TV column for Friday, April 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Masters,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Jascha Heifetz was
born into the old world. That was 1901 Russia; he was fiddling at 3,
taking violin lessons at 5, moving to Saint Petersburg at 9 to work
with a master. He had an American tour at 16 .. and then the world
changed around him.

As the Russian
revolution began, he stayed in the U.S. Eventually, he would live in
Beverly Hills, marry (and divorce) an actress, even write a hit Bing
Crosby song. Still, this superb film says, he kept one old-world
habit: After one lapse, he practiced intensely, remaining one of
music's all-time greats.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Messengers” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

These people seem to
have nothing in common. A nurse just got engaged; a mom has an
abrasive ex-husband. There's an earnest swimmer, a brainy astronomer,
an intense preacher, an endangered cop.

Suddenly, a
meteor-crash impacts them all. In the “X-Files” style, far-flung
events will gradually link. The difference? “Messengers” has an
overload of overwrought males. Also, “X-Files” finished a story
each week; this hour leaves us hanging. Still, it's a compelling
start that will bring us back next week.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Bitten,” season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m., Syfy.

Laura Vandervoort
found fame as Supergirl on “Smallville.” Now she's super again as
Elena, the only female werewolf; she has supernatural skills, plus
anger issues.

Her boyfriend was
beheaded three days ago. Instead of grief-counseling, she throws
herself into intense fighting and lovemaking. Some of this is very
nasty (especially for 8 p.m.), but the characters are well-drawn ...
especially this season's additions -- witches who spark tonight's
second hour.

Other choices
include:

“The Little
Mermaid” (1989) and “Happy Feet Two” (2011), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC
Family. The entire ABC Family weekend is stuffed with animated
movies, starting with Disney's lovely “Mermaid.” The marathon
continues at 8 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.

“Bad Teacher”
(2011), 8-10 p.m. Fox. Cameron Diaz plays a teacher who doesn't care
about her work ... but does like her paycheck and luring a colleague
(Justin Timberlake) whose family is rich.

“The Amazing
Race,” 8-10 p.m., CBS Two episodes are lumped together, starting
in Namibia. This edition began with some couples who were already
dating and some who were thrown together. Now three of the five
blind-daters are still in the race, alongside three of the six
existing couples.

“Cedric's Barber
Battle” debut, 8 p.m., CW. Neighborhood barber shops, we're told,
are sometimes filled with zesty jibes and fun. Now Cedric the
Entertainer tries to capture that. Each week, three barbers try to do
difficult cuts ... while verbal jests bounce around the room.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) is accused of using
excessive force. His dad (Tom Selleck), the police commissioner, must
take sides.

“Voces,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). “Giant” (1956) brought big
stars – Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean – to Marva, a
West Texas town that has 1,900 people and separate cemeteries for
Anglos and Hispanics. This interesting film views the cultural
divide.

“Lost Girl”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Syfy. Tonight has turned into a sci-fi
festival, with “Messengers,” double-“Bitten” and NBC's
“Grimm.” Now it wraps up on a lighter note: Bo – a succubus
from the Fae world – tries to rescue her friend Kenzi, who finds
that even the Netherworld can be kind of giddy.

TV column for Thursday, April 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 9:30, CBS.

After years of
reluctant sobriety, Bonnie (Allison Janney) began gulping pain pills
after an injury. Now she's in jail and her daughter Christy (Anna
Faris) is enraged. Others in the addiction group try to be
comforting; “a sick pope doesn't get this much attention,”
Christy groans.

This sounds serious,
which it is ... but somehow, it's also funny. Two superb actresses
juggle comedy and drama brilliantly, backed by great support (Mimi
Kennedy, Jaime Pressly) and a smart script.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

“I don't know how
to make things right,” Carter says. We don't either; TV's
best-acted series is also its darkest, plunging its characters into
deeper and deeper holes.

Carter and Aubrey
seem to really love each other ... but her addictions put them in
danger; now he's back in prison and she's in the hospital. Family
ties are key here: Carter's sister is a strong force ... Tony is back
in trouble for attacking his sister's nemesis ... And Barb, mourning
one son, is about to meet the fiancee of her other son; two
steel-minded women collide, sharply and darkly.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: All night, FX.

Comedy can vary
widely, we see in a night that starts at 7:30 p.m. with “21 Jump
Street” (2012). Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are cops posing as
high school students; it's light, loopy and kind of fun.

Then at 10, “The
Comedians” has Josh Gad trying to fit into a sports night at Billy
Crystal's house. Some scenes are so-so, but others – including one
deciding on a host gift – are hilarious. At 10:33, “Louie” sees
Louis C.K. facing crises of the heart and the bowel; it's clever and
odd, but not really comedy until the final minute. Those two episodes
keep rerunning until 2:12 a.m.

Other choices
include:

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. A small-plane crash in Seattle triggers memories of the
previous crash, which ultimately left two doctors (Lexie and Mark)
dead, one (Derek) with a mangled hand and another (Arizona) with an
amitated leg. Meanwhile, Owen and Amelia are feeling tension.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9:01 p.m., CBS. In her new job as a drug rep, Penny
finally has a good income; now she may give it up to audition for a
movie. There's also a rerun of the terrific episode in which Amy and
Bernadette decide to have the prom they missed as teens.

“The Odd Couple,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Oscar has a chance to be on a TV sports show. His
agent tells him to stick to radio, but Felix – no expert on such
things – disagrees.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Red links with his sometimes-enemy Berlin, in pursuit of
a Russian official who may have manipulated Berlin.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. Needing help to push through a bill, the president finds
that his vice-president is no pushover. Meanwhile, Olivia is asked to
help after the mayor's wife is murdered.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. A murder probe leads to a potential homeland-security
issue. Also, Captain Gregson's daughter, also a cop, asks Watson to
help on a case.

“Red Road,” 10
p.m., Sundance. This show's second season is even better and deeper
than the first. Now we have the aftershocks of the police chief's
suicide and of Kopus stealing drug money. The result endangers the
new tribal chief ... and Junior ... and Junior's girlfriend, the
police lieutenant's daughter.

TV column for Wednesday, April 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Middle” and “Modern Family,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.

For situation
comedies, 21st birthdays can be funny and foreboding. Now
we get two of them.

First, it's Axl's
turn; he's so busy partying that he won't help his dad move a
freezer. Then a “Modern” rerun eyes Haley's 21st. The
family hesitently agrees to celebrate in a bar and to get her a car.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The mid-section of
the three-week “Animal Homes” starts with master builders.
Beavers dam a stream (to give depth for an underwater entry), then
build a fortress, with moat, mud room and family room.

The Eastern wood rat
also builds inner chambers, to support its hoarding habit. Birds try
varied approaches -- living cliffside ... hiding bits of food in
trees everywhere ... and deliberately choosing the domain of a hawk,
which ignores small birds and smites their predators. It's a
delightful hour, leading into an intriguing (but complicated) “Nova”
that takes a broad overview of math.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Big Time in Hollywood, FL,” 10:30 p.m., Comedy
Central.

Cable keeps getting
stars to play twisted versions of themselves. There's Matt LeBlanc in
“Episodes” and Billy Crystal and Josh Gad in “The Comedians”;
now it's Cuba Gooding's turn.

This is a desperate
and dangerous version, so deep in drug trouble that he steals money
during an audition. Now he's in rehhab; that's where the show's main
characters ended up, after trying to trick their parents out of seed
money for a film. Tonight, liars link in dark and funny ways.

Other choices
include:

“The Carbonaro
Effect,” 7-11 p.m., TruTV. With talent in magic and improv, Michael
Carbonaro brings a fresh twist to hidden-camera shows. This rerun
marathon also continues from midnight to 3 a.m.

“American Idol,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. Qaasim Middleton didn't last long after judges saved
him. They kept him from finishing 11th, but last week he
was in the bottom two; viewers saved Rayvon Owen and Middleton
finished eighth. Now the survivors (four men, three women) will sing
American classics.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. Last week, Halli Ford (a law student) became the third
person from the original “no collar” tribe ousted. Three from
“white collar” and two from “blue collar” are also gone;
tonight, one of the 10 remaining survivors crafts a fake idol.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30 and 9:30 p.m., ABC. Barry tries to impress people in both
episodes, by getting a job and by attempting athletic skill. Also,
the first episode sees Adam failing Spanish; the second has Erica
trying to teach her mom about voting.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, Amaro reluctantly
goes to the wedding of his dad (Armand Assante, 65) and a
28-year-old. Then the place becomes a crime scene.

“Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC. Christina Aguilera guests as Jade St. John, a hot star who
was once engaged to scheming music executive Jeff Fordham (Oliver
Hudson).

“Million Dollar
Listing New York” season-opener, 10 p.m., Bravo. Here's Luis Ortiz,
removing everything from a multi-million-dollar condo, so it can be
staged and sold .... except now the owner says he's not moving. Such
moments make this fun, despite the people being immensely unlikable.

TV column for Tuesday, April 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Justified” series finale, 10 p.m., FX.

For six splendid
seasons, this show has followed the formula of the late, great
novelist Elmore Leonard: Colorful characters collide, with dialog
that ranges from acerbic to brilliantly verbose.

Now Raylan, a U.S.
marshal, has gone rogue. He was chasing Boyd, who was chasing Ava,
who stole the money Boyd stole from Markham. Then Raylan had to pause
to bring a wounded cop to the hospital; he was promptly arrested. A
good guy is in custody and lots of bad ones are roaming free in
backwoods Kentucky; we can expect a violent (but articulate)
farewell.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Fresh Off the Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Eddie's parents
really aren't into the notion of having fun. Now, alas, volunteering
is mandatory; his dad has to coach basketball and his mom co-directs
the school play.

The basketball part
is a disappointment, with scenes that are witless and overlook the
fact that players have foul limits. The other part, however, is a
delight. Handed a bland play in which every role is equal (or equally
bad), Eddie's mom replaces it with a stern diatribe about work ethic.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Escape From a Nazi Death Camp” and “Frontline,”
9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Wednesday will mark
the 70th anniversary of British forces liberating the
Bergen-Belsen death camp. That was four days after Americans reached
Buchenwald, 10 weeks after Russians reached Auschwitz.

That's marked with
two specials. The first tells of the 300 men who escaped from the
Sobibor camp; the second reruns a documentary shot by Alfred
Hitchcock and others. “Frontline” found it in 1985, finishing and
running it. Some scenes are fiercely upsetting; the flaw involves the
narration by Trevor Howard, whose upper-class accent makes him sound
bored by these epic and grotesque events.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Gibbs could get another chance to be an action hero; he and
Ellie Bishop head to Afghanistan, where a Marine may be held captive.
Also, McGee's face is on the new NCIS recruitment brochure ... a fact
that Tony is not happy about.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. A carjacking took a Navy commander's car –
with a baby inside. Now the team must decide if this was random or
targeted.

“New Girl,” 9
p.m., Fox. In a rerun, Schmidt regrets trying to understand Jess' and
Cece's fight.

“North by
Northwest” (1959), 9 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. One of
Hitchcock's greatest movies has an ordinary chap (Cary Grant) in
chases that take him to Mount Rushmore. It co-stars Eva Marie Saint
... who also helps lead an 8 p.m. ET tribute to Robert Osborne's 20
years at TCM.

“Weird Loners,”
9:30, Fox. Owing $1,000 to an enforcer named Tulip (hey, it's just a
name), Stosh plans to scam his cousin. Like last week's episode, this
has funny moments, but paints both men so extremely that they're
difficult to care about.

“One Big Happy,”
9:30, NBC. Luke and his lesbian friend Lizzie have savored a peaceful
life of farm markets and such; now his quick marriage to Prudence
brings a nudging toward adventure. The early scenes have shabby,
throwaway jokes, but they do set up an exceptionally funny hospital
scene.

“Jimmy Kimmel
Live,” 10 p.m., ABC. Ever since Disney (which owns ABC) bought
Marvel, it has pushed synergy. A new “Agents of SHIELD” at 9
(showing how Melinda became The Cavalry) leads into Kimmel and the
stars of “Age of Ultron,” which opens May 1. There are the
Chrises (Hemsworth and Evans), plus Scarlett Johannson, Robert Downey
Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner.

TV column for Monday, April 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Voice” (NBC) or “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC), 8-10:01
p.m.

Last week was busy
for “Voice,” trimming from 20 singers to 12. Now tonight's show
stuffs a dozen performances into two busy hours; then viewers vote,
with the top 10 announced Tuesday.

Meanwhile, “Dancing”
is down to eight stars (well, semi-stars), after dropping Michael Sam
last week. Willow Shields, the 14-year-old “Hunger Games”
co-star, led the judges' scores with 39 out of 40; at the bottom were
Chris Soules (“The Bachelor”) and Suzanne Somers, with 27 and 28.

TONIGHT's MIGHT-SEE:
“Gotham,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Jada Pinkett Smith
has gripped fame in many ways -- as a producer (“Hawthorne,”
“Latifah,” “Annie”), wife (Will), mom (Jaden, Willow) and
actress. Now this role offers some of her best moments.

She's Fish Mooney,
held in an evil asylum and hatching a brilliant and perverse escape
plan. That storyline is excellent; others – involving Oswald
Cobblepot and introducing Milo Ventimiglia as The Ogre – are so-so,
laced with brutality that's despicable for an 8 p.m. show based on a
comic book.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Bates Motel,” 9 p.m., A&E.

Last week saw Norma
Bates – brilliantly played by Vera Farmiga – hit extremes. She
managed to blackmail powerful people, with the sheriff's help ...
then learned that her older son was secretly housing her brother (his
dad) who had raped her.

Tonight starts with
Norma in mega-meltdown. Someone is stalking the sheriff ... and her
son is sliding closer to being the Norman we know from “Psycho.”
It's a strong hour, ending powerfully.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Driver,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

Classic “crime
noir” tales often told of an ordinary guy being tugged into the
quicksand o lawbreaking. Here's a variation of that, fuelled by the
understated perfection of David Morrissey.

He's Vince, a
British cabbie whose fine-looking life – bright wife, home, two
kids – is crumbling. Then a driving job brings easy money and iffy
impact. Stick with the mini-series, which this streaming service
releases over three Mondays. This first chapter is fairly good; the
third (April 27) is superb.

Other choices
include:

“2 Broke Girls,”
8 p.m., CBS. Max likes a hot-looking co-worker at The High
Restaurant. Alas, the owner (Sandra Bernhard) has a no-hookup
policyfor employees.

“Sleeping Beauty”
(1959), 8 p.m., Disney. Here's a cartoon classic, for families to
watch together.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30,. CBS. Margo Martindale, an Emmy-winner from
“Justified,” guests as the estranged sister of Mike's acerbic
mom.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. Walter is jolted when he learns Cabe's secret about a
past mission.

“Turn,” 9 and 10
p.m., AMC. Abe, a spy for George Washington, is determined to
infiltrate the pro-British forces in New York City.

“Independent
Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Alongside the usual
frustrations of youth, this film says, many teens lack a steady home.
In Chicago, we see them in emergency shelters or group housing or a
teacher's basement. The film is often moving and sometimes
heartbreaking..

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. When a 1980s star is killed, Castle gets help from people
who played action heroes long ago. Ted McGinley is a guest star.