TV column for Thursday, Jan. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Baskets” debut, 10 p.m., FX; rerunning at 10:30.

Chip Baskets was
serious about his work, attending a prestigious Paris clown academy.
That didn't go well, because he doesn't speak French; now he's a
rodeo clown.

That starts a
brilliantly offbeat comedy, dry and droll and funny. Zack
Galifianakis wrote and produced it with Louis C.K.; he also leads a
terrfic cast. Louie Anderson plays his mom (really); Martha Kelly
brings a wonderfully drab approach as his insurance agent.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Legends of Tomorrow” debut, 8 p.m., CW.

Here is epic TV –
a team assembled to save the world. White Canary has died once;
Hawkman and Hawkgirl have done it often, since ancient Egypt. Heat
Wave and Captain Cold are hard and cynical; the Atom is an idealist.
The there's Firestorm, formed from two guys merging into one being.

All of this is done
with a mix of familiar actors – Victor Garber, Brandon Routh of
“Superman Returns” and Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell of
“Prison Break”– and newcomers. “Legends” has big special
effects, interesting characters and a saving-the-world story.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: New-show overload, 10 p.m., cable.

The odd forces of TV
have managed to plug everything into one overwrought hour.

On the drama side,
USA's “Colony” -- life after the alien takeover – has its
second episode; “London Spy” -- Ben Whitshaw in the story of a
gay romance leading to the discovery of a secret. On the comedy side,
two gems – the debut of “Baskets” on FX, the season-opener of
“Portlandia” on IFC – collide. Both have the same director,
Jonathan Krisl; two dandy shows occupy one space.

Other choices
include:

“American Idol”
(Fox) or “High School Musical 2” (2007, Disney), 8-10 p.m.. We
can spend the night with pop music, either with “Idol” -- the
show's final auditions episode ever – or the amiable teen film.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the hilarious episode that
followed the marriage of Leonard and Penny. The guys take him to a
belated bachelor party in Mexico; the women insist she finally tell
her parents she's married.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. The romance warms up between Christy and a guy (Harry Hamlin),
who is older, richer and charming. His daughter (Sara Rue) – who's
dating Christy's ex-husband – is not pleased.

“My Diet is Better
Than Your,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. This quick, four-week show is now a
week from its finale. Tonight, contestants fret about the
five-kilometer run.

“The 100”
season-opener, 9 p.m., CW. Life never gets easier for Clarke. Once a
force for moderation, she's now a tough warrior, surviving on this
rugged version of Earth. In a strong episode, she ranges from warm
sex with a temporary protector to danger with fierce bounty hunter.

“Recipe For
Deception” debut, 10 p.m., Bravo. Working with mystery ingredients
and a few “two truths and a lie” gimmicks, chefs battle. This
gets fairly complicated, making it a stretch for the casual fans of
food or TV.

“Dark Web”
debut, 11 p.m., Showtime. We meet guys who've fallen in love with a
computer image – sweet, loving and benign. It's a strange story,
launching a series about odd corners of the Internet.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In Indonesia,
monkeys have their own scam. They'll swipe something that people want
– sunglasses or a sandal, for instance – and scamper up high.
They won't let loose until people toss the right food.

Those scenes lead an
hour filled with animals' food-related trickery. A squirrel, knowing
he's being watched, will pretend to bury a nut, then will slip away
with it. A drongo will stand watch for critters who are more skilled
at digging grubs; sometimes he'll deliver a false warning, then grab
the treasure after the others have scurried away. It's a delightful
hour, the mid-section of a three-week series.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Last week's opener
ended with wrenching emotion. A distraught mother (Lili Taylor)
phoned the police, to report that her son has been raped. Now come
the aftershocks, in this deeply layered miniseries.

An outsider at an
upscale high school, the boy had been invited to a party filled with
popular kids; now he suspects he was drugged and raped. Oscar-winner
John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”) has again crafted a rich look at
mixed emotions, with superb performances by Tim Hutton (as the
basketball coach), Felicity Huffman (as the school administrator) and
more, including Taylor and other parents.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Kocktails With Khloe” debut, 10 p.m., FYI,
rerunning at 11:01.

This is apparently
for all of us who wish Khloe Kardashian would invite us to her dinner
parties. In addition to the Kardashian shows on the E channel, she
has this one on the former Biography Channel.

Her kitchen and
living room have been re-created in a studio. Each week, we'll see
friends talk, cook, drink and play party games.

Other choices
include:

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. In its final season, the show is down to its last two
rounds of auditions – an hour today (leading into “Second Chance”
at 9) and two hours Thursday.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Plans for Frankie's 50th birthday have been
delayed too long, Mike decides. Now he wants his son to plan a
surprise; also, the gym coach tries to transform Brick.

“High School
Musical” (2006), 8-10 p.m., Disney. Here's the likable film –
lame plot, but catchy music – that helped launch the surge of TV
musicals. Its sequel follows on Thursday.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30 pm., CBS. Mike's mother (the terrific Rondi Reed) has
a heart attack. Now everyone blames Molly, who was having an argument
with her at the time.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Alex lied about her college move-in day, so
her family couldn't make a big deal of it. Also, Cam and Mitchell
have a renter.

“Face Off,” 9
p.m., Syfy. Last week's season-opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) had
make-up artists create alien bounty hunter. Now comes a
change-of-pace -- creating a look based on a whimsical toy.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. Angus' brother -- considered an “all-star” doctor --
arrives, hoping to get a residency. Meanwhile, Christa (Bonnie
Somerville) has a growing attraction to Neal.

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia” and “Man Seeking Woman,” 10 and 10:30 p.m.,
FXX. After some strong episodes, both have so-so weeks. “Sunny”
has a brash tale set at a ski resort; “Man” has a one-note tale
about a guy crumbling when he fears he's going bald.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

It was bravado that
made Bonnie and Clyde famous ... and ended their short run. Clyde was
a small-time crook; Bonnie was a waitress with a love for movies and
poetry. Like many Depression people, they robbed banks and such;
unlike others, they posed for brash photos with guns and cigars.

When officials found
and processed the film, Bonnie & Clyde became famous and
most-wanted. Later, they dared to raid a prison and free five
inmates. Enraged, police created a mega-force and killed a legendary
duo.This is a fascinating story, told with rich historical detail.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Agent Carter” season-opener, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Peggy Carter has
been on a media whirl lately. As played by the terrific Hayley
Atwell, shes been in four Marvel movies, two “SHIELD” episodes, a
short and this series, which is now changing.

In the first season,
she was working in the New York offices of the Strategic Scientific
Reserve; visually, things were dark and drab. Now the SSR sends
Carter to Los Angeles, where she finds sunshine, blue skies and a
murder case; eventually, she'll also become entangled in the movie
industry.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Comic-book specials, 8 p.m., ABC; 9 and 9:30, CW.

Remember when
comic-book heroes were just for kids? Now they pack movie theaters
and boost TV networks. And tonight, two networks pause to celebrate
them.

On one side is
Marvel Comics; ABC's “Captain America: 75 Heroic Years” views the
hero who has spawned movies and set up the “Agent Carter” series.
On the other is DC Comics, viewed in two films. The first eyes the
characters in “Legends of Tomorrow,” which debuts Thursday on CW;
the second, hosted by comics buff Kevin Smith, previews the movies
“Suicide Squad” and “Batman v. Superman.”

Other choices
include:

“Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Post-slavery stories
offer rich details. Maya Rudolph's kin inherited land from a
guilt-ridden slave-owner ... then won in court when that was
challenged. The ancestors of Shonda Rhimes and Keenan Wayans quickly
achieved land-ownership. But another Wayans kin was freed during a
trip to Canada ... then fled South to re-enter slavery.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. As storms and power-outage rock the city, the team probes a
human-slavery ring.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. The team suspects that an apparent suicide
was staged. Also, there's an effort to create a dating profile for
Pride.

“Chicago Med,” 9
p.m., NBC. Earlier, we met Dr. Rhodes' rich and arrogant father. Now
he's honored, after giving a substantial donation; dark family
secrets emerge.

“The Grinder,”
9:30 p.m., Fox. Starting a two-parter, Dean (Rob Lowe) is being
nudged out: He's supposed to move from his brother's home. Also, he's
being recruited by a rival law firm ... despite the fact that he's
not really a lawyer.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. A storm heads toward Chicago ... and, possibly,
Herrman's house. Also, Chili's erratic behavior engangers a life and
causes concern.

“Just Jillian”
debut, 10 p.m., E. On “Biggest Loser,” Jillian Michaels had a
tough-as-nails image. Now this reality show visits a gentler side at
home, with 15 pets, her partner Heidi Rhoades and a pair of
3-year-olds, one adopted from Haiti.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Superstore.” 8 p.m., NBC.

When Jonah gets a
perfect score on the work test, his supervisor (America Ferrera) is
not amused. She prides herself in being the best; soon, they're
locked in an unproclaimed competition.

That part develops
slowly, but leads to some great sight gags. Another part – trying
to detect who's the “secret shopper” -- is overwrought. Even
then, “Superstore” remains bright and likable.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“MasterChef Celebrity Showdown,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Already a night of
reality overload – with “Bachelor” and “Biggest Loser” --
this adds a reality special. Gordon Ramsay eyes competitions
involving three past “MasterChef” winners (Luca Manfe, Christine
Ha and Claudia Sandoval), plus “MasterChef Junior” kids and
celebrity duos.

Supermodels Gigi
Hadid and Devon Windsor face duos from three Fox shows. There's
Kaitlin Doubleday and Ta'Rhonda Jones from “Empire”; Terry Crews
of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and his wife Rebecca; and Boris Kodjoe of
“Last Man on Earth” and his wife Nicole Ari Parker.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “War & Peace” opener, 9 p.m., History, A&E
and Lifetime; repeats at 11:02 p.m. and 1:02 a.m.

Leo Tolstoy's
sprawling novel keeps tempting filmmakers. There have been at least
four movies, two mini-series and more. Now Andrew Davies – who's
written some of the best mini-series, from “Bleak House” to the
original “House of Cards” -- has crafted a new, eight-hour
version.

Over four Mondays,
we'll meet Russia's aristocratic families, early in the 19th
century. Lily James (“Cinderella”) plays Natasha, with James
Norton (the “Grantchester” mysteries) as sturdy Andrei and Paul
Dano (“Love & Mercy”) as the rich and awkward Pierre.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Forty years ago, Dr.
Bernard Rosenfeld made a startling claim: At the Los Angeles County
hospital, low-income Latinas were being tricked or pressured into
involuntary sterilization.

Many people ignored
him; Antonia Hernandez – 26 and fresh from UCLA Law School – won
a historic suit. Renee Tajima-Pena spent six years on this compelling
film, interviewing Hernandez, Rosenfeld, other doctors and six of the
women whose lives were transformed four decades ago.

Other choices
include:

“19-2,” any
time, www.acorn.tv. Cop shows are
an American specialty, but the Montreal people seem good at it. This
series starts with a stereotype – the reluctant partnership of a
veteran black cop and a small-town transfer – then adds neatly
understated dialog and performances. The first two episodes are out
today, with others weekly through March 14. Also, the spooky
“Midwinter of the Spirit” continues.

“The Bachelor,”
8 p.m., ABC, with follow-up at 10:01. Last week, Ben Higgins was
jolted when one of the women actually refused his rose. This time, he
receives bad news from back home.

“Just For Laughs,”
8-9:30 p.m., CW. Howie Mandel hosts a stand-up special at a New York
festival. It has Pete Holmes, Jim Breuer, Jeff Ross and more, plus
old footage of Joan Rivers and Jon Stewart.

“Telenovela,”
8:30 p.m., NBC. As a hurricane howls toward Miami, the cast may be
doomed. Gael is the inept safety captain and food is scarce among
actors who've all been dieting. The result is inconsistent, but has
some great moments.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. Jeff Fahey plays Sylvester's estranged father, a retired
general who says an African general has found a powerful weapon from
the World War II era.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. The murder victim is a tech whiz who
developed a program to collect undetectable data.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Billions” debut, 10 p.m., Showtime.

For Damian Lewis,
this has become a fine habit: Each year he stars in a sharp, smart
Sunday drama series. Last year was the Golden Globe-winning “Wolf
Hall,” playing King Henry confronting a clever lawyer; now
“Billions” has him as a Wall Street king, facing a clever (and
obsessed) lawyer.

Bobby Axelrod is a
street-smart, New Jersey native who conquered finance; the district
attorney (Paul Giamatti) is determined to convict him. Try to ignore
the blitz of insider details; this hour (on a night when most cable
systems offer Showtime free) has great actors tackling richly layered
characters.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Downton Abbey” and “Mercy Street,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS.

Sure, last week's
“Downton” was an in-betweener, quieter than most. That set up
this strong hour.

As the Carson/Hughes
wedding nears, no one's sure where it will be held. Arguments about
the local hospital heat up, spurring even Cora to have a mean moment.
There's a neat surprise in the final minutes ... and then the debut
of an ambitious period piece: “Mercy Street” begins with a
widowed abolitionist becoming a nurse, in a Virginia mansion that's
been converted to a Civil War hospital.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Angie Tribeca” marathon, 9 p.m., TBS.

Here is a brash way
to introduce a show – a 25-hour, commercial-free marathon. The
10-episode season starts at 9 p.m., then re-starts at 1:19 a.m., 9:04
a.m., 1:23 p.m. and 5:42 p.m. Monday.

And this show
clearly needs to be treated brashly; a broad parody of cop shows,
it's in the spirit of “Naked Gun.” Angie (Rashida Jones) is a
tough cop, dealing with an unwanted partner and some daft suspects.
Steve and Nancy Carell created it; he directed the opener and she
plays the mayor's wife. Some scenes (Lisa Kudrow as a maybe-mistress)
are hilarious, some fail, but “Angie” booms ahead.

Other choices
include:

Football, 1:05 p.m.
ET, Fox and 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS. Superstar quarterbacks collide in the
play-offs. Russell Wilson's Seattle Seahawls visit Cam Newton's
Carolina Panthers; then (if injuries permit) it's Ben Roethlisberger
and Peyton Manning, as the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Denver
Broncos.

“Galavant,” 8
and 8:30 p.m., ABC. To get in the mood for the loopy “Angie
Tribeca” humor, try this show, which leaps between broad parody and
clever songs. In tonight's first episode, Galavant is wedged between
feuding giants and dwarves; in the second, we meet his father, an old
knight.

Critics Choice
awards, 8 p.m., A&E, Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network. The
best-picture winners at the Golden Globes (“The Revenant” and
“The Martian”) collide here, alongside “Spotlight,” “The
Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,”
“Carol,” “Brooklyn,” “Room” and “Sicario.” Then
there are all the subcategories – action, animated, sci-fi, etc. --
plus TV, acting and more.

“Cooper Barrett's
Guide to Surviving Life,” 8:30, Fox. Heading to her ex-boyfriend's
wedding in Mexico, Kelly wants Cooper to pretend to be her date. He'd
rather be her real date, but he goes along ... soon bumbling
thoroughly. What follows is a slick and funny parody of “24.”

Debate, 9 p.m. ET,
NBC. After getting some awful timeslots for previous debates, the
Democrats get a broadcast-network spot on TV's best night.

“Sunshine
Superman,” 9 p.m. ET, CNN; reruns at midnight ET. After losing a
year of his childhood to polio, Carl Boenish roared through life. He
became a pianist, an engineer, then a master of “base jumping” --
parachuting from cliffs and skyscrapers and such. That led to his
fame, his belated romance and his death. The story is told warmly ...
with, of course, some glorious footage.

ALSO: An busy night
has lots of cable non-fiction. At 8 p.m. on Ovation, the fairly
interesting “Tour of Beauty” sends Rachel Hunter to Paris. Also
at 8, “Million Dollar American Princesses” includes the
compelling story of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, John's sister. At 9,
the American Heroes Channel has “The Hunt for James Earl Ray.” At
10, AXS airs David Bowie's “Ziggy Stardust” (1973) concert film.