TV column for Monday, March 17


 

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Paycheck to Paycheck,” 9-10:30 p.m.,
HBO.


It’s easy to toss around phrases like “the working poor” and
concepts like food-stamps, day-care and college aid. This excellent documentary
illustrates all of that through one thoroughly likable person.


Katrina Gilbert, 30, is bright and upbeat, well-liked by
residents of the nursing home where she works. She’s also raising three kids on
$9.49 an hour. “Paycheck” follows her for nine months, as she ranges from good
breaks and help to sudden setbacks. It’s a deeply involving ride.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Dancing With the Stars” opener,
8-10:01 p.m., ABC.


With its ratings slumping, “Stars” has a full makeover. Erin
Andrews – accustomed to the adrenalin of sports reporting – is the new co-host.
There’s a new band (more rock-oriented), a gimmick (viewers can dictate a
change in partners) and a big opening dance number to James Derulo singing “Talk
Dirty.”


More importantly, there’s an interesting line-up. Meryl
Davis and Charlie White, the skating champions, compete with each other; Derek
Hough, who helped coach their Olympic routine, is with para-Olympian Amy Purdy,
who snowboards on prosthetic legs. Others range from genial (Drew Carey) to cranky
(NeNe Leakes), from 17-year-old singer Cody Simpson to 76-year-old actor Billy
Dee Williams.


TODAY’S ALTERNATIVE: “AMHQ” debut, 7-10 a.m., Weather
Channel.


Already very good at what it does, the channel adds a fresh
splash. Sam Champion, formerly of ABC, anchors from Atlanta with Mike Bettis,
Maria LaRosa and Anaradis Rodriguez, plus lots of field work.


Today, that includes St. Patrick’s Day celebrations from
Chicago, New York, Savannah and Hot Springs, Ark. It also includes Stephanie
Abrams – who co-hosts from 5:30-7 a.m. with Al Roker – at the show’s premiere
party in Times Square. And Alexandra Cousteau, daughter of famed maritime explorer
Jacque Cousteau, begins a five-day report on the Colorado River and efforts to
revive it.


Other choices include:


“How I Met Your Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS. This is one of only
two half-hours before the hour-long season-finale. Gary Blauman – played by
Taran Killam, now of “Saturday Night Live” – has been in four episodes over the
years. He returns just before the wedding, causing people to flash back to
previous encounters.


“2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. The diner crowd wants to be
drunk and wild on St. Patrick’s Day. Caroline longs for her old days of
celebrating at the Plaza Hotel.


“Brain Games” season-finale, 9 p.m., National Geographic.
This half-hour views our minds’ copycat ways, from yawns to an experiment to
see if people in Las Vegas will stand in a line that goes nowhere.


“Archer,” 10 p.m., FX. The guys are getting increasingly
upset at Sterling Archer, mostly because he tried to smuggle cocaine INTO
Colombia. Now they’ve been captured and are headed to execution. Then things
get worse, including crocodiles. The result is often overwrought and sometimes
quite funny.


“The Private Lives of Nashville Wives,” 10 p.m., TNT. In a
pivotal episode, this is a tough night all-around. There’s an absurd party
fight, plus some serious moments for Gary Chapman (discussing the cocaine habit
he had while writing Christian-music hits) and for the marriage of Dallas and
Sarah Davidson.


“The Blacklist,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. After a slow stretch –
only two episodes in six weeks – “Blacklist” settles into its spot again.
Tonight, Red’s old associate breaks out of prison, vowing revenge.


TV column for Saturday, March 15 (Sunday's is below this)



(Please excuse a slight laps in chronology. This is the TV column for Saturday, March 15. If you scroll dwn below this, you'll find the Sunday one.)


By MIKE HUGHES


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Cosmos,” 8 p.m., Fox; and “Believe,” 10
p.m., NBC.


Here’s a second chance to try two terrific openers, before
their second episodes air at 9 p.m. Sunday.


“Cosmos” is non-fiction, with the sweeping stories of Carl
Sagan’s 1980 series, boosted by modern special effects. “Believe” is – we truly
hope – non-fiction, with a gifted 10-year-old girl intensely sought by one
group and protected by another. It makes its villain way too inept, but
otherwise has strong characters and great action scenes, sharply directed by
Alfonso Cuaron, the Oscar-winner for “Gravity.”


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Summer Dreams,” 8-10 p.m., CBS.


Mike Tollin has thrived by producing youth dramas (including
“Smallville”) and comedies. Often, he comes back to sports, scripted (“Coach
Carter,” “The Bronx is Burning,” “One Tree Hill”) or not (“30 For 30,” “The
Franchise,” “The Real Rocky”).


Now he’s produced a documentary movie on pro basketball’s
summer development league, which runs for 10 high-octane days in Las Vegas. “Dreams”
focuses on two first-round draft picks – Michael Carter-Williams of the
Philadelphia 76ers and Shane Larkin (son of baseball great Barry Larkin) of the
Dallas Mavericks. It also follows Lauren Holtkamp, trying to be the NBA’s
second current female referee.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Black Sails” season-finale, 9 p.m.,
Starz.


In one crowded hour, here is everything you’d expect in a
pirate tale. There’s deceit, overthrow, a sea storm, cannon fire, topless maidens
and buried treasure.


And most of it is done by gifted British actors. Two scenes
with Captain Flint (Toby Stephens, the son of Oscar-winner Maggie Smith) and
his long-time friend are superb.


Other choices include:


“Castle,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Castle and Beckett try to
trace the background of a baby handed to a priest by a dying man.


Action movies, 8 p.m., cable. Bravo has “The Fast and the
Furious” (2001), with Paul Walker as a young street-racer. AMC has “Rocky III”
(1982), with the odd notion of Mr. T as ultimate obstacle.


More movies, cable. Here are master directors: “Sugarland
Express” (1974, 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies) was Steven Spielberg’s first
movie in theaters, based on the true story of a young couple being chased
across Texas. “No Country for Old Men” (2007, 8 p.m., IFC) is a best-picture
winner from the Coen Brothers, whose script included large chunks of great
dialog from Cormac McCarthy’s novel.


“When Calls the Heart,” 9 p.m., Hallmark. This frontier-Canada
tale sometimes lacks variety, with all its strong-silent men and women. It
added variety last week, when the schoolteacher’s giddy younger sister arrived.
She promptly fell for a handsome stranger who had a wound and a gun. Tonight,
that story builds; things seem way too easy (again), but it’s a likable tale.


“Ripper Street,” 9 p.m., BBC America. As a police wagon is
traveling through the Whitechapel district, an Irish bomber escapes and kills a
member of parliament.


“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, Drake
doubles as host and music guest.  


TV column for Sunday, March 16



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.

On a night stuffed with new series, this fifth-season show
reminds us that it’s still one of the best.


Last week’s terrific episode saw a new investigation into
the election-night corruption that helped elect Alicia’s husband. That
continues as she frets over a key speech, stirring flashbacks. There’s also a focus
on Elsbeth (delightfully played by Carrie Preston), who keeps a sharp mind
hidden under a giddy façade.


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


You may have heard of “survival of the fittest,” but here’s “survival
of the friendliest” – the process that saw the most docile wolves evolve into
dogs. You’ve heard of “natural selection,” but here’s “artificial selection” – humans
breeding dogs that have the preferred traits.


Those examples are part of one of the best – and most
entertaining – explanations of evolution we’ve seen. Backed by great visuals,
Neil deGrasse Tyson shows a respect for the “soaring, spiritual” process that
has survived five global disasters, to shape our world.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Believe” (NBC) or “Resurrection”
(ABC), both 9 p.m.


The scheduling demons are out to get us again. Both shows
aired strong pilot films with supernatural touches; now both have been plunked
into the same slot.


Try “Believe,” because its great pilot set up a solid premise
– a tough, escaped criminal protects a supernaturally gifted 10-year-old …
unaware this is his daughter. We haven’t seen its second episode, but the
second “Resurrection” is a mild disappointment. After a great start – people inexplicably
returning home, years after their deaths – it shovels in unbelievable amounts
of rage from most townspeople, reducing the story to an angry-white-male stereotype.


Other choices include:


“The Red Road,” 7-10 p.m., Sundance. Here are the first
three hours of a series (10 p.m. Thursdays) that has rich layers of human flaws
and strengths. A cop finds his honesty shattered when his fragile wife goes too
far; suspicions resonate throughout a troubled town.


“Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. In both worlds, good people
team with evil Regina. In Fairytaleland, Robin Hood tries to help break into
her castle, now seized by the Wicked Witch of the West. And in modern
Storybrooke, she works with Emma to learn who has blotted out everyone’s
memory.


“Army Wives,” 9-11 p.m., Lifetime. Before the eighth and
final season begins, here’s a look back.


“The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11. After
finding a shelter spot, people wonder if life will ever be as it was. That’s
surrounded by reruns at 7 and 8 p.m. and a 10 p.m. “Talking Dead” with Melissa
McBride (who plays Carol Peletier), plus Yvette Nicole Brown of “Community” and
wrestler CM Punk.


“Revenge,” 10 p.m., ABC. Emily’s black-outs are becoming
increasingly violent.


“Crisis” debut, 10 p.m., NBC. Viewers rejected the absurd
premise of CBS’ “Hostages”; now NBC tries a similar theme. This one has a
broader scope, swiping a busload of teens, including the president’s son. It
has great side characters, including federal agents (Rachael Taylor, Lance
Gross) and a rich mom (Gillian Anderson). But its plot strains credibility and
viewers might be wary of its serialized nature.


TV column for Friday, March 14



TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Rake,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Jaunty and fun, this show never caught on during its
Thursday run. Now it’s been exiled to Fridays, with fewer viewers … but less
competition, making it worth trying.


Greg Kinnear plays Keegan, a smart lawyer who makes stupid
choices about women and gambling. Now his friend Ben inherits his dad’s law firm
and dares to hire Keegan … who goes to court ill-prepared.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE II: “Live From Space,” 8-10 p.m. ET (5-7
p.m. PT), National Geographic.


Here is a hugely ambitious project, focusing on Rick
Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata aboard the International Space Station … which
circles the Earth every 90 minutes. It is, Geographic points out, the first
special to have a $100-billion studio and to literally encompass the world.


Live and via tapes, the astronauts will perform experiments,
answer questions and provide a tour. Talking to them­ from Houston will be
Soledad O’Brien (also a producer of this special) and Mike Massimino, an
astronaut who fixed the Hubble Telescope … and did four “Big Bang Theory”
episodes.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Banshee” season-finale, 10 p.m.,
Cinemax.


This makes up for all the shows (“The Killing,” for
instance) that didn’t really wrap things up in their season-finales. “Banshee”
has an ending … and then another … and then several more.


The main one has the former thieves – with new identities as
Sheriff Lucas Hood and suburban mom Carrie Hopewell – seeking vengeance on her
father, with a long flashback to show why. That one has enough violence to fill
a dozen movies (or one videogame), but stick around. One post-ending ending is
fierce and blood-drenched; we’d be outraged … except that “Banshee” is so skillfully
crafted.


Other choices include:


“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. When Eve posts one of her
dad’s outspoken video-blogs on her Facebook page, she gets a hard time from
classmates. Also, a neighborhood cop stirs a family fuss.


 “The Neighbors,” 8:30
p.m., ABC. Marty’s date-night plans with his wife go astray. Also, young Dick
instantly falls in love with the babysitter (Rachel Dratch).


 “Hawaii Five-0,” 9
p.m., CBS. A father was shot while his daughter was being removed from the
home. The team probes that, while Danny tries to re-unite his mom (Melanie
Griffith) and dad. Also, McGarrett has a key code cracked by Jerry (Jorge
Garcia, who knows decoding from his “Lost” years).


“Enlisted,” 9 p.m., Fox. When they meet three veterans
(Stacy Keach, Dean Stockwell and Barry Bostwick) who are future versions of
themselves, the brothers decide to change their lives.


“Raising Hope,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. It’s a busy time for
Virginia – a possible promotion and a chance to perform with Burt in the local
telethon.


“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. A perverse “knock-out game” –
punching random strangers – goes way too far when it involves an expectant
mother. Also, Frank worries about an impression of favoritism.


“Hannibal,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Cleverly framed by Hannibal
Lecter, Will is on trial for murder. His boss (Laurence Fishburne) admits he
may have pushed him too hard, disrupting a fragile psyche.

ALSO: As the PBS pledge drive heads into its final weekend, many stations have key show-business specials tonight. In Reno, Nevada, for instance, KNPB has "Judy Collins: Live From Ireland" at 9 p.m.... in Cincinnati, WCET reruns the superb "American Masters" portrait of Johnny Carson at 9 ... and in East Lansing, Mich., WKAR has an 8 p.m. concert by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, scattering some dandy humor amid a night of dazzling bluegrass music and (with Edie Brickell) warm ballads. Check local listings. 


TV column for Thursday, March 13



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Hell’s Kitchen” opener (8 p.m.) and
“American Idol” (9 p.m.), Fox.

You know life has turned upside-down when “Idol” – for
years, the most powerful show on TV – needs a lead-in boost from a man yelling
at chefs. That’s the situation now: “Kitchen” takes over the 8 p.m. slot
(Gordon Ramsay starts with 20 chefs to belittle), “Idol” moves to 9 and “Rake”
is exiled to Fridays.


That happens on a key night when “Idol” trims to 10, which
generally means everyone will be on the tour. Harry Connick Jr., one of the
judges, will do a medley; also, Mali Music will perform.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Review,” 10 p.m., Comedy Central.


What’s it like to make a sex tape … or be a deer hunter … or
be a racist? Most of us can only guess, but now there’s Forrest MacNeil (played
by Andy Daly); he tries and reviews experiences for us.


The resulting half-hour, like last week’s opener, is
surprisingly funny. A few moments make us cringe; most range from subtly clever
to big, laugh-out-loud surprises.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Chicagoland,” 10 p.m., CNN.


Last week’s debut (rerunning at 9 p.m.) introduced us to
compelling people, from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the critics of his
school-closings. Most involving was Elizabeth Dozier, a young principal who immersed
herself in the lives of her students.


Now we meet one of those students. Lee McCullum prepares for
college, with the effects of violence around him. He was 9 when his dad lost a
leg to random gunfire; now a friend has been killed, the third this year.
Against the giddy backdrop of a hockey championship, this hour delivers
emotional jolts.


Other choices include:


“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. When he visits his mom
(Laurie Metcalf of “Roseanne”), Sheldon finds a surprise that shakes his
reality. Also, there’s trouble at Raj’s latest murder mystery.


“Parks and Recreation,” 8:30 p.m., NBC. When Leslie plans a
new town slogan, she collides with two “shock jocks” (Nick Kroll and Matt
Besser) on local radio.


“Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m., CBS. Lyndsey was happy enough
to cheat on Larry with Alan. Now she’s quite unhappy to learn Alan is sleeping
with Larry’s sister (Kimberly Williams-Paisley).


“Grey’s Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC. A non-fraternization policy
at the hospital? That’s sticky in a show that’s mostly about fraternizing.
Tonight, one doctor is suspended; another is sent to Human Resources.


“Suits,” 9 p.m., USA. This show was built on the shaky
notion that someone could perpetually fool a top law firm into thinking he went
to Harvard. Now that peaks, in an hour that manages to simultaneously be dreary
and repetitious, while stretching credibility beyond the breaking point.


“Scandal,” 10 p.m., ABC. As his re-election push continues, Fitz
gets a surprise in the first presidential debate. Meanwhile, Olivia faces a big
decision and her team works for a CEO accused of murder.


“Sirens,” 10 p.m., USA. Trying to do a good deed – erasing a
guy’s porn – these paramedics sink into their own problems. The result is
erratic, but has some very funny moments.