TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Fresh Off the Boat” debut, 8:30 and 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Eddie Huang figures
he would have been happy staying in Washington, D.C., surrounded by
hip-hop music and hip Chinese-American friends. But when he was 11,
his family moved to Orlando.

This situation
comedy has little to do with Huang's oft-angry memoir; still, it;s an
enjoyable look at a newcomer to suburban strangeness. His mom is
reduced to a sitcom stereotype, but the rest of “Boat” has solid
humor. After launching alongside ABC's Wednesday hits, it will be
dispatched to Tuesdays.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Rippling with giant
plot twists that are downright operatic, this ratings-success keeps
aiming big. Tonight's hour starts and ends with mega-twists, with
more scattered between.

Parts of this make
no sense. How could a basic music video (cavorting in front of a
green screen) be $1 million over budget? But for all its excesses,
“Empire” scores with music, passion and Taraji Henson.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Nashville” return, 10 p.m., ABC.

Here's the country
cousin of “Empire,” suggesting that Nashville can be just as
treacherous as the hip-hop world. Rayna was oblivious to two things
that viewers knew – that she really loves Deacon and that he has
liver cancer; she almost married Luke, then called it off on their
wedding day,

Now there's rage –
cars and guns can be dangerous to wedding cakes and champagne bottles
– and more, in a good (if overwrought) hour: Layla, whose husband
Will is gay, tried suicide ... Gunnar fights for custody of Micah ...
Sophie has a gun ... and the Juliette/Avery marriage starts shakily.

Other choices
include:

“American Idol,”
8 p.m., Fox. These judges are an agreeable lot and they sent more
than 200 singers to the “Hollywood Week” round. Now more than
three-fourths of those hopefuls will be sent home quickly. Over the
next two weeks, we'll see the field trimmed to 48.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Frankie's Aunt Edie has died; now the entire family is
accompanying her body by train to South Dakota. The result brings
arguments, crises and sudden life changes.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. As a teen, Luke spends less time with his dad; Andy
(Adam DeVine) fills in. Also, Mitchell finds revelations when working
with his sister Claire at their dad's company.

“Earth: A New
Wild,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Over five hours
on four Wednesdays, we'll see new ways that humans and animals
co-exist. The first hour has Jane Goodall and her chimps, plus
delightful footage of pandas, born in captivity but trained for
“re-wilding.” The second ranges from Africa to the Arctic. It
includes a fascinating look at the Saiga antelope, on a remarkable
comeback after losing 95 per cent of its herd in the lawless years
after the Soviet empire fell.

“Chicago P.D.”
10 p.m., NBC. Continuing a “Chicago Fire” story, the team closes
in on a suspect in the arson that killed Shay.

“The Americans,”
10 p.m., FX. Last week ended with a woman being choked to death,
after confessing to her lover that she was a Russian spy. Now Phillip
turns a tragedy into an advantage – disposing of the body (it's
terribly messy) and compromising the killer. Then, in a solid hour,
we're back to the ongoing debate over whether Phillip and Elizabeth
should tell their teen daughter about their secret life.

“It's Always Sunny
in Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FXX. A health inspector is coming, on
the worst possible day: The bar is full of chickens, the toilet is
clogged and Frank has no shoes. What follows is a furious crescendo
of visual humor, some of it excessive and some quite funny.

TV column for Monday, Feb. 2


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Scorpion” (CBS) or “Jane the Virgin” (CW), both 9 p.m.

Yes, it makes a
difference what network you're on; these two first-year shows have
received praise ... and opposite fates. In a recent week, “Scorpion”
finished No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings; “Jane” -- despite wit,
sparkle and a Golden Globe for its star – finished No. 107 out of
110.

Tonight, “Scorpion”
has a rerun about a computer guy with an algorithm to create hit
songs; he helps trace the murder of a music blogger. If you've
already seen it, try “Jane.” Tonight, Jane continues to write for
her dad's telenovela; Rafael frets that his father has the hotel
enmashed in crime connections.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Celebrity Apprentice,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC.

By the time he chose
Joan Rivers as his 2009 champion, Donald Trump was a fan. “She was
76 years old,” he recalled. “She had more strength, more brain
power. I'll never forget. We had athletes (who) were exhausted after
a couple weeks, and Joan was killing.”

She returned as
board-room advisor in two rounds of this edition; then, he said, she
visited his office in September. “I said, 'She'll be around
forever. She is unbelievable.'” A few days later, she died during
an outpatient endoscopy exam for her throat. Tonight's second hour
has her final board-room appearance.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Foyle's War,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

The rich legacy of
British dramas is in good hands everywhere now – PBS (where
“Masterpiece” keeps expanding on Sundays), BBC America and Acon,
a streaming and DVD service.

On the next three
Mondays, the final “Foyle's War” episodes will debut; on Feb. 16,
all eight seasons (most of them previously on “Masterpiece”) will
be available. That said, today's film sometimes feels slow and
stilted. In 1946, Christopher Foyle is searching for spies, secretly
aided by his former military driver. The result is solid and sturdy,
if (at times) a tad sleepy.

Other choices
include:

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Carley and Britt get one-on-one dates, while the
other nine end up with white-water rafting ... and one plunges into
the water. Also, Kelsey's burst for attention goes awry.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Two great characters collide anew, when Fish Mooney (Jada
Pinkett Smith) reveals a secret about Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord
Taylor), the future Penguin.

“2 Broke Girls,”
8 p.m., CBS. Oleg is moving in with Sophie (Jeennifer Coolidge) ...
who promptly starts throwing out his stuff.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. In the show's 100th episode,
Molly is shocked to learn that Mike hasn't been to a doctor in more
than a decade.

“Strange
Inheritance,” 9 p.m., Fox Business Channel. We meet a man who
assumed the coin he inherited (a 1913 Liberty nickel) was a fake ...
but then learned it could be worth millions. He heads to an auction
house to find out.

“Independent Lens:
A Path Appears,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Deep poverty
isn't confined to distant places. We see a deserate quest for
education in Haiti ... and in West Virginia. Returning to her native
state, Jennifer Garner sees a boy reach pre-school and a woman –
one of 12 people sharing a rented trailer – return to school. This
documentary has so-so execution, but a big story to tell.

“Mud, Sweat and
Gears,” 10 p.m., BBC America. If you like sheer destruction (many
folks do), this is your hour, as two teams convert cars into
demolition vehicles, then attack a sort of ghost town. It's noisy and
chaotic (with no way of resolving disputes), but will appeal to
smash-and-crash buffs.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. In his private-eye work, Castle is supposed to learn if
someone's husband is having an affair. He learns much more,
witnessing a murder ... but has trouble proving it.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Super Bowl, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBC.

After a pre-game
marathon (starting at noon ET), the action moves to the field, in
Arizona. At 6 p.m. ET, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth take over
coverage, with Michele Tafoya on the sidelines.

Idina Menzel sings
the national anthem and John Legend does “America the Beautiful.”
Kick-off is at about 6:30, with Tom Brady's pass-heavy New England
Patriots facing the run-pass-scramble approach of Russell Wilson,
Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks. Katy Perry sings at
halftime.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Downton Abbey” and “Grantchester,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

While others put
reruns against the Super Bowl, PBS' “Masterpiece” boldly
(foolishly?) booms ahead. This happens to be a relative weak round of
“Grantchester,” the usually excellent tale of a crimesolving
village priest; leading into it, however, is a typically terrific
“Downton Abbey.”

There are painful
moments for Thomas (juggling his fondness for the upper-crust
Crawleys and for Sarah and her socialist ideals) and for Edith, who
kept her pregnancy a secret, with the baby now being raised by a farm
family. And Robert, the Earl of Grantham, has an explosively
un-earl-like moment.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Shameless,” 9 p.m., Showtime,

Even HBO is ducking
the Super Bowl, resting its shows for a week. Showtime not only has
new ones – including “House of Lies” at 10 and the dandy
“Episodes” at 10:30 -- but it has a pivotal “Shameless.”

At the core is
Frank's scheme to get a big insurance settlement; it worked, but he
soon forgets where the money is. Then there are his brainy kids –
Fiona (who met a music guy) and Lip, who heads to the lush Miami home
of his college lover. There are great moments that shouldn't be
blocked by football.

Other choices
include:

Football pre-game,
noon ET, NBC. Bob Costas opens the deluge and will do one of the key
interviews, of Brady; Dan Patrick does the other, of Wilson. There
will be other profiles of the Patriots (by Rodney Harrison) and
Seahawks (Tony Dungy and Josh Elliott). Beyond football, Elliott
interviews Katy Perry, Savannah Guthrie talks to President Obama,
Jimmy Fallon adds humor and Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski visit the
tailgate party, with music and celebrities.

“Puppy Bowl,” 3
p.m. to 5 a.m., Animal Planet. Here are 14 hours of puppies –
actually, six hours, repeated two-and-a-third times. For alternate
cuteness, Hallmark has The Kitten Bowl (three hours, repeated three
times) at noon, leading into “Puppy Love” (2012) – yes, it's
cute – at 9 p.m.

Family movies, 6
p.m., cable. TBS has the three “Shrek” films, from 6 p.m. to
midnight; FX counters with “Ice Age 4” (2012) at 6 p.m. and “How
to Train Your Dragon” (2010) at 8 and 10. Also, ABC Family has the
great “Back to the Future” (1985) at 7 p.m. and its sequel (1989)
at 9:30.

“The Simpsons,”
7:30 and 8 p.m., Fox. A Fox night of comedy reruns is highlighted by
the Halloween segment in which the Simpsons meet the early,
primatively drawn version of themselves. That's followed at 8 p.m. by
Apu becoming a rock star.

“And the Oscar
Goes to ...” (2014), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. This
documentary launches TCM's Academy Award month. The first
best-picture winner, the silent “Wings” (1927), airs at 10.

“The Blacklist,”
post-game, NBC. Sometime after the locker-room interviews -- maybe at
10:30 p.m. ET – this show returns from its three-month break. Red
is arrested and meets a man from his past. That starts a two-parter;
this reruns at 8 p.m. Thursday, setting up a 9 p.m. conclusion in the
new timeslot.

“The Tonight
Show,” after local news (maybe midnight ET), NBC. This will be live
from near the Super Bowl, with plans to include the game's hero ...
which could be difficult, if that's the silent Lynch.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 31


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live Presents a Sports Spectacular” (8 p.m.) and
“NFL Honors” (9-11 p.m.), NBC; red-carpet at 8 p.m. on NFL
Network.

On the eve of its
Super Bowl telecast, NBC has lots of football, a smidgen of other
sports and some good bursts of humor. There are old “Saturday Night
Live” sketches at 8; then Seth Meyers -- the wittty “SNL”
alumnus, now a late-late-show host -- leads the awards show.

That peaks with Most
Valuable Player. Ohers are for best offensive and defensive players,
best offensive and defensive rookies, coach of the year, comeback of
the year and more.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Black Sails,” 9 p.m., Starz.

The terrific
season-opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) found Captain Flint no longer a
captain. He'd lied to his crew, killed the quartermaster and failed
to get the treasure. Still, he insisted he'd be back in charge.

His first plan was
outrageous: Forget about the well-guarded treasure on shore; steal
something more valuable, the ship itself. But how can he get back the
captain's chair? What follows shows both that he's brilliant and
morally rotten. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to keep control of the
pirate island.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mel Brooks Live at the Geffen,” 9 p.m., HBO,
repeats at 10.

This is basically a
one-man show – two if you count the pianist for the opening and
closing songs. In between those, it's simply a guy, 88, talking about
his life.

But what an amazing
life it's been. A small, sickly kid who grew up poor (he was 2 when
his dad died), Brooks played the drums and did comedy. He began
writing for Sid Caesar and then for himself. He married a beautiful
method actress (Anne Bancroft) and won everything – Oscar, Tony,
Emmy, Grammy, American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. And
he tells it all with wit and warmth.

Other choices
include:

Movies, 7 p.m. and
later, cable. At 7, ABC Family has “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,”
the third of the five “Twilight” films; at 7:30, Pop has the
well-crafted drama “Fried Green Tomatoes” (1990). For lighter
fun, go with “Vacation” (1983) at 8 p.m. on IFC or Amy Adams'
“Enchanted” (2007) at 9 on E.

“Despicable Me”
(2010), 8-10 p.m., ABC. Now for animated fun, with a scheme to steal
the moon.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. Here's a rerun of the pilot film, with Rainn Wilson as
someone who's bigoted, grumpy, self-destructive ... but good at
catching crooks. There are plenty of flaws here, but there's a great
supporting cast, led by Dennis Haysbert as a touring cop who's also a
lay minister.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a bad tip leads McGarrett and Danny to a
warehouse that's rigged to explode.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. This reruns the Oct. 1 episode that added Jennifer Love
Hewitt to the cast. She works on a case involving murders that left
the victims unidentifiable.

“Red Band
Society,” 9 p.m., Fox. This earnest show, focusing on attractive
teens in a hospital, failed during Fox's disastrous fall. Now it has
three new hours left – one today, two next Saturday. Tonight, one
person returns, one fights for freedom and there's a tragedy.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. J.K. Simmons -- a Golden Globe winner and
Oscar-nominee for “Whiplash” -- hosts, with music from D'Angelo
and Vanguard.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 30


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Now that the
“sweeps” ratings month has started, reruns have virtually
vanished. CBS is back to new episodes of its crime stories, including
this one with hightened stakes.

A patient, infected
with bird flu, has been kidnapped by people who plan to turn the
disease into a weapon. Also, Terry O'Quinn returns as Joe White.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “12 Monkeys,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

Here are some more
virus-epidemic worries, this time alongside the twists of
time-travel.

After going from
2043 to 2015, Cole learns that a key person died a year earlier. He
must zoom to disease-ravaged Haiti in 2014, extract information ...
and depart without confronting Dr. Railly and upsetting the time
line. It's complicated and – with another plot unfolding in 2043 –
compelling.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Shakespeare Uncovered” season-opener, 9 and 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Few writers have
attempted the dizzying range of William Shakespeare. Tonight's first
hour eyes “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” complete with fairies,
potions, donkey heads and young love; the second has “King Lear,”
with blindness, madness, deceit and despair.

Hugh Bonneville
(“Downton Abbey”) hosts the first hour; he started his career
understudying Ralph Fiennes (whom he chats with here) in “Dream.”
Christopher Plummer hosts the second, meeting other Lears, including
Ian McKellan. Filled with movie and TV clips, both hours are
beautifully crafted.

Other choices
include:

“Constantine,” 8
p.m., NBC. Students find a way into an alternate universe – then
wish they hadn't.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. The subject is romantic break-ups. Eve
takes hers hard and also argues with Kristin about how Kristin broke
up with Kyle.

“Cristela,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Cristela's sister is nudging her about her overcrowded
life and her weight. They go to a clinic for a blood-pressure test
and find a surprise.

“Glee,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. As the invitational nears, Rachel gets some help. Kitty, the
Cheerios member, helps her prepare the ideal set list; Sam, the
former football player, helps recruit current player Spencer.
Meanwhile, Sue tries some matchmaking.

“Grimm,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Monroe and Rosalee have finally started their honeymoon, leaving
problems behind them – including a haunted-house murder. Garcelle
Beauvais plays a mystical woman.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. After killing an intruder, a man learns his troubles
continue: He shot a hit man who was apparently hired to kill him.
Also, a young lawyer wants justice for his mother, whom Erin helped
convict 12 years ago.

“Banshee,” 10
p.m., Cinemax. This powerhouse hour starts with a crisis: Siobhan –
the sheriff's deputy and lover – has learned that he's a robber,
using a false identity; she's ready to report him or shoot him. It
ends – after some fierce violence – with an even bigger crisis,
sprawling over to next week.