TV column for Monday, Sept. 26

SHOULD-SEE: Presidential debate, 9-10:30 p.m. ET, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox,
PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN, CNBC, Fox Business Network, Telemundo and Univision.

After a long and
bizarre campaign, things get serious. Three events – tonight, Oct.
9 and Oct. 19 – will play a big part in choosing a world leader.
NBC's Lester Holt will moderate this one, splitting the topics
between “America's direction,” prosperity and security. Rebuttals
will follow two-minute answers.

The broadcast
networks plan to continue coverage until at least 11 p.m. ET; the
cable channels can go on endlessly. And yes, there will be
alternatives, which we'll get to in a minute.

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

In its 10th
season – a time when shows are either creaky or gone -- “Big
Bang” keeps improving. Last week's season-opener was one of its
best episodes; it also opened a key plot door.

The military tried
to contact Howard about the gyroscope invention. He ducked, even when
an officer (in imposing, top-brass uniform) showed up at the door.
Now he has relented and agreed to a meeting. Meanwhile, Penny draws
gripes after revealing a secret to Bernadette's co-workers.

ALTERNATIVE: “Supergirl,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

As the only major
broadcaster to skip the debate, CW can boost the above-average showit
inherited from CBS. The first year's final four episodes air today
and Oct. 3, leading to an Oct. 10 season-opener.

Both of tonight's
hours eye Siobhan (Italia Ricci), the Silver Banshee; in the second,
the Flash arrives to help fight her. The first episode also ponders
secret identities: Kara considers revealing hers to someone; J'onn
J'onzz reveals how he assumed Hank Henshaw's identity.

ALTERNATIVE II: Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, with preview at 6.

Oddly, two of this
year presidential debates will collide with pro football games. Only
the middle one and the Oct. 4 vice-presidential one are on any of the
four days each week that the pros skip.

This game is in New
Orleans, currently forlorn after losing the first two games by a
combined four points. Arriving are the Falcons, who evened their
record at 1-1 with a big night from Matt Ryan.

Other choices

“The Voice”
(NBC) and “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC), 8 p.m. Both shows trim
their Monday in half, because of the debate. They'll each have two
hours Tuesday.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Everyone wants to find Hugo Strange, whose work at the
asylum brought havoc. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) takes the
search into her own hands; Gordon reluctanly links with journalist
Valerie Vale. Meanwhile, the Penguin's popularity grows and Ivy
Pepper returns.

Movies, 8 p.m.,
cable. For those who simply want to skip the debate, there are plenty
of choices, led by the deligtful “Ghostbusters” (1984) on AMC.
Others include Bradley Cooper's “Limitless” (2011) on TNT and, at
8:30, “Pitch Perfect” (2012) on Freeform.

More movies, cable.
It's a two-choice night for fans of Mel Gibson or Angelina Jolie. He
has “What Women Want” (2000) at 6 and 9 p.m. on Oxygen and the
rousing “Road Warrior” (1981) at 8 p.m. on Sundance. At 8 p.m.,
she has “Salt” (2010) on Syfy and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”
(2005) on FX. In the latter, ironically, she and Brad Pitt keep
trying to kill each other.

“Cake Wars,” 9
p.m., Food. On Sept. 13, fans celebrated the 100th
anniversary of the birth of Roald Dahl, whose books led to such
movies as “Willy Wonka,” “Matilda” and “The BFG.” Here,
four bakers try to create the perfect cake.

Post-debate humor.
Many shows, including “The Daily Show” (11 p.m., Comedy Central)
have day-after humor. Indeed, “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”
(10:30 p.m., TBS) has a rerun tonight and a debate special on
Wednesday. But there are exceptions: Stephen Colbert (11:35 p.m.,
CBS) and Seth Meyers (12:37 a.m., NBC) plan live shows tonight.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 25

“Secrets and Lies” opener, 9 p.m., ABC.

Eric (Michael Ealy)
has a bright future, a beaufiful bride (Jordana Brewster) and a warm
family. At a party, his father (Terry O'Quinn) is retiring and giving
him control of the company. Then, suddenly and starkly, there's a
murder and he's a prime suspect.

This is the second
“Secrets and Lies” mini-series. Like the original, it has a
beautifully crafted opener and then nine more episodes. Juliette
Lewis again plays the unrelenting police detective; along the way,
we'll find many people – including the detective – holding

II: “Masterpiece: Poldark” season-opener, 8-10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

Returning home to
the seaside beauty of Cornwall, Ross Poldark found stark poverty. He
tried to revive his families crumbling estate and its mine, while
battling his fellow aristocrats. All of that peaked at the end of the
first season, when the locals scavenged the remains of a shipwreck.

Now Poldark is on
trial, accused of stirring a mob and even of murder. Already
shattered by the death of his daughter, he offers little defense.
There are times tonight when his near-suicidal behavior wears thin;
still, “Poldark” is a beautifully filmed and acted story of a
stridently decent man.

ALTERNATIVE: “Parts Unknown” season-opener, 9 p.m. ET, CNN.

To many Americans,
Hanoi brings thoughts of death and despair. But to the people there –
most of them born after the war – that's distant, Anthony Bourdain
says. Tourists insist on seeing the war museum, but he keeps
returning for the food and the low-key friendship.

And for a portion of
this interesting hour, he meets a kindred spirit. During his Hanoi
visit in May, Barack Obama joined Bourdain at a noodle restaurant
($6, including beer). Obama fondly compared it to the flavors he
recalled from his four boyhood years in Indonesia, his stepfather's
native land.

Other choices

“Perino &
Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What,” 5 p.m. ET, Fox News. This began as
a podcast from two of the channel's regulars – Dana Perino (former
George W. Bush's press secretary) and Chris Stirewalt. It had some
promising moments in last week's opener and will continue through
Nov. 13.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 7 and 8 p.m., ABC. Lots of characters whirled past, filling
two worlds plus flashbacks. Tonight's first hour is a recap of the
first five seasons; then come new problems. Our heroes try to stop
Mr. Hyde (of Dr. Jekyll fame), while Storybrooke gets refugees from
The Land of Untold Stories. Also, Regina and Zelena – half-sisters
and (sometimes) evil witches – are roommates.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m. Sunday, Fox. The 28th season begins with
Springfield burning down. (You can do that sort of thing pretty
easily in a cartoon.) Mr Burns will only finance the rebuilding if
he's allowed to put on a variety show.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8:30 p.m. (barring a football overrun), CBS. To get us
used to the show's new night, CBS has a two-hour opener, holding
other shows (“Madame Secretary” and “Elementary”) until next
Sunday. Tonight, a Washington official takes control of the unit;
also, a Syrian missio goes awry, leaving a team member severely

Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, NBC, with preview at 7. After losing their first two games (with
the second-lowest-scoring offense in the NFL), the Bears visit
Dallas. Last week, the Cowboys evened their record at 1-1, with
strong work from rookies Ezekial Elliott and (for the injured Tony
Robo) Dak Prescott.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. For these six people, who assumed they were
the only survivors, last season ended with a jolt – armed invaders
were spotted. Only Melissa (January Jones) seems ready.

season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC. The new season taskes us far from the
FBI Quantico training base of the first season. Now Alex is at “The
Farm,” a mysterious CIA training spot. Soon, she's enmeshed in a
conspiracy that threatens the U.S. and beyond.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 24

“This is Us,” 10 p.m., NBC.

If you missed
Tuesday's debut, catch this rerun. And if you know nothing about it
... all the better.

We meet a couple
(Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia), the doctor (superbly played by
Gerald McRaney) delivering their baby, a rich businessman (Sterling
K. Brown), a TV star and more. Each is fascinating; most seem wildly
unrelated to each other. But stick around and savor how well this
hour is constructed. We have no idea where it can go from here ...
but it's the best pilot we've seen in years.

“Star Wars” marathon, TNT.

Fresh from its
mega-million-dollar deal with Disney, TNT is juggling its schedule to
show off some of the prize films it has grabbed.

First is the trilogy
set in the years before “Star Wars.” There's “The Phantom
Menace” (1999) at 10:48 a.m., “Attack of the Clones” (2002) at
1:48 p.m. and “Revenge of the Sith” (2005) at 4:55 p.m.. Then –
skipping one spot in the chronology -- “The Empire Strikes Back”
(1980) is at 8 and 10:47 p.m.

ALTERNATIVE: More movies, cable.

Tonight has all the
high-tech zing of modern movies ... and the low-tech saunter of the
cowboy era. The latter is “Shane” (1953), at 8 p.m. ET on Turner
Classic Movies; the American Film Institute lists it as the 45th-best
American movie ... and the No. 3 western, behind “The Searchers”
and “High Noon.”

In sharp contrast
are the “Matrix” films (1999 and 2003) at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. on
IFC, “The Mummy” (1999) at 7 p.m. on AMC, the first two “Hunger
Games” films (2012 and 2013) at 7:15 and 10:30 p.m. on Freeform and
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) at 8 p.m. on FX.

Other choices

“Love Begins”
and “Love's Everlasting Courage” (both 2011), 9 and 11 a.m.,
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Wes Brown stars as a young man
finding romance and tragedy in the early West.

Janette Oke
marathon, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Like the
films this morning, these are based on the characters in Oke's
frontier novels. January Jones stars in the first film, with Erin
Cottrell taking over the same character after that.

Football, all day.
Prime time has Baylor (ranked No. 6) hosting Oklahoma State at 7:30
p.m. ET on Fox and Stanford (No. 7) at UCLA at 8 on ABC. But ESPN may
have better match-ups, including Georgia (No. 12) at Mississippi (No.
23) at noon and Arkansas (No. 17) at Texas A&M (No. 10) at 9 p.m.

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. Here's a rerun of Monday's opener. After dominating, with
seven of the 10 winners, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine get fresh
competiton from Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a DEA agent asks for help, after
her partner is killed. Also, Kensi is surprised when Deeks introduces
his mother (Pamela Reed).

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun centers on a Navy hero whose
plane crashes at an air show. The team must quickly decide if the
fault was with her or the plane.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. A week before the new season starts, here's
a rerun of this past season's finale, with Fred Armisen hosting and
Courtney Barnett as music guest.

TV column for Friday, Sept. 23

“MacGyver” debut, 8 p.m., CBS.

The original
“MacGyver” series was reassuringly homespun. Sure, the hero
worked for a government agency; still, his inventive solutions
required little more than a quick mind and a Swiss army knife.

And in this reboot,
24 years later? He still has the knife and the mind, but now he's
backed by a helicopter, a speedboat, a computer whiz and more. The
action is slick and the stars (Lucas Till, George Eads and Tristin
Mays) are attractive, giving viewers at least some quick, forgettable

“Dr. Ken” season-opener, 8:31 p.m., ABC.

In real life, Ken
Jeong and his wife were both doctors,before he detoured into comedy.
In this fictional version, his wife (Suzy Nakamura) is a therapist
with a medical degree.

Now there's an
opening at the clinic where Ken works. The administrator (Dave Foley)
wants to hire her; Ken isn't so sure. Also, their teen daughter
ponders ways to hide her low SAT schores.

ALTERNATIVE: “Van Helsing” debut, 10 and 10:55 p.m., Syfy.

The world is overrun
again, this time by vampires. That shocks Vanessa “Van” Helsing,
who has just emerged from a three-year coma. Still, there's hope:
She's descended from Abraham Van Helsing, the

vampire-hunter. She's immune to the creatures ... and can even turn
them back to human.

This makes her vital
to humans ... and a target to vampires. Kelly Overton – of Cherokee
descent, who played the werewolf Rikki on “True Blood” -- stars.
The showrunner is Neil LaBute, a writer-director who's drawn praise
for such vampire-free movies as “Shape of Things” and “In the
Company of Men.”

Other choices

“The Wedding
Planner” (2001), 7 p.m., Bravo. Jennifer Lopez's film starts a
light-movie night. At 8, there's the frantic “Smokey and the
Bandit” (1977) on CMT and the rousing action of “Die Hard”
(1988) on Pop; at 8:15, the delightful “Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory” (2005) is on Freeform.

“Last Man
Standing” season-opener, 8 p.m., ABC. Uninvited guests are always a
problem. In this case, it's a bear inside company headquarters. Mike
must figure out how to get rid of it.

“Superstore” and
“The Good Place,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC. Here are two quick reruns
– a season-opener, with the store workers strike wobbling; then a
terrific pilot film, with a bureaucratic error giving Kristen Bell a
better afterlife than she deserves. Both will have new episodes next

“Hell's Kitchen”
opener, 8 p.m., Fox. Many shows say they give contestants a “boot
camp,” but this one really starts in an Army facility. Before they
start cooking, the chefs must demonstrate discipline.

“The Exorcist”
debut, 9 p.m., Fox. A good-hearted priest is asked to save a girl who
seems inhabited by demons. That's way out of his expertise, so he
tries to get help from an older priest who's bitter and broken. The
result is stylishly filmed, but asks viewers to slog through a
dismal, continuing story.

“Hawaii Five-0”
season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. Two serial killers have been slain ...
and one was dumped inside “Five-0” headquarters. That may seem
helpful, but it's illegal; the team searches for a vigilante.

“Blue Bloods”
season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS. Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”)
plays a lawyer in the attorney general's office, brandishing new
evidence against Danny. Also, Lori Loughlin plays the widow of a
slain cop; she asks Frank to keep her only son out of the police

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 21 (slightly out of order)

(This is the Wednesday TV column, out of order. The Thursday one, out of order, is right below this.)

“Designated Survivor” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

The season's best
new show is done with subtlety and skill. During the State of the
Union address, it seems, one cabinet official is tucked away in case
there's an emergency. This time, there is one; soon, an obscure
official (Kiefer Sutherland) becomes president.

This could have been
overwrought, but that's not Sutherland's style. Instead, we get the
depth and drama of a quietly decent man, thrust into world-changing

II: “Lethal Weapon” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

For four movies,
this formula has paid off: A careful, cautious cop is paired with a
mad-dash one. They bicker amid chases and shoot-outs and more.

Now the TV version
adds extra warmth: The older guy (Damon Wayans) has good reason to be
careful; fresh from a health crisis, he's a new dad. The younger one
(Clayne Crawford) has solid humanity below his suicidal facade.
There's still lots of action, but there are also good reasons to

ALTERNATIVE: “Empire” season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox.

Don't be tardy for
this; within the first couple minutes, we're belted by power-punch
moments. That's the “Empire” style; in the season-finale, Lucious
married the scheming and pregnant Anika to keep her from testifying
against him; soon, she was battling on the rooftop with his

Now emotions are
stirred by Lucious' mother and son (both bipolar) and his
half-brother. The result is overheated, but engrossing. It has few of
the usual music moments, but one epic song is worth the wait.

Other choices

8-9:30 p.m., CBS. For its 33rd season, “Survivor” has
a generational battle. The millenials tribe ranges from a high school
student, 18, to an Internet videogame host, 31; the generation-X
tribe ranges from a model, 33, to a mechanic, 52. The millennials
includes a bartender and a barista; the gen-X'ers includes two
lawyers, a cop and a pastor.

debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC. Maya (Minnie Driver) is a passionate parent,
scrambling to find the perfect school district for her son, who had
cerebral palsy ... often while ignoring the rest of the family. She's
sometimes a delight and sometimes just overbearing. Fortunately, some
side characters – especially Cedric Yarbrough as the school
groundskeeper – add extra fun.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. When a little boy is found
alone in Central Park, the investigation ranges from terrorism to
rape. The story is solidly told, but not necessarily satisfying.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. The family manages to re-unite, after separate trips
take people to New York, Mexico and the Midwest.

“Big Brother,”
9:30-11 p.m., CBS. Here's the finale, with a $500,000 winner.

9:31 p.m., ABC. As a kid, Dre feels, he never had a big-deal family
vacation. Now he takes everyone (including his father) to Disney

“American Horror
Story,” 10 p.m., FX. This is the season “AHS” kept secret.
During last week's opener, viewers finally learned that it centers on
a couple that may have bought a house haunted by the vanished Roanoke
Colony. The show's complicated interview/flashback approach offers
lots of work for actors – including new Emmy-winners Sarah Paulson
and Cuba Gooding Jr., as the couple.