TV column for Monday, Nov. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

We're down to the
final four now, as the two-night finale begins. On Tuesday, we'll
have a winner.

Alfonso Ribeiro had
a big head start; he starred in Broadway's “Tap Dance Kid” at 12,
then danced with Michael Jackson in a popular commercial. Now –
after dancing last week while injured – he faces three young women:
Sadie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” actress Janel Parrish and
Internet star Bethany Mota, whose partner Derek Hough is already a
five-time champion.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.

In its first season,
“The Millers” overcame so-so scripts via two huge advantages –
TV's best comedy director (James Burrows) and a cozy Thursday slot
behind “Big Bang.”

This year, moved
away from that slot, it quickly crashed. Now it's been cancelled,
with “Mike & Molly” returning to Mondays next week. Filling
the slot tonight is a rerun of the “Big Bang” season-opener; it's
a funny one, with Leonard and Amy on a road trip to retrieve the
runaway Sheldon.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Booze Traveler,” 10-11 p.m., Travel; or “Chug,”
10:30, National Geographic.

We kind of expected
Thanksgiving Week shows to focus on food or ... well, thanks.
Instead, cable networks debut two similar and moderately entertaining
shows about alcohol.

“Chug” goes to
Kuala Lumpur, where people don't ask what year a bottle is from; they
can climb trees, pick a naturally fermented fruit and soon drink it.
In “Traveler,” Jack Maxwell sees Turkey's mixed attitude toward
alcohol. Its founding father (Mustafa Ataturk) savored it, he says,
and died at 57 of cirrhosis of the liver. Now politicians ban
advertising it ... yet Istanbul consumes a billion liters a year.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. The top 10 perform and viewers vote; on Tuesday, two
will be ousted.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Young Bruce Wayne (the future Batman) is becoming more
prominent in the show. Tonight, he and Selina (the future Catwoman)
are hiding from killers.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. The jaunty fun of the early episodes is gone now, but
this remains an appealing drama with likable characters. Now Jane has
broken up with her fiance and kissed her boss ... whose estranged
wife has many problems – including a gagged Czech hit man in her
closet.

Crowd Control”
debut, 9 and 9:30 p.m., National Geographic. Each year, Daniel Pink
says, 13,000 people are killed while speedinerg, 6,000 are killed
while jaywalking. He toys with possible solutions, from cash rewards
for slow drivers to stark signs (“Be late, not dead”) and
game-playing diversions at intersections. He also tries to prevent
misuse of special parking spaces by mounting photos of the disabled.
Some notions succeed, some fail thoroughly, most are fairly
interesting.

“State of
Affairs,” 10 p.m., NBC. A stranded Russian submarine holds six
months of stolen American secrets. Now Charleston (Katherine Heigl)
leads the rush to get it ... while distracted by her mysterious
texter and by the new secretary of state (Nestor Carbonell).

“Eric Greenspan is
Hungry,” 10 p.m., National Geographic. Joining the chase for a wild
hog, Greenspan soon learns an important self-truth: “I'm not a
runner.” He does however, enjoy the backwoods friendship afterward,
in a so-so follow-up to the channel's terrific “Eat” mini-series.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Esposito is among the subway passengers taken hostage. Now
Beckett must figure out the guman's motive.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Jay Leno: The Mark Twain Prize,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Here's a 90-minute
burst of big laughs. Leno closes it wittily. First, others offer
their own comedy bits (Jerry Seinfeld's postal routine is
brilliiant), introduce “Tonight Show” clips and point barbs at
Leno.

This is someone who
still works constantly, Al Madrigal says, “because $200 million in
the bank just isn't enough.” There was that one misfire: “I just
hope PBS runs this at 11 p.m.,” Garth Brooks says, “because it's
proven no one will watch Jay at 10.” After that lone failure, Jimmy
Fallon reminds us, the network dropped Leno: “He did so much for
NBC that we have to celebrate his career on PBS.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Music Awards,” 8-11 p.m., ABC..

Most of
the night will ripple with young pop stars. There's Taylor Swift, One
Direction, Lorde, Ariana Grande, Jesse J, Charlie XCX, Sam Smith,
Imagine Dragons, Magic and 5 Seconds of Summer.

Still,
the veterans have their moments. Garth Brooks – who won and refused
the AMA's top award back in 1996 – will be shown performing in
North Carolina, on his first tour in 13 years. Jennifer Lopez will
perform “Booty” with Iggy Azalea (who leads with six
nominations). Also performing are Pitbull (who hosts), Mary J. Blige,
Fergie, Wyclef Jean and more.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Newsroom,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Beyond
all his blistering rants, we sometimes forget that writer-producer
Aaron Sorkin also creates great comedy dialog. That's on full display
early, as the FBI invades the newsroom and as a young reporter
(Alison Pill) spars with her editor (John Gallagher Jr.).

Then
things turn dead-serious. The news network's future is wobbling ....
An official delivers a scary global-warming warning .... And there's
the shabby new notion of journalists amping up stories, because they
get bonuses for more page hits. The laughs fade; no one rants as well
as Sorkin.

Other
choices include:

Red
carpet, 6-8 p.m., E. Stars look pretty for the American Music Awards.

“Christmas
in Palm Springs,” 7 and 9 p.m., UP. Here's your standard tale of
kids trying to get their parents (Patrick Muldoon and Dina Meyer)
back together at Christmastime. Alas, she's instantly unlikable, he's
intermittenly jerk-ish and it becomes hard to root for them.

“How
the Grinch Stole Christmas” (7:30 p.m.) and “The Wizard of Oz”
(1939, 8 and 10:15 p.m.), TBS. On an already-packed night, TBS reruns
two of the all-time greats for kids or grown-ups.

“Madam
Secretary,” 8:01 p.m., CBS. With a gunman outside, everyone is in
lockdown. That includes a translator who could divulge a secret about
Elizabeth; it also includes Daisy's fiance, played by Sam Daly –
the son of Tim Daly (who plays Elizabeth's husband), grandson of John
and nephew of Tyne.

“The
Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. The season started with Cary arrested and
assuming he would be freed quickly. Now, instead, his drug trial
begins, alongside a possible plea bargain and jail time.

“The
Comeback,” 10 p.m., HBO. The central character (Lisa Kudrow)
continues to be way too one-note. At times tonight, the monotone is
broken up by some sly moments from Seth Rogan (who plays her
colleague) and by a rather extreme burst of HBO-style nudity.

“Getting
On,” 10:30, HBO. This muted comedy-drama has one of its best nights
on both sides. The comedy comes when the hospital's computer system
fails; the drama centers on Dawn (Alex Borstein).

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 22


TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE: “Hunger Games” or “Twilight” films, cable.

On the
weekend when “Mockingjay” (the first half of the “Hunger Games”
finale) opens, we can sample films from two series. Both turned youth
novels into mega-movies.

The
original “Hunger Games” (2012) is 8 p.m. on ABC Family, with a
teen (the terrific Jennifer Lawrence) taking her sister's place in a
deadly competition. Also, both halves of the “Twilight” finale
run in inconvenient order – the first (2011) at 8 p.m. on FXX, the
second (2012) at 7 on Showtime.

TONIGHT'S
MIGHT-SEE: “State of Affairs,” 9 p.m., NBC,

Yes, we
grumbled about this season-opener, with its absurd plot twists. But
that was on a Monday, when there were better (much better) shows. On
a weak Saturday, this is worth trying.

Katherine
Heigl is terrific as a CIA analyst who prepares a daily briefing for
the president (Alfre Woodard), the mother of her late fiance. Sleekly
filmed, this briskly zips us over (almost) its plot woes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Christmas films, 8-10 p.m., cable.

One
film sticks close to real life. “An En Vogue Christmas”
(Lifetime) has members of the pop group playing themselves,
ree-uniting for a concert to save the club where they first caught
on.

The
other goes for fantasy. “A Royal Christmas” (Hallmark), a fairly
adequate film, sees a Philadelphia tailor and designer (Lacey
Chabert) suddenly learn that her boyfriend is prince of Cordinia. His
mom (Jane Seymour) wants him to marry nobility (Katherine Flynn,
Seymour's daughter).

Other
choices include:

“Eat:
The Story of Food,” 7-11 p.m., National Geographic. First is a
rerun of Friday's excellent opener, viewing “food revolutionaries,”
from explorers to Julia Childs and Clarence Birdseye. Then the new
hours view our passion for sugar (9 p.m.) and seafood (10); those
repeat at 11 p.m. and midnight.

Football,
7:30 p.m. ET, Fox; and 8 p.m. ET, ABC. Fox has Baylor (ranked No. 7)
hosting Oklahoma State; ABC has UCLA (No. 11) hosting Southern
California.

“The
Missing,” 7:55 and 9 p.m., Starz. First is a rerun of last week's
gripping opener, as a former husband and wife (James Nesbitt and
Frances O'Conner) take opposite approaches, eight years after their
son disappeared. Then comes another well-crafted hour, rerunning at
10:05. The dad desperately tries to kick open the case, now that he
has a hint of where his son was first taken.

“NCIS,”
8 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the episode that doubled as a pilot
for “NCIS: New Orleans,” with a congressman's body found in New
Orleans. It's a good episode, but be wary: It's the start of a
two-parter, with no plans (yet) to rerun the second half.

“NCIS:
Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a reporter announces the
group responsible for a bombing at a charity event.

“Hell
on Wheels,” 9 p.m., AMC. The season concludes with the railroad
leaving Cheyenne and Cullen returning to the fort to retrieve his
family.

“Saturday
Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Cameron Diaz hosts, with Mark Ronson
and Bruno Mars as music guests.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Eat: The Story of Food,” 9-11 p.m., National Geographic.

The history of the
Western world, we're told, pivots on the search for food. Columbus
was financed by spice-seekers; the Dutch traded New Amsterdam (now
New York) for a small island that had nutmeg.

That's in the fun
start of a three-night, six-hour documentary that assembles experts.
Tonight celebrates pioneers: Auguste Escoffier made French cuisine a
systematic art form; Julia Childs zestfully showed it to the masses.
Clarence Birdseye – who was working in Labrador when he saw the
natives fast-freeze fish – and Chef Ettore Boiardi vastly expanded
the choices on our grocery shelves.

TONIGHT'S
MUST-SEE II: “Constantine,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Roaming
the U.S. to face other-worldly evil, Constantine now (quite
logically) visits New Orleans. There, he finds new ghosts and an old
foe, the slyly charismatic Papa Midnite.

The
result is a sleek hour, sharply directed by John Badham, once a
big-deal movie man who made “WarGames” and “Saturday Night
Fever.” Michael James Shaw is excellent as Papa; we were bitter
when the show switched its female lead, but must admit that Angelica
Celaya is terrific as Zed.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Cats,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

This
musical was lready 15 years into its Broadway run in 1997, when took
a bold step: It molded a TV version in a studio, with no audience.
Alongside lithe, young singer-dancers, it brought back Elaine Paige
to sing the haunting “Memory” and Ken Paige to be Old
Deuteronomy. And it added John Mills (an Oscar-winner, like his
daughter Hayley), then 89 and nearly blind, for moving moments as
Gus.

With
theater people helping, David Mallett – a master of music videos
(Bowie, Blondie, Queen, etc.) and specials -- directed. The result,
rerunning here, perfectly blends close-ups and dance spectacle.

Other
choices include:

“The
Amazing Race,” 8 p. m., CBS. It's been a while since anyone was
ousted here: Last Friday, the show was pre-empted; the previous
episode (the show's 300th) was a non-elimination. That
leaves six duos – two married, two dating, two who are friends –
tonight in Malta.

“Last
Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Bitter about all those energy-saving
lightbulbs, Mike searches for the old kind. Meanwhile, his daughter
Mandy wants her own apartment.

“Cristela,”
8:31 p.m., ABC. Cristela wants to take her nephew to “West Side
Story.” His dad hesitates.

“Grimm,”
9 p.m., NBC. At a crime scene, a suspect insists a talking wolf made
her do it.

“Hawaii
Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. Carol Burnett returns to her role as
McGarrett's aunt, this time with another show-business legend
(Frankie Valli of Four Seasons fame) as her fiance. This is a
distraction for McGarrett, working a case in which brothers are the
prime suspects in the murder of their parents.

“Blue
Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. As police commissioner, Frank (Tom Selleck)
faces a backlash when a cop's body camera fails to record a fight
with a civilian. Then again, we'll forgive Selleck if he skips his
own show and watches PBS tonight; he met his wife when she was in the
London “Cats.”

“Late
Show with David Letterman,” 11:35 p.m., CBS. Latenight audiences
get their first look at James Corden, the talented British
actor-writer-singer who takes Craig Ferguson's late-late spot on
March 9.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

Things start at a
new low for Christy (Anna Faris) andr her mom Bonnie (Allison
Janney). Recovering alcoholics, they're sharing a friend's fold-out
couch when Christy's daughter comes home drunk.

The result is
simultaneously touching, tragic and funny. It also finally nudges
Bonnie into a job search. Naturally, she does it her way – by lying
outrageously. It's a grand showcase for Janney, who won two Emmys
this year, one for this role. It's also a reminder that this is one
of TV's best comedies.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “How to Get Away With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Over its first eight
weeks, “Murder” has been a solid ratings success. Now it will
take a break, before showing the season's final six episodes. First,
it promises to settle key plot points tonight.

We know that Sam –
married to Annalise, the domineering law professor – had an affair
with his student; she was three months pregnant when she was killed.
A flash-forward has shown that he'll be killed and the law students
will hide his body; now we see what happened that night.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Ivory Tower,” 9-11 p.m., CNN.

This
higher-education documentary is sort of like college itself –
filled with things that are fascinating, but (at times) wildly
unrelated. It visits a working-ranch college in Death Valley, a free
school in New York, a once-homeless Harvard student and more. Each is
interesting; each detours from the subject.

In three decades,
the film says, states' support for education has plummeted, while
some schools pour money into fancy facilities and million-dollar
presidential salaries. A typical college grad doubles the lifetime
income of others, but with college debts topping $1 trillion, some
people question the value.

Other choices
include:

“Jaws” (1975),
6:15 and 9 p.m., IFC; or “The Birds” (1962), 8 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies. Two master directors use the animal kingdom to
frighten us – Steven Spielberg with a shark, Alfred Hitchcock (in a
flawed but interesting film) with birds.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. When Maggie and Meredith link, they disagree with Derek.
Meanwhile, Callie blames herself when one of the veterans is pushed
too far.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. Everyone Olivia knows seems to be in danger. Also, Cyrus
must face the consequences of his actions as the president's chief of
staff; Huck and Quinn finally figure out what Elizabeth North is up
to, but may be too late to prevent it.

“Gracepoint,” 9
p.m., Fox. Last week hit hard, when Tom Miller – a friend of the
slain Danny Solano – was angry about adult attitudes and ran away.
His bike was found in a woods as his mom (a police detective) became
increasingly desperate. Tonight's hour – the eighth of 10 – sees
the Solanos returning to work and school; also, new suspicion is
aimed at the cranky Susan Wright.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. This plan is getting serious now: Walden and
Alan, with their sham marriage, meet a pregnant woman who may let
them adopt her baby.

“The McCarthys,”
9:31 p.m., CBS. Jackie's doctor gave her a list of things she can't
do, now that she's pregnant. To show solidarity, her brothers and
parents try to forego the same things.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Sherlock Holmes isn't the type to admit a computer can
outthink him. When he takes a case involving software theft, he seems
more interested in debunking the program.