TV column for Friday, Oct. 3

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Austin City Limits Celebrates 40
Years,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check locals listings).

Austin, Texas, offers a rich blend of country, rock, blues
and Tejano music. So in November of 1974, two pilots were made for a concert
series; the second – with emerging star Willie Nelson – was the keeper.

Nelson, 81, returns for duets of two of his great
compositions – “Crazy” (with Emmylou Harris) and “Funny How Time Slips Away”
(with Lyle Lovett). Kris Kristofferson sings his own “Me and Bobby McGee” with
Sheryl Crow. The opener links Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Vaughn, Guy Clark Jr. and
Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. There’s more, including Jeff Bridges, Buddy
Guy and the Foo Fighters.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Last Man Standing” season-opener, 8
and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

This fun-enough show starts with Eve becoming the school’s
placekicker. Her dad Mike (Tim Allen) is delighted, her mom Vanessa is worried
and her boyfriend and sisters may be jealous

In the second episode, little Boyd is sent home for starting
a war game; Mike, his grandfather, is told to stop showing him action movies
and video games. Also, both episodes eye Mandy’s emergence as a fashion
designer. In the second, her mom needs a new look before meeting old college

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “A to Z,” 8:30 p.m., NBC.

With its Thursday comedies sometimes going unnoticed, NBC is
giving this gem a second shot.

At 8 p.m., it reruns “Bad Judge,” an OK comedy with Kate
Walsh trying to party by night and be judicial by day. At 8:30 is “A to Z,” one
of the year’s best new shows. Written with wit and filmed with flair, it has
people (Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti) who are opposites, except for being
bright and TV-cute.

Other choices include:

Baseball, noon ET, cable. Here’s the first day with a full,
four-game playoff slate. TBS starts and ends it with the American League –
Detroit at Baltimore at noon, Kansas City at the Los Angeles Angels at 9:30
p.m. ET; in between, Fox Sports 1 starts the National League round – San Francisco
at Washington at 3 p.m., St. Louis at the Los Angeles Dodgers at 6:30.

“The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m., CBS. Last week, the Thomson
sisters – glamorous Miami realtors – became the first duo ousted. Now the
others are in London, where problems include an in-stream capsizing.

“On the Menu” debut, 8 p.m., TNT. Four home chefs, ranging
from an ex-Marine comedy writer to a self-described “sweet girl from a small
town,” cook for experts. There are problems – too little time, too little
sauce, too much to fit in a mouth – and triumphs. It’s fairly interesting, with
one key bonus: On the day after each episode airs, the winning creation will be
at a restaurant chain, in this case Chili’s.

“Gotham,” 9 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the second episode,
Selina Kaye (the future Catwoman) has been grabbed by a child-trafficking ring.
Also, Oswald Cobblepot (the future Penguin) makes his lethal return.

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. While a Navy SEAL is on a
top-secret mission, his young daughter is kidnapped. Also, Danny needs $18.5
million to free his kidnapped brother.

“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. When a cop is ostracized for
testifying against her former partner, Jamie agrees to ride with her for a
week. Meanwhile, his brother and sister argue over a settled case.

“The Knick,” 10 p.m., Cinemax. Last week brought an epic
riot (Irishmen attacking blacks) and two key romantic hook-ups. The romance
continues in this strong episode, alongside a new crisis: A cocaine shortage is
a big problem for the hospital … and a bigger one for Dr. Thackery (Clive
Owen), an addict.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 2

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “A to Z” debut, 9:30 p.m., NBC.

Imagine a first-rate indie-movie romantic comedy, one with
charm, wit, surprises and two immensely likable people. Now shrink that to a
half-hour and you have this dandy debut.

Andrew (Ben Feldman) is an optimist, working for a matchmaker;
Zelda (Cristin Milioti, the “How I Met Your Mother” mom) is a lawyer who’s
given up on romance. Their friends provide broader comedy, but these two have a
subtle, fragile feel. Beautifully filmed and smartly written, “A to Z” Is a

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

“Broadchurch” was the sort of compelling drama we might
expect from cable or from England. A BBC America mini-series, it traced a
murder case, with deep portrayals of people in a seaside town.

Surprisingly, Fox decided to do an American version, with
the same star (David Tennant) and a different ending. More surprisingly, the
opener is a tad better than the original. Anna Gunn plays a police detective,
bitter that a newcomer (Tennant) is in charge of the case. Nick Nolte plays a
codger who looks guilty, in a Nolte-esque way. Other richly layered characters
fill this 10-week tale.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Vampire Diaries” and “Reign”
season-openers, 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

After some lame years, the CW will debut two strong shows next
week. First, these two return.

“Diaries” has Elena starting her sophomore year of college
and learning what Stefan is up to; also, Jeremy adjusts (badly) to the loss of
Bonnie, Alaric adjusts to being a vampire. “Reign” – the teen-monarch-angst
story – has a bigger problem: the bubonic plague.

Other choices include:

Baseball, 5:30 p.m. ET, TBS. The first full play-off round
starts with an American League doubleheader. 
As best-of-five series begin, Baltimore hosts Detroit and the Los
Angeles Angels host the Kansas City Royals.

“Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. Last week’s season-opener found Booth cleverly
framed for murder. Now a newcomer, federal agent Aubrey (John Boyd), helps
probe a deeply imbedded conspiracy.

“Grey’s Anatomy,” 8 p.m., ABC. The season’s second episode
focuses on Dr. Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary), the newcomer. She keeps trying
to make a good impression, under tough circumstances.

“The Biggest Loser,” 8 p.m., NBC. After some early two-hour
episodes, this shrinks to an hour.

Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, CBS. With Minnesota visiting Green
Bay, this could have been a battle of teams with losing records. But both had
key victories last week, putting them at 2-2; now one will be a winner.

 “Bad Judge,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. The pilot film simply tried too hard, with Kate Walsh as a hard-living,
hard-drinking judge who drums in rock band and houses a homeless kid. Now
that’s been toned down – no drums, no live-in kid. The result is still busy and
erratic, but has its moments of humor and warmth.

“Scandal,” 9 p.m., ABC. Mary McCormack is familiar to
capitol-drama fans, via “West Wing” and “K Street.” Now plays half of a power
couple, key to the president’s state-of-the-union address.

“How to Get Away with Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Keating should
be focusing on defending a mogul facing murder charges.  Still, she’s distracted by a possible link
between her husband and a missing student.

TV column (slightly out of order) for Monday, Sept. 29

Here's the TV column for Monday, Sept. 29, which is a tad out of order. Righter after this one, you'll find the Wednesday and Tuesday ones:

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Castle” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., ABC.

The season starts spectacularly – a car crash, flames, water
… then a massive missing-person mystery. Beautifully molded by Rob Bowman (also
a key “X-Files” director), it’s deeply involving.

Viewers will demand to know what happened … and, alas, won’t.
Alongside its other blessings (humor, warmth, intelligence), “Castle” has
usually had an answer at the end of each hour. This time, it merely leaves us
waiting – very eagerly – for the episodes to come.

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

This is good news for “Big Bang” fans and bad news (temporarily)
for fans of “Mom.” In a late switch, CBS decided to put two “Big Bang” episodes
(one new, one rerun) on the next three Mondays. Then “Big Bang” returns to
Thursdays – where “Mom” gets the coveted spot behind it, starting its season
Oct. 30.

Tonight’s new “Big Bang” has Wolowitz throwing the first
pitch at a Los Angeles Angels game. The rerun has Sheldon realizing his “scientific
breakthrough” is a fraud.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Scorpion,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Last week’s debut introduced an awkward band of geniuses,
ready to intermittently save the world. It had its moments, but needed emotion,
humanity and believability. Now two of those have been added.

The hour starts and ends with critically ill children. It’s
passionate, human … but hardly believable. At one point, a genius acts like a
total fool; he was chosen because he could memorize the papers … apparently
because this is the only TV team without a mini-camera. It’s an OK hour, but a
flawed one.

Other choices include:

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. The season’s
first two weeks had, logically enough, a results night; on Tuesdays, track star
Lolo Jones and newsman Tavis Smiley were ousted. Now “Stars” shrinks to one
night; tonight’s busy episode will end with the third ouster.

“Gotham,” 8 p.m., Fox. Last week’s epic-style debut
introduced the young people who will become Catwoman and the Penguin. Selina Kyle
is sleek and silent, Oswald Cobblepot is squirmy and lethal; they’re
beautifully played by Camren Bicondova and Robin Lord Taylor. Tonight, Selina is
grabbed by a child-abduction ring; Oswald makes his deadly way back to Gotham

“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. Last week’s season-opener
glimpsed Crane’s bitter memories of his old boss, Benjamin Franklin (Tim
Busfield). Now we’re back there: In his latest effort to retrieve his wife,
Crane may try to re-create a creature that Franklin envisioned in the
Frankenstein style.

“The 50 Year Argument,” 9-11 p.m., HBO. In its masthead, The
New York Review of Books prints those last two words (“of books”) much smaller.
It reviews life, often stirring arguments. This documentary, co-directed by
Martin Scorsese, views its first half-century, richly illustrated by TV clips
and readings.

“The Blacklist,” 10 p.m., NBC. Red wants to take down a
money-laundering bank that’s just been robbed.

“Gone with the Wind,” 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies. Here’s another chance to see (or, probably, record) this great movie,
which turns 75 on Dec. 15.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 1

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local

For three months, the dad hasn’t eaten; he’s fed his chick,
while shielding it from Antarctic ferocity. Now there’s nothing left to feed
with; death looms. Will the mom return on time? Will she find the dad in that
endless black-and-white mass? And will he surrender the chick to a mom it has
never met?

Stories like that are beautifully told in the second (and
best) chapter of a three-week penguin series. Other views are along the
Peruvian desert and the Falklands coast, where young chicks face swooping
birds, giant sea lions and even kidnapping penguins. There are strong moments
of tragedy and triumph.

“Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Rayna’s life continues to be like a country-music song,
albeit a good one. She agreed to marry Luke, the superstar, startling viewers
and her daughter Maddie … who figure Deacon (Maddie’s biologic dad) was the logical
choice. It also stunned Deacon … who expects to be dumped from Luke’s tour.

Also, Rayna’s album sales are surpassed by Will, who has gay
lovers and an angry wife. And Juliette is haunted by the calculation that her
pregnancy came via nasty Jeff. All of this sounds soapy, but most of it –
except for the suddenly inexplicable Scarlett – is solid, believable and

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Bridge” season-finale, 10 p.m.,

A web of evil officialdom is being uncovered, but there’s
danger everywhere. Captain Robles has been identified as a rapist, but he
stabbed the vengeful Linder and fled. Fausto is on the run, but he has captured
Marco and the drug-addicted daughter of a drug-cartel financier.

Those two overwhelmed hostages are on their own. So are
Sonya and Hank, each following a cartel vehicle. Then there’s lethal Eleanor;
it’s a fairly strong finish to an excellent season.

Other choices include:

“The Mysteries of Laura,” 8 p.m., NBC. Laura and her
estranged husband return to the spot where they first met. That’s where they
now to probe the murder of a popular biker-bar owner.

“Halloween Crazy” (etc.), 8-11 p.m., Travel. It’s October,
so cable starts its Halloween barrage. These from pumpkin-carving contests (one
underwater, another with a $1,000 prize) to a zombie run.

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. After a 21-year dry spell, the
Pittsburgh Pirates are in the play-offs for the second straight year. They host
the Giants, to see which National League wild-card team will continue.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Alex, the high-achiever, is
ready to ponder colleges now. That takes her to Cal Tech, where family members
end up in a psychology experiment.

“Black-ish,” 9:31, ABC. After the strong start last week,
we’ll see how the show is from week to week. Tonight, Andre’s mom gives him the
sex talk, figuring the dad is too wimpy to do it. Offended, the dad gives his
own talk … and soon wishes he hadn’t.

“Stalker” debut, 10 p.m., CBS. Fresh from the serial-killer “Criminal
Minds,” CBS gets even nastier. This starts with a woman incinerated in her car.
Then we meet the anti-stalking unit: The leader (Maggie Q) is stark and grim; her
new detective (Dylan McDermott) is sort of a stalker himself. They’re tough to

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 30

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Selfie” debut, 8 p.m., ABC.

Karen Gillan provides the perfect vessel for great writers.
Tall (5-10) and thin, she projects comic clumsiness; once a shy kid from
small-town Scotland, she projects fragility and humanity.

First, Stephen Moffat, cast her as Amy in “Doctor Who”; now
Emily Kapnek (“Suburgatory”) has given her another gem. Gillan plays Eliza
Dooley, who has 263,000 friends in social media and none in real life; she
wants Henry (John Cho) to teach her. This variation on “Pygmalion” is superbly
filmed and acted.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., Fox; or “Makers,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The Fox comedies and ABC’s “Selfie” have key things in
common – female creators, female stars and sharp wit. And airing at the same
time, a PBS documentary reminds us how tough the odds once were.

The comedy-club circuit was 95-percent male, it says; TV
writers’ rooms were similar. “Golden Girls” – with a female creator and stars –
had one female writer and 12 guys. This “Makers” documentary is prone to wild
overstatement – Carol Burnett’s ditzy secretary is somehow described as a
satire on media images – but it has great comments and clips from the late Joan
Rivers and others.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Finding Your Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS
(check local listings).

Just after the final crescendos of Derek Jeter’s baseball
career, here’s a chance to visit his roots. Jeter talks briefly about being a
mixed-race kid in Kalamazoo, Mich.; then experts dig into his family, finding
quick achievers. On one side is an ex-slave man turned preacher and landowner;
on the other is an English immigrant who owned a rowdy bar and then a furniture

Other stars – Billie Jean King (tennis) and Rebecca Lobo (basketball)
– learn about their roots. Lobo’s careens from the Spanish revolution to a
missed boat ride and some unexpected ethnic ancestry.

Other choices include:

“iHeartRadio Music Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW. Here’s the
second half of a concert with One Direction, Lorde, Train, 50 Cent, Ed Sheeran,
Iggy Azalea, Paramore, Weezer, Calvin Harris and Eric Church.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A Navy officer has been killed on the
way to a meeting with the President

Baseball, 8 p.m. ET, TBS. For the first time since 1985, the
Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs. To stay there, however, they must win
this wild-card game; they host the Oakland A’s.

“Manhattan Love Story,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Dana moved to New
York, determined to focus on career success, not romance failures. Peter has
lived there his entire life; his focus is on one-night stands. She’s idealistic;
he’s not. They are, in short, a logical romantic-comedy couple. Like “Selfie,”
this show has a sleek look and funny moments. What it lacks is a consistent
script, a likable guy and Karen Gillan.

“NCIS: New Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. When a Navy lieutenant
dies of bubonic plague, the team must find his colleagues. Several “NCIS”
people – Tony, Vance and Abby – get involved.

“Agents of SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. With his team on the run,
Coulson takes a dangerous step.

“Live Free or Die” debut, 10 p.m., National Geographic. A
former financial advisor lives alone in the Georgia swampland, foraging for
food. A former teacher lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sometimes with his
5-year-old daughter. Two married couples re-define wilderness life. These are
interesting people to follow … even if it is tough to empathize with deliberate