Best-bets for Oct. 23: A classical master and baseball’s classic

1) “American Masters: Where Now Is,” 9 p.m., PBS. Michael Tilson Thomas was just 24, a California kid descended from cantors and Yiddish-theater stars, when he became assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony. The conductor became ill at intermission and he took over. He became a star … just as Leonard Bernstein once did, in similar circumstances, at 25. Like Bernstein, Thomas (shown here), 75, brings passion and telegenic flair. This film has warm personal moments and others that are mainly for classical buffs. Read more…

“The Conners” return with pandemic pain and laughs

When we last saw the Conner family, lives were in a familiar state of tatters.
Dan (John Goodman) saw his drywall business stumbling and his home was foreclosure. One daughter, Darlene (Sarah Gilbert, shown here with Goodman) struggled to start a local magazine; another, Becky, tried to cope with belated motherhood.
Could anything else go wrong? Definitely. “The characters were built for disaster,” producer-writer Bruce Helford said in a virtual session with the Television Critics Association..
The “Conners” season-finale aired in May, but was taped before the virus shutdown. Now the show is back, at 9 p.m. Wednesdays; its return (Oct. 21) makes ABC the first network this season with a non-rerun night of situation comedies. And yes, the pandemic is instantly reflected. As Helford put it: “A family that knows how to get through hard times … is thrown a curve like never before. Read more…

Best-bets for Oct. 22: Maybe this time, debate and football

1) Presidential debate, 9-10:30 p.m. ET, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and news channels. This final match-up gained extra importance when the previous one was canceled: Unsure if Donald Trump had been infectious during the first face-off, the commission planned a virtual debate from separate locations. Trump refused; he and Joe Biden ended up in simultaneous town halls. Now the two have their second and last confrontation, 12 days before the election; alternatives include football (shown here) and movies. Read more…

Best-bets for Oct. 21: “Conners” finds bits of hope and humor

1) “The Conners” season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. No show is better set to view the pandemic’s impact on regular Americans. Since its start (as “Roseanne”) 32 years ago, it’s been about a blue-collar family, just getting by. Now Dan’s construction business is wobbling; so is Jackie’s restaurant and Darlene’s magazine. The sisters — Darlene and Becky (shown here in an earlier episode) — must change their lives again. The result brings a fair amount of laughs, alongside despair and (occasionally) warmth. It offers a flashback – – we even see a young George Clooney – and lets the Conners’ lives go full-circle. Read more…

Masterful films eye voting and gossip

Let’s say you decide to turn Tuesday (Oct. 20) into a documentary film festival.
You ignore the rest of TV – “Voice,” “Bachelorette,” even the World Series – and watch two PBS films back-to-back. It’s “American Masters” at 9 p.m. and “Frontline” at 10:30 (check local listings).
Chances are, you’ll emerge impressed. These films are richly crafted … yet thoroughly different.
The “Masters” film – “Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip” – is set mostly in the 1930s to ‘50s; the “Frontline” one – “Whose Vote Counts?” – is about the current chaos of long lines (shown here) and tangled rules for votin Read more…

Best-bets for Oct. 20: Winchell and World Series

1) “American Masters: Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS. An epic story with operatic extremes,this is beautifully told. Growing up poor, Winchell (shown here) left school in 6th grade for vaudeville. He later created a newspaper column and radio show that mixed gossip and news, staccato-style. He was early in attacking Hitler and promoting civil rights; later, however, he became a red-baiter and a Joe McCarthy fan. Long before our time, he savored the impact of insults and innuendo. Read more…

Baseball bumps Bart’s “Treehouse” tales

One national pastime (baseball) has blotted out another (“The Simpsons”).
That means this year’s “Treehouse of Horror” episode (shown here) – a good one – will be delayed by Fox. However, the previous ones will be rerun often on cable.
Fox had been promoting the 31st annual “Treehouse,” a “Simpsons” Halloween special that spins three bizarre tales. What it sometimes didn’t mention was that the show would be bumped if a seventh and final game emerged in the National League playoffs.
And then? The Atlanta Braves led three games to one, but the Los Angeles Dodgers won the next two, forcing the game at 8 p.m. ET Sunday (Oct. 18). Read more…

Best-bets for Oct. 19: “Voice” begins, football doubles, Derek dances

1) “The Voice” season-opener, 8-10 p.m., NBC. Yes, there is a real TV season trickling in. And now we have one of the ratings leaders, starting with two nights and four hours of auditions. Blake Shelton will be there, as usual; he’s already had seven winners in 18 seasons. But Kelly Clarkson (shown here) has had three winners just five seasons. The others are John Legend (one win in three seasons) and Gwen Stefani, Shelton’s life partner, with no wins in four seasons. Read more…

Fun-loving Pepe a symbol of hate? Not on purpose

Pepe the Frog (shown here) is a friendly sort – big-eyed and green (as are many frogs) and casual.
He’s also been co-opted by alt-right and white supremacist groups. The Anti-Defamation League included him in its hate-symbol database.
That combination confounds Pepe’s creator. “It is hard to control anything on the internet,” Matt Furie recently told the Television Critics Association in a virtual session.
Now his story is told in a fascinating documentary. “Feels Good Man,” a Sundance Film Festival award-winner, will be 10 p.m. Monday (Oct. 19) on most PBS stations (check local listings), under the “Independent Lens” banner Read more…

Best-bets for Oct. 18: Bueller, baseball, but no Bart

1) “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986), 8 p.m., CBS. Maybe this is the time to settle back with a fun film. CBS — which has temporarily revived its Sunday-night movies — has this popular tale, with Matthew Broderick (shown here) giving himself a personal vacation. Freeform has its usual lighe Halloween films and TNT has two 2018 films — “Oceean’s 8” at 5:30 p.m. and “Crazy Rich Asians” at 8; both have so-so stories, redeemed by a bright, breezy look and feel.  Read more…