TV column for Thursday, Oct. 12

“Will & Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC.

By all logic,
Grace's emergency contact should be Will. They've been friends for 20
years; they finish each other's sentences. But now she's hospitalized
and the contact is ... her ex-husband Leo.

That lets the show
bring back Harry Connick, while pondering a failed marriage of good
people. Meanwhile, Karen and Jack – who aren't really into helping
others – are at an inner-city program for kids. The result can't
match the hilarity of the first two episodes, but it is well above

“Gotham,” 8 p.m., Fox.

In most areas –
its style, its sound, its settings – this show is beautifully
crafted. Then it sometimes wounds itself with a surplus of nastiness
or a shortage of logic.

Ask yourself this:
If you had just spent $2 million on an artifact that others seem to
covet, would you promptly leave it overnight with a portly scientist
and his grandson? Moments like that cloud a strong hour that, among
other things, uses a library and a museum as great backdrops for
whiz-bang action.

ALTERNATIVE: “Better Things,” 10 p.m., FX, repeating at 11:04.

This amazing show
can leap in and out of dead-serious turf, while we still think we're
watching a comedy. Now the focus is on Sam's mom (Celia Imrie), an
exasperating soul who even tries to get a second mortgage on a house
she doesn't own. And then ... she slides downhill.

Soon, Sam (Pamela
Adlon) is calling her brother (Kevin Pollak) and considering “a
dying-lady lonely place where mean young women put their mothers.”
Written by Louis CK and directed by Adlon, it's a unique mixture of
fun and despair.

Other choices

season-opener, 8 p.m., CW. As the 13th season starts, Sam
and Dean are regrouping. Their mother died; so did Crowley, who
sacrificed himself to seal Lucifer. And Castiel died yet again. Now
the brothers disagree on how to deal with a Nephilim; also, Mary
tries to survive Lucifer.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. Amy's life gets complicated when her teen daughter works
at the store.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. At a state dinner, Mellie hopes to charm her way toward
Middle East peace. If that doesn't work, Olivia has a back-up plan.
Also, Quinn's team wants to lure clients at the dinner.

season-opener, 9 p.m., CW. The fifth season ended with an epic
battle. Now Oliver must deal with the aftermath of an explosion on
the island.

“Project Runway,”
9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime. Last week's episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.)
brought extremes for the Buitendorp twins. They were in an
elimination duel, but Shawn dropped out to give new life to Claire
... who promptly won the $25,000 prize in the next challenge. Then
two contestants accused her of copying Margarita Alvarez's previous
design ... and of copying two thing she had in her own room. Tonight,
Tim Gunn investigates and the judges ponder a punishment. Then its
time for kid designs.

“Great News,”
9:30 p.m., NBC. The boss (Tina Fey) is ready to move on to a bigger
job. First, however, she's embroiled in a sexual-harassment scandal.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. Casey manages to collide with the temporary chief.
Also, Brett gets news from her home town, providing insight into the
sexy friend (Eloise Mumford) who's visiting.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 11

“The Story of Us” debut, 9 p.m. ET, National Geographic;
rerunning at 11.

Last season's “Story
of God” was epic in size and scope, yet sharp in its human
details. Now Morgan Freeman returns with an even bigger canvas: Each
week, he'll view one of life's great concepts.

That starts with
compelling views of freedom: We meet a North Korean who was born into
slavery ... And a Louisiana man who spent 43 years in solitary
confinement – as punishment, he feels, for being a Black Panther
... And an Afghan boy who disguised as a girl to help his sister,
then decided that's his true gender ... And a punk-rocker; once
imprisoned in Russia, she's free to speak out in the U.S.

II: “Riverdale” season-opener, 8 p.m., CW.

This definitely
isn't the carefree bunch we knew from Archie comics. Last season,
Jughead's biker-gang dad went to prison and Cheryl Blossom's dad
killed her brother. Then the Blossom house burned down and Archie's
dad was shot by a masked gunman.

And tonight? There's
another attack, plus two intense mother-daughter confrontations.
Also, Archie showers with Veronica, who wears her pearls even when
naked. This might all seem wildly excessive ... except that it's
acted, written and filmed with exceptional skill.

ALTERNATIVE: “Mr. Robot” season-opener, 10 p.m., USA.

Each season of this
sometimes-brilliant series ends by surprising viewers. As the first
one ended, we found that Mr. Robot is strictly imagined by Elliott,
in the image of his late father. As the second ended, we found that
Tyrell and Angela were working against Elliott ... and then Tyrell
shot him.

Now we have to worry
about that ... and more. The hackers are trying to destroy every
document that Evil Corp has – a worthy project, except that it
could destroy the world's financial system.

Other choices

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. Alongside its hyper-drama moments, “Empire” offers
strong music – sometimes new, sometimes from the past. Now it's
celebrating Bella's first birthday with a “princess” theme ...
which includes a tribute concert with Prince music. Isn't that what
any 1-year-old wants?

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS. The red fox seems to thrive anywhere. This excellent film
follows a family in the beauty of Newfoundland, but sees others adapt
to the Arctic ... even endangering the Arctic fox. And it sees them
conquer city life in Madison, Wis., and Bristol, England.

“Mr. Mercedes”
season-finale, 8 and 11 p.m., DirecTV/AT&T. Two great writers –
David E. Kelley, adapting Stephen King – have given us vivid
characters. One is a young computer whiz who kills people and sells
ice cream; the other is a retired cop, now fearful for the people
near him.

“Dynasty” debut,
9 p.m., CW. A brash (but bad) soap from the 1980s gets a modern
makeover. Now Krystle (Linda Evans' old role) is Cristal, a Latina;
Sammy Jo (that was Heather Locklear) is Sammy Joe, a guy. And now
everyone is a schemer, with Fallon – sleek, smart, sexy – at the
core. Still, the essentials are the same: It's an overwrought tale of
overprivileged people in overheated stories.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. There are jolts for Star – she meets a person from her past –
and for her trio, which learns it will merely be singing back-up at a
TV appearance.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Rushing to a concert, Claire has no time for Phil's
nonsense about a superstition. Also, Cam may be undermining Mitch;
Phil wants Gloria to admit she had a car accident.

Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. Hannah finds evidence that could change
the lives of the president's family. The president, however, is busy
dealing with the possibility of a fierce pandemic.

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 10

“This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Randall has always
been an achiever and a perpetual worrier. Abandoned as a baby – and
adopted by a warm-but-hectic family – he's groped for his place in
the world. Now we see that in two eras.

In flashbacks, he
strains to meet his birth parents; in the present (wonderfully played
by Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown), he has second thoughts about his
own plan to be a foster and adoptive parent. There's much more in the
past (his adoptive dad's troubles with alcoholism) and in the
present: Kevin starts work on a Ron Howard movie ... and Kate
promptly goes gaga over Sylvester Stallone.

II: “The Mick,” 9 p.m., Fox.

With its big, broad
plots, this comedy can sometimes score big. Here's a terrific

Mick was happy
staying in her sister's mansion and watching the kids ... until the
money was cut off. Now come prison visits to both parents, with wild
results. There's a spectacular fight ... and cheery games between a
tyke and tough prisoners. None of this gives us much confidence in
prison security ... but most of it is quite funny.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Flash” season-opener, 8 p.m,, CW.

The CW's most
popular show has an air of breathless urgency. Good guys and villains
race and flash furiously, while world-at-stake music roars. And this
time, at least, the story matches that tone.

A fierce samurai –
yes, samurai – will destroy the city, unless he gets a
confrontation with The Flash. But Barry (that's the Flash) has been
sent away to guard the speed force and may never be back. Can the
team win without him? Can he be brought back ... and would he be the
same if that happened? And what about Caitlin Snow, who turned into
the evil Kid Frost? The answers arrive mid-crescendo.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Working with the police, Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) is on a
stakeout ... when his partner disappears. Also, Ducky gets an offer
from his friend Darwin (Susan Blakely).

“Hip-Hop Awards,”
8-10 p.m., BET. DJ Khaled hosts and performs. Other performers
include Flo Rida, Rick Ross, T-Pain, Trina, Luke Campbell, Gucci
Maine, Yo Gotti, Migos and many more.

“The Vietnam War,”
9-11 p.m., PBS. Lyndon Johnson is overwhelmed by the war he
inherited. The South Vietnam leaders are corrupt or ineffective; the
Viet Cong are increasingly well-armed. His solution is to expand the
war effort, but to keep that a secret from the public.

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. It's not easy to make a comedy out of a dead-serious
subject, but “Black-ish” does that often. This episode views
postpartum depression. Bow, who has raised four children quite
cheerfully, is staggered by No. 5. There's some broad humor at first,
followed by some solid moments.

Nine-Nine,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Jake is out of prison now and ready for
a case ... if the captain will let him. Add some broad humor with
Rosa and Pimento and you have a fairly good episode.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. In an episode that was scheduled for last
week, then delayed, the team searches for a Russian operative who
was in the U.S. to give information about sleeper agents.

Capitalists” season-opener, 10 p.m., CNBC. This fairly interesting
show is a sort of outdoor “Shark Tank,” with ex-athletes testing
– and maybe investing in – products. This season, gymnast Shawn
Johnson East joins skier Jeremy Bloom and football's Dhani Jones,
plus (tonight) Tony Gonzalez. They range from a portable gym to a
pontoon boat with its own hammock.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 9

“Supergirl” season-opener, 8 p.m., CW.

For two weeks, CW
ducked and let the big guys start their seasons. Now it launches
everything – two new shows and eight returning ones – in one
crowded week. That includes five fantasy shows and lots of shows
centering on smart women; “Supergirl” leads both categories.

Tonight's hour has
big action scenes at the start and near the end, with lots of somber
talk in-between. (Ever since sending her boyfriend away, Supergirl
has been bummed.) Also, the second action scene introduces a woman
(Odette Annable) rushing to save her daughter; she'll be big in the
weeks ahead.

II: “Valor” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

OK, the CW people
realize that women can be super without capes and tights. Nora
(Christina Ochoa) is a helicopter pilot, strong and sturdy ... except
for a crisis that could shatter anyone. Her chopper crashed; she and
her commanding officer escaped – then decided to lie about the
whole thing.

That lie strains the
show's credibility ... and stirs up the rest of the plot. They
struggle to keep their secret ... while trying to uncover big ones.
There are flaws here, but Ochoa is a break-out star.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Gifted,” 9 p.m., Fox.

After last week's
high-voltage opener, life is shaky. “Mutants” are tolerated
(barely) ... then are arrested if they cause any damage. Now Polaris
is imprisoned; so is Reed Strucker, a federal prosecutor who helped
his kids flee when he learned they're mutants.

Tonight, he faces
interrogation and his kids try to protect the mutant hideaway. The
Struckers are way too screechy and grumbly, but “Gifted”
effectively mixes human drama with big-deal special effects.

ALTERNATIVE II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Not everyone is into
shows about superpowers or sturdy soldiers. For others, there are the
reality shows (see below) or a CBS line-up led by TV's best comedy.

Sheldon tends to
stress about everything ... including picking a wedding date. So Amy
hopes to introduce him to his lasidback side. Also, Raj and Stuart
are gaga about Bernadette's new co-worker.

Other choices

Sports overload, all
night, cable. The baseball playoffs continue, with a National League
double-header on TBS (5:30 and 9 p.m. ET) and American League games,
if needed, on Fox Sports1. These collide with “Monday Night
Football,” with the Bears and Vikings at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

“The Voice”
(NBC) and “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC), 8-10 p.m. For “Voice,”
this is the final week of auditions. “Stars” has already dumped
two people, but skipped that last week. Tonight, each celebrity
dances to music from a “most memorable year.”

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. Trying to catch his kidnapper, Lucifer searches for the
mysterious Sinnerman. Others feel he's overobsessing ... until they
learn more about the history of Pierce (Tom Welling of “Smallville”),
the new police lieutenant.

“Kevin Can Wait,”
9 p.m., CBS. The focus shifts to Kevin's younger kids. Jack has been
lying about a peanut allergy, to fit in with the others. And Sara?
When his boss (Leah Remini) suggests she has a secret boyfriend,
Kevin goes undercover to find out.

“The Good Doctor,”
10 p.m., ABC. Young and autistic, Dr. Shaun Murphy is difficult to
communicate with. But as they race back with a donated organ, Dr.
Browne tries to link with him.

“The Brave,” 10
p.m., NBC. When an international arms-dealer is coming to Mexico,
Patricia (Anne Heche) launches a risky plan. Also, Noah learns about
Hannah's past troubles in the field.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 8

“Episodes” finale, 10 p.m., Showtime.

For five seasons and
40 episodes, this has provided witty satire of the TV world, while
drawing only tiny audiences. Now the 41st and final
episode wraps it all up brilliantly.

Co-created by David
Crane (who did the same for “Friends”), this has Matt LeBlanc as
a perverse version of himself. This Matt is a hapless dolt who keeps
ruining the career of a British, husband-wife writing team. There's
much more tonight, with moments that are hilarious.

“Madam Secretary” season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS.

At home, Elizabeth
and Henry face chaos and an emptying nest. Their older daughter is
traveling for work; their younger daughter is starting college -- and
their son wants her room to be a game room.

At work, things are
even messier: Henry insists on hiring the young Russian he
endangered. Elizabeth meets with a foreign official who promptly
dies; she suspects foul play. “I realize that murdering your
diplomats is all the rage these days,” the president says. But not
in the U.S.

ALTERNATIVE: “Masterpiece: Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS.

On most levels, this
is a masterful show – epic in scope, splendid in visuals, but with
smart dialog handed to gifted actors. Still, there are times when
Ross Poldark strains believability.

Tonight's plan –
entering French territory, to learn if his friend Dr. Enys is alive
in captivity – seems wildly foolish. Far worse, however, was his
decision to reject a magistrate position ... leaving it in the hands
of the evil George. Poldark, a champion of the common man, has given
them a brutal kick.

DISAPPOINTMENT: “Masterpiece: The Collection,” 10 p.m., PBS.

There was every
reason to expect a “Downton/Victoria/Poldark”-type gem. This has
a promising story – a fictional designer, much like Christian Dior,
shakes Paris in 1947 – and a gifted creator: From “Popular” to
“Pretty Little Liars,” Oliver Goldstick has known how to be smart
and ... well, popular.

But then? For
starters, this is an oddly homely show; to provide post-war
authenticity, it is dark and dingy. So is the plot, which piles on
gloomy motives; high fashion has rarely seemed so lowly.

Other choices

“The Story of
God,” 2-11 p.m. ET, National Geographic. Three days before Nat Geo
launches Morgan Freeman's superb “The Story of Us,” it reruns his
previous series, another terrific one.

“The Toy Box,” 7
p.m., ABC. Maybe this is what we all need to enrich our lives – a
portable miniature-golf set that can be adapted into 25 different
course. Other ideas range from a sort of dance-charades game to a
robotic flower that blossoms and changes colors as the player

“Ghosted,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. Fresh from its clever opener, this jumps straight to its
Halloween episode. Leroy takes his nephew trick-or-treating ... then
sees reality beat make-believe: Infected by a demon cat, the kid has
a zombie-like virus. Meanwhile, the bureau faces Halloween-night

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. When a counterfeiter's daughter comes to
town, Sam goes undercover as a financier. Also, Callen links with
Anna (Bar Paley), to trace her family's scheme.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Tandy (Will Forte) scrambles to get away
from Pamela (Kristen Wiig). Also, Chris Elliott plays a guy who's
been stranded on an island for years.

“Ten Days in the
Valley,” 10 p.m., ABC. Last week, we met Jane (Kyra Sedgwick), a
loving mom and a hard-working TV writer-producer, trying to do it all
alone. When her daughter was kidnapped, she kept complicating the
investigation with her secrecy – especially about the drug-dealer
she summoned that night. Tonight, she sneaks away. This is a very
well-made show ... albeit with a frustrating character.