day,
cable. It's a quadruple-header, if you switch channels. The second
American League games are at 2 and 5 p.m. ET on Fox Sports1 or MLBN;
the first National League games are 7:30 and 10:31 p.m. ET on TBS.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. When does diamond-theft become a good deed? When a
terrorist group is trying to get the same diamonds and exchange them
for a weapon of mass destruction.

“Third Rail With
Ozy,” 8:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Tentative plans call
for Ann Coulter, Nick Cannon and others, discussing gender in the
workplace and the “men's movement” in Silicon Valley.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. When the boss of a major crime family is killed, there
are revenge slayings across the island. The team asks an old friend
for help. Also, McGarrett and Danny sort out the details of their new
restaurant venture.

“Inhumans,” 9:01
p.m., ABC. If you missed last week's opener ... well, it was kind of
awful anyway. Maximus (whose charisma is miniumus) overthrew his
brother the king. For the royalty, the bad news is that they've lost
their power (and, in the queen's case, her hair); the good is that
they're in Hawaii.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Danny – who's now widowed, viewers abruptly learned
last week – probes the suspicious return of a boy who disappeared
13 years ago.

“Hispanic Heritage
Awards,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Icons will be there
to receive the awards and to give them out. (One presenter is Dolores
Huerta, 55, who started the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez
some 55 years ago.) Also, there's music by Luis Fonsi, Concha Buika,
Gaby Moreno, Locos por Juana and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 5

“Will & Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC.

It was 54-plus years
ago that Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance created one of TV's great
sight gags – Lucy and Viv, stuck in the shower as the water rises.
Now we get a fresh, high-tech version:

Karen has just
installed a voice-activated shower. As she gives Grace a tour, she
says all the wrong things; now they're trapped and soaked. It's a
brilliant scene, under the guidance of TV's all-time best comedy
director, James Burrows ... and it isn't even the main story. Will
and Jack are dating younger guys, bringing goofy sight gags from Jack
and then a great, dead-serious monolog from Will.

“Scandal” season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC.

For six seasons,
“Scandal” has delivered wild rides – skilled actors, sharp
dialog, crisp filming ... and, at times, outrageously exaggerated
plots. Now the final season begins.

Mellie has been
president for 100 days, with Olivia guiding her image. Now an
international crisis may force her toughest call yet. Meanwhile,
Quinn's firm is still struggling to get its first client.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Orville,” 9:01 p.m., Fox.

Remember how Captain
Kirk used to keep finding interstellar romances in “Star Trek?”
Tonight, Ed (Seth MacFarlane) rescues a stranded ship; he promptly
falls for its captain, played by Oscar-winner Charlize Theron. Kelly
(Adrianne Palicki) – his first officer and his ex-wife – is

Also, Gordon (Scott
Grimes) tries to teach Isaac how to do a practical joke. This won't
be easy; Isaac is from an artificial, non-biological race.

Other choices

Sports overload, CBS
and cable. CBS has football – the Patriots (with a surprisingly
slow start and 2-2 record) and Bucs (2-1). That's at 8:30 p.m. ET,
with a preview at 7:30. Also, baseball's division series begins;
today, it's the American League, at 4 and 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports1
and MLBN.

Music Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW. Avoiding the rush, CW won't launch
its season until nest week. To warm up for it, this special started
Wednesday. Tonight is expected to include Miley Cyrus, Lorde, Big
Sean, D.J. Khaled and more.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. The last time Harper Avery (Jackson's grandfather) was
at the hospital, everyone was nervous; he's a noted surgeon and the
namesake of a key award. Now he's back and everyone's on edge. Also,
someone from Meredith's past is a patient.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Gordon travels to Miami, hoping to convince Carmine
Falcone to join the fight against Penguin. The result brings a
surprise: Falcone's daughter follows him back to Gotham.

“Project Runway,”
9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime. For fans of the Buitendorp twins, this is the
worst-case scenario. Last week, Claire and Shawn were jointly at the
bottom; unable to decide, the judges gave them an hour to each create
something new. Tonight, we'll learn which one is out.

“Great News,”
9:30 p.m., NBC. At times, this show simply tries too hard. Most
often, it reduces Carol (Andrea Martin( to cartoonish extremes;
tonight, she loudly disrupts her daughter's life. This time, however,
there's more, with Portia (Nicole Richie) creating an in-your-face
music video. Tina Fey, usually accustomed to dry wit, is surrounded
by noisy overkill.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. The season-opener ended with a jolt: Chief Boden's wife
said the school fire – which endangered her and seriously injured a
colleague – was no accident. Now Boden pushes the probe. Also, Kidd
fumes about the fact that the homeless Hope has moved into the

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 4

“Designated Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC.

moments sometimes exist under a cloak of casual fun. Back in 2011,
President Obama seemed bright and breezy at the Correspondents
Dinner; on his mind, however, was a plan that, the next day, would
kill Osama bin Laden.

Here's a fictional
version: The president has two concerns – so-so comedy material for
the dinner ... and a madman who could kill thousands. The result is
an adequate mix of quiet drama and sharp jeopardy.

II: “Empire,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Already a crisp
blend of gifted actors and uptempo music, “Empire” adds another
top talent: Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker plays Uncle Eddie, a
music-business icon and a friend of the Lyons.

Right now, they need
all the friends they can get. Lucious Lyon, still recovering from an
explosion, has lost his memory. His mother (Leslie Uggams) insists
he's a monster; now he sneaks away, in hopes of learning more,
causing Cookie to panic. Also, Becky makes a rash decision about
Jamal's new song.

ALTERNATIVE: “Star,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Scrambling for its
own place in the world, these three young singers keep changing their
look, sound and style. Which, alas, is sort of what the show keeps
doing, too.

Tonight, a fierce
label head (Michael Michele) puts their plans on hold. Carlotta
responds with diplomacy; Star responds with Star-like fury. It's a
scattered hour, but ends passionately.

Other choices

season-opener, 8 p.m., PBS. There are good reasons why few TV shows
focus on elephants. This one does ... and tends to be slow and dry.
It tries hard, with a booming music track; still, the story about an
orphaned elephant – isn't really crescendo-worthy.

“The Story of
God,” 8-11 p.m. ET, National Geographic, rerunning 11 p.m. to 2
a.m. Here are three pieces of Morgan Freeman's terrific documentary
series. All eight hours will air Sunday (2-10 p.m. ET) ... followed
by something even more ambitious: Freeman's superb “Story of Us”
starts next Wednesday.

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET,
TBS, or 8 p.m., AMC. Take your pick: TBS has the National League's
wild-card game; Colorado visits Arizona, with the loser ending its
season. And AMC has some fun memories: “Moneyball,” with a sharp
Aaron Sorkin script, has Brad Pitt as the Oakland A's boss.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. College transitions can be tricky: Manny tries to avoid
a long, tearful farewell; Haley, however, may be much more
self-reliant than her parents realized.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Colleagues are at odds, when
Rollins and Carisi insist that a rape story seems fabricated.

“Chicago, P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. After a deadly explosion, a policeman disappears. He's
a Muslim and quickly becomes the prime suspect.

season-opener, 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Here's a big,
ambitious way to start the season – an investigation of Kim
Jong-un, including the question of who killed his half-brother.

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 3

“This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

The three siblings
face simultaneous crises. Kate makes her debut as a bar singer ...
Kevin reluctantly returns for one episode of his TV comedy ... and
Randall frets about his own foster-parent idea.

That last one is
played brilliantly by Sterling K. Brown, capturing the wobbly
perfectionism of one of TV's great characters. But the highlight,
surprisingly, involves two people who are rarely together –
Randall's brother (Kevin) and wife (Beth). It's a brilliant little
scene; add flashbacks to Jack's struggles with alcoholism and you
have “This Is Us” at its finest.

II: “The Middle” season-opener, 8 p.m., ABC.

Every family is
supposed to provide something for the town's time capsule. Naturally,
Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton) worries about this. “After we're
gone, will people remember us?” she asks.

Yes, we will. For
eight seasons, the Hecks have provided us with a rarity – the
everyday (albeit exaggerated) humor of middle-income,
middle-Americans, just getting by. Now the final season begins with
Sue trying to cram all summer experiences into two days. It's a
bright start.

ALTERNATIVE: “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” debut, 10 p.m.

Kevin (Jason Ritter)
has failed at everything, including a suicide attempt. Now he
retreats to the rural home of his sister (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) –
a top scientist – and her teen daughter.

Then he's genuinely
surprised to meet a celestial messenger who has news: Kevin is one of
God's chosen ones, destined for good deeds. His floundering sometimes
gets way too repetitious. Fortunately, the show is also spiced with
special-effects moments and with Ritter's off-hand charm.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Gibbs and McGee are back from their hostage crisis, but they
must pass a psych evaluation. Meanwhile, the body of a long-missing
lieutenant has been found at a local cemetery.

“Finding Your
Roots” season-opener, 8 p.m., PBS. Larry David, 70, and Bernie
Sanders, 76, grew up in nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods. Their lives
went in opposite directions – until David began Sanders
impersonations on “Saturday Night Live.” Now we visit both men's
family trees, finding moments of joy and of profound tragedy ... and
then a neat, closing twist.

Baseball, 8 p.m.,
ESPN. The play-offs begin with a one-shot, win-or-go-home game. The
Yankees are used to playing in the post-season; the Twins are not.

“The Vietnam War,”
9 p.m. to midnight, PBS. Ken Burns' 10-part, 18-hour documentary was
a masterpiece. Now it reruns in weekly chunks; the first takes us
through the Kennedy years.

season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. After seeing a lame Columbus Day program
at school, Dre links with Aloe Blacc to create a song for Juneteenth,
the holiday that celebrates emancipation.

“The Mayor,”
9:30, ABC. As a publicity stunt, a rapper runs for mayor ... and, to
his surprise, wins. He knows nothing about mayor-ing, but has a good
heart and two strong forces – his mom (Yvette Nichole Brown) and
his administrator (Lea Michele). The result is erratic, but has its

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A Russian operative has come to the U.S. to
provide information about sleeper agents. But now he's disappeared
and his Navy escort has been killed.

“Law & Order:
True Crime,” 10 p.m., NBC. In the opener, Lyle and Erik Menendez
went on a shopping spree shortly after their parents were brutally
slain. In this moderately interesting hour, they become suspects ...
and a tip strains the limits of patient-doctor confidentiality.