TV column for Sunday, Oct. 22

Halloween rough, 8 p.m., Fox, and 9 p.m., AMC.

To some people, the
Halloween season is a time for gore to hit overdrive. They'll find
lots of choices tonight ... starting, surprisingly, with “The
Simpsons.” Its annual “Treehouse of Horror” begins with fairly
messy segments, then aims for all-out revulsion in a tale of

Then there's cable –
an “Elm Street” marathon from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Syfy ...
Dracula movies at 8 and 10 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies ... and
the big one: AMC's “The Walking Dead” starts its season at 9,
with Rick's people attacking the Saviors; that reruns at midnight and
1:36 a.m.

II: Halloween gentle, everywhere.

Yes, the holiday
still has a sweet/silly side. Fox reruns Tuesday's “The Mick” (a
haunted-house party in the remains of the mansion) at 7 p.m., with a
new “Ghosted” (a monster is loose underground) at 8:30.

And cable? Freeform
has the “Addams Family” films at 5 and 7:05 p.m. ... Disney has
“Twitches Too” at 7 ... And Hallmark has its new “Good Witch”
movie at 8: After finding some artifacts, Cassie tells her daughter
the legend of a long-ago man who said a tragedy would hit the town on
some future Halloween. Then a stranger arrives, eyeing the holiday
preparations ... and bad things start to happen.

ALTERNATIVE: “Outlander,” 8 p.m., Starz, rerunning at 9:16 and

Romantic sagas seem
to thrive on separating the couple, but never quite like this: Jamie
and Claire have been on different continents ... and in different

As the season
started, he was in 18th-century Scotland, a prisoner of
war after a failed rebellion against the British. She was in
20th-century Boston, raising his baby (it's a long story)
with her other husband. Now Claire is widowed and her daughter is
grown and sympathetic, urging her to go back.

ALTERNATIVE: “Make It Out Alive,” 9 p.m., Smithsonian.

Back in 1989,
Californians were rushing home for the World Series with Oakland at
San Francisco. Then an earthquake shattered the area, killing 67
people and causing billions of dollars in damage.

The story is
skillfully told here, catching both the overall picture and some rich
human details. We hear of extreme rescues and see three personal
accounts. Honeymooners in an upscale bay area are trapped in their
home ... a young firefighter is wedged in his truck ... and a family
has its secluded “dream home” above the San Andreas Fault.
“There's a volcano under our house,” a girl says.

Other choices

“Springfield of
Dreams,” times vary, Fox. Using the “Homer at the Bat” episode
as a starting point, Morgan Spurlock has crafted a documentary about
Homer Simpson's brief baseball career. It uses animation (six minutes
of it new) and experts, from Bob Costas and Joe Buck to Wade Boggs
and Aaron Judge. In areas that have a 4:05 p.m. football game, this
airs at 3; in others, it's at 4:30.

“Masterpiece: The
Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS. For now, the family's only money
comes from Larry's struggling writing career. Louisa has a scheme to
help; it doesn't go well.

Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS. With the doctor barely surviving in a brutal
French prison, Ross tries a dangerous plan. Also, evil George pushes
a fresh political scheme.

“Ten Days in the
Valley,” 10 p.m., ABC. In last week's final moments, viewers
learned who's behind this kidnapping scheme. It's Casey – Jane's
assistant and her ex-husband's secret lover. Now that's wrapped in a
tangle of lies and addictions; this is a great episode that ends

season-opener, 10 p.m., Epix. As the ex-president works on his
memoirs, his wife begins her own campaign.

“Madam Secretary,”
10:30 p.m., CBS. As a government shutdown nears, Elizabeth scrambles
to find a way to get electricity to a Syrian refugee camp.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 21

“Watcher in the Woods,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

In this Welsh
village, no one goes in the woods. A teen girl disappeared there
once; spooky sounds emerge. Now a teen has moved there with her
family; being American, she asks a lot of questions.

That story became a
1980 Disney film that was beautifully made, but (despite reshoots)
never came up with a good ending. Here's a new version, with Anjelica
Huston in a role previously played by Bette Davis. It's again
skillfully directed – this time by Melissa Joan Hart – and kind
of scary; this time, it also has a strong ending. With one flaw (an
absurd dad character), it's a solid, Halloween-time film.

HARD-TO-AVOID: College football, everywhere.

This is one of those
rare Saturdays when football has highjacked three of the four big

At 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
has Michigan (ranked No. 19) at Penn State (No. 2); NBC has Southern
California at Notre Dame (No. 13); at 8, Fox has Kansas at Texas
Christian (No. 4). There's much more, of course, in the daytime and
on cable.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Walking Dead: The Journey So Far,” 9-11:15
p.m., AMC.

At Halloween time,
AMC reaches zombie overload. The new “Walking Dead” season starts
Sunday; before that, the previous seasons are rerunning non-stop.

And in case you need
to do some catch-up, here's a handy help. It was taped after the
sixth season, looking back at everyhing that had happened so far.
Then stick around for the seventh-season reruns.

Other choices

Animation, 2 p.m. to
midnight, FXX. Things start with Dr. Seuss' “The Lorax” (2012) at
2 p.m. The delightful “Rio” (2011) is at 4, with “Rio 2”
(2014) at 6 and “Hotel Transylvania” (2012) at 8 and 10.

More movies. At 6
p.m., the Cartoon Network has the superb “Lego Movie” (2014). If
you prefer big-budget action-adventure, there's “The Dark Knight
Rises” (2012) from 7-11 p.m. on Spike, the terrific “Avengers:
Age of Ultron” at 8 p.m. on TNT, or two films on FX-- “Guardians
of the Galaxy” (2014) at 6:30 p.m. and “Jurassic World” (2015)
at 9.

cable. Disney has Emma Thompson as “Nanny McPhee” (2005) at 7
p.m., with its sequel (2010) at 8:40. Freeform has “Addams Family”
(1991) at 7 and its sequel (1993) at 9:15.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun from last November, colleagues covet Tony's former
apartment. They woo the landlord – his dad, played by Robert Wagner
– to sublet it. Meanwhile, newcomer Torres (Wilmer Valderrama)
breaks protocol, when a key witness is sought by immigration people.

“The Wonder List,”
9 p.m., CNN (barring breaking news). This time, Bill Weir visits
Egypt's “sunken city of the pharoahs.”

“Dirk Gently's
Holistic Detective Agency,” 9 p.m., BBC America. We're early in the
second season of this clever show, based on books by the late Douglas
Adams. Dirk is happily reunited with Todd (Elijah Wood) and Farah; a
body that fell out of a tree traces back to one of the sheriff's old

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m. ET, NBC. After starting the season with three
strong shows, “SNL” takes a break. It has a rerun tonight and a
Halloween special (built around Tom Hanks' David S. Pumpkins
character) net week. Then a new episode Nov. 5 has Larry David and
Miley Cyrus.

TV column for Friday, Oct. 20

“Great Performances: She Loves Me,” 9 p.m., PBS.

Most of us never get
to see a musical on Broadway. Now, however, PBS delivers them for
five Fridays: Coming are “Falsettos,” “Present Laughter,”
“Indecent” and “Holiday Inn”; first is this amiable trifle.

It springs from a
1937 play about co-workers who don't know they're romantic pen pals.
That became movies – “The Shop Around the Corner” in 1940, “In
the Good Old Summertime” in '49, “You've Got Mail” in '98. It
also became this 1963 musical, vibrantly revived last year. Zachary
Levi and Laura Benanti (the young lovers) and Jane Krakowski (a
co-worker) are terrific; all drew Tony nominations.

“Superstition” debut, 10 p.m, Syfy.

Life is complicated
enough if you grow up in the family funeral home; it gets worse if
your parents often depart to fight demons. So Calvin left home to
find something more calming. Now, after 16 military years, fighting
in Afghanistan and beyond, he's back.

That's the start of
a series that's much better than it sounds. The key here is the
talented Mario Van Peebles. He produces, guest-stars as the dad and
directs the first two hours of high-style drama.

ALTERNATIVE: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 8 p.m., CW.

This may be the
show's most musical hour yet, stuffed with four songs, all of them

That starts early,
with Josh singing of his sudden urge to be a priest: “I was almost
toast, but I've got the Holy Ghost ....When things get scary, just
say 10 Hail Marys.” And it ends with Rebecca packing all of her
misdeeds into one furious song. In between, she has another song and
the oft-obscure Tim has a forlorn ballad about vibrators (really).
It's all very adult and also quite clever.

Other choices

Football, 7 p.m. ET,
ESPN2, and “We Are Marshall” (2006), 8 p.m., Lifetime. The movie
– a pretty good one – tells of Marshall University in the
aftermath of a plane crash that killed its football players. That was
in 1970; by the late '90s. Marshall had become a football power,
winning five conference titles and four straight bowl games. It's 5-1
this year and tonight visits Middle Tennessee State.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. The evil Murdoc is back and has MacGyver hostage. MacGyver
has nothing to aid his escape except a needle and his teeth; that may
be enough.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. In two worlds, we see the battle between a
spledid damsel and a cruel ruler. Cinderella and Jacinda (both played
by Dania Ramirez) battle Lady Tremaine and Victoria Belfrey
(Gabrielle Anwar). In fairytale land, Cinderella has an unlikely
rescuer; in Seattle, Jacinda struggles to save her daughter's
community garden, which Victoria plans to destroy.

“Law & Order:
True Crime,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a change of plans, NBC reruns
Tuesday's episode. The Menendez brothers admit they killed their
parents, but tell stories of physical and psychological abuse.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Jane's romance with Adam (Tyler Posey of “Teen Wolf”)
is going well, but now he wants her advice about leaving for a new
job. There are also troubles for her father (a dispute with his
co-star) and for Rafael (scrambling to buy back the hotel).

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Joey Lawrence is back as Aaron Wright, a hacker the team
sent to prison. Now someone has hacked into the “Five-0” system;
Wright is needed.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. A detective has been killed before he could testify
against a career criminal. Danny investigates; also, his sister Erin
argues with her detective about bringing in a confidential informant.
Their dad, the police commissioner, probes a SWAT-team attack on

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 19

“Chicago Fire,” 10 p.m., NBC.

These are the
classic ingredients of great drama: Take mismatched strangers, put
them in a confined crisis – a lifeboat, a train, a quarantine –
and watch them react. Now it's Dawson (played with understated
perfection by Monica Raymund), in a collapsing parking garage.

Yes, some characters
seem exaggerated ... and yes, some of the side scenes at the station
are a tad lame. But as all of this comes together, “Fire” becomes
a strong and energizing hour.

“It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Toy Story of
Terror,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Even if your
calendar doesn't mention it, this is an important day – the start
of “13 nights of Halloween.” The idea was started in 1998 by Fox
Family, which became ABC Family and then Freeform. Now (see below)
you'll find nasty versions on other channels and lightness on

And ABC gets us
started with these two animated specials. “Great Pumpkin” --
which is slow, sweet and kind of sad – is 51 years old; “Toy
Story of Terror” -- which is just fun – started four years ago.

ALTERNATIVE: Scary stuff, cable.

There are lots of
creepy movies available. At 7 p.m., Syfy has “Trick 'r Treat”
(2008), with four Halloween tales; at 7:15 , Showtime has zombies in
“Cell” (2016).

But there are also
plenty of series. AMC resumes its “Walking Dead” marathon at 1
p.m. and continues until the season-opener at 9 p.m. Sunday. Syfy has
“Van Helsing” (Kelly Overton as a descendant of the
vampire-hunter) at 9 p.m. and “Ghost Wars” (Alaskan town overrun
by the paranormal) at 10.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Better Things,” 10 p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:07.

This deceptively
brilliant show starts with long chunks of Sam (Pamela Adlon) at work
– teaching acting class and doing a movie scene. Then it takes us
to her home and twists emotions wildly.

This has cynicism
and despair (Adlon's specialty), then has the opposite.
appropriately, for an episode about eulogies, it also has the final
scene (in a bar) for the late Robert Michael Morris, 77.

Other choices

Movies, all day,
Freeform. This starts at noon with the “Twilight” finale (2012),
but the rest of the “13 Days” opener will be light – Disney's
“The Haunted Mansion” (2003) at 2:35 p.m., the “Addams Family”
films at 4:40 (1991) and 6:45 p.m. (1993), “Hocus Pocus” (1993)
at 8:50 and “ParaNorman” (2012) at midnight. They'll rerun often
during the next two weeks.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Powerful forces collide: Ed Nygma confronts Butch Gilzean;
Sofia Falcone, the Mob boss' daughter, appeals to Penguin. And Bruce
Wayne learns to use the power of the dagger.

“The Orville,” 9
p.m., Fox. Here's a second chance to see the show's pilot film,
which was flawed but interesting. In a futuristic setting, it juggles
comedy, drama, action, all moderately entertaining.

“Will &
Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC. With head-spinning skill, this episode leaps
from silliness – Grace is all a-flutter about her handsome employee
– to a dead-serious subject concerning Jack's grandson. Yes, Jack
has a grandson he didn't know about; once he gets past that, it's an
involving story.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. For the first 100 days of Mellie's presidency, Fitz has
lived quietly in Vermont. Now work begins on his presidential
library, with Marcus helping.

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. With a fresh sense of purpose, Annalise
focuses on her big case. Meanwhile, Connor is visited by his dad and
Laurel turns to an old friend.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 18

“CMT Artists of the Year,” 8 p.m., CMT, rerunning at 9:30.

This was planned as
just another musical party, honoring country music's best. Then came
recent tragedies and a change: The emphasis will be on inspiration,
sometimes merging genres.

At the core is the
soaring sound of Andra Day. She'll open the show doing “Rise Up”
with Little Big Town; they'll be joined by Lee Ann Womack and Common
for “Stand Up For Something.” This year's honorees will also go
for hope. They are Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Florida
Georgia Line and Jason Aldean, who was onstage when the Las Vegas
shooting began.

“Riverdale,” 8 p.m., CW.

Troubles have been
piling up in this once-pleasant town. Archie's former music teacher
(and ex-lover) was killed; so was Cheryl's brother. Jughead's dad and
Veronica's dad were jailed; Archie's was shot.

Could things get
worse? Yes: Pop's Choklit Shoppe may close. In the Archie comics,
it's been the sweet spot for teens to gather; now the shooting has
dampened business, possibly ending an era. Yes, this sounds excessive
– which it sometimes is. Betty's mom is absurd; so (at times
tonight) is Archie. Still, “Riverdale” is surprisingly well-made,
with sharp direction, strong dialog and skilled young actors.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Story of Us,” 9 p.m. ET, National Geographic,
rerunning at 11:01.

Last week's terrific
opener (rerunning at 8 p.m.) saw Morgan Freeman meet people who had
grasped for freedom. This week's hour is a tougher ride, with the
impact of hatred and genocide.

In Ethiopia, tribes
have fought for generations ... in Belfast, a wall separates
Protestants and Catholics ... in Rwanda, a million people were slain
in 100 days. Also, a former drone specialists talks of collateral
deaths; the former UN inspections chief lists nine nations with
nuclear weapons. It's a sobering hour, but it describes some
productive projects; it also describes an era of Rwandan peace.

Other choices

“The Goldbergs,”
8 p.m., ABC. A week before the show's 100th episode, we
see matriarch Beverly seeking a change in her life. She wants to
quit her substitute-teaching job, go to night school and eventually
start a business; her husband thinks she should just get a perm.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. Recovering from his injuries, Lucious tries to put his
past rage behind him.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Star is rattled by the return of her father. And all three women
are upset by the fact that Rachel (Paris Jackson) is their new
social-media strategist. Now their big chance is in jeopardy.

“Dynasty,” 9
p.m., CW. The opener – busy, brash, mostly overdone – closed with
jolts: Fallon showed her dad (Blake) photos of an affair between his
fiance (Cristal) and his field engineer (Matthew). Then Blake rushed
ahead with the wedding ... and Matthew was killed in an oil-field
explosion. Now, amid signs of foul play, the family tries for a
cove-up. Naturally, things implode at the funeral.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Alex has always been the smart and studious one. But
now, as a student at the prestigious Cal Tech, she's been dating an
older guy, Ben. She's trying to shed her good-girl image and convince
her mom that she and Ben are having sex.

Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. During a border dispute involving imports,
a Mexican citizen is shot. Now the president must quickly resove the
situation and create a new trade deal.

“You're the
Worst,” 10 p.m., FXX; rerunning at 10:34,. Back when “La Dolce
Vita” had a divorce party, it was a sign of a soulless society;
now, 57 years later, such a party is merely a celebration for
Lindsay. Then things start to be unhinged in a lot of odd (and
sometimes funny) ways.