TV column for Sunday, Jan. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The X-Files” season-opener, 10 p.m. ET Sunday (after football),
Fox.

Ever since 1993,
“X-Files” has fascinated and perplexed its viewers. It's had nine
seasons, three movies ... and a 15-year pause since the last TV
season.

Now it's back, with
six oddly varied episodes. This one is deep and dark, with a
conspiracy buff (Joel McHale) spurring Mulder to question his
strongest beliefs; it's flawed, but fascinating. We'll get back to
that in the sixth episode; but coming up are mismatched hours ...
including one that's a goofy comedy.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Football, 3 p.m. ET, CBS and 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox.

First is the return
of two classic quarterbacks – Tom Brady (still near his peak) and
the New England Patriots host Peyton Manning (struggling with an
injury-plagued season) and the Denver Broncos.

Then Carson Palmer
and the surprising Arizona Cardinals visit Cam Newton and the
Carolina Panthers, who are riding high from a 15-1 regular season.
The winners collide Feb. 7, in the 50th Super Bowl.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Billions,” 10 p.m., Showtime.

Alongside lots of
talk about finance and law and such, three compelling characters are
being built. One is the district attorney (Paul Giamatti); the other
is his target, financier Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). In between is
Wendy (Maggie Siff), the DA's wife and Axelrod's in-staff
psychologist.

Tonight, we see some
rare hesitance from the DA ... and the usual, boom-ahead approach
from Axelrod. He manages to shatter an employee, then a “friend,”
then – in a brilliant scene – an upper-crust family.

Other choices
include:

“Love on the Air”
(2015), 7-9 p.m., Hallmark. As co-hosts of a radio show, a feminist
(Alison Sweeney) and her opposite (Jonathan Scarfe) clash verbally.
You can probably guess the rest, but this is one of the better
Hallmark films, thanks to sharp dialog, delivered skillfully.

“Million Dollar
American Princesses,” 8 p.m., Smithsonian. The first three weeks of
this intriguing series saw women find troubles after marrying
Europe's elite; in the finale, we meet some who soared. One became a
noted designer, another a top fashion stylist. And Nancy Astor, born
in Virginia's mountains, became the first woman in the British
Parliament, battling Winston Churchill and others.

“Madam Secretary”
and “NCIS,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. Nudging things around, CBS plans
to follow football with two hours of “60 Minutes” and then these
reruns.The first has the president's plane missing; the second has
McGee and Bishop go undercover as husband and wife.

“Downton Abbey,”
9 p.m., PBS. Last week's episode closed with two key smoments – the
wedding of Carson and Mrs. Hughes and the surprise return of Tom and
his daughter. Tonight, in another good episode, Anna struggles with
her pregnancy effort; Dolly pushes to find a farm for Mr. Mason.

“Toni Braxton:
Unbreak My Heart,” 9 p.m., Lifetime. Here's a rerun of Saturday's
film, with Lex Scott Davis as Braxton, an immense talent who faced
bankruptcy, divorce and a health crisis with lupus.

“Breaking Band”
debut, 9:30, AXS. Viewers know Donovan Leitch as a sometimes-actor,
but he's also a musician (the career of his dad, folksinger Donovan)
in the Los Angeles club scene. Over the next six weeks, he hopes to
show that there are some talented semi-knowns, to be briefly paired
with a star for advice and a duet. That starts well, with gifted
singer-songwriter Andie Case and Dave Navarro.

“Mercy Street,”
10 p.m., PBS. Last week's opener introduced the uneasy Civil War
compromises of a temporary Union hospital inside a Virginia
plantation home. Tonight, Mary (an abolitionist) struggles to improve
her patients' lives; Emma (a Southern belle) nurses her friend.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
Sports overload, 8 p.m. ET, NBC, ABC and Fox.

On the eve of pro
football's conference-championship games, three of the big-four
networks manage to have busy nights with other sports. We can catch
athletes of any size.

NBC has lithe little
ones, with the U.S. figure-skating championships; the women are
tonight, the men are 4-6 p.m. Sunday ... Fox has muscular ones; a
boxing night is led by undefeated Danny Garcia facing Robert Guerrero
for the World Boxing Council's welterweight title ... and ABC has
towering ones, as LeBron James and the Cavaliers host the Bulls in
basketball; pre-game is 8, tip-off is 8:30,

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart,” 8 p.m., Lifetime.

Music fans know
Braxton has an awesome singing voice; reality-show viewers know she
has a hectic life. “Braxton Family Values” has followed her and
her robutst sisters.

Braxton's memoirs
filled in some of the other details, including bankruptcy, divorce
and a health crisis from lupus. Now here's the TV-movie version, with
Lex Scott Davis in the title role. There's a “Behind the Headlines”
hour at 10:02 p.m.; the movie repeats just after midnight and then at
9 p.m. Sunday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Black Sails” season-opener, 9 p.m., Starz.

Last season ended
with the linking of two longtime enemies: Vane rescued Flint, forming
a sort of pirate supergroup. Now they're sailing together with
Silver, who is adjusting to his leg being amputated. Meanwhile, the
pirate island remains vulnerable to attack.

It's a strong start
for this richly crafted series and it adds an imposing new character.
Ray Stevenson (“Rome”) arrives as Blackbeard, a massive force who
can even make other pirates quake.

Other choices
include:

“High School
Musical” (2006), 4:30 p.m., Freeform. A dandy teen triple-feature
begins on the former ABC Family. It's followed by “Clueless”
(1995) at 7 and “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” (1986) at 9:30.

“The Artful
Detective,” 7 p.m. ET, Ovation. This gently paced drama follows
crime-solvers in Toronto at the start of the 20th
centuries. You can catch reruns all afternoon and then this OK
season-opener, in which police try to learn why Sgt. Crabtree would
confess to a murder he probably didn't commit.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a model – who survived a
Peruvian massacre 20 years ago – is reportedly a murder target.
Kensi and Deeks go undercover as her assistant and chauffeur.

“Unleashing Mr.
Darcy,” 9 p.m., Hallmark. The Hallmark people say this movie is
based on “Pride and Prejudice.” Well, it does have a heroine
named Elizabeth and an upper-class love interest named Darcy. In this
case, it's a modern story; she's a dog-owner and he's a dog-show
judge.

“Sunshine
Superman,” 9 and 11 p.m. ET, CNN. Here are fresh chances to see the
short and fascinating life of Carl Boenish, a pioneer of “base
jumping” off buildings and mountains. It's an interesting story,
with some great visuals.

“Whitney Cummings:
I'm You're Girlfriend,” 10 p.m., HBO. The smart stand-up comedian
performs.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Ronda Rousey – one of the world's most
dominant athletes, despite her recent Ultimate Fighting Championship
loss – hosts. Selena Gomez is the music guest.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 22


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“MasterChef Junior” and “Hell's Kitchen,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

The two faces of
Gordon Ramsay will be on display tonight. One is quite pleasant;
Ramsay seems oddly homan in the presence of kids ages 8-13. Tonight,
the final four make souffles, then make a dish from a select cut of
pork; three will advance to next week's finale.

When he's with
professional chefs, however, he turns nasty; last week, he screamed,
swore and shut down half the kitchen ... as he seems to do in every
season-opener. Tonight, contestants have a race to make shrimp
dumplings ... while being bombarded by Las Vegas-style distractions.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Reign”mid-season finale, 8 p.m.., CW.

Beginning next week,
CW's Fridays will be filled with vampires, via “Vampire Diaries”
and “The Originals.” This show will return eventually, but now it
has a chance to stir some cliffhangers.

A young widow, Mary
finds herself drawn to Gideon ... but feels she needs to make a
politically productive liaison. Meanwhile, the struggle continues for
a temporary regent to fill the void created by the death of her
husband, the king of France.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the
National Lampoon” (2015), 8 p.m., History and Showtime.

Back in 1970, humor
took two giant leaps. One was TV's “Saturday Night Live”; the
other – starting a half-year earlier – was the National Lampoon
magazine, mixing smart satire and silly-sexy antics.

Soon, “SNL”
would take some of its writers (Michael O'Donahue, Anne Beatts) and
many of the stars of its stage show (John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda
Radner, Bill Murray). Others, led by John Hughes, would go on to
movies ... where Lampoon briefly sparkled with “Animal House” and
the “Vacation” film; this documentary views an era of delightful
comedy chaos.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Mad Dogs,” any time, Amazon.

Some middle-age guys
are suddenly invited to a buddy's gorgeous, beachfront estate in
Belize. It seems too good to be true ... which, they soon learn, it
is.

Based on a British
mini-series, this is the start of a lushly crafted adventure series
with Steve Zahn, Mark Imperioloi, Ben Chaplin and more.

Other choices
include:

“Pride &
Prejudice” (2005), 7:50 p.m., Oxygen. With the right director (Joe
Wright) and star (Keira Knightley), even this classic novel can be
done with few words and great visuals. More top movies follow at 8:
“Little Shop of Horrors” (1986) on TV Land, “Man of Steel”
(2013) on FX, “European Vacation (1985) on CMT and the
Oscar-nominated “Mad MaxL Fury Road” (2015) on HBO.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Vanessa argues that her
daughter Eve should be getting behind the idea of a woman president.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31,
ABC. This rerun finds Ken unenthused by Clark's promotion.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. While Grover is in Chicago to get Clay Maxwell's
confession, Chin and Kono are held at gunpoint by people who don't
know they're cops.

“Avengers: Age of
Ultron” (2015), 9 p.m., Starz. The Avengers heroes link for a big,
broad film that's occasionally too frenetic, but mostly a whiz-bang
good action tale.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. A drug dealer has returned to Baez's neighborhood ...
where she saw him commit a murder, long ago. Also, Frank faces a
crisis when a newly retired police lieutenant is accused of shooting
potential muggers in a subway.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Baskets” debut, 10 p.m., FX; rerunning at 10:30.

Chip Baskets was
serious about his work, attending a prestigious Paris clown academy.
That didn't go well, because he doesn't speak French; now he's a
rodeo clown.

That starts a
brilliantly offbeat comedy, dry and droll and funny. Zack
Galifianakis wrote and produced it with Louis C.K.; he also leads a
terrfic cast. Louie Anderson plays his mom (really); Martha Kelly
brings a wonderfully drab approach as his insurance agent.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Legends of Tomorrow” debut, 8 p.m., CW.

Here is epic TV –
a team assembled to save the world. White Canary has died once;
Hawkman and Hawkgirl have done it often, since ancient Egypt. Heat
Wave and Captain Cold are hard and cynical; the Atom is an idealist.
The there's Firestorm, formed from two guys merging into one being.

All of this is done
with a mix of familiar actors – Victor Garber, Brandon Routh of
“Superman Returns” and Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell of
“Prison Break”– and newcomers. “Legends” has big special
effects, interesting characters and a saving-the-world story.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: New-show overload, 10 p.m., cable.

The odd forces of TV
have managed to plug everything into one overwrought hour.

On the drama side,
USA's “Colony” -- life after the alien takeover – has its
second episode; “London Spy” -- Ben Whitshaw in the story of a
gay romance leading to the discovery of a secret. On the comedy side,
two gems – the debut of “Baskets” on FX, the season-opener of
“Portlandia” on IFC – collide. Both have the same director,
Jonathan Krisl; two dandy shows occupy one space.

Other choices
include:

“American Idol”
(Fox) or “High School Musical 2” (2007, Disney), 8-10 p.m.. We
can spend the night with pop music, either with “Idol” -- the
show's final auditions episode ever – or the amiable teen film.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the hilarious episode that
followed the marriage of Leonard and Penny. The guys take him to a
belated bachelor party in Mexico; the women insist she finally tell
her parents she's married.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. The romance warms up between Christy and a guy (Harry Hamlin),
who is older, richer and charming. His daughter (Sara Rue) – who's
dating Christy's ex-husband – is not pleased.

“My Diet is Better
Than Your,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. This quick, four-week show is now a
week from its finale. Tonight, contestants fret about the
five-kilometer run.

“The 100”
season-opener, 9 p.m., CW. Life never gets easier for Clarke. Once a
force for moderation, she's now a tough warrior, surviving on this
rugged version of Earth. In a strong episode, she ranges from warm
sex with a temporary protector to danger with fierce bounty hunter.

“Recipe For
Deception” debut, 10 p.m., Bravo. Working with mystery ingredients
and a few “two truths and a lie” gimmicks, chefs battle. This
gets fairly complicated, making it a stretch for the casual fans of
food or TV.

“Dark Web”
debut, 11 p.m., Showtime. We meet guys who've fallen in love with a
computer image – sweet, loving and benign. It's a strange story,
launching a series about odd corners of the Internet.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In Indonesia,
monkeys have their own scam. They'll swipe something that people want
– sunglasses or a sandal, for instance – and scamper up high.
They won't let loose until people toss the right food.

Those scenes lead an
hour filled with animals' food-related trickery. A squirrel, knowing
he's being watched, will pretend to bury a nut, then will slip away
with it. A drongo will stand watch for critters who are more skilled
at digging grubs; sometimes he'll deliver a false warning, then grab
the treasure after the others have scurried away. It's a delightful
hour, the mid-section of a three-week series.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Last week's opener
ended with wrenching emotion. A distraught mother (Lili Taylor)
phoned the police, to report that her son has been raped. Now come
the aftershocks, in this deeply layered miniseries.

An outsider at an
upscale high school, the boy had been invited to a party filled with
popular kids; now he suspects he was drugged and raped. Oscar-winner
John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”) has again crafted a rich look at
mixed emotions, with superb performances by Tim Hutton (as the
basketball coach), Felicity Huffman (as the school administrator) and
more, including Taylor and other parents.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Kocktails With Khloe” debut, 10 p.m., FYI,
rerunning at 11:01.

This is apparently
for all of us who wish Khloe Kardashian would invite us to her dinner
parties. In addition to the Kardashian shows on the E channel, she
has this one on the former Biography Channel.

Her kitchen and
living room have been re-created in a studio. Each week, we'll see
friends talk, cook, drink and play party games.

Other choices
include:

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. In its final season, the show is down to its last two
rounds of auditions – an hour today (leading into “Second Chance”
at 9) and two hours Thursday.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Plans for Frankie's 50th birthday have been
delayed too long, Mike decides. Now he wants his son to plan a
surprise; also, the gym coach tries to transform Brick.

“High School
Musical” (2006), 8-10 p.m., Disney. Here's the likable film –
lame plot, but catchy music – that helped launch the surge of TV
musicals. Its sequel follows on Thursday.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30 pm., CBS. Mike's mother (the terrific Rondi Reed) has
a heart attack. Now everyone blames Molly, who was having an argument
with her at the time.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Alex lied about her college move-in day, so
her family couldn't make a big deal of it. Also, Cam and Mitchell
have a renter.

“Face Off,” 9
p.m., Syfy. Last week's season-opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) had
make-up artists create alien bounty hunter. Now comes a
change-of-pace -- creating a look based on a whimsical toy.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. Angus' brother -- considered an “all-star” doctor --
arrives, hoping to get a residency. Meanwhile, Christa (Bonnie
Somerville) has a growing attraction to Neal.

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia” and “Man Seeking Woman,” 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
FXX. After some strong episodes, both have so-so weeks. “Sunny”
has a brash tale set at a ski resort; “Man” has a one-note tale
about a guy crumbling when he fears he's going bald.