TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“In Defense of Food,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Progress can be a
tricky thing, Michael Pollan tells us. In 30 years, Americans'
child-obesity rate has doubled; in 40, type 2 diabetes (for any age)
has tripled. Much of that comes from an industry that can now make
food that is cheap, convenient, tasty ... and lacks key ingredients.

Pollan – a skilled
journalist and storyteller – views other aproaches, including
traditional hunters and getherers in Tanzania. Diets range from the
Andes (mostly potatoes and grains) to the Arctic, with tremendous
amounts of whale and seal fat; somehow, both approaches seem to work.

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

Next week, ABC will
be back to new episodes of its terrific Wednesday line-up. First,
however, here's a rerun of the season-opener, filled with good
moments.

Having second
thoughts, Haley tries to rush and stop Andy from proposing to Beth.
Meanwhile, Jay and Gloria are frustrated by efforts to land a good
pre-school. Also, Cam supports Mitchell in his effort to switch
careers ... until money gets tight.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mozart in the Jungle” second season, any time,
Amazon Prime.

Appropriately,
Wolfgang Mozart shows up at the very start of the second season –
both his music (it's quite good, you know) and his image. A troubled
Rodrigo imagines a fretful conversation with him.

Rodrigo has many
worries. The hot-shot conductor of the New York Symphony, he's
disliked by donors (who want the old one to un-retire) and viewed
warily by the musicians, who are planning a strike. Also, he kissed
Hailey, the young oboist working temporarily as his assistant.
There's a rich broth of emotions, in a series that's beautifully
written and subtly acted ... with some fine music along the way.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Mr. Robot,” 11:42 a.m. to 11 p.m., USA.

The start of this
series was brilliant, as a young hacker (tautly played by Rami Malek)
confronted a villain. The finish of the first season was bizarre.

Now – as “Mr.
Robot” deservedly reaches 10-best lists or 2015 – you can catch
the whole season again. It runs twice, actually; the first time, from
midnight to 11:42 a.m., isn't terribly convenient.

Other choices
include:

Football, all day,
ESPN. The biggest bowl games are Thursday and Friday, but here's a
handy warm-up. There's the Birmingham Bowl at noon ET, the Belk Bowl
at 3:30 p.m., the Music City Bowl at 7 and then the day's top game:
At 10:30 p.m. ET, the Holiday Bowl has Wisconsin (9-3) and Southern
Cal (7-5).

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. In a rerun of the two-part
season-opener, the team finds a fresh murder that fits the suspected
approach of serial-killer Gregory Yates. That leads to a trial,
blackmail, a confession, a new victim and then a runaway.

Music, 8 p.m.,
everywhere. Reruns offer pop songs via concert -- “iHeartRadio
Jingle Ball” on CW – or inside stories. Fox has “Empire”
(Cookie and Anika try to grab Pitbull's attention); Disney has its
“Descendants” movie. At 8:15, ABC Family has “Grease” (1978),
with a lame story and vibrant music.

“Code Black,” 9
p.m., CBS. This reruns the episode that introduced Cress Williams
(“Hart of Dixie”) as the new surgeon, the estranged son of Dr.
Guthrie.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 and 10:30 p.m., ABC. Neither rerun offers the usual holiday
fare. In the first, the family accepts a neighbor's invitation to
attend church; in the second, Dre and his colleagues try to create a
new holiday, Daddy's Day.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. This rerun involves the death of a teen at a big-money
private school.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Kennedy Center Honors,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Foolishly, George
Stevens Jr – who made this one of the classiest shows on TV – was
replaced. Wisely, the new people copied his formula, with a smart
mixture of comments, films and performances.

Good stories are
told about George Lucas, Cicely Tyson and more; Lin-Manuel Miranda
describes Rita Moreno leaping onstage “like an altruistic Kanye
West” to tell rich people to hush and listen to a youth orchestra.
Resist any impulse to quit during the Seiji Ozawa tribute; next is
thenwondrous Carole King finale. Wrapped up powerfully by Aretha
Franklin, it's one of the year's best TV segments.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Expanse,” 10 p.m., Syfy.

After a slow start,
this show is adding depth and impact. Tonight skips quickly past two
so-so stories – a cynical detective in the tough asteroid belt and
the United Nations head on Earth. Instead, it focuses on the five
survivors who were out on a mission. when the freight ship Canterbury
was destroyed.

Their leader,
Holden, sent a message blaming the high-tech colonists on Mars. But
now he's been captured by a Martian ship ... which is being attacked
in the same way the Canterbury was. Alongside the battle scenes,
there are complex views of people sandwiched by perplexing forces.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Matt Damon movies, cable.

From “The
Rainmaker” in 1997 to “The Martian” now, Matt Damon keeps
landing in excellent films. Now we can trace his career.

There's one break he
made for himself – co-writing and starring in the superb “Good
Will Hunting” (1997); it's 6:45 p.m. on Showtime. Also today is his
dandy little role in the masterful “Saving Private Ryan” (1998);
it's 8 p.m. on Sundance. And “The Bourne Ultimatium” (2007),
wrapping up a high-octane thriller. It's 7:30 p.m. on Syfy ... even
though it has only a tiny touch of science fiction.

Other choices
include:

“Prohibition,”
8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Three days before Ken Burns is
grand marshal of the Rose Bowl parade, here's the conclusion of one
of his superb documentaries. Earlier, we saw that Prohibition was
born amid good intentions; by this finale, the crime and corruption
have followed.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Rerunning the season-opener, this offers a neatly offbeat
performance by Jon Cryer, as the Navy surgeon trying to save the
critically wounded Gibbs. Meanwhile, Tony and a CIA agent (Mimi
Rogers) head to Shanghai to try to take down The Calling.

“New Girl,” 8
and 9 p.m., Fox. Next week, this dandy comedy starts its fifth
season. First, here are the final episodes of the fourth, including
the departure of Coach (Daman Wayans Jr.). Also, Fawn (Zoe Lister
Jones, now of “Life in Pieces”) faces a political scandal; Jess
and Nick try for a clean break-up.

“Grandfathered,”
8:30, Fox. Following comedy traditions, a small lie soon magnifies
wildly. This rerun involves an elite pre-school; it has its moments,
then wallows in excess.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. Liv already had enough troubles, what with being a zombie
whose former fiance is distancing himself. To make things worse, the
latest murder victim she munches (absorbing some of the thoughts and
emotions) was an illusionist, obsessed with death.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. In this rerun, people band together to help a colleague
who faced a near-disaster. That concludes NBC's rerun night, which
has “Hollywood Game Night” at 8 p.m. (its new slot, with fresh
episodes starting next Tuesday) and “Chicago Med” at 9.

“Girlfriends'
Guide to Divorce,” 10 p.m., Bravo. Abby hesitently tries a second
date with Dr. Harris. Also, Phoebe finally has her GED, so friends
throw her a party with a 1990s theme.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Supergirl,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Some people are
really good at keeping a secret. Kara – the shy assistant to an
un-shy media mogul – has kept a big one: She's Superman's cousin,
with super speed, strength and more.

That emerged in the
terrific pilot film, rerunning here. Melissa Benoist brings strength
and fragility to the title role and Calista Flockhart is fun to watch
as her high-maintenance boss.

TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
Football, all day.

This is one of those
rare days when college and pro games are back-to-back. First, the
Military Bowl has Navy (9-2 and ranked No. 21) and Pittsburgh (8-4),
at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN; then the Quick Lane Bowl has Minnesota (5-7)
and Central Michigan (7-5) at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.

After that, the
season's final “Monday Night Football” (8:15, ESPN), has teams
that were hot, before their star quarterbacks were injured. The
Denver Broncos (10-4) host the Cincinnati Bengals (11-3).

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).
Oscar Ramos and Jose Ansaldo have much in common. Both
were born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. as the undocumented sons of
migrant workers; both became quick, eager learners.

Ramos graduated from
the University of California – Berkeley and teaches 3rd
grade in Salinas ... where Jose (in his seventh school in three
years) is a prize student. Jose's mom must leave the house by 4 a.m.,
to work 10-12 hours in the lettuce field; her other children were
born in the U.S., but Jose's future is unsure. Alternately hopeful
and heartbreaking, this puts a human face on tough issues.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
“Prisoners' Wives,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

A bride, pregnant
and naive, is blissful ... until police rush to arrest her husband
for murder. Soon, her life intersects with opposite women – one
(the fabulous Polly Walker) rich and beautiful, the other
hard-scrabble. It's a compelling start to this British series, with
all 10 episodes released today.

For Acorn, a
subscription streaming service, that's part of a busy day. It wraps
up a terrific British three-parter (“The Trials of Jimmy Rose”)
and the first season of New Zealand's OK “Brokenwood Mysteries.”
It also adds episodes of “A Place to Call Home,” an ambitious
Australian semi-soap.

Other choices
include:

“Happy New Year,
Charlie Brown” and “Rudolph's Shiny New Year,” 8 and 9 p.m.,
ABC. Yes, there are post-Christmas cartoons. These are from 1986 and
1976.

“Penn &
Teller: Fool Us,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW. Some gifted magicians try to
concoct tricks that Penn and Teller can't explain. Occasionally, they
succeed.

“Superstore” and
“Telenovela,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC. Next week, these
above-average comedies will officially take over this hour. First,
NBC tentatively plans two (and possibly four) episodes tonight. In
reruns, the store is featured in a magazine and a telenovela star is
visited by her scheming twin.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. This rerun finds the team helping a key witness stay on
the run, with a deadly drug cartel close behind.

“Legends,” 9
p.m. to midnight, TNT. An ambitious, three-part season-finale finds
trouble and deception in Eastern Europe, with Kate captive in
Chechnya. Also, we learn a little about the main character (Sean
Bean), who calls himself Martin Odum.

“Castle,” 10
p.m., ABC. Right after seeing telenovela stars on NBC, we can see
them as murder suspects (and victim) in this rerun.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Muppets,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

Sixty years ago, Jim
Henson proved that goofy kid stuff can co-exist with smart humor for
grown-ups. That approach keeps working for many companies (especially
Pixar) ... and for the Muppets that the late Henson created. Here's a
chance to savor four reruns from their Tuesday series.

At 8 p.m., a
stressed Kermit tries a yoga retreat, where he meets Jason Bateman;
that leaves Scooter feeling overwhelmed at work. At 8:30, Kristin
Chenoweth stirs up dissension in the band. At 9, Dave Grohl has a
drum-off with Animal; at 9:30, Mindy Kaling helps preparations for a
Christmas special.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Back in 2000, “CSI”
(plus “Survivor”) transformed CBS from stodgy and fading to
semi-stodgy and winning. So the network wisely let it return for a
big-deal finale, which reruns here.

A bomb explodes in a
casino, paralyzing Las Vegas. Soon, Grissom and Willows (William
Petersen and Marg Helgenberger) are back in town, alongside regulars
played by Ted Danson, Jorja Fox and more ... plus Melinda Clarke as
Lady Heather. A case is solved and a romance is settled.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC, with preview at 7.

Using its “flex
schedule” option, NBC has grabbed a game in which both teams have
shots at titles. The New York Giants are 6-8, the Minnesota Vikings
are 9-5, but each is a game out of first in its division.

The Vikings are at
home, setting up next week's regular-season finale in Green Bay.
Barring a late change, the Giants will be without star receiver Odell
Beckham, who has a one-game suspension.

Other choices
include:

“Harry Potter”
films, 7 a.m. to midnight, ABC Family. The final movies air back to
back, at 7 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. That sets up the two-film
finale at 5 p.m. (2010) and 8:45 p.m. (2011).

“The '80s,” noon
to 6 p.m., repeating 6-11 p.m., National Geographic. This reruns a
quick romp through a big-money time. It pauses for a new “StarTalk”
at 11, then has more reruns to 3 a.m.

“Undercover Boss,”
8 p.m., CBS. Here's the second of three Sunday episodes, before a
brief Friday run. Going undercover, the head of Nestle Toll House
Cafe finds she doesn't meet her own standards.

“The Simpsons”
and more, 8-9:30 p.m., Fox. Three episodes from last Christmastime
are rerun. First, Marge bars Homer after he goes drinking on
Christmas Eve. Then Craig Robinson returns as the Pontiac Bandit on
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” At 9 p.m., “The Family Guy” meets Jesus
at the mall.

“Downton Abbey,”
9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A week from the excellent
opener of the final season, here's a chance to recall how last season
ended. When the family heads to the estate of Rose's new
father-in-law for some hunting, secrets emerge. Then it's back to
Downton, where the Christmas party brings a surprise departure ...
and a bigger-surprise proposal.

“The Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. In the season-opener, Phil accidentally
drove away, leaving Carol at a gas station. In this rerun, he
scrambles (with no cell phone or walkie-talkie) to find her.

“The Royals,” 10
p.m., rerunning at 11:30, E. There's some unexpected bonding of Queen
Helena and Princess Eleanor; also, Liam investigates Domino. The
previous two episodes rerun at 8 and 9 p.m.; they're also at noon and
1 p.m., wrapping up a marathon that starts at 7 a.m.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 26


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Sound of Music,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

When “Music”
reached Broadway in 1959, it piled up praise, five Tonys (including
best musical) and big business. Now, 56 years later, it still
thrives.

Last Sunday, ABC had
a sing-along version of the Julie Andrews movie; six days later, NBC
reruns the live version it did in 2013. Carrie Underwood is so-so as
an actress, but sings beautifully; that's fine here, because the
splendid music is far more important than the so-so story.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Bones” and “Sleepy Hollow,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

By all logic, these
shouldn't link. “Hollow” is pure fantasy, with 230-year time
travel, plus spirits, spectres and the occasional headless horseman;
“Bone” has just-the-facts scientists and FBI agents.

These reruns,
however, stitched them cleverly. First, the “Hollow” people
arrive to retrieve a headless corpse; there's a crime to solve, plus
fun moments between know-it-alls Brennan and Ichabod.Then Booth and
Brennan visit Sleepy Hollow, but depart before the fantasy stuff
begins. The night ends with a sensational battle involving once-dead
Redcoat soldiers.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “When Calls the Heart,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark.

Fresh from its
Christmas-movie avalanche, Hallmark pauses for a New Year's Eve
story. This series won't start its third season until February, but
it gives the opening episode an early start.

“Heart” is set a
century ago, in a Canadian frontier town that switched to lumber
work, after being decimated by a mining disaster. As the new year
nears, Elizabeth (Erin Krakow), the beautiful teacher, may have a
fresh start with Jack, the earnest Mountie. Rosemary – Jack's
former fiance, back when she was a flighty actress – has a new
adventure with Lee, the sawmill owner.

Other choices
include:

Football, all day.
With no bowl games Friday or Sunday (to avoid competing with
Christmas or the pros), six are squeezed into today, the first and
last (both on ESPN) starting at 11 a.m. and 9:15 p.m. ET. The best
may be the Sun Bowl, at 2 p.m. on CBS; Miami and Washington State
have 8-4 records.

“America's
Funniest Home Videos,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. The first rerun includes
Christmas troubles and the second includes doggie doings. Also, we
see the home damage done by a ladder and a crane.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds a hospital patient with a contagious
and lethal form of bird flu. Now there's been a kidnapping, aimed at
turning this into a weapon.

“Da Vinci's
Demons” finale, 8 p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10:05. This
sometimes-great series concludes on two fronts. In battle, Leonardo
tries lure the Turks to an open field; meanwhile, his friends
Lucrezia, Sophia and Zo are desperate to escape from prison.

“Dr. Dee: Alaska
Vet,” 9 and 11:03 p.m. Animal Planet. Preceded by a rerun marathon
that starts at 4 p.m., this new episode includes, we're told, an
effort to save an important reindeer. (Aren't all reindeer
important?) Also, Dee tries to rescue puppies at a remote village and
find them new families.

“Gladiator”
(2000), 9 p.m., CMT. This powerful portrait of an honest man forced
into deadly work brought five Academy Awarfds, including best picture
and best actor (Russell Crowe).

“One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest” (1975), 10 p.m., AMC. Like “Gladiator,” this
anti-authority classic won five Oscars, including best picture and
actor (Jack Nicholson). Louise Fletcher won or best actress.