TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 17

“This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

By now, we're used
to this show's clever design: We follow three adults – twins and an
adopted brother, born the same day – and flash back to moments in
their childhood. But now comes a splendid detour.

Tonight, there's no
flashing back and forward; the entire episode focuses on the day the
kids were born. Gerald McRaney gives another beautifully understated
performance as the widowed doctor. We also meet the firefighter who
played a key role; the result is deeply involving.

“New Girl” and “The Mick,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox.

The Tuesday comedies
have brough mixed news to Fox – sharp scripts, likable actors, weak
ratings. Now “The Mick,” newly extended from 13 to17 episodes --
has added mid-season zest. It has a brash premise (amiable slacker,
suddenly in charge of her rich niece and nephews) and broad humor.

Tonight, Mickey
(Kaitlin Olson) tries to quit smoking; her younger nephew meets a new
friend. Earlier, “New Girl” has decision time: Jess (Zooey
Deschanel) tries to choose a new vice-principal; also, she and Reagan
(Megan Fox) help Cece recruit new models.

ALTERNATIVE: “Frontline,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

How did the Obama
administration reach a state of gridlock? Today and Wednesday,
“Frontline” takes a four-hour look. Sarah Palin's anti-elite
words planted the seed, it says. Then President Obama took drastic
steps to solve the financial crisis he'd inherited. The plan worked,
but stirred new rage.

Tied into that was
Obamacare and more. “Who he was – the color of his skin, the
sound of his name – forced more polarization and gridlock,”
Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post says in the film.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. After spotting the brother of a most-wanted criminal, Gibbs
resumes his old alias. He's soon undercover, inside anti-government

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. There are problems for all the kids: Axl is near college
graduation and still hasn't sent any job resumes. Sue wants Brad to
lead her no-cut singing group. And Brick faces a true crisis; his
girlfriend says he reads too much and threatens to break up with him.

“No Tomorrow,” 9
p.m., CW. Here's the season-finale – and probably the series finale
– of a well-made show. From the star, Xavier has clung to his
belief that an asteroid is on target to destroy the Earth; now some
scientists agree with him. Meanwhile, Evie takes a solo flight, to
think things over.

“Bones,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. As its final season continues, the team discovers nursing-home
intrigue. Back at the lab, that brings fresh discussion of marriage
and family.

“Being Mary Jane,”
9:02 p.m., BET, rerunning at 10:04. Last week's season-opener
(rerunning at 8 p.m.) saw Mary Jane (Gabrielle Union) land her dream
job, as a correspondent for “Great Day USA” in New York. Alas,
she soon found her hero Ronda Sales (Valarie Pettiford) to be a
disappointment. Tonight, they clash; back in Atlanta, Niecy tries to
balance her life.

“The Real
O'Neals,” 9:30, ABC. Kenny ponders how to tell his parents that he
and Brett are a couple. Meanwhile, his brother surprises everyone
with a high SAT score; now their mom must make good on a promise to
take him car-shopping.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Some of the supporting players get the
focus, as the team tries to catch Garcia. Sebastian (Rob Kerkovich),
the forensic scientist, goes undercover; Patton (Daryl “Chill”
Mitchell), the computer guy, tries his old gambling skills.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 16

“The Story of God” season-opener, 9 p.m., National Geographic,
repeating at midnight.

Mixing intelligence,
curiosity and gorgeous visuals, the six-episode first season followed
Morgan Freeman on a global tour of religion. Some of that is rerun
here, gathering views on miracles (6 p.m.), evil (7) and creation
(8), plus – at 10 p.m., rerunning at 1 a.m. -- the basic question:
“Who is God?”

Now there's a brief
new season. On three Mondays, we'll meet, among others, the keeper of
the sacred Lakota pipe .... a 9-year-old Minnesotan, believed by
Tibetan monks to be a re-incarnated lama ... a missionary, held
captive in North Korea for two years ... and New Mexicans, speaking
in tongues.

“Howie Mandel All-Star Comedy Gala,” 8-10 p.m., CW.

Each year, this
special gathers some top comedians at Montreal's “Just For Laughs”
festival. This time, the results vary wildly.

A few people
(including Mandel) bring surprisingly weak material; a few shine, led
by Alonzo Bodden and newcomer Matt Donaher, who is a witty cross
between Woody Allen and Steven Wright. Between those extremes are Tom
Papa, Iliza Shlesinger, J.B. Smoove, Russell Peters and Jay Pharoah.

ALTERNATIVE: “800 Words,” any time,

There's a quiet
charm here that suggests “Northern Exposure,” “Eureka” or
“Men in Trees.” It's the fun of a city guy, suddenly moving to a
small town that's seems to be benignly daft.

Last season, an
Australian columnist moved to coastal New Zealand with his
teen-agers. As the new season starts, his daughter is living with her
grandparents, his job is wobbling, his old editor has moved in with
him ... and there's a festival, big on fireworks. All of that is done
with quiet charm and wit.

Other choices

“The Bachelor,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Some viewers have been grumbling about the fact
that one of the women (Liz Sandoz) had already had sex with Nick
Viall, whom she met at a wedding. Tonight, he sends her home, absorbs
some criticism, and persists with more dating and ousters.

“The New Celebrity
Apprentice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. Last week saw the men have their first
ouster (football great Eric Dickerson) and the women had their third
(reality-show person Snooki Polizzi). Now they must design a
motorcycle ad campaign and then a candy for billionaire Warren

“Beyond,” 9
p.m., Freeform. There are some sweet moments here, as Holden – a
7th-grader before his 12-year coma – dares to ask
someone for a date. Mostly, though, this sticks to the dark side:
What happened to his friend? Who is the looming man in the yellow
jacket? Is Willa right about the realm his mind visited during his
coma? We get few answers tonight, as the darkness thickens.

“Lucifer,” 9:01
p.m., Fox. Romance problems keep building for Lucifer: Two of his old
loves have been killed; also, his scheming mom is trying to influence
his romance with Chloe the cop.

“The Odd Couple,”
9:30, CBS. Only three episodes remain for this oft-funny show.
Tonight, Oscar wants his friend Murph to try to top a penguin in
predicting a hockey winner.

“Timeless,” 10
p.m., NBC. Don't you hate it when the only person who can save you
has been dead for 90 years? Lucy has been kidnapped and taken to the
1893 World's Fair; she needs Harry Houdini.

Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Let's forget stories of
dismay on a reservation; here are people who speak fondly of life
with their Shoshone and Arapaho tribesmen in Wyoming. They want to
create a museum ... but must borrow artifacts. Traveling to Chicago
are a recent college grad, a teen powwow princess and a Vietnam
veteran who ponders why anyone would live in a city. Beautifully
filmed, the documentary captures a pace and mood that's seems light
years from Chicago.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 15

“Masterpiece: Victoria,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

Alexandrina was
supposed to be a minor asterisk un history. She was tiny –
alternately listed as 5-foot and 4-foot-11 – and ignored. Her
mother gave her lots of dolls and little education; if the kid did
become queen before she was 18, her mom might rule as regent.

And then? When King
William IV died in 1837, his niece was 18 years and 27 days old. She
changed her name to Victoria and took control. Here's a sweeping
story, with a 10-hour season covering the start of a 63-year reign.
Jenna Coleman (“Doctor Who”) stars, amid gorgeous visuals and
deep emotions.

“The Simpsons” and “The Mick,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

For the first time
in its 28 years, “Simpsons” has an hourlong episode. Trying to
relive his glory days, Mr. Burns comes across a mysterious music
mogul. Taraji Henson, the “Empire” star, is a guest voice, along
with Snoop Dogg, Common and RZA.

Then there's a
transplanted “Mick,” with Kaitlin Olson as a drifter who's
suddenly in a mansion, watching (sort of) her sister's rich kids. Now
everyone has forgotten her nephew's birthday; to make up for it, they
all go to wild – and, at times, quite funny – extremes.

ALTERNATIVE: Football, 4:40 p.m. ET, Fox.

A half-century ago,
the Green Bay Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL
championship. Temperatures hit 15-below, the wind-chill was 38-below
and the Packers won what was dubbed the Ice Bowl. Now those teams
meet again ... but in cozy, indoor comfort in Dallas.

That follows a game
(1:05 p.m. ET, NBC), with the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the Kansas
City Chiefs. Today's winners face Saturday's winners, for spots on
Feb. 5 in the Super Bowl.

ALTERNATIVE II: “The Real Mad Men of Advertising” finale, 9 p.m.,

As the 1960s took
hold, advertising transformed. There was was the subtle, underdog
appeal of Volkswagon (“think small”) and Avis (“we're No. 2, we
try harder”), the unsubtle push for “the Pepsi generation.”
There was humor and, beginning in 1967, vibrant color.

Still, this
interesting hour says, the ad agencies themselves resisted change.
They slowly began putting blacks in their ads ... but rarely hired
them for key jobs. Men ruled; when Mary Wells, creator of the Braniff
airline campaign, was denied a promised position in charge, she
started her own agency.

Other choices

Sherlock,” 7-9 p.m., PBS. Here's the last of this year's three
movies. Holmes and Watson (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman)
confront some long-buried secrets.

“To Tell the
Truth,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. Among others, we'll meet someone who
models in the nude, someone who lost 365 pounds by walking and a
former pro football player who's now an opera singer. “Madam
Secrtetary,” 9 p.m., CBS. From the start of the season, Elizabeth
has pushed a fresh approach to foreign aid. Now she and her staff fly
to Africa to launch it – and find the Chinese there, with an aid
package of their own. Also, Daisy and the assistant secretary for
African affairs tour the continent.

season-opener, 9 p.m., Showtime. Fresh storytlines ripple through
this brilliantly acted episode. Quinn – who barely survived
terrorists' chemical injection – is resisting treatment. Saul meets
the president-elect, who considers dismantling operations. Carrie
works to help Muslims who were jailed. And a young Muslim creates a
video site about terrorist history.

“The Young Pope,”
9 p.m., HBO. Paolo Sorrentino follows the Italian tradition of
abstract, offbeat filmmaking. His strange “The Great Beauty”
(2013) won an Oscar for best foreign-language film; now he's mixed
the specific and the abstract, with Jude Law as the first American

“Elementary” 10
p.m., CBS. It's another double-Holmes night. An hour after finishing
“Sherlock,” catch him (in modern New York) seeking the link
between a dead clown and a weaponized virus.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 14

“In the Heat of the Night” (1967), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic

Two of the world's
finest actors collide powerfully. Rod Steiger is a small-town
Southern cop, tough and biased; Sidney Poitier is a big-city police
detective who was visiting his family and is soon questioned about a
murder. His bosses asked him to stay and work on the case.

Yes, that story
(from a John Ball novel) is contrived, but it was adapted beautifully
by Stirling Silliphant. The film won five Oscars, including ones for
Steiger and Silliphant, plus best picture. Director Norman Jewison
was nominated; Poitier wasn't, but had won four years earlier.

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

After skipping new
episodes for three Saturdays (two of them on holidays), “SNL” is

Hosting is Felicity
Jones, who drew an Oscar nomination as Stephen Hawking's wife in “The
Theory of Everything,” then entered pop culture as Jyn Erso in
“Rogue One.” Sturgill Simpson is the music guest.

ALTERNATIVE: Football, 4:35 p.m. ET, Fox; and 8:15 p.m., CBS.

The first round of
pro play-offs was short on suspense: All four home teams won, by an
average of 19 points. Now those four winners go on the road, visiting
the teams that had byes.

On Fox today, it's
the Seattle Seahawks at the Atlanta Falcons; on CBS, the Houston
Texans visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Sunday has
Steelers-Chiefs and Packers-Cowboys.

ALTERNATIVE II: “To Tell the Truth,” 8 p.m., and “The Match
Game,” 9 and 10, ABC.

Suddenly, the ABC
line-up was thrown into flux. The network had announced that next
Thursday (Jan. 19) would be when its powerhouse Thursday line-up
would finally be restored. To prepare us, two of the shows (“Grey's
Anatomy” and “Scandal”) would have reruns tonight.

Good plan – soon
scuttled. The Thursday re-boot was pushed back to Jan. 26. We'll have
to wait a week ... and tonight, we'll have to settle for some
game-show reruns.

Other choices

Sandra Bullock
films, cable. You can catch Bullock's Oscar-winning work in the
terrific “Blind Side” (2007), at 5:35 p.m. on Freeform, Or try a
comedy double-feature on E – the so-so “The Proposal” (2009) at
7 p.m. and the fun “Miss Congeniality” (2000) at 9:30.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. In a rerun, Murtaugh – with a temporary new partner –
and Riggs are caught in a turf war. On one side is a Koreatown gang;
on the other is a new generaion of drug dealers.

“Star.” 9 p.m.,
Fox. This rerun starts powerfully. After accidentally taking an
overdose, Simone imagines being coaxed musically by her late mother
and her half-sister Star. From there, Star schemes to make a music
demo and enter a contest; the result is flawed, but has some great

“The Incredibles”
(2004), 9-11 p.m., Disney. After trying retirement in suburbia, a
superhero family returns to work. The result is a fun, animated film.

“Lip Sync Battle,”
10 p.m., Spike. In a rerun of the season-opener, actor Channing Tatum
competes with his wife, dancer-actress Jenna Dewan-Tatum.

Showdown,” 11 p.m., Spike. This reruns the opener, with Craig
Robinson hosting a karaoke competition inside a car.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 13

“Grimm,” 8 p.m., NBC.

Last week's
season-opener left Nick at the edge of disaster. The mayor-elect is a
monster (literally); so are other officials, including a judge. Nick
defeated a batch of hit men, thanks to a magic stick (don't ask) and
a girl's voodoo doll. But now a SWAT team is ready to attack.

This hour takes some
tangled strategic twists, as schemes collide with counter-schemes.
Still, it's a well-made hour – a solid start to a Friday-the-13th
that's filled with appropriately spooky stuff.

II: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 9 p.m., CW.

The latest good news
is that “Crazy” has been renewed for next season; micro-mini
ratings can't kill a show, at least on CW. The other good news is
that “Crazy” has ended its stagnant stretch; the plot is now
leaping forward, with some dandy twists ... and, as usual, a couple
clever music numbers.

Rebecca is convinced
that her deep love for Josh can withstand anything. But what happens
when a sunnily shallow California guy meets a world of deep and
gloomy thinkers? There are some dandy surprises here, with Tovah
Feldshuh and Patti LuPone as her mother and her rabbi.

ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS.

Two decades ago,
rebels invaded the Japanese embassy in Peru; a four-month hostage
crisis began. Fiveyears later, Ann Patchett's “Bel Canto” novel
imagined an opera diva as a hostage.

Now comes the next
logical step – an opera about a novel about an opera singer. Renee
Fleming organized this project for the Chicagoe Lyric, with
Peruvian-born composer Jimmy Lopez and Cuban-born playwright Nilo
Cruz. The result, introduced by Fleming, is shown tonight. It's a
muscular, red-blooded piece, with a talented cast led by Danielle de
Niese as a diva-in-crisis.

Other choices

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. When their helicopter crashes, Mac and Jack are in remote
Kazachstan, where a war criminal has Jack's gun. This will require
some inventiveness.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. People apparently do different things while
bonding. The girls decide to have a slumber party; their dad and his
poker buddies decide to prepare for colonoscopies.

“Alexander and the
Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” (2014), 8:30 p.m.,
Disney. It's not easy to turn a delightful little kids' book into a
full movie story. But this has been translated into a fairly
enjoyable family story of an 11-year-old who's heading toward a truly
awful party.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Molly's boyfriend is quitting his pre-med studies to be an
artist. Her dad, the doctor, doesn't approve.

“Sleepy Hollow”
(Fox) or “Emerald City” (NBC), 9 p.m. Fresh from “Grimm,”
this grim Friday-the-13th can continue with either show.
On Fox, Ichabod suspects that a case involves witchcraft. On NBC, the
wizard has sent people to kill Dorothy. (No, this isn't the old
“Wizard of Oz.”) She takes a big risk.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Masi Oka is leaving the show, but first his character
(Max, the medical examiner) must help investigate a murder at a
police convention.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Moonlighting as a bodyguard for a recently released
conflict, Danny uses the chance to snag a crook. Also, his brother
Jamie witnesses a lovers' quarrel between two cops; now he and his
police partner reconsider their own relationship.