TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 21

“Nature: Pets: Wild at Heart,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local

Sure, our pets are
descended from centuries of indoor living. Still, they have the
skills and instincts their ancestors needed to survive in the wild.
This fun two-parter offers dandy, hidden-camera proof.

Puppies practice
their pack-attack skills by tearing at pillows. A gerbil dives into a
tunnel, because that's how his kin survived in the desert. A cat
obsesses on hunting rats ... even though he has no desire to eat
them; instead, he brings them inside, alive, as his living-room

MUSTN'T SEE: “Empire” (9 p.m.) and “Rosewood” (8 p.m.), Fox.

As the intra-family
duel between record labels grows, “Empire” remains thoroughly
intriguing. On one side is Lucious Lyon's Empire label, with his son
Jamal working on new material with Ne-Yo. On the other is the upstart
Dynasty label, led by Lucious' ex-wife Cookie. Hakeem (Jamal's
brother) is creating its anthem and romancing the lead singer of its
new girl group.

Oddly, this smart
show is paired with the lunk-headed “Rosewood.” Last week had the
worst traditions of bad cop shows, including an unforced confession
and a boss who doesn't care about catching crooks.

ALTERNATIVE: Pre-Halloween deluge, cable.

In a previous
millennium, AMC and ABC Family introduced “Fearfest” and “13
Days of Halloween,” showing that the holiday can be frightful or
fun. Now they're in their 19th and 17th years,

AMC stays scary with
“The Amityville Horror” (1979) at 8 p.m.; ABC Family goes light
with the lame “Casper” (1995) at 5 p.m., the excellent “Addams
Family” (1991) at 7 and its sequel (1993) at 9. Other

networks range from
the pleasant “Twitches” (2005, with young women learning they are
twins with magic powers) at 7 p.m. on Disney to the fierce “American
Horror Story” at 10 p.m. on FX.

Other choices

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. People lose many things (notes, inhibitions, virginity) in
college. Only Sue, however, can manage to lose a brother. Brick is
visiting when she becomes distracted by a guy.

debut, 8 p.m., Game Show Network. Game shows keep finding nasty fates
for people who fail; they slime them or shoot them down a trap door
or whatever. This one traps them in an elevator.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Andy Karl is known for
musicals, on Broadway (eight of them, with a Tony nomination for
starring in “Rocky”) and the movie “Joyful Noise.” Now he
arrives as the new poliuce sergeant, in a case that involves Rollins'
fugitive sister.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Claire finds it's not easy to bring Haley and Alex to
“Take Your Daughter to Work” day. Meanwhile, Gloria's jury duty
leaves Jay with pre-school duties.

“Blackish,” 9:31
p.m., ABC. This family usually devotes its Sundays to sports and to
preparing for SAT tests. Now an invitation to go to church leads to
surprising aftershocks.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. Cress Williams (“Hart of Dixie”) arrives as the
surgeon. After getting the job (with the help of his estranged dad,
Dr. Guthrie), he soon clashes with Leanne. Meanwhile, Christa (Bonnie
Somerville) is performing a procedure on an infant, for the first
time since her own son's death.

“Chicago, P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. Cases range from the trivial – an upscale dognapping
– to the tense: Voight is convinced that an attempt to kill him was
done by someone he put behind bars long ago.


TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 20

“It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Toy Story of
Terror,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Yes, TV has decided
it's already Halloween time, with nasty movies and more. But there's
also a small niche for family fun; here are two animated specials,
reflecting different eras.

The first (from
1966) is mild and modest, with the quiet pain of Linus' pumpkin-path
ordeal. The second (2013) is quicker and funnier. At an eerie motel,
toys start to disappear; the survivors band together. Carl Weathers
(as Combat Carl) joins the regulars, led by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.

Light-but-creepy series, 9 p.m., several channels.

“Scream Queens”
(Fox) has the frightened sorority sisters holding a slumber party ...
which, of course, some won't survive. “Stitchers” (ABC Family)
has a college student who can be “stitched” into dead people's
memories, solving cases; tonight, a Halloween party is interrupted by
a kidnapping case.

That idea –
getting memories from the deceased – is in “iZombie” (CW) ...
but Liv does it by eating victims' brains and adding their traits.
Now she munches a “trophy wife” and turns fashion-conscious.

ALTERNATIVE: “From Dusk Til Dawn,” 10 p.m., El Rey.

In real life, actor
Wilmer Valderrama and singer-actress Demi Lovato have been together
for years. So now she joins him for the season's final two episodes.

He plays tough
Carlos Madrigal, trying to take control of a powerful evil; she
arrives tonight as Maia, his sexy (and lethal) sidekick. Also
arriving is Gary Busey, whose son Jake is a regular on the show. Jake
plays Professor Aidan Tanner; his dad plays a miner who is determined
and (of course) troubled.

Other choices

“Tremors” films,
6 p.m. to 3 a.m., AMC. This network is blitzing us with two weeks of
horror. Tonight, underground-creatures films are at 6 p.m. (1990), 8
p.m. (1996), 10:15 (2001) and 12:45 a.m. (2004). On Sundays it has
“Walking Dead” ... which has reruns at 8 and 9 p.m. today on

and “The Grinder,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. With ABC's comedies
(“Muppets” and “Fresh Off the Boat”) pre-empted tonight, try
these well-conceived shows. First, Jimmy (John Stamos) throws a
big-deal party, to make up for missing his granddaughter's second
birthday. Then Stewart (Fred Savage) frets that people only like him
because of his TV-star brother (Rob Lowe).

8 p.m., CBS. This is one of the rare times when Abby leaves her lab.
She may regret it; gunmen take over a building, leaving her trapped,
with no way to reach the outside world.

New Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS An Australian lieutenant, key to nuclear
negotiations, has been killed in New Orleans. Now an Aussie
investigator arrives to help work the case.

of SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. After reluctantly sharing information with
the ATCU (Advanced Threat Containment Unit), Coulson leads a search
for the inhuman who's killing other inhumans.

9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Here's a long look at one of
the most divisive issues in the presidential campaign. It views
ongoing negotiations aimed at immigration reform.

Fire,” 10 p.m., NBC. Severide reluctantly adjusts to Patterson, who
replaced him as commander. Higher up, Boden's job is on the line,
pending an internal investigation.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 19

“Fargo,” 10 p.m., FX.

Last week's
brilliant opener plunked a small-town, Minnesota couple into a bloody
mess. Rye Gerhardt killed three people in a diner, then stumbled into
a car driven by Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst) ... who simply kept
going. Her husband, Ed the butcher, ended up confronting Rye in the

Now Ed deals with
the body. The Gerhardts – in a power struggle with each other and
outsiders – search for Rye. And a local cop (Ted Danson) and his
state-trooper son-in-law (Patrick Wilson) investigate. Like the
previous “Fargo” miniseries, this is droll, odd and wonderfully

II: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 8 p.m., CW.

A few scenes here
remind us how great last week's debut was. Others remind us how
difficult it is to maintain that quality in an hourlong comedy (with
music and drama) each week.

The hilarious
opening song explains the notion: Rebecca (Rachel Green, who
co-writes the show and the songs) was a big-time lawyer who chucked
it all to move to the California town where her long-ago boyfriend
lives. Now she sees his gorgeous girlfriend ... and somehow decides
to befriend her. Some moments seem stretched and belabored; others –
especially the two music numbers – are terrific.

ALTERNATIVE: “Belief,” 8 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network.

Jordan Richter was a
hot young California skateboarder. At 15, he was featured in a 1991
Spike Jonze documentary; at 16 he turned pro ... and at 19 he seemed
to disappear. There were drug problems (which also plagued his
parents) and more; he retreated, sampled religions and converted to

Now he's returned to
being a skater, teacher and park designer; this hour closes with his
first trip to Mecca, joining two million pilgrims. That wraps an
episode that has a painful story of love after a debilitating crash,
then has a sweet look at a touch-free romance among Hasidic Jews.

Other choices

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. The battle round continues, tonight and Tuesday.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. There was no elimination last week, when
partners were switched. Now we'll learn who's out, combining two
weeks of scores. For judges last week, Paula Deen were at the bottom;
Alexa PenaVega, suddenly paired with Derek Hough, was a perfect 10.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. The break-up of Sheldon and Amy has sparked
some great comedy this fall. Now the guys take fencing lessons from
Barry Kripke ... who expresses an interest in Amy. Meanwhile, she and
Penny and Bernadette help Stuart attract women to the comic book

“Life in Pieces,”
8:30, CBS. Teen-aged Tyler brings home a gorgeous girlfriend ... and
his parents soon make things awkward. Also, his sister gets a new
cell phone (behind her parents' backs) from her grandfather. And an
annoying colleague spots Matt romancing his girlfriend, their

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. Sometimes, saving the world can get silly. To disable a
nuclear missile, the team must don odd costumes and join a “Super
Fun Guys” movie being filmed in Kazakhstan.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Jane is finally content with her baby, who was kidnapped
and quickly retrieved. More complicated is her love triangle with
Michael (her ex-fiance) and Rafael (the baby's father by accidental
insemination). Menwhile, her dad (the TV star) and mom could be sued
for missing a Las Vegas appearance; the solution is to perform on a
cruise ship.

“Blindspot,” 10
p.m., NBC. A standard hostage crisis suddenly has international
repercussions. The FBI and CIA collide, and their are doubts about
trusting Jane.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 18

MUST-SEE: “Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise,” 9-11 p..m, Hallmark.

years, CBS thrived with near-annual movies starring Tom Selleck as a
former Los Angeles homicide cop, now a small-town police chief. Then
it stopped; three years later, Hallmark steps in.

one (the ninth overall) is the best yet. It's maddedningly slow –
19 minutes before the case begins – but worth the wait. The script
(by Selleck and Michael Brandman) starts with Jesse and his therapist
(William Devane), in a discussion that's circuitous, distant and sort
of brilliant. Under gifted director Robert Harmon, the film neatly
balances character depth and a solid mystery.

MIGHT-SEE: “The Simpsons,” 7:30 and 8 p.m., Fox.

a week away from the latest edition of “Treehouse of Horror,”
which annually delivers perverse (and funny) Halloween tales. To warm
up, here's last year's episode and more.

“Treehouse” rerun (7:30) has a Stanley Kubrick take-off that's
way too obscure, but other parts work well. Bart finally finds a
school he likes, in the bowels of Hell; and the Simpsons meet
primitive versions of themselves from “The Tracey Ullman Show.”
Then a new episode finds Homer taking down his Halloween decorations;
his home is soon invaded by workers from Everscream Terrors.

ALTERNATIVE: “Belief” opener, 8 p.m.,, Oprah Winfrey Network.

of life's most profound subjects – religion and faith – are often
ignored on TV. Here's a sweeping, seven-night documentary, with an
opener that has stunning visuals, soaring music and epic emotions.

story tonight is set in the U.S., with a college student trying to
revive the faith that was shattered by a rape; another follows a
rabbi's son in Poland, which lost three-fourths of its Jews in the
Holocaust. The hour goes from massive (30 million people in the
Ganges River on a religious day) to intimate: A dying Aborigine must
pass on the stories from the world's oldest religion, possibly 5,000
years old.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Homeland,” 9 p.m., Showtime.

the old Carrie, the bipolar one played with such fierce, Emmy-winning
brilliance by Claire Danes? She's back and off her medication
tonight, in a powerful episode.

was triggered last week, when Carrie learned that she – not the
boss she was protecting – was the target of a bomber. Now her fast
and fragile mind goes into overdrive, in a sensational episode.

choices include:

preview, 7 p.m. ET, and game, 8:30, NBC. The undefeated New England
Patriots visit the 3-2 Indianapolis Colts. There's a lot more
football, plus a National League baseball playoff game.

Am Potential,” 7 and 11:30 p.m. ET, UP. This is the true story of a
Kentucky youth – born without eyes and also unable to walk – who
dreamed of being in a marching band. Its TV debut is surrounded by
two other faith-based films -- “Summer Snow” (2014) at 5 p.m. ET
and “Courageous” (2011) at 9.

Fires,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). There's still time to
jump into this excellent series, set in an English village in 1939.
Tonight, older men consider enlisting and a young pilot falls in

Summers,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Like “Home Fires,”
this has skilled actors and deep characters; the difference is the
lush look and global feel of colonialism in 1932 India. Ralph Whelan,
the viceroy's secretary, has steely control ... until his boss
visits. An Indian clerk – who accidentally saved Whelan's life –
has found and stolen a document that suddenly becomes crucial.

Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS. Alicia tends to be very good in court;
tonight, she faces a complex, designer-drug case. She may not be as
good in the kitchen; tonight, she and her mom (Stockard Channing) are
supposed to help her husband's campaign by visiting a tv cookings

10:01 p.m., ABC. This has become a success -- easily topping the lame
ratings of its lead-in (“Blood & Oil”) and almost matching
“CSI: Cyber.” Tonight again jumpa between time frames: In
training, Alex is shaken by a hostage exercise; in the future, she's
on the lam and finding a clue.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 17

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

June of 2014, people feared Tracy Morgan's career was over. A semi,
with a sleep-deprived driver, had struck his limo; a friend was
killed and Morgan – with a history of diabetes, kidney disease and
alcoholism -- was in a two-week coma, with the danger of brain

Morgan, 46, recovered and last month made a brief-but-funny
appearance as a presenter at the Emmys. Now he hosts the show he was
part of for nine years; Demi Lovato is the music guest.

MIGHT-TRY: “Grandfathered” and “The Grinder,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., Fox.

are two shows that have everything – clever concepts, smart
casting, crisp scirpts – except an audience. Ratings on Tuesdays
have been weak; now Fox reruns the pilot films.

John Stamos is a slick restaurateur and casual bachelor who suddenly
learns he has a son (Josh Peck) ... and a granddaughter. Then Rob
Lowe plays an actor who portrayed a lawyer on TV; when the show is
cancelled, he figures he can help his brother and dad (Fred Savage
and William Devane) at their real-life law office. Both are sharp
stories with few big laughs, but lots of little ones.

ALTERNATIVE: “Hot Jam” (CMT) or “Amy Schumer: Live at the
Apollo” (HBO), both 10 p.m.

a foggy day, you really could confuse Carrie Underwood with Schumer.
They're about the same age (32 and 34 respectively); they're both
blondes with pleasantly broad faces.

difference comes when they open their mouths. Underwood sings of love
and (at times) Jesus; Schumer talks about sex and body parts. Now
Schumer gets an uncensored hour on HBO; Underwood gets a special that
includes a concert and backstage preparations.

choices include:

Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone” (2001), 7 a.m., ABC Family. A
marathon begins, with five of the films in order; others are at 10:30
a.m. and 2:30, 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. That omits the fourth film (“Goblet
of Fire”) and the two-part finale. They are Sunday, at 11:45 a.m.
and 5:15 and 9 p.m.

all day. It's college-football time, including two primetime games on
broadcast networks. At 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC has Southern California (3-2
and reeling from the sudden firing of its coach) at Notre Dame (5-1
and ranked No. 14); at 8, ABC has Penn State (5-1) at top-ranked Ohio
State (6-0). By comparison, the baseball playoffs are exiled to
cable, on TBS and Fox Sports1.

8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a thief's body is found in a Marine's home.
Investigators find the calling card of Delilah, a terrorist group the
Defense Department has been tracking.

Black,” 9 p.m., CBS. Most episodes find this Los Angeles emergency
room in a state of high-code crisis. In this rerun, the crisis state
has persisted for 36 hours, leaving people exhausted. Now they face a
distraught woman (Gail O'Grady) whose sons were in a devastating

9 p.m., Fox. This rerun finds a troubled young genius accused of
murder. The only person who seems to feel he's ionnocent is
Rosewood – who has growing health problems and a new nemesis.

Talk,” 9 p.m. Starz, repeating at 10 and 11:05. A week from the
season finale, this excellent comedy sees Walter Blunt (Patrick
Stewart) celebrate the anniversary of what he considers an epic event
– the end of the Falklands war.

Last Kingdom,” 10 p.m., BBC America. On the lam with Brida, Uhtred
insists he's innocent. That follows a “Doctor Who” (9 p.m.) which
somehow deals with Vikings and warriors from outer space.