TV column for Wednesday, May 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Downward Dog” debut, 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Nan knows her life
is flawed. She has a bad boss, an unsatisying job and a guy she
intermittently breaks up with. But this seems different when narrated
by her dog Martin ... who loves her pity parties. “Downward” is
sometimes as somber as Martin's hang-dog look. Still, there's a
pop-psych hilarity to his thoughts, drolly voiced by Samm Hodges.
Allison Tolman (“Fargo”) leads a splendid cast, with Lucas Neff
(“Raising Hope”) as her sometimes-boyfriend.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

This season is
stuffed with noise, rage and great music. It wraps up with a two-week
clash of titans.

At stake is the
record label's Las Vegas incursion. Giuliana (Nia Long) is now in
control; Cookie, who has been banned, assembles a team to steal a
secret weapon. In the middle is Lucious, ready to release his
“Inferno” album; his son Jamal is encouraged to delay his own
album, to avoid competiton.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Designated Survivor” season-finale, 10 p.m., ABC,
and more.

For the second
straight night, ABC fills its line-up with finales. With one
exception -- “Black-ish” ended last week, to give “Downward
Dog” its chance – all of its Wednesday shows wrap up tonight.

That's key for this
high-stakes drama. Things began with an attack that left only an
obscure Cabinet member (Kiefer Sutherland) alive; now he's president
and ordering a massive search for the mastermind. Meanwhile, FBI
agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) scrambles to prevent a final attack.

Other choices
include:

“Brockmire,”
6:30-10:32 p.m., IFC. Here's the entire season in one gulp. It starts
with a sportscaster's funny downfall and ends with a new episode (10
p.m.), giving him a fresh shot at the big leagues.

“Shots Fired,” 8
p.m., Fox. We're a week from the finale of what has slowly become a
deeply layered drama. A discovery about the “auxiliary deputy”
program puts the focus sharply on the sheriff and his lieutenant
(Stephen Moyer). Potential culprits negotiate with Preston and with
Ashe ... who also gets a ruling on her custody case. And the governor
(Helen Hunt) makes a key decision.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. It's the season-finale for this show (Jane faces an
uncertain future) and, at 10 p.m., for NBC's “Chicago P.D.”
(Markie Post plays Lindsay's mom, a murder suspect).

“Speechless”
season-finale, 8:30, ABC. It's time for JJ's summer camp. His brother
sees that as a chance to re-invent himself; their sister gets some
father/daughter bonding.

“Modern Family”
season-finale, 9 p.m., ABC. It's graduation day for Luke and Manny,
with lots of complications ... including Manny's dad (Benjamin Bratt)
taking him out for a wild night.

“Criminal Minds:
Beyond Borders” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. These missions
sweep the team around the world. First is Nepal, where a woman was
killed during a yoga retreat; it's Monty's first field mission, Then
is Russia, where an American ballerina has been kidnapped.

“Fargo,” 10
p.m., FX. Last week – alongside all the wonderful and bizarre
detours – Gloria and her deputy started putting things together:
Both crimes (the murder, the hit-and-run) involved people named
Stussy. Meanwhile, Ray Stussy – newly fired from his parole-officer
job – launches his latest counter-attack against his brother Emmit
(both played by Ewan McGregor).

TV column for Tuesday, May 16


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

When radio stations
emerged in the cities, record companies scrambled to find music that
would sell in rural areas. Soon, gifted musicians in Appalachia and
the South were being recorded. “A lot of their songs have changed
the world,” musician Jack White says here.

The Carter Family
travelled all day to reach scouts in Bristol, Tenn. The result was
“the big bang” of country music, Johnny Cash (a Carter
son-in-law) once said. That story and others launch a terrific,
three-week series, one that is rich in old films, old sounds and
deeply human details.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Wildly erratic –
and sometimes wildly funny -- “Nine-Nine” puts manages to put
together two excellent episodes. The first has Captain Holt's mom –
a judge, as imperious and impassive as he is – as victim. The
second has Jake and Rosa competing for the favor of an undercover
powerhouse (Gina Gershon).

There are some great
moments – especially when Jake claims to be a hot motorcyle guy –
littered with detours. The Amy stories are so-so, but there's a good
one with the oft-ignored Scully and Hitchcock.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Genius,” 9 p.m., National Geographic.

Here is a pivotal
episode, one that ends with that single, definitive word -- “genius.”
Albert Einstein is 26, working 60 hours a week in a patent office
while his mind races toward inventions. His brilliant wife Mileva
helps – while struggling to care for their baby; somehow, they
create historic theories.

This is a difficult
relationship; in comparison, we see the smooth one of Marie and
Pierre Curie. At times overwrought, this hour still has a great story
and, in Kevin Hooks, a gifted director.

AND ALL NIGHT ...:
“The Middle” season-finale and more, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

This is a night
stuffed with finales – one (“Chicago Fire”) on NBC ... two
“NCIS” tales on CBS ... and the entire linep-up – four comedies
and “Agents of SHIELD” -- on ABC.

The quality for some
ABC shows may vary, but “Middle” is consistently good. Last week,
Axl graduated from college (barely); now he wants to spend the summer
in Europe. His mom loves the idea; his dad thinks he should be
looking for a job. Meanwhile, his siblings face smaller crises.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS”
season-finale, 8 p.m., CBS. A Navy SEAL has disappeared during an
unauthorized trip. Now Gibbs, McGee and Torres must go to a remote
region of Paraguay that's controlled by violent rebels.

“American
Housewife” season-finale, 8:30, ABC. A great way to get out of
volunteer work at school is to have a fake pregnancy. After all, what
could go wrong?

“Prison Break,”
9 p.m., Fox. The good news is that Sara finally gets an explanation
for why her late husband is no longer dead. Te bad: Like most things
on this show, that explanation is far-fetched. The “Prison Break”
style involves crises so extreme that there's no satisfying way to
overcome them; fortunately, it also involves enough high-voltage
filming to let us semi-forgive this.

“Great News,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., NBC. With its big, broad style, “News” varies
wildly in quality ... as we see tonight. The first episode, involving
Chuck's secret, is a delight; it leads to a massive mix-up that's
hilarious. The second one twists the newsgathering process in bizarre
and semi-funny ways.

“Chicago Fire”
season-finale, 10 p.m., NBC. A warehouse fire puts everyone at
risk.Meanwhile, Dawson and Casey agree that her dad has outstayed his
welcome. Also, two Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta, play
themselves.

“NCIS: New
Orleans” season-finale, 10 p.m., CBS. As the mayor's dark scheme
gains ground, there's no way to tell which local people can be
trusted. The team brings in Isler, the FBI assistant director.

TV column for Monday, May 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Lucifer,” 9 p.m., Fox.

For two years, we've
seen Lucifer spend his Earthly time solving crimes and grumbling.
He's really mad at his dad (that's God) for the whole
banishing-to-Hell thing.

But what would
happen if he actually met God (or a close approximation) right here?
How would his mother and brother react? There's great potential here,
most of which this hour mines cleverly. You could fault it for
mocking the mentally ill; still, you can't deny that it's a smart and
funny episode.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Scorpion” season-finale, 10 p.m., CBS.

There are still 10
days left in the official TV season, but finales are piling up.
Tonight, it's “Quantico” on ABC and two shows -- “Man With a
Plan” and this one – on CBS.

Last week, the team
took a plane for the destination wedding of Toby and Happy. It was a
good plan ... until the plane crashed on a desert island. Now jumping
ahead three weeks, there's hunger and fear.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

Sure, there's
supposed to be a wedding soon, with Jane's parents getting
re-married. But in the telenovela tradition, a lot can go wrong.

Jane wants to break
up with Fabian -- who is crucial to her dad's career and wedding.
Rafael wants to get back with Petra. Police want to capture his
sister's lover. Also, Rafael's cancer doctor is calling. The
potential for disaster is steep, but stick with it; “Jane” has
dandy ways to surprise and entertain us.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Decline and Fall,” any time, www.acorn.tv.

Paul Pennyfeather is
your typical British protagonist – a quiet chap whom things sort of
happen to. Unreasonably ousted from a classy college, be becomes a
teacher at what might be the world's worst boarding school. When he
hooks up with a student's gorgeous mom, things get even worse,

TV viewers know
Evelyn Waugh for “Brideshead Revisited,” but his real specialty
is droll, dark satire. He's skillfully mocked funerals (“The Loves
One”), journalists (“Scoop”) and, here, educators. David Suchet
is the headmaster, Eva Longoria as the glam mom and comedian Jack
Whitehall as poor Paul.

Other choices
include:

“Dancing With the
stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., A BC. Cheryl Burke once dominated, winnking
the second and third championships (with Drew Lachey and Emmitt
Smith). Now she brings her “Love on the Floor” tour to TV; also,
Calum Scott sings “Dancing On My Own,” There will be two dances
apiece by singer Normani Kordei, gymnast Simone Biles, football's
Rashad Jennings and baseball's David Ross.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. How many villains can one city hold? Tonight, they're all
piling in – the future Riddler, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter,
Firefly, Dr. Hugo Strange and more – plus Kathryn, the worst of
all. In a strong, high-stakes episode tonight, she has a plan to
destroy Gotham.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. After its wonderful season-final
Thursday, “Big Bang” can fill our summer with reruns. In the
first, a dispute over the bathroom schedule could split Sheldon and
Amy. In the second, Penny is a minor convention celebrity, because of
her one science-fiction role.
“Man With a Plan” season-finale,
8:30 p.m., CBS. With their three children getting older, Adam and
Andi (Matt LeBlanc and Liza Snyder) ponder having another.

“Year Million”
debut, 9 p.m., National Geographic. Last year's “Mars” merged
fiction and non-fiction, including documentary footage and experts.
Now Nat Geo tries again, looking far into the future.

“Quantico”
season-finale, 10 p.m., ABC. This may be Alex's last chance to stop
the Collaborators. That's at the Constitutional Convention, where
their amendment would endanger freedoms.

TV column for Sunday, May 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Animal Moms,” 8-11 p.m. ET, NatGeo Wild, rerunning 11 p.m. to 2
a.m.

Here is the perfect
show for Mother's Day ... or for just about any day. It spans the
globe to find maternal behavior, ranging from pygmy goats to
elephants.

Some babies are
encased in warmth; the elephant is surrounded by giant females,
keeping predators away. Others creatures quickly learn
self-preservation, even learning to live on steep mountain sides.
Young monkeys have tantrums; they also carefully learn how to use
tools. The result is a delight.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Miss USA,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Now for a
less-perfect Mother's Day show – 51 young women, strolling a Las
Vegas stage in bikinis.

Julianne Hough and
Terrence J will host, with Ashley Graham backstage. There will be
music by Pitbull and Brett Eldredge, plus a portion or the Cirque du
Soleil show that's set to Michael Jackson's music. But the focus will
mostly be on those women, ranging from 19 to 27, from 5-foot-4 to
6-1.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Madam Secretary, 9 p.m., CBS.

Good shows, like
good people, juggle the extremes – big, societal crises and small
personal ones.

Tonight, a doomsday
cult has a bio-weapon that could kill millions; Elizabeth's husband
– the college professor who does CIA missions – scrambles. Then
there are the personal problems – one involving their daughter
Stevie, the other involving Elizabeth's aide, Blake. With strong work
from Wallis Currie-Wood and Erich Bergen, both of those stories are
unfolded with subtle skill.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “King Charles III,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Shakespeare wrote
history plays (among others) in blank verse. Now Mike Bartlett has
gone a step further – it's a black-verse “future history play.”

Queen Elizabeth II
has died and her son is king. He's supposed to sign each bill – an
automatic task, people assume – before it becomes law. But what if
he refuses? Would it kill the bill ... or kill the monarchy? Onstage,
this drew a Tony nomination for best play; there were four other
nominations, including Tim Pigott-Smith (as Charles) and Richard
Goulding (as Harry). They repeat their roles here.

Other choices
include:

“Once Upon a Time”
season-finale, 7-10 p.m., ABC. For six seasons, this show has offered
imaginative fairy-tale twists and an epic, big-money look. At 7 p.m.,
the producers and actors look back at what's happened so far. At 8
and 9, crises build: Trapped in a crumbling Fairy Tale Land, Snow and
the pthers try to return to Storybrooke – where the Black Fairy is
mayor and Emma is in the mental hospital.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles” season-finale, 8 p.m., CBS. The eighth season ends with
Sam going rogue, desperate to stop Tahir Khaled from hurting his
family again.

“Call the
Midwife,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Thalidomide provided
an agonizing milestone in the history of government regulation.
Marketed as a mild sedative, it was available (sometimes even
over-the-counter) for several years, before people began linking it
to birth deformities. Now that's told through one earnest couple. The
conflict feels forced at times, but this hour remains deeply moving.

“Chicago Justice”
season-finale, 9 p.m., NBC. Powerful forces collide, when
investigators start to doubt that the death of a rich developer's
son-in-law was accidental.

“The Good Witch,”
9 p.m., Hallmark. Two arrivals are perfect for each other ... but are
competing for a job. Cassie's solution is drastic – creating chaos
for her cousin, the florist – but kind of fun.

“What Happens at
The Abbey” debut, 10 p.m., E. This realty show is shot at an
upscale West Hollywood bar, known as a favorite fun spot for gays and
others.

TV column for Saturday, May 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

“SNL” has done
wonders for Melissa McCarthy's career. Her best movies (“Bridesmaids”
and “Ghostbusters”) have been with “SNL” people; she's hosted
four times ... and received an Emmy nomination for each one. She's
also guested on others, playing Sean Spicer, the press secretary.

Now she hosts again
– and joins the “Five Timers Club”; Haim, the sister trio, is
the music guest.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Training Day,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Here's the start of
a two-parter that will end the show's 13-episode run. “Training
Day” started on CBS' best night (Thursdays), but was later exiled
to TV's worst night.

Frank (the late Bill
Paxton) had known the father of his young police partner Kyle (Justin
Cornwell).

Now Kyle's trust is
shattered when he learns Frank was lying about the circumstance of
his dad's death.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Animated movies, everywhere.

Cable often gives us
family films on Saturdays, but this time a broadcast network (the
Disney-owned ABC) joins in. At 8 p.m., it has “Monsters University”
(2013), flashing back to the college days of Mike (Billy Crystal) and
Sully (John Goodman).

There's more. Disney
has the clever “The Incredibles” (2004) at 9 p.m.; FXX starts a
cartoon marathon at 10 a.m., peaking with the delightful “Rio”
(2011) at 6 p.m. and its sequel (2014) at 8.

Other choices
include:

Bourne again, cable.
At 5:30 p.m., TNT reruns the original “Bourne Identity” (2002),
with Matt Damon as a guy who has no idea who he is or why he's so
good at killing people. At 6, HBO has “Bourne Ultimatum” (2007),
which was supposed to wrap up the trilogy. At 8, it has “Jason
Bourne” (2016), again with Damon – no longer amnesiac, but not
terribly happy.

Hockey, 7 p.m. ET,
NBC. It's time for the conference finals in the Stanley Cup
play-offs,

“Mother's Day”
and “Bad Moms,” 7 and 9 p.m., Showtime. Let's give Showtime
credit for assembling a perverse double-feature on the eve of
Mother's Day – a mild comedy drama and a broader comedy.

“Crazy, Stupid
Love” (2011), 7:30 p.m., Bravo. Yes, it's a good movie night. This
Steve Carell/Ryan Gosling comedy is quite entertaining; so is
“Wedding Crashers” (2005), at 8 p.m. on IFC. Then there's Danny
DeVito's darkly brilliant “Matilda” (1996) at 6:45 p.m. on
Freeform and James Dean's “East of Eden” (1955) at 8 p.m. ET on
Turner Classic Movies.

“MasterChef
Junior,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. The first rerun is an amiable detour,
with one Muppet (The Swedish Chef) supervising and another (Miss
Piggy) competing. The result is fun, but a letdown; the second one is
intense, forcing an overwhelmed 10-year-old to be a captain in a
tough battle.

“The Book of John
Gray,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Gray is a former Christian
singer and comedian who is an associate pastor at Joel Osteen's
mega-church in Houston. Tonight, he helps a sexual-abuse survivor and
someone dealing with cancer. Previous episodes run from 11 a.m. to 3
p.m.

“MasterChef
Junior,” 11 p.m., Fox. Yes, it's a third rerun. This one is a
retrospective, viewing the show's first five seasons.