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.

 

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 8


 

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

Each year, this has
great “Grammy moment” match-ups. This time, Rihanna links with
Paul McCartney and Kanye West; Ed Sheeran is with the re-united ELO
for one song and with Herbie Hancock, John Mayer and Questlove for
another. Adam Levine joins “Voice”-mate Gwen Stefani.

Generations merge --
Annie Lennox, 60, with Hozier, 24; Tom Jones, 74, with Jessie J, 26;
Tony Bennett, 88, with Lady Gaga, 28. Also: Mary J. Blige and Sam
Smith, Beck and Chris Martin, Common and John Legend, plus Madonna,
Ariana Grande, AC/DC, Miranda Lambert and more.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul,” 9 and 10 p.m.,
AMC.

After a 10-week
break, the ratings-giant “Dead” starts the second half of its
16-hour season. First, it wraps up a 48-hour rerun spree; then the
new hour shows the group planning a detour.

Afterward, “Saul”
has perhaps the slowest, sleepiest start in TV history. In
black-and-white, it shows us what Saul (Bob Odenkirk) is up to since
“Breaking Bad” ended. Stick around; it flashes back to six years
before “Bad” began. He was James McGill then, a lowball lawyer
with his car for an office, where he faked a receptionist's voice.
It's funny ... then plunges him into a well-deserved crisis.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Of Miracles and Men,” 9-11 p.m., ESPN.

The 1980 Olympic
hockey game seemed like a wretched mismatch. The Russians had a
winning record against pro teams, even beating the NHL all-stars 6-0.
They beat the Americans (a collection of college kids) in an
exhibition, 10-3, then scored 51 goals in their first five Olympic
games.

They again dominated
the U.S. ... but lost. Russians fired 39 shots, most stopped (often
sensationally) by goalie Jim Craig; Americans fired only 16 and won,
4-3, before a joyous home crowd. It's a great story, told poignantly
through the Russians, including one who re-visits the arena with his
daughter.

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

It was wise for HBO
to skip a week and show movies during the Super Bowl. The next couple
episodes are among the best; they're way too good to waste.

We last saw Hannah
implode at the prestigious writers' workshop in Iowa, insulting
everyone. Tonight – after the debut of HBO's intriguing “Jinx”
documentary series at 8 – she offers the world's worst apology,
then sets up next week's pivotal episode. Also, Soshanna has
hilarious moments in New York.

Other choices
include:

Grammys red-carpet,
5-8 p.m. Pop, 5:57-8 p.m., E. For years, E and the TV Guide Network
fought for red-carpet supremacy; E (with Ryan Seacrest) won and TV
Guide withdrew. Now it's back, after changing its name and its
approach; as Pop, it will team with “Entertainment Tonight”
reporters for the red-carpet at the Grammys and Oscars; tonight, it
starts an hour (almost) earlier than E.

“The Simpsons,”
7:30 and 8 p.m., Fox. First is a rerun that finds the family on
Kang's home planet. Then a new episode gives Springfield a new anthem
and has Homer celebrating “wide pride.”

“The Hunger Games”
(2012), 8-11 p.m., ABC. Many networks are avoiding a collision with
the Grammys tonight ... just as they did with the Super Bowl last
Sunday. ABC reruns this popular action movie; at the same time, NBC
reruns its “American Ninja Warrior: USA vs. The World.”

“Masterpiece:
Downton Abbey,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Lady Edith, a
minor figure in the early seasons, dominates this strong hour, with
powerfully emotional moments. There's much more, involving the newly
arrived Russians (including Rose's new guy), Thomas' health woes, the
murder probe and Robert's lingering doubts about the unwelcome suitor
in Cora's bedroom.

“Shameless,” 9
p.m., Showtime. Last week's episode -- dead-on against the Super Bowl
-- was huge. Fiona had a quickie marriage to Gus (followed by quick
second thoughts) ... Frank blew his insurance settlement ... and Lip
bonded with his girlfrien's rich father, not with her. Now come the
aftershocks.

“Masterpiece:
Grantchester,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). These men – a
wide-eyed village vicar and a cop – have gone from opposites to
friends. Now a new murder puts them at odds.