Daily Best Bets

Best-bets for Jan. 12: Top dramas (one surprising, one not)

1) “This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC. TV’s best drama series is in top form when using flashbacks to tell a story. Now it has a big one: Randall (Sterling K. Brown, shown here) grew up without knowing his birth parents. He later found his dad (now deceased), who believed that the mom had died shortly after giving birth. Last week brought news that she lived a full life before dying in Louisiana; now he goes there. That’s surrounded by the amiable “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” at 8 p.m. and an OK episode of “Nurses” at 10. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 11: Receivers rule in love and football

1) College football championship, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. This is the way all seasons should end, with two undefeated powerhouses colliding. There were some doubts about Ohio State, because it had only played six games in the regular season; then, in the Rose Bowl, it thumped second-ranked Clemson, 49-28; Alabama followed with its 12th win, beating Notre Dame, 31-14; its receiver and quarterback (DeVonta Smith, shown here, and Mac Jones) finished first and third in Heisman voting. This should be a fun game. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 10: Gods, quarterbacks and farm animals

1) “All Creatures Great and Small” opener, 9 p.m., PBS. These amiable tales of an English veterinarian (shown here) have filled eight novels, a movie and 90 TV episodes. Now it’s time to re-tell them, using the lush craftsmanship of “Masterpiece.” This is fiction, but it’s based on the real life of a vet in Yorkshire, 80 years ago. Fresh from school, he works with a demanding vet, his undemanding brother and a diligent housekeeper. The result mixes warmth, gorgeous settings and moments of life-and-death drama. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 9: Pro play-offs begin

1) Football, all day. The new playoff plan has tripleheaders today and Sunday. The six winners – plus the Chiefs and Packers, who have byes – return next weekend, two steps from the Super Bowl. Today has the Bills and Colts at 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS and the Rams and Seahawks at 4:40 p.m. on Fox. At 8:15, NBC has Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay (shown here) facing Washington, the only play-off team with a losing record. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 8: Magicians and idealists

1) “Frontliine,” 9 p.m., PBS. Breaking its usual pattern, “Frontline” is showing a film it didn’t make. That’s partly a bad thing; “A Thousand Cuts” has a scattered approach, without the direct power we expect from “Frontline.” Still, this has an important story: Maria Ressa (shown here) is a Filipino native who became a New Jersey teen, a CNN bureau chief and founder of the Rappler reporting website in the Philippines. As Rappler questioned President Rodrigo Duterte, he attacked “fake news” and “presstitutes.” Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 7: Comedies, new and old, abound

1) “Mr. Mayor” debut, 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC. After making lots of money, Neil (Ted Danson, shown here) had empty time. So, of course, he ran for mayor of Los Angeles. Now that he’s been elected, he needs … well, projects and plans and such. This is a clever shows that takes sly pokes at trendiness and (in the second episode) adds some broader humor. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the “30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” duo, produce, with Holly Hunter and Bobby Moynihan in support. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 6: It’s game(s) night on TV

1) “Name That Tune” debut, 9 p.m., Fox. This is a night when ancient game shows suddenly return to prime time. “Tune” began on radio in 1952, moved to primetime -TV (NBC and then CBS) the next year, then slid to daytime and two syndicated runs – one with the future Kathie Lee Gifford as vocalist. Now it’s back, with Jane Krakowski (shown here) as host and Randy Jackson as the producer and bandleader. Read more…

Here’s a portrait of dreams, large and small

We hear a lot about “the American dream” – especially when a pandemic might sideswipe it.

But what is that dream? PBS “American Portrait” reminds us how varied it can be.
It can be something huge. A young Alaskan dad links with a friend to start their own airline; a student struggles to get into medical school – a chance that was denied to her mother in Afghanistan.
Or it can be more basic: A young construction worker (shown here) and his girlfriend, dreamig of some day having a house and a family. Those three stories are at the core of the “Portrait” opener, at 9 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 5). Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 5: A busy night, from Alaska to Zoey

1) “Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist” season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC. The second season starts six weeks after Zoey’s dad died. Deep in mourning, she hasn’t returned to work and hasn’t seen either of the guys in her love life. She also hasn’t experienced her ongoing quirk – seeing people express their hidden emotions via pop songs. When Zoey (Jane Levy, show here) does return, there are big changes – including a new co-worker, played by the delightful Harvey Guillen of “What We Do in the Shadows.” It’s a great start. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 4: “Bachelor” begins, “Finest” ends

1) “The Bachelor” opener, 8-10 p.m., ABC. Back in June, ABC announced its first Black “Bachelor.” Now, after COVID delays, we meet Matt James (shown here), 29. At Wake Forest, he was a receiver (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) who had injuries and then a strong senior year – 40 catches, 401 yards and a brief pro try-out. He got an economics degree, works in New York and also started a project teaching kids about food and exercise. In the opener, he meets 32 women, including two lawyers, a pharmacist and a ballerina. Read more…