TV column for Thursday, Jan. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 9:01 p.m., CBS.

Here's one of those
mismatches that comedies love: Small and shy, Christy (Ana Farris) is
a recovering alcoholic with a fragile ego. She meets a handsome hunk
(Chris Pratt), finding instant love and lust.

That might seem like
a stretch, but Faris and Pratt have been married for seven years –
with the mismatch the other way around: She was the movie and TV
star; he had a smaller career, as slacker Andy in “Parks and
Recreation.” With a newly sculpted look, Pratt starred in
“Guardians” and “Jurassic” films; now he and Faris are
perfect as gaga people, temporarily (and hilariously) in love.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Good Place,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

Fresh, funny and
thoroughly original, this show has everything one could hope for ...
except a big audience. Here are the final episodes of its first (and,
possibly, only) season.

Through a
bureaucratic blunder, Eleanor was sent to the good afterlife; so was
a dim DJ who's also a failed thief. Now they've stolen a train; along
with his new wife (a sort of android), they're headed to the middle
place ... while others debate their future. Yes, it's odd ... but
it's also quite clever.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“America's First Family: The Trumps Go to Washington,” 10 p.m.,
ABC.

For many viewers,
this is a night of disappointment. ABC had announced it for the
season-opening of “Scandal,” alongside the return of “Grey's
Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Then, oddly, it
delayed everything by a week, ostensibly so it could air this
inauguration-eve special.

So the Trump special
airs tonight, preceded by reruns. At 8 p.m., “Grey's” sees Alex
prepare for jail and “Scandal” sees the choice of
vice-presidential candidates; a week later, new episodes arrive.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Baskets” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

The first season
offered interesting portraits of Chip Baskets and the eccentric
people around him. It was sometimes funny, sometimes touching ...
and, too often, devoid of hope.

It ended with his
only clowning job (at a rodeo) ending; bitter about his family and
his life, he became a hobo. He's not very good at it -- or at
anything else -- but he runs into a vagabond performings troupe.
(What are the odds?) The result is bittersweet, as usual, but gives
him a reason to keep living and us a reason to, sometimes
reluctantly, keep watching.

Other choices
include:

Figure-skating, 5:30
and 9:30 p.m. ET, NBC. The U.S. championships begin with the short
programs. Today are pairs and then women. There are more short
programs Friday, before NBC takes over with the finals on Saturday
and Sunday.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Feeling she's being taken advantage of, Penny
heads off to a spa with Amy. Soon, Sheldon is in the unfamiliar role
of peacemaker.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Jack has been mocking the meager
reporting skills of his young colleagues. But now Mason has a big
scoop; Jack is jealous and wants his own.

“My Kitchen
Rules,” 9 p.m., Fox. No one said that life or reality shows would
be fair. We've seen cooking by siblings (Brandy and Ray J) and
generations (Lance Bass and his mom); tonight, we have a married
couple (Naomi Judd and Larry Strickland) and two friends (Brandi
Glanville and Dean Sheremet) who met when their spouses had an
affair. But elsewhere, Sheremet has been presented as a chef and
cooking expert; tonight, the others learn he may be a ringer.

“Life in Pieces,”
9:31 p.m., CBS. The pieces are usually scattered, but tonight they
revolve around a Los Angeles Rams football game. Greg is in a
halftime contest, Joan and Jen try to sneak into better seats and Tim
has trouble returning to his seat. Also, Colleen and Matt have a
really clumsy tailgate party; their solution is to add Kurt Warner,
the former Rams great.

“Blindspot,” 10
p.m., NBC. Jill Hennessy plays the leader of gifted female thieves.
Liz tries to wedge her way into the group,to work undercover.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 18


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“People's Choice Awards,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Many awards, it
seems, go to TV shows you've never seen and movies you've never heard
of. Not here. This lets people choose (quite eccentrically, at times)
winners in film, TV and music categories.

For favorite-movie,
there are two animated films (“Zootopia,” “Finding Dory”) and
three action/fantasy ones (“Deadpool,” “Suicide Squad,”
“Captain America: Civil War”). The TV side has more fantasy
(“Outlander,” “Walking Dead,” “Stranger Things”), plus
“Grey's Anatomy” and “Big Bang Theory.” Joel McHale will
host, Blake Shelton will perform and stars (Tom Hanks, Jennifer
Lopez) will attend.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Six” debut, 10:01 p.m., History (rerunning at 11:02 p.m. and
2:02 and 3:02 a.m.) and A&E (rerunning at 2:02 a.m.).

The Broyles men have
a deep understanding of war. William was a Marine officer in Vietnam,
then co-created the superb “China Beach” series; his son David
was a pararescue man in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their show starts
starkly, with lots of close-range shooting; some viewers will like
it, but others will exit before “Six” finally reveals its human
side.

Yes, it has one.
These are solid, decent guys, torn between their lives at home and
the need to rescue a former colleague who was kidnapped. “Six”
has a solid soul ... but takes a while to get there.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Full Frontal,” 10:30 p.m., TBS.

After spending its
first oft-brilliant season on Mondays, the show has now shifted to
Wednesdays. Now its satirical humor can be polished during the week,
not during weekend scrambles.

And there's a lot of
turf for satirists, with the inauguration coming Friday. For more
humor, you could stick around for “The Daily Show” (11 p.m.,
Comedy Central) and Seth Meyers (12:35 a.m., NBC).

Other choices
include:

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. An unusual tattoo points attention toward Roman. Now
police must decide whether to have him go undercover with a biker
gang.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. Why would you risk stealing a car from a police impound
lot? In this case, it's stuffed with cocaine; the case leads to a
notorious car-theft ring.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. So far, the half-sisters have managed to hide their past: They
fled, after Star stabbed (and almost killed) Simone's abusive foster
father. Now Carlotta (Queen Latifah) keeps searching for the truth,
Meanwhile, her salon is hosting a hair show. Gladys Knight (playing
herself) will introduce it, with the trio singing one of her
classics.

“Frontline”
conclusion, 9-11 p.m., PBS. Here's the second half of a documentary
that traces how the optimistic Obama administration was soon dragged
into gridlock.

“The End,” 9-11
p.m., CNN (barring late-breaking news). Cameras have been following
the final days of the Obama White House. Here's are report, with less
than two days left.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Dre is being nudged toward anger-management therapy.
Also, Johan becomes the kids' life coach.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. Two murder suspects duck inside a church – where the
priest and parishioners give them sanctuary.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“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.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“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.

TONIGHT'S
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
include:

“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
militia.

“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


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“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.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“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.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “800 Words,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

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
include:

“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
Buffett.

“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.

“Independent
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


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“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.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“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.

TONIGHT'S
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.

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

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
include:

“Masterpiece:
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.

“Homeland”
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
pope.

“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.