TV column for Wednesday, March 7

“Life Sentence” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

Stella always knew
this would be brief and pleasant. She had a fatal disease; her family
gave her love, attention and much of its money. She married and
treated life as a brief honeymoon.

And then? Well, she
found herself cured and clueless; like most of us, she suddenly needs
a longer vision. This story may sound contrived, but Lucy Hale makes
it work. As Stella, she injects every scene with a sense of wonder.
“Life Sentence” manages to mix comedy, tragedy and youthful zeal.

II: “Hap and Leonard” season-opener, 10 p.m., Sundance.

By the end of the
remarkable, five-minute prelude, you'll know this is an exceptional
show. And that's before Leonard burns down his neighbor's house ...
and before the guys drive into redneck turf.

This is rural Texas
in the 1980s and the guys are opposites. Leonard is black, gay and a
Vietnam vet; Hap is white, straight and a draft resister. Both have
anger issues; Leonard has burning-houses issues. This six-week
mini-series has them plunging into a tough town, searching for their
friend Florida Grange. Stylishly filmed, it has a wonderfully
off-center approach.

“Heathers,” Paramount Network (formerly Spike).

It's been an uneven
start for this network. Its first new show (“Waco”) was
well-made; its second wasn't. “Heathers” has some clever moments,
but is mostly blunt and heavy-handed.

It was set to debut
at 10 p.m. today, but Paramount has said it's being delayed, due to
the Florida high school shooting. Nothing in the pilot seemed similar
to the Florida tragedy, but that may be later.

ALTERNATIVE: “Riverdale,” 8 p.m., CW.

For a moment,
Jughead tries to remind Archie how tangled their lives – and the
plots – have become: “Your best friend's girlfriend is your
girlfriend's best friend.”

Jughead loves Betty
(yes, they're called Bughead) and Archie loves Veronica Lodge (no,
they're not Varchie). Betty – the shy one -- has also kissed Archie
and Veronica. One tangle links the mayor and the police chief;
another links Kevin and Moose ... whose girlfriend Midge suspects
nothing. Now the couples retreat to Veronica's country place, the
Lodge lodge; it's a strong episode.

Other choices

“The X-Files,” 8
p.m., Fox. A little boy has been brutally attacked by an animal.
Naturally, Mulder suspects darker forces are involved.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. Last week's opener dumped Stephanie Gonzalez and Jacob
Derwin. Now -- much sooner than usual – there's a tribe swap.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. When his niece reports a
classmae for sexual assault, Carisi starts a police probe. Stone,
however, soon has problems with the case.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., CBS. Jay overhears part of Gloria's conversation about
spanking; he makes the disastrous assumption that she's telling her
bedroom wishes. Also, now that Mitchell finally has a good job, he
and Cam plan a party to flaunt his success.

Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. Someone hacked the missile that is
supposed to bring water to stranded astronauts. Now the president
needs help from the Russians ... who are quite good at hacking.

“The Assassination
of Gianni Versace,” 10 p.m., FX; rerunning at 11:30. This is a
beautifully made mini-series with a stubborn disregard for
chronology. Tonight, it captures the moment two people blossomed:
Donatella Versace (Penelope Cruz) was escaping the shadow of her
talented brother; Andrew Cunanan was escaping a low-income life with
his troubled mother.

TV column for Tuesday, March 6

“Mister Rogers, It's You I Like,” 8-9:30 p.m., PBS (check local

Here's a feel-good
hour, filled with warm memories of Fred Rogers. One moment, he's with
musical greats – Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Itzhak Perlman,
Yo-Yo Ma. The next, he's hugging Koko the gorilla, touring a factory,
or watching the birth of a kitten. For each, he brings a sense of
quiet wonder.

We also meet people
who grew up watching him. John Lithgow, Judd Apatow and Esperanza
Spalding talk warmly; “Mr. Rogers and some of my best therapists
shaped who I became,” Sarah Silverman says. Carroll Spinney (the
Big Bird guy) sees him as proof “you can be sweet and nice and
real, too.”

II: “This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

We're a week from
the season-finale of this terrific show, with an emphasis on Sterling
K. Brown.

He's already won an
Emmy here – a year after his Emmy for “The People vs. O.J.
Simpson.” Last week, Randall (Brown) found his former foster
daughter and her mom living in a car; tonight, they try re-bonding.
Then? Three days befoe the season-finale, Brown will host “Saturday
Night Live.”

ALTERNATIVE: “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” season-finale, 10
p.m., ABC.

It's the final show
of the first – and, presumably, only – season. After endless
troubles in this timeslot, ABC is going another way next week: It
will debut “For the People,” a sharply written lawyer show from
Shonda Rhimes, who produces all the network's Thursday hits.

certainly tries hard, with a clever plot, a likable star (Jason
Ritter) and, tonight, a key guest star. Leslie Jones of “Saturday
Night Live” arrives from Heaven, to help the overwhelmed Yvette.

Other choices

“The Bachelor,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. The show decided it needs a two-hour follow-up to
Monday's turmoil. The key people -- Arie Luyendyk Jr., Becca Kufrin
and Lauren Burnham – will be there.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. A retired Marine has been sending hundreds of packages to
current soldiers. When cyanide is found in one of them, Giggs
scrambles to clear his name.

“LA to Vegas,” 9
p.m., Fox. Colin is crestfallen when his divorce papers arrive.
Captain Dave's solution is to take him and the others for a

“The Mick,” 9:30
p.m., Fox. When Sabrina loses her fake ID, her brother offers to
concoct a new one ... but only if he can have a night out with her
and her friends.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. This gets complicated: A congressional aide
is missing, shortly after a hit man rescued her from two men posing
as FBI agents.

Baskets,” 10 p.m.,
FX. The show's two best – and most-contrasting – characters
dominate this episode. The ever-upbeat Christine (Louie Anderson)
whisks the ever-doubtful Martha (Martha Kelly) to a women-in-business
conference in Las Vegas. The result is well-played, with sly swipes
of humor.

“Unsolved,” 10
p.m., USA. This mini-series started sharply last week, with two cops
trying to solve the murders of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Now
one (Jimmi Simpson) heads to Las Vegas to look for a possible link; a
decade later, a second (Josh Duhamel) briefs a task force on the main

TV column for Monday, March 5

“The Bachelor” finale, 8-10 p.m., ABC.

The normal pattern
is basic: A two-hour finale, a final choice ... then, that same
night, a cheery “After the Rose” hour. For two of the bachelors,
however, things went awry.

This may be the
third. ABC says it has “one of the most emotional, stunning endings
to any 'Bachelor' season” and has set up a two-hour follow-up for
Tuesday. Tonight, Arie Luyendyk Jr., 36, a former race driver, is
supposed to choose Becca Kufrin, 27, a publicist from Minneapolis; or
Lauren Burnham, 25, a technology salesperson from Virginia.

“Good Girls,” 10:01 p.m., NBC.

It seemed like such
an easy plan. Three middle-class Michigan women needed money; they
would just rob the grocery store where Annie (Mae Whitman) works.
What could go wrong?

Lots, it seems. The
manager recognized Annie and tried sexual blackmail; Beth (Christina
Hendricks) intervened and he ended up bloody and beaten. Also, a
street gang had money in the store's safe; it wants it back, but some
has been spent. Tonight's fairly good hour mixes humor and dark

ALTERNATIVE: “iZombie,” 9 p.m., CW.

This fourth season,
which started last week, has a split personality. Yes, there's still
some humor – mainly when Liv (the terrific Rose McIver) munches the
brains of a murder victim, assuming that person's personality and
memories. Tonight, she becomes a country-club snob.

Alongside that is
the dark story of a walled city where brains are black-marketed to
zombies. Tonight, Major – a soldier and Liv's sometimes-lover –
faces fierce problems. Also, Angus (Blaine's dad) has become a zombie
zealot. It another great role for Robert Knepper, who was T-Bag in
“Prison Break.”

Other choices

second season, any time,
The first season quickly brought the death of Leo, a celebrity chef
and womanizer. In this four-part follow-up, his gorgeous widow
(Emilia Fox) and his talented first wife (Dawn French) continue his
castle restaurant, after coming into a pile of money. It's an offbeat
story, whimsically narrated by the late Leo, who adds sly humor to a
solid drama.

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. A murder probe reveals Hollywood's dark side. Also,
Lucifer – an expert on darkness – has a scheme to help Cain.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. Life can change drastically when you raise the price of
doughnuts. Tonight, that move attracts the hipster crowd that Arthur
has always disliked.

“The Alienist,”
9 p.m., TNT. Sara (Dakota Fanning) seems confident at her job, as
secretary to New York police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt. But when
she visits a hospital, she confronts her past: After her father's
suicide, she had a breakdown and was sent to a sanatorium.

Biblically,” 9:30, CBS. In last week's opener (a rather lame one),
Chip decided to follow all the rules in the Bible. Tonight, he makes
a life-changing decision -- abandoning his smartphone.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. The team unknowingly walks into a bank while it's being
robbed. Now these geniuses are being held hostage.

More cable dramas,
10 p.m. On AMC's “McMafia” (rerunning at 11:16 p.m.), Alex is
lured into a venture to harm Vadim's business in Prague. And in
Lifetime's “Unreal,” fights break out among guys on a
“Bachelorette”-type reality show.

TV column for Sunday, March 4

Academy Awards, 8-11 p.m. ET, ABC.

Chances are, this
will entertain us. Jimmy Kimmel – a smart and funny host last year
– is back, with a lot to joke about. Andra Day and Mary J. Blige,
immensely talented singers, lead the line-up for the best-song
nominees. Pretty people (Gal Gadot, Margot Robbie, Armie Hammer) will
be presenters.

And the best-picture
nominees? It's a terrific – and obscure – bunch. “Get Out”
and “Dunkirk” are well-known; many others are small and
beautifully made: “Lady Bird,” “The Post,” “Darkest Hour,”
“The Shape of Water,” “Phantom Thread,” “Three Billboards
(etc.) and “Call Me By Your Name.”

Fast cars, NBC and cable.

How do you compete
with the Academy Awards? Naturally, with lots of zooming cars.

“Fast and Furious
6” (2013) is 5 p.m. on FX. As soon as it finishes, you can switch
to NBC for its follow-up, “Furious 7” (2015) at 8. And if you
prefer non-fiction? BBC America has just started the second season of
its revived “Top Gear,” with Matt LeBlanc joining all those
British car buffs; reruns from the first season are 1-5 p.m., with a
new episode from 8-10 p.m.

“Simpsons” and “Minions,” FX and Fox.

On any crowded day –
Oscars, Olympics, even Super Bowl – there are cartoons to divert
us. Today, we can find “The Simpsons” from 4-8 p.m. on FXX, then
catch another rerun at 8 on Fox: Marge runs for mayor, conveniently
using Homer as the butt of her jokes.

More? You could
stick with FXX for “Minions” (2015), at 8 and 10 p.m. Or jump
around: At 7:25 p.m., Disney has “Hop,” a fun film mixing an
animated Easter Bunny with live-action people; that ends at 9, when
Fox has a “Family Guy” rerun, with Lois' mom hiring a nanny so
she can re-connect with Peter.

Other choices

Independent Spirit
Awards, 6:30 and 11 a.m. ET, IFC. Here's an early warm-up for the
Oscars. It reruns Saturday's ceremony honoring modest-budget films,
with John Mulaney and Nick Kroll hosting.

Academy Award
previews, E and ABC. E starts early, with its Oscar preview from 1-5
p.m. ET. Then it has its red-carpet coverage from 5-7 p.m.; ABC has
its own red-carpet show from 6:30 to 8.

“Billy Graham: An
Extraordinary Journey,” 7 p.m., Fox. Graham's life was, indeed,
remarkable. Born on a dairy farm in Charlotte, N.C., he became a
popular preacher – via TV and tours -- through large parts of the
country. He met every president from Truman to Obama and particularly
befriended Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon. Popular in the South, he
also was an outspoken civil-rights advocate. Now, 11 days after his
death at 99, here's a documentary with limited commercials.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. It's a night of drama reruns, with “Bull” at 9 p.m. and
“NCIS: Los Angeles” at 10. In this one, a person in interest in a
bribery and fraud case has been found murdered.

finale, 8 p.m. ET, Fox News Channel. The seven-week documentary
concludes with Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, the first for a U.S.
president since Andrew Johnson in 1868. It also follows up, to see
what has happened to the key people.

“The Walking
Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC. Nothing stops zombies (or zombie shows),
including the Oscars. Tonight, Aaron and Enid desperately search for
allies. Also, groups unite to converge on the Hilltop. There's more
zombie trouble on “Ash vs. Evil Dead” (9 p.m. Starz) and new
shows on all the pay-extra channels – Starz (8-9:30 p.m.), Showtime
(8-11 p.m.) and HBO (9-11 p.m.).

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 10 p.m., CBS. An Air Force captain has breached a missile
facility. Kensi, who dated the guy a decade ago, is rushed there to

TV column for Saturday, March 3

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

In the middle of a
big season – high ratings, sharp (if uneven) material -- “SNL”
had to skip three weeks for the Olympics. Now that it's back, it
should find plenty to make fun of.

Charles Barkley, the
former basketball star, hosts. It's his fourth time, spread over a
quarter-century. His first time, the music guest was Nirvana, no
less; this time, it's the rap trio Migos.

“Showtime at the Apollo,” 9 p.m., Fox.

If you missed this
show's debut Thursday – hey, it was a crowded night – catch this
quick rerun. Yes, it sounds cheesy – a talent contest with a
theater audience that can hoot the performers off the stage.

Still, this is no
“Gong Show.” Steve Harvey hosts it – as he seems to host
everything these days – and Pitbull does a song. More importantly,
the performers are first-rate. Some are odd (6-year-old rappers,
dancing rollerskaters, a blindfolded glasswalker), some aren't, but
most are immensely talented.

ALTERNATIVE: “Gandhi” (1982), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

In generations past,
the best-picture Academy Awards went to epics that were huge in scale
and rich in idealism. On the eve of the Oscars, here are strong

“Gandhi” --
rippling with non-violent confrontation – is followed at 11:30 p.m.
ET by “Braveheart” (1995), filled with mega-violence. Then the
massive “Ben-Hur” (1959) is at 2:45 a.m.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Independent Spirit Awards, 5-7:30 p.m. ET,
rerunning at 10, IFC.

These days, the
Oscars tend to avoid mega-movies and go with well-crafted little
indies. That's clear in these awards, designed to help
modest-budgeted indies; many of its nominees are also up for Oscars.

Today's best-picture
nominees include three films -- “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Call
Me By Your Name” -- that are up for that same award in the Oscars;
they're joined today by “The Rider” and the quirky “Florida
Project.” Other categories have “I, Tonya” and “Three
Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Other choices

“Jurassic Park”
(1993), 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., Paramount. Steven Spielberg's brilliantly
filmed adventure is followed by its sequel (1997) at 2 p.m. and 10
p.m.; “Jaws 3” is at 5.

Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. This reruns the first half of Friday's
amiable opener. Twenty girls (ages 8-13) prepare filet mignon and (in
some cases) a specialty dish; 12 of them will advance.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles, 8 p.m., CBS. Sam goes undercover, probing the murder of a
banker who had ties to the Russian Mob.

Sports, 8 p.m. ET,
NBC and A BC. Two winter sports collide. NBC has hockey, with
Washington and Toronto; ABC has basketball, with pre-game show at 8
and Celtics-Rockets at 8:30.

“Planet Earth:
Blue Planet II,” 9-10:30 p.m., BBC America. The first six episodes
– rerunning from 2-9 p.m. -- have had gorgeous underwater views.
Now the series closes with portraits of mankind fouling the seas ...
and saving the seas. Global action has saved the massive herring run
in Norway and has revived sperm whales. Individual heroics saved
1,000-pound turtles that bring their eggs to Trinidad.

“Falling Water,”
10 p.m., USA. The team tries a sting operation to catch Shadowman.

“Top Gear”
season-opener, 10:30 p.m., BBC America. At times, “Gear” is way
too British, with references to people, shows and cars that Americans
have never seen. And at times, the show goes too far in pretending to
be unscripted. Still, the talk is clever, the cars are great and the
filming is vibrant.