TV column for Monday, April 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Basketball, 9 p.m. ET, CBS, with preview at 8:30.

This is what will
grab most of tonight's viewers – the college championship game.
Preceding all this, at 8 p.m. (or following the game on the West
Coast) is a “Mike & Molly” rerun in which Mike is convinced
he must withhold sex, so Molly can finish her sexy book; it's a
fairly loud and witless episode ... which may be some programmer's
image of guys who are basketball fans.

And if you're not
interested in basketball, don't fret. By coincidence, tonight has two
of the best documentaries to emerge in a long time; we'll talk about
them next.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

We're in the Bible
belt of East Texas – not the cliche, hate-filled world of fiction,
but a place of quietly decent people with hard-scrabble lives. There,
in 2010, ten churches were destroyed by arson.

The two men who were
convicted had been boyhood churchgoers; one was a former state debate
champion. (They apparently had the flip side of feeling God
intervenes directly -- a rage at the failure to intervene.) What
makes this film remarkable is the pain and warmth of others. We meet
a police dispatcher who is an arsonist's sister; we also meet their
youth pastor, now filled with despair.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All” conclusion, 8-10:15
p.m., HBO.

An extraordinary
scene appears tonight: “Old Man River” -- the lament of an
impoverished black man – is sung by a rich white guy in a tuxedo.
That should be absurd ... except that Frank Sinatra sings it
brilliantly. He flew cross-country to do a black fundraiser; Martin
Luther King wept with joy.

It was Sinatra at
his best; this film describes a generous guy who remembered his
working-class roots and fought tirelessly for equality. It also
describes someone who was petulant and tyrannical, a pain to wives
and directors. Add his Mob friendships and some great music and you
have a compelling film.

Other choices
include:

“A Place to Call
Home,” any time, www.acorn.tv.
This Australian period piece turns an overheated soap-style plot into
quality drama, thanks to skilled writers and actors. Thefirst season
is already on this streaming service. Now the 10-episode second
season will be spread over the next four Mondays.

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. A three-night round begins. Tonight and Tuesday,
the top 20 – five from each team – will perform and viewers will
vote. On Wednesday, we'll learn the two on each team whom viewers
chose; then each judge will be able to save one more.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, model Charlotte McKinney
became the second person ousted; Redfoo was the first. Now survivors
choose a song from a favorite year.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business. Which would you rather
inherit, crocodiles or Barbie dolls? In the first episode, siblings
fight over a Florida croc-and-gator ranch; in the second, a New
Mexico man inherits his mother's 5,000 dolls, including 500 unopened
Barbies.

“Bates Motel,” 9
p.m., A&E. In a town ruled by big money, Norma Bates has felt
powerless ... until now. She has a flash drive that may have damning
evidence; but can she keep it ... and crack the password ... and use
it as leverage? It's a terrific episode, fueled by Vera Farminga's
great performance.

“Salem,” 10
p.m., WGN. You probably missed this season-opener during an
overstuffed hour Sunday. Here's a second chance, but beware:
Alongside stylish visuals and gifted actors (especially Janet
Montgomery as top witch Mary Sibley), there's fierce brutality and an
odd link of fact and fiction. Such people as Cotton Mather (son of a
Harvard president) were very real; the witchcraft was not.

“The Lizzie Borden
Chronicles” debut, 10:02 p.m., Lifetime. Here's another rerun from
that stuffed Sunday hour – and this is a good one. Lizzie
(Christina Ricci) has a sweet face, a comfy background ... and now a
murder acquittal. Now she and her sister face debts, suspicion and a
bad brother. This hour is well-written and beautifully filmed, with a
clever finish.

TV column for Sunday, April 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“A.D.” debut, 9 p.m, NBC.

It's an overstuffed
Easter -- enough big shows to make our DVR's explode -- with three
religous epics at the core: “The Ten Commandments” (1959), 7 p.m.
on ABC, feels slow and stiff, but the other two are vibrant. Fox News
Channel reruns “Killing Jesus” at 8 p.m; NBC starts “A.D.” at
9.

In 2013, Roma Downey
and her husband, “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett, had the cable
hit “The Bible.” Now this sequel starts with a calm Jesus on
trial. This first episode has brutal crucifixion scenes, followed by
the opening of the giant tomb door and by the Romans' aftershocks.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Mad Men” return, 10 p.m., AMC.

A TV classic is back
for a seven-week burst to end its run. This opener has some surprises
– a big job shift for one character – but mostly stays in the
quietly classy “Mad Men” style.

Don Draper still has
an enviable image, lucky in love and in advertising; still, there's a
solitude as he nears his second divorce and as he envisions an old
lover. Peggy Olson is also an ad master now, but she ponders her
non-existent personal life. Well-etched characters remain deep and
distant.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All,” 8-10 p.m., HBO,
concludes Monday.

Sure, Bruce
Springsteen tells us early in this film, Frank Sinatra had a
high-society image; but beyond that was “the deep blueness” in
his voice. He knew working-guy blues. His dad protected bootleggers,
then (as “Monty O'Brien”) opened a bar; his mom was a devout
Catholic who sometimes did abortions.

He was filled with
intriguing contrasts -- cocky and fragile, cruel and crusading, a
consummate pro who became an admitted “out-and-out drunk,” then
bounced back. This superb documentary richly uses Sinatra's music –
especially unseen “farewell concert” footage – as the soundrack
of a compelling life.

Other choices
include:

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET,
ESPN2. The season's opening game has the Cardinals in Chicago, to
show off the new-look Wrigley Field and the new-look Cubs. Except,
neither is ready. The bleachers won't be ready until mid-May and
mid-June; the team won't be ready until Kris Bryant arrives in a few
weeks.

“Masterpiece
Classic: Mr. Selfridge,” 9 p.m., PBS. In last week's season-opener,
Harry Selfridge's board rejected his non-profit plan for veterans'
housing. Now he tries to go it alone. It's a fairly good episode in a
big PBS night, with “Call the Midwife” at 8 and the “Wolf Hall”
debut at 10.

“Masterpiece
Classic: Wolf Hall” debut, 10 p.m., PBS. History has been shaped by
people behind the thrones, whispering into rulers' ears. A master was
Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son who tried to juggle Henry VIII,
Anne Boleyn and Cardinal Wolsey. He's depicted as sly and stoic; in
the first hours, star Mark Rylance rarely seems to emote. Gradually,
however, this six-hour tale becomes involving.

“American
Odyssey,” 10 p.m., NBC. Sprawling across the globe, this hour
juggles three stories: A soldier (Anna Friel) becomes encased in epic
events ... a lawyer is suspiciousof the corporation he works for ...
an activist gets jolting information. It will ties together, but
needs an hour to engage us.

“Battle Creek,”
10 p.m., CBS. This hour gives Battle Creek a breakfast festival and a
seedy mayor in the Rob Ford style. (The first part is true, the
second isn't.) Then it weaves a smart, twisty tale.

More dramas, 10
p.m., cable. On an overcrowded night, “The Lizzie Borden
Chronicles” (Lifetime) debuts and “Salem” (WGN) starts its
second season. Both are dark and forboding; one (“Salem”) is
brutal, the other is well-written. Each reruns at 11 p.m. today and
10 p.m. Monday.

TV column for Saturday, April 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Basketball, 6 p.m. ET, TBS; also, TNT and TruTV.

It's been a great
tournament, stuffed with close games; even undefeated Kentucky has
barely survived. Still, it's turned out almost as predicted – the
top-seeded teams winning in three of the four regions.

The exception is
seventh-seeded Michigan State; at about 6:09 p.m. ET, it tries for
its fourth straight upset, this time facing Duke. At about 8:40 p.m.
ET, Kentucky faces Wisconsin. The winners collide Monday for the NCAA
championship.

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

Only two episodes
remain in the first season of this series, which skillfully mixes
re-enactments and survivors' memories. Here, we meet an Iowa man who
fell from a shelf and was buried in rotten grain.

That's a frequent
crisis. In three decades, a National Public Radio report said, 180
people in 34 states died of grain entrapment. That included 18 teens,
as young as 13,

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Outlander” season-opener, 9 p.m., Starz, repeating
at 10:05 and 11:10.

If you missed the
first season, you can catch it from 1-9 p.m. In the 1940s, an English
nurse inadvertently time-traveled to 18th-century
Scotland. Endangered by a cruel British soldier, she got legal
proection by marrying a handsome tribal warrior,

Now she's been
kidnapped and her husband tries a daring rescue. Old values (males at
war) and new ones (female equality) collide in a fairly strong hour,
heavy on cable-style sex, nudity and language.

Other choices
include:

“My Little Pony”
season-opener, 11 a.m., Discovery Family. Imagine molding the world
of Pinkie Pie with “1984” or “Stepford Wives.” Well, try to
imagine, anyway. The gang visits a place where everyone is the same
and (supposedly) happy. For a kid cartoon, it's an ambitious attempt.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. This rerun has Jamie Bamber (“Battlestar Galactica”) as
Ellie's husband. Stuck in an airport, those two and Tony work the
case of a raised terrorist threat.

“Despicable Me”
(2010), 8 p.m., ABC Family. This animated hit is sandwiched by two
semi-animated films -- “Alvin and the Chipmunks” (2007) at 6 p.m.
and the offbeat fun of “Hop” (2011) at 10.

“Good Witch,” 8
p.m., Hallmark. A blizzard heads toward town and Martha envisions
flexing her power as mayor. Meanwhile, the new doctor has other
concerns – his ex-wife is coming ... his son is angry (again) ...
and the expectant couple staying at Cassie's inn may have a medical
problem.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. This reruns the episode in which Paige (Katharine McPhee)
tries to teach Walter how to flirt. Meanwhile, the team must find a
mole who's stealing deadly chemicals.

“A Bone to Pick,”
9-11 p.m., Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Long before
creating her Southern-vampire novels – which became HBO's fierce
“True Blood” -- Charlaine Harris wrote gentle mysteries about
Aurora Teagarden, a crimesolving librarian. Now they're being turned
into a series of movies, starring Candace Cameron Bure. This opener
is mild and semi-adequate.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 10 p.m., NBC. Here's a shortened look at the 1975 night
Richard Pryor hosted, with Gil Scott-Heron as music guest. Another
rerun is at 11:29 p.m.

TV column for Friday, April 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Great Performances,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

With her richly
resonant voice, Annie Lennox seems able to do anything. She was a
rock/pop star in the 1980s with the Eurythmics; here, backed by an
awesome band, she does jazz classics.

When she sings
“Summertime” or “Georgia on My Mind,” you'll swear that
Lennox (who's from Scotland) grew up in the Old South, savoring its
past. A few minutes later, however, she sings “Strange Fruit,”
the compelling song about lynching. Leaping between extremes, she
performs each brilliantly.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Cristela,” 8:31 p.m., ABC.

From its beginning,
this show has linked with Tim Allen's “Last Man Standing.”
They've had some of the same producers, directors and writers. They
share the same hour and now have a crossover episode.

Mike (Allen) wants
to expand a gun range in Dallas. Now he needs the law firm to help
him get permission ... with Cristela dealing with zoning
commissioners. She's not happy about it – she dislikes guns, except
when playing “Call of Duty” -- but is happy to work with a
handsome law associate.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies.

This holiday weekend
is a terrific one on TV, for kids or grown-ups. And all of them can
snuggle together to rewatch this classic.

Here is the magical
combination of whimsy and hope, brightened by splendid visuals and a
great music score. Barely 17 when this opened, Judy Garland already
had immense skills and a classic movie.

Other choices
include:

“Back to the
Future” (1985) and “Back to the Future Part II” (1989), 6 and
8:30 p.m., ABC Family. Here's another dandy family choice. The
original is a delight; its sequel is kind of fun.

“Here Comes Peter
Cottontail,” 8-9 p.m., CW. This 1971 cartoon offers another choice
for kids. Peter Cottontail (Casey Kasem) has overslept and the evil
January Q. Irontail (Danny Kaye) may take over Easter. Danny Kaye
voices several roles, including Seymour S. Sassafras.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. It's time to open the Outdoor Man Grill,
with Kristin in charge ,,, but feeling that Ed is undermining her.
Also, Eve distances herself from a childhood girlfriend who seems to
have a crush on her.

“21 Jump Street”
(2012), 8-10 p.m., Fox. Back in 1987, “Jump Street” gave Fox one
of its first successes. Now Fox airs this movie version, a fun comedy
adventure with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. Its sequel -- “22
Jump Street” (2014) -- airs at 9 p.m. on Starz.

“Live From Lincoln
Center,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Billy Porter has been
a potent theater force for two decades. But it was with “Kinky
Boots” -- his fifth Broadway show – that he soared, winning the
2013 Tony for best actor in a musical. Here, he sings and dances
Broadway-style.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Mykelti Williamson guests, in an episode that puts
pressure on Grover (Chi McBride), who doubts his old friend's account
of seeing his wife fall off a cliff to her death. Also, Danny and Dr.
Shaw are trapped in an elevator with a body that needs processing.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. The police commissioner (Tom Selleck) argues with a
reporter (Leslie Hope), who refuses to give the source who confessed
to murder.

TV column for Thursday, April 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 9 p.m., and “Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS.

After being bumped
by basketball on two Thursdays, our favorite clumsy geniuses (Sheldon
and Sherlock) are back where they belong. At 8, Sheldon tries to
sneak onto George Lucas' Skywalker ranch with Leonard; at 9, a funny
rerun finds Penny in the rare state of being a “buzzkill” in Las
Vegas.

At 10, Sherlock
Holmes is jolted by a lover's proposition. Alongside a fairly good
murder mystery – complete with killer cab and all-seeing technology
– he reflects on what it's like to be Sherlock-smart.

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

Blessed with great
actors and deep material, “Crime” can switch nimbly between
characters. Tim Hutton has been superb as a grieving dad, but now
relative newcomer Caitlin Gerard gets the focus.

She's Aubry, whose
addictions nudged her boyfriend into rough circumstances ... and into
being the prime suspect in a murder case. Early on, this show
suffered from a monotone blur of overwrought characters. Now some of
them have left or (at least) calmed; what remains is great drama.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Red Road” season-opener, 10 p.m., Sundance.

The first season
ended sensationally. Two former football teammates – Jensen, a
tough sheriff's deputy, and Kopus, a giant ex-con – tried to kill
each other ... then turned to stop the thugs attacking them.

Now they must
coordinate their stories and go on with their lives. Tribal
jurisdiction has finally been approved, changing the power structure;
also, Jensen keeps shielding his troubled wife and her hit-and-run
accident. This opener is tough, brooding and quiet ... until a new
crisis emerges in the final minutes.

Other choices
include:

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. A school field trip to the hospital turns dramatic when
two injured cops arrive. Also, Stephanie is soon attracted to one of
the chaperones.

“The Odd Couple,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Going to a wedding, the guys have different agendas:
Oscar wants to meet an old flame; Felix wants to convince his ex-wife
(Christine Woods) that he's changed.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. An attractive con artist is targeting rich people.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. With his father facing the death penalty, a congressman
wants Olivia's help.

“Mom,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. Bonnie (Emmy-winner Allison Janney) faces temptation –
something she rarely handles well. A recovering addict, she's been
prescribed pain medication for a back injury.

“The Slap,”
conclusion, 10 p.m., NBC. This richly crafted, eight-week mini-series
started with a single slap – Harry (Zachary Quinto) hitting a wild
5-year-old at a party. Now the kid's parents (Melissa George and
Thomas Sadoski) have taken the matter to court. The trial focuses on
photos taken by young Richie ... and on a secret that could unravel
his world.

“Olympus” debut,
10 p.m., Syfy. A young man named Hero doesn't know who he is or why
he grew up hiding in the forests. He may find out, if he can slay the
Cyclops, free the Oracle and befriend Medea.