TV column for Monday, March 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Dancing With the Stars” opener, 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

OK, many of these
people aren't really stars; they are, however, a varied bunch. They
range in age from 14 (Willow Shields, the “Hunger Games” sister)
to 68 (Suzanne Somers) and 70 (Patti LaBelle). There are athletes:
Michael Sam was the first openly gay pro-football draftee; Nastia
Liukin is an Olympic gold-medal gymnast, paired with frequent winner
Derek Hough. There's also a farmer (Chris Soules, fresh from “The
Bachelor”), a wounded Iraq veteran (Noah Galloway) and a “Shark
Tank” investor (Robert Herjavec), plus Rumer Willis, Riker Lynch,
Charlotte McKinney and Redfoo.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

For comedy fans, the
bad news is that basketball is taking over the next two Thursdays.
That leaves “Big Bang” -- plus “Odd Couple” and “Mom” --
temporarily homeless.

The good news is
that “Big Bang” gets a Monday spot tonight, for a funny rerun.
The guys consider investing in the comic-book store, after it's
gutted by fire; also, Raj's girlfriend is cold to Penny.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Returned,” 10:01 p.m., A&E.

Quietly compelling,
this drama catches the way people might really react – understated,
maybe unstated – when the impossible happens. In the opener,
Camille calmly walked home, unaware that she had died; she's still
15, her twin sister is now 19.

There was much more,
including a murder; now the probe turns to Simon ... who's not aware
he died six years ago. This sounds goofy, but it's done with a solid
sense of what normal people might do in a paranormal situation; like
the French mini-series it's based on, “Returned” is thoroughly
involving.

Other choices:

“Jamaica Inn,”
any time, www.acorn.tv. With their gothic mood, Daphne du Maurier's
stories were a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock. He made two into
successful films (“Rebecca,” “The Birds”), but stumbled with
“Inn.” Now it's a British mini-series that reaches the U.S. over
the next three Mondays. Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil in “Downton
Abbey”) plays a penniless beauty who finds dark deeds in her aunt's
inn. The performances and visuals are splendid, but the story is grim
and predictable.

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The “battle rounds” continue through Tuesday,
with the possibility of stealing members of other teams. Next week
brings the “knockout round.”

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. In a rerun from November, assassins attack Wayne Manor.
Bruce and Selena (the future Batman and Catwoman) are on the run.

“The Following,”
9 p.m., Fox. Last week, Ryan's FBI boss was kidnapped and brutally
killed. Enraged, Ryan makes a risky move.

“Bates Motel,” 9
p.m., A&E. “Unhinged women seem drawn to you,” Norma Bates
tells her son. She soon shows signs of being the least-hinged of all.
Obsessed with the disappearance of a gorgeous prostitute whom Norman
knew, Norma seems increasingly (an interestingly) berserk.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business Network. While other
small towns lose movie theaters, Berwick – a Pennsylvania borough
of 11,000 – has clung to its theater. Inheriting it from her
grandfather (who had it for 40 years), the new owner says it has no
profits and great importance.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. A relentless Hong Kong detective helps probe a New York
case. Soon, however, Castle suspects that many of the people aren't
who they claim to be.

TV column for Saturday, March 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“In an Instant,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

When Jenna Otter was
18, she celebrated her high school graduation by hiking Glacier
National Park with her dad. Turning a bend, they abruptly confronted
a 400-pound grizzly and her two cubs.

Johan Otter, 43, a
hospital administrator, managed to divert the bear from his daughter;
he ended up with severe injuries ... but survived and even joked
about it. A decade later, their story is the third chapter of
“Instant,” which blends memories and re-enactments to tell
compelling stories.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Portrait of Love,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark.

This plot has fueled
approximately 3.7 million novels and TV movies: A big-city woman,
very successful and mildly happy, visits her little home town, where
her former boyfriend still lives.

That's repeated
here, with few surprises and fewer disappointments. It works, thanks
to an art theme, likable stars (Bree Williamson, Jason Dohring) and
the energetic style of K.T. Donaldson. That's the name actor
Kristoffer Tabori uses when directing, which he's good at ... as was
his dad, “Dirty Harry” director Don Siegel. Even without
gunfights or surprises, vigorous visuals can propel a movie.
TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Basketball, all day.

On the eve of the
NCAA tournament selections, many conferences have their tournament
finals. For some teams, it's the only chance to move on; for others,
it's simply a shot at a higher seed.

Today, ESPN has the
finals of the Big 12 at 6 p.m. ET, Atlantic Coast Conference at 8:30
and Pac-12 at 11. Fox Sports 1 has Conference USA at 3:30 p.m. ET and
the Big East at 8. ESPN2 has a bunch – American East at 11 a.m.,
MEAC at 1 p.m., MAC at 7:30 and Southland at 9:30. Meanwhile, CBS and
ESPN have the Big Ten and SEC semi-finals at 1; the finals will be at
the edge of Sunday's selections.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a homeless man (former CIA agent
and Marine) has been killed. Going undercover, Deeks and Kensi find a
link to a Mexican cartel.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. This rerun has Backstrom's former fiance (Sarah Chalke)
presiding over his misconduct probe. Also, his tenant is a suspect in
the murder of a drag queen.

“Good Witch,” 8
p.m., Hallmark. Credit this episode with ambition, anyway. It throws
everyone together at the Heritage Festival Ball, with a half-dozen
stories, from important (will the runaway testify?) to some teen
silliness . It's all fairly pleasant, even if most things get
resolved way too easily.

“Safe Haven”
(2012), 8:30 p.m., USA. Based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, this seems
like a standard tale of a woman on the lam (Julianne Hough) and a
widower (Josh Duhamel). The difference is that Lasse Hallstrom
(“Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat”) directed with restraint and
skill.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. A rerun finds the team stumped when victims have little
in common. Also, A.J. is troubled by her sister's death; Candy Clark
(“American Graffiti”) returns as their mother.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. In this rerun, Ichabod flashes back to memories of his
friend Abigail Adams, played by Michelle Trachtenberg of “Buffy”
and “Gossip Girl.”

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Kevin Hart hosts this rerun, with music by
Sia.

 

TV column for Friday, March 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox.

After six fresh and
flashy seasons, “Glee” concludes next week. First, here are some
pivotal points.

Back home, it's time
for the glee-club sectionals, with the Warblers and New Directions.
And in New York, Rachel must decide whether to return to the arts
academy or do another Broadway show with her former love Jesse St.
James. They're played by Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff ... who
really did star together on Broadway (in the Tony-winning “Spring
Awakenings”), just before “Glee” began.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Jonathan Knight is
still in the race, but barely. Knight (New Kids on the Block), 46, is
racing with Harley Rodriguez, 41, a fitness trainer and his partner
of seven years. Last week, they finished last ... then were relieved
to learn it wasn't an elimination round; in tonight's round – which
includes the chaos of Bangkok's streets -- they'll face an extra
“speed bump.”

Another couple is
doing much better. Matt Cucolo, 30, and Ashley Gordon, 28, are
hairstylists who have been dating for three years. Last week, he
proposed and she said yes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Banshee” season-finale, 10 p.m., Cinemax.

This could well be
the nastiest hour in TV history. It has two big shoot-em-ups, plus a
beheading, a dismemberment and a cascade of F-words. As usual,
brilliant craftsmanship redeems most of this ... but not the show's
wretched obsession with torture.

Tonight, Carrie --
scam artist and estranged wife of the mayor (a former soldier) – is
the prime target. She's been identified as part of a $6-million
heist; so have two others, leaving only one team member (the sheriff)
free. The season ends with emotions high and death toll higher.

Other choices
include:

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Coming home early from their anniversary
celebration, Mike and Vanessa find that Mandy is planning a party,
including beer for underaged guests.

“Despicable Me”
(2010), 8:15 p.m., Disney. It's an animated evening, with this comedy
followed by two new episodes of “Star Wars Rebels.”

“Cristela,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Cristela's boss wants her to be with him at a fundraiser,
on the same day she'd promised to sponsor her nephew at his
confirmation ceremony. Then new trouble appears.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Trying to protect a young man from gangs, McGarrett and
Odell (Michael Imperioli) end up under siege in Odell's barber shop.

“12 Monkeys,” 9
p.m., Syfy. If this had ended two weeks ago, it would have been a
great miniseries. Instead, it's begun a wild detour. With her
time-travel machine now depleted – and Cole dumped into the wrong
year -- Jones is desperate to get use of the massive machinery
controlled by Col. Foster.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Eddie (Vanessa Ray) has her first undercover
assignment, targeting a group that pretends to have youth hostels.
Also, Frank helps a woman from a long-ago case.

“Helix,” 10
p.m., Syfy. Last week had some brilliant moments, with Brother
Michael (Steven Weber) being imprisoned by his followers/offspring.
Flashing forward 30 years, he was freed, resumed his evil ways and
was disposed of permanently. Now scientists scour the island for a
andidote to the virus.

TV column for Thursday, March 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

TV's best comedy
rarely tries for a heart-tugging “very special episode.” Still,
it responded when Carol Ann Susi, the voice of Howard's mom, died of
cancer at 62.

Earlier, we saw
Howard learn his mom had died; now he wants his friends to savor the
final food she'd prepared. That's in the 8 p.m. episode, which also
has Leonard fuming about Sheldon getting credit for an article they
co-wrote; in the 9 p.m. rerun, the guys reluctantly shop with Penny
and Amy.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“American Idol,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

The “Idol”
pattern used to be steady – performances and viewer voting on
Wednesdays, results Thursdays. With ratings slipping, however, that's
getting a nudge.

This week, the show
announced its top 12 on Wednesday; they perform tonight and viewers
vote. Next week, the Wednesday slot goes to the two-hour “Empire”
finale; on Thursday, we'll learn which 10 survived and they'll
perform. Then “Bones” takes Thursdays and “Idol” slides back
to Wednesdays.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Few shows have hit
the dizzying extremes of “Crime.” On one hand, it gets superb
work from two Oscar-winners: Writer John Ridley (“12 Years a
Slave”) created vivid characters and dialog, Tim Hutton imbues Russ
(a grieving father) with deep layers of pain, guilt and bewilderment.

On the other, it
goes overboard. History tells us that people are often at their best
in crises; instead, Russ is surrounded by bickering, bull-headed
jerks. His ex-wife (Felicity Huffman) becomes almost cartoonish in
her rage and bias; others are way too similar ... yet, in some ways,
fascinating.

Other choices
include:

“Citizenfour”
(2014), 7 p.m., HBO. Here's the Oscar-winner for best documentary
feature. As a socio-political document about Edward Snowden's release
of secret documents, it's important; as a movie, it's only a tad
above watching paint dry.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. When an earthquake shakes the hospital, Maggie is stuck
in the elevator and Meredith's surgery is imperiled.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. A visitor has insider information that could take down the
White House.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Thursday's crimesolvers keep becoming murder suspects.
Last week, it was Sherlock Holmes; now it's Liz (Megan Boone), the
FBI agent. A suspect in the harbormaster murder, she's questioned
about the task force's relationship with Red, a big-time criminal.

“Mom,” 9:30,
CBS. Violet (Sadie Calvano, 17) has an older boyfriend (David
Krumholtz, 36). Her mother and grandmother are not pleased.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. An apparent road-rage victim had already been
flash-frozen.

“Dig,” 10 p.m.,
USA Network. In last week's opener, an American attache in Israel
(Jason Isaacs) kept making mega-mistakes ... including not admitting
he'd been with a young woman the night she was killed. Tonight's
chapter again strains credibility, but weaves an intriguing tale on
three fronts: A killer tries to stop a red heifer (fulfilling a
biblical prophesy) from being transported ... Identical boys have
been raised separately and coldly ... And the murder case points
toward big schemes and prophesies.

TV column for Wednesday, March 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Idol” and “Empire,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

First, “Idol”
will reveal its top 12; they'll sing Thursday, in a two-hour edition.

Then one of the
show's alumni is back: Jennifer Hudson only finished seventh on the
show, but she soon won an Oscar and became a recording star; here,
she plays Michelle, working with Andre. That's on the season's
second-to-last “Empire,” which has become a big ratings hit. Also
guesting are Mary J. Blige (as someone from Lucious' past) and
Raven-Symone.

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

If you missed last
Thursday's opener, you can catch it now. Be warned, however: This is
a tough ride, even by murder-addiction-assault standards; it's rough
on the characters and, often, on the viewers.

Tonight's rerun
starts with Russ (Tim Hutton) asked to identify his son's body. It's
quiet and matter-of-fact at first, then builds as we meet suspects –
some only remotely involved – and as Russ' abrasive ex-wife
(Felicity Huffman) arrives. The results is brilliantly acted and
emotionally brutal.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Sherlock” and “Broadchurch,” 8 and 10 p.m., BBC
America.

Last week, BBC
America linked two superb series. It reran PBS' “Sherlock”
opener, then started the second “Broadchurch” season with Joe
Miller reneging on a plea bargain; he pled not-guilty to killing his
son, creating new turmoil. Also, Alec faced a past failure when
Claire arrived, needing help.

Now the second
“Sherlock” film plunges Holmes into the Chinese crime scene. Then
the Miller trial gets a surprise; also, Alec and Ellie arrange a
meeting for Claire, bringing aftershocks.

Other choices
include:

“America
Reframed,” any time, www.worldchannel.org.
Laury Marker Sachs fit neatly into the verbal world of New York City.
She was an actress, wrote a successful play and thrived with her
husband, their two children and lots of friends; then, in her late
40's, her mind began to go blank. “Looks Like Laury, Sounds Like
Laury” is a moving (but difficult to watch) portrait of
frontotemporal dementia.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. The hardy “blue-collar” tribe remains intact. The
first week dumped So Kim (a retail buyer) from “white-collar”;
the second dumped Vince Sly (a coconut vendor) from “no-collar.”

“The Goldbergs,”
8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. The first rerun finds Adam obsessing on the
title role in “Jesus Christ Superstar”; when he doesn't get it,
his mom plans an alternate show. The second sees the guys giving
Erica a hard time, when she can't part with her New Kids on the Block
memorabilia.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. This rerun finds the Dunphys crammed into a hotel room
while their home is treated for mold. Naturally, Phil considers it an
adventure and Claire has her doubts.

“The 100” season
finale, 9 p.m., CW. When Clarke became a “guest” at Mount
Weather, she suspected dark schemes. She escaped, but now leads the
tough job of freeing the others. Also in this above-average
science-fiction drama, Jaha (Isiah Washington) pushes to find the
City of Light.

“CSI: Cyber,” 10
p.m., CBS. A hacker has caused a roller-coaster to crash.

“The Americans,”
10 p.m., FX. Phillip and Elizabeth – the Russian spies embedded in
1980s America – have troubles everywhere. There's a family secret
to hide ... and KGB business in South Africa ... and now Martha –
married to Clark (Phillip's alternate identity) – is shocked by a
discovery.