TV column for Monday, Feb. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Voice” opener, 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.

In its first seven
editions, “Voice” has topped almost everything (even “American
Idol”) in the ratings. Now Christina Aguilera is back, after
skipping two; it's her fifth edition, Pharrell Williams' second.

So far, she's only
managed one runner-up and two other finalists. “Voice” has been
dominated by Blake Shelton (four winners, three runners-up) and Adam
Levine (two winners, a runner-up, five other finalists). Usher, who's
not back, has the only other winner. Tonight, the swirling-chair
auditions begin.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Sleepy Hollow” season-finale, 9 p.m., Fox.

Borrowing an
approach that works on cable, “Hollow” gives us small seasons –
13 episodes the first year, 18 this time – and big stories. It also
gives us a movie look and wild imagination.

Ichabod Crane
emerged, 230 years after killing (temporarily) the headless horseman.
He linked with Abbie, a cop whose boss Frank Irving was temporarily
killed. (Don't expect much permanence here.) Ichabod's wife Katrina
is also back from the dead, but leaning to the dark side ... as is
their elderly son Henry, played by the great John Noble. Tonight, Fox
says, people will die and relationships will shatter.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Night Shift” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

A hospital show with
a cowboy soul, “Shift” treads a line between solid drama and
noisy melodrama. In a hospital near a San Antonio military base, it
has ex-military doctors and a high-adenaline approach.

Last-season ended in
overload. TC was suspended (after a breakdown), his ex-girlfriend
Jordan was investigated, his friend Topher was shot. Now another
high-pressure event – there are many here – links TC, Jordan and
her boyfriend Scott Clemmons (Scott Wolf). Lives are at stake, once
again.

Other choices
include:

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Here's the show in which the bachelor – Chris
Soules, 32, an Iowa farmer -- invites each of the final three women
for a “fantasy suite” sleepover. Becca, a chiropractic nurse, is
25; Kaitlyn, a dance instructor, and Whitney, a fertility nurse, are
each 29.

“Hate in America,”
8 p.m., Investigation Discovery. We see three examples of hate crimes
– against a black man in Mississippi, at a Sikh temple in
Wisconsin, against gays in New York City. Each is appalling; the
responses, however, indicate a world that will no longer accept this.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. A tech billionaire hires the team to rescue his kidnapped
daughter.

“Citizenfour”
(2014), 9 p.m., HBO. As a social-political document, this is
profound; as a documentary, it's like watching paint dry. It follows
Edward Snowden as he prepares to release secret documents. Whether or
not you agree with him, you're likely to be struck by what's
apparently a calm, thoughtful person, feeling he must expose a
government gone wrong. It's important ... but slow and stagnant.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business. In the first
half-hour, a bequeathed comic-book collection allows a family ice
cream parlor to recover from Hurricane Sandy. In the second, Roy
Orbison's son inherits a never-released song track.

“Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Some important issues
are pondered clumsily here. This film views a 1940s study of race
relations and suggests that things haven't really changed. That could
be, but the modern portions are mostly abstract and academic.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Here's a dilemma: An astronaut was killed inside a Mars
simulation. No one there could have done it ... and no one else could
have got in.

 

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Academy Awards, 8:30 p.m. ET, ABC.

Some years, Oscar
producers grumbled about music, throwing all five best-song nominees
into one dreary number. Not this time; four of the songs have their
original singers – Adam Levine, Rita Ora, John Legend (with Common
rapping), Tegan and Sara (with Andy Samberg's trio rapping). The
fifth is sung by Tim McGraw, in honor of co-writer/performer Glen
Campbell, who has Alzheimer's disease.

There's more: Lady
Gaga, Jennifer Hudson and Anna Kendrick will sing and the “Let It
Go” people have written a song for host Neil Patrick Harris. Add
humor and you could have a great show.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Chicago Fire,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and
“Chicago PD,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

Cleverly constructed
to link all three Dick Wolf productions, this story reruns in one
chunk.

It starts with
firefighters rescuing a man who is clutching a suspicious box; they
call in cops Voight (Jason Beghe) and Lindsey (Sophia Bush). Soon,
those two are in New York, where there's an alpha-cop conflict
between Voight and Benson (Mariska Hargitay). Lindsey spots a link to
someone she knows, bringing a messy case back to Chicago.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Book of Negroes,” 6 p.m. to midnight, BET.

After debuting on
Monday through Wednesday, the entire mini-series reruns here.

That takes Aminata
(Aunjanue Ellis) from her African home to Georgia slavery, then on to
New York and Nova Scotia and back to Africa and beyond. Alongside
pain and rage, she finds love (Lyriq Bent of “Rookie Blue”) and
some helpful souls (Cuba Gooding, Lou Gossett).

Other choices
includee:

Oscar previews, 1:30
to 8:30 p.m., several channels. Cable's E channel treats this like
the Super Bowl; it has a mega-preview at 1:30, then has Ryan Seacrest
lead the red-carpet coverage from 5:27 to 8:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Pop
(formerly TV Guide Network) uses “Entertainment Tonight”
reporters; after an inept outing at the Grammys, they're back from
5-8 p.m. WGN will carry a Los Angeles station's red-carpet coverage from 6-7:30 p.m., sandwiched (at 5 and 7:30) by an Oscar preview. And ABC is at the red carpet from 7-8:30.

“60 Minutes,”
7-8:30 p.m., CBS. This expanded episode is a tribute to Bob Simon,
who died at 73 in a traffic accident. It three of his “60 Minutes”
stories, plus memories of his colleagues.

“Act of Valor”
(2012,) 8:30-11 p.m., CBS. The network's dramas will be back next
week; for now, CBS inserts this action film, best known for using
active-duty Navy SEALs alongside pro actors.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. On the same night that he performs at
the Oscars, Andy Samberg has this rerun. He tries to find the mole,
before the deputy chief (Kyra Sedgwick) arrives.

“Masterpiece:
Downton Abbey,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). An OK episode,
centering on Rose's wedding, sets up next week's excellent
season-finale.

“Masterpiece:
Grantchester” season-finale, 10:15 p.m., PBS (check local
listings). Shaking his romance woes, Sidney (the crime-solving vicar)
probes the murder of a policeman.

“Jimmy Kimmel”
live, times vary, ABC. Kimmel's guests will include John Travolta,
Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Penn, Emily Blunt and many more, possibly
including Oscar-winners. In most areas, that follows the Academy
Award and the news. Some West Coast stations, however, air the Oscars
twice.

TV column for Saturday, Feb. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Countdown to the Oscars,” 8 p.m., and “The Social Network”
(2010),

8:30-11 p.m., ABC.

On the eve of its
Academy Award telecast, ABC offers a handy warm-up. First,
“Countdown” has a preview; then “Social Network” shows us how
good a best-picture nominee can be.

Aaron Sorkin's
script twisted the real-life story. (Mark Zuckerberg, for instance,
had a steady girlfriend throughout the Facebook-creation years.)
Still, it rippled with Sorkin-style wit; “Social Network” won
Oscars for the scrjpt, score and editing. There were five more
nominations, including Jesse Eisenberg bringing boyish charm to
Zuckerberg; sharply directed by David Fincher, this is smart, deep
and fun.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Bash at the Beach,” 9 p.m., Fox.

On the eve of the
Daytona 500, NASCAR gives viewers – many of them surrounded by snow
and cold – a peek at some Florida fun.

There will be many
drivers, one UFC fighter (“Cowboy” Cerrone) and music fitting the
Southern-party mood: “Little Big Town” reached No. 4 on
Billboard's country chart with “Day Drinking” and No. 1 with
“Pontoon”; Phillip Phillips, the “American Idol” champion,
saw “Home” reach No. 6 overall.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Independent Spirit Awards, 5-7:30 p.m. ET, IFC; reruns
at 10 p.m. ET.

This has been
another great year for indie films, as proven by the Spirit nominees
for best picture: Four of the five -- “Boyhood,” “Birdman,”
“Whiplash” and “Selma” -- are up for the same award at the
Oscars. (The fifth is “Love is Strange.”) Also, “Selma” gets
the Spirit nominations that Oscar forgot – director Ava DuVernay,
star David Oyelowo and co-star Carmen Ejogo.

Fred Armisen hosts
with Kristen Bell. Presenters include Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig
(his former “Saturday Night Live” colleagues) and Oprah Winfrey,
a “Selma” producer and co-star.

Other choices
include:

“Despicable Me”
(2010) and “Wreck-it Ralph” (2012), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.
Here are two dandy animated comedies for family fun.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. This reruns a flawed-but-fun episode, with a serial
arsonist moving to the edge of murder. It's a tough time for
Backstrom, whose childhood bullies are now firefighters.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. A rerun finds the entire island on lockdown, after a
terrorist turns drones loose on civilians.

More Oscar-winners,
cable. Two best-picture winners – towering films with macho men at
the core – collide. “Patton” (1970) is 8 p.m. ET on Turner
Classic Movies; “Rocky” (1976) is 8 p.m. on Encore. Also, Denzel
Washington won a supporting-actor Oscar in the powerful “Glory,”
at 7:30 p.m. on USA.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. This rerun finds Sylvester accidentally triggering a bomb.
While his life hangs in the balance, his friends search for the
person responsible.

“And the Oscar
Goes to ...,” 9 p.m. ET, CNN, rerunning at 11. Here's a rerun of
last year's documentary, viewing Academy Award history.

“Essence Black
Women in Hollywood Awards,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Shemar
Moore and Tracey Edmonds host; winners include Regina King
(“Southland” and “The Big Bang Theory”), Gugu Mbatha-Raw
(“Beyond the Lights”) and seven “Orange is the New Black”
actresses.

TV column for Friday, Feb. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Masters,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

August Wilson, we're
told here, was the quiet guy in the corner of the bar, always
listening. He grew up in a tiny Pittsburgh apartment, with a mother
and five siblings, then moved to a white neighborhood when his mom
remarried. When a teacher accused him of cheating, he quit high
school.

Instead, he worked
and listened and wrote. Wilson wrote 10 plays (nine set in
Pittsburgh) from different decades, rippling with passion and great
dialog; two won Pulitzer Prizes. He died at 60, of lung cancer; this
superb documentary ripples with his monologs, some restaged for
“Masters.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “SNL 40th Anniversary,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

When this aired live
on Sunday, it started strongly and ended weakly. In between, it
ranged from brilliant to lame ... in short, it was terribly typical
of most “SNL” outings.

The highlights
included a wonderful “Jeopardy” (with Will Ferrell confounded by
a changing batch of clueless celebrities) and a coalition of old and
new “Weekend Update” people. The lowlights included botched Eddie
Murphy and Chevy Chase moments and montages that seemed like promos,
spliced too tightly to include the actual humor. Now we can see it
again, this time 30 minutes shorter.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “12 Monkeys,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

Last week, the good
guys and bad guys scrambled to find the virus ... which wasn't there
after all. But then the villains snatched Dr. Cassandra Railly,
creating bigger problems.

How big? It's
disrupted time, flinging Cole into an alternate future. Now he must
race back to 2015 ... if the time machine has enough juice to get him
there. It's a complex and involving hour.

Other choices
include:

Cesar Millan shows,
7 p.m. to 3 a.m., NatGeo Wild. Here's a Cesar marathon. We see his
love of pit bulls (7 p.m.), his dramatic life story (8) and a snippet
of “Cesar 911,” which returns next Friday (10:28). There's more,
including his amiable one-man (and many-dog) Las Vegas show, at
10:43.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Mike tries to be a sort of father figure
for Ryan and Kyle, encouraging both to stand uo for themselves.

“Cristela,” 8:30
p.m., ABC. Roseanne Barr returns as the wife of Cristela's rich boss
(Sam McMurray). They both seem to want a divorce ... except she never
siged a prenuptial agreement.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Melina Kanakaredes (“CSI-NY”) plays a federal agent,
tracking an arsonist in Hawaii. Also, Amber's abusive ex-husband
intrudes on romantic time with Danny.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. When Baez serves a man a restraining order, he holds
her hostage.

“Banshee,” 10
p.m., Cinemax. Nobody does action better – or more cruelly – than
“Banshee.” A long and messy heist scene is preceded by two more
big moments; one involves the on-the-lam giant who killed the
sheriff's lover, the other has some impromptu parenting. Nothing
creates mixed feelings quite like seeing your mom beat up your nasty
boyfriend and all his foul friends.

 

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Two and a Half Men” finale, 9-10 p.m., CBS.

One of TV's most
durable comedies finally ends. If it's a typical episode, it will
have some moments that are explosively funny ... and some that are
silly and sophomoric. “Men” is like that, but fun; only six
situation comedies have gone longer ... and that includes cartoons
and shows that changed concepts.

One key character
(Charlie, played by Charlie Sheen) has died, viewers were told;
another (Jake) vanished, but Alan (Jon Cryer) has been first-rate
through 12 seasons. Now – amid rumors that Sheen will show up --
“Men” plays with the prospect that Charlie ia alive; that seems
promising.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Odd Couple,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.

TV shows (including
“Two and a Half Men”) love to throw mismatches together, so why
not return to the ultimate version? From Broadway to a movie to TV
shows, “Odd Couple” has been ideal.

Matthew Perry plays
the ragged Oscar, with Thomas Lennon as the too-precise Felix. That
gives “Odd Couple” a former “Friends” stars and a semi-known
actor (“Reno 911”) who – as co-writer of a dozen movies, both
big (“Night at the Museum”) and small – knows what to do with
humor.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Vikings” season-opener (History) or “Fortitude”
(Pivot), both 10 p.m.

TV has two
impressive series set in the far North – and they air at the same
time. “Fortitude” (filmed in Icleland, set in the Arctic) tonight
unravels the elusive past of Elena, the barmaid. That hour debuts at
10 p.m. ET and repeats at 10 p.m. PT (1 a.m. ET), surrounding reruns
of the two previous episodes.

“Vikings”
(filmed in Ireland, set in Norway and beyond) has King Ragnar on a
voyage with his ex-wife (the warrior leader Lagertha) and their
troops. They plan to return to their farming ways ... except, of
course, there's a catch to all this. There's also another battle –
big, bold, bracing and semi-believable.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. The big comedy night for CBS starts with the
comic-book store ready to re-open and Howard receiving some shocking
news.

“The Slap,” 8
p.m., NBC. The toughest sort of drama is one in which everyone is
right ... or, in this case, everyone is wrong. Harry (Zachary Quinto)
was wrong to slap Hugo a wildly misbehaving 5-year-old, at a party.
Hector's parents are wrong to build it into a crisis ... while
Hector's cousin tries to insert some moderation. It's another great
hour, with Melissa George excellent as the mom.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Ben worries, after his brother is admitted to the
hospital.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. As her team scrambles to rescue Olivia, the White House
sees little hope.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. A cult leader had many wives and many dangerous shipping
containers. Now he's missing and they (the containers, not the wives)
are buried on his property.

“Celebrity Roast,”
9:30-11 p.m., Comedy Central. At the midpoint of CBS'
Charlie-might-be-alive episode, cable inexplicably reruns this 2011
roast of Charlie Sheen. There are some truly brilliant lines from Amy
Schumer and host Seth MacFarlane.

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. One of the great actresses returns.
Cicely Tyson has had Emmy nominations for nine different roles
(winning for two of them), plus an Oscar nomination She guests
tonight, when the troubled Annalise (Viola Davis) goes to a
surprising source for comfort.