TV column for Thursday, Oct. 2

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “A to Z” debut, 9:30 p.m., NBC.

Imagine a first-rate indie-movie romantic comedy, one with
charm, wit, surprises and two immensely likable people. Now shrink that to a
half-hour and you have this dandy debut.

Andrew (Ben Feldman) is an optimist, working for a matchmaker;
Zelda (Cristin Milioti, the “How I Met Your Mother” mom) is a lawyer who’s
given up on romance. Their friends provide broader comedy, but these two have a
subtle, fragile feel. Beautifully filmed and smartly written, “A to Z” Is a

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Gracepoint,” 9 p.m., Fox.

“Broadchurch” was the sort of compelling drama we might
expect from cable or from England. A BBC America mini-series, it traced a
murder case, with deep portrayals of people in a seaside town.

Surprisingly, Fox decided to do an American version, with
the same star (David Tennant) and a different ending. More surprisingly, the
opener is a tad better than the original. Anna Gunn plays a police detective,
bitter that a newcomer (Tennant) is in charge of the case. Nick Nolte plays a
codger who looks guilty, in a Nolte-esque way. Other richly layered characters
fill this 10-week tale.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Vampire Diaries” and “Reign”
season-openers, 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

After some lame years, the CW will debut two strong shows next
week. First, these two return.

“Diaries” has Elena starting her sophomore year of college
and learning what Stefan is up to; also, Jeremy adjusts (badly) to the loss of
Bonnie, Alaric adjusts to being a vampire. “Reign” – the teen-monarch-angst
story – has a bigger problem: the bubonic plague.

Other choices include:

Baseball, 5:30 p.m. ET, TBS. The first full play-off round
starts with an American League doubleheader. 
As best-of-five series begin, Baltimore hosts Detroit and the Los
Angeles Angels host the Kansas City Royals.

“Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. Last week’s season-opener found Booth cleverly
framed for murder. Now a newcomer, federal agent Aubrey (John Boyd), helps
probe a deeply imbedded conspiracy.

“Grey’s Anatomy,” 8 p.m., ABC. The season’s second episode
focuses on Dr. Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary), the newcomer. She keeps trying
to make a good impression, under tough circumstances.

“The Biggest Loser,” 8 p.m., NBC. After some early two-hour
episodes, this shrinks to an hour.

Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, CBS. With Minnesota visiting Green
Bay, this could have been a battle of teams with losing records. But both had
key victories last week, putting them at 2-2; now one will be a winner.

 “Bad Judge,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. The pilot film simply tried too hard, with Kate Walsh as a hard-living,
hard-drinking judge who drums in rock band and houses a homeless kid. Now
that’s been toned down – no drums, no live-in kid. The result is still busy and
erratic, but has its moments of humor and warmth.

“Scandal,” 9 p.m., ABC. Mary McCormack is familiar to
capitol-drama fans, via “West Wing” and “K Street.” Now plays half of a power
couple, key to the president’s state-of-the-union address.

“How to Get Away with Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Keating should
be focusing on defending a mogul facing murder charges.  Still, she’s distracted by a possible link
between her husband and a missing student.

TV column (slightly out of order) for Monday, Sept. 29

Here's the TV column for Monday, Sept. 29, which is a tad out of order. Righter after this one, you'll find the Wednesday and Tuesday ones:

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Castle” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., ABC.

The season starts spectacularly – a car crash, flames, water
… then a massive missing-person mystery. Beautifully molded by Rob Bowman (also
a key “X-Files” director), it’s deeply involving.

Viewers will demand to know what happened … and, alas, won’t.
Alongside its other blessings (humor, warmth, intelligence), “Castle” has
usually had an answer at the end of each hour. This time, it merely leaves us
waiting – very eagerly – for the episodes to come.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., CBS.

This is good news for “Big Bang” fans and bad news (temporarily)
for fans of “Mom.” In a late switch, CBS decided to put two “Big Bang” episodes
(one new, one rerun) on the next three Mondays. Then “Big Bang” returns to
Thursdays – where “Mom” gets the coveted spot behind it, starting its season
Oct. 30.

Tonight’s new “Big Bang” has Wolowitz throwing the first
pitch at a Los Angeles Angels game. The rerun has Sheldon realizing his “scientific
breakthrough” is a fraud.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Scorpion,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Last week’s debut introduced an awkward band of geniuses,
ready to intermittently save the world. It had its moments, but needed emotion,
humanity and believability. Now two of those have been added.

The hour starts and ends with critically ill children. It’s
passionate, human … but hardly believable. At one point, a genius acts like a
total fool; he was chosen because he could memorize the papers … apparently
because this is the only TV team without a mini-camera. It’s an OK hour, but a
flawed one.

Other choices include:

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. The season’s
first two weeks had, logically enough, a results night; on Tuesdays, track star
Lolo Jones and newsman Tavis Smiley were ousted. Now “Stars” shrinks to one
night; tonight’s busy episode will end with the third ouster.

“Gotham,” 8 p.m., Fox. Last week’s epic-style debut
introduced the young people who will become Catwoman and the Penguin. Selina Kyle
is sleek and silent, Oswald Cobblepot is squirmy and lethal; they’re
beautifully played by Camren Bicondova and Robin Lord Taylor. Tonight, Selina is
grabbed by a child-abduction ring; Oswald makes his deadly way back to Gotham

“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. Last week’s season-opener
glimpsed Crane’s bitter memories of his old boss, Benjamin Franklin (Tim
Busfield). Now we’re back there: In his latest effort to retrieve his wife,
Crane may try to re-create a creature that Franklin envisioned in the
Frankenstein style.

“The 50 Year Argument,” 9-11 p.m., HBO. In its masthead, The
New York Review of Books prints those last two words (“of books”) much smaller.
It reviews life, often stirring arguments. This documentary, co-directed by
Martin Scorsese, views its first half-century, richly illustrated by TV clips
and readings.

“The Blacklist,” 10 p.m., NBC. Red wants to take down a
money-laundering bank that’s just been robbed.

“Gone with the Wind,” 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies. Here’s another chance to see (or, probably, record) this great movie,
which turns 75 on Dec. 15.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 1

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

For three months, the dad hasn’t eaten; he’s fed his chick,
while shielding it from Antarctic ferocity. Now there’s nothing left to feed
with; death looms. Will the mom return on time? Will she find the dad in that
endless black-and-white mass? And will he surrender the chick to a mom it has
never met?

Stories like that are beautifully told in the second (and
best) chapter of a three-week penguin series. Other views are along the
Peruvian desert and the Falklands coast, where young chicks face swooping
birds, giant sea lions and even kidnapping penguins. There are strong moments
of tragedy and triumph.

“Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Rayna’s life continues to be like a country-music song,
albeit a good one. She agreed to marry Luke, the superstar, startling viewers
and her daughter Maddie … who figure Deacon (Maddie’s biologic dad) was the logical
choice. It also stunned Deacon … who expects to be dumped from Luke’s tour.

Also, Rayna’s album sales are surpassed by Will, who has gay
lovers and an angry wife. And Juliette is haunted by the calculation that her
pregnancy came via nasty Jeff. All of this sounds soapy, but most of it –
except for the suddenly inexplicable Scarlett – is solid, believable and

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Bridge” season-finale, 10 p.m.,

A web of evil officialdom is being uncovered, but there’s
danger everywhere. Captain Robles has been identified as a rapist, but he
stabbed the vengeful Linder and fled. Fausto is on the run, but he has captured
Marco and the drug-addicted daughter of a drug-cartel financier.

Those two overwhelmed hostages are on their own. So are
Sonya and Hank, each following a cartel vehicle. Then there’s lethal Eleanor;
it’s a fairly strong finish to an excellent season.

Other choices include:

“The Mysteries of Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. Laura and her
estranged husband return to the spot where they first met. That’s where they
now to probe the murder of a popular biker-bar owner.

“Halloween Crazy” (etc.), 8-11 p.m., Travel. It’s October,
so cable starts its Halloween barrage. These from pumpkin-carving contests (one
underwater, another with a $1,000 prize) to a zombie run.

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. After a 21-year dry spell, the
Pittsburgh Pirates are in the play-offs for the second straight year. They host
the Giants, to see which National League wild-card team will continue.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Alex, the high-achiever, is
ready to ponder colleges now. That takes her to Cal Tech, where family members
end up in a psychology experiment.

“Black-ish,” 9:31, ABC. After the strong start last week,
we’ll see how the show is from week to week. Tonight, Andre’s mom gives him the
sex talk, figuring the dad is too wimpy to do it. Offended, the dad gives his
own talk … and soon wishes he hadn’t.

“Stalker” debut, 10 p.m., CBS. Fresh from the serial-killer “Criminal
Minds,” CBS gets even nastier. This starts with a woman incinerated in her car.
Then we meet the anti-stalking unit: The leader (Maggie Q) is stark and grim; her
new detective (Dylan McDermott) is sort of a stalker himself. They’re tough to

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 30

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Selfie” debut, 8 p.m., ABC.

Karen Gillan provides the perfect vessel for great writers.
Tall (5-10) and thin, she projects comic clumsiness; once a shy kid from
small-town Scotland, she projects fragility and humanity.

First, Stephen Moffat, cast her as Amy in “Doctor Who”; now
Emily Kapnek (“Suburgatory”) has given her another gem. Gillan plays Eliza
Dooley, who has 263,000 friends in social media and none in real life; she
wants Henry (John Cho) to teach her. This variation on “Pygmalion” is superbly
filmed and acted.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., Fox; or “Makers,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The Fox comedies and ABC’s “Selfie” have key things in
common – female creators, female stars and sharp wit. And airing at the same
time, a PBS documentary reminds us how tough the odds once were.

The comedy-club circuit was 95-percent male, it says; TV
writers’ rooms were similar. “Golden Girls” – with a female creator and stars –
had one female writer and 12 guys. This “Makers” documentary is prone to wild
overstatement – Carol Burnett’s ditzy secretary is somehow described as a
satire on media images – but it has great comments and clips from the late Joan
Rivers and others.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Finding Your Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Just after the final crescendos of Derek Jeter’s baseball
career, here’s a chance to visit his roots. Jeter talks briefly about being a
mixed-race kid in Kalamazoo, Mich.; then experts dig into his family, finding
quick achievers. On one side is an ex-slave man turned preacher and landowner;
on the other is an English immigrant who owned a rowdy bar and then a furniture

Other stars – Billie Jean King (tennis) and Rebecca Lobo (basketball)
– learn about their roots. Lobo’s careens from the Spanish revolution to a
missed boat ride and some unexpected ethnic ancestry.

Other choices include:

“iHeartRadio Music Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW. Here’s the
second half of a concert with One Direction, Lorde, Train, 50 Cent, Ed Sheeran,
Iggy Azalea, Paramore, Weezer, Calvin Harris and Eric Church.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A Navy officer has been killed on the
way to a meeting with the President

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET, TBS. For the first time since 1985, the
Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs. To stay there, however, they must win
this wild-card game; they host the Oakland A’s.

“Manhattan Love Story,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Dana moved to New
York, determined to focus on career success, not romance failures. Peter has
lived there his entire life; his focus is on one-night stands. She’s idealistic;
he’s not. They are, in short, a logical romantic-comedy couple. Like “Selfie,”
this show has a sleek look and funny moments. What it lacks is a consistent
script, a likable guy and Karen Gillan.

“NCIS: New Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. When a Navy lieutenant
dies of bubonic plague, the team must find his colleagues. Several “NCIS”
people – Tony, Vance and Abby – get involved.

“Agents of SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. With his team on the run,
Coulson takes a dangerous step.

“Live Free or Die” debut, 10 p.m., National Geographic. A
former financial advisor lives alone in the Georgia swampland, foraging for
food. A former teacher lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sometimes with his
5-year-old daughter. Two married couples re-define wilderness life. These are
interesting people to follow … even if it is tough to empathize with deliberate

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 28

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Resurrection” season-opener, 9 p.m.,

Last season ended roughly. The sheriff called in the Army
and had most of the returned-from-the-dead people hauled away. The outside
world soon was convinced that it was all a hoax.

Now Martin (Omar Epps), a federal agent, wakes up dazed and
confused. What has happened? Is there a cover-up? This opener gives fresh
energy to an already terrific show; that includes an important arrival and a
powerhouse realization during tonight’s final minutes.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Simpsons” season-opener, 8 p.m.,

First, we get a peek at what “The Simpsons” will look like
in a few millennia. (You really didn’t expect the show to ever end, did you?)

Then come two things that we’ve never seen in the first 25
seasons – a well-deserved roast of Krusty the Clown and a long look at a Jewish
Heaven. There are great moments, with brief guest spots from Sarah Silverman,
Jackie Mason and master roaster Jeff Ross.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Once Upon a Time” season-opener, 8
p.m., ABC, with preview at 7.

Driving home from a drunken party, two ruffians really don’t
expect this – a blonde beauty in an elegant ballroom gown, trudging down the
road. They zoom toward her; she blasts their truck into ice.

Ah yes, more trouble in this dandy show’s two worlds. In
fairy-tale land, we meet Elsa the Ice Queen (of “Frozen” fame) and her sister;
we see newlyweds Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. But Elsa finds Storybrooke … which
is already shaken by Emma saving Marian, whose husband Robin Hood had a romance
with Regina. Will Regina return to her evil ways? Will Storybrooke freeze? It’s
fun finding out.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: “The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX.

Yes, this hour delivers the big monster moments that “Strain”
fans expect. Eichhorst invades the pawn shop; Palmer, the mogul, learns whether
his deal with the devil will bring renewed life.

Alongside that, however, are quietly powerful emotions. We learn
the back story of Setrakian’s monster quest. And Ruta Gedmintas has great
moments as Dutch Velders, the young hacker now trying to make amends, after
realizing Palmer had hired her to do evil.

Other choices include:

“Masterpiece,” 8 and 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). In
1875 London, John Moray ran a department store and prepared to marry Katherine,
the owner’s daughter … until she realized he loves Denise, the shopgirl. Moray
was banished; Katherine left. Tonight, both return, in a lush hour that starts
the second and final season of “The Paradise”; that’s followed by the season’s
third and final Miss Marple mystery.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” season-opener, 8:30 p.m., Fox. Last
season ended with Jake (Andy Samberg) pretending to be a dirty cop, so he could
work undercover. Now he’s already cozy with the Mob. (Hey, he’s a charming
guy.) That’s the start of a fast, funny episode that also has station-house

“The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. The season started powerfully
last week, with Cary charged with aiding a drug deal. It’s apparently a ploy to
get to the drug kingpin he and Alicia represent … complicated by the
prosecutors’ rage at Alicia and her husband. Maneuvers continue, while Diane
prepares to switch firms.

“Ray Donovan” and “Masters of Sex” season-finales, 9 and 10
p.m., Showtime. Ray’s dad has a new scheme. Then Masters and Johnson finally
release their research results to the public.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” season-opener, 10 p.m.,
CBS. Starting its new night, “CSI” has a bomb in Finlay’s car … a call from
(maybe) the Gig Harbor Killer … and a double role for Mark-Paul Gosselaar.