TV column for Saturday, Jan. 31

“Saturday Night Live Presents a Sports Spectacular” (8 p.m.) and
“NFL Honors” (9-11 p.m.), NBC; red-carpet at 8 p.m. on NFL

On the eve of its
Super Bowl telecast, NBC has lots of football, a smidgen of other
sports and some good bursts of humor. There are old “Saturday Night
Live” sketches at 8; then Seth Meyers -- the wittty “SNL”
alumnus, now a late-late-show host -- leads the awards show.

That peaks with Most
Valuable Player. Ohers are for best offensive and defensive players,
best offensive and defensive rookies, coach of the year, comeback of
the year and more.

“Black Sails,” 9 p.m., Starz.

The terrific
season-opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) found Captain Flint no longer a
captain. He'd lied to his crew, killed the quartermaster and failed
to get the treasure. Still, he insisted he'd be back in charge.

His first plan was
outrageous: Forget about the well-guarded treasure on shore; steal
something more valuable, the ship itself. But how can he get back the
captain's chair? What follows shows both that he's brilliant and
morally rotten. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to keep control of the
pirate island.

ALTERNATIVE: “Mel Brooks Live at the Geffen,” 9 p.m., HBO,
repeats at 10.

This is basically a
one-man show – two if you count the pianist for the opening and
closing songs. In between those, it's simply a guy, 88, talking about
his life.

But what an amazing
life it's been. A small, sickly kid who grew up poor (he was 2 when
his dad died), Brooks played the drums and did comedy. He began
writing for Sid Caesar and then for himself. He married a beautiful
method actress (Anne Bancroft) and won everything – Oscar, Tony,
Emmy, Grammy, American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. And
he tells it all with wit and warmth.

Other choices

Movies, 7 p.m. and
later, cable. At 7, ABC Family has “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,”
the third of the five “Twilight” films; at 7:30, Pop has the
well-crafted drama “Fried Green Tomatoes” (1990). For lighter
fun, go with “Vacation” (1983) at 8 p.m. on IFC or Amy Adams'
“Enchanted” (2007) at 9 on E.

“Despicable Me”
(2010), 8-10 p.m., ABC. Now for animated fun, with a scheme to steal
the moon.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. Here's a rerun of the pilot film, with Rainn Wilson as
someone who's bigoted, grumpy, self-destructive ... but good at
catching crooks. There are plenty of flaws here, but there's a great
supporting cast, led by Dennis Haysbert as a touring cop who's also a
lay minister.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a bad tip leads McGarrett and Danny to a
warehouse that's rigged to explode.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. This reruns the Oct. 1 episode that added Jennifer Love
Hewitt to the cast. She works on a case involving murders that left
the victims unidentifiable.

“Red Band
Society,” 9 p.m., Fox. This earnest show, focusing on attractive
teens in a hospital, failed during Fox's disastrous fall. Now it has
three new hours left – one today, two next Saturday. Tonight, one
person returns, one fights for freedom and there's a tragedy.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. J.K. Simmons -- a Golden Globe winner and
Oscar-nominee for “Whiplash” -- hosts, with music from D'Angelo
and Vanguard.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 30

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Now that the
“sweeps” ratings month has started, reruns have virtually
vanished. CBS is back to new episodes of its crime stories, including
this one with hightened stakes.

A patient, infected
with bird flu, has been kidnapped by people who plan to turn the
disease into a weapon. Also, Terry O'Quinn returns as Joe White.

II: “12 Monkeys,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

Here are some more
virus-epidemic worries, this time alongside the twists of

After going from
2043 to 2015, Cole learns that a key person died a year earlier. He
must zoom to disease-ravaged Haiti in 2014, extract information ...
and depart without confronting Dr. Railly and upsetting the time
line. It's complicated and – with another plot unfolding in 2043 –

ALTERNATIVE: “Shakespeare Uncovered” season-opener, 9 and 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Few writers have
attempted the dizzying range of William Shakespeare. Tonight's first
hour eyes “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” complete with fairies,
potions, donkey heads and young love; the second has “King Lear,”
with blindness, madness, deceit and despair.

Hugh Bonneville
(“Downton Abbey”) hosts the first hour; he started his career
understudying Ralph Fiennes (whom he chats with here) in “Dream.”
Christopher Plummer hosts the second, meeting other Lears, including
Ian McKellan. Filled with movie and TV clips, both hours are
beautifully crafted.

Other choices

“Constantine,” 8
p.m., NBC. Students find a way into an alternate universe – then
wish they hadn't.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. The subject is romantic break-ups. Eve
takes hers hard and also argues with Kristin about how Kristin broke
up with Kyle.

“Cristela,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Cristela's sister is nudging her about her overcrowded
life and her weight. They go to a clinic for a blood-pressure test
and find a surprise.

“Glee,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. As the invitational nears, Rachel gets some help. Kitty, the
Cheerios member, helps her prepare the ideal set list; Sam, the
former football player, helps recruit current player Spencer.
Meanwhile, Sue tries some matchmaking.

“Grimm,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Monroe and Rosalee have finally started their honeymoon, leaving
problems behind them – including a haunted-house murder. Garcelle
Beauvais plays a mystical woman.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. After killing an intruder, a man learns his troubles
continue: He shot a hit man who was apparently hired to kill him.
Also, a young lawyer wants justice for his mother, whom Erin helped
convict 12 years ago.

“Banshee,” 10
p.m., Cinemax. This powerhouse hour starts with a crisis: Siobhan –
the sheriff's deputy and lover – has learned that he's a robber,
using a false identity; she's ready to report him or shoot him. It
ends – after some fierce violence – with an even bigger crisis,
sprawling over to next week.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 27 (out of order)_

(Here's the TV column for
Tuesday, Jan. 27, slightly out of order; scroll down and you'll find Thursday, then Wednesday, then Monday.)


“American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Here's classic
Americana – a small-town Midwesterner, uneducated and ambitious,
invents things and remakes the world. If he also turns out to be a
bit greedy ... well, most stories have rough edges.

Thomas Edison was 7
when he moved from Milan, Ohio, to Port Huron, Mich. His dad had a
shop; Tom, with three months of schooling, had jobs; on trains, he
sold candy and newspapers (which he wrote and printed himself) and
had a lab. Then he began inventing things, buying patents, hiring
squadrons of workers. He helped create light bulbs, phonographs,
movies and more; it's a great story.

II: “Justified,” 10 p.m., FX.

As the season opened
last week, Raylan was building a case against Boyd Crowder for his
past sins – which are plentiful. Then Boyd came up with a new one –
robbing the bank and blasting safe-deposit doors, hoping to find lots
of money; instead, he found documents that may or may not be

In an excellent
episode tonight, Raylan pumps Boyd's fiancee for information. He
scowls at real-estate schemers and confronts one of their people,
large in body and, perhaps, small in IQ.

ALTERNATIVE: “Sons of Liberty” finale, 9-11 p.m., History.

The first two
chapters – rerunning at 5 and 7 p.m. -- take us to this crucial
point. At Bunker Hill, a rag-tag group of Americans prepares to face
an organized and well-armed British unit.

Tonight, the
Revolutionary War begins, Fiery rebels (Sam Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren)
and moderates (John Adams, John Hancock) link with a stern George

Other choices

“Parks and
Recreation,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC. Here are issues that consume
Leslie and the Pawnee people. First, the Gryzzl company may be
invading privacy; then there's a fight to save JJ's Diner.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. David McCallum, 81, gets the focus in this rerun. Ducky
(McCallum) sees that a case points to his former best friend (Alice
Krige), now estranged. He heads to London to meet her.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a chief warrant officer is
killed and his wife is kidnapped for ransom.

“Discovering Lucy
Angel,” 9 p.m., AXS. Here's a family venture – a mom and her
grown daughters forming a country-music trio, with the dad as manager
and his sons helping. They're likable folks and their music is good
(if infrequent). Tonight brings decisions on the first single ... and
then a party.

Inheritance,” 9 p.m., Fox Business Network. Debuting this week
(Mondays through Thursdays), this show traces the results of odd
bequests. Some are pleasant – a rare coin, for instance – and
some are difficult; one involved taking over a 900-acre bug museum.

“The Mindy
Project,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Shonda Rhimes – who produces all three
of ABC's Thursday dramas – shows up on another night and another
network, in another genre. She plays the beer-pong champion of
Dartmouth alumni; Peter is determined to beat her.

“Forever,” 10
p.m., ABC. As an Englishman who's more than 200 years old, Henry
(Ioan Gruffudd) sticks to classical music. Abe (Judd Hirsch) tries to
expand his tastes in this rerun, while Henry is probing a murder that
may be linked to the dispute over rights to a jazz classic.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 29

“Parenthood" finale, 10 p.m., NBC.

For six-plus seasons
of high quality and low ratings, “Parenthood” has given us the
drama of ordinary (almost) life for one family. Now its finale faces
birth-and-death extremes.

Amber has her baby;
her mom (Lauren Graham) is ready to marry, but first Hank (Ray
Romano) wants approval from her gravely ill father (Craig T. Nelson).
Adam (Peter Krause) ponders the fate of two enterprises – the
recording studio he started wth Crosby and the academy launched by
his wife. TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: All night, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

On the first day of
the “sweeps” ratings period, ABC's Thursday shows return from two
months of rest or reruns. On “Grey's Anatomy” (8 p.m.), Derek
prepares to move cross-country; on “Scandal” (9), we see the
abduction of Olivia from her point of view. Then it's “How to Get
Away With Murder.”

The mid-season
finale showed the students scrambling for proof that their
professor's husband impregnated and killed Lila. He attacked them,
Wes killed him with a trophy and they began their cover-up ... with
the prof fashioning her own cover-up. Tonight, she calls them in to
talk to police.

ALTERNATIVE: “Fortitude” debut, 10 p.m. ET, Pivot.

Nestled bleakly in
the Arctic Circle, the town of Fortitude has miners, research
scientists and a few townspeople, running the Midnight Sun hotel and
bar. It also has a cop who rarely confronts crime.

Then come the
shell-shocks – an egimatic beauty ... a sexual affair ... a
fiercely ill boy ... an illegal artifact ... a murder. “Fortitude”
has two master actors – Sir Michael Gambon as an elderly nature
photographer and Stanley Tucci as a cop from the mainland. Mostly,
however, it offers talented newcomers, a smart script and sprawling
backdrops (filmed in Iceland) that sweep us to another world.

Other choices

“The Biggest
Loser” finale, 8-10 p.m., NBC. We're down to the final thrrr
ex-athletes. Before the train-at-home phase, Sonya Jones (a former
softball all-American) went from 283 to 163 pounds .... Toma
Dobrosavljeveic (soccer) went from 336 to 199 ... Rob Guiry (a rugby
coach) went from 483 to 302.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon feels he's too comfortable to have a

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. Last week's excellent episode involved the death of
Christy's dad. Tonight, she has to do damage control, when her
forlorn mother starts acting out.

“Backstrom,” 9
p.m., Fox. With a serial arsonist loose, the fire department asks
cops for help. The case unfolds a bit too easily and the back story –
Backstrom's childhood bullies are now firefightrers – is so-so.
Still, there are great moments for the supporting cast, led by Dennis
Haysbert, Thomas Dekker and Genevieve Angelso. Flaws and all,
“Backstrom” remains entertaining.

“Babylon,” 10
p.m., Sundance. At first bright and satirical, “Babylon” ended
last week with a jolt: Plagued by his sexual affairs, the police
chief committed suicide. Now his PR chief – incorrectly linked to
the affairs – hesitates. It's a great hour, with dabs of humor
alongside deep ethical dilemmas.

“Wizard Wars”
return, 10 p.m., Syfy. This cleverly crafted series has two duos
compete with each other, then face the resident magicians, quickly
crafting an illusion. The results tonight offer a terrific blend of
craft and showmanship.

Greenville” debut, 10:30 p.m., Tru TV. In Greenville, Miss., we
watch two stations with opposite morning anchors. Small and perky,
Lucy Biggers is a Kelly Ripa fan; she marvels when her competitor,
Callie Carroll, does a live weigh-in at 173 pounds. It's a fun start
to this reality show.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 28

“The Americans” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

One crowded hour
offers this show's dizzying extremes. Early on, there's a fierce,
smash-gut action scene; at the end, sex and violence merge
powerfully. And in between is subtle character drama.

Elizabeth and Philip
(Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are 1980s suburbanites ... except
that they're really Russian spies, planted there decades ago. Now
their bosses want to recruit their teen daughter, who knows nothing
about this.We're in a richly drawn maze of ethical choices. Even
tonight's final shock is transformed via quick expediency; the spy
world can turn anything into an advantage.

II: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Welcome to the
southern-most post office on Planet Earth. A former British research
station in Antarctic, 700 miles south of Argentina and Chile, it's
open four months a year. An average of two ships a day unload
tourists to send post cards and view its museum, gift shop ... and
3,000 penguins.

This charming hour
splits time between the four women who work there – including a
teacher and a law-school grad – and the penguins. Those penguins
are sometimes charming, sometimes rude – stealing nests, stealing
stones, cheating on a spouse – and usually great fun to watch.

ALTERNATIVE: “American Idol” and “Empire,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

In this year's
auditions, judges insist, the San Francisco auditions were the best.
Now we'll see them, spread over the next two nights and leading into

Tonight, “Empire”
has Lucious trying to steal a top act from a rival record company.
One son (Jamal) struggles with his songwriting; another (Hakeem) sees
his mom try to overcome their estrangement.

Other choices

“The Mentalist,”
8 p.m., CBS. The focus is again on Abbott, neatly underplayed by
Rockmond Dunbar. With his old boss (Dylan Baker) going after him, he
needs help from Patrick Jane.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, a college student's
troubles started with a modeling ad. Soon, she was in
online-pornography and then an apparent rape victim.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. This rerun is stuffed with guest stars: Steve Zahn
(“Treme,” “Mind Games”) and Andrea Anders (“Joey,”
“Better Off Ted”) play the noisy new neighbors; Tyne Daly, the
six-time Emmy-winner, is Lily's tough teacher.

9:31-11 p.m., ABC. For the second straight week, ABC has made late
switches in its comedies; now we get three straight “Black-ish”
reruns. In the first , Andre wants his son to have more black
friends. In the second, he tries to invoke a “Team Johnson”
family approach. In the third, the kids have lost interest in the
tradition of Halloween pranks.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. Murder victims have dollar bills pinned to their
chests, in this rerun. Voight jumps into the case when his friend is

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia” and “Man Seeking Woman,” 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
FXX. First is a semi-odd episode about the return of a reputed
cannibal. Then is an ultra-odd one, complete with a talking hand and
a missing male member; it's clearly not for general audiences.

“Kart Life”
debut, 10 p.m., Tru TV. At a go-kart track in South Haven, Ind., we
meet three boys and one girl who have shots at the top. We also meet
their parents, pouring money and emotion into this. Some are likable,
most are not, but the result is moderately interesting.