TV column for Thursday, Oct. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Four decades ago, a
quirky little musical became a midnight-movie sensation. But can that
high-octane, audience-participation mood be captured on TV? Kenny
Ortega (“High School Musical”) tries hard, with original star Tim
Curry as narrator and with brief glimpses of a pretend movie
audience.

In the big
production numbers, Ortega stirs great fun. Otherwise, the zesty
music is paired with a so-so, shock-for-shock's-sake story. Laverne
Cox is OK in the lead; Adam Lambert has one great song and there's
strong work from Victoria Justice and Broadway's Reeve Carney and
Annaleigh Ashford.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY
II: “CMT Artists of the Year,” 9-10:30 p.m., CMT.

In a night stuffed
with starpower, CMT honors five acts that dominated country music
this year – Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Luke Bryan, Thomas
Rhett and Florida Georgia Line. There's also a “breakout” award
for Kelsea Ballerini and a career award for Shania Twain.

Others join, going
beyond country. Meghan Trainior, Jill Scott and Ballerini will sing
the Twain tribute. Swedish star Zara Larsson and Rhett will do a
mashup of his “Die a Happy Man” and her “Never Forget You.”
There's more, including Karen Fairchild and Bryan with their “Home
Alone Tonight.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Superstore” and “The Good Place,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., NBC.

So far, these shows
– one pretty good, the other (“Good Place”) terrific – have
had Thursday comedy viewers to themselves. That ends soon: CBS'
comedies return next week; NBC takes over Thursday football on Nov.
17. So let's savor these shows while they're here and thriving.

On “Superstore,”
it's dog-adoption day; also, new parents Cheyenne and Bo have a
fight, getting opposite advice from Amy and Glenn. On “Good Place,”
Eleanor – assigned to the nice afterlife due to bureaucratic error
– is still trying to learn from Chidi how to be good; she goes on a
journey with him.

Other choices
incude:

“Concussion”
(2015), 10 a.m. and 6:55 p.m., Starz. This true story offers a
powerful look at football brain damage and at the NFL's years of
denial. Will Smith is perfect as the quietly crusading doctor.

Football, 7:30 p.m.
ET preview and 8:30 p.m. game. For the last of its five Thursday
games, CBS has two classic (albeit struggling) teams. The Chicago
Bears, 1-5 after a last-minute home loss, visit the Green Bay
Packers, 3-2 with an uncharacteristically sputtering offense.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Meredith and Bailey have patients who need the same
liver trtansplant. Also, Owen needs help while babysitting and Amelia
struggles to tell him important news.

“Supernatural,”
9 p.m., CW. Over the past couple episodes (starting with last
season's finale), we've met Mary, the guys' mother. Now she helps
Dean search for Sam, while a new problem emerges: Lucifer has taken
over the body of a rock star (played, of course, by Rick
Springfield).

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Details keep emerging about Frank's
troubled past. Also, there's a surprising twist in the mystery of the
“Annalise killer” flyers.

““The
Blacklist,” 10 p.m., NBC. When Red takes action to stop Alexander
Kirk, Liz's loyalties are divided. Meanwhile, the team searches for a
killer who targets revolutionary inventors.

“Better Things,”
10 p.m., FX. This show has some episodes that are oddly entertaining
– including the one that reruns at 10:30 today – and others that
are merely odd. This is the latter type, involving Sam's reluctant
friendship with a Mormon mom. The result isn't quite a comedy or a
drama.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 19


TONIGHT'S
SHOULD-SEE: Presidential debate, 9-10:30 p.m. ET, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox,
PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox Business, C-Span, Univision and
Telemundo.

This long, loud
campaign feels like it's been going on for decades. Now we have the
final debate; it's back to the format of the first one, this time
with Chris Wallace of Fox News as the moderator.

Wallace says he
won't fact-check; that's up to the candidates ... and to follow-ups.
The big networks plan to go to 11 p.m., the news channels longer.
After the previous weekday debate, “Daily Show” (11 p.m., Comedy
Central), Stephen Colbert (11:35, CBS) and Seth Meyers (12:37 a.m.,
NBC) went live.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Frequency,” 9 p.m., CW.

It you've already
overdosed on the election, don't fret. There are some other fairly
good choices, including the only big (well, semi-big) broadcast
network that's skipping the debates.

Raimy found she
could chat with her dad (a cop, like her) via a radio signal that
bounces back 20 years. They can change the past ... sometimes
creating new disasters. Their changes wiped out her romance and left
her mother dead ... at least for now. Can they change the past again?
Can they catch the serial killer before he kills her mom ... 20 years
ago? It's a bizarre plot, but executed with solid competence.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: Halloween shows, all night, Freeform.

Some 18 years –
and two network name-changes – ago, “13 Nights of Halloween”
was born. Now it's back, this time with Charli XCX -- a successful
singer-songwriter-producer at 24 – as the host.

Tonight starts and
ends with Tim Burton films -- “Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
at 5:30 p.m. and “Corpse Bride” (2005) at midnight. At 7 p.m. is
the TV premiere of “Monsterville” (2015), an R.L. Stine tale with
Katherine McNamara (“Shadowhunters”) and Dove Cameron. At 10 is
“Hocus Pocus” (1993), with Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah
Jessica Parker as witches sent to modern Salem.

Other choices
include:

More Halloween
movies, cable. There's lots of heavy-duty vampire stuff tonight; AMC
continues its “Walking Dead” reruns from 6 p.m. to midnight and
FX has Brad Pitt's “World War Z” (2013) at 7:30. But there's also
the light side: “Twitches Too” (2007), at 7:10 p.m. on Disney,
has Tia and Tamera Mowry as twins (which they are) and witches (which
they're not), searching for their biological father.

“It's the Great
Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Toy Story of Terror,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., ABC. Here's more Halloween, via animation – a 1966 tale
that's so-so, but beloved; a 2013 one with some good moments.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. So far, the older people have had a tough time. The
“Millennials” tribe has only lost one person; “Gen X” has
lost three ... including the two oldest ones, Paul Wachtel, 52, and,
last week, Lucy Huang, 42. Tonight, there's a hunt for an immunity
idol.

"Nature,” 8 p.m.,
PBS. Vianet D'jenguet spent part of his youth in Paris, where his dad
(a doctor) was known as a malaria expert. He became a nature
cameraman; in this warm portrait, he visits his native Republic of
Congo. There are gorgeous wildlife views, plus a human connection:
D'jenguet meets some of the last of the indigenous Forest People ...
and hears them praise his great-grandfather, a healer.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. Murtaugh pondes the psyche of a suspect (a former Navy
SEAL) who is similar to his police partner Riggs (also ex-military).
That spurs Riggs to open up about his past.

“Documentary Now,”
9, 9:30 and 10 p.m., IFC. This is perfect fot the debate-skipping
skeptic. It's a brilliant fake political documentary, with Bill Hader
as a perverse variation on James Carville.

“Berlin Station”
and “Graves,” 9 and 10 p.m., Epix. Here are reruns of Sunday's
debuts – a well-crafted (but monotone) spy tale and then a loose
(and sometimes goofy) tale of an ex-president. They're preceded at
7:15 by “Mr. Holmes” (2015), a fairly good film with Ian McKellan
as a fading Sherlock.

“You're the
Worst,” 10-11:30 p.m., FX. At 10:30, just as the debate wraps up
(in some time zones), “Worst” reruns last week's episode. There
are great moments from Ben Folds and at a memorial for Jimmy's dad.
Also, Edgar seeks pot for his PTSD; that sets up a new episode at 10,
rerunning at 11.

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS.

The new machine age
was ruled by people like Edison and Ford – men with a cunning knack
for adding other people's ideas to their own. Lost in the process
were geniuses like Nikola Tesla.

When Tesla arrived
from Serbia in 1884, he was 28, tall, thin and rather regal. He
perfected the use of alternating current (AC), topping Edison's use
of DC. He kept trying new ideas – wind power, radio signals,
X-rays, wireless communication, even contacting aliens. Some of his
ideas were great, a few were wacky; he died broke, but now draws deep
respect, including this fascinating documentary.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“This is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

After three superb
episodes, we get one that is merely very good. In flashbacks, we see
the parents head to the pool with their three kids – twins, plus an
adopted son who was born the same day. Nowadays, all three face
troubles, one trying the difficult transition from TV star to New
York theater actor.

This time, the usual
realism slips a bit. Problems arise too arbitrarily; jobs appear too
easily. Still, there are spurts of great dialog delivered skillfully
– expecially by Sterling Brown. Fresh from his Emmy for “The
People vs. O.J. Simpson,” he captures another man who's wairly
juggling black and white worlds.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “American Housewife,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Like Billy Crystal
in “City Slickers,” Katie (Katy Mixon) manages to have a personal
crisis in the middle of a grade-school class. Reading a cat book, she
begins to ramble about roads not taken.

Moments like that
give this show extra oomph; so does a wayward Skype to her husband's
History 101 class. Alas, “Housewife” often loses its balance;
Katie's parenting is so dreadful – and her former job so enticing
– that it's tough to empathize with her, At least, we can enjoy the
funny spurts.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Scream” (MTV) and “Scream Queens” (Fox), both 9
p.m.

You know Halloween
is near when screamers fill two networks. The “Scream” season
ended two months ago, but here's a holiday special; Noah and Stavo
create graphic novel about the murders.

Meanwhile, the
original “scream queen” (Jamie Lee Curtis) runs a hospital and
plans to lure the killer by holding a Halloween party. Also hunky
doctors (John Stamos, Taylor Lautner) face a crisis.

Other choices
include:

“Jack Reacher”
(2012), 7-10 p.m., FX; and/or “Jerry Maguire” (1996), 9 p.m. and
midnight, Pop. Choose your Tom Cruise film tonight. He's a tough
detective in “Reacher,” which will have a sequel in theaters
Friday; he's a sports agent in “Maguire,” beautifully written and
directed by Cameron Crowe.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. This is slowly absorbing new cast members. Duane Henry is as a
British agent, searching for a colleague. Also, Quinn (Jennifer
Esposito) painfully tells why she left field work.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Axl's new girlfriend, we learned last week, is both
beautiful and empty-headed. That's fine enough for him; he keeps
driving to see her, giving Orson no way to get to class

“No Tomorrow,” 9
p.m., CW. Xavier keeps trying to convince other people that a meteor
will destroy the Earth. When his latest attempt gets him arrested,
Evie wonders if he's really crazy?

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Don't you hate it when you're trying to
have a nice chat with your mom and people kidnap you and force you to
aid a prison break? That happenns to Sebastian.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). On the eve of the second
presidential debate, we're reminded that security problems are much
worse in Europe. Nations link poorly; until recently, they didn't
even share don't-fly lists. Borders are porous and sentences are
light: One man, convicted of promoting terrorism, was given 18
months; afterward, he led the massacre at a Paris satiric magazine.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Odd Couple” season-opener, 9:30 p.m., CBS.

This comedy is often
overlooked by critics, by viewers ... and by the network itself. Last
season, CBS kept it on the shelf until April; now, however, it's a
key part of the return to four-comedy Mondays.

“Odd Couple”
rarely shows the wit of “Big Bang Theory,” “Mom” or even
“Life in Pieces.” Still, it's quick and slick and jokey. Tonight,
Oscar (Matthew Perry) has romantic plans with Charlotte (Teri
Hatcher). But Felix is distraught while his girlfriend is away; it
becomes friendship vs. romance.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY
II: “Jane the Virgin” season-opener, 9 p.m., CW.

Over its first two
seasons, “Jane” has drawn a Peabody Award, a Golden Globe (for
it's terrific star, Gina Rodriguez) and praise (plus three Television
Critics Association nominations) from critics. It hasn't, however,
had many viewers. Maybe that can change, now that it's nestled behind
“Supergirl.”

Tonight, Jane learns
that Michael was shot. Then there's evil Petra: Her more-evil twin
has poisoned her and assumed her identity; the twin pretends to help
the investigation ... but soon draws suspicion.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “POV,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Here is a film that
tells us a little about a Chinese protester ... and a lot about China
itself. The government goes to extremes to silence and detain her and
her supporters.

Ye Haiyan (known as
Hooligan Sparrow) mixed humor and rage, while protesting the
treatment of sex workers. Like her, filmmaker Nanfu Wang grew up in
rural poverty in China; she returned there and filmed a protest ... a
principal accused of raping six girls. Officials attacked the
protesters; Sparrow, 38, and her buoyant daughter, 13, were detained
and chased. At times, this feels like a warped thriller.

Other choices
include:

“The Walking
Dead,” 6 p.m. to midnight, AMC. Over the next five nights, AMC has
reruns from 6 p.m. to at least midnight. That gets even busier over
the weekend, leading into the season-opener at 9 p.m. Sunday. Tonight
starts in the middle of the second season, with Rick and Glenn
searching for Hershel.

“The Voice”
(NBC) and “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC), 8-10 p.m.. Tonight and
Tuesday, “Voice” has the second half of its “battles,” with
teammates trying to outdo each other in a duet. Meanwhile, “Stars”
is back to business, after having a no-elimination night last week.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Can the Amy/Sheldon relationship survive
cohabitation? Last week, when her place was unavailable, they agreed
to share an apartment and (platonically) a bed. But what happens when
your boyfriend is also the world's most persnickety roommate? We'll
see.

“2 Broke Girls,”
9 p.m., CBS. Now that they've turned the diner into a dessert bar,
Max and Caroline are hoping for upscale customers. Those hopes are
dashed when an arm-wrestling team arrives.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. It's a busy timefor Chloe the cop. She works with Lucifer
to find someone who poisoned two young Los Angeles transplants; she
also goes out for drinks with Maze, who seems to be offering
friendship ... but may have a scheme.

“Timeless,” 10
p.m., NBC. Enough of the dark journeys of the first two weeks, when
we visited the Hindenburg disaster and the Abraham Lincoln
assassination. Now we're in the Rat Pack era of 1962 Las Vegas, where
Rufus meets his old mentor. Meanwhile, Lucy's personal life is
crumbling.

“Conviction,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. What happens if a bad person is convicted for the
wrong reasons? The team may re-open the case of someone convicted of
bombing a mosque.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Masterpiece: The Durrells in Corfu” opener, 8 p.m., PBS.

Running out of money
and patience, Gerald Durrell's widowed mother took a drastic step in
1933: With her four eccentric kids, she moved to a Greek island.
Durrell would turn that experience into three books; now they've been
adapted into a thoroughly enjoyable, six-week mini-series.

Don't expect the
brooding beauty of the shows that follow (“Poldark” and “Indian
Summers”). “Corfu” has a breezy charm, especially with the
superb Keeley Hawes as the mom. The other PBS shows have worlds at
stake; “Corfu” has low stakes, casual rewards and gentle fun.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Killing Reagan,” 8 p.m., National Geographic, reruns at 10 and
midnight.

For the fourth time,
a Bill O'Reilly books has become a solidly competent movie. The
others dealt with the killing of Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy and
Jesus; this is the wounding of Ronald Reagan.

Neither the shooter
nor his scheme are interesting. Wisely, this shifts the focus to the
victim and the aftermath. It depicts Ronald Reagan (Tim Matheson) as
an affable guy who prefers to skip details ... Nancy Reagain (Cynthia
Nixon) as deeply devoted and (with astrology) a tad daft ... and
Alexander Haig as merely creepy. Their worlds transform.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Nothing is forever
in television ... except this. Here is the 27th annual
“Treehouse of Horror” edition, which is also the 600th
episode overall. That's celebrated by a big, “Goldfinger”-style
song.

That's a great
ending to a half-hour that's merely OK. It starts cleverly, with Mr.
Burns hoarding all of Springfield's water, then trails off, with lots
of gore and occasional wit. (It really is funny, actually, when a
grief counselor is killed by a falling “It gets better” sign.)
Then comes the big “600” finale.

Other choices
include:

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Visiting the past, we see Jekyll develop his
formula to separate a man's good and evil sides. In the present,
alas, his evil side (Hyde) is trying to steal the formula.

“Secrets and
Lies,” 9 p.m., ABC. After taking a debate break last Sunday, the 9
p.m. and 10 p.m. shows are back. Eric – suspected of killing his
wife – tries to find her missing assistant; he soon has questions
about her secret life ... just as a cop finds new questions about
Eric's secrets.

“The Walking Dead:
The Journey So Far,” 9 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11:05. Next Sunday,
the seventh season begins; first, here's a quick summary of the first
six. If you prefer the slower approach, reruns begin with the first
episode, at 6:50 a.m. They'll continue from 6 p.m. to midnight on the
five weekdays, then take up much of next weekend.

“Berlin Station”
debut, 9 p.m., Epix, rerunning at 11:10. CIA schemes abound in
Berlin, some involving leaks of secret material. Great actors –
Richard Armitage, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Forbes, etc. – and rich
production values partly make up for the monotone gloom encasing each
character.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Now that they know they're not the last
people on Earth, Tandy and Melissa each fashion a sort of alarm
system. Also, everyone decides on a change of scenery.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. This never seemed to happen to Sherlock in the Victorian
and Edwardian eras: A gang leader kidnaps him, demanding he find who
was responsible for a hit.

“Graves” debut,
10 p.m., Epix, rerunning at 10:35. Some 25 years after leaving
office, Richard Graves (Nick Nolte) starts to suspect he was a bad
president. His personal journey begins. Graves' rampages are
heavy-handed and unfunny, but there are great supporting characters,
led by Sela Ward as his wife.