TV column for Saturday, Sept. 27



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night Live” season-opener,
11:29 p.m., NBC.

The 40th season opens with Chris Pratt – a comedy
guy on “Parks and Recreation,” an action hero in “Guardians of the Galaxy” -- hosting
and Ariana Grande as music guest. It also brings key changes.


Michael Che (briefly of “The Daily Show”) joins “Weekend
Update,” becoming its first black anchor. Unfortunately, Colin Jost stays and
Cecily Strong will focus on sketches. Also, Nasim Pedrad has left, Pete Davidson
will be a writer and others (Brooks Wheelan, Noel Wells, John Milhiser) were
dropped.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Music for Change: The Global Citizen
Festival,” 9 p.m., NBC.


This last-minute addition is stuffed with stars. Hugh
Jackman hosts from New York’s Central Park, in an annual concert designed to
fight worldwide poverty.


No Doubt is expected to have its first performance in two years.
Also scheduled are Carrie Underwood, Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Fun, Tiesta and The
Roots.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Friday Night Lights” (2004) and “The
Blind Side” (2009), 6:30 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.


Both movies have true stories with football backdrops; both
have country star Tim McGraw in support.


And both are well-crafted. Based on a non-fiction book about
high school football, “Lights” isn’t as good as the TV series that followed,
but it’s still a strong movie. “Blind Side” is propelled by Sandra Bullock’s
brilliant, Oscar-winning work as a rich Southerner who provided a home for a
good-hearted giant.


Other choices include:


Westerns, all night. Choose young or old Clint Eastwood.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966) is 4:45 p.m. on AMC; the Oscar-winning
“Unforgiven” (1992) is 8 p.m. on Reelz. Both are slow (“Ugly” is ultra-slow),
but well-crafted. AMC also has “Hell on Wheels” at 9; Cullen scrambles to free
his workers.


Football, 8 p.m. ET, Fox and ABC. Fox has 7th-ranked
Baylor and Iowa State; ABC has 8
th-ranked Notre Dame and Syracuse.
Cable has much more, all day.


“Madam Secretary” and “Scorpion,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. Here
are reruns of two pilot films, both so-so. “Madam” is earnest, but try; “Scorpion”
is fun, but strains believability.


“The Voice,” 8 p.m., NBC. This rerun is a logical lead-in
for the concert. One of the new “Voice” judges is Gwen Stefani, who will also
be performing in the Central Park show with her group, No Doubt.


Cedar Cove,” 8 p.m., Hallmark Last week, every blonde woman
was in dismay, but many of the brunettes were OK. Tonight, troubles – guy woes,
cyber-bully woes – are equal-hair offenders. 
All this is against the gorgeous backdrop of waterfront Washington. In
snappy little scenes (written and acted competently), beautiful and
well-meaning people face life’s problems.


“Outlander” mid-season finale, 9 p.m., Starz. Last week’s
episode (rerunning at 8) saw Claire marrying a Scotsman in 1742, to legally
block the English from interrogating her. It turns out that she really likes
the guy … but then she spots a possible link to her 1940s self. It’s a strong
scene, setting up a cliffhanger. 


“Doctor Who,” 9 p.m., BBC America. The fierce Skovox Blitzer
is ready to destroy mankind.


“The Intruders,” 10 p.m., BBC America. New information may
block the ascension of Rose (Miranda Cosgrove). Also, she asks Jack why Amy
(Mira Sorvino) has been acting so odd lately.


TV column for Friday, Sept. 26



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Amazing Race” season-opener, 8
p.m., CBS.

For its 25th season, “Race” slides from one of
the highest-viewership nights (Sundays), to one of the lowest. Still, we can expect
the skill that has brought 10 best-reality-competition Emmys in 12 years.


This edition has plenty of couples – three dating, one
engaged and two married; that includes Bethany Hamilton (who returned to
surfing after losing an arm to a shark at age 13) and her husband. There are
also sisters, friends and a mother-daughter duo. They’ll try to race 26,000
miles in eight countries.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Live From Lincoln Center,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings).


Other networks avoid stage performances, unless there’s a
prize involved. PBS savors them; over the next 11 Fridays, it will include two
theater events (“Porgy and Bess” and “The Nance”), several concerts (Tony
Bennett and Lady Gaga, Kristin Chenoweth, an “Austin City Limits” anniversary)
and more.


First is this hybrid -- the New York Philharmonic’s semi-staged
concert production of Stephen Sondheim’s powerful “Sweeney Todd.” Bryn Terfel,
an operatic bass-baritone, sings the title role of the demon barber; Emma
Thompson is his pie-baking companion


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Shark Tank” season-opener, 8 and 9
p.m., ABC.


The new season quickly hits the extremes. One notion has
several investors tossing around big-money offers; another is proclaimed by
Kevin O’Leary as “one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard.”


During that first hour, we hear such phrases as “re-engineering
the athletic sock” and “pre-revenue” (in short, they’ve made zero so far) and “put
the ‘man’ in ‘manicure.’” And yes, these sometimes work; an update shows six
products (including dog food created by a 10-year-old) that have soared.


Other choices include:


 “The Mysteries of
Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a rerun of Wednesday’s episode, a woman has been killed
after making a date Online. Now Laura (Debra Messing) must go undercover.


“Gotham,” 9 p.m., Fox. If you missed Monday’s debut, here
(after an 8 p.m. “Utopia”) is a second chance to enter Gotham City at its low
point, before Batman emerged. The story gets a bit monotone, heavy on the
darkness and torture; still, the visuals are gorgeous as “Gotham” creates its
own world.


“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. While other networks are
content to include Friday reruns, CBS has a full night of season-openers. This
one offers a scheme that also spiced this summer’s “24”: Terrorists have seized
control of armed drones; now they’re using them against regular people.


“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. Two police detectives, Danny
Reagan and Maria Baez, are escorting drugs to a remote incineration spot. Then
they’re attacked; she’s seriously injured, he seeks revenge.


“The Knick,” 10 p.m., Cinemax. After a flashback preamble, “Knick”
quickly hits overdrive. Irishmen are convinced a black man has killed an Irish
cop; soon, a race war erupts. Most intriguing is how far some of the characters
have gone. When “Knick” started, the chief surgeon (Clive Owen) was a bigot and
the ambulance driver was a rude oaf; now both have their heroic moments. It’s a
big, tough episode that leads to some small, tender moments.


TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 24



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Black-ish” debut, 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Life is comfy for Andre and Rainbow (Anthony Anderson and
Tracee Ellis Ross). He’s an advertising executive, she’s an anesthesiologist
and money is abundant.


The trouble, he feels, is that their kids have no feel for
their black heritage; their son wants to have a bar mitzvah, like his
classmates do. Produced by Anderson and Laurence Fishburne (who plays his dad),
this is a smart show, but a one-note one that leaves us wondering if there’s
enough story to keep going.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” 8 and
9:30 p.m., CBS.


Right before “Brother” ends its season, “Survivor” starts one.
And for the second time, it has each person competing with someone close to him
or her.


There’s a father and son, a mother and daughter, a father
and daughter. There are brothers and twin sisters (the Andersons, from two
rounds of “Amazing Race). There’s a married couple, some college sweethearts
and two dating duos. One includes John Rocker, the former major-league pitcher
whose comments – “the biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the
foreigners” – preceded his decline.


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


Last week was clouded by Marco’s absurd decision to head
into Fausto’s armed compound virtually alone, to suggest a surrender. The suggestion
was rejected and he was captured.


Now the Mexican government’s Marines consider an attack,
while Sonya digs through Eleanor’s crime ledger. It’s a fairly good hour with
some superb moments. One little gem comes when a calm avenger briefly visits
the office of Robles, who is a corrupt police captain and a rapist.


Other choices include:


“The Mysteries of Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. In last week’s opener
– entertaining, but overwrought – Laura (Debra Messing) dealt with her nasty
sons and showed that her police boss was a killer. Alas, the new boss is her estranged
husband. Yes, that’s wildly unlikely; so were parts, but we’ll give this a
chance as it moves into its time slot. When a woman is killed during a date set
Online, Laura goes undercover.


“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). A delightful,
three-week penguin documentary starts with the frantic extremes these creatures
face, as they head to their breeding ground.


“Nova,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Yes, there are
brilliant hackers out there, stealing our identities. This hour views the other
side – squadrons of geniuses, trying to combat cyber-theft.


“Modern Family” season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Fresh from its
fifth straight best-comedy Emmy, “Family” eyes some changes at the end of the
summer. Cam is still in his honeymoon mood; Mitchell is more matter-of-fact.
Also, Alex’s return transforms her family’s dynamics.


“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” season-opener, 9
p.m., NBC. The season starts with Olivia raising a foster baby and Amaro exiled
to traffic duty. Then those fates merge, when he arrests a teen prostitute.


“Chicago PD” season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. After being off
the air for two months, this show returns with troubles everywhere. Voight is a
crash victim while driving undercover … Burgess dislikes her new partner … and
Lindsay (Sophia Bush) meets her mom (Markie Post) for the first time in
decades.


TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 23



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “NCIS: New Orleans” opener, 9 p.m., CBS.

We’re used to all the just-the-facts characters on “NCIS,”
“CSI” and “Law & Order” shows. Some have pristine offices; many seem to
have pristine lives.


Not this one: Dwayne Pride (Scott Bakula) runs his little
NCIS bureau in of an old building surrounded by the music and flavor of New
Orleans. He sometimes lives there (his marriage seems to be wobbling), savoring
his co-workers (Lucas Black, Zoe McLellan) and others. In tonight’s opener, the
victim was once a troubled young man Pride mentored. In the “NCIS” mode, it’s a
fairly solid, straightforward tale.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Forever,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.


After a terrific debut Monday, “Forever” settles into its
time slot. It has another good mystery, alongside the ongoing story of Dr.
Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), a medical examiner.


Henry (has been around for 200 years, reviving after each
death. Only one person (Judd Hirsch) knows this; a cop (Alana De La Garza)
knows only that this odd guy is worth linking with. Tonight, they try to learn
why a young woman plunged from a bridge; only Henry feels it wasn’t suicide.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: All night, PBS (check local
listings).


Real lives can create some of the best storytelling. Tonight
starts at 8 p.m. with “Finding Your Roots,” tracing three people – Stephen
King, Gloria Reuben, Courtney Vance – who knew little about their dads; they
get big surprises. It ends with a late addition -- “Joan Rivers: A Piece of
Work” (2010) at 10:30 p.m.


In between is an “American Masters” detour, “The Boomer List.”
Here is one person for each baby-boomer year, from 1946 (author and Vietnam vet
Tim O’Brien) to 1964 (actor John Leguizamo). Individually, their stories range
from dull to fascinating; together, they offer a snapshot of an era.


Other choices include:


“Awkward,” 4-10:33 p.m., MTV. First, catch up on the season
so far. Then the show returns (after a three-month pause) with Jenna facing
finals. Also, “Faking It” opens its season at 10:33.


“Dancing With the Stars,” 8 p.m., ABC. This is the second
and final week of a Tuesday results show. Next week, “Stars” reverts to the
clumsy one-show-a-week format.


“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. The season starts with action. Escorting
a computer engineer, Gibbs and McGee are on the run from Russian mercenaries. Their
colleagues try to find them with techno-skills.


“Candid Camera,” 8 p.m., TV Land. Imagine an overgenerous
yogurt machine; it just won’t stop. Or a waitress who samples all your food.
That’s in the finale of the first season of this “Candid” revival. Mayim Bialik
and Peter Funt host, with Carnie Wilson as the waitress.


“Agents of SHIELD” season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Now fugitives,
the “SHIELD” people still must save the world. Guest stars include Lucy
Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Adrian Pasdar, George Stephanopoulos (really) and Hayley
Atwell, in the role (Peggy Carter) she’ll play in the mid-season “Agent
Carter.”


“Chicago Fire” season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. Last season
ended with a deadly hospital explosion. Now the chief tries to pull his squad back
together; Severide has disappeared and Casey goes looking for him.


TV column for Monday, Sept. 22



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Gotham” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

Each year, directors and technical people keep getting
better; writers stay about the same. Viewers get dramas that are stunning to
look at, so-so to think about; now “Gotham” is a prime example.


The story is kind of monotone: In Gotham City before Batman,
there’s one honest cop; nastiness and torture prevail. Alongside that is a
potent look and feel. In an elusive time – partly 1940s noir, partly now –
tough men (and a superb Jada Pinkett Smith) growl through their richly
cinematic lives.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Forever” debut, 10:01 p.m., ABC.


This “might seem a little implausible,” Dr. Henry Morgan
(Ioan Gruffud) says. Or a lot; for 200 years, he’s been dying and returning.
Now he’s a medical examiner, with one friend (Judd Hirsch) who understands.


In most hands, this would be nonsense. But Gruffud adds British
precision; the visuals dazzle and the stories are smart. There’s too much
Sherlock-ian know-it-all, but noone said this would be plausible.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE III: “The Voice” and “The Blacklist, 8
and 10 p.m., NBC.


Starting their seasons, here are two shows that propelled
NBC back to the top. That starts with Pharrell Williams moving into a “Voice”
chair, alongside Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani.


Then “Blacklist” finds Red still battling Berlin, while
facing a new villain, Lord Baltimore; Liz is bouncing back from confronting her
scheming husband. The brilliant Mary-Louise Parker joins the show.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “POV,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).


Ed Koch’s story is so big and brash that this re-telling is
wildly entertaining. Koch startled his mayoral opponent, Mario Cuomo, by somehow
getting the endorsement of a prime Italian political boss. He gathered black
support by implying he would preserve the neighborhood’s hospital – then closed
it.


He ducked questions of his sexuality (back when that was an
issue), then raged at “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo” signs. Soon, he was prominently
holding hands with former Miss America Bess Myerson. Koch, who died last year
at 88, comments extensively during this jaunty view of past and present.


Other choices include:


“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, track
star Lolo Jones was the first celebrity ousted. Now the second week begins,
with a results show Tuesday.


“The Big Bang Theory” season-opener, 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.
It’s a double helping of TV’s best comedy. Upset by the Leonard-Penny
engagement, Sheldon has fled; now Amy and Leonard try to retrieve him.
Meanwhile, Penny applies for a job at Bernadette’s company, with Steven Root as
the boss.  


“Scorpion,” 9 p.m., CBS. Already stuffed with geniuses (via “Big
Bang” and “Elementary”), CBS adds more: A high-IQ team is drafted to prevent
disaster; as in “Big Bang,” a beautiful waitress (Katharine McPhee) provides
balance. There’s potential here, but the opener strains believability.


“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. Things are never easy for
Ichabod Crane, who ended last season buried in a coffin by his eternal son (the
superb John Noble). Meanwhile, police Capt. Irving is jail on murder charges
and Jenny is in an accident. This epic-looking show should fit well with “Gotham.”


“Dallas” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., TNT. Bobby is cheated
by the cartel and links with his former sister-in-law Sue Ellen. Her son John
Ross risks everything; Bobby’s son Christopher rushes to save Elena.


“Under the Dome” season-finale, 10 p.m., CBS. With the dome
closing in, there’s an exit possibility.