TV column for Sunday, July 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Welcome to Sweden” season-opener, 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

The first season of
“Welcome” was a quiet delight, catching the benign confusion of
culture clash. In real life, Greg Poehler was a New York lawyer who
married another lawyer, moved to her native Sweden and (like his
sister Amy) did comedy. For TV, he's exaggerated that in fun ways.

He plays Bruce, a
former financial planner, adrift in Sweden. He wants to propose to
his girlfriend, but her parents don't believe in marriage. In the
first episode, Neve Campbell plays a difficult co-worker; in the
second, Jason Priestley plays himself, wanting Bruce to give him a
tour.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Tut” opener, 9 p.m., Spike; reruns at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

The settings are
lavish, the actors are solid, the story is ... well, weird. This
takes some historical facts: Tut really did become pharaoh at about
9, married his half-sister and eventually broke from his elders, to
become a foceful leader. On top of that, however, the three-night
tale makes him an action hero.

Tonight starts with
excessive brutality, then adds some decent palace politics. Avan
Jogia and Sibylla Deen are fine as the royal couple, with Ben
Kingsley excellent as the top advisor. Then the battles (and the
oddness) begin. This opener repeats at 7 p.m. Monday and 5 p.m.
Tuesday, as the tale concludes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Save My Life, Boston Trauma” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

This is something
ABC News does beautifully -- a real reality show, capturing doctors,
nurses, patients and more. Previous seasons (in Baltimore, Boston and
New York) drew praise and a Peabody Award. Now Boston is back,
doubly. After tonight, this show follows the “Boston EMS” debut
next Saturday.

This opener is
harsher than usual; not until the final minurtes (with an 85-year-old
charmer) does it lighten up. Instead, people scramble (sometimes
unsuccessfully) to save lives. Two women were hit by cars, two men
were struck by drive-by bullets, a guy took a hockey puck to the
neck. Lives teeter.

Other choices
include:

-- “Celebrity
Family Feud,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. One episode has a football
flavor – the families of Rob Gronkowski and Holly Robinson-Peete
(including former pro quarterback Rodney Peete). The other has the
families of actress Keke Palmer and comedian Bill Engvall.

-- “The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Churches really shouldn't be raising money by gambling
and card-counting. Still, life gets complicated when you're hit by a
police jet pack, as we see in this rerun.

-- “Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8:30, Fox. This rerun offers the wedding day Charles
and Gina. Alas, Jake and Amy are busy chasing a crook; also, the
sergeant struggles with his plans to officiate.

-- “Masterpiece:
Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Demelza is making the
tricky transition from kitchen maid to landowner's wife. She tries
some matchmaking and she and Poldark are starting a family.
Meanwhile, Francis goes to extremes to make up for his losses.

-- “Ray Anthony,”
9 p.m., Showtime. As Ray deals with shady new father-daughter
clients, his family keeps crumbling. His wife is a shambles, his
ex-con dad ineptly launches a pimp casreer and his now-con brother
faces fights and deteriorating health. It's a tough, taut,
sometimes-involving hour.

-- “Masters of
Sex,” 10 p.m., Showtime. Last week's season-opener ended with the
jolting news that Virginia Johnson is pregnant. Can the spokeswoman
for '60s sexuality suddenly seem to be an unwed mother? This sets off
some interesting debates on all sides.

-- “The Strain,”
10 p.m., FX. Fresh flashbacks visit Abraham's original decision to
dump a comfy faculty life. Meanwhile, the doctors enter shaky ethical
turf, when using a couple as test subjects; that leads to agony and
to a touching moment.

 

TV column for Saturday, July 18


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Cedar Cove” season-opener, 8-10 p.m., Hallmark.

As this third season
begins, “Cove” has mastered its formula. The settings (in a
seaside town) are beautiful; so are many of the people, most of them
well-meaning, Lots of storylines breeze by.

The toughest involve
Olivia, who's a judge, and her boyfriend, who's a newspaperman (and,
thereby, alcoholic). Two people close to Olivia (her daughter and her
best friend) both have tangled romances. Then a handsome newcomer
(Colin Ferguson) arrives, a crooked developer returns and more. One
storyline, involving a town administrator, is lame; others, however,
flow along pleasantly.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Hell on Wheels” season-opener, 9 p.m., AMC; reruns at 10.

This is the exact
opposite of “Cove” in many ways; it's dark in tone, darker in
mood. But like “Cove,” it masters its approach. You can catch
last season (starting at 8 a.m.), then see a new adversary.

Cullen (Anson
Mount), a former Confederate officer, has switched to the opposing
side in the race to finish the trans-continental railroad. Now he
clashes with Chang, who supplies the Chinese workers, keeping half
the money for himself. Two powerful forces collide; this could be a
great season.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” 8-11
p.m., ABC.

Here's yet another
chance to see the second Potter film. Like the first, it's directed
by Chris Columbus, giving it a bright, slick feel. And it leads a
night stuffed with appealing movies.

ABC Family has an
animation marthon, with “Cars” (2006) and “Cars 2” (2011) at
2:30 and 5 p.m., “The Incredibles” (2004) at 7:30 and “Toy
Story 3” (2010) at 10. At 8 p.m., “The Dark Knight Rises”
(2012) is on TNT and the Oscar-winning “Gladiator” (2000) is on
VH1. Also, at 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies has “The Candidate”
(1972), a brilliant look at how image can dominate politics.

Other choices
include:

-- Shark overload,
cable. Sundance offers the four “Jaws” films (1975, 78, '83 and
'87) at 6, 9 and 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. Syfy – gearing up for
Wednesday's “Sharknado 3” -- starts its shark-film marathon at 9
a.m.; it has two new films -- “Roboshark” at 7 p.m. and “Mega
Shark vs. Kolossus” at 9.

-- “Bullseye”
and “Boom,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. Two game shows offer reruns. One
has offbeat target practice; the other (repeating its opener) has
people answering questions under the threat of slime.

-- “The Millers,”
8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS. Two leftover new episodes help spark a
Saturday. In the first, the Millers inhabit a nativity scene; in the
second, Nathan (Will Arnett) tries to use his influence to help his
niece get into a good school; his parents tryto help Kip (Sean Hayes)
with his sleep problems.

-- “Running Wild
With Bear Grylls,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a rerun of Monday's solid
season-opener, Kate Hudson does a good job agains the imposing
demands of the Dolomite Mountains in Italy.

-- “Atlantis,” 9
p.m., BBC America. Pythagoras is ready to help the troubled Jason,
but others refuse.

-- “Jonathan
Strange & Mr. Norrell,” 10 p.m., BBC America. For Strange,
this is a complicated plan: Go to Venice and drive himself insane, so
he can access some fairy magic and resurrect his wife.

-- “Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Kevin Hart hosts this rerun, with Sia as
music guest.

TV column for Friday, July 17


 

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Great Performances,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The “Driving Miss
Daisy” movie (1990) drew waves of praise and nine Oscar
nominations, winning for best picture, actress (Jessica Tandy),
script (Alfred Uhry) and make-up. Now here's a reminder that Uhry's
original, three-person play is light and charming ... but terribly
slight.

Angela Lansbury, 89,
plays a 72-year-old Jewish woman in 1948 Atlanta, nudged by her son
to get a chauffeur (James Earl Jones). These are sweet-spirited
characters, evolving over the years. Still, all of them –
especially the chauffeur – are broadly written, perilously close to
being cardboard caricatures.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Defiance,” 8 p.m., Syfy.

Next Wednesday, Ian
Ziering will save humans (again) in “Sharknado 3.” First, he has
this guest role.

Dusty and ragged,
the town of Defiance is bracing for an attack. (Nolan, our hero, is
trying to assemble an army.) Then Ziering rolls in, with suit and tie
and arrogance. An ex-lover promptly punches him out for selling
weapons to the bad guys; now, however, he may have weapons for
Defiance.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Movies, cable.

“The Help”
(2011), has much in common with “Driving Miss Daisy”; it's a
light and easy-to-digest look at some dead-serious issues from the
South's past. That's 9 p.m. on TBS, part of a big movie night.

On the light side
are “Cars” (2006, 8:30 p.m.), ABC Family, “The Gabby Douglas
Story” (2014, 8 p.m., Lifetime) and “Baby Mama” (2008, 9 p.m.
Bravo). More intense are Oscar-winning performances from Heath Ledger
(“The Dark Knight, 2008, 7 p.m., AMC), Denzel Washington (“Training
Day,” 2001, 8 p.m., IFC) and Anthony Hopkins (“Silence of the
Lambs,” 1991, 9 p.m., BBC America).

Other choices
include:

“Elementary,” 8
p.m., CBS. A night of CBS reruns starts with Watson taking a job as
an insurance-company investigator ... then being distracted when
Sherlock's young protege is in danger.

“Scream,” 8 and
9 p.m., and “Scream” (1996), 10 p.m., MTV. First are reruns of
the most-recent episodes of the series (the second and third ones).
Then is the original, terrific movie.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Don't you hate it when someone slips a Van Gogh painting
into your luggage? That happens here to a tourist; Kono and Chin
(Grace Park, Daniel Dae Kim) go undercover.

“The Messengers,”
9 p.m., CW. The Messengers try to rescue someone locked up by the
government.

“Killjoys,” 9
p.m., Syfy. What seems like an easy, treasure-hunting mission turns
harsh when team members must confront their deepest fears.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. When a cop is outed as gay, his police partner won't
ride with him; Danny and Baez split up to help. Also, Danny's brother
is on a revenge mission against an arrogant police detective; their
dad, the police commissioner, speaks out about equality on the police
force.

“Dark Matter,”
10 p.m., Syfy. After waking with no memories of who they are, these
crew members simply gave themselves numbers. Tonight, a chemical
helps probe Five's subconscious.

TV column for Thursday, July 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” debut, 10 p.m., FX.

Denis Leary's
“Rescue Me” was a revelation for FX, a rare blend of humor, rage,
pain and heroic firefighters. This new show is shorter (a half-hour),
with no heroes but more fun.

Leary plays a rock
singer who blew his shot at fame. His guitarist (John Corbett) and
drummer found success elsewhere, while he stumbled along. Now he
meets a daughter (Elizabeth Gillies) he didn't know; she wants to be
a rock star and he reluctantly re-assembles the band. The result is a
spectacular breakthrough for Gillies, who has ranged from Broadway's
“13” to Nickelodeon's “Victorious.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Geeks Who Drink” debut, 11 p.m., Syfy.

Remember when sports
fans got to do most of the drinking? Not any more; some bars have
added trivia contests, letting pop-culture geeks swig and score; now
that's been turned into a game show.

Zachary Levi has
sci-fi cred, after playing Fandral in the second “Thor” movie and
being cast in the “Heroes Reborn” series. He produces this show
and does a smart, fun job as host. In a bar-like setting, we meet
teams that have celebrity captains (Eric Christian Olsen of “NCIS:
Los Angeles,” Scott Porter of “Hart of Dixie”) and regular-folk
geeks. Drinks flow freely; so does knowledge and fun.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Astronaut Wives Club,” 8 p.m., ABC; and “Aquarius,”
9 p.m., NBC.

Both dramas are
against the backdrop of a changing 1960s world. “Astronaut”
(starts in 1961) tends to do it with subltety and skill; “Aquarius”
(1967) is heavy-handed, but has one of its better episodes here.

On “Astronaut,”
the civil-rights movement is gaining momentum and Trudy Cooper (a
pilot, married to an astronaut) fumes at attempts to scuttle a
program for female astronauts. On “Aquarius,” a female cop,
mocked by her colleagues, is suddenly key to an intense manhunt. The
result is sometimes overwrought and the ending leaves you feeling
kind of empty; still, there are some strong moments.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory” and “Mom,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., CBS. Here are two excellent
reruns. The first includes a final dinner as a tribute to Howard's
late mom, with food she'd made and prepared; the second sees Violet's
mom and grandmother visit her therapy session.

“Wayward Pines,”
9 p.m., Fox. A week from the season-finale, Ethan is ready to tell
people the truth about their town. Also, he probes past
disappearances, after Harold attempts an escape.

“Dates,” 9 and
9:30 p.m., CW. Last week's debut had a brilliant half-hour, with Oona
Chaplin as Mia, a cynical beauty dating a good-hearted lunk. Now Mia
is back, dating a confident surgeon. He's played by Ben Chaplin,
who's not related to her or anyone else famous; by comparison, she's
descended from Charlie Chaplin (her grandfather) and Eugene O'Neill
(great-grandfather). The second half-hour has Gemma Chan as someone
unable to tell her Chinese family that she's dating a woman.

“Rookie Blue,”
10 p.m., ABC. Nick finally has information about the drunken driver
who killed his parents 18 years ago. Now Juliet worries that he'll
strike on his own.

“Under the Dome,”
10 p.m., CBS. Two frequent foes, Big Jim and Julia, reluctantly link,
trying to discredir Christine (Marg Helgenberger) ... whose plan
brings a deadly result.

“Married”
season-opener, 10:30 p.m., FX. Visiting a retirement community, Lina
(Judy Greer) finds two surprises: Her mom thinks its Thanksgiving ...
and is sexually active. There is some humor here, but Lina's overall
view – insisting on taking her mother home – is difficult to buy
into.

“Reactor” debut,
11:30 p.m., Syfy. This is a weekly pop-culture talk show. Dave
Huntsberger – who made great micro-versions of “Jurassic World”
and “Mad Max,” using backyard toys – hosts.

 

TV column for Tuesday, July 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
All-Star game, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox.

Baseball's best
players – some of them, anyway – meet. The American League has
won nine of the last 12, but the National League is helped by
home-field advantage (Cincinnati), quirky fans (choosing four Royals
as American starters) and injuries to Miguel Cabrera and the Royals'
Alex Gordon.

Still, there are
balancing factors: The American League has another superstar (Albert
Pujols) to replace Cabrera. The National League lost Giancaro Stanton
(injuries) and Max Scherzer (ineligible because he pitrched Sunday),
but has Zack Greinke -- on a record-setting pitching streak –
available to start.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX.

How thoroughly can
life change a man's inner core? When this series began, Dr. Barry
Al-Fayeed was a mild-mannered Pasadena pediatrician, reluctantly
visiting his homeland for the first time in 20 years. When this
remarkable episode ends, we (and he) will be stunned by who he's
become.

After Barry
attempted a coup, his brother (the dictator) sentenced him to death
... then faked the execution and left him to die in the desert.
Instead, kindly Bedouins saved him; now he's hiding in their village,
as fresh crises descend. Some of this stretches credibility, but all
of it is powerfully crafted.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Frontline,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings) or
“Escaping Polygamy,” 8-10 p.m. and 10 p.m., Lifetime Movie
Network.

Sadly, these reports
deal with the same issue -- women who are reduced to little more than
sexual servitude. In Northern Iraq, a former lawyer fights to free
the women (from his his Yazidi religion) who are enslaved by ISIS. In
Utah, women who fled polygamy try to rescue others.

Both stories are
important, but the difference in quality is gaping. “Frontline”
has the solid documentary style this subject deserves. Lifetime, by
comparison, tries a reality-show style. The result seems to wobble
uneasily between badly acted fiction and ineptly contrived reality.

Other choices
include:

Baseball preview,
6-7 p.m., Fox Sports 1; 7 p.m., Fox. The cable preview will include
Pete Rose, the great who was banned from baseball, now revisiting
Cincinnati, where he starred. Then Fox has is own preview at 7 ...
and lots of preliminaries at 7:30, before the game really starts.

“America's Got
Talent,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The judges – with Neil Parick Harris
joining them – start making final decisions on which acts will get
to perform live for viewer votes.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of the moderately funny
season-finale, the mom suddenly fears her kids are losing their
Chinese roots; naturally, she soon overdoes everything.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Gibbs should be focusing on an apparent copycat murder case.
Instead, this rerun finds him torm between ex-wifes. One (played by
Melinda McGraw) is familiar to his colleagues; the other (Jeri Ryan)
is new to them.

“Zoo,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. This animals-gone-bad thing is building. Jackson (James Wolk)
looks for the rest of his dad's reasearch on the subject; Jamie
(Kristen Connolly) tries to show a senator what she's found. Also, a
killer escapes after wolves attack a prison.

“American
Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). When New York City
lost its electricity in 1965, this film says, the results were mild;
the outage started in the afternoon, amid cool temperatures and
general prosperity. By comparison, the '77 black-out – starting at
night, amid heat and a recession – quickly turned ugly. This
documentary is well-made, but one-note, piling up layers of despair.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. This reruns the hour that re-united Scott
Bakula with his “Quantum Leap” co-star. Dean Stockwell plays the
father of Councilman Hamilton (Steven Weber); the story involves a
case that Dr. Wade (CCH Pounder) has been tracking for decades.