TV column for Thursday, Jan. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“You, Me and the Apocalypse” debut, 8-9 p.m., NBC.

After bumbling its
comedies for years, NBC took a wise step: It grabbed a British show,
remade it, and kept enough of the original to make this seem dark and
odd and very funny.

A comet will soon
strike the Earth, we're told, killing everyone ... except those who
reach a bunker in an English. Jenna Fischer plays a timid librarian,
wrongly convicted; Megan Mullally is a tough-talking inmate. Rob Lowe
is an eccentric priest with a shy nun as his assistant.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Republican debate, 9-11 p.m. ET, Fox News.

The final debate
before Monday's presidential caucuses in Iowa is expected to draw
lots of viewers. The leading candidates have a debate-style panel at
9, preceded by a forum for others, from 7-8 p.m.

Megyn Kelly, who
drew criticism from Donald Trump after the first Fox debate, is back
to anchor this one, with Bret Baier and Chris Wallace. She'll also
have her “Kelly File” at 11.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Legends of Tomorrow,” 9 p.m.,CW.

Early in this second
episode, we sample the visual flash of these “legends.” Atom
zooms, Hawkman and Hawkgirl soar, Heat Wave and Captain Cold zap
their weapons, Firestorm blasts and White Canary swirls with
double-sword fury. The battle scenes – there are two tonight –
are spectacular.

In between,
“Legends” is mixed. It's fun to have mismatched people forced
together, but here their thick-headedness seems arbitrary, designed
only to create problems and plot twists. “Legends” is better
during a quiet moment, when Professor Stein (Victor Garber) meets his
younger (and arrogant) self.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “London Spy,” 10-11:15 p.m., BBC America.

This five-week
mini-series delivers the extremes we sometimes expect from cable. It
is deep and tangled, superbly written and acted; it's also achingly
slow and thick and (at times) frustrating.

Ben Whishaw has
triumphed in everything from Shakespeare to James Bond films (as Q)
and BBC's “The Hour.” Now he's Danny, drifting between gay
romances; then Alex, his stoic lover, disappears. Tonight, a complex
search puts Whishaw against some gifted veterans, including Charlotte
Rampling as Alex's maybe-mother, Jim Broadbent as Danny's mentor and
Clarke Peters as an ominous outsider.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a funny rerun, Sheldon realizes Leonard
won't be living there, now that he's married to Penny. Vowing to
revert to his old ways, he interviews possible roommates.

“Jo Frost: Nanny
on Tour” debut, 8 and 10 p.m., UP. The former “Supernanny” is
back, with a brighter-looking show. Still, this opener – a South
Carolina family, with four kids, two parents and two grandparents –
is tough to watch. When a 2-year-old yells in a restaurant, it's just
shy of excrutiating.

“The 100,” 9
p.m., CW. The season opened last week with Clarke captured by Roan
(Zach McGowan of “Black Sails”). Now he's marching her, while
others want to capture, kill or rescue her. This seems like a stretch
at times; Clarke and Roan, both savvy, make key blunders. Still, it's
a tough, gritty hour.

“My Diet is Better
Than Yours” finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC. The eight-hour run concludes
with the five-kilometer run and a final weigh-in.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. A medieval group has been revived, striking with
old-time weapons.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Two murders seem linked to the recruiting program of a
for-profit college. Also, Sherlock rages when learning his dad has a
dangerous secret.

“Baskets,” 10
p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:02. There's a thin line between funny and
merely pathetic; Chip (Zach Galifianakis) crosses it often. In last
week's terrific opener (rerunning at 10:33), he went from Paris
training to rodeo clown; now he crumbles some more. There are so-so
moments, salvaged by the side characters – a trainee, Chips' mom
(Louie Anderson) and his drab friend (Martha Davis).

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 27


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

Already one of the
best shows on TV, “Crime” elevates tonight with a brilliant hour.
It proves that a broadcast-network show can match the depth and
quality of cable's best.

A teen loner was
invited to a party held by the basketball captains ... then was shown
Online to be drunk and compromised. He was fuzzy on details, but his
mother said he'd been raped. Now we see all sides – the upscale
school, one captain's wealthy parents, another's troubled parents –
maneuver for advantage. Then, late in the episode, comes the moment
that changes everything. It's a great hour.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Hell's Kitchen,” 9:01 p.m., Fox.

In a sudden switch,
Fox has ousted “Second Chance” from this cozy timeslot after only
two episodes. “Chance” retained less than half the “American
Idol” viewers, so it's being dismissed to Fridays, where it might
do better after “Sleepy Hollow” returns next week.

That moves “Kitchen”
to Wednesdays, starting with an all-or-nothing challenge. The winning
team frolics in Santa Barbara; the losers must gut 100 pounds of
seabass for the dinner competition.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Suits” return, 10 p.m., USA.

For four-and-a-half
seasons, Mike (Patrick J. Adams) has convinced people he's a Harvard
Law grad; only Harvey (Gabriel Macht), his boss, knew he's a
drop-out.

That changed in the
“mid-season finale,” when Mike was arrested. Now we see the
aftershocks on Mike's fiance Rachel and on Harvey, who is the
ultimate target of a scheming prosecutor.

Other choices
include:

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. The final auditions of the final season have finished.
Now we see hundreds of contestants begin the “Hollywood Week”
struggle.

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS. It might not surprise you to learn that males will use
trickery to get sex; this entertaining film shows that's true in
nature. Some create optical illusions to confuse females. Some seem
bright, by having dull backdrops; others seem big by scaring away
large neighbors and nurturing small ones. After conception, the
females add their own trickery. One bird slips her egg into someone
else's nest; there, its chick will hatch first, will be fed ... and
will secretly dump all out the other eggs.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Haley wants Dylan to stay at her house. Her
dad supports the plan ... then quickly regrets it.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. This rerun has Dre needing pharmaceutical help to
shed his fear of flying.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. Viewers have known Leanne (Marcia Gay Harden) as a great
doctor and a somber person. Now they follow her to a prison, where
she confronts the drunk driver who killed the people in her family.
Jeff Hephner (the “Agent X” star and “Boss” co-star) guests
as the hospital CEO.

“Recovery Road,”
10 p.m., Freeform. Here's a quick rerun of Monday's opener, a good
one. We meet a teen who's smart, beautiful and bored with high
school. Caught drinking there, she soon starts a double-life –
commuting to school, where no one knows she's living at an adult
rehab center.

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FXX. At times, “Sunny” ruminates on
what draws praise and honors. Soon to become one of the sevem
longest-lasting situation comedies in TV history, it's been virtually
ignored for honors. Now a funny episode ponders the definition of
quality: Dennis tries to turn his sexual memoirs into an art film;
the guys pass off Cricket's scrawlings as high art.

 

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

A century ago,
mining companies owned everything – the mines, houses, the stores.
They also had brutal thugs to retain their power. Then “Mother”
Jones, already 64 and famed in union circles, arrived; Frank Keeney,
a fourth-generation miner, emerged as a local leader.

The union efforts
paused during the war, then resumed with fierce confrontations; one
1921 battle lasted three days, sprawling across a 25-mile front. It
was a time when governments routinely fought the unions; this
well-crafted film shows an era emerging, nudging workers into the
middle class.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

This micro-network
flashes the zest that comes with its trove of DC Comics characters.
First is a new “Flash,” with a surprise: Cisco senses that the
Reverse Flash is back. Barry and the others doubt it, until an attack
at Mercury Labs makesit definite.

Then is a rerun of
the high-octane “Legends” opener, before the second episode airs
Thursday. In this one, ime-traveler Rip Hunter puts together a team
to try to save Earth; he ends up with a rag-tag (but talented) team,
ranging from the idealistic Adom to the cynical Heat Wave and Captain
Cold.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Outsiders,” 9 p.m., WGN America, rerunning at 10,
11 and midnight.

For one company,
this seems simple: It owns an Appalachian mountain with a
billion-dollar pack of coal; just tell the squatters to leave. For
the deputy sheriff (Thomas Wright) this is something more: The
Farrells have been there for 200 years, making their own rules; they
can't be moved.

What follows has
hints of “Sons of Anarchy,” with guys who are crude and violent,
but live with a family code. It even has Ryan Hurst (Opie in “Sons”)
as a kin to the Farrell leader (David Morse). Unlike “Sons,” it
doesn't quickly give us someone to root for. Still, it's worth
sticking with.

Other choices
include:

“Fresh Off the
Boat” and “The Muppets,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. The first rerun
finds Eddie working part-time for rapper DMX; the second has Joseph
Gordon-Levitt singing a duet with Miss Piggy.

“Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS. This interesting hour finds opposite roots for
comedy people. Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel learn of 20th-century
immigrants and tough times; Bill Hader finds an ancestor who was a
Revolutionary War captain, probably crossing the Delaware with
Washington. Hader even goes back a century sooner in the U.S. -- and
then all the way to Charlemagne, the 9th-century
king of France. And Lear? He's a Levite; Jewish tradition says he's a
descendant of Abraham.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a petty officer has been slain in a familiar style.
Now the team must determine if this is the work of a serial killer or
a copycat,

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun involves the murder of a blogger
who was exposing government secrets. The team finds a dark secret
involving a SEAL and a humanitarian mission.

“Agent Carter,”
9 p.m., ABC. Last week, Peggy Carter – probing bad guys in 1947
Hollywood – learned of the Isodyne Lab's “black matter,”
supposedly more powerful than atomic energy. Now the search for
answers has her colliding with her superiors.

“Chicago Med,” 9
p.m., NBC. When a transplant is delayed, the administrator (S.
Epatha Merkerson) may have to risk her job. Also, Natalie's parents
arrive ... displeasing her mother-in-law (Annie Potts).

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. In the aftermath of the tornado, Casey learns that the
shelter holding many of the victims may close soon. Also, Herrmann
feels torn about testifying against Freddie.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 25


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Lucifer” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

Who can blame
Lucifer (Tom Ellis) for finding his job (administering eternal
damnation) tiresome? He's a handsome guy who wants to have fun;
naturally, he goes to Las Vegas.

Then a friend is
killed and he starts working with a local cop (Lauren German). She
doesn't really believe his claim to be Satan ... but is impressed by
his apparent immortality and his ability to make people tell the
truth. The result is a fun, flashy start to a different sort of
crime-solver series.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Recovery Road” debut, 9 p.m., Freeform (formerly ABC
Family).

Brainy, bored and
beautiful, Maddie (Jessica Sula) is skimming through high school.
Then she's ordered to live in a rehab center for adults; she'll keep
going to school, telling her friends nothing.

That's the start of
a smart drama series that fits well alongside “The Fosters.” Sula
leaves us rooting for Maddie, even when she's being impossible.
Alexis Carra (“Mixology”) provides strong counterpoint as her
guidence counselor; also, the rehab center is peppered with
interesting characters.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Magicians” opener, 9 and 10:10 p.m., Syfy.

The world must be
filled with secret schools of magic. Harry Potter's is a British
boarding school; this one is an American college. Childhood friends
are whisked there, with opposite results.

The first episode
tends to be one-note, as Quentin (Jason Ralph) remains sullen and
reluctant ... fitting into his somber surroundings. Stick around,
though, because “Magicians” begins adding depth in the second
hour. We start to see the possibilities; magic really should be fun,
you know.

Other choices
include:

“Midwinter of the
Spirit,” any time, www.acorn.tv.
The mini-series finale pits PBS favorite Anna Maxwell Martin
(“Bletchley Circle,” “Death Comes to Pemberley”) against
supernatural terror. In the first two parts (available on this
streaming service), we met her as a vicar and a novice exorcist.

“Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend” and “Jane the Virgin” return, 8 and 9 p.m., CW.
Two clever comedy-dramas return, each starring a Golden Globe-winner.
In “Crazy,” Rebecca (Rachel Bloom, this year's winner) rents a
party bus for Josh and his friends. Then Jane (Gina Rodriguez) starts
a job teaching athletes.

“The X-Files,” 8
p.m., Fox. After launching its season Sunday, this gets a new slot
for the other five episodes. Probing a scientist's death, Mulder and
Scullty see the bizarre results of DNA experiments.

“The Fosters”
return, 8 p.m., Freeform. Now officially adopted, Callie throws her
energy into her Web site about foster kids. She even has a potential
investor.

“War and Peace,”
9-11 p.m., A&E, History and Lifetime. If you missed the start of
this mini-series, catch it at 7 p.m. The new episode finds Pierre
fighting a duel.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business Network. The first
episode has someone inherit (with repercussions) Lee Harvey Oswald's
gravestone; the second has a long-ago baseball card.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. Kensi and Deeks announce that they'll be
living together; meanwhile, they're assigned to to protect her former
boyfriend.

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.