TV column for Sunday, Jan. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Golden Globe awards, 8-11 p.m. ET and PT, NBC.

For the third
straight year, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host. We can expect lots of
sharp humor from them and the presenters, including Tom Hanks,
Kristen Wiig, Seth Meyers, Kevin Hart, Lily Tomlin, Anna Faris,
Melissa McCarthy and former host Ricky Gervais.

In movies, dramas
are strong (“Selma,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “The
Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything” ), comedies are
quirky (“Birdman,” “St. Vincent,” “Pride,” “Grand
Budapest Hotel,” “Into the Woods”); TV has “The Good Wife,”
“Downton Abbey,” “Jane the Virgin” and lots of cable.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Chimpanzee” (2012), 8-10 p.m., NatGeo Wild, rerunning at 11.

Each Earth Day, the
Disney people debut a gorgeous nature film in theaters. Now six of
the movies will skip all the Disney-owned channels and go to NatGeo,
starting with this beauty.

In the African rain
forest, a band of chimps lives among lush food choices ... making it
the target of a bigger, nastier crew. There's humor, violence,
tragedy ... and then a remarkable twist involving an orphaned
3-month-old chimp and the cranky leader. The result is richly moving.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Season-openers, 9-11 p.m., HBO and Showtime.

The two pay-cable
giants stuff tonight with openers, led by strong ones at the start
and finish.

At 9 p.m., HBO's
“Girls” has a dizzying shift, with Hannah (a zealous
city-dweller) going to Iowa for its writing workshop; today's
transitional episode is fairly good and next week's is a delight.
Even better is Showtime's “Episodes,” at 10:30. Matt LeBlanc
plays a perverse version of himself, an actor in an awful TV comedy.
He was happy to see it cancelled ... then appalled to see it
un-cancelled.

Other choices
include:

Football, 1:05 p.m.
ET, Fox and 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS. The Packers host the Cowboys and then
the Broncos host the Colts, with the winners a step away from the
Super Bowl.

“Downton Abbey,”
9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). On the same night that it's up
for a Golden Globe, this classy drama has key moments, both personal
(Lady Mary's tryst) and global: Despite Robert's grumbling, a radio
arrives so people can hear the king's speech.

“Ultimate Survival
Alaska,” 9 p.m., National Geographic. The second episode of this
terrific race has all the elements, from dog sleds to river rafts,
with grand adventure and near-tragedy.

“Shameless”
season-opener, 9-10 p.m., Showtime. Fiona's back from prison, working
as a waitress and in a chaste relationship with her boss. Her
brother is on college break, re-adjusting shakily to his rough life.
Their older sister tries hard to shock their dad Frank ... who, if
course, is unshockable. Back from his deathbed, Frank has a grand
project, in a sharp (and sometimes funny) episode.

“Togetherness”
debut, 9:30, HBO. This starts shakily, with a stale husband-wife
relationship, but then gets much better when two troubled souls –
his lumpy friend, her flighty sister (Amanda Peet) -- arrive.

“The Good Wife,”
10 p.m., CBS. An hour later than usual, due to football, this show –
another Globe-nominee – has the key debate between Alicia and Frank
Prady (David Hyde Pierce).

“Looking”
season-opener, 10 p.m., HBO. These gay friends depart San Francisco
for a vacation that's supposed to involve no drugs, no sex and many
trees. Plans change, sometimes thoroughly.

“House of Lies,”
10 p.m., Showtime. Marty is back from prison (flashbacks tell us what
happened), Jeannie is pregnant and their seedy consulting firm is
crumbling in funny ways.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Hawking” (2004), 10 p.m., Discovery.

On Sunday, the
Golden Globes will include a face-off between two superb movies, each
with a brilliant portrayal of a real-life British genius. It's Eddie
Remayne as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” and
Benedict Cumberbatch as computer pioneer Alan Turing in “The
Imitation Game.”

First, here's a
twist: A decade ago, Cumberbatch starred in this TV film about
Hawking. The result brought praise and BAFTA (the British equivalent
of Emmy) nominations for him and the film.

TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
Football, 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC, and 8:15 p.m. ET, Fox.

After getting byes
last week, the NFL's top-seeded teams each host a game. If they win,
they'll face the winners of Sunday's games, for spots in the Super
Bowl.

First, Tom Brady and
the New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens. Then Russell
Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks host the Carolina Panthers ... who
still don't have a winning record.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Saturday Night Live,” 10 and 11:29 p.m. (or later,
with football overrun), NBC.

Two reruns offer
movie stars, along with impressive female music guests.

First is William
Shatner, from back in 1975, with his much-discussed “get a life”
sketch; Lone Justice, with powerhouse singer Maria McKee, is the
guest. Then is a show from this past Oct. 25, with Jim Carrey hosting
and Iggy Azalea as music guest.

Other choices
include:

“The Missing,”
1:30-10:05 p.m., Starz. For seven compelling weeks, we've seen a
man's desperate search for his son in 2006 (when the boy disappeared
in France) and in 2014 (with the man's marriage and life shattered).
Now the entire season (so far) reruns, followed by the finale –
well, the first-season finale, anyway – reportedly with key
discoveries. That reruns at 10:05 and 11:10 p.m.

“Galavant” and
“Agent Carter,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. Here's a chance to catch up
with ambitious shows that debuted this past week. “Galavant: is a
comedy musical mini-series, spread over eight half-hours on four
Sundays; tonight, we see a knight vow to win back his true love ...
who, alas, is married to the king. “Agent Carter” has Hayley
Atwell in the role she played in two “Captain America” movies.
Now its 1946, women are marginalized, but she's needed to save Howard
Stark, who's been framed.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. Nick Jonas plays a computer whiz in this rerun. The
governor wants him to be protected by McGarrett and Grover.

“NCIS,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, the murder of a Port Authority seems to point toward
the terrorist named Parsa. Also, Ellie (Emily Wickersham) reveals her
past link to Parsa.

“Incredible! The
Dr. Pol Story,” 10 p.m., NatGeo Wild. Jan Pol was a Dutch
foreign-exchange student when he visited Michigan. He later returned
to become a small-town veterinarian with a wide-ranging practice. You
can catch his reality show (“The Incredible Dr. Pol”) today from
noon to 3 a.m.; in the midst of that is this hour – not incredible,
but fairly interesting – viewing his life, romance and more.

 

TV column for Friday, Jan. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Glee” season-opener, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

There have been
plenty of misadventures – for the show and its characters – in
New York. Now it's time to return to where this once triumphed –
among gleeful kids in small-town Ohio.

Rachel is there
because her career crashed, Kurt and Blaine because their romance
sputtered. Others merely arrive (in the second hour) for Homecoming;
all agree it's time to revive the programs that Sue (now the
principal) crushed. There are weak stretches here, especially with
Kurt and Blaine, but also soaring ones, musically (from Rachel's “Let
It Go” to the new kids' uptempo slngs) and personally.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Last Man Standing” and “Cristela,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., ABC.

Here's a nod to the
old days, when ABC's comedies ruled. Two of their stars have key
guest roles.

On “Home
Improvement,” Patricia Richardson played the wife of a tool zealot
(Tim Allen); now she's the “Last Man” neighbor whose noisy tool
projects annoy Mike (Allen). Then Roseanne Barr plays the estranged
wife of Cristela's boss; she has her own law firm and takes an
interest in Cristela.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

There are some
awesome voices in this world and opera star Renee Fleming has stuffed
many into one mega-concert. Each, alas, gets only one song, leaving
time for the singers to talk to students.

The talk is good;
the singing is awesome. Catch great talents from Broadway (Norm
Lewis, Sutton Foster), pop (Sara Bareilles), country (Alison Krauss),
jazz (Dianne Reeves) and more. Hear Josh Groban turn a Charlie
Chaplin song (“Smile”) into a triumph. And yes, Fleming proves
she she can go far beyond her classical roots: She milks every bit of
pain and beauty from “Danny Boy.”

Other choices
include:

“Banshee”
season-opener, 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., Cinemax. The second season –
tough, nasty, sometimes sexy and always well-crafted – reruns; that
concludes with the sheriff (a master thief who stole the identity of
Lucas Hood) blasting his enemies, with the help of ex-lover Carrie.
There's one more man to smite and that happens in the first few
minutes of the season-opener (10 p.m., rerunning at 11 and midnight).
Then Hood finds new problems, from his angry daughter and angrier
American Indians.

“Baby Mama”
(2008), 7:52 p.m., Bravo; or “Mean Girls” (2004), 8 p.m. Comedy
Central. Tina Fey's films collide. Fey wrote the smart script to
“Mean Girls” and co-stars as a teacher advising a mistreated teen
(Lindsay Lohan). She didn't write “Baby Mama,” but stars as a
businesswoman who hires a quirky sort (Amy Poehler, who will host the
Golden Globes with Fey on Sunday) to carry her baby.

“Hart of Dixie,”
8 p.m., CW. The 10-episode season starts with an episode that had an
advance showing last month ... and doesn't need to be seen again.
There are a few bits of goofy fun involving firefighter training, but
much of the hour has Zoe throwing herself at Wade, the guy she left.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. The theft of a priceless Van Gogh painting leads to an
undercover assignment for Kono and Chin (Grace Park and Daniel Dae
Kim).

“Masters of
Illusion” return, 9:30, CW. This four-episode run has Dean Cain
introducing top magicians.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), a big supporter of military
veterans, feels conflicted when he learns that several have linked to
pull off a robbery.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 8


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

After resting for
three weeks, TV's best comedy has a new episode, to start CBS'
no-rerun night.

Leonard and Sheldon
reluctantly agree that they'll do something that Penny and Amy want;
that leads to dress-shopping ... which really can't go well.
Meanwhile, Raj frets about a space probe he helped launch; Wolowitz
tries to distract him.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Expedition Unknown” debut, 9-11 p.m., Travel.

Josh Gates doesn't
seem to trifle with small things. In “Ghost Hunters” and
“Destination Truth,” he chased monsters and such; he starts his
new show with a search for Amelia Earhart, the pilot whose plane
disappeared in 1937.

The bad news is that
ghosts, monstets and long-missing pilots are notoriously hard to
find. The good is that Gates makes the search fun, finding intriguing
people, places and clues.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Portlandia,” IFC, or “Babylon,” Sundance; both
10 p.m.

Two brilliant
satires arrive simultaneously, forcing us to record one or stay up
for reruns.

“Portlandia” has
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein leaping between characters; this
season-opener (rerunning at 10:30 p.m. and 1 and 1:30 a.m.) has a
flashback for the book-store ladies. The “Babylon” debut
(rerunning at 1 a.m.) has a slick blonde (Brit Marling) manage the
image of a blunt cop (James Nesbitt, whose superb “The Missing”
concludes Saturday); that isn't easy, during a riot and jail break.

Other choices
include:

“American Idol,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. Wednesday's jaunty season-opener started the New
Orleans auditions. Tonight, that concludes and the second hour starts
the Kansas City tryouts, which wrap up Thursday.

“The Taste,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. A Latin-themed week has contestants trying tacos,
ceviche and more.

“Finding Vivian
Maier” (2013), 8-9:30 p.m., Showtime. For four decades, Vivian
Maier was a nanny and a mystery – tall, thin, quiet, forever
shooting photos. She died at 83, leaving 150,000 images, none of them
published and many of them superb. John Maloof bought them at an
auction and soon found they are masterworks; he created this
compelling documentary about a splendid enigma.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. Christy finally has a night alone ... but not for long;
Colin Hanks (a Golden Globe-nominee for “Fargo”) plays her
neighbor. Meanwhile, her re-uniting parents try a romantic night ...
soon broken up by his ex-wife (Beverly D'Angelo).

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. Walden discovers a problem with having Louis
as his foster son: It's difficult to find intimacy with female
friends.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Searching for Watson's ex-colleague, Holmes comes across
another missing-person case.

“Archer”
season-opener,, 10 p.m., FX. Things start with the usual chaos. The
headquarters blew up; Archer's mom has linked with the CIA and
ordered a $10-million remodelling. Meanwhile, fatherhood has pushed
Archer into a haze of sex and liquor. Then he's back, in a fairly
good episode.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Idol” opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

The dark days are
gone now. “Idol” no longer needs to mock deluded youths; mostly,
it offers a feel-good look at young singers, many of them with real
talent.

This opener, from
Nashville, starts with a vibrant 19-year-old who brings most of her
nine siblings from small-town Mississippi. It ends with a talented
15-year-old from Florida, trying for the show that began when she was
1. In between are bad singers (dismissed quickly) and ones worth
catching.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Two Emmy-winners
frolic, in a broad and funny episode. Pam Heaton is Frankie, who
never left her home town; Kirstie Alley is the classmate who won $1
million and moved to the city.

Each has two Emmys;
tonight they help brush away our rerun blues. There are also new
episodes of “The Goldbergs,” “Modern Family” (after a close
call, the Dunphys vow life changes) and “Black-ish.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Empire” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

Lucious (Terrence
Howard) is a music mogul who's had lots of hits and lots of troubles.
His health is bad; so is the health of the music industry. None of
his three mismatched sons seem ready to take over the company. And
his past has returned, in the fierce form of their ex-con mother
(Taraji Henson). “Empire” is what we'd expect from cable or
movies. It's produced and directed by Lee Daniels (“The Butler”)
and written by Danny Strong, who did that film plus HBO's “Game
Change” and “Recount.” Leaping between present and past,
between joy and fear, it's complex and difficult, but worth trying.

Other choices
include:

“The Mentalist,”
8 p.m., CBS. Sliding to a new night (where “Survivor” is between
seasons), this show has an episode focusing on an excellent character
– Abbott (Rockmond Dunbar), the quiet FBI boss.

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Here's France, far from the crowds.
On the once-regal Fontainebleu estate, 10-point stags are friends for
life – except when battling for a female. On cliff sides, amazing
creatures (two of them human) live vertically. There's much more, in
a gorgeous hour.

“Episodes,” 8
p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Showtime. With short seasons and sharp writing,
this is an annual delight. Matt LeBlanc plays a lunk-headed version
of himself; in the show, he's in a bad series written by Brits who
know better. Here's the entire third season; the fourth has a clever
start Sunday.

“People's Choice
Awards,” 9-11 p.m., CBS. The awards are wildly insignificant, so
let's hope the show is entertaining. It could be, with music (Lady
Antebellum, Iggy Azelea, Fall Out Boy) and a respect for mainstream
comedy. Anna Faris and Alison Janney of “Mom” host; last year's
host, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, will be there with her “Big Bang
Theory” castmates. Both shows are up for best network comedy,
facing “New Girl,” “Modern Family” and “2 Broke Girls”;
clever comedies get respect.

“Heartland”
return, 9 p.m., UP. This well-made Canadian series ended the first
half of its season with a jolt when Amy (who loves horses) was kicked
by one during a storm. Now she's in grave condition. Beautifully
filmed and solidly acted, this has (except for her overwrought dad)
well-drawn characters.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. A routine stop leaves Burgess (Marina Squerciati) in
the hospital with gunshot wounds, while forces combine to find the
shooter.