TV column for Saturday, March 4

“Custody,” 8-10:33 p.m., Lifetime; reruns at 12:02 a.m.

Here is a quiet gem,
a deep and intelligent story of good intentions and (at times) bad
results. It's not something we expect on TV – or from James Lapine.
On Broadway, he's written and directed musicals and comedies, getting
15 Tony nominations, three wins and a Pulitzer Prize.

But now he's written
and directed a dead-serious drama – a child-custody case in which
he lets us feel each person's agony ... some of it unrelated to the
case. These are deep characters, played by the best – Viola Davis,
Catalina Moreno, Tony Shalhoub, Hayden Panettiere, Ellen Burstyn and

II: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m.. NBC.

Let's think of
tonight as a reunion of the movie “The Help” ... or a reunion of
Academy Award nights. It's a chance to see Viola Davis and Octavia
Spencer pretty much back-to-back.

In 2012, both women
had Oscar nominations for “The Help”; Spencer won. This year,
Davis won for “Fences”; Spencer was nominated for “Hidden
Figures.” Now we can see Davis being dead-serious – and perfect –
in “Custody” and then Spencer hosting “SNL,” with music from
Father John Misty.

ALTERNATIVE: “Planet Earth II,” 9 p.m. ET, BBC America, rerunning
at midnight.

You see some
surprising things in the jungle ... including dolphins. Really. River
dolphins, mostly blind in that dark setting, seem to frolic there.

Jungles cover 6
percent of the globe, narrator David Attenborough tells us, but have
half the plants and wildlife. Many thrive; some otters are the size
of men. And many are remarkable; we see a lizard that can soar 100
feet ... a gecko that virtually disappears ... and birds of paradise
with dazzling dances.

Other choices

“Star Wars”
marathon, 1:55 p.m. to 4:37 a.m., TNT. Now the films have been
rearranged in the way the story unfolds. The prequel trilogy is at
1:55 p.m. (1999), 4:55 p.m. (2002) and 8 p.m. (2005). That lead into
the original film – now called “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977)
-- at 11:06. “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) is at 1:52 a.m..
with “Revenge of the Jedi” (1983) at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Chicago stories,
8-11 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of Wednesday's marathon,
involving all four shows. At 8 p.m., “Chicago Fire” fights a
blaze, with the “Chicago Med” people treating victims. Then
“Chicago P.D.” investigates at 9 p.m. and “Chicago Justice”
prosecutes at 10.

“Ransom,” 8
p.m., CBS. In France, a girl has been kidnapped from a train. Now her
parents fear she's been sold into human trafficking.

Basketball, 8:30
p.m. ET, ABC, with pre-game at 8. The Chicago Bulls host the Los
Angeles Clippers.

Boxing, 9 p.m. ET,
CBS. Two undefeated welterweight champions collide, with the winner
getting the unified title. Keith Thurman has the WBA title; Danny
Garcia has the WBC one.

“APB,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. In a rerun, a drone fails to find robbers, so Gideon turns to an
unlikely source to create some electric motorcyles.

“History of
Comedy,” 10 p.m. ET, CNN (barring breaking news). Remember that
cliche about the crying clown, the sad guy who makes us laugh? It's
sometimes true, people tell us here, using examples from the past –
Jonathan Winters, Richard Pryor, Robin Willians – and their own
lives. It's a good hour, preceded at 9 p.m. ET by an OK one viewing
comedy that springs from regular life.


TV column for Friday, March 3

“When We Rise” finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

This beautifully
crafted mini-series began with waves of youthful, gay-rights
optimism. Then came the countershocks – the assassination of Harvey
Milk, the AIDS epidemic, the new laws and limitations.

But in these
real-life stories, the push persists. Cleve Jones and Ken Jones (not
related) were saved by the new “chemical cocktail” for HIV; Roma
Guy became a San Francisco official. With varying skepticism, they
push for victories – in court and in public opinion – that once
seemed impossible.

“Emerald City” season-finale, 9 p.m., NBC.

In sheer size and
scope, this is mega-TV. It has an army of dark witches ... a cadre of
white witches ... the Wizard's riflemen, firing into a swirling storm
... and (really) a hulking stone giant.

There is everything,
perhaps, except a clear and involving story line. If you haven't seen
the previous episodes, don't fret; we've seen them and still have
trouble sorting it all out. Just relax and catch the sheer spectacle.
Lots of people are killed, not all of them permanently. It's that
kind of show.

ALTERNATIVE: “Vampire Diaries,” 8 p.m., CW.

Remember when TV
weddings were considered pleasant and peaceful? That's no longer a
sure thing: On “Dynasty,” Moldavian terrorists stormed into the
chapel, wounding almost everyone (and, oddly, killing almost no one).
On “Game of Thrones,” the king, queen and most others were slain.

Now Damon and Paul
need to lure a dangerous enemy. Their plan, of course, is to have a
hastily planned wedding. That could put Mystic Falls in danger, a
week before the series finale.

Other choices

“Lethal Weapon”
(1987) and “Lethal Weapon 2” (1989), 7 and 9:30 p.m., AMC. Here's
the first half of the Gibson/Glover series; all four films will play
Saturday, starting at 3 p.m. Other movies today include the second
“Harry Potter” (2002) at 7 p.m. on Freeform, the final “Hobbit”
(2014) at 8 p.m. on TNT and the delightful, animated “Rio”
(2011), at 9 p.m. on Nickelodeon.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the episode in which Bozer finally
learned about his roommate's secret life in the international spy
world. It's a harsh lesson: Someone is out to kill them.

“Grimm,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. The reason trees keep losing is they rarely strike back. Here,
it appears that environmental violators are being attacked by a
treelike creature.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. Don't you hate it when your imaginary friend turns evil?
Now a monster appears that resembles the imaginary pal of Molly's
childhood. And yes, Friday TV is kind of weird.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds the team with two crises: Finding the
serial killer – it asks a retired FBI profiler (Claire Forlani) for
help – and preventing European nuclear meltdowns.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. All the Reagan men are busy. Danny tries to nudge a
woman who was held hostage, but who doesn't want to press charges.
Jamie is offered a job as technical advisor for a TV show. Their dad,
the police commissioner, is in a tough spot, when a fundraiser uses a
fake cop car.

stations (check local listings) are trying various pledge-drive
shows. Others, for tonight, will stick with the network's plan for
9-11 p.m., rerunning one of its most successful shows – a richly
detailed look at the birth of the Broadway hit, “Hamilton.”

TV column for Thursday, March 2

“History of Comedy,” 10 p.m. ET, CNN (barring breaking news).

There are plenty of
comedians, we're told, in the Seinfeld-Newhart-Romano mold, easygoing
people with fun lives. Then there's the flip side. “If you're a
comedian, there's a part of you that is unhinged and, most
importantly, unhappy, “ Rachel Bloom, the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
creator and star, says here.

We see past
examples, from Jonathan Winters (“a profoundly troubled guy,”
says comedian Marc Maron) to Richard Pryor and Robin Williams.
Current stars – Maron, Richard Lewis, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford
– admit to their own neuroses ... alongside clips reminding us they
really are funny.

“Riverdale,” 9 p.m., CW.

Here is a pivotal
episode, both for romances – three begin, one or two of them major
surprises for Archie comics fans – and for the main plot. What
really happened to Betty's sister, who disappeared shortly before
people discovered the body of her former boyfriend Jason? Tonight, we
find out.

There are flaws
here, as usual. Betty's parents seem to have time-traveled from a
hideous 1950s soap opera. They join Jason's parents, Jason's sister
and Josie's dad in being ridiculously overwrought. But for all its
flaws, “Riverdale” is now becoming a solid bit of teen-gothic
romantic drama.


At first, the “When
We Rise” mini-series rippled with youthful idealism. Facing steep
odds, young gays found political and social success in San Francisco
and beyond. But now (9-11 p.m.), we jump ahead: Cleve Jones and Ken
Jones (not related) are HIV-positive; the main characters have
tangled lives.

Ken lost everything
when his partner died; he's descended into alcohol, drugs and
despair. Roma Guy (a city official) frets about the misdeeds of her
partner's teen daughter. And Cleve mourns a lack of spark in the next
generation. You'll worry about them ... except they're featured in a
news special at 8.

Other choices

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. This auditions hour is transpanted to a Thursday, offering
a boost to “Chicago Med” at 9 and the second “Blacklist:
Redemption” episode at 10.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m, CBS. The “sweeps” ratings period ended
Wednesday, so some shows try reruns. In this one, cohabitation is
iffy, because Amy won't stick to the bathroom schedule.

“My Kitchen
Rules,” 9 p.m., Fox. It's time for a friendly face-off – the sort
we wouldn't have expected a while ago: On one side is Andrew Dice
Clay, whose onstage persona used to make verbal slurs of gays and
women; on the other is Lance Bass of 'N Sync fame, who came out as
gay more than a decade ago. Now they're in the finals – Bass with
his mom Diane, Clay with his third wife, Valerie Vasquez.

“Planet Earth II,”
9 p.m. ET, BBC America. Here's a rerun of the second episode in this
superb Saturday series. Visiting mountain wildlife, it ranges from
funny moments (dancing flamingoes, scratching grizzlies) to rare
footage of the elusive snow leopard.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the second of two guest spots (both
excellent) by Rosie O'Donnell, as Bonnie's ex-lover. Now she tempts
Christy to abandon her law-school efforts.

“Sun Records,”
10 p.m., CMT, Last week's opener was interesting, even if it did make
many of the characters a tad cartoonish. Tonight, Sam Phillips –
whose label is floundering – records B.B. King. Also, we meet Jerry
Lee Lewis and his cousin, the future Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.

ALSO NOTE: Tuesday's
presidential speech altered plans for PBS' three-night “Africa's
Great Civilizations” series. Now many stations (check local
listings) air the finale tonight; it focuses on the rise of Atlantic
Ocean shipping, bringing new wealth ... and bringing the slave trade.

TV column for Wednesday, March 1

“When We Rise,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

In Monday's opener,
we met idealists in 1970s San Francisco. Roma Guy and Cleve Jones
(played by the immensely likable Emily Skeggs and Austin McKenzie)
disagreed about details, but were passionate about gay rights. Now
they face a California proposition aimed at gay teachers.

Cleve works on
Harvey Milk's historic campaign; Roma is stunned when her
ex-girlfriend Diane wants to have a baby. Then Diane, a nurse, faces
the deluge of patients who have what's called “gay cancer”; the
AIDS crisis is beginning, bringing drama that is deep, subtle and
beautifully crafted.

II: “The Goldbergs,” 8 p.m., ABC.

There really are two
Adam Goldbergs in Hollywood. One, 46, has had regular, co-star roles,
from “Relativity” to “The Jim Gaffigan Show.” The other, 42,
wrote for “Still Strong” and “Breaking In,” then scored with
this show, mining his past and his videotapes.

Now this story has
two boyhood Adams collide over name-confusion and a “Karate Kid”
fondness. It's a funny episode, cleverly written by ... well, one of
the Adam Goldbergs.

'”Chicago Justice” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

It's yet another
Chicago drama from producer Dick Wolf. This one will air Sundays ...
but first, Wolf weaves them all together: At 8 p.m., a warehouse fire
involves the “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago Med” people ... and
one of the victms is the daughter of a “Chicago P.D.” cop.

At 9, “Chicago
P.D.” probes the blaze. At 10, it turns it over to the “Justice”
people ... including a former “P.D.” cop (Jon Seda). A sampling
(of Sunday's episode) shows this is stiff, solid and Wolf-like.

ALTERNATIVE: “The 100,” 9 p.m., CW.

Last week, viewers
were stunned to see Octavia slain in a sword fight, crashing over a
ledge. They were more startled to see her stumble up. Sci-fi
characters just don't stay dead these days.

Now she tries to
reach the camp with a warning that King Roan is coming to steal the
ship – the only refuge from radiation, if a “night blood” plan
failed. What follows is a high-stakes hour, with tense moments and,
near the end, spectacular visuals. Things keep getting bigger and

Other choices

“Nature,” 8
p.m., PBS. The previous four “Nature” hours had great wildlife
scenes ... a few of them filmed by robotic animals. Here are
moderately interesting views of how the robots were crafted.

“Modern Family,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. Nudged ahead a half-hour, this finds Cam fuming
because someone has desecrated the costume of Fizbo the clown. Also,
Manny's play hits close to home.

“Africa's Great
Civilizations,” 9-11 p.m., PBS. It's a classic case of using your
location. Here, we see how an African king was able to leverage his
location – good ports, access to mines – to build wealth.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. It's finally time for the Atlanta Next Fest, which could propel
the trio to fame. Then comes a development that throws things in

“Bull,” 10 p.m.,
CBS. After just two episodes, “Doubt” has been dumped; it's
replaced by this rerun tonight and then “Criminal Minds: Beyond
Borders.” This was a quick collapse for a show that had major stars
(Katherine Heigl, Elliot Gould, Laverne Cox, Dule Hill), but lame
court cases.

“The Deed,” 10
p.m., CNBC. After some small-scale flipping, Nicole Webre went big:
She bought two-ad-a-half acres in an upscale New Orleans, built two
stately homes on spec ... and was $3.5 million in debt. Her designs
are great; her cost-control and marketing is not. Now Sidney Torres
arrives with fresh financing and advice; it's a good start to a
promising series.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 28 (Pacific Time version)

(This version of the Tuesday TV column is strictly for the Pacific Time Zone, where the presidential speech is complicating things. For other zones, scroll down to the next one.)

SHOULD-SEE: Presidential address, 6 p.m. PT, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS
and cable.

This isn't an
official “State of the Union” address, but follows a pattern that
Barack Obama used eight years ago: A new president is invited to
speak to Congress, laying out his legislative goals.

With the follow-up,
this is expected to run until 7:30 p.m. PT on ABC, CBS, and Fox
(leaving stations with a half-hour) and 8 p.m. on PBS; the cable
news channels can go on forever..

“New Girl,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Did you ever wonder
how many cats are semi-bigamists – drifting between unsuspecting
families? Now Winston learns his cat has been doing that; a tense
(and funny) custody battle ensues.

Another clever
storyline introduces Asif Ali as Schmidt's almost-too-perfect
executive assistant. An OK one finds that knowing Nick makes Jess
seem cool to her students.

ALTERNATIVE: “Face Off,” 4-10 p.m., Syfy.

You can catch up on
the entire season of this well-made competition show. That starts at
4 p.m., with 16 make-up artists arriving; in the hours ahead, they
create everything from aliens to twisted trees.

That leads to the
new hour at 9. Inspired by post-apocalyptic vehicles, they must
create characters that might fit into, perhaps, a “Mad Max” or
zombie-survivor film.

SCRAMBLING: Everywhere.

With the speech
throwing things off in other time zones, networks are moving things

On the West Coast,
Fox and NBC will give the 9 p.m. hour back to local stations; NBC,
however, will be back at 10 p.m. PT with a “The Wall” rerun. CBS
and ABC have comedy reruns (“Kevin Can Wait” and “American
Housewife” at 9 p.m.; CBS gives the next two hours to stations, but
ABC returns at 10 with “20/20.”

Other choices

“The Treasure of
Sierra Madre” (1948), 5 p.m. PT, Turner Classic Movies. John Huston
won Academy Awards for his script and his direction ... and his dad
(Walter Huston) won for supporting actor. Another gem is “O Brother
Where Art Thou” (2000), at 8 p.m. opn CNT.

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. It's the second night of auditions, with Gwen Stefani back
in a spinning red chair, alongside Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and
Alicia Keys.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun of the season's third episode, a Marine sergeant has
died in a fall from a building. Breaking confidentiality, Dr.
Confalone (Laura San Giacomo) suggests a murder probe.

“The Fosters,” 8
p.m., Freeform. Alongside some so-so stories, there's s strong one.
Emma is pregnant – she blames bad medical advice – and feels that
the dad (Jesus, still recovering from his head injury) is in no shape
to hear about it. She turns to his foster brother, Brandon, for some
moving moments.

“The Mick,”
8:30, Fox. Mick stands up for her nephew, feeling the school may be
discriminating against him. Meanwhile, his siblings learn surprising
thing about their housekeeper Alba.

“Switched at
Birth,” 9 p.m., Freeform. Good intentions and good performances
can't always make up for stupid plot twists. The basic story (about
black-student protests) is strong, with some moving moments – and,
alas, some awful plot twists. One requires rage because a black
student has a rich, white father; the other has an absurdly inflated
idea of the money value of a college baseball telecast.

season-finale, 10 p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:23. James is planning his
escape, but Prince Regent is making his push to finally destroy him.