TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Idol,” 8-9 p.m., Fox.

As its ratings
decline – from sensational to merely very good -- “Idol” keeps
tweaking. Now a change pops up today and Thursday.

Instead of singing
to a supportive studio audience, the 48 singers each do a song at the
House of Blues. We'll see some sent home each night, trimming the
field to 24 by the end of Thursday's hour.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Mentalist” series finale, 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

A seven-year run
concludes, with CBS showing that it has changed tone. At first, this
show – like the “CSI” ones – was often as cold and
calculating as its lead character, former fake-psychic Patrick Jane.

Then things warmed
up. Rigsby and Van Pelt (who return tonight) fell in love and left.
Vega started a maybe-romance with Wylie, then was killed. Now Jane
proposes to his former boss, Lisbon (Robin Tunney). Also, he resumes
a psychic duty in the first hour and faces a vengeful killer in the
second.

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

Sure, owls seem like
they're always waiting for their photo opportunity. They have the big
eyes, the unflinching faces; what we overlook is that they are also
splendid physical creations.

They're on every
continent except Antarctica, patroling night (what we expect) and
day. Some have an awesome wing-to-weight proportion; they fly so
silently that a decibel meter picks up nothing. They are friendly
(this terrific film sees people raising them from chicks, but they're
also stark predators.

Other choices
include:

“The Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. As Laura (Debra Messing) probes a murder
linked to an escort ring, headquarters sends a detective to
investigate her alleged improprieties with Jake (Josh Lucas).

“The Book of
Negroes,” 8 p.m., BET, repeats at 10. This ambitious, three-night
series concludes. In Tuesday's chapter (rerunning at 5:30), Aminata
escaped from owner Lindo ... who then supported her freedom. She
helped compile the book, listing 3,000 blacks heading to freedom in
Nova Scotia. Now she's there, aided by Daddy Moses (Lou Gossett Jr.).
More crises follow, in Africa and in England.

“Gladiator”
(2000), 8 p.m., AMC. Four days before the Academy Awards, cable
offers a pair or films that each won five Oscars, including best
picture. This is the epic one; “The Apartment” (1960, 8 p.m. ET,
Turner Classic Movies) is smaller, filmed in black-and-white, warm
and bittersweet.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. The once-wild Sal (Elizabeth Banks) has a belated baby
shower.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. Maddie is being pushed away by Deacon, because of his
secret illness. Also, she may sign with Jeff Fordham ... infuriating
Rayna.

“The Americans,”
10 p.m., FX. After weeks with fierce action, “Americans” returns
to layers of ethical dilemmas. Phillip remains troubled by his wife's
plans fort their teen daughter ... and about his attempt to
manipulate a troubled teen. In Russia, Nia gropes at a outside chance
to emerge from prison.

“Schitt's Creek,”
10 p.m., Pop. If you missed the terrific start of this comedy, you
can catch the first episode at 10:31 p.m. and the second at 9:30 and
11. This third one (rerunning at 11) finds once-wealthy David facing
a new experience ... looking for a job.

“Man Seeking
Woman,” 10:30 p.m., FXX. Josh finally has a girlfriend and a happy
life. He'll find a way to blow it, while imagining some very funny
“scared straight” and “dating court” scenes.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Italian Americans” opener, 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Here were immigrants
facing a double bias – against Italians in general and the southern
half of Italy (including Sicily) in particular. Officials even
designated which half people came from; those from the South found
jobs were harsh and low-paying; solutions were legal (labor unions)
or not (crime).

On the West Coast,
however, there were signs of prosperity. Italian fishermen thrived in
San Francisco. After the earthquake, the Bank of Italy moved to the
docks to make personal loans; it would thrive and become the Bank of
America. This strong opener goes through 1930, then wraps up next
week.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Repeat After Me” debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC.

So imagine you're
applying for a job as actor Scott Foley's nanny. Soon, he announces
that his 6-year-old smokes; then he's doing role-playing, curled up
in the fetal position and demanding his mommy.

That happens in the
opener, with sometimes-funny results. Ellen DeGeneres produces this
series (based on a bit from her talk show), with Wendi McLendon-Covey
(“The Goldbergs”) whispering odd orders into people's ears. In
this opener, she has Sarah Hyland (“Modern Family”), Randy
Jackson and Foley.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Book of Negroes,” 8 p.m., BET; or “12 Years a
Slave” (2013), 8:30 p.m., HBO.

Two projects revisit
some bleak history. “Slave,” based on a true story, was nominated
for nine Oscars; it won for for best picture and for John Ridley's
script and supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o.

“Negroes” has a
tad of real-life behind it: There really was such a book, listing the
3,000 blacks who could flee after the Revolutionary War. That was
spun into a novel about Aminita. In the opener (rerunning at 5:30
p.m., she was kidnapped at age 11 and taken to the colonies. Now
she's an adult (Aunjanue Ellis) in New York, trying to flee. The
miniseries concludes Wednesday.

Other choices
include:

“Zero Dark Thirty
(2012),” 6:30 to 10 p.m., FX. As the Oscars near, here are three
best-picture nominees. This one (terrific, except for its torture
obsession) won for best sound. “The Fugitive” (1993, 7:15 and 10
p.m., Sundance) won for Tommy Lee Jones in support. “Ben-Hur”
(1959, 8-11:47 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies) won 11 Oscars, a
record matched by “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings.”

“Parks and
Recreation,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC. In the first episode, Andy
(Chris Pratt) ends his TV show; in the second, he and Donna help Ron
(Nick Offerman) adjust to a life change and Leslie helps Tom (Aziz
Ansari) get ready for a big night. That sets up next week's finale of
this quietly clever show.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC. The family restaurant needs to give its
employees a sexual-harassment seminar. When Eddie's mom botches it,
his dad hires a professional instructor.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Joe Spano has been a terrific actor since his “Hill Street
Blues” days. Now he returns to his recurring role as Fornell,
Gibbs' former mentor. After his wife's murder, he's ready to implode;
Gibbs must focus on him, even ignoring the search for his nemesis.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. A petty officer has been killed during Mardi
Gras. Also, Pride must decided whether to tell his daughter about his
strained relationship with his dad (Stacy Keach).

“Countdown to the
Oscars,” 10 p.m., ABC. Five days before the Academy Awards, Robin
Roberts reveals a list of 15 films that transformed Amercan cinema,
including comments from key people.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Songs in the Key of Life,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

When Paul Simon won
the album-of-the-year award in 1975, he thanked Stevie Wonder “for
not putting out an album this year.” After all, Wonder had won in
'73 and '74 ... and did again in '76. He's won 25 Grammys in all,
including ones as a songwriter, a singer, a producer, an arranger.

Now Wonder is the
final performer in a Grammyhs special filled with his songs.
Performers include Beyonce, John Legend, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran,
Ariana Grande, Jill Scott, Ne-Yo, Annie Lennox, Pharell Williams and
(far from his rock-pop world), Andrea Bocelli, Tony Bennett and The
Band Perry.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Celebrity Apprentice” finale, 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.

Last week, Donald
Trump fired Vivica Fox, setting up a battle of opposites. It's Leeza
Gibbons – a team player, forever pleasant – and Geraldo Rivera, a
my-way guy with endless energy and an impressive ability to raise
money. Each was given three people, to create a promo for Universal
Orlando Resort.

Gibbons put Kevin
Jonas in charge of the film; she worked on the rest (landing Olivia
Newton-John to sing “Magic”) with Johnny Damon and Brandi
Glaville. Rivera put Lorenzo Lamas in charge ... then kept overriding
him. Fox and Ian Ziering (the “Sharknado 2” stars) looked on, Now
we'll see the result.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Book of Negroes,” 8 p.m., reruns at 10, BET.

Lawrence Hill's epic
novel traced the life of Aminata, from kidnapping to slavery to a
Revolutionary War push for freedom ... and then to Canada, England
and Africa. It's a huge tale, sprawling over six hours on three
nights. This opener reruns Tuesday before the second night, with all
three Wednesday.

Aunjanue Ellis, a
regular on TV dramas (“Mentalist,” “Missing,” “High
Incident,” “E-Ring”) stars, with support from Cuba Gooding,
Jane Alexander and Lou Gossett – 38 years after he did “Roots.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Foyle's War” conclusion and “New Worlds”
debut, any time, www.acorn.tv.

A sturdy old series
concludes quite well. Sometimes too sleepy, “Foyle” has a
big-stakes story, with slain spies, an assassination attempt, a
probe for a traitor and an explosive (literally) ending.

That finale debuts
today on the Acorn streaming service, along with all eight “Foyle”
seasons and the first episode of a mini-series: “New Worlds”
starts quite badly (and messily), before settling into its story: In
early Massachusetts, a rich beauty meets a handsome rebel (Jamie
Dornan of “Fifty Shades of Grey”), who shows her that the British
have brought their cruel class structure to the colonies.

Other choices
include:

“Wild Australia,”
7-11 p.m. ET (4-8 p.m. PT), NatGeo Wild. First are reruns of the
excellent hours that debuted Sunday, visiting the bleak desert area.
Then two new hours move to cheerier worlds – a rain forest (where
kangaroos climb trees) and a eucalyptus forest that is the land of
the koala.

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Chris Soules, the small-town Iowa farmer, gets to
see how other folks live. He visits the home towns of the final four
contestants.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. A week before the season-finale, Ichabod and Abbie try
to stop people from waking a powerful witches' coven.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Amid talk of a baby shower, Jane has bigger problems: Her
ex-fiance (the cop) thinks her new boyfriend (the hotel guy) is
hiding his father (the crook).

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 p.m., Fox Business. For Presidents' Day, the show
visits a family that inherited the letters Lt. John Kennedy wrote to
the mother of a sailor killed on his PT-109 Navy vessel.

“Better Call
Saul,” 10 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11:04 p.m. The first two hours --
rerunning at 7:45 and 8:57 p.m. -- put Jimmy (who later became Saul)
in trouble. Now he scrambles to free a scary client.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Remember when “Castle” was a jaunty blend of comedy
and drama? Wrapping up a two-parter, this fiercely dark hour has the
return of serial killer Tyson (or someone who looks like him) and a
cosmetic surgeon; it's well-made, but unrelentingly harsh.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“SNL 40th Anniversary Special,” 8-11 p.m., NBC;
red-carpet preview at 7.

Big, bold and
bizarre, “Saturday Night Live” seemed shaky at first, insiders
have recalled. Its veteran host (George Carlin) was high on drugs;
its young actors were unsure. Dan Aykroyd kept a bag packed; producer
Lorne Michaels suggested NBC have a movie ready, just in case.

Then, quickly, “SNL”
became a gem. It's had lots of bad sketches – pointless ones,
one-note ones – and more great ones. Now, in its 40th year, it
plans this live show packed with stars, from the originals (Dan
Aykroyd and Laraine Newman are expected) to the current crew, plus
regulars and guests in-between.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m.,
CBS.

Fifteen years ago,
this show and “Survivor” combined to launch CBS' comeback. Now
its future is shaky. Ratings have been solid, but CBS trimmed the
season from 22 episodes to 18; one of its promos even mistakenly
called tonight the series finale.

That may turn out to
be true, but there's a lot to see. In the first hour, a murder is
linked to kidnapped teens; Lisa Rinna is a guest star. In the second,
Stokes makes a decision and the team finally confronts the Gig Harbor
killer; guests include Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Mark Valley and Eric
Roberts.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Girls,” 9 p.m., HBO.

In the last two
weeks, Hannah has burned her bridges. She insulted her workshop
colleagues (in person and via cubbyhole note), left the prestigious
Iowa writers' program, returned to New York ... and found a new woman
with Adam, in what had been her apartment.

Now come the
aftershocks, in a brilliantly written and acted episode. Sometimes
funny and sometimes deeply tragic, it reveals all the flaws and
quirks that make Hannah such a compelling character.

Other choices
include:

“AFV's 25th
Anniversary,” 7 p.m., ABC. Here's basic entertainment: Guys sustain
groin injuries via skateboard, trapeze and pinata. One dog seems to
talk, another runs around with some active fireworks, a third
urinates (seemingly forever) while walking on it front paws. It's all
quick and fun, as “America's Funniest Home Videos” celebrates its
25th year and Tom Bergeron's 15th and final
year as host.

“The Bachelor,”
8 p.m. and 9-11 p.m., ABC. First is a “Bachelor Tells All”
interview. Then Chris Soules ousts one woman and takes the other six
to Iowa, where they see his home town of Arlington, pop. 429. He'll
choose the final four; on Monday, we'll see him visit their home
towns.

Masterpiece: Downton
Abbey,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A week before the
excellent season-finale, here's a so-so episode. Lady Rose's wedding
could be marred by her mother, who seems to hate most people,
especially the Jewish groom. Also, the Bates murder probe takes a
dark turn.

“Wild Australia,”
9 and 10 p.m., NatGeo Wild; concludes Monday. Most Australians, quite
wisely, live on one of the edges, near water. These two hours step
inside, to see animals (led by wombats and kangaroos) that survive a
desert. There are moments of great beauty, inside a harsh setting.

“Wicked Tuna,” 9
p.m., National Geographic. Last season, young Tyler McLaughlin fell
from first place to last, catching only three fish. Now he tries to
jump quickly back on top, in a strong opener.

“Togetherness,”
9:30, HBO. If these are the real rules, the game of kick-the-can
makes no sense. Can one team just stand around the can? Can the other
emerge from captivity to block people? Brett's self-destructive
approach seems just as nonsensical, in an episode that mostly
confounds us.

“Masterpiece:
Grantchester,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The
crimesolving vicar tries a pleasant evening at a jazz club ... and,
of course, soon has a murder to solve.

TV column for Thursday, Feb. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Slap” debut, 8 p.m., NBC.

Skipping all the
usual elements – cops, crooks, lawyers and doctors – this drama
centers on the tangled turf of families and emotion. It centers on a
single incident at a party, then broadens out.

With only eight
episodes, “Slap” was able to assemble a superb cast. Peter
Sarsgaard plays an earnest guy on his 40th birthday,
loving his family but obsessing on the babysitter who works for his
wife (Thandie Newton). A single action by his intense cousin (Zachary
Quinto) stirs debate among the partygoers (Uma Thurman, Melissa
George, Thomas Sadoski, more) ... and among viewers.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“American Idol,” 8 p.m., Fox; “Project Runway,” 9-10:32 p.m.,
Lifetime.

After endless
preliminaries, both shows get serious. First, “Idol” trim to its
final 48 – a number that will be halved next week; then “Runway”
picks its champion..

Last week, one past
champion (Michelle Lesniak) was ousted, but another (Dmitry Sholokov)
survived. He faces previous 5th-placers, Sonja Williams
and Helen Castillo, designing four-season wardrobes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Babylon” finale, 10 p.m., Sundance.

Over six weeks, this
mini-series has transformed. It started as a broad satire of
officialdom, focusing on Liz, a police chief's public-relations
chief; then her boss killed himself and it became a solid drama, as
she began pushing someone to become the first female chief.

Another story, about
a police shooting and a planted gun, has been so-so. But now
everything – the shooting, a riot, the vacant chief's job –
swirls together for a strong and emotional finish.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9:30 p.m., CBS. TV's best comedy has a pair of
reruns. In the first, Sheldon overreacts to Leonard's minor surgery;
in the second, he's finally required to teach a class.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. Always barely getting by as a waitress, Christy finds new
problems when she's promoted to manager. Also, someone wants her mom
fired as building manager.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Separatists in Uzbekistan have captured an undercover
agent. Now the task force tries a daring rescue, with Red warning
about the abduction mogul involved.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. A week from its finale, this show has Walden
and Alan officially end their phony marriage. Walden offers Alan a
gift of his choice – causing new trouble.

“Allegience,” 10
p.m., NBC. Last week's opener left Alex – a rising young CIA brain
– on the brink of learning that his parents are deeply embedded
Soviet spies. Now we see his mom (Hope Davis) take extraordinary
steps at the beginning and end of the hour, to salvage impossible
situations. Yes, this requires us to suspend disbelief as the
coincidences pile up; at times, it's worth it.

“Archer,” 10
p.m., FX. Speaking of spies, it's best to not put Archer in charge of
any baby, even his own. He gets distracted easily; in this animated
romp, that starts when Christian Slater (playing himself, only now a
spy hero) booms in with a Pakistani defector.