TV column for Thursday, April 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 9:01 p.m., CBS.

In its second
season, “Mom” has been jumping nimbly between laughs and tears.
Both are comfortable turf for Allison Janney, who has Emmys for drama
(“West Wing”) and comedy (as Bonnie in “Mom”).

Last week, Bonnie
hurt her back, was prescribed pain pills ... and promptly reverted to
her old, addictive ways. Now – with the show airing a half-hour
earlier than usual – she tries to keep it a secret from her
daughter, who's also a recovering addict; it's a story that continues
next week.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Grey's Anatomy,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.

First, here's a
chance to drift way back. ABC reruns the pilot episode, when Meredith
was a young surgical resident, ready for her first shift – after
unwittingly sleeping with Derek, the star surgeon.

Then we get a new
episode. She's married to Derek and not at all happy to learn that
his sister Amelia has an affair with Owen. Love gets messy sometimes
... as Catherine learns while trying to help a man whose wife took
drastic revenge for his cheating.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Comedians” debut, 10 p.m. today, FX, repeats at
11:03.

Two masterful comics
play themselves – or twisted variations. We see Billy Crystral, 67,
as self-centered and self-serving, Josh Gad, 34, as shallow and
desperate.

Now they're forced
to work together; “my grandmother would be thrilled,” Gad
grumbles. Both men mock themselves beautifully, in a fake documentary
that delivers some big laughs.

Othert choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9:30 p.m., CBS. After a new episode at 8, “Big
Bang” offers a hilarious rerun at 9:30. Sheldon insists he and Raj
can survive under salt-mine conditions; Amy has doubts.

“Jaws” (1977), 8
and 11 p.m. AMC. This is a week when AMC remembers that the “C”
stands for classic. It delivers Steven Spielberg's first big hit
today, then has Francis Coppola's “Godfather” (1972) and
“Godfather, Part II” (1974) several times Saturday and Sunday.

“The Odd Couple,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Felix, the hypochondriac, faces a fresh crisis: His
doctor (Erinn Hayes) is dating Oscar.

“Backstrom,” 9
p.m., Fox. In the midst of a tough case involving the murder of a
young sex surrogate, Backstrom receives disturbing news about his
mother.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Holmes and Watson sometimes get help from a hacker group.
Now one of its people has been killed; to solve the case, they join a
Civil War being fought on the Internet.

“Red Road,” 10
p.m., Sundance. Last week's season-opener started quietly, with
tribal recognition finally going into effect. It ended powerfully,
with Kopus finding the chief's body. Junior inexplicably covered for
him then, but in a strong hour tonight, Junior wants revenge.

“Louie”
season-opener, 10:33 p.m., FX, repeats at 11:35. Don't expect big
laughs, in the “Comedians” or “Big Bang” style, here. If
anything, Louis C.K.'s show is even more slow and droll than in the
past. Tonight, his pot-luck supper plans go awry; in its own, odd
way, “Louie” is a delight.

 

TV column for Wednesday, April 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Voice,” 8-9 p.m., NBC; and more.

This is a week when
“Voice” adds this third night, so it can trim from 20 singers to
12. That's fine, except that now it's colliding with the two original
giants of the reality-TV world.

“Survivor” (8-9
p.m., CBS) is down to 11 people; last week, Kelly Remington, a state
trooper, was the seventh person ousted and the second from the old
“blue-collar” tribe. Also last week, “American Idol” (8-10
p.m., Fox) trimmed to eight people by dumping Daniel Seavey. Tonight
will include a duet by Jennifer Hudson and Iggy Azalea, plus music by
Jason DeRulo and Florida Georgia Line.

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

Blessed with
hammers, nails and credit cards, we humans still don't get our home
chores done. Now – in the start of the three-week “Animal Homes”
-- we see what birds can do with only beaks and brains.

One builds a massive
structure, seven feet wide; another inserts an inner chamber, sort of
like in the pyramids. Alongside twigs, mud and moss, birds add fur,
wool and spider silk. They also steal human things ... and blatantly
steal from each other. It's a delightful hour, hosted by Chris
Morgan.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Big Time in Hollywood FL,” 10:30 p.m., Comedy
Central.

These brothers are
so obsessed with genre movies that their dreams and fears look wildly
cinematic. To raise money for their own film, they tried to scam
their parents with a fake drug habit and a staged kidnapping. Now one
brother is in rehab, another's in despair, a friend's in trouble and
an actor is dead.

That's where things
start tonight, in a show that keeps getting darker, odder and, often,
funnier. Tonight, the parents – the terrific Katy Baker and Stephen
Tobolowsky – try to buy a car and hire a detective.

Other choices
include:

“The Avengers”
(2012), 7 p.m., FX, or “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006), 7:15 p.m.,
HBO. Marvel keeps dominating, often by lumping characters together.
FX's film has the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and more. The HBO
one is followed by the overwrought “The Wolverine” (2013) at 9.

“Young &
Hungry,” 8 p.m., ABC Family. Already a private chef for a rich guy
(who secretly loves her), Gabi (Emily Osment) wants more. Now she
hopes to be a free-lance food writer.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. Adam is considered a bad influence, after kids get
sick at his party. Also, his sister is challenged to write a great
song; she writes an awful one, but there's an up side.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. This starts as a probe of a
teen sex party. When many kids get the measles, a question emerges:
Did people falsify their children's medical records.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. When Rainbow has a reunion with college friends, Dre
learns key things about her past. Also, their kids are impressed that
one of her friends was in MTV's “The Real World.”

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. It isn't easy for Rayna to juggle the younger women she
works with. Tonight, she has a baby shower for Juliette, but then is
distracted by Sadie's problems.

“Chicago PD,” 10
p.m., NBC. When teen girls are found dead at a Chinatown factory,
suspicions point to someone whom Olinsky (the terrific Elias Koteas)
has battled before.

TV column for Tuesday, April 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Justified,” 10 p.m., FX.

Only two episodes
remain in what's been a great series, rippling with vivid characters
and TV's best dialog. Ava has stolen a fortune from Boyd (her lover
and her former brother-in-law), who stole it from Markham, who took
it from the world. She also shot Boyd, who's in the hospital.

Now everyone –
including Raylan, who's gone rogue – is after her. Some of the
series' best guest stars are involved, including Patton Oswalt as a
lumpy cop and Kaitlyn Dever as a tough and canny teen. A terrific
hour has forces collide, setting up next week's series finale.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox.

A charity golf event
is prime turf for Fawn, the politician. She cares about neither golf
nor charity, but sees it as a time to network. She's also ready to
remake Schmidt (her lover)and Jess to fit her world.

Alas, Jess is a bad
networker and a worse golfer. It's a funny story, set along an OK one
with Winston so attracted to someone (played by the supercute Kiersey
Clemons) that he lies about himself.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “NCIS: New Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS.

For decades, CCH
Pounder has done great work in tiny doses. In “Warehouse 13,”
“Sons of Anarchy” and here (as Dr. Lorettas Wade, the medial
examiner), she's been the consummate authority figure.

Now she gets a
chance to be in danger and in the spotlight. She's examining a petty
officer who's believed to have died from natural causes; then a
gunman bursts in, holding her, Sebastian Lund (her forensic
scientist) and Danny Malloy hostage.

Other choices
include:

“Black Girls
Rock,” 7-9:30 p.m., BET. Here's a quick rerun of a concert on an
overcrowded night Sunday. The powerhouse line-up has Fantasia, Jill
Scott, Sheila E., Lala Hathaway, Ciara and more.

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. This is the second of two nights that combine to have
20 finalists perform. On Wednesday, we'll see which eight the viewers
chose; then the coaches will save four more.

“NCIS.” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Tony is working with his girlfriend (Marisol Nichols) on a case.
That brings his dad (Robert Wagner) to town, to meet her.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. In a clever episode, Liv finds plenty of bad news: Her
ex-fiance has an attractive girlfriend ... her police colleague seems
to be crooked ... and her naive brother is visiting. The good news?
When she eats people's brains, she absorbs skills; now she's great at
martial arts.

“Weird Loners,”
9:30 p.m., Fox. Last week's opener was terrific, with four mismatched
singles sharing adjoining townhouses. This second episode does have
some funny moments, centering on the terrific Becki Newton as Karen.
The problem here – and next week – is that it turns her neighbor
Eric into such a hopeless schlub that he becomes neither funny nor
interesting.

“Forever,” 10
p.m., ABC. Imagine a ballet that starts with a ludicrous plot, then
adds layers of elegance. That's like this hour, centering on a ballet
company. Even after it's explained, the gory plot makes no sense. It
does, however, nudge us to better stories: Henry, who can't die,
recalls a lover in 1929 Paris ... Abe searches for a long-ago loved
one ... and Jo ponders a romantic getaway

TV column for Monday, April 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Basketball, 9 p.m. ET, CBS, with preview at 8:30.

This is what will
grab most of tonight's viewers – the college championship game.
Preceding all this, at 8 p.m. (or following the game on the West
Coast) is a “Mike & Molly” rerun in which Mike is convinced
he must withhold sex, so Molly can finish her sexy book; it's a
fairly loud and witless episode ... which may be some programmer's
image of guys who are basketball fans.

And if you're not
interested in basketball, don't fret. By coincidence, tonight has two
of the best documentaries to emerge in a long time; we'll talk about
them next.

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

We're in the Bible
belt of East Texas – not the cliche, hate-filled world of fiction,
but a place of quietly decent people with hard-scrabble lives. There,
in 2010, ten churches were destroyed by arson.

The two men who were
convicted had been boyhood churchgoers; one was a former state debate
champion. (They apparently had the flip side of feeling God
intervenes directly -- a rage at the failure to intervene.) What
makes this film remarkable is the pain and warmth of others. We meet
a police dispatcher who is an arsonist's sister; we also meet their
youth pastor, now filled with despair.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All” conclusion, 8-10:15
p.m., HBO.

An extraordinary
scene appears tonight: “Old Man River” -- the lament of an
impoverished black man – is sung by a rich white guy in a tuxedo.
That should be absurd ... except that Frank Sinatra sings it
brilliantly. He flew cross-country to do a black fundraiser; Martin
Luther King wept with joy.

It was Sinatra at
his best; this film describes a generous guy who remembered his
working-class roots and fought tirelessly for equality. It also
describes someone who was petulant and tyrannical, a pain to wives
and directors. Add his Mob friendships and some great music and you
have a compelling film.

Other choices
include:

“A Place to Call
Home,” any time, www.acorn.tv.
This Australian period piece turns an overheated soap-style plot into
quality drama, thanks to skilled writers and actors. Thefirst season
is already on this streaming service. Now the 10-episode second
season will be spread over the next four Mondays.

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. A three-night round begins. Tonight and Tuesday,
the top 20 – five from each team – will perform and viewers will
vote. On Wednesday, we'll learn the two on each team whom viewers
chose; then each judge will be able to save one more.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, model Charlotte McKinney
became the second person ousted; Redfoo was the first. Now survivors
choose a song from a favorite year.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox Business. Which would you rather
inherit, crocodiles or Barbie dolls? In the first episode, siblings
fight over a Florida croc-and-gator ranch; in the second, a New
Mexico man inherits his mother's 5,000 dolls, including 500 unopened
Barbies.

“Bates Motel,” 9
p.m., A&E. In a town ruled by big money, Norma Bates has felt
powerless ... until now. She has a flash drive that may have damning
evidence; but can she keep it ... and crack the password ... and use
it as leverage? It's a terrific episode, fueled by Vera Farminga's
great performance.

“Salem,” 10
p.m., WGN. You probably missed this season-opener during an
overstuffed hour Sunday. Here's a second chance, but beware:
Alongside stylish visuals and gifted actors (especially Janet
Montgomery as top witch Mary Sibley), there's fierce brutality and an
odd link of fact and fiction. Such people as Cotton Mather (son of a
Harvard president) were very real; the witchcraft was not.

“The Lizzie Borden
Chronicles” debut, 10:02 p.m., Lifetime. Here's another rerun from
that stuffed Sunday hour – and this is a good one. Lizzie
(Christina Ricci) has a sweet face, a comfy background ... and now a
murder acquittal. Now she and her sister face debts, suspicion and a
bad brother. This hour is well-written and beautifully filmed, with a
clever finish.

TV column for Sunday, April 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“A.D.” debut, 9 p.m, NBC.

It's an overstuffed
Easter -- enough big shows to make our DVR's explode -- with three
religous epics at the core: “The Ten Commandments” (1959), 7 p.m.
on ABC, feels slow and stiff, but the other two are vibrant. Fox News
Channel reruns “Killing Jesus” at 8 p.m; NBC starts “A.D.” at
9.

In 2013, Roma Downey
and her husband, “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett, had the cable
hit “The Bible.” Now this sequel starts with a calm Jesus on
trial. This first episode has brutal crucifixion scenes, followed by
the opening of the giant tomb door and by the Romans' aftershocks.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Mad Men” return, 10 p.m., AMC.

A TV classic is back
for a seven-week burst to end its run. This opener has some surprises
– a big job shift for one character – but mostly stays in the
quietly classy “Mad Men” style.

Don Draper still has
an enviable image, lucky in love and in advertising; still, there's a
solitude as he nears his second divorce and as he envisions an old
lover. Peggy Olson is also an ad master now, but she ponders her
non-existent personal life. Well-etched characters remain deep and
distant.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All,” 8-10 p.m., HBO,
concludes Monday.

Sure, Bruce
Springsteen tells us early in this film, Frank Sinatra had a
high-society image; but beyond that was “the deep blueness” in
his voice. He knew working-guy blues. His dad protected bootleggers,
then (as “Monty O'Brien”) opened a bar; his mom was a devout
Catholic who sometimes did abortions.

He was filled with
intriguing contrasts -- cocky and fragile, cruel and crusading, a
consummate pro who became an admitted “out-and-out drunk,” then
bounced back. This superb documentary richly uses Sinatra's music –
especially unseen “farewell concert” footage – as the soundrack
of a compelling life.

Other choices
include:

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET,
ESPN2. The season's opening game has the Cardinals in Chicago, to
show off the new-look Wrigley Field and the new-look Cubs. Except,
neither is ready. The bleachers won't be ready until mid-May and
mid-June; the team won't be ready until Kris Bryant arrives in a few
weeks.

“Masterpiece
Classic: Mr. Selfridge,” 9 p.m., PBS. In last week's season-opener,
Harry Selfridge's board rejected his non-profit plan for veterans'
housing. Now he tries to go it alone. It's a fairly good episode in a
big PBS night, with “Call the Midwife” at 8 and the “Wolf Hall”
debut at 10.

“Masterpiece
Classic: Wolf Hall” debut, 10 p.m., PBS. History has been shaped by
people behind the thrones, whispering into rulers' ears. A master was
Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son who tried to juggle Henry VIII,
Anne Boleyn and Cardinal Wolsey. He's depicted as sly and stoic; in
the first hours, star Mark Rylance rarely seems to emote. Gradually,
however, this six-hour tale becomes involving.

“American
Odyssey,” 10 p.m., NBC. Sprawling across the globe, this hour
juggles three stories: A soldier (Anna Friel) becomes encased in epic
events ... a lawyer is suspiciousof the corporation he works for ...
an activist gets jolting information. It will ties together, but
needs an hour to engage us.

“Battle Creek,”
10 p.m., CBS. This hour gives Battle Creek a breakfast festival and a
seedy mayor in the Rob Ford style. (The first part is true, the
second isn't.) Then it weaves a smart, twisty tale.

More dramas, 10
p.m., cable. On an overcrowded night, “The Lizzie Borden
Chronicles” (Lifetime) debuts and “Salem” (WGN) starts its
second season. Both are dark and forboding; one (“Salem”) is
brutal, the other is well-written. Each reruns at 11 p.m. today and
10 p.m. Monday.