TV column for Wednesday, March 19

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Survivor” (CBS) or “American Idol”
(Fox), both 8 p.m.

Each Wednesday, the original reality giants collide.
Tonight, each is at a pivotal point.

“Survivor” has seen its “brains-brawn-beauty” theme collapse;
the “brains” tribe lost three people in four weeks (“beauty” lost the other),
so they’ll re-form into two tribes. Meanwhile, “Idol” has found its top 10 for
a tour; tonight, they do songs that reached the top 10 sometime between 2010
and now.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The 100” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

Our story starts almost a century after nuclear radiation
made the planet uninhabitable. The only sure survivors were people on space stations;
generations later, they send 100 young prisoners back to Earth.

In theory, they’ll monitor life down there … sort of like
the Greek dramas, with the gods controlling from above. These young rebels,
however, defy the plan.  Ramping up the
drama, “100” creates antagonism that’s unrealistic, even on a planet of
prisoners. Still, it has an interesting plot and a telegenic cast, led by Eliza
Taylor and Marie Avgeropoulos as young opposites, pragmatic and passionate.

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

Things are caving in on these Russian spies. She’s trying to
seduce an earnest young sailor into stealing classified records; his fake
marriage (to a woman who thinks he’s an American agent) is wobbling.

In their marriage to each other, the big problem is that
their daughter – who thinks this is an ordinary, suburban-American family – is
praying and going to a church. (For 1980s Russian spies, this is worrisome.)
And then, in tonight’s final minutes, there’s a fierce surprise; it’s another
great episode.

Other choices include:

“Revolution,” 8 p.m., NBC. While Monroe tries an attack on
the Patriots, Miles and Gene look for allies.

“Who the (bleep) is Arthur Fogel,” 8 p.m., Epix. This
interesting documentary was previously yanked, ostensibly to add Lady Gaga
footage. It profiles the quiet Canadian who stages epic rock tours.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Jay’s dinner reservation
is endangered when everyone (including his wife Gloria) is running late.

“Mixology,” 9:31 p.m., ABC. It’s time for Cal to have his
moment, in a potential connection with a sweet waitress … except that the
moment (like the show itself) is promptly blighted by his semi-friend Bruce.
There are some good bits -- especially with shy Liv and drolly British Ron -- but
the rest is so-so.

“Legit,” 10 p.m., FXX. At his class reunion, Jim finds some
surprisingly sweet and moving moments. There’s humor around him, however, and his
friend Steve soon descends into drunken excess.

“Doll & Em” debut, 10 and 10:30 p.m., HBO. It’s lucky
this airs two episodes, because the first one takes British restraint to an
extreme. Slow and dry, it sees a Hollywood star (Emily Mortimer) hire her
friend (Dolly Wells) as an assistant. The second half-hour starts to offer
brief blips of drama and comedy.

“Deal With It” season-opener, 10:30 p.m., TBS. With hidden
cameras set up in busy restaurants, people win money by following the odd
instructions that celebrities (tonight, Howie Mandel and Nick Cannon) say into
their earpieces. The result is mildly amusing.


TV column for Tuesday, March 18

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

For its 100h episode, “Glee” goes with big – and
familiar – music. Viewers chose the show’s 10 best songs, now a reunion has
people doing new versions of songs others did earlier.

The New York people (Rachel, Kurt, Santana) are back. So are
other grads (Quinn, Puck, Mercedes, Brittany), guest stars (Gwyneth Paltrow,
Kristin Chenoweth) and current glee-clubbers.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Growing Up Fisher,” 9:31 p.m., NBC.

Mel (J.K. Simmons) clearly has trust issues; he’s blind, but
doesn’t trust his guide dog. Do we really expect him to trust his teen daughter

His ex-wife is more trusting, which may be a problem. (Did
we mention that Katie is a teen-ager?) That leads to funny moments, in an
episode that also has Henry get a glimpse at his friend’s family.

“Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe,” 8 p.m., ABC.

There are good reasons to resent this special -- an hour-long
commercial for Marvel movies, with other commercials tucked inside. People keep
praising each other in hollow, actor-speak words.

We’d be more upset, except that much of the praise is
accurate: Marvel Comics had sold film rights to its top characters – Spider-Man,
X-Men, Fantastic Four; it was building a studio with what one newspaper dubbed
“second-string superheroes.” Then it soared. It hired Shakespeareans (Kenneth
Branagh, Tom Hiddleston), an Oscar-winner (Gwyneth Paltrow), an offbeat star
(Robert Downey Jr.). It mixed wit with slam-bang action, creating popular films
that don’t need hollow praise.

Other choices include:

Basketball, 6:30 p.m., TruTV. Doubleheaders today and
Wednesday will determine the last four teams in the NCAA tournament’s field of 64.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A bomb has exploded at a military
charity concert. The team ponders if it was aimed at an old rock star (Keith
Carradine) or was part of a broader plot.

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. When an undercover agent
is killed, the team searches for a mole. Also, Granger frets as Kensi goes
missing in Afghanistan. 

“Mind Games,” 10 p.m., ABC. The main story – subtly
influencing a politician – is weak. A secondary one, tricking a reporter, has
its moments because of the addition of Jaime Ray Newman as a scam artist.

“Justified,” 10 p.m., FX. Dewey Crowe is weaving through the
South with a truck full of cocaine. This is not good news for anyone, including
Dewey. Parts of the Crowe saga end fiercely, in a strong (if scattered) hour
that also has key moments inside the women’s prison.

“Laff Mobb’s We Got Next,” 10 p.m., Aspire. The notion of a
clean-comedy stand-up hour is good, but the execution is erratic. Some bits
score, including Barry Brewer on airliner snobbery and Debra Terry on being married
to Jesus; others are merely OK.

“Chrisley Knows Best,” 10 p.m., USA.  How do you bond with a quiet son-in-law? In a
so-so episode, Todd Chrisley tries some target-shooting and a thoughtful gift –
breast enlargement for his daughter.


TV column for Monday, March 17


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Paycheck to Paycheck,” 9-10:30 p.m.,

It’s easy to toss around phrases like “the working poor” and
concepts like food-stamps, day-care and college aid. This excellent documentary
illustrates all of that through one thoroughly likable person.

Katrina Gilbert, 30, is bright and upbeat, well-liked by
residents of the nursing home where she works. She’s also raising three kids on
$9.49 an hour. “Paycheck” follows her for nine months, as she ranges from good
breaks and help to sudden setbacks. It’s a deeply involving ride.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Dancing With the Stars” opener,
8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

With its ratings slumping, “Stars” has a full makeover. Erin
Andrews – accustomed to the adrenalin of sports reporting – is the new co-host.
There’s a new band (more rock-oriented), a gimmick (viewers can dictate a
change in partners) and a big opening dance number to James Derulo singing “Talk

More importantly, there’s an interesting line-up. Meryl
Davis and Charlie White, the skating champions, compete with each other; Derek
Hough, who helped coach their Olympic routine, is with para-Olympian Amy Purdy,
who snowboards on prosthetic legs. Others range from genial (Drew Carey) to cranky
(NeNe Leakes), from 17-year-old singer Cody Simpson to 76-year-old actor Billy
Dee Williams.

TODAY’S ALTERNATIVE: “AMHQ” debut, 7-10 a.m., Weather

Already very good at what it does, the channel adds a fresh
splash. Sam Champion, formerly of ABC, anchors from Atlanta with Mike Bettis,
Maria LaRosa and Anaradis Rodriguez, plus lots of field work.

Today, that includes St. Patrick’s Day celebrations from
Chicago, New York, Savannah and Hot Springs, Ark. It also includes Stephanie
Abrams – who co-hosts from 5:30-7 a.m. with Al Roker – at the show’s premiere
party in Times Square. And Alexandra Cousteau, daughter of famed maritime explorer
Jacque Cousteau, begins a five-day report on the Colorado River and efforts to
revive it.

Other choices include:

“How I Met Your Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS. This is one of only
two half-hours before the hour-long season-finale. Gary Blauman – played by
Taran Killam, now of “Saturday Night Live” – has been in four episodes over the
years. He returns just before the wedding, causing people to flash back to
previous encounters.

“2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. The diner crowd wants to be
drunk and wild on St. Patrick’s Day. Caroline longs for her old days of
celebrating at the Plaza Hotel.

“Brain Games” season-finale, 9 p.m., National Geographic.
This half-hour views our minds’ copycat ways, from yawns to an experiment to
see if people in Las Vegas will stand in a line that goes nowhere.

“Archer,” 10 p.m., FX. The guys are getting increasingly
upset at Sterling Archer, mostly because he tried to smuggle cocaine INTO
Colombia. Now they’ve been captured and are headed to execution. Then things
get worse, including crocodiles. The result is often overwrought and sometimes
quite funny.

“The Private Lives of Nashville Wives,” 10 p.m., TNT. In a
pivotal episode, this is a tough night all-around. There’s an absurd party
fight, plus some serious moments for Gary Chapman (discussing the cocaine habit
he had while writing Christian-music hits) and for the marriage of Dallas and
Sarah Davidson.

“The Blacklist,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. After a slow stretch –
only two episodes in six weeks – “Blacklist” settles into its spot again.
Tonight, Red’s old associate breaks out of prison, vowing revenge.

TV column for Saturday, March 15 (Sunday's is below this)

(Please excuse a slight laps in chronology. This is the TV column for Saturday, March 15. If you scroll dwn below this, you'll find the Sunday one.)


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Cosmos,” 8 p.m., Fox; and “Believe,” 10
p.m., NBC.

Here’s a second chance to try two terrific openers, before
their second episodes air at 9 p.m. Sunday.

“Cosmos” is non-fiction, with the sweeping stories of Carl
Sagan’s 1980 series, boosted by modern special effects. “Believe” is – we truly
hope – non-fiction, with a gifted 10-year-old girl intensely sought by one
group and protected by another. It makes its villain way too inept, but
otherwise has strong characters and great action scenes, sharply directed by
Alfonso Cuaron, the Oscar-winner for “Gravity.”

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Summer Dreams,” 8-10 p.m., CBS.

Mike Tollin has thrived by producing youth dramas (including
“Smallville”) and comedies. Often, he comes back to sports, scripted (“Coach
Carter,” “The Bronx is Burning,” “One Tree Hill”) or not (“30 For 30,” “The
Franchise,” “The Real Rocky”).

Now he’s produced a documentary movie on pro basketball’s
summer development league, which runs for 10 high-octane days in Las Vegas. “Dreams”
focuses on two first-round draft picks – Michael Carter-Williams of the
Philadelphia 76ers and Shane Larkin (son of baseball great Barry Larkin) of the
Dallas Mavericks. It also follows Lauren Holtkamp, trying to be the NBA’s
second current female referee.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Black Sails” season-finale, 9 p.m.,

In one crowded hour, here is everything you’d expect in a
pirate tale. There’s deceit, overthrow, a sea storm, cannon fire, topless maidens
and buried treasure.

And most of it is done by gifted British actors. Two scenes
with Captain Flint (Toby Stephens, the son of Oscar-winner Maggie Smith) and
his long-time friend are superb.

Other choices include:

“Castle,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Castle and Beckett try to
trace the background of a baby handed to a priest by a dying man.

Action movies, 8 p.m., cable. Bravo has “The Fast and the
Furious” (2001), with Paul Walker as a young street-racer. AMC has “Rocky III”
(1982), with the odd notion of Mr. T as ultimate obstacle.

More movies, cable. Here are master directors: “Sugarland
Express” (1974, 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies) was Steven Spielberg’s first
movie in theaters, based on the true story of a young couple being chased
across Texas. “No Country for Old Men” (2007, 8 p.m., IFC) is a best-picture
winner from the Coen Brothers, whose script included large chunks of great
dialog from Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

“When Calls the Heart,” 9 p.m., Hallmark. This frontier-Canada
tale sometimes lacks variety, with all its strong-silent men and women. It
added variety last week, when the schoolteacher’s giddy younger sister arrived.
She promptly fell for a handsome stranger who had a wound and a gun. Tonight,
that story builds; things seem way too easy (again), but it’s a likable tale.

“Ripper Street,” 9 p.m., BBC America. As a police wagon is
traveling through the Whitechapel district, an Irish bomber escapes and kills a
member of parliament.

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, Drake
doubles as host and music guest.  

TV column for Sunday, March 16

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.

On a night stuffed with new series, this fifth-season show
reminds us that it’s still one of the best.

Last week’s terrific episode saw a new investigation into
the election-night corruption that helped elect Alicia’s husband. That
continues as she frets over a key speech, stirring flashbacks. There’s also a focus
on Elsbeth (delightfully played by Carrie Preston), who keeps a sharp mind
hidden under a giddy façade.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Cosmos,” 9 p.m., Fox.

You may have heard of “survival of the fittest,” but here’s “survival
of the friendliest” – the process that saw the most docile wolves evolve into
dogs. You’ve heard of “natural selection,” but here’s “artificial selection” – humans
breeding dogs that have the preferred traits.

Those examples are part of one of the best – and most
entertaining – explanations of evolution we’ve seen. Backed by great visuals,
Neil deGrasse Tyson shows a respect for the “soaring, spiritual” process that
has survived five global disasters, to shape our world.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Believe” (NBC) or “Resurrection”
(ABC), both 9 p.m.

The scheduling demons are out to get us again. Both shows
aired strong pilot films with supernatural touches; now both have been plunked
into the same slot.

Try “Believe,” because its great pilot set up a solid premise
– a tough, escaped criminal protects a supernaturally gifted 10-year-old …
unaware this is his daughter. We haven’t seen its second episode, but the
second “Resurrection” is a mild disappointment. After a great start – people inexplicably
returning home, years after their deaths – it shovels in unbelievable amounts
of rage from most townspeople, reducing the story to an angry-white-male stereotype.

Other choices include:

“The Red Road,” 7-10 p.m., Sundance. Here are the first
three hours of a series (10 p.m. Thursdays) that has rich layers of human flaws
and strengths. A cop finds his honesty shattered when his fragile wife goes too
far; suspicions resonate throughout a troubled town.

“Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. In both worlds, good people
team with evil Regina. In Fairytaleland, Robin Hood tries to help break into
her castle, now seized by the Wicked Witch of the West. And in modern
Storybrooke, she works with Emma to learn who has blotted out everyone’s

“Army Wives,” 9-11 p.m., Lifetime. Before the eighth and
final season begins, here’s a look back.

“The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11. After
finding a shelter spot, people wonder if life will ever be as it was. That’s
surrounded by reruns at 7 and 8 p.m. and a 10 p.m. “Talking Dead” with Melissa
McBride (who plays Carol Peletier), plus Yvette Nicole Brown of “Community” and
wrestler CM Punk.

“Revenge,” 10 p.m., ABC. Emily’s black-outs are becoming
increasingly violent.

“Crisis” debut, 10 p.m., NBC. Viewers rejected the absurd
premise of CBS’ “Hostages”; now NBC tries a similar theme. This one has a
broader scope, swiping a busload of teens, including the president’s son. It
has great side characters, including federal agents (Rachael Taylor, Lance
Gross) and a rich mom (Gillian Anderson). But its plot strains credibility and
viewers might be wary of its serialized nature.