TV column for Thursday, Nov. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

For five weeks, a
great comedy line-up was scattered about. “Big Bang” was on
Mondays; “Young Sheldon” had one episode there ... then waited
with the others for CBS' Thursday football to end.

Now it has and “Big
Bang” starts the night with two dandy stories. In one, Howard and
Bernadette are simultaneously bed-ridden, with a baby to care for. In
the other, Sheldon somehow sees himself as the successor to Professor
Proton, his boyhood TV idol. That brings great scenes with Bob
Newhart, 88.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Will & Grace” (NBC) or “Mom” (CBS), both 9 p.m.

It's the first show
of the season for “Mom” and the last (for a while) for “Will &
Grace.” For this one week, two top comedies collide. Last week,
Will turned down a big-money law partnership, to work in Grace's
design business. Now that has a rocky start; also, Karen has a
personal tragedy.

That will step aside
next week, when NBC takes over Thursday football. “Mom,” however,
will stay. Tonight, Bonnie's romance dilemma steals Christy's chance
to focus on the exam she needs to get into law school. Some side
stories are so-so, but the mother-daughter tale is, as usual, great
fun.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “S.W.A.T.” debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

Yes, this show
borrows bits of the original “S.W.A.T.” There's a slice of the
theme song, at the end; there are some of the same character names –
Hondo Harrison, Jim Street, Deacon and Luca.

That's as far as it
goes, though. The 1975 team wouldn't recognize this Hondo (Shemar
Moore), a black cop with a strong sense of community and of
conscience. Some of the characters around him – the young rebel,
the bad-guy cops – are cliches; Hondo, however, will hold our
attention for a while.

Other choices
include:

“Gotham” and
“The Orville,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. Boosted by a strong World
Series, Fox has its high-octane Thursday. First, Professor Pyg
strikes fear; then a rescue mission seeks Dr. Finn and her sons.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. For five weeks, this above-average show had access to all
the comedy fans. Now – in its final week before a football break –
it faces powerhouse “Big Bang.” One story – Glenn frets about
a mole in a delicate area – is childish; the other – Jonah's
health plan – ends hiltariously.

“The Good Place,”
8:30 p.m., NBC. Last week brought an emotional crisis for the
all-knowing, non-human Janet. Grieving a past romance with Jason, she
created her own mate ... and did it badly. He provides much of the
humor in a moderately funny episode that has Michael grasping for
solutions.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. The first episode established this as the season's
best new show. Now – six weeks later – we finally get a second,
as Sheldon tries to get his first friend.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. While Cyrus tries to get congressional approval for war in
Bashran, Quinn's firm has the difficult job of watching the niece of
that country's president.

“Life in Pieces”
season-opener, 9:31 p.m., CBS. Last season ended with two jolts – a
house fire and a bride tumbling out of the balcony at a cut-rate
motel. Now both of those provide funny moments. Other stories see
young Sophia going rogue and the teen husband and wife announcing a
surprise.

“Better Things,”
10 p.m., FX, repeating at 11:02. After a packed, two-network comedy
night, you don't have to stop; there's still this clever
comedy-drama. Tonight, Pamela Adlon, 51 – whose career is still
peaking after 35 years on TV – is lectured by her daughter on
actresses' short work-life. Also, she meets her ex-father-in-law,
played by Croatian-born actor-director-poet-producer Rade Serbedzija.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Frontline: Putin's Revenge” conclusion, 10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

At first, this compelling hour says, Vladimir Putin
simply wanted to disrupt democracy. Weary of criticism of his own
stronghold, he wanted to show that the American system was flawed,
too.

But that kept
expanding. Russian techno-whizzes hacked into the Democrats' E-mails,
contrived comments in social media and crafted fake news reports ...
which American networks fell for. The U.S. government knew about some
of this in 2015, but was slow to react; so were the Democrats.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Claire was grumpy
when her dad married Gloria. Now she tries to make up for it, by
throwing a big 10th-anniversary party.

That won't be easy:
Claire's husband Phil is planning a magic act that involves having
Gloria appear in her wedding dress ... if she can still get into it.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Trainwreck” (2015) and “You're the Worst,” 7
and 10 p.m., FXX.

One is a popular
movie, the other is a semi-known TV series, but both find comedy on
the same turf – where sex is easy, feelings are difficult and life
sometimes feels like a collision.

“Trainwreck”
does that smartly, thanks to Judd Apatow's direction and the script
by Amy Schumer, who stars. And “Worst?” Last week's episode
(rerunning at 11:06) saw Jimmy hook up with a former classmate,
despite their mutual disdain. In a funny episode, he tries to run
with her brainy crowd.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Stan Against Evil” season-opener, 10 and 10:30
p.m., IFC.

As the ex-sheriff of
a haunted town, Stan is getting creeped out. He sort of remembers
Edie (who replaced him), but no one else does. Is she somewhere in
the past?

Occasionally gory,
Stan is mostly drolly funny. Give credit for that to comedian Dana
Gould, who wrote the clever scripts and has a small role as the
cemetery keeper.

Other choices
include:

“George Gently”
series finale, any time, www.acorn.tv.
American series aren't always good at farewells, but this British
series has a terrific one – emotional and (with one exception) very
final. There are two new movies available: In the first, Gently
probes corruption among his fellow cops; the second hsas political
intrigue ... and then the big finish.

“Bridge of Spies”
(2015), 6:35 p.m., Showtime. Steven Spielberg directs Tom Hanks in a
story that;s true and subtly engrossing. That starts a strong movie
night that includes James Cameron's brilliant “Terminator 2”
(1991) at 8 p.m. on BBC America and two Tim Burton films -- “Alice
in Wonderland” (2010) at 6 p.m. on Freeform and “Batman” (1989)
at 8 p.m. on CMT.

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS. After her father's death, author Helen Macdonald retreated
to her roots, training a goshawk in rural England. That brought her a
2014 best-seller and a Samuel Johnson Prize. For this documentary,
she repeated that with a new bird; the result has a lyrical grace and
charm.

Baseball (8 p.m. ET)
or series (8 and 9 p.m.), Fox. There's something strong either way –
the seventh and final World Series game (if necessary) or the
powerhouse “Empire” and “Star” series.

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. Archie Andrews – the sunny comic-book teen – has been
enraged since his father was shot. Now his vigilante efforts spiral
out of control; the mayor calls an emergency meeting.

“The Story of Us,”
9 p.m., National Geographic. After a couple fairly good episodes,
this reruns the terrific opener, viewing the difficult push for
freedom.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. A Navy ship is stranded in enemy waters.
The president must negotiate its release, without revealing why: The
technology on board would threaten U.S. security.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 29, slightly out of order


(Here's the Oct. 29 column, a bit out of order; if you scroll down, you'll find Oct. 31 and Oct. 30.)

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Ten Days in the Valley,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Here's our vote for
the best TV show people aren't watching. It has everything – smart
writing, subtly terrific actors, strong visuals – except an
audience.

Last week, the focus
pivoted to Casey. She's the sweet-but-shallow assistant to Jane (an
intense TV producer) and the secret lover of Jane's ex-husband. She
planned the kidnapping of Jane's daughter, to expose her as a bad
parent; then last week ended with Casey dead and her sister and the
girl missing. Tonight, the search expands, while Jane and her ex
alternate between rage and regret.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Masterpiece: The Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS.

It's mid-life crisis
time for Louisa ... except no one agrees on how mid- she is. A friend
politely guesses she's 35, but that would involve having a son at 13;
her daughter's suggestion (50) is not well-received.

This is the 1930s
and Louisa – played by the terrific Keeley Hawes, 41 – is a widow
who moved her British brood to a Greek island. She's dating an
Englishman whose ex-lover (her landlady) has a retaliatory affair
with her son. Mid-life can be complicated – and lightly
entertaining.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Cable dramas, 9 p.m.

This pre-Halloween
weekend has always been a time for “The Walking Dead” to thrive.
Tonight, however, it collides with the season-finales of two
pay-cable powerhouses.

On Showtime's “Ray
Donovan,” Ray may be forced into a brutal act. And on HBO's “The
Deuce,” the business could expand – but only with more Mob
involvement; that leaves the brothers (both played by James Franco)
at odds. Also, Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the brainy ex-hooker, is
soaring in the emerging porn-film world; now she's a director and
she's savoring the red-carpet experience.

Other choices
include:

“Flint,” 10
a.m., Lifetime. This channel tends to switch its plans, so be wary.
This rerun of an excellent new film was originally set for 4 p.m.;
also, a planned “Watcher in the Woods” rerun is gone.

Animated movies, 6
p.m., FX, and 6:55, Freeform. Families can find the light side of
Halloween. FX has “Hotel Transylvania” (2012) at 6 and its sequel
(2015) at 8 and 10. Freeform has “Monsters, Inc.” (2001) at 6:55
and “Monsters University” (2013) at 9.

Sports, 8 p.m. ET,
Fox and 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC. On Fox, it's the fifth game of baseball's
best-of-seven World Series, with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the
Houston Astros. On NBC, it's pro football; the Pittsburgh Steelers
(5-2) visit the Detroit Lions, who are 3-3 and coming off a bye week.

“It's the Great
Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” 8-9 p.m., ABC. Earlier this month, ABC had
a slightly shortened version of this 1966 cartoon classic. Here's the
full version, followed by a rerun of “You're Not Elected, Charlie
Brown.” which includes the Great Pumpkin.

“Poldark,” 9
p.m., PBS. After being a prisoner-of-war in France, Dr. Enys has
trouble re-adjusting to the gentle life of his wife Caroline. Also,
George tries to trap Poldark's brother-in-law Drake.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. A banker with ties to a Russian mogul has
been killed, so Sam goes undercover as a day trader. Also, Callen
fears trouble, when one of his aliases faces credit-card theft.

“Madam Secretary,”
10 p.m., CBS. The White House tries to work out a compromise with the
Senate opposition. (Yes, this is fiction.) Also, Elizabeth has
trouble finding a new chief of staff

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 31


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Halloween marathons, cable.

Families can find
Halloween-lite on two related channels. Disney has the “Hotel
Transylvania” series, from 3:35 to 11 p.m.; Freeform has “Hocus
Pocus” (1993) at noon and 2:15, 4:30, 6:40 and 8:50 p.m.

And for grown-ups?
“The Simpsons” has 26 “Treehouse of Horror” episodes –
often witty, sometimes gory – from 11 a.m. to midnight on FXX ....
“Ash vs. Evil Dead” is 1:45 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. on Starz ....
Movies include “Silence of the Lambs” (1991), 6 and 8:30 p.m. ET
on BBC America; “Halloween” (1978), 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on AMC
(surrounded by sequels); and “Elm Street” films on Syfy.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Legends of Tomorrow,” 9 p.m., CW.

Many shows
(“Legends,” “Timeless”) have been way too confined by the
rules of time-travel. But now a smart makeover has changed that: Our
heroes have accidentally twisted time, creating anomalies; since
nothing is in its proper place, they're free to zip back and forth,
making changes.

Now they're back to
1988, where young Ray is about to die. As the team tries to save him,
it glimpses the narrow boyhood he idealizes. The entire hour doubles
as a tribute to the wonderful “ET.” Whether characters are biking
in the sky or hiding among stuffed animals, this hour has legendary
moments.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Major Crimes” season-opener, 9 p.m., TNT, rerunning
at 10.

It's the sixth
season for the show – and the 13th for some of the
characters, who have been around since “The Closer.” What was
once a fairly basic crime-of-the-week show has changed with the
times.

Tonight's story is
sprawling and complex. Three teen boys disappeared during a school
trip. Their parents and step-parents vary – a big-money surgeon,
illegal immigrants, a gang member who died under mysterious
circumstances; so do the suspects. The deadbeat dad? The priest? The
bigoted neighbor? This story zips slickly, but has a long way to go;
don't expect answers this week or next.

Other choices
include:

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET,
Fox, with preview at 7:30. After three games in Houston, the World
Series returns to Los Angeles, where the Dodgers host the sixth game
in the best-of-seven series.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. McGee spends hours on a murder victim's ham radio, trying to
find a key witness. Also, Torres surprises Palmer with the size of
his charity donation.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Sue finally takes a stand against being the dependable one
who's given extra responsibilities. Unfortunately, that happens when
she's been asked to plan her parents' 25th anniversary.
Soon, all the family members are rebelling against their usual roles.

“This Is Us,” 9
p.m., NBC. We might not expect a Halloween episode from this richly
layered drama, but here it is: In the past and the present, we see
key moments during the holiday.

“The Vietnam War,”
9-10:30 p.m., PBS. Just as Lyndon Johnson was saying the war would
end, the Viet Cong mounted a massive Tet Offensive. Their losses were
staggering, this powerful rerun says, but the news coverage –
including fighting in the streets of Saigon – shattered American
confidence.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A mysterious woman is targets men who have
high security clearances. Also, Lasalle's father arrives to discuss
the family business.

“American Horror
Story,” 10 p.m., FX, rerrunning at 11:12. It's logical to conclude
any Halloween by watching this super-creepy (but extremely well-made)
series. We're now two weeks from the conclusion, with murder and
terror spreading over a Michigan town.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Superior Donuts” season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS.

For comedy fans,
this is the week of the big shift. “Big Bang” goes back to
Thursdays, where it launches a supernight (“Young Sheldon,”
“Mom,” “Life in Pieces”); “Donuts” returns to Mondays.

The show's first
season was fairly good: A couple characters were too cartoonish, but
mostly there was zippy dialog between interesting people. Now that's
spiced by a new antagonist: A young entrepreneur (Diane Guerrero, who
plays Jane's best friend in “Jane the Virgin”) parks her organic
food truck in front of the doughnut shop; Arthur (Judd Hirsch) is
furious when she lures some of his customers.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Masters,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS.

By some accounts,
Edgar Allan Poe was as dark and demented as his characters. He was an
alcoholic and a drug-user who married his 13-year-old cousin at 27
and died mysteriously at 40.

The truth, this
superb portrait says, was subtler. Poe did have trouble with
alcoholism, gambling and a tendency to make enemies. He was in deep
despair – but for good reasons: Virtually orphaned at 2, he felt
unwanted. The women he loved (including his child-bride) died young.
Still, he was a successful writer whose image was then transformed by
an enemy who wrote a cruel and inaccurate obituary.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Halloween shows, cable.

On the eve of the
holiday, TV piles up the spooky stuff for grown-ups. Yes, the
classics are there -- “Silence of the Lambs” (1991, 7 and 10
p.m., Reelz) ... “The Sixth Sense” (1999, 6:30 p.m., Syfy) ...
and, of course, “Halloween”(1978), 9:30 p.m., AMC. And there's
much more.

David Fincher's
“Se7en” (1995), with a young Brad Pitt, is 8 p.m. ET on IFC. FXX
has a “Simpsons” run of “Treehouse of Horrors” episodes from
6 p.m. to midnight, leading to a 13-hour spree Tuesday.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The “battle rounds” have finished and the
“knockout rounds” begin. They'll again pit two teammates; this
time, however, people choose their songs and perform separately.

“Kevin Can Wait,”
8 p.m., CBS. This relentlessly adequate comedy returns to its
previous duty of starting the night. After discarding a cookie jar
his daughter loved, Kevin must retrieve it.

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m.; Fox. We might as well spend part of Halloween eve with Lucifer
himself. As he's working a case, he's jolted to learn the defense
attorney is Charlotte Richards. That's the gorgeous lawyer (played by
Tricia Helfer) whose being is occupied by Lucifer's mother.

“The Gifted,” 9
p.m., Fox. Things get worse, as Jace focuses all the power of
Sentinel Services on finding the mutants' way station. Also, Blink's
vivid dreams bring a confrontation with Dreamer.

“Me, Myself &
I,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. Originally pegged for the 9 p.m. slot, this
will stay at 9:30. Tonight, we see Alex's friendship with Darryl at
14, at 40 (Jaleel White) and at 65 (Tim Reid).

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. The team probes the rumors of ghosts on the Queen Mary ...
until it confronts a crisis that's much less iffy.

“The Good Doctor,”
10 p.m., ABC. Shaun and Claire have a plan that could save a young
man's leg ... but only if they can get his parents and his
bride-to-be to work together.