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.

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 17

“This is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Health crises
provide jolts in both eras. In flashbacks, all three kids writhe with
chicken pox; current day, Kevin fears an injury could instantly end
his career as an action-movie hero.

There's much more
going on, in a busy and involving episode. Randall – carefully
competent in almost everything else – finds new ways to fail as a
foster father; in flashbacks, there are fumbles in the art of being a
mother and a grandmother. And the final minute brings important news.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Now that it's in its
15th season, “NCIS” has tied “ER” for No. 5 among
the longest-lasting non-anthology dramas. They're topped only by
“Gunsmoke,” “Lassie” and two “Law & Order” editions.

Along the way, it
has adjust to changes: In May, Pauley Perrette will leave; before
that is another switch: Jennifer Esposito has already left; tonight,
Maria Bello (from “ER” and lots of movies) arrives. She plays a
forensics specialist with a secret Army past, who doesn't have to
take orders from Gibbs.

ALTERNATIVE: “Finding Your Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS.

Here are three
fascinating families, the ancestors of Mary Steenburgen, her husband
Ted Danson and William Macy. Along the way, there are war heroes, a
prisoner-of-war survivor, a deserter ... and an officer so foul that
George Washington himself ousted him.

There are
slaveowners – no surprise to Macy and Steenburgen, but stinging
news to Danson. His ancestor was a relatively benign owner whose
slave bought his freedom and wrote a famous book. On the flip side,
Danson is delighted to hear about a long-ago feminist; it's a richly
entertaining hour.

Other choices

(1986) and more, 6 p.m., Sundance. Here's a breezy ride through 1980s
movie magic. First, Jim Henson's tale of a teen trying to rescue her
baby brother. Then Rob Reiner's delightful “The Princess Bride”
(1987) is at 8:30p.m., followed by “The Karate Kid” (1984) at

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. This is a tough case to solve, because the robbery
happened 20,000 feet in the air. Also, the main witness is an angry
daughter; Murtaugh has one of those at home.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. It's time for Frankie to meet the mom (Lisa Rinna) and dad
of Axl's girlfriend. Alas, Frankie worries that they're rich and
she's not.

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) has been scammed. Her son Andre fears
that's a sign that she's losing her mental sharpness; after all, she
used to be the one doing the scamming.

“The Vietnam War,”
9-11 p.m., PBS. Among other things, this powerful chapter finds one
person to typify the war: Denton Crocker, Jr., was an idealistic teen
who ran away from home so he could be a soldier. When he was killed,
his sister says, “I knew our family would never be the same.”

“Legends of
Tomorrow,” 9 p.m., CW. Timelines have been distorted everywhere,
creating endless problems. Trying to solve one, the team heads to
rural Wisconsin, where P.T. Barnum is still learning the circus
business. This is a mostly silly tale, but it does bring back Vixen.
It's the 1940s African version, played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers;
she's the grandmother of the current Detroit one who's been in one
episode of “Arrow” and in an animated series on CW Seed.

“CSI: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. An unsolved murder from 150 years ago has
spawned a New Orleans ghost story. Now there's a copycat killing;
Gregorio ( Vanessa Ferlito) is creeped out.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 16

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

After next week, our
Mondays will merely be sorta-ordinary. “Big Bang” will return to
its Thursday home; Monday will settle for four pleasant-enough
comedies. For now, let's savor the night.

Sheldon and Howard
drive to the desert to shoot off a model rocket. It's a rare chance
to bond and they have one thing to agree on – disappointment in
their dads. Meanwhile, Leonard fumes because his mom (Christine
Baranski) prefers other people; first it was Sheldon, now Penny is
her new best friend.

“The Gifted,” 9 p.m., Fox.

The first couple
weeks were filled with whiz-bang action and special effects. We get
that in tonight's final minutes, but first there are deeper ethical

For the kids with
special powers – defined as terrorists and hunted – the answers
are easy: Flee and defend. But what about the others – parents,
relatives, officials? How far do they go? These are solid issues,
with a camera-ready cast. Blair Redford – who stars as Apache hero
John Proudstar and is listed as having some native roots – is (like
Christina Ochoa of “Valor”) a possible break-out star.

II: “The Good Doctor,” 10 p.m., ABC.

In just its fourth
episode, “Good Doctor” – already renewed for the full season –
shows it has some depth and range. The series is about Shaun (Freddie
Highmore), a brilliant surgeon who's hindered by youth and autism;
this time, however, he's confined to the second and third stories.

The main one is
complex, involving the lives of a woman and her fetus. Complications
– medical, legal, ethical – entwine. Even when we can't untangle
them all, we find the story compelling.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Voice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

Now the “battle
rounds” begin. The coaches each have 12 singers and pair them for
“duels”: Teammates sing duets and the coach chooses one; the
other could be “stolen” by another coach.

For this phase, each
adds an advisor: Adam Levine has Joe Jonas, Jennifer Hudson has Kelly
Rowland, Miley Cyrus has her father, Billy Ray Cyrus ... and Blake
Shelton has an entire group, Rascal Flatts.

Other choices

“Acceptable Risk,”
any time, Sarah
(Elaine Cassidy) is a once-widowed executive with two kids, a new
husband, a gorgeous home and – suddenly – some major questions.
This involving, six-part story unfolds in the sleekness of corporate
headquarters as she (and we) try to figure it out.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, basketball's Derek Fisher
became the third person ousted. Now comes synergy: It's “Disney
night” on this Disney-owned network; the 10 remaining contestants –
two of them known from Disney-network shows – dance as Disney

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. It's tough enough to face superstrength; we meet Psi, a
villain whose psychic powers tap in on people's worst fears. And now
that Lena Luthor has bought CatCo Magazine, she reaches an impasse
with James Olsen, who's been the acting CEO.

“Valor,” 9 p.m.,
CW. Last week's fairly solid debut left Nora and Gallo in a dilemma.
They lied about their failed mission ... but they were apparently
lied to about the identity of the person being rescued. As they
ponder this, the team prepares to go back and rescue the rescuers.

“Me, Myself &
I,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. Life's key moments involve “Star Wars.” At
14, Alex sneaks out to see a re-release on a big screen; at 40, he's
devastated when he's not the first to show it to his daughter.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. Decommissioning a nuclear missile, the team is exposed to
toxic vapor.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 15

“Masterpiece: The Durrells in Corfu” season-opener, 8 p.m. PBS.

Now we have
triple-“Masterpiece” Sundays, but the shows differ sharply.
“Poldark” (9 p.m.) is epic and heroic ... “The Collection”
(10) is dark and dreary ... and “Durrells” is simply fun,

In 1935, the
widowed Louisa (the superb Keeley Hawes) moved her British brood to a
Greek island. She has no money, no prospects and – due to a rent
dispute – no furniture. Still, there's a warmth and a humor to
this. Based on Gerald Durrell's boyhood memories, this sees people as
warm and wierd, kind and quirky and just plain interesting.

“Good Behavior” season-opener, 10 p.m., TNT.

Somewhere in Letty's
mind, there's a chance to have an ordinary life. Her criminal record
has been scrubbed, she has custody of her son and she's using a new
name, living in suburbia.

Still ... Letty is
an alcoholic and a master thief; her lover is a hit man, pursued by a
relentless FBI agent. Now come surprises -- some pleasaant for her (a
cheery neighbor, played by Laura Bell Bundy), some not (an unexpected
body in the trunk). For Michelle Dockery – who used to spend
Sundays locked into the unflinching role of Lady Mary in “Downton
Abbey” -- it's a great character, well-played.

ALTERNATIVE: “Ten Days in the Valley,” 10 p.m., ABC.

This is a good
mystery ... and, in the good-mystery tradition, a demanding and
frustrating one.

We root for Jane
(brilliantly played by Kyra Sedgwick), whose daughter has been
kidnapped; still, we're appalled by the way she hindered the
investigation to cover up her drug habit. Tonight, we race to a
fascinating dead-end ... then are handed some shocking information.
It's tough and tangled ... and too well-made to turn away from.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Make It Out Alive” debut, 9 p.m., Smithsonian;
reruns at midnight.

With rich detail –
from old films, re-enactments and first-person accounts – we see
real-life crises. Late in each hour, we learn which people survived
... and what the wisest steps would have been.

This opener catches
Mount St. Helens in 1980 – the only significant volcanic eruption
in the U.S. mainland in the past century. We see the old man who
refused to leave, the young workers who were unaware, the scientists
who stuck to their duties and more. The result is fascinating

Other choices

“Fear the Walking
Dead,” 6:20 a.m., AMC. Here's the entire season in one burst, with
the season-finale from 9-11 p.m. That finale reruns at midnight and 3
a.m., sandwiched around “Talking Dead” hours.

“Spy” and
“Trainwreck,” 5:30-8 p.m. and 8-11 p.m., FX. Remember when movies
gave all the best comedy roles to men? These films – box office
hits from 2015 – provide some neat counterpoint. Melissa McCarthy
plays a desk worker drawn into spy duty; it's quite funny ... then
“Trainwreck” is even better. Amy Schumer wrote it and stars as a
young woman whose life is ... well, kind of a wreck.

“Ghosted,” 7 and
8:30 p.m., Fox. First is a rerun of the terrific opener, with
mismatched strangers (Craig Robinson and Adam Scott) working for an
agency that pursues the paranormal. Then a new episode sees Leroy
(Robinson) try to romance a cop while they investigate multiple

Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS. How low can life get? A famine has people
starving ... The doctor is a prisoner of war ... And there's been no
justice, since Ross Poldark foolishly rejected the magistrate job.
This hour does sprinkle in small dabs of hope, just enough to nudge
us through the darkness.

“White Famous”
debut, 10 p.m., Showtime. Jay Pharoah plays a stand-up comic,
suddenly thrust into the movie world. The result is very adult (in
language and in nudity) and moderately funny.

“Madam Secretary,”
10:30 p.m., CBS. In the midst of a Libyan civil war, Elizabeth is
desperate to get medical help for a gravely wounded girl.