TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

A century ago,
mining companies owned everything – the mines, houses, the stores.
They also had brutal thugs to retain their power. Then “Mother”
Jones, already 64 and famed in union circles, arrived; Frank Keeney,
a fourth-generation miner, emerged as a local leader.

The union efforts
paused during the war, then resumed with fierce confrontations; one
1921 battle lasted three days, sprawling across a 25-mile front. It
was a time when governments routinely fought the unions; this
well-crafted film shows an era emerging, nudging workers into the
middle class.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

This micro-network
flashes the zest that comes with its trove of DC Comics characters.
First is a new “Flash,” with a surprise: Cisco senses that the
Reverse Flash is back. Barry and the others doubt it, until an attack
at Mercury Labs makesit definite.

Then is a rerun of
the high-octane “Legends” opener, before the second episode airs
Thursday. In this one, ime-traveler Rip Hunter puts together a team
to try to save Earth; he ends up with a rag-tag (but talented) team,
ranging from the idealistic Adom to the cynical Heat Wave and Captain
Cold.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Outsiders,” 9 p.m., WGN America, rerunning at 10,
11 and midnight.

For one company,
this seems simple: It owns an Appalachian mountain with a
billion-dollar pack of coal; just tell the squatters to leave. For
the deputy sheriff (Thomas Wright) this is something more: The
Farrells have been there for 200 years, making their own rules; they
can't be moved.

What follows has
hints of “Sons of Anarchy,” with guys who are crude and violent,
but live with a family code. It even has Ryan Hurst (Opie in “Sons”)
as a kin to the Farrell leader (David Morse). Unlike “Sons,” it
doesn't quickly give us someone to root for. Still, it's worth
sticking with.

Other choices
include:

“Fresh Off the
Boat” and “The Muppets,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. The first rerun
finds Eddie working part-time for rapper DMX; the second has Joseph
Gordon-Levitt singing a duet with Miss Piggy.

“Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS. This interesting hour finds opposite roots for
comedy people. Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel learn of 20th-century
immigrants and tough times; Bill Hader finds an ancestor who was a
Revolutionary War captain, probably crossing the Delaware with
Washington. Hader even goes back a century sooner in the U.S. -- and
then all the way to Charlemagne, the 9th-century
king of France. And Lear? He's a Levite; Jewish tradition says he's a
descendant of Abraham.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a petty officer has been slain in a familiar style.
Now the team must determine if this is the work of a serial killer or
a copycat,

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun involves the murder of a blogger
who was exposing government secrets. The team finds a dark secret
involving a SEAL and a humanitarian mission.

“Agent Carter,”
9 p.m., ABC. Last week, Peggy Carter – probing bad guys in 1947
Hollywood – learned of the Isodyne Lab's “black matter,”
supposedly more powerful than atomic energy. Now the search for
answers has her colliding with her superiors.

“Chicago Med,” 9
p.m., NBC. When a transplant is delayed, the administrator (S.
Epatha Merkerson) may have to risk her job. Also, Natalie's parents
arrive ... displeasing her mother-in-law (Annie Potts).

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. In the aftermath of the tornado, Casey learns that the
shelter holding many of the victims may close soon. Also, Herrmann
feels torn about testifying against Freddie.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 25


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Lucifer” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

Who can blame
Lucifer (Tom Ellis) for finding his job (administering eternal
damnation) tiresome? He's a handsome guy who wants to have fun;
naturally, he goes to Las Vegas.

Then a friend is
killed and he starts working with a local cop (Lauren German). She
doesn't really believe his claim to be Satan ... but is impressed by
his apparent immortality and his ability to make people tell the
truth. The result is a fun, flashy start to a different sort of
crime-solver series.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Recovery Road” debut, 9 p.m., Freeform (formerly ABC
Family).

Brainy, bored and
beautiful, Maddie (Jessica Sula) is skimming through high school.
Then she's ordered to live in a rehab center for adults; she'll keep
going to school, telling her friends nothing.

That's the start of
a smart drama series that fits well alongside “The Fosters.” Sula
leaves us rooting for Maddie, even when she's being impossible.
Alexis Carra (“Mixology”) provides strong counterpoint as her
guidence counselor; also, the rehab center is peppered with
interesting characters.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Magicians” opener, 9 and 10:10 p.m., Syfy.

The world must be
filled with secret schools of magic. Harry Potter's is a British
boarding school; this one is an American college. Childhood friends
are whisked there, with opposite results.

The first episode
tends to be one-note, as Quentin (Jason Ralph) remains sullen and
reluctant ... fitting into his somber surroundings. Stick around,
though, because “Magicians” begins adding depth in the second
hour. We start to see the possibilities; magic really should be fun,
you know.

Other choices
include:

“Midwinter of the
Spirit,” any time, www.acorn.tv.
The mini-series finale pits PBS favorite Anna Maxwell Martin
(“Bletchley Circle,” “Death Comes to Pemberley”) against
supernatural terror. In the first two parts (available on this
streaming service), we met her as a vicar and a novice exorcist.

“Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend” and “Jane the Virgin” return, 8 and 9 p.m., CW.
Two clever comedy-dramas return, each starring a Golden Globe-winner.
In “Crazy,” Rebecca (Rachel Bloom, this year's winner) rents a
party bus for Josh and his friends. Then Jane (Gina Rodriguez) starts
a job teaching athletes.

“The X-Files,” 8
p.m., Fox. After launching its season Sunday, this gets a new slot
for the other five episodes. Probing a scientist's death, Mulder and
Scullty see the bizarre results of DNA experiments.

“The Fosters”
return, 8 p.m., Freeform. Now officially adopted, Callie throws her
energy into her Web site about foster kids. She even has a potential
investor.

“War and Peace,”
9-11 p.m., A&E, History and Lifetime. If you missed the start of
this mini-series, catch it at 7 p.m. The new episode finds Pierre
fighting a duel.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business Network. The first
episode has someone inherit (with repercussions) Lee Harvey Oswald's
gravestone; the second has a long-ago baseball card.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. Kensi and Deeks announce that they'll be
living together; meanwhile, they're assigned to to protect her former
boyfriend.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The X-Files” season-opener, 10 p.m. ET Sunday (after football),
Fox.

Ever since 1993,
“X-Files” has fascinated and perplexed its viewers. It's had nine
seasons, three movies ... and a 15-year pause since the last TV
season.

Now it's back, with
six oddly varied episodes. This one is deep and dark, with a
conspiracy buff (Joel McHale) spurring Mulder to question his
strongest beliefs; it's flawed, but fascinating. We'll get back to
that in the sixth episode; but coming up are mismatched hours ...
including one that's a goofy comedy.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Football, 3 p.m. ET, CBS and 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox.

First is the return
of two classic quarterbacks – Tom Brady (still near his peak) and
the New England Patriots host Peyton Manning (struggling with an
injury-plagued season) and the Denver Broncos.

Then Carson Palmer
and the surprising Arizona Cardinals visit Cam Newton and the
Carolina Panthers, who are riding high from a 15-1 regular season.
The winners collide Feb. 7, in the 50th Super Bowl.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Billions,” 10 p.m., Showtime.

Alongside lots of
talk about finance and law and such, three compelling characters are
being built. One is the district attorney (Paul Giamatti); the other
is his target, financier Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). In between is
Wendy (Maggie Siff), the DA's wife and Axelrod's in-staff
psychologist.

Tonight, we see some
rare hesitance from the DA ... and the usual, boom-ahead approach
from Axelrod. He manages to shatter an employee, then a “friend,”
then – in a brilliant scene – an upper-crust family.

Other choices
include:

“Love on the Air”
(2015), 7-9 p.m., Hallmark. As co-hosts of a radio show, a feminist
(Alison Sweeney) and her opposite (Jonathan Scarfe) clash verbally.
You can probably guess the rest, but this is one of the better
Hallmark films, thanks to sharp dialog, delivered skillfully.

“Million Dollar
American Princesses,” 8 p.m., Smithsonian. The first three weeks of
this intriguing series saw women find troubles after marrying
Europe's elite; in the finale, we meet some who soared. One became a
noted designer, another a top fashion stylist. And Nancy Astor, born
in Virginia's mountains, became the first woman in the British
Parliament, battling Winston Churchill and others.

“Madam Secretary”
and “NCIS,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. Nudging things around, CBS plans
to follow football with two hours of “60 Minutes” and then these
reruns.The first has the president's plane missing; the second has
McGee and Bishop go undercover as husband and wife.

“Downton Abbey,”
9 p.m., PBS. Last week's episode closed with two key smoments – the
wedding of Carson and Mrs. Hughes and the surprise return of Tom and
his daughter. Tonight, in another good episode, Anna struggles with
her pregnancy effort; Dolly pushes to find a farm for Mr. Mason.

“Toni Braxton:
Unbreak My Heart,” 9 p.m., Lifetime. Here's a rerun of Saturday's
film, with Lex Scott Davis as Braxton, an immense talent who faced
bankruptcy, divorce and a health crisis with lupus.

“Breaking Band”
debut, 9:30, AXS. Viewers know Donovan Leitch as a sometimes-actor,
but he's also a musician (the career of his dad, folksinger Donovan)
in the Los Angeles club scene. Over the next six weeks, he hopes to
show that there are some talented semi-knowns, to be briefly paired
with a star for advice and a duet. That starts well, with gifted
singer-songwriter Andie Case and Dave Navarro.

“Mercy Street,”
10 p.m., PBS. Last week's opener introduced the uneasy Civil War
compromises of a temporary Union hospital inside a Virginia
plantation home. Tonight, Mary (an abolitionist) struggles to improve
her patients' lives; Emma (a Southern belle) nurses her friend.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
Sports overload, 8 p.m. ET, NBC, ABC and Fox.

On the eve of pro
football's conference-championship games, three of the big-four
networks manage to have busy nights with other sports. We can catch
athletes of any size.

NBC has lithe little
ones, with the U.S. figure-skating championships; the women are
tonight, the men are 4-6 p.m. Sunday ... Fox has muscular ones; a
boxing night is led by undefeated Danny Garcia facing Robert Guerrero
for the World Boxing Council's welterweight title ... and ABC has
towering ones, as LeBron James and the Cavaliers host the Bulls in
basketball; pre-game is 8, tip-off is 8:30,

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart,” 8 p.m., Lifetime.

Music fans know
Braxton has an awesome singing voice; reality-show viewers know she
has a hectic life. “Braxton Family Values” has followed her and
her robutst sisters.

Braxton's memoirs
filled in some of the other details, including bankruptcy, divorce
and a health crisis from lupus. Now here's the TV-movie version, with
Lex Scott Davis in the title role. There's a “Behind the Headlines”
hour at 10:02 p.m.; the movie repeats just after midnight and then at
9 p.m. Sunday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Black Sails” season-opener, 9 p.m., Starz.

Last season ended
with the linking of two longtime enemies: Vane rescued Flint, forming
a sort of pirate supergroup. Now they're sailing together with
Silver, who is adjusting to his leg being amputated. Meanwhile, the
pirate island remains vulnerable to attack.

It's a strong start
for this richly crafted series and it adds an imposing new character.
Ray Stevenson (“Rome”) arrives as Blackbeard, a massive force who
can even make other pirates quake.

Other choices
include:

“High School
Musical” (2006), 4:30 p.m., Freeform. A dandy teen triple-feature
begins on the former ABC Family. It's followed by “Clueless”
(1995) at 7 and “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” (1986) at 9:30.

“The Artful
Detective,” 7 p.m. ET, Ovation. This gently paced drama follows
crime-solvers in Toronto at the start of the 20th
centuries. You can catch reruns all afternoon and then this OK
season-opener, in which police try to learn why Sgt. Crabtree would
confess to a murder he probably didn't commit.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a model – who survived a
Peruvian massacre 20 years ago – is reportedly a murder target.
Kensi and Deeks go undercover as her assistant and chauffeur.

“Unleashing Mr.
Darcy,” 9 p.m., Hallmark. The Hallmark people say this movie is
based on “Pride and Prejudice.” Well, it does have a heroine
named Elizabeth and an upper-class love interest named Darcy. In this
case, it's a modern story; she's a dog-owner and he's a dog-show
judge.

“Sunshine
Superman,” 9 and 11 p.m. ET, CNN. Here are fresh chances to see the
short and fascinating life of Carl Boenish, a pioneer of “base
jumping” off buildings and mountains. It's an interesting story,
with some great visuals.

“Whitney Cummings:
I'm You're Girlfriend,” 10 p.m., HBO. The smart stand-up comedian
performs.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Ronda Rousey – one of the world's most
dominant athletes, despite her recent Ultimate Fighting Championship
loss – hosts. Selena Gomez is the music guest.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 22


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“MasterChef Junior” and “Hell's Kitchen,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

The two faces of
Gordon Ramsay will be on display tonight. One is quite pleasant;
Ramsay seems oddly homan in the presence of kids ages 8-13. Tonight,
the final four make souffles, then make a dish from a select cut of
pork; three will advance to next week's finale.

When he's with
professional chefs, however, he turns nasty; last week, he screamed,
swore and shut down half the kitchen ... as he seems to do in every
season-opener. Tonight, contestants have a race to make shrimp
dumplings ... while being bombarded by Las Vegas-style distractions.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Reign”mid-season finale, 8 p.m.., CW.

Beginning next week,
CW's Fridays will be filled with vampires, via “Vampire Diaries”
and “The Originals.” This show will return eventually, but now it
has a chance to stir some cliffhangers.

A young widow, Mary
finds herself drawn to Gideon ... but feels she needs to make a
politically productive liaison. Meanwhile, the struggle continues for
a temporary regent to fill the void created by the death of her
husband, the king of France.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the
National Lampoon” (2015), 8 p.m., History and Showtime.

Back in 1970, humor
took two giant leaps. One was TV's “Saturday Night Live”; the
other – starting a half-year earlier – was the National Lampoon
magazine, mixing smart satire and silly-sexy antics.

Soon, “SNL”
would take some of its writers (Michael O'Donahue, Anne Beatts) and
many of the stars of its stage show (John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda
Radner, Bill Murray). Others, led by John Hughes, would go on to
movies ... where Lampoon briefly sparkled with “Animal House” and
the “Vacation” film; this documentary views an era of delightful
comedy chaos.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Mad Dogs,” any time, Amazon.

Some middle-age guys
are suddenly invited to a buddy's gorgeous, beachfront estate in
Belize. It seems too good to be true ... which, they soon learn, it
is.

Based on a British
mini-series, this is the start of a lushly crafted adventure series
with Steve Zahn, Mark Imperioloi, Ben Chaplin and more.

Other choices
include:

“Pride &
Prejudice” (2005), 7:50 p.m., Oxygen. With the right director (Joe
Wright) and star (Keira Knightley), even this classic novel can be
done with few words and great visuals. More top movies follow at 8:
“Little Shop of Horrors” (1986) on TV Land, “Man of Steel”
(2013) on FX, “European Vacation (1985) on CMT and the
Oscar-nominated “Mad MaxL Fury Road” (2015) on HBO.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Vanessa argues that her
daughter Eve should be getting behind the idea of a woman president.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31,
ABC. This rerun finds Ken unenthused by Clark's promotion.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. While Grover is in Chicago to get Clay Maxwell's
confession, Chin and Kono are held at gunpoint by people who don't
know they're cops.

“Avengers: Age of
Ultron” (2015), 9 p.m., Starz. The Avengers heroes link for a big,
broad film that's occasionally too frenetic, but mostly a whiz-bang
good action tale.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. A drug dealer has returned to Baez's neighborhood ...
where she saw him commit a murder, long ago. Also, Frank faces a
crisis when a newly retired police lieutenant is accused of shooting
potential muggers in a subway.