TV column for Sunday, Feb. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“SNL 40th Anniversary Special,” 8-11 p.m., NBC;
red-carpet preview at 7.

Big, bold and
bizarre, “Saturday Night Live” seemed shaky at first, insiders
have recalled. Its veteran host (George Carlin) was high on drugs;
its young actors were unsure. Dan Aykroyd kept a bag packed; producer
Lorne Michaels suggested NBC have a movie ready, just in case.

Then, quickly, “SNL”
became a gem. It's had lots of bad sketches – pointless ones,
one-note ones – and more great ones. Now, in its 40th year, it
plans this live show packed with stars, from the originals (Dan
Aykroyd and Laraine Newman are expected) to the current crew, plus
regulars and guests in-between.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m.,
CBS.

Fifteen years ago,
this show and “Survivor” combined to launch CBS' comeback. Now
its future is shaky. Ratings have been solid, but CBS trimmed the
season from 22 episodes to 18; one of its promos even mistakenly
called tonight the series finale.

That may turn out to
be true, but there's a lot to see. In the first hour, a murder is
linked to kidnapped teens; Lisa Rinna is a guest star. In the second,
Stokes makes a decision and the team finally confronts the Gig Harbor
killer; guests include Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Mark Valley and Eric
Roberts.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Girls,” 9 p.m., HBO.

In the last two
weeks, Hannah has burned her bridges. She insulted her workshop
colleagues (in person and via cubbyhole note), left the prestigious
Iowa writers' program, returned to New York ... and found a new woman
with Adam, in what had been her apartment.

Now come the
aftershocks, in a brilliantly written and acted episode. Sometimes
funny and sometimes deeply tragic, it reveals all the flaws and
quirks that make Hannah such a compelling character.

Other choices
include:

“AFV's 25th
Anniversary,” 7 p.m., ABC. Here's basic entertainment: Guys sustain
groin injuries via skateboard, trapeze and pinata. One dog seems to
talk, another runs around with some active fireworks, a third
urinates (seemingly forever) while walking on it front paws. It's all
quick and fun, as “America's Funniest Home Videos” celebrates its
25th year and Tom Bergeron's 15th and final
year as host.

“The Bachelor,”
8 p.m. and 9-11 p.m., ABC. First is a “Bachelor Tells All”
interview. Then Chris Soules ousts one woman and takes the other six
to Iowa, where they see his home town of Arlington, pop. 429. He'll
choose the final four; on Monday, we'll see him visit their home
towns.

Masterpiece: Downton
Abbey,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A week before the
excellent season-finale, here's a so-so episode. Lady Rose's wedding
could be marred by her mother, who seems to hate most people,
especially the Jewish groom. Also, the Bates murder probe takes a
dark turn.

“Wild Australia,”
9 and 10 p.m., NatGeo Wild; concludes Monday. Most Australians, quite
wisely, live on one of the edges, near water. These two hours step
inside, to see animals (led by wombats and kangaroos) that survive a
desert. There are moments of great beauty, inside a harsh setting.

“Wicked Tuna,” 9
p.m., National Geographic. Last season, young Tyler McLaughlin fell
from first place to last, catching only three fish. Now he tries to
jump quickly back on top, in a strong opener.

“Togetherness,”
9:30, HBO. If these are the real rules, the game of kick-the-can
makes no sense. Can one team just stand around the can? Can the other
emerge from captivity to block people? Brett's self-destructive
approach seems just as nonsensical, in an episode that mostly
confounds us.

“Masterpiece:
Grantchester,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The
crimesolving vicar tries a pleasant evening at a jazz club ... and,
of course, soon has a murder to solve.

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Slap” debut, 8 p.m., NBC.

Skipping all the
usual elements – cops, crooks, lawyers and doctors – this drama
centers on the tangled turf of families and emotion. It centers on a
single incident at a party, then broadens out.

With only eight
episodes, “Slap” was able to assemble a superb cast. Peter
Sarsgaard plays an earnest guy on his 40th birthday,
loving his family but obsessing on the babysitter who works for his
wife (Thandie Newton). A single action by his intense cousin (Zachary
Quinto) stirs debate among the partygoers (Uma Thurman, Melissa
George, Thomas Sadoski, more) ... and among viewers.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox; “Project Runway,” 9-10:32 p.m.,
Lifetime.

After endless
preliminaries, both shows get serious. First, “Idol” trim to its
final 48 – a number that will be halved next week; then “Runway”
picks its champion..

Last week, one past
champion (Michelle Lesniak) was ousted, but another (Dmitry Sholokov)
survived. He faces previous 5th-placers, Sonja Williams
and Helen Castillo, designing four-season wardrobes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Babylon” finale, 10 p.m., Sundance.

Over six weeks, this
mini-series has transformed. It started as a broad satire of
officialdom, focusing on Liz, a police chief's public-relations
chief; then her boss killed himself and it became a solid drama, as
she began pushing someone to become the first female chief.

Another story, about
a police shooting and a planted gun, has been so-so. But now
everything – the shooting, a riot, the vacant chief's job –
swirls together for a strong and emotional finish.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9:30 p.m., CBS. TV's best comedy has a pair of
reruns. In the first, Sheldon overreacts to Leonard's minor surgery;
in the second, he's finally required to teach a class.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. Always barely getting by as a waitress, Christy finds new
problems when she's promoted to manager. Also, someone wants her mom
fired as building manager.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Separatists in Uzbekistan have captured an undercover
agent. Now the task force tries a daring rescue, with Red warning
about the abduction mogul involved.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. A week from its finale, this show has Walden
and Alan officially end their phony marriage. Walden offers Alan a
gift of his choice – causing new trouble.

“Allegience,” 10
p.m., NBC. Last week's opener left Alex – a rising young CIA brain
– on the brink of learning that his parents are deeply embedded
Soviet spies. Now we see his mom (Hope Davis) take extraordinary
steps at the beginning and end of the hour, to salvage impossible
situations. Yes, this requires us to suspend disbelief as the
coincidences pile up; at times, it's worth it.

“Archer,” 10
p.m., FX. Speaking of spies, it's best to not put Archer in charge of
any baby, even his own. He gets distracted easily; in this animated
romp, that starts when Christian Slater (playing himself, only now a
spy hero) booms in with a Pakistani defector.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 11


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Schitt's Creek” debut, 10-11 p.m., Pop (formerly TV Guide
Network).

The Roses made a
fortune with a video-store chain, but now that has ended abruptly.
Their accountant has vanished without paying taxes; they have nothing
... except a seedy town they bought as a joke.

Here is
culture-clash comedy in the droll Canadian style that some people
will find hilarious. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, frequent
comedy partners, star with his real-life kids; Dan (who created it
with him) plays their son, Sarah plays a waitress. Annie Murphy plays
their daughter, Chris Elliott is the mayor and Emily Hampshire (who
has the flashy madwoman role in “12 Monkeys”) runs the motel.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Goldbergs,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Three days before
Valentine's Day, all four ABC comedies have new tales of romance gone
right or wrong. This one finds both Goldberg boys with steady dates
... and with problems.

Barry's girlfriend
says their fathers must meet; they soon face a giant impasse. Adam's
problem is perceptual: He still looks and sounds like a young kid;
his girlfriend doesn't. There are some broad laughs ... plus some
surprising mini-moments of warmth for each parent.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Americans,” 10 p.m., FX.

OK, we're now
convinced that we never want to be a Soviet spy. That's clear during
a long, slow scene involving tailing a car ... and then during an
excrutiating one involving makeshift dentistry.

In between is the
quiet drama that makes this so powerful. After perpetual lies,
Elizabeth and Phillip wonder what damage they've done to their
daughter (who doesn't know their secret) and themselves.

Other choices
include:

“Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC, and “The Story Behind ...,” 9 p.m., Pop.
It's a Debra Messing double-feature. As Laura, she probes the murder
of a drag queen ... and has a wild night with her friend (Kelly
Rutherford). Then switch channels for a portrait of her previous hit,
“Will & Grace.”

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. All three kids have Valentine questions. Brick frets about
his first kiss ... Sue faces a scavenger hunt ... And Axl isn't sure
if Devin is sincere about not wanting a present.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In their Valentine tradition, Phil and Claire step into
their alter-egos as Clive and Juliana, the secret lovers. Alas, she
fears he may be getting too far into the role.

“Empire,” 9
p.m., Fox. Here are two key guest roles – Courtney Love as the
label's first star, who hasn't had an album in years, and
Raven-Symone as a mystery woman from the family's past, with a
secret.

“Top Chef,” 9
p.m., Bravo. The finale is down to two people known for Asian-style
dishes. Gregory Gourdet is a former pre-med student who is executive
chef of a restaurant in Portland, Ore.; Mei Lin was two months old
when her family moved from China. She worked at the family restaurant
in Dearborn, Mich., then worked for such chefs as Wolfgang Puck and
Michael Voltaggio.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. Rayna heads back on stage, with rumors swirling about her
break-up.

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FXX. Be prepared for one of the most
prolonged double-entendres in TV history. If you're familiar with
this particular slang phrase, you might find it amusing; if you are
familiar with it AND are 12 years old, this will be your favorite
episode.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Mindy Project,” 9:30 p.m., Fox.

Mindy has important
news to tell Danny ... except, in the situation-comedy tradition, she
can never quite say it. It will all come out, of course, in the midst
of a chaottic family dinner.

And what a dinner it
is, with Rhea Perlman as Danny's mom, Dan Hedaya as Perlman's
deadbeat ex-husband (as he was in “Cheers”) and others, including
Danny's half-sister Danielle (“little Danny”), whose dark-teen
mood scares everyone but Mindy. The result has a “Cheers”-style
wit and zest.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Experience: The Forgotten Plague,” 9 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Not long ago,
tuberculosis cast gloom worldwide. Under different names (including
“consumption”) it was once considered responsible for
one-seventh of all deaths in human history.

This compelling
documentary views some of the efforts, including Dr. Edward Trudeau
(great-grandfather of “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau), who
started the country's first TB sanatorium and research lab. It talks
to people who were patients there ... and who went on to have long
lives, after a powerful antibiotic was created in 1943 and improved
over the next few years.

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

Last week was a
splendid showcase for Joelle Carter as Ava, teetering between cops
and crooks, strength and fragility, Now two others have strong roles
– Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen as a vengeful widow ... Kaitlyn
Devan (“Last Man Standing”), returning to her role as young
Loretta.

It's an episode
that's big on talk and short on action – except for the booming
fate of a safecracker. He's played by Jake Busey, with enough crazed
energy to make his father (Gary Busey) proud.

Other choices
include:

“Masterchef
Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. The final six kids split into two teams and
take over restaurants for a night. By the end of the hour, we'll know
who's in the final four.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Often reduced to dunderhead status in
last week's opening episodes, Eddie's mom gets some depth. Perplexed
by Orlando customs (especially NASCAR), she meets a neighbor who
shares her views on life and Stephen King ... but who's eyed by
others as a homewrecker. It's a good episode, followed by one in
which the mom's much-richer sister visits.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In an episode with flashbacks to their youth, Tony probes the
murder of someone who went to the the same military academy that he
did.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. Viewers haven't known much about the iffy
background of Brody (Zoe McLellan), the transplanted Northerner on
this team. The military, apparently, wants to know more, too; it
starts an investigation. Meanwhile, an NCIS agent has been killed
while on security detail.

“New Girl,” 9
p.m., Fox. These people are drinking, as usual. Nick is delighted
that a bar has opened, rounding out his plans for a Valentine pub
crawl; also, Jess and Ryan drunkenly ponder their future.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). One of Dr. Atul Gawande's early
patients was Sara Monopoli, 34, eight months pregnant and with
advanced cancer. He now regrets not explaining the odds against her,
“We should have started earlier to have quality time,” her
widower says here. That's part of Gawande's intelligent (if difficult
to watch) reflection on doctors and mortality.

“Girlfriends'
Guide to Divorce,” 10 p.m., Bravo. With the kids at her estranged
husband's house, Abby decides it's time for an “adult
friendsgiving” dinner; naturally, it gets complicated.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Celebrity Apprentice,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC.

Last week brought
what Ian Ziering called a “bloodbath.” In the first hour, Donald
Trump fired Kenya Moore; in the second, he dumped an entire team --
Johnny Damon, Brandi Glanville and Ziering.

That leaves the
three survivors from the other team – Geraldo Rivera, Leeza Gibbons
and Vivica Fox. Tonight's first hour is a recap of the hirings,
firings, feuds and more in “Apprentice” history; the second
starts the last challenge, with the finalists creating a commercial
for Universal Orlando Resort.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox.

We're two weeks from
the season-finale – when, Fox says, people will die and a key
relationship will shatter. First, Ichabod and Abbie have two
encounters – with demons that guard a secret crypt and with Thomas
Jefferson; he's played by Steven Weber and is not, to our knowledge,
demonic.

Also, Jenny learns
as secret about Frank Irving.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Breaking Bad,” 9:50 a.m. to 9 p.m.; “Better Call
Saul,” 9 and 10 p.m., AMC.

First are reruns of
the final 10 “Breaking Bad” episodes, including the terrific
finale at 7:45 p.m. That gets us in the mood for the spin-off series;
“Saul” reruns its opener (which debuted Sunday) at 9 p.m. and
follows with the second episode, in its regular time slot at 10.

A good mood is
needed, because the “Saul” opener has a silent, black-and-white
prologue of our man doing ... well, nothing. Stick around; the fun
(and the color) arrive when this flashes back to six years before
“Breaking Bad” began. Saul was still using his real name, James
McGill, working the nether regions of the legal world. He plunges
into trouble ... which gets deeper during the 10 p.m. episode.

Other choices
include:

“Foyle's War,”
any time, www.acorn.tv. The
second-to-last “War” episode is slow, solid and surprisingly
dark, pondering post-war anti-Semetism in England. Next week, this
streaming service has the show's strong finale, plus everything else
from the show's eight seasons.

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Remember when this show went to Paris and such?
Tonight, alas, it goes to Deadwood, S.D.; there, the women meet the
Big and Rich music duo and one goes to their concert. Before that,
they must write and perform a love song. Also, Kelsey incites some
more drama.

“2 Broke Girls,”
8 p.m., CBS. After a one-night stand, Caroline wants Max to help
break into the guy's apartment, to retrieve the rings she left. This
does not go well for them.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Molly's editor wants her to make a
provocative change in her book, which is already sexually charged.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. The team must go undercover on a cruise ship, to find and
disable missiles. Meanwhile, young Ralph has his first crush, as
Valentine's Day nears; he gets advice from people who really aren't
that familiar with sophisticated romance.

“The Jinx,”
9-9:45 p.m., HBO. If you missed the start of this six-week
documentary, catch it here. It has the bizarre story of a loner --
living in a tiny apartment and linked to two murders – who turns
out to be from a billion-dollar family. Then things get weirder.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business. It would be easier if
people just gave money. In the first episode, a Colorado Springs
family inherits a museum with the world's largest bug collection; in
the second, an estranged grandfather gives a junk yard ... which has
valuable, pre-1940 cars.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Annie Wersching (“24”) returns as Dr. Kelly Nieman, a
high-priced plastic surgeon. Castle and Beckett suspected her in a
previous case; now they're tracing a missing woman.