TV column for Sunday, Aug. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Video Music Awards,” 9 p.m., MTV, VH1, CMT, BET, Spike, TV Land
and Comedy Central; repeats at 11:30 on MTV and VH1.

Once a year, MTV
remembers music videos and assembles starpower. This time, the VMA's
have Britney Spears performing for the first time in a decade. Other
performers include Rihanna (the Video Vanguard winner), Nick Jonas,
Future and a duet with Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande.

There will be comedy
commentary, led by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Beyonce and
Adele lead with 11 and 8 nominations; for Video of the Year, they
face Drake, Justin Bieber and Kanye West.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Strain” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

This third season
begins just 23 days after the first attacks by long-tongued
creatures. Now New York is a war zone, with soldiers facing steep
odds; still, the personal stories are far more interesting.

Ephraim scrambles
for an answer in the lab, while searching for his walking-dead
ex-wife, who took their son; even getting gasoline is perilous
Setrakian searches an ancient book. And Fet leads a tunnel search; he
remains refreshingly vibrant, in a dark (but well-crafted) adventure.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “America's National Parks at 100,” 8 p.m.,
Smithsonian.

In the early years,
this was a learning experience. With no walking paths, some
Yellowstone visitors died in fiery cauldrons ... bears and burros
came up to cars ... Yosemite offered a nightly fire cascade.

And now? In its
100th year, the National Park Service has guides who
converse, not recite. It has parks in Washington, D.C. and New York
City ... and on distant islands. One park has exactly one employee;
others swarm. This hour is smartly written and beautifully
illustrated, mixing past and present.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVES II: Finales, 9-10:45 p.m., HBO; and 10-11 p.m.,
Showtime.

HBO's “The Night
Of” began with a Pakistani-American college student, working as a
taxi driver; after a wild night with a woman, he woke up next to her
body. Now his murder trial concludes.

Showtime's “Roadies”
has been a richly human story of life on a rock 'n' roll tour; now
its season concludes with a memorial concert ... and with questions
about who will be working the European tour.

Other choices
include:

Football, all day.
Two networks combine for a pre-season tripleheader. Fox has the San
Diego Chargers at the Minnesota Vikings at 1 p.m. ET and the Arizona
Cardinals at the Houston Texans at 4. Then NBC has the Cincinatti
Bengals at the Jacksonville Jaguars, at 8 p.m. ET.

“WE Day,” 7
p.m., ABC. This is the 10th year for this event, which
urges young people to give time and money to children's charities.
It's only the second, however, to have an hour on a broadcast
network. There will be music, documentaries and talks, with Demi
Lovato. Selena Gomez, Jennifer Hudson, Ciara, Common, Joe and Nick
Jonas, Zooey Deschanel, Paual Abdul, Big Sean and Kermit the Frog

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC. TV viewers know Steve Harvey and Sheryl
Underwood from “Feud” and “The Talk,” respectively, but she
also contributes to his radio show. Here, she faces Gus Kenworthy, an
Olympic silver-medalist skiier. Another round has Alan Thicke and
David Chokachi.

“VMA Pre-Show,”
8 p.m., MTV. This won't be just babbling about gowns. There will be
music by Alessia Cara, Jidenna and Lukas Graham; DJ Khaled hosts,
with Lizzo and Charlamagne Tha God.

“Madam Secretary,”
9 p.m., CBS. Elizabeth's husband (Tim Daly) seems to merge Mr. Chips
and James Bond. A former Marine captain, he's a college-professor who
doubles as a top-level spy. In this rerun, he's involved in a mission
to Islamabad, to eliminate the world's most-wanted terrorist.

“BrainDead,” 10
p.m., CBS. When her brother Luke, the senator, needs an anti-war
film, Laurel works with an ex-boyfriend. Then there's the alien-bug
thing; she worrues about the health of Luke's baby.

TV column for Saturday, Aug. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

After being bumped
by the Olympics for three straight weeks, “SNL” is finally back.
And in this wild election year, any episode – even this rerun from
March – is welcome.

Yes, there's lots of
political talk. The opening bit has Darrell Hammond and Jason
Sudeikis as Donald Trump and Mitt Romney. There's also a fake Trump
ad ... and Cecily Strong visiting “Weekend Update” as someone
babbling about the election. But there's also lots of silliness,
including a closing bit with host Jonah Hill as an overzealous
caterer. The music guest is Future.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Boston EMS” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., ABC.

This well-crafted,
non-fiction series wraps up with some contrasting stories. On one
side of town, a man who was shot in the thigh says he's ready to turn
his life around and focus on his 9-month-old child. On the other, a
man must be convinced to accept medial care, for the sake of his
young children.

Meanwhile, Deputy
Supt. Ed Hassan faces a different kind of crisis: At a school, the
carbon monoxide alarms are ringing and students report feeling dizzy.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Ghostbusters” (1984), “Ghostbusters II” (1989),
6 and 8:30 p.m., VH1.

When the new
“Ghostbusters” arrived this summer, people howled in protest;
suddenly, the original was being elevated to the status of the
revered.

We still say the
remake is excellent. But yes, the original is in a class of its own,
because it was so fresh. At a time of small comedies and big action,
it created a large-scale comedy, filled with both wit and sight gags.
It and its sequel are both great fun.

Other choices
include:

“City Slickers”
(1991), “City Slickers II” (1994), 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., Pop.
Alongside “Ghostbusters,” this is another classic comedy with a
sequel. In the original, Jack Palance won an Oscar as the tough
cowboy working with city-guy Billy Crystal. Other worthy
early-starters: “Mean Girls” (2004) at 7 p.m. on MTV; “The
Hunger Games” (2012) at 7:15 on Freeform.

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
CBS. For the second straight night, CBS has a pre-season game in
primetime. This one has the Tennessee Titans at the Oakland Raiders.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Bill Engvall plays the new
minister. Kyle is reluctant to see him ... but soon Mike is there for
counseling, after a squabble with his wife.

More movies, 8 p.m.,
cable. Yes, this is a strong movie night. There's the classic “Dirty
Dancing” (1987) on Bravo, the epic “Avatar” (2009) on FX and
the funny “Naked Gun” (1988) on IFC. HBO's “In the Heart of the
Sea” (2015) has strong maritime scenes, but wooden characters.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30,
ABC. Randall Park of “Fresh Off the Boat” guests as a member of a
community club that Ken is nudged into joining. It turns out to be
not as noble as expected.

“Aquarius,” 9
and 10 p.m., NBC. After a five-week break, this show is being tossed
away – two episodes each Saturday, TV's slowest night. In both
hours tonight, Hodiak searches for Emma ... who's also sought by
Charles Manson. In the second one, undercover cop Shafe tries to kick
a heroin habit.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Kathy Garver was a UCLA
sorority girl when she landed the role of 15-year-old Cissy in
“Family Affair.” After its five-year run, she focues on voice
work -- in TV cartoons, Ron Howard movies and recorded books. Here's
a visit with Garver, 70; other segments have Geri Horner,
better-known as Ginger Spice, and Ed Lover of “Yo! MTV Raps.”

TV column for Friday, Aug. 26


 

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Killjoys” and “Dark Matter,” 9 and 10 p.m., Syfy.

Yes, there's
something missing tonight – scripted shows (reruns, even) on a
major network. CBS usually supplies three of them on Fridays, but
tonight it has football.

You could try these
Syfy shows, which tend to be well-made. “Killjoys” has Dutch
working the galaxy as a bounty hunter; when the plan to free Old Town
sputters, she's captured by a mob. “Dark Matters” has the crew,
desperate to save its leader, taking a dangerous mission inside Dwarf
Star Technologies.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “MasterChef,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

At times, this
home-chef competition sticks to the basics. The entire second hour of
this rerun focuses on the potato – French fried, then mashed, then
turned into a gourmet dish.

But the first hour
has a fun detour to the high end. Our contestants – a trainer, a
poker player, a DJ, a tuxedo salesman and more – are cooking
octopus and such. “These are definitely not ingredients you see in
the firehouse,” said Eric Howard, who usually cooks for his fellow
North Carolina firefighters.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Comedy movies and sequels, AMC and IFC.

A weak night for
series happens to be a strong one for movies, including some fine
silliness. IFC has the delightful “Bill & Ted's Excellent
Adventure” (1989) a 6 p.m. and “Bogus Journey” (1991) at 8.

AMC has the
“Vacation” films – twice. The first and fourth are first-rate;
the others have drawn shrugs. Now “Vacation” (1983) is at 11
a.m., “European Vacation” (1985) at 1 p.m., “Vegas Vacation”
(1987) at 3 and “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 5; they repeat at
7:15, 9:15 and 11:15 p.m. and 1:15 a.m.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Brooklyn” and “The Danish Girl” (both 2015),
7 and 9 p.m., HBO.

In a universe far
from those comedy movies, this feels like a double feature at a
splendid arthouse.

“Brooklyn” drew
a best-picture Oscar nomination, plus others for Nick Hornby's script
and Saoirse Ronan's wonderfully subtle performance, as a shy
Irishwoman, hesitently emigrating in the 1950s. “Danish Girl”
drew nominations for its costumes, its sets and Eddie Redmayne, as
the artist who transitioned to female in 1930; Alicia Vikander won a
supporting Oscar as Redmayne's spouse.

Other choices
include:

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
CBS. In the first of two straight nights of pre-season football in
prime time, CBS has the Cleveland Browns at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“America's Got
Talent,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. Here's another rerun of Tuesday's show ...
which already had its highlights rerun on Wednesday. We see the final
dozen prospects for semi-final spots, including Julia Scott, Linkin'
Bridge and 12-year-old singer-songwriter Grace VanderWaal.

More movies, 8 p.m.,
cable. Martin Freeman simultaneously stars in two classic bits of
English literature -- “The Hobbit” (2012) on TNT and the amiably
odd “Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” (2005) at 8 p.m. ET on BBC
America. Other choices range from light fun -- “Wedding Crashers”
(2005), on E – to Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart in “Panic
Room” (2002) on Pop.

“Girl Meets
World,” 8:30 p.m., Disney. Even a teen-ager needs her childhood
teddy bear. When Barry the Bear is missing, Riley calls on her
friends to form a search party.

“Cesar 911,” 9
p.m., NatGeo Wild. Cesar Millan helps someone who can't control her
golden retriever/chow mix. That's a new hour, following reruns of the
amiable “Animal Storm Squad” and “Unlikely Animal Friends,”
at 7 and 8 p.m.

“Mother, May I
Sleep With Danger?” 10 p.m., Lifetime Movie Network. This is,
apparently, the 1996 non-classic, with Tori Spelling dating a serial
killer.

TV column for Thursday, Aug. 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
(or record): “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” 12:37 a.m.,
CBS.

A Britney Spears
weekend gets a late-night start, when she jumps into Corden's
“Carpool Karaoke” segment. On Friday, Spears releases her album;
on Sunday, she sings at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Doing “Carpool”
puts her in classy company. Already stepping into the car have been
Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Carrie Underwood, Elton John and more
... including Michelle Obama, some Broadway stars and Adele, whose
segment has topped 120 million YouTube views.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Rosewood,” 8 p.m., Fox, and “Code Black,” 9:59 p.m., CBS.

Father-and-son
doctors just can't get along, at least in these reruns. That starts
with Dr. Rosewood (Morris Chestnut) and his dad (Vondie Curtis-Hall)
as opposing expert witnesses in a court case.

On “Code Black,”
Dr. Guthrie (William Allen Young) get his estranged son Cole (Cress
Williams) a job; soon, Cole clashes with Leanne (Marcia Gay Harden).
Also, Christa (Bonnie Somerville) has a confidence crisis, while
performing surgery on a baby for the first time since her son's
death.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” 10 p.m., FX,
rerunning at 11:06.

Emotions here were
already raw. Ava and Flash had linked, leaving their ex-lovers
(Johnny and his daughter Gigi) stunned; Rehab kept fuming at Bam Bam
about what happened to his Broadway show.

And into this tangle
comes an intense character, played by Callie Thorne.

It's a revival of
the old “Rescue Me” pairing of Thorne and Denis Leary (who plays
Johnny), with emotions again full-throttle. The result is loud and
funny, throwing everyone into a massive fight scene.

Other choices
include:

BET Awards, 10:35
a.m. to midnight, BET. On Sunday, BET will be simulcasting the MTV
Video Music Awards. First, it reruns its own shows from 2014 (10:35),
2015 (2:30 p.m.) and 2016 (7:30 p.m.) -- with a Prince tribute by
Sheila E, Alicia Keys, Maxwell, D'Angelo and Janelle Monae.

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
NBC. Now that the Olympics are done, networks are getting serious
about pre-season football. There are primetime games on NBC today
(Falcons at Dolphins) and Sunday and on CBS Friday and Saturday.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. This funny rerun brings a mismatch: Penny,
the straight-ahead Nebraska native, spends the day with her
over-analytical mother-in-law (Christine Baranski).

“Life in Pieces,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Greg (Colin Hanks) isn't the macho type; he tries to
seem more masculine, after meeting his wife's handsome assistant.
Also, John (James Brolin), arranges a date between his dog and the
dog of his son's girlfriend Colleen.

“Beauty and the
Beast,” 9 p.m., CW. Now that they've lost control of their secret,
Cat and Vincent may have to go on the run.

“Bones,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. TV romances just aren't working out for Laura Spencer. On “Big
Bang” she's Emily, whom Raj sometimes jilts for someone new; here,
she's Jessica and her first kiss with Aubrey is delayed again.
Meanwhile, a felon in a halfway house has been killed and a suspect
has ties to Booth.

“Queen of the
South,” 10 p.m., USA. Teresa is in trouble everywhere. James hunts
her down; she tries a perilous trip with Maria, through the tunnel to
Mexico.

TV column for Wednesday, Aug. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“MasterChef,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

After two weeks of
Olympic-time reruns, this returns with nine home chefs and tough
challenges – especially for Brandi Mudd, a 5th-grade
teacher. The first involves high-end ingredients; she doesn't see
many in a town that has 1,181 people and one restaurant. Then: “I've
never fileted a whole salmon before,” she says. “I've never SEEN
a whole salmon ... seein' as how there are no oceans in Kentucky.”

That's all in the
first hour. The second sees potatoes ranging from simple fries to a
fancy dish. It's all fast and fun, with interesting people and quick
surprises.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Night Shift,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Back from its
two-week Olympic break, “Night Shift” has the first half of its
two-part season-finale. Jordan and Scott (Jill Flint and Scott Wolf),
formerly engaged, find themselves in peril during a rescue mission in
the midst of a wildfire. Syd and TC (Jennifer Beals and Eoin Macken)
find tension during a humanitarian mission at the border of Turkey
and Syria.

Meanwhile, efforts
to find a buyer for the hospital sputter. So does Drew's effort to
adopt Brianne. Paul and Shannon argue about a treatment. And – amid
all the other trouble – medication is missing.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Tyrant,” 10 p.m., FX; repeating at 11:16 p.m. and
12:45 a.m.

In its three
seasons, this show has seen an amazing transformation. At first, it
was the story of an honest American doctor, surrounded by evil when
he visits the land where he grew up. And now? As acting president,
Bassam (Barry, back in the U.S.) became hardened when his daughter
was slain.

Now comes pressure
on all sides: His wife – returning after rehab for depression –
urges war ... his lover urges peace ... his boyhood friend and his
former sister-in-law are both running for president. There are
explosive moments – literally and figuratively – in a powerfully
crafted episode.

Other choices
include:

“Man of Steel”
(2013), FX; “Goodfellas” (1990), Sundance; or “Cast Away”
(2000), Freeform; all 7-10 p.m.. You can't top a night that starts –
even before prime time – with Superman, Scorsese and Hanks.

“The Goldbergs,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. Each season, this comedy – set in the 1980s –
finds a way to re-create moments from an '80s classic. It was
“Goonies” the first season, “Ferris Bueller” the second and,
in this rerun, “Dirty Dancing.” That finds Adam's mom being
enthusiastic, his dad hesitently learning to dance ... and his sister
re-creating Jennifer Grey's classic moves. Three more reruns follow.

“America's Got
Talent,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. The first hour is a trimmed rerun of
Tuesday's two-hour auditions. Then we learn the final people in the
semi-finals, which start next Tuesday.

“America's
National Parks,” 9 p.m., National Geographic and NatGeo Wild. This
new hour visits the Great Smoky Mountains park in Tennessee. On
National Geographic, that repeats at 11:05 p.m., alongside visits to
Saguaro (8 p.m., 1:05 a.m.) and Yosemite (10 p.m., 12:05 a.m.); on
NatGeo Wild, which changes with each time zone, it's 9 p.m. and
midnight ET (6 and 9 p.m. PT), with Tuesday's excellent Grand Canyon
film rerunning at at 8 and 11 p.m. ET (5 and 8 p.m. PT).

“American Gothic,”
10 p.m., CBS. The accomplice of the “Silver Bells Killer” has
struck again, spreading panic. Meawhile, Alice (once a prime mayoral
candidate) needs help from her brother-in-law (a cop) to clear her
name. And Cam must decide whether to dispute his wife's custody of
their son.

“Gomorrah”
debut, 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Sundance. Fresh from it sweet-spirited
“A Word,” Sundance offers an opposite experience. It's a
six-week, 12-part Italian mini-series (with English sub-titles), with
lots of violence and visual style; even the protagonist is a crook,
albeit with a family and a conscience,

“Mr. Robot,”
10:01 p.m., USA. Darlene, Elliot's sister, continues to be intense.
Tonight, she acts on an old desire; also, her group (Fsociety)
releases a video. And there's trouble with Trenton and Mobley.