TV column for Wednesday, June 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“AFI: Lifetime Achievement Award,” 10 p.m., TNT.

In 44 years, the
award had never gone to a composer ... until now. Logically, it's
John Williams, the master. He's won 22 Grammies and five Oscars –
with 50 Oscar nominations. The American Film Institute's list of the
greatest film scores has Williams at No. 1 (“Star Wars”), 6
(“Jaws”) and 14 (“ET”).

Steven Spielberg –
who has used Williams on 27 films – presented the award. Gustavo
Dudamel and Will Ferrell (really) conducted the orchestra. There were
big laughs for Ferrell, Williams (quoting Spielberg) and Harrison
Ford. Other speakers ranged from George Lucas to Kobe Bryant.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.

A night of ABC
comedy reruns starts with this show's season-opener, as Sue heads to
college. She's excited (as usual), until she has to cut her hair. Her
mom is surprisingly at-ease, but her dad keeps piling on advice about
staying safe.

And her brothers?
Axl finds a way to avoid helping her move. Brick, surprisingly, has a
girlfriend who's trying to nudge their relationship to the next
level.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Jaws” (1975, AMC) or “Catch Me if You Can”
(2002, TNT); 7 p.m.

Before seeing
Williams being honored, savor a movie that features one of his superb
scores.

For “Jaws,” the
music is properly ominous; for “Catch,” it's jaunty and jazzy ...
fitting the true-life story of a guy (Leonardo DiCaprio) who
convinced people he was a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and more.
Spielberg gave it a vibrant feel, aided (as usual) by Williams'
perfect music.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Kingdom,” 9 p.m., DirecTV/AT&T.

It's time for two
gym-mates to colide: Ryan (Matt Lauria) – the quiet, maybe sullen
champ – faces the wildly outspoken Jay (Jonathan Tucker). Some fans
are excited; Alvey (Frank Grillo) – Jay's father, Ryan's
father-figure, the owner of the gym where they both train – is
miserable.

Other emotions
swirl, involving Alicia, a tough fighter, and her shallow sister.
Christina – Jay's mother, Alvey's ex-wife – is even out of rehab
for the night. This is strong drama, superbly played.

Other choices
include:

“MasterChef,” 8
p.m., Fox. The first two weeks trimmed the field in half, via
entertaining, one-on-one battles. Now the 20 survivors have two
quickie challenges, with Wolfgang Puck as guest judge.

“Wayward Pines,”
9 p.m., Fox. After being banished beyond the fence, Xander managed to
survive. Now he returns and C.J. leads an expedition to try to gather
more territory. Also, Rebecca puts herself at odds with the
controlling Megan, in order to help a young girl avoid a Wayward
Pines tradition.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Dylan needs a place to stay and Haley figures that could
be at her house. Her dad helps convince her mom to allow it ... then
has his own doubts.

“O.J.: Made in
America,” 9-11 p.m. ET, ESPN, rerunning at 1 a.m. ET. Tuesday's episode
(rerunning at 7 p.m. ET) saw O.J. Simpson in post-football splendor in
Los Angeles suburbia. His image remained strong, despite frequent
police calls from his wife Nicole. Tonight, it all explodes after her
murder.

“Criminal Minds:
Beyond Borders,” 10 p.m., CBS. This rerun involves a string of
deaths that were originally considered suicide. The team flies to
Japan to launch an investigation.

“Another Period”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Comedy Central. For a horrifying stretch, the
sisters have no home or prestige; they get by on sheer fame, fueled
by beauty and bad behavior. And then, faster than you can say
“Kardashian,” things change again. They meet a more-famous person
(Harriet Tubman) and scheme anew. The result is inconsistent --
sometines overblown and sometimes hilarious.

TV column for Tuesday, June 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“O.J.: Made in America,” 7 and 9 p.m., ESPN.

If you missed the
terrific opener (Saturday on ABC), that's no problem: It reruns at 7
p.m. today on ESPN, which produced this documentary mini-series; the
second chapter follows at 9.

The opener reminds
us how dominant Simpson was. The leading rusher in pro-football
history, he was an awesome blend of grace and power. He was vibrant
in commercials and interviews, transcending the era's racial issues.
But his self-image kept growing; the opener ends with Simpson meeting
teen waitress Nicole Brown ... and promptly wanting to get her an
apartment; at 9. their problems build

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“To Tell the Truth” (8 and 10 p.m.) and “Uncle Buck” (9 and
9:30), ABC.

Two old titles
return, somewhat shakily. “Buck” was a delight as a 1989 movie;
now Mike Epps plays the aimless chap, watching his brother's kids. A
sampling indicates it's sort of adequate.

“Truth” has one
person with a colorful tale – and two pretending to be him. It
worked almost non-stop for 25 years, with different hosts (Garry
Moore, Alex Trbek, Merv Griffin and more ... including Mike Wallace
fon the pilot), guests (Dr. Seuss, John Scopes) and imposters (Tom
Landry, Cicely Tyson). Now Anthony Anderson hosts; Tracee Ellis Ross
(his “Black-ish” wife) and Betty White are panelists.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Hotel Hell,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Last week introduced
a gorgeous West Virginia inn and its innkeeper, a retired teacher who
keeps her own clothes in a big cabinet in one of the rooms. She was
amiably daft; the hour was great fun.

Now the fun
vanishes, as Gordon Ramsay rants. “You're ignorant, oblivious and
delusional,” he tells her – accurately but superfluously. There's
a happy ending (as usual), but the road there is torturous.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Animal Kingdom.” 9 and 10:04 p.m., TNT.

Joshua is a smart
17-year-old with a gorgeous girlfriend and sunny surroundings. Then
he moves in with his grandmother and gets a jolt. With her four sons
(one adopted), she's running a crime ring.

That starts a series
– adapted from an Australian movie – that finds the right mix of
adrenaline, fear and (surprisingly) warmth. Ellen Barkin, 62, plays a
sexy grandma who keeps steps ahead of her sons; Scott Speedman
(“Felicity”) is the smart-and-adopted one. They're perfect, but
so are the lesser-known actors. Under former “E.R.” chief John
Wells, they mix humanity with fierce intensity.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Vance (Rocky Carroll), the NCIS director, makes a
rare return to field duty. He and Gibbs probe a murder connected to a
former NCIS agent Vance helped convict.

“Celebrity Wife
Swap,” 8 and 9 p.m., Lifetime. The first new hour involves the
families of Vern Troyer, the 2-foot-8 “Austin Powers” co-star,
and Hines Ward, the Super Bowl and “Dancing With the Stars”
champion. The second has the much-honored Cloris Leachman, 90, and
the once-honored Pia Zadora, 62. Those repeat at 12:02 and 1:02 a.m.,
as part of a marathon from 3 p.m. to 4 a.m.

“Containment,” 9
p.m., CW. After pausing for a week, this show has key plot
developments: A doctor has a possible cure for the virus. Jana and
Suzy push ahead with a plan to escape from the containment zone. And
watching tapes at the hospital, Katie and Jake learn the truth about
“patient zero.”

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, the murder victim is a Navy
pilot who was using a black-market drone to gather military
information.

“Person of
Interest,” 10 p.m., CBS. A week from the series finale, Finch is
still trying to stop Samaritan. He's undercover in a high-security
government facility; Reese and Shaw rush to find him.

“Feed the Beast,”
10 p.m., AMC. Maybe this show will eventually run out of woe to pile
onto Tommy (David Schwimmer). So far, the pile just keeps growing.
Last week, he made a false assumption, attacked his father ... and
lost, even though his dad was in a wheelchair. Tonight, things only
get worse.

TV column for Monday, June 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“BrainDead” debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

In a bizarre
election year, we really need this -- a fresh and fun story about a
Washington, D.C., that has gone mad. Beautifully written and played,
it's terrific even before introducing its fantasy twist.

Laurel (Mary
Elizabeth Winstead) is an idealist who would rather make obscure
documentaries. Instead, she's reluctantly helping her brother, a
cynical senator. To her, Washington is crazed ... and that's before
“BrainDead” starts borrowing plot twists from “Invasion of the
Body Snatchers.” Robert and Michelle King, who created subtle
perfection in “The Good Wife,” now have a less-subtle delight.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Guilt” debut, 9 p.m., Freeform.

The real-life Amanda
Knox case made one thing clear: It can be tough for an American –
especially one who's young and attractive – to face a murder charge
overseas. Now comes a so-so variation.

The problem starts
with Grace, the suspect; her deer-in-the-headlights expressions are
charming for a moment, but soon make her seem like a total airhead.
Thr arrival of her sister, a lawyer, makes things far more
interesting. By then, however, the show is pilung up “Scandal”-style
melodrama. An over-the-top lawyer is tolerable because Billy Zane
plays him so well; a young villain is merely wretched.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Spartan” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

With the success of
“American Ninja Warrior,” networks are scrambling for other
high-octane competitions. Fox had “American Grit”; now the
“Ninja” producers have their own variation.

This one involves
five-person teams – two men, two women and a captain – assembled
from friends, family or co-workers. They scramble through a mile of
mud, water and barbed-wire.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Cilla,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

In early-'60s
Liverpool, Cilla White was working grimly in a typing pool and going
joyously to rock clubs , where her friends the Beatles thrived. She
was a zesty teen with a big voice; Bobby Willis – who worked at a
bakery and claimed to be in the music business – thought she could
become a star.

She did ... at least
in her homeland. Most Americans have never heard of Cilla Black (her
stage name), but her story has immense charm. Even when they argue
fiercely, you'll like Willis and Brian Epstein (the Beatles manager)
and especially, Cilla, a role played and suberbly by Sheridan Smith.

Other choices
include:

“Mom,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a funny rerun, a parent-teacher conference makes something
obvious to Christy: Her son's life is becoming more linked to her
ex-husband's girlfriend (Sara Rue).

“So You Think You
Can Dance,” 8 p.m., Fox. Here's the third and final set of
auditions. Next week, the show – now confined to ages 8-13 --
begins its “academy,” which will lead to choosing the finalists.

“Houdini &
Doyle,” 9 p.m., Fox. Why are several people being literally scared
to death? Conan Doyle finds a possible answer when a hallucinogen
pushes him toward extreme fright.

Basketball, 9 p.m.
ET, ABC, with previews at 8 and 8:30. The Golden State Warriors are
back home, for the fifth game of the best-of-seven series with the
Cleveland Cavaliers. And yes, that means a week without
“Bachelorette” and “Mistresses.”

“Devious Maids,”
9 p.m., Lifetime. After a few shaky moments, last week's opener
launched some great plot twists: Spence regained his memory, but got
drunk and found the slain body of cruel Perry .... Dani arrived from
Puerto Rico, unaware that her “aunt” is her mother .... Powell
was merely faking his paralysis .... And a handsome neighbor mistook
Zoila (who was merely house-sitting) for the home-owner. Now all of
those move forward, in a slick and entertaining hour.

“Unreal,” 10
p.m., Lifetime. Rachel's promotion didn't last long. Chet is back and
grasping for power; Quinn tries to block him by resuming control of
the show, nudging Rachel aside. Soon, there are separate camera
crews, in an hour that has some good moments and many that are merely
odd.

TV column for Sunday, June 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Tony Awards, 8-11 p.m., CBS.

Tonight is short on
suspense and long on “Hamilton,” which is fine. Few musicals have
reached such total success – raves, sell-outs, a Pulitzer Prize and
a record 16 Tony nominations. Lin-Manuel Miranda has three of those,
for the score, the book and his performance as Alexander Hamilton.

There will be a
performances from “Hamilton,” the other musical nominees
(“Shuffle Along,” “School of Rock,” “Waitress,” “Bright
Star”) and musical-revival nominees (“Color Purple,” “She
Loves Me,” “Spring Awakening, “Fiddler on the Roof”). And
Gloria Estefan sings with her “On Your Feet” cast.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Celebrity Family Feud,” 9-11 p.m, ABC.

Last summer, “Feud”
emerged as a surprise ratings hit. It will be back for a new season
on June 26, but here are some quick reruns. There's Rob Gronkowski
vs. Holly Robinson Peete, Bill Envgvall vs. Keke Palmer, Cheryl Hines
vs. Niecy Nash ... and Katy Mixon vs. the “Duck Dynasy” clan.

All of this is
hosted by Steve Harvey, who is everywhere. He also would have been
hosting a “Little Big Shots” rerun, if the hockey play-offs
ended early; they didn;t and Game 5 is at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Preacher,” 9 p.m., AMC.

OK, maybe the whole
can be less that the sum of its parts. During its first three
episodes (the second one reruns at 7:55 p.m.), “Preacher” has
been in no hurry to give us a clear-cut story. Still, the separate
portions are weird and wonderful, in a “Fargo” and “Breaking
Bad” kind of way.

Formerly a crook and
now a small-town preacher, Jesse has acquired odd powers. His
ex-partner Tulip wants him to go on a revenge mission. Stalkers want
to steal the power. The enigmatic Cassidy wants to survive. And Jesse
is just befuddled ... as are viewers, sometimes in a pleasant way.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Last Ship” season-opener, 9 and 10 p.m.,
TNT.

At first, things
seem way too easy. The anti-virus developed by the late Rachel Scott
succeeded; Americans are rebuilding from disaster. Captain Chandler
(Eric Dane) and his crew – already heroes for their work with Scott
– are busy spreading the cure worldwide.

This is pleasant ...
but not dramatic. Don't worry; a half-hour into the season, “Last
Ship” becomes a sensational shoot-em-up, a life-and-death story
with good guys scrambling to save the world.

Other choices
include:

“High School
Musical” (2006), 6 p.m., Disney; plus sequels at 7:50 (2007) annd
9:45 (2008). On the night that musicals are honored on Broadway, we
can also see the films that helped bring them to a new generation.
Jaunty music and slick choreography overcome any story weaknesses.

“Cooper Barrett's
Guide to Surviving Life,” 7 and 7:30 p.m., Fox. This offbeat comedy
has attractive people groping with their first years as grown-ups.
Early episodes had fairly good humor and fairly bad ratings, so Fox
exiled the reruns to distant slots. Now it has two new episodes that
sound promising: Neal must overcome an old grudge; Cooper and Kelly
try to make each other jealous by dating others.

“Saving Private
Ryan,” 1998, 8 p.m. to 12:03 a.m., A&E. Steven Spielberg's
classic captures the horror of war and the honor of heroism. Tom
Hanks stars, with Matt Damon leading a great supporting cast.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. Jake works on his own, to catch a
serial killer. For Fox, it's a returns to the strong Sunday comedy
line-up, which also has “Last Man on Earth” at 9:30.

“Three Bedrooms,
One Corpse,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Realtors
never know what they'll find at a showing. Helping her mother, Aurora
Teagarden (Candace Cameron Bure) finds a body. That launches another
OK mystery; the two previous Aurora films (also OK) ar at 5 and 7
p.m.

“Ride With Norman
Reedus” debut, 10 p.m., AMC. “I have a pretty cool job,” Reedus
admits in this docu-series. “I get to ride my motorcycle and kill
zombies. He does that, in his “Walking Dead” role as Daryl
Dixon. Now we see him on his own, biking with friends. The opener –
400 miles along the California coast, with jewelry-designer Imogen
Lehtonen – is moderately interesting.

TV column for Saturday, June 11


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Two O.J. Simpson miniseries, FX and ABC.

One of the greatest
shows of the just-departed season was “The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
Looking back to a trial that fascinated the world in 1994, FX found
fresh depth and detail. It had vivid portraits of the eccentric
defense team and (especially) overworked prosecutors Marcia Clark and
Christopher Darden.

Now that reruns from
2 p.m. to midnight on FX ... on the same night that a second
mini-series – this one a documentary – begins. “O.J.: Made in
America” shows its first chapter from 9-11 p.m. on ABC; then the
entire thing will be shown over four nights on ESPN, starting Tuesday.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The American West” debut, 10:10 p.m., AMC.

The story is 150
years old, but it seems like current events in the Middle East. After
a war, the victors have trouble keeping control; guerrilla fighters
are fueled by rage, revenge and (sometimes) religion.

Jesse James
harnesses the skills and hatred he acquired as a Confederate soldier;
Crazy Horse is sparked by a vision that said he was invincable. Gen.
U.S. Grant – a winner in war, is perplexed in this “peacetime.”
This starts a strong documentary series, filled with re-enactments,
plus brief comments by historians, actors (including Robert Redford,
who produced the series) and Sen. John McCain.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: More cowboys, noon to 10:10 p.m., AMC.

AMC softens us up by
showing how the West was fun in John Wayne films -- the rowdy
“McLintock” (1963) at noon, the tough “True Grit” (1969) at 3
p.m. and “The Sons of Katie Elder” (1965) at 6.

Then it goes the
other way, showing us that this was a brutal, bitter time. “Hell on
Wheels” -- returning for its final seven episodes – starts with
“The Swede” (a Norwegian, actually), Cullen's enemy. We see him
as the victim (via flashback) and then the villain. It's
well-crafted, but excrutiating to watch.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), 8 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies.

On a night stuffed
with cowboys, soldiers, lawyers and ninjas, we need s cheery tale of
a family during the 1904 World's Fair. Vincente Minnelli, 42,
directed Judy Garland, 22. The next year, they married.

Minnelli gave the
film a glowing palette and Garland soared with great music. In its
list of the best movie music, the American Film Institute put one of
the film's songs (“The Trolley Song”) at No. 26 and another
(“Have Yourself a Merry Christmas”) at No. 76.

Other choices
include:

“Roots,” 4 p.m.
to midnight, A&E. Here's another chance to see the epic remake in
one gulp, on one of the four networks that simulcast it, beginning on
Memorial Day.

“People's List”
debut, 8 p.m., ABC. People magazine and ABC News combine for a summer
series that plans to look at celebrities, social-media stars and,
we're told, regular people.

“American Ninja
Warrior,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. Here's a rerun of Wednesday's try-outs,
from Atlanta.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. This rerun finds the team heading to Cuba, after a woman
from Cabe's past asks for help catching a Serbian war criminal. Alana
De La Garza (“Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders”) guests as the head
of Homeland Security.

“Outlander,” 9
p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10 and 11. Sometimes, there's a military
advantage to having a spouse who time-traveled. Leading his men into
battle, Jamie takes advantage of Claire's knowledge of history.
Meanwhile, she uses her nursing skills ... and is reminded of the
fierce cost of warfare.

“Maya and Marty,”
10 p.m., NBC. Here's a rerun of Tuesday's hour, filled with “Saturday
Night Live” favorites: Tina Fey and Steve Martin join regulars Maya
Rudolph, Martin Short and Kenan Thompson.