TV column for Thursday, Jan. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Taking the Stage: Changing America,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Washington's new
monolith is the National Museum of African American History and
Culture. Now this 400,000-square-foot giant gets a Kennedy Center
tribute, with readings, music and starpower.

Oprah Winfrey, Tom
Hanks, Stevie Wonder, Dave Chappelle and more will be there. The
line-up has people from music (Christina Aguilera, John Legend,
Janelle Monae, Elijah Kelley, Common, Patti Austin, Fantasia, Shirley
Caesar, Jon Batiste, Chuck D., Mary J. Blige, Gladys Knight) and
dance (Savion Glover, the Alvin Ailey troupe), plus Angela Bassett,
Chris Tucker, Will Smith and more.

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

Michael has finally
learned of his bureaucratic blunders. He brought a bad Eleanor to
this good afterlife, based on the record of a good Eleanor; he
brought Jason, a would-be DJ, thinking he was a Tibetan monk. Now
bad-Eleanor must scramble to acquire “goodness points” and stay.

That part is fairly
funny, but the big laughs come from the Jason. Truly dim, he's now
married to an all-knowing computer creation. (Really.) And in
hilarious moments, we learn how he died.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: All night, IFC.

The terrific
“Ghostbusters” movies neatly sandwich a new “Portlandia”; you
can catch them at 7:45 (1984) and 10:30 p.m. (1989) ET, rerunning at
1:30 and 3:45 a.m. ET.

In between (at 10
p.m. and 1 a.m. ET) is the droll wit of “Portlandia,” twistng
things around. There are the nerds, fretting that they are no longer
trendy, now that hunks have learned to read and talk. And a hip
couple, transforming its life by buying a white carpet. And guys
grumblng about their lost role in history. “Why don't we ever hear
about Harriet Tubman's husband? Or Eleanor Roosevelt's?”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Nashville,” 9 p.m., CMT; also, 11 p.m., CMT and
Nickelodeon.

Yes, we can expect
to get strong drama this year, with Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz
(“thirtysomething”) taking over as producers. Tonight, Maddie
starts her internship and Avery tries doing producing work for a
YouTube sensation; also, Juliette meets her “guardian angel.”

Alongside that,
however, has been great music. Outside the show, this is the week
that Clare Bowen -- who's terrific as Scarlett – hopes to release
her first single. Bowen (a childhood cancer survivor) sings a moving
tribute to her brother, who is in remission from cancer.

Other choices
include:

“The Great
American Baking Show” finale, 8 p.m., ABC. Next week, ABC finally
has its Thursday A-list, with “Scandal” and “Grey's Anatomy.”
First, however, we have the final two amateur bakers.

“Legends of
Tomorrow,” 8 p.m., CW. This rerun concludes the four-night
crossover. CW superheroes – Supergirl, Arrow, Flash – join the
Legends to fight the Dominators.Stein has a possible plan, but he's
distracted by something he created in 1987.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the guys rush to meet the
unrealistic deadline they promised for a government project. That
leads, alas, to Sheldon taking an energy drink.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. An explorers' group claims that Jack
faked his most famous expedition. Now his young co-workers try to
save his reputation.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Bonnie doesn't seem like someone who can keep a secret.
Still, she didn't tell Christy that Jill is pregnant; Christy feels
left out

-- “The
Blacklist,” 10 p.m., NBC. This helpful: On her doorstep, Liz finds
a diorama of a future crime.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS.

If you think it's
cold walking to your car, try spending your entire life outdoors in
the Arctic. Many animalas do it and seem to thrive; this fun hour
shows us how.

Wolves have two
layers of fur – one for insulation, the other to repel snow and
water; they have cold blood in their paws, warm blood in the rest of
their body. Polar bears can hibernate throughout the long winter ...
at the same time that they give birth and feed their young. And in
gorgeous footage, we see how the Arctic wooly bear caterpiller lets
itself be frozen stiff ... then thaws beautifully in the spring.

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

Last week's episode
was flawed, but ended sharply. Simone – shy and tentative – had
gulped some pills. Later, coaxed into singing in church, she
performed powerfully ... then collapsed.

That's where we
start: Drifting between life and death, Simone imagines being tugged
musically by her half-sister and her late mother. It's a great start
to an hour that's deeply erratic. On one side, the in-your-face
dialog becomes repetitious; the notion that a simple music demo
requires $30,000 is absurd ... as is proved in tonight's final
minutes. On the other, the characters are compelling and the music is
superb.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Cable comedies, 8 p.m., Pop; 10 and 10:30 p.m., FXX.

Suddenly, Wednesdays
are a key night for quirky comedy. FXX has the season's second
episodes of “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (it's water-park
time) and “Man Seeking Woman.” Now that Josh has a girlfriend, he
prepares her to meet his mom (Robin Duke, formerly of “Saturday
Night Live”).

First, Pop's “Creek”
has the once-wealthy Rose family in an odd little town. In this
season-opener, Johnny (Eugene Levy) seeks a new purpose; Moira
(Catherine O'Hara) feels the realities of local politics. That reruns
at 11 p.m.; the previous-season finale reruns at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30
p.m.

Other choices
include:

“Big” (1988) and
“Miracles From Heaven” (2016), 7:15 and 9 p.m., Starz. Here's a
feel-good double-feature – Tom Hanks as a 13-year-old in a
grown-up's body, then Jennifer Garner in a film base on a true story.
To feel less good – but see great filmmaking -- catch Alfred
Hitchcock's “Psycho” (1960), at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic
Movies; the American Film Institute lists it as No. 14 all time.

“Arrow,” 8 p.m.,
CW. Here's the third part of the four-night crossover. Now the
recruits are linking with Flash and Supergirl, to face the
Dominators. Also in this rerun, Oliver is in an alternate life; his
parents (Jamey Sheridan, Susanna Thompson) are still alive and Laurel
(Katie Cassidy) is about to be his bride.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. The murder of a Texas Ranger leads to a corruption probe
... and to a dark secret from Captain Avery's past. Malcolm-Jamal
Warner has a guest role as David Reed.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. One of the world's most-wanted terrorists has been spotted
in New York. Now the team must race to prevent a bombing.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. In the middle of a woman's wild
drug party, her 6-year-old son disappears. As Benson works the case,
she worries about her own ability as a mother.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. At a wedding, Michell and Claire struggle to keep their
divorced (and squabbling) parents apart. Also, Cam obsesses on the
parent who was obnoxious at a dance recital.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. With his medical work limited by Parkinson's disease, Dr.
Guthrie takes a new job as the hospital chaplain. Also, he considers
a risky procedure to fight the ailment.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 10


(Some scheduling is tenative, because of the late
insertion of the presidential speech.)

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“This is Us” return, 10 p.m., NBC.

A month ago, this
show brought surprises, delights ... and then a jolt. Toby – the
upbeat soul Kate needs -- collapsed. “Us” showed doctors trying
to revive him; then it ended abrupty.

Now, four weeks
later, it's back. Dan Fogelman, its creator, promises we'll quickly
learn about Toby. After that, NBC says, we'll look at Kate's brother
Kevin, who split with Olivia (the self-centered actress) and linked
with Sloane (the brainy playwright). Now, alas, Olivia is back. Also,
flashbacks show the young parents-to-be house-hunting ... setting up
a deeply moving episode next week.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

In 1980, two young
guys, ages 19 and 21, were doing routine work at the Titan II silo.
One dropped a wrench, which fell 70 feet and punctured the missile.
Eventually, there was an explosion; a nuclear warhead – 600 times
more powerful than the one at Hiroshima – was found in an Arkansas
ditch.

Officials say there
was never a danger it would detonate; this compelling documentary
disagrees. There have been hundreds of small accidents, it says ...
plus what was almost a huge disaster.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Speech, 9 p.m. ET, many networks.

In Chicago, Barack
Obama gives a speech, discussing highlights of his eight years as
president. Covering it sets off a series of shifts, varying by
network and time zone.

NBC will nudge “This
Is Us” back an hour (to 10 p.m.), resting “Chicago Fire” ...
ABC will shift its comedy episodes in different combinations for each
zone ... CBS will rest “Bull,” inserting at 9:30 p.m. ET a
hilarious “Big Bang” rerun, with families gathering for the
second Leonard-Pennny wedding.

Other choices
include:

“Uncle Buck”
(1989) and “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” (1986), 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.,
Freeform. With network scheduled scrambled by the speech, some
viewers might settle for these amiable comedies. Other light choices,
at 8 p.m., are “Legally Blonde” (2001) on CMT and “Parent Trap”
(1998) on E.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, two new agents (Jennifer Esposito and Wilmer
Valderrama) settle into their jobs. While probing a death at a
Quantico reunion, the team discovers a long-time theft ring.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Frankie has won free maid service for a month ... but,
alas, her house may defy cleaning. Meanwhile, Mike and his brother
(Norm Macdonald) look for an assisted living facility for their dad.
Also, Axl and his pals want to temporarily move into his sister's
college room.

“The Departed”
(2006), 8 p.m., AMC. With a potent collision of top actors –
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, more – this terrific
film won Academy Awards for best picture, for director Martin
Scorsese and for its script and editing, plus a nomination for Mark
Wahlberg.

“Good Behavior,”
9 p.m., TNT, rerunning at 10. At times, Letty (Michelle Dockeryt) has
been rescued by Javier, the taut hitman. Now she must take desperate
steps to rescue him.

“Lawless Oceans”
debut, 9 and 10 p.m., National Geographic. Ever since the pirate
days, we've known that criminals can roam the seas, sometimes
untouched by the law. That reached an extreme, this series says, with
footage that went viral in 2014: Four men, clinging to wreckage, were
shot and killed. This six-houd series probes the case, following a
trail of drugs, human-trafficking and, of course, piracy.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. During a vibrant funeral procession for one
Navy person, another one is killed.

“Agents of
SHIELD,” 10 p.m., ABC. Coulson and May are getting closer – which
may be a problem, now that some people are being secretly replaced by
“life-model decoys.”

TV column for Monday, Jan.9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
College football championship game, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN.

OK, this is a little
like women's basketball and the University of Connecticut – no
surprises, no fun. For the second straight year, the game has
Alabama and Clemson. Alabama won last time, has won 26 straight games
and (counting the days before playoffs) is going for its fourth title
in seven years.

Maybe Clemson, 13-1,
can snap the streak. It did come up with a convincing win over Ohio
State, 31-0. That was right after 'Bama beat Washington, 24-7,
setting up some sameness.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Yes, it's just a
rerun. Still, it's a rerun of TV's best comedy, which is always an
improvement over the consistently adequate comedies that CBS airs on
Mondays.

Tonight involves
somethng “Big Bang” savors – isolating mismatched characters.
This one has two terrific actresses: Penny (Kaley Cuoco) is with
Leonard's non-nurturing mother, played by Christine Baranski – who
has an Emmy (for “Cybill”) and 15 nominations, four of them in
this role.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Bachelor” (ABC) or “Celebrity Apprentice”
(NBC), 8-10 p.m.

For the second
straight week, these big-deal reality shows collide with bigger-deal
football. Last week it was the bowl games, including (in most time
zones) that wild Rose Bowl finish. Now there's more.

Last week, in his
debut as the “Apprentice” boss, Arnold Schwarzenegger fired
YouTube personality Carrie Keagan and singer Carnie Wilson. In Nick
Viall's debut as the bachelor, he trimmed the field from 30 to 22. He
kept Liz Sandoz, but neither one mentioned a secret that's key
tonight: The two had met at a wedding; they slept togther, she didn't
give him her phone number but tried to reach him later.

Other choices
include;

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. The final minutes of this rerun lauch a four-show
crossover. Between now and Thursday, Supergirl will link with Green
Arrow, The Flash and the Legends of Tomorow, in an effort keep the
Dominators from dominating.

“Saving Private
Ryan” (1998), 8 p.m. to midnight, AMC. Steve Spielberg's
masterpiece mixes jolting battle scenes with a story rich in human
depth. Tom Hanks stars, with Matt Damon in the title role.

“Vanderpump Rules”
season-opener, 9-11 p.m., Bravo. It's party time for Lisa
Vanderpump's young employees, who are, at least, very attractive.
When told it's a clambake, they look it up to see what it is. (It
turns out to be place where clams are baked.) Then someone wonders if
it will be formal.

“Beyond,” 9
p.m., Freeform. In the first two episodes, Holden woke from a 12-year
coma, facing questions. Why did he seem to have these memories? Why
does his mind have strange powers? In a fairly good episode, he
learns more about himself ... and learns the secret his family's been
keeping.

“The Odd Couple,”
9:30 p.m., CBS. After the current, 13-episode season, CBS has no
plans to renew this above-average show. Speeding the departure, it
has a new episode here, on a night of reruns. A fun-loving woman
(Busy Phillips) spends the night with Felix, who's not the fun type.

“Big Fan” debut,
10 and 10:30 p.m., on ABC. This game has fans seeing if they can top
their favorite celebrity in questions about him or her. Tonight, it's
Aaron Rodgers and actor Matthew McConaughey.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. Happy (Jadyn Wong) is clearly unhappy in this rerun. She's
lost in a blizzard, while the team tries to rescue soldiers in
Anarctica.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Golden Globes,” 8-11 p.m. ET, NBC (5 p.m. PT, repeating at 8).

We can expect fun
(Jimmy Fallon hosts) and quirks. This splits movies into dramas
(“Manchester by the Sea,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Lion,”
“Moonlight,” “Hell or Highwater”) and comedies or musicals
(“La La Land,” “Deadpool,” “Sing Street,” “20th
Century Women,” “Florence Foster Jenkins”).

In TV, every drama
except “Game of Thrones” is in its first year -- “This is Us,”
“Westworld,” “The Crown” and “Stranger Things.” “Atlanta”
is the only new comedy, facing “Veep,” “Blackish,”
“Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle.” Elsewhere, the O.J.
Simpson mini-series dominates.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: Sherlock Holmes tales, PBS and CBS.

After resting on two
holidays, “Elementary” returns to its 10 p.m. spot on CBS.
Tonight, Holmes and Watson race to save a woman who's been captive
for years.

That faces strong
competition from a “Sherlock” double-feature on PBS. At 7 p.m. is
a rerun of last week's season-opener; Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch)
is in modern London, where Watson (Martin Freeman) and his wife
struggle with parenthood. At 9, Toby Jones – who has played
Hitchcock, Capote and Karl Rove – is Culverton Smith, one of
Sherlock's toughest enemies.

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

As “Mad Men”
viewers already know, Madison Avenue once rippled with fun and
creativity, plus alcohol, drugs and a sense of white-male privilige.
This interesting documentary looks at the 1950s tonight and the'60s
next week, with lots of clips and a few of the people who were there
at the time.

'The result has a
scattered organization, with lots of repetition. Still, it has some
wonderful insights into the days when a Volkswagen ad or a “plop
plop fizz fizz” commercial could stir pop culture.

Other choices
include:

Football, 1:05 p.m.
ET, CBS and 4:40 p.m. ET, Fox, Some of pro-football's top
quarterbacks battle in the playoffs. First, Ben Roethlisberger and
the Steelers (11-5) host Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins (10-6). Then
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (10-6) host Eli Manning and the Giants
(11-5).

Golden Globe
previews, E and NBC. E has its preview at 4 p.m. ET, then starts its
red-carpet coverage at 6; NBC has its own red-carpet show at 7. And
at 11 p.m. (ET and PT), E has its “After Party.”

“Son of Zorn,” 7
and 8:30 p.m., Fox. First is a rerun, with Alan feeling the holiday
tug that comes from a mixed marriage; his mom likes Christmas, his
dad prefers Grafelnik, the day of revenge. Then a new episode brings
everyone together at an engagement party for his mom and Chris (Tim
Meadows).

“To Tell the
Truth,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. Tonight, we meet people with adventures
– one was rescued by Harrison Ford, another was caught in te eye of
a tornado – and those with odd ceations: There are the the people
who created a farmers dating site and and launched the art of
juggling while running.

“Madame
Secretary,” 9 p.m., CBS. You really shouldn't look a gift horse in
the mouth, especially if you're secretary of state. Elizabeth
considers rejecting a horse sent to her by Mongolia.

“Conviction,” 10
p.m., ABC. As Hayes and Wallace try to sort out their feelings for
each other, they're brought to a crime scene that's in the style of
earlier murders that had already been “solved.”

ALSO: Turner Classic
Movies has two of Woody Allen's best films, “Annie Hall” (1977)
and “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986), at 8 and 10 p.m. ET. He got
screenplay Oscars (one shared) for both films and best-director for
“Annie Hall” ... which also won for best picture and is No. 35 on
the American Film Institute's all-time list. But Allen, 81, isn't
only found in the past; Amazon Prime has his “Cafe Society”
movie and his “Crisis in Six Scenes” mini-series (both 2016).