TV column for Monday, Nov. 14

“Mars” debut. 9 p.m., National Geographic; rerunning aat 12:01

Here is epic
storytelling, merging fact, fiction and two time frames. The core is
in 2033, with an international mission to Mars. Supplies have been
dropped there; now people must land and find them.

This is a solidly
crafted story, with strong drama and believable characters. As a
bonus, “Mars” often flashes back to 2016; authors, astronauts and
scientists explain the reality behind a compelling drama.

II: “Conviction,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.

At a time of
re-fractured race relations, we need hours like this – an
always-emotional, often-intelligent view of the divide. The team
re-opens the case of a black protestor, accused of shooting a white
cop. Some clues are too easy and some strain credibility; still, the
ideas and passions are potent.

In particular, they
bombard Maxine Bohen, a black cop who keeps facing assumptions on
both sides. She's played by Merrin Dungey, whose sister Channing runs
ABC. (Don't assume any nepotism; Merrin has been busy on every
network.) It's a perfectly modulated performance in a tough but
worthy hour.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.

In a quick-paced
episode last week, “Voice” trimmed from 20 people to 12. Now -- with Garth Brooks visiting today and Tuesday-- the
pace eases a bit: Tonight, they'll sing and viewers will vote; on
Tuesday, one person will be sent home.

The line-up includes
five women and seven men – two of them familiar. Billy Gilman, 28,
was the youngest person to reach Billboard's country chart, back when
he was 11. Sundance Head, 37 (the son of singer Roy Head) finished
13th on “American Idol” in 2007, when the show was at
its peak.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Soundbreaking” debut, 10 p.m., PBS.

After hearing the
voices on NBC, switch to the start of this brilliant look at the
people who mold the records. This sprawls over eight weekdays
(through Nov. 23), but the opener is a perfect summary.

Here are record
producers as opposites (classically trained George Martin with the
Beatles, Sam Phillips with early black greats) or despots (Phil
Spector creating the “wall of sound”). And here are the
performers – Joni Mitchell, Sly Stone, Dr. Dre – as their own
producers. It's a dizzying journey.

AND YET MORE (in a great night): “Explorer,”10:01 p.m., National Geographic,
rerunning at 1:01 a.m.

For 35 years (with
pauses), this has brought global documentaries. Tonight, it launches
a new format and a clever host, Richard Bacon; he interviews Erin
Brockovich and introduces segments.

There's a story
about an Indonesian area where the dead are kept at home for years;
there's also a panel – including comedian Larry Wilmore and
undertaker Amy Cunningham – on death. Also: Profiles of people who
clean up nuclear waste and a librarian who protected books and
artifacts from the al-Qaida.

Other choices

“Close to the
Enemy,” any time,
The setting is a once-splendid hotel. After World War II, a British
officer must charm a German scientist into co-operating; that won't
be easy, since the scientist and his daughter were rudely snatched
from their beds. This is an odd and interesting character piece from
Stephen Poliakoff (“The Lost Prince”), with Alfred Molina, Angela
Bassett and more.

"Tucker Carlson Tonight," 7 p.m., Fox News. Carlson takes over the former Greta Van Susteren spot; Brit Hume had been filling in temporarily.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. It is possible, apparently, for Derek
Hough to not be near the top. Last week, he and Marilu Henner were
ousted; the sixth place finish matched the worst ever for Hough,
whose previous 15 times included six championships and 13 times in
the top four.


“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. After all the worthy crimesolving he's done – here and
on other shows – Michael Chiklis has suddenly gone wild; he plays
an infected cop who bypasses the law and executes crooks. In a solid
episode, Jim Gordon tries to stop him; also, Ivy leads Bruce and
Selina into danger.

“2 Broke Girls,”
9 p.m., CBS. French Stewart guests as a bartending instructor.
Caroline must scramble to pass the test alone, after Max comes down
with chicken pox.

“The Odd Couple,”
9:30, CBS. The show finds two reasons for batches of odd people:
Dani, newly promoted, must hire her own replacement; also, Felix
tries to help Emily, who misses England.

10:01 p.m., NBC. Now the team chases Flynn to Nixon-era Washington at
the time of Watergate. It starts to get hints of Flynn's motivation;
also, Wyatt's tragic past erupts.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 13

“Madam Secretary,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Matt Mahoney,
Elizabeth's speechwriter, is often overlooked; tonight, he's at the
core of a strong story. Matt is half-Pakistani on his mother's side
(as is Geoffrey Arend, who plays him); when a terrorist turns out to
be from his mosque, he faces scrutiny.

This is an involving
story, well-played; so are two others: In one, Elizabeth confronts a
Saudi official whose cousin is linked to the bombing; in another, her
husband (Tim Daly) tries to help the despondent young Russian whom he
pressured into becoming a spy.

“Son of Zorn,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

TV comedies love
Thanksgiving, a time when they can lump together some mismatched
people. Here's the first one of the season – complete with the
consummate mismatch.

Zorn never really
got along with his mother-in-law – possibly because he impregnated
her daughter, who then left college ... or possibly because he's
shirtless, a cartoon and has anger issues, throwing her car into
space. Now he's divorced, but wedges his way to Thanksgiving dinner.
In a sometimes-funny episode, he tries to make a better impression;
he even wears a shirt and makes a stab at adding pants..

ALTERNATIVE: “Expedition Mars,” 9 p.m., National Geographic,
rerunning at 11.

For a time in the
1990s, this documentary says, NASA and its Mars mission were
floundering. Then they were rescued by two space rovers.

The Spirit and
Opportunity reached Mars in 2004 and worked for six years, exceeding

focuses on them ... and sets up a mega-project: On Monday, the
channel will launch “Mars,” a six-week epic that skillfully mixes
a fictional story (in 2033) and current experts.

Other choices

Football preview, 7
p.m., and kick-off, 8:20, NBC. Two years ago, this was the Super Bowl
match-up, with Tom Brady's New England Patriots edging Russell
Wilson's Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks slipped slightly last year,
but now they have a 5-2-1 record; they visit the Patriots, who are

Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS. The stuffy relatives arrive and
don't seem to understand the pleasures of living in a house with lots
of creatures and no electricity or toilets. That part follows the
standard stuffy-folks stereotypes; the delightful parts come when
Louisa tries to take charge. And setting up next week's
season-finale, romances take big steps forward and backward.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Other shows have Cuban episodes; now “The Simpsons”
can have one without all the expense of going there. The family takes
Grandpa there, in search of free medical care.

“Secrets and
Lies,” 9 p.m., ABC. At first, Eric was the prime suspect in his
wife's murder. But now the secret sins of his brother put the whole
family and its business in jeopardy. Also, there's a deadly surprise
about their father. And Detective Cornell has her own personal

“The Walking
Dead,” 9-10:25 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11:25. In the previous two
episodes (rerunning at 6:55 and 8 p.m., some of the people found a
sort-of safe community. Tonight, the others try to hold out in
Alexandria, then receive as sobering visit.

“Quantico,” 10
p.m., ABC. In the CIA training, Owen teaches enhanced interrogation,
with the students using him as their target. And in the future, a
president is sworn in and Miranda faces a decision.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Sherlock's relationship with Fiona is at a crossroads.
Meanwhile, he's probing a mass murder that involved snake venom at a
tasting party.

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 12

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

With the
election-fueled ratings soaring, “SNL” is front-loading. This is
its sixth new episode in seven weeks (compared to five in seven weeks
last fall), a large chunk of the 21-episode season.

And there's a
big-draw host -- Dave Chappelle, who walked away from his cable show
and from multi-million-dollar pleas from Comedy Central, a decade
ago. A Tribe Called Quest is the music guest.

“The Killing Season” debut, 9 and 10:01 p.m., A&E.

intriguing and revolting, this eight-part film examines a case that
began when 10 bodies (mostly women) were found in Long Island in
2011. Some were neatly wrapped in burlap, others were dismembered.
Reporters re-probe the case, in a style that's sometimes overwrought,
yet intriguing.

Along the way,
questions arise: Was this one killer or two? Do these murders relate
to the ones in Atlantic City and Daytona Beach? Has prostitution
become too easy in the Internet age? And do some police tend to put
less effort into cases in which the victims are prostitutes?

ALTERNATIVE: “Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency,” 9 p.m.,
BBC America.

If you missed the
first three chapters of this eight-parter, don't fret. It's a wild
tale from novels by Douglas Adams (“Hitchhiker's Guide”), best
savored with a detached sense of whimsy.

Todd (the terrific
Elijah Wood) discovered the murder of millionaire Patrick Spring and
the kidnapping of Spring's daughter; he also met Dirk and his intense
protector Farah. Now Todd and his sister would like to return to
normal life – which isn't going to happen. Tonight includes a
hilarious FBI imposter, plus such phrases as “death maze” and
“electric ghost rhino.” It's always odd and sometimes great fun.

Other choices

“Iron Man”
movies, all day, FX. The first, fun movie (2008) is at 2:30 p.m.,
with others at 5:30 (2010) and 8 p.m. (2013). They'll also run
Sunday, at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 and 5 p.m.

“Finding Nemo”
(2003), 5:55 p.m., Freeform. This is a good night for families to
find animated films. “Nemo” is followed by “How to Train Your
Dragon” (2010) at 8:20; also,the clever “Wreck-it Ralph” (2012)
is at 6:40 p.m. on Disney.

Football, 7:30 p.m.
ET, Fox. Washington (ranged No. 5) hosts Southern California. Also,
Michigan (No. 3) visits Iowa at 8 p.m., with much more on cable.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from last December, Deeks has
been arrested and charged with killing his partner. His colleagues
scramble for a way to clear him.

(2007), 8-11 p.m., USA. On Tuesday, USA will finally launch the
“Shooter” series; once set for July 19, it was delayed twice
after a shooting. Before the series starts, here's the original
movie, with Mark Wahlberg as a former sniper, called back to prevent
a presidential assassination. Wahlberg is one of the producers of the
series, which has Ryan Phillippe in his role.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. This reruns finds the team tracing stolen
TNT and finding much more – a warehouse for cocaine, operated by a
ring led by agent Sonja Percy's childhood friend.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Karolyn Grimes' acting career
peaked when she was 6 and 7, in the Christmas classics “It's a
Wonderful Life” and “The Bishop's Wife.” It ended when she was
14, after her parents died; now we meet her at 76. Others include Sue
Orman, Alan Ruck and Kevin Eubanks ... plus Paul Marcarelli, the
pitchman who went from Sprint to Verizon.


TV column for Friday, Nov. 11

“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC.

It's time for the
wedding and Mandy is not pleased. She dislikes the Bible readings (“a
little preachy”), the church seating (“a little pew-y”) and the
tennis shows her groom and his best man plan to wear. Others are
growing bitter. “When do we get to throw rice at her?” a sister
asks. “And can it be rocks?”

That leaves it up to
her parents (Tim Allen and Nancy Travis) to smooth things over. The
result may not be original, but it's quick and clever and – at the
right moments – sort of sweet.

“Great Performances: Gypsy,” 9 p.m., PBS.

When they read Gypsy
Rose Lee's memoirs, Broadway people saw the perfect combination –
Ethel Merman starring as the overbearing mother, with young Stephen
Sondheim writing the songs.

Merman resisted:
Sondheim should stick to lyrics, with Jule Styne doing the music.
They created the classics “Let Me Entertain You,” “Some People”
and “Everything's Coming Up Roses.” Now – after four revivals,
a movie and a TV film – here's a fairly good production: The story
is weak, the songs are great, the star (Imelda Staunton) is so-so,
others (especially Lara Pulver as Louise) are first-rate.

ALTERNATIVE: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 9 p.m., CW.

Sometimes, it's wise
to know when a relationship – or a story – has burned out.
“Crazy” stretched its Josh-or-Greg quandary way too long; now it
wraps it up with an exceptionally good episode.

Two songs are both
very brilliant and very adult. In one, Greg keeps finding rhymes for
“feces storm” (sort of); in the other, he and Josh celebrate all
the places they've had sex with Rebecca, These are odd and clever
moments – and they help push the story in new places. There's a
turning point for Paula and some wonderfully funny moments for Vella
Lovell, as the perpetually dry and downbeat Heather.

ALTERNATIVE II: Veterans Day shows, cable.

AMC has “Pearl
Harbor” (2001) – great visuals, lame story – at 6 and 9 p.m.,
while others offer documentaries. History has “Vietnam in HD”
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., then “Warfighters” until 4 a.m. Reelz has
the true stories behind “Unbroken,” “American Sniper” and
“MASH” from 7-10 p.m., rerunning until 1 a.m. The Smithsonian has
“The Unknown Flag Raiser of Iwo Jima” at 9 p.m.

Then there's the
American Heroes Channel (formerly the Military Channel). It has
“World War II in Color” from 5-10 p.m., followed by the debut of
“The Battle I'll Never Forget.”

Other choices

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Murdoc – the recurring villain in the original series –
is back and ready to kill MacGyver. Don't worry; our hero has a
corkscrew and some paper-towel rolls.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Here's a way to link with the show that follows it: Ken's
son has a chance to pitch his product on “Shark Tank.” Meanwhile,
his daughter starts an internship at the clinic.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Danny chaperones his daughter's winter formal.
Naturally, a crisis ensues; gunmen take over, in order to kidnap a
diplomat's son.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. A woman tells Danny and Baez about her abusive
ex-boyfriend ... then becomes the prime suspect, when the guy is

“The Searchers”
(1956) 10 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. This John Ford/John Wayne
film was chosen by American Film Institute voters as No. 12 among the
best American movies ... and No. 1 for westerns. Another cowboy
classic, Sam Peckinpah's “Ride the High Country” (1962) is at
6:15 p.m. ET, with the James Dean film “Rebel Without a Cause”
(1955) at 8.

“Wolf Creek,” 10
p.m., Pop. A week from the finale, Eve poses as a waitress at a
lingerie bar. There, she waits for Mick Taylor, the man who killed
everyone else in her family.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 10

“Superstore,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

Next week, NBC gets
its turn with the Thursday football games. Going on the shelf,
temporarily, are “The Good Place,” “Blacklist,” “Chicago
Med” and this above-average comedy.

“Good Place” --
which has already had nine episodes – steps aside tonight, so
“Superstore” can air two holiday episodes. First, the store
hires seasonal employees, many of them inept and one of them Amy's
husband. Then it's time for the big post-Thanksgiving rush ... except
that the employees come down with food poisoning. This panics Amy
(America Ferrera), who thinks it's morning sickness.

II: “Pitch,” 9 p.m., Fox.

The real baseball
season has ended (quite spectacularly) on Fox, but the fictional one
remains interesting. Now it visits a tough moment for an older star –
moving to a less-demanding position.

That's happened to
many veterans, from Ernie Banks (shortstop to first base) to Joe
Mauer (catcher to first). Now a new catcher has been brought up from
the minors and Mike (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, 42) goes to first.
Meanwhile, the general manager (Mark Consuelos) and public-relations
person (Ali Larter) scramble to combat the latest scandal involving
Ginny, the first female major-leaguer.

ALTERNATIVE: “Better Things,” 10 p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:05.

This first season
has been odd and varied and intermittently brilliant. Now it
concludes with all of that and more. The opening is upsetting, the
closing is quietly moving, the rest is an intriguing jumble.

Pamela Adlon
produces and co-writes (with Louis C.K.) the show and also directs
this episode. She also stars as someone a lot like her – a divorced
actress (voice work, mostly) with three daughters and a widowed
mother. Tonight, her life is a scrambled blur as usual – then takes
a serious turn that is faced silently. We emerge with only a feeling
that people differ and “Better Things” is oddly fascinating.

Other choices

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Here's one of those episodes that'a filled with
flashbacks to pivotal moments” A difficult surgery stirs memories
for Meredith, Richard, Owen and Stephanie.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a terrific episode last week, Sheldon
accepted the fact that Amy had been lying about her apartment, so
they can live together. Now he comes up with another
relationship-changing twist. Also, Raj won't tell what his new
girlfriend does for a living.

“Rio” (2011), 8
p.m., Nickelodeon. This animated delight leads some fun 8 p.m.
movies. Others are “Clueless” (1995) on CMT, “Mean Girls”
(2004) on E and “Crazy, Stupid Love” (2011) on Oxygen.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:30, CBS. Jack (Joel McHale) is used to the sprawling,
outdoor life. Now, while looking for his own place in the city, he's
crashing in Clark's micro-apartment.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. When she catches her boyfriend puffing pot before sex, Bonnie
(Allison Janney) fears that she's no longer attractive.

“Chicago Med,” 9
p.m., NBC. In its final episode for a while, the patients range from
a convict to two feuding brothers, one of whom desperately needs a
kidney transplant.

“The Blacklist,”
10 p.m., NBC. Wrapping up the first phase of its season, “Blacklist”
concludes the two-part story about a plastic surgeon for crooks.
Also, Liz frets about the desperate Alexander Kirk.

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. As tension among her students hits a
peak, Annalise takes a surprising client.