TV column for Sunday, Oct. 9

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

The first debate
drew a record 84 million viewers; the second will have one less
channel (NBC is busy with football) and a lot more competition.
Still, it's expected to draw a crowd.

This one has a town
hall format, with a room full of undecided voters. They'll ask half
the questions; the others will come from CNN's Anderson Cooper and
ABC global-affairs chief Martha Raddatz.

“Divorce” and “Insecure” debuts, 10 and 10:30 p.m., HBO.

Just as the debate
is starting (in the Eastern and Central time zones, anyway), HBO
offers top-shelf entertainment. At 9 p.m. is the second episode of
the richly crafted “Westworld”; afterward are two funny and
distinctive new comedies.

At 10, we see Sarah
Jessica Parker in a quietly crumbling marriage with Thomas Haden
Church; then their friends' noisy battle inspires her to seek a
divorce. And at 10:30, relative newcomer Issa Rae scores big --
co-writing, co-producing and starring as someone awash in

ALTERNATIVE: Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC; and baseball, 4:08 and 7:38
p.m., TBS.

A half-hour before
the debate starts, NBC has the kick-off of a strong match-up: Eli
Manning and the New York Giants (2-2) visit Aaron Rodgers and the
Green Bay Packers (2-1, after a bye week). Both quarterbacks have
been a Super Bowl most valuable player; indeed, Manning has done it

Complicating life
further, the American League playoffs resume, after a one-day pause.
It's the Cleveland Indians at the Boston Red Sox and then the Texas
Rangers at the Toronto Blue Jays.

Other choices

Jesse Stone movies,
1-9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Slow, smart and richly
detailed, these Tom Selleck movies are beautifully crafted. Here are
the four most-recent ones.

“Autumn in the
Vineyard,” 5 p.m., Hallmark. Debates would be more fun if we felt
the squabbling people might fall in love. That's a possibility in
this OK film, set amid the beauty of wine country.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Storybrooke is overrun with newcomers, as
complications grow. In a flashback, Cinderella goes to the ball and
meets her prince; nowadays, she wants fo find her step-family and
settle scores. Also, Snow White helps Jekyll find a lab, while Regina
tries to bribe Hyde.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Homer gives his son a valuable lesson in hate – more
specifically, how to hate sports teams from Boston. He even includes
a road trip to the city.

“Son of Zorn,”
8:30, Fox. Here's a rerun of the pilot film – big, broad, goofy
and, at times, funny. Zorn returns to his ex-wife and son in
suburbia; he doesn't fit there, only partly because he's a cartoon.

“Blunt Talk,”
8:30 p.m., Starz, rerunning at 9:30 and 10:30. Marriage proposals are
a good idea almost any time ... except when you're undergoing a
rectal procedure live on TV. That happens in a busy and erratic
episode that has its moments. “Ash vs. Evil Dead” precedes it at
8, 9 and 10.

Shores” season-finale, 9 p.m., Hallmark. Yes, the Hallmark channels
are doing their best to lure us from the debate. Tonight, Trace
(Jesse Metcalfe) and Abby hope to revive their romance; that's at the
same time as a new “Gourmet Detective” film on Hallmark Movies &

ALSO: Some people
will skip it all and watch a cable movie. The best of the bunch is
“No Country for Old Men” (2007), an Oscar-winner for best
picture, at 8 p.m. ET on IFC. Others include “The Hangover, Part
III” (2013) at 8 p.m. on FXX and “The Blind Side” (2009) at
8:30 on Freeform.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 8

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Having conquered
Broadway, Lin-Manuel Miranda is ready for the rest of the
show-business world. His “Hamilton” won 11 Tonys, a Grammy, a
Pulitzer and fame. It will also be profiled Oct. 21, on opening night
of PBS' “Fall Arts Festival” ... which has Miranda as this year's

There's more: He's a
composer and singer for Disney's animated “Moana,” opening Nov.
23. And now he hosts “SNL,” with Twenty-One Pilots as music
guest. Miranda has already delivered perhaps the two best acceptance
speeches in awards history; tonight's opening monolog could be good.

“Autumn in the Vineyard,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark.

Frankie (Racael
Leigh Cook) has devoted her life to her family's vineyard. Now she's
ready for a big risk, buying her friend's farm. It has great grapes,
an eccentric llama and a catch: Nate (Brendan Penny) feels he has
bought the place; for now, they'll share it while squabbling.

Did we mention that
he's handsome, she's cute and they used to date in high school? You
can probably see where this is going. Hallmark isn't about surprises,
but it does offer pleasant people in pretty places.

ALTERNATIVE: Sports overload, everywhere.

Yes, the college
football fuss is usually enough to fill Saturdays. Tonight includes
top-ranked Alabama at Arkansas (ranked No. 16) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN,
Washington (No. 5) at Oregon at 7:30 p.m. on Fox and Florida State
(No. 23) at Miami (No. 10) at 8 p.m. on ABC.

But there's more,
including NASCAR at 7 p.m. ET on NBC. And basebasll's playoffs
continue; it's the Dodgers at the Nationals at 4:08 p.m. ET on Fox
Sports1 and the wild card winner at the Cubs, at 8:08 p.m. on the
Major League Baseball network.

Other choices

(2011), 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., E. It's mostly a comedy night. This one
is fun, as is “Miss Congeniality” (2000), at 7:30 p.m. on Pop;
Neighbors” (2014), at 8 p.m. on FX, is a disappointment.

“Aliens” (1986),
7:30 p.m., AMC. James Cameron's masterful film is that movie rarity –
a sequel that was even better than the original.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a deep-sea diver has been killed on the job. Now his
body must stay in a decompression chamber for four days ... along
with the four colleagues who are suspects.

Halloween Spectacular,” 8 p.m., Food, Travel and HGTV. Three
related networks share this hour, in which stars compete to create
spectacular haunted houses in Las Vegas.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, a genius coder has been hired
by Brody's mother (Annie Potts). But now the coder's life hangs in
the balance: Someone has stolen the heart intended for his
transplant; the team must find it quickly.

More movies, 9 p.m.,
cable. TNT has “Maleficent” (2014), with Angelina Jolie in the
imposing title role. Showtime offers “Carol” (2015), which drew
six Academy Award nominations, including Cate Blanchett and Rooney
Mara, playing forbidden lovers in 1950s New York.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Back in 2008, Ali Vincent was
the first female winner of “The Biggest Loser.” At 5-foot-5,
she'd trimmed her weight almost in half, from 234 to 122 pounds; she
went on to host a show on the digital Living Well Network. And now?
At one point this year, she was back over 200; this updates her, plus
actor Tahj Mowry and pop star Samantha Fox.

TV column for Friday, Oct. 7

“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Vanessa (Nancy
Travis) is a science teacher who can reel off reasons to avoid
smoking. But she's also under stress ... and leaning toward starting
a long-dormant habit. This strains the vow that has held her marriage
together: Mike (Tim Allen) will never listen to her problems or offer

A secondary story is
so-so, but the main one offers a sharp story and clever lines. After
hearing Vanessa vent, her daughter's sole reply is: “I heard that
your generation likes diaries; here's a pen.”

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Last week,we met
Claire Forlani as an FBI profiler. Tonight, she confronts a familiar
problem for TV characters – waking up with a dead stranger in her

Soon, she joins
McGarrett in the hunt for the chess-piece killer. Also, Kono (Grace
Park) meets a former surfing competitor who's now a disabled and
homeless war veteran.

ALTERNATIVE: “Timeless,” 8 p.m., NBC.

Expecting big things
from “Timeless,” NBC has given it endless promotion, a great
Monday timeslot (where “Blacklist” and “Blindspot” thrived)
and now a quick rerun of the opener.

The concept –
chasing a villain who stole a time machine – is fun and the people
in pursuit are appealing. Abigail Spencer – who's been superb in
cable's “Rectify” -- plays a historian, with Matt Lanter as a
soldier and Malcolm Barrett as their reluctant pilot. Still, the plot
gets too tangled and Spencer's character is required to be brilliant
one moment, daft the next. Let's call this a maybe.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Dream On,” 10-11:30 p.m., PBS (check local

Almost two centuries
ago, French writer Alexis de Tocqueville toured the U.S, marveling at
the optimism and the American dream of a middle-class life. Now John
Fugelsang retraces his roots.

He finds dreams
deferred. A New Orleans woman lost her job after Hurricane Katrina
... a Detroit man's pension was trimmed by the city's bankruptcy ...
an Atlanta woman spends $24 a week to get to her minimum-wage job ...
a former honor student's 15-year jail prison sentence for drugs will
cost Florida $500,000. It's a dark journey, brightened by some
good-hearted people who beat the odds.

Oter choices

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Just as the team extracts a key witness, he's shot. Not to
worry, MacGyver has a driver's license and a hand-sanitizer; that
should be enough for a medical procedure.

“Hell's Kitchen,”
8 p.m., Fox. Even your experienced chefs might not have done much
work with ostrich cuts. Now competitors must do that, using other
ingredients they can gather quickly.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30,
ABC. Ken Jeong's real-life daughter Zooey guests as a stalker,
staring through the window at Albert. Meanwhile, Ken – an aspiring
comedian – is surprised when Pat (Dave Foley) is chosen above him
to host the company banquet.

“Getting Ahead,”
9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Amid a national debate over
raising the minimum wage, Tavis Smiley visits California, where it's
already happened. He meets some workers whose lives were transformed,
others who had their hours cut. He also has two experts, one on each
side of the issue. It's a good report, somewhat hindred by the fact
that California's economy is so atypical.

“The Exorcist,”
9 p.m., Fox. Kat struggles with the fact that her friend Julia is
dead. Meanwhile, Marcus and Tomas get shocking news when they take
footage of the Rance home to papal emissaries.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Danny insists on pushing a case, after a young woman
who was held captive resists pressing charges. Meanwhile, his brother
has a chance to be technical advisor on as TV show; their dad, the
police commissioner, must deal with a police fundraiser who used a
fake cop car.

Lewis Black, 10
p.m., Comedy Central, rerunning at 1 a.m. Here's a new hour with
Black, whose darkly angry style may fit the national mood. That's
followed by a rerun with the brilliant Trevor Noah at 11 and new
half-hours with Mike Recine and Jacqueline Novak at 12 and 12:30 a.m.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 6

“Superstore” and “The Good Place,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

Here's the new
normal for NBC's Thursdays – an uneven but entertaining
“Superstore,” followed by a terrific “Good Place.” The latter
continues last week's story, when Eleanor learned she's not the only
bad person mistakenly given a good afterlife; the “silent monk,”
it seems, is neither silent nor a monk.

And “Superstore”?
It suffers from cartoonish characters – especially the manager and
assistant – and moments that are too silly. Still, it has likable
people and some solid plots: Tonight, Jonah doesn't want to sell guns
and Glenn doesn't want to sell morning-after pills. Ethical conflicts

“iHeartRadio Music Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW.

It's already been a
big week for this youth-oriented network, with two series debuts and
two season-openers. Now that wraps up today and Friday, with tapes of
this two-night event in Las Vegas.

Ryan Seacrest hosts,
The opening night included U2, Britney Spears, Drake, Pitbull, Usher,
Sting, Billy Idol, Florida Georgia Line and – designated as the
“rising star” -- Los 5.

ALTERNATIVE: Sports overload, 8:30 p.m. ET CBS; 5 and 8:30 p.m. ET,

After a week off,
CBS returns to Thursday football, with two teams that are 1-3 . Last
week, the 49ers blew a two-touchdown lead and lost to the
injury-riddled Cowboys, 24-17; the Cardinals rolled up the yardage,
but lost to the Rams 17-13 ... and may have lost quarterback Carson
Palmer via concussion.

Their game competes
for attention with baseball and the start of the American League
play-off series. The first game has the wild-card winner at Texas.
The secpond has Rick Porcello (22-4, with a 3.15 earned run average)
and the Red Sox visiting Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26) and the Indians.

Other choices

“The Stand,” 6
p.m. to 2 a.m. ET, IFC. As Halloween gets closer, cable channels are
loading up on anything scary. This 1994 Stephen King post-plague
mini-series runs on IFC, then goes to Pop from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Friday. Gary Sinise stars, with Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Ruby Dee
and more.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. This pushes family troubles to an extreme: There's a car
crash at a funeral; the entire bickering group ends up at the
hospital. Meanwhile, Arizona returns from New York and is instantly
caught between Alex and Andrew ... whose surgical career was almost
ended when Andrew beat him brutally. Also, Ben takes on a new
parenting role.

Movies, 8 p.m.,
cable. If you missed Sunday's much-praised opener of HBO's
“Westworld,” you can catch it tonight. Other strong 8 p.m.
choices include “Jerry Maguire” (1996) on Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries, “Men in Black” (1997) on AMC and “The Dark Knight:
(2008) on TNT.

“Pitch,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Tempers rage when the Padres face the Cardinals ... whose
pitcher broke the finger of one of the Padre players in a fight.
Also, Ginny is upset when she spots her former boyfriend on the team;
and the Padre manager (Dan Lauria) scrambles to save his his job.

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Annalise hands the class a murder case
so controversial that even the jaded members of the “Keating 5”
feel their morals are being strained.

“The Blacklist,”
10 p.m., NBC. Miles McGrath is a “criminal incubator” who
finances crimes. Now Red goes to extremes to find him, hoping that
will lead to Alexander Kirk.

“Better Things,”
10 p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:02. After meandering a bit, this finds
tonight's main story: “I've already blown it,” Sam's daughter
says. After years of pointless socializing, she's 16 and has done
nothing toward college and life. Not even remotely a comedy, this
episode has great moments.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 5

“Frequency” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

The atmosphere does
funny things to soundwaves, it seems. On an odd night, we can hear
people from far away. On an odder night, we can hear someone from
decades away.

At least, that's
what happened in the 2000 movie, when a man started talking to his
late father. Now the TV version has a young cop talking to her dad, a
slain cop, assumed to be corrupt. If we can suspend any disbelief
(and, perhaps, common sense), it's an engaging tale, skillfully
filmed and acted. I's more personal – and a tad better – than
NBC's “Timeless,” but has a similar ending to the opener.

“Empire,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Mariah Carey shows
up tonight, playing – surprise? -- a music diva. Also. Cookie
continues to be drawn to the handsome councilman (Taye Diggs). Mix in
the romantic competition for emerging pop star Tiana and you have
plenty for pop-culture buffs. Alongside that, however, is a serious

Last week, Andre –
smart, diligent, bipolar, newly widowed – moved some things from an
old apartment. When a white neighbor phoned and white cops arrived,
things escalated, thrusting the Lyon family into what could become a
fresh Chicago controversy.

ALTERNATIVE: “Nova,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Here is epic
television, both visually and in theme. The subject is nothing less
than the history of man; traveling the globe, anthropologist Niobe
Thompson marvels at the skills of our ancestors.

How did they survive
with few tools, in ancient Africa? Thompson watches the San Bushmen
at work. How did they reach the North? Not accepting the “land
bridge” as the sole answer, he follows the stunning skill of
Polynesian mariners. And how did they survive the freeze? In charming
scenes, he lives among the Chukchi reindeer herders in Arctic

Other choices

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. Riggs is the troubled one, shattered by his wife's
death. But Murtaugh has his own crisis: After theft and two murders,
a prime suuspect is his former training officer.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. The teams get a chance to mingle with each other. So far,
each has lost one person. The Gen X team dropped Rachel Ako, 37, a
recruiting director; the Millennials dropped Mari Takahashi, 31, who
has a millenial-style job -- hosting shows on Smosh, a games channel
on YouTube.

season-opener, 8 p.m., CW. Being a newly elected mayor is hard
enough, but Oliver must also slip off and fight a fierce new villain.
There's potential here, but it's soon wasted amid a deluge of
brutality, torture and more; our “hero” even manages to kill two
people with his bare hands.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. With Luke and Manny in the same class, there can always
be complications. Now they both run for class president, with their
parents getting involved.

“Blackish,” 9:31
p.m., ABC. Here's another school-election episode. With his son
running for class president, Dre tries to coach him on appealing to
the masses.

Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. Thrust into the presidency, the previously
obscure Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) is about to give his first TV
interview. He's distracted, however, by a high-level security breach.
Meanwhile, an FBI agent (Maggie Q) is developing a theory about the

“Full Frontal,”
10:30 p.m., TBS. For the second straight week, this show moves to
Wedmesdays, so Samantha Bee can take swipes at a debate.