TV column for Sunday, Oct. 21

“The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.

“Treehouse of
Horror” has become a Halloween-time tradition – throwing the
Simpsons into wild bits of fantasy. The stories are odd in tone and
uneven in quality, but always worth trying.

This year's edition
continues that. The first stories are so-so, but the final one is
terrific. “Geriatric Park” is a Jurassic take-off where old
people are dumped. Soon, of course, things go wrong. Oldsters are
sometimes called dinosaurs, but tonight that becomes accurate, in
scary (and funny) ways.

“The Woman in White” opener, 10 p.m., PBS.

You know Halloween
is near, when even cartoons (“Simpsons”) and PBS are trying to
scare us. This one is a five-week mini-series, based on an 1859
thriller novel.

Walter gets a letter
from a rich and reclusive man (Charles Dance), asking for someone to
restore his art and tutor his nieces. The young women turn out to be
fascinating opposites – one sharp and acerbic, the other soft and
wispy. And once there, Walter seems to see a haunted woman-in-white
... the same one he saw back home. This is beautifully crafted, but
would be better as one part, not five.

ALTERNATIVE: “Good Witch Tale of Two Hearts,” 8-10 p.m.,

And what if you
prefer Halloween to be a feel-good holiday? That's what Hallmark is

Its “Good Witch”
series is set in a picture-perfect town, where Cassie (Catherine
Bell), a benign witch, married the doctor next door. In this
stand-alone movie, they plan the Halloween Harvest Festival at the
museum ... where, alas, a 100-carat ruby has been stolen. Cassie
suspects one of the people at her inn.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Masterpiece: Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS.

How dark do things
get tonight? Well, evil George is scheming to buy his way back into
Parliament, the nasty vicar is trying to have his wife
institutionalized ... and neither of those is the main story.

There are two major
tragedies; one is personal and the other is epic, pushing the entire
village toward disaster. They're part of a compelling (and
disturbing) hour.

Other choices

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. A revelation causes chaos. Meanwhile, Kara wants to write a
story about Mercy ... and, as Supergirl, wants to capture her.

Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS. A scattered (and entertaining)
hour includes Albanian fishermen, an Indian traveler a drunken seaman
and more ... including Louisa doing way too much drinking after her
chaotic visit to England.

“Charmed,” 9
p.m., CW. In last week's excellent opener, the three young women
accepted the fact that they're half-sisters and full witches. The
were briefed by Harry ... then got a Ouija board message, telling
them not to believe him. Was the message from their late mother –
or was it an evil deception?

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:30 p.m. (but 9 p.m. PT), CBS. Pictures of the NCIS team are on a cartel
hit list. So is a picture of Mosley (Nia Long), the assistant
administrator, along with her sons' names.

“The Alec Baldwin
Show,” 10 p.m., ABC. Eight days ago, Baldwin was on “Saturday
Night Live,” portraying a dazed Donald Trump meeting a bizarre
Kanye West. Now Baldwin spends the hour talking to Kim Kardashian
West about many things, including her own fame and her husband Kanye.

“Madam Secretary,”
10:30 p.m. (but 10 p.m. PT), CBS. Elizabeth confronts the Chinese foreign minister,
over a treaty that fights sweatshops. And Daisy (Tony-winner Patina
Miller) fears for the future, after the attack on the White House by
a white-nationalist group.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 20

“Michael Jackson's Halloween,” 8-9 p.m., CBS.

Two popular forces –
Jackson and Halloween -- combine in this animated special from last

A young couple
reaches an odd hotel, with a chimp (Brad Garrett) as the bellhop and
a scarecrow (Jim Parsons) as groundskeeper; now they fight the
tyrannical witch Conformity (Lucy Liu), in an hour that has pieces
from 22 Jackson songs, including “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal” and
four from the “Thriller” album -- “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,”
“Human Nation” and, of course, “Thriller.”

II: “My Dinner With Herve,” 8 p.m., HBO.

Back in 1993, Sacha
Gervasi was a young journalist interviewing Herve Villechaize, the
tiny (3-foot-11) actor who had co-starred in “Fantasy Island.”
Gervasi would go on to be a screenwriter; Villechaize would commit
suicide that year, at 50.

For years, Gervasi
and Peter Dinklage have pushed the idea of a film based on that
night. Here it is, written and directed by Gervasi. Jamie Dornan
plays the reporter; Dinklage -- 49 and 4-foot-5, a three-time
Emmy-winner from “Game of Thrones” -- plays Vellechaize.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Good Witch” movies, all day, Hallmark Movies &

As Halloween nears,
it's time to bring back these mild, sweet-spirited tales. Set in the
sort of picture-perfect town Hallmark imagines, they have Catherine
Bell as Cassie, using her skills benevolently.

The original “Good
Witch” (2008) is at 9 a.m., with the subsequent ones at 11 a.m. and
1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m. That last one was in 2014; then came the “Good
Witch” series ... which has a new movie Sunday.

Other choices

College football,
all day. Fox starts and ends its day strongly. At noon ET, Michigan
(ranked No. 6) visits Michigan State (No. 24 and fresh from upsetting
Penn State). At 7:30 p.m. ET, Oregon (No. 12) is at Washington State
(No. 25).

University” (2013), 7 p.m., Disney. The popular sequel is followed
at 8:50 p.m. by the original, “Monsters, Inc.” (2001).

(1983), 8-10:05 p.m., AMC. This is way above the average for horror
films, thanks to John Carpenter's direction and Stephen King's smart
story about a boy and his killer car.

“Love, Of Course,”
8-10 p.m., Hallmark. Cameron Mathison has become a go-to guy on both
Hallmark channels. He co-hosts “Home & Family” each weekday
... has co-starred in five “Murder, She Baked” movies ... and now
plays a professor who hasn't made the Harvest Festival seem very
festive. Kelly Rutherford plays the new festival head, who teaches
him pumpkin bowling and (possibly) romance.

“Hocus Pocus”
party, 8:15 p.m., Freeform. It was 25 years (and three months) ago
that this film had Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy
Najimy as witches. That reruns at 6:05 and 10:15, surrounding an
anniversary party with music by Dove Cameron, Pretty Much and Junior
New System.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 10 and 11:29 p.m., NBC. After opening the season with three
straight new episodes, “SNL” is scheduled to retreat to reruns,
old (10 p.m.) and recent (11:29).

“Countdown to
Christmas Preview Special,” 10 p.m., Hallmark. Really? Can't we
stick to Halloween and Thanksgiving for a while?

TV column for Friday, Oct. 19

“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.

Early in the season,
shows have been going with the big plots – a heat wave ... an
earthquake ... and now a blackout. That leaves the cops scrambling to
contain the chaos in New York City.

In the aftermath,
Frank (the police commissioner) uncovers some unpleasant truths about
his department; also, both his sons face crises: Jamie is trying to
balance work and his relationship with his police partner (Vanessa
Ray); Danny is racing to question a suspect before she gets tipped

II: “Hell's Kitchen,” 9 p.m. Fox.

You really don't
expect this show to dump 30 tons of snow in Los Angeles. That's what
it does for some brief winter games and then a soup contest ... with
the losing team facing a lot of snow-shoveling.

And you don't expect
the veterans team – filled with people who have done the show
before, finishing as high as runner-up – to keep stumbling agains
the rookies. But tonight, both teams fail in surprising ways; more
surprising is Gordon Ramsay's response to the trouble.

ALTERNATIVE: “Shakespeare Uncovered,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS.

Amid a cascade of
Shakespearean words, five ring powerfully: “Who will believe thee,
Isabella?” That question, actress Romola Garai says, “goes like a
dagger through your heart ... because it's eternal.”

Shakespeare wrote
that 414 years ago in “Measure for Measure,” as a woman tried to
expose a despot who wanted to trade leniency fo sex; his question has
spanned centuries and continents. Garai hosts the first richly
illustrated hour; in the second, Brian Cox hosts a look at “Julius

ALTERNATIVE II: “The Romanoffs,” Amazon Prime

A gorgeous movie
star (Christina Hendricks) heads to a distant land, where nothing
makes sense – not the hotel or the people or the movie itself,
which is about the slain Romanoff family.

Her agent (Paul
Reiser) says it's all fine. So does her co-star (Jack Huston) and the
director (Isabelle Huppert), who says she's descended from the
Romanoffs. Cleverly written and beautifully filmed, this third
episode of an eight-week anthology is even better than the two that
debuted last week.

Other choices

More streaming,
Netflix. “Making of a Murderer” followed the murder conviction of
two Wisconsin men. It also raised strong doubts; now its second
season follows fresh attempts to exonerate them. Anoher new Netflix
series has Toni Collette feeling “Wanderlust,” after a near-death

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. C. Thomas Howell plays a distraught dad, uging Mac and
Riley to try driving a tanker of liquid oxygen through rebel-held
territory, to a children's hospital.

“Fresh Off the
Boat” and “Speechless,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. The Halloween
comedy season starts early. Eddie works alone in a creepy store
during the holiday, while his parents have a scary night of
babysitting; then JJ is at a rave in the woods, while his home
becomes the local haunted house.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., Fox. And here's yet another Halloween comedy
episode. While his kids are having a seance, Mike (Tim Allen) is
scheming to prank Joe (Jay Leno).

“The Cool Kids,”
8:30 p.m., Fox. One night after guesting on “Will & Grace,”
Leslie Jordan gets the focus here: Margaret is stunned to learn he's
never told his son he's gay.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Who knew there's a profitable black market for sand?
Probing that, McGarrett and Danny find a body. Also, Jerry and Junior
bring a soldier's body back to Oahu.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 18

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Two of the all-time
great forces in TV comedy – Bob Newhart and “Big Bang” --
combine again. This is Newhart's sixth time on the show – and his
fourth since his character died.

Eager to have Amy
working on their project, Sheldon accidentally sabotages her own
work. This brings another dream involving the late Professor Proton,
whom he used to watch on TV. That's Newhart, 89; he's drawn three
Emmy nominations in the role, including his only win in a splendid TV

II: “The Good Place,” 8:30 p.m., NBC.

With the resurgence
of NBC's comedies, Thursdays have us flipping channels and minding
our recording devices. Now this witty show changes its concept yet

The last one had
Michael and Janet sending all four people back to Earth, manipulating
them to meet each other and possibly lead good lives. But as last
week's episode ended, those four overheard them ... and saw the door
to the afterlife. What's needed now is some quick thinking ... which
is clearly not Michael's strong suit. The result brings quick changes
and big laughs.

ALTERNATIVE: Animated specials, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Here are two
Halloween tales, one old and one almost. First is the 1966 “It's
the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”; there's humor, but at the core
is Linus' belief in a legend that never comes true.

Then is the 2013
“Toy Story of Terror.” The toys are at a semi-creepy motel ...
when some of them start to disappear. Now Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz
(Tim Allen) lead the search. The result is fairly funny, with Carl
Weathers as Combat Carl and Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants.

Other choices

8 p.m., CW. Sam is still trying to find his brother (whose being,
alas, is occupied by a demon); he gets a clue to his whereabouts. And
Castiel offers advice to Jack, who is frustrated by the limited
powers of a mere human.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. Amy and Jonah are still trying to keep their relationship
secret; now they even fake some fights. Meanwhile, Glenn despairs
when Kelly wants to transfer to a new store.

“Young Sheldon.”
8:31 p.m., CBS. A research study of twins gets the mismatched Sheldon
and Missy.

“Will &
Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC. Jack visits his grandson in Texas, in an
episode that also brings back key guest stars. There's David
Schwimmer as Noah, having sex (almost) with Grace ... and the
delightful Leslie Jordan (now of “Cool Kids”), claiming the
portion of the border wall that Karen sponsored.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Freshly paroled, Tammy (Kristen Johnston) moves in with
Christy – who thinks this is a terrible idea – and Bonnie.

“Murphy Brown,”
9:30 p.m., CBS. This is the episode that was scheduled for last week,
then delayed. It's the first of three that bring back Charles
Kimbrough, 82, as Jim Dial; it also has Murphy pondering a chance to
do a high-profile interview. The result is well-meaning, but stiff
and flat.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. A member of a women's
empowerment group has been killed. Also, Rollins hides her pregnancy,
to avoid desk duty.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 17

“SEAL Team,” 10 p.m., CBS.

Last week had the
usual life-and-death heroics overseas. Jason (David Boreanaz) came
home, argued with his wife and prepared to move out. Then a policeman
arrived, saying she'd been in an accident.

That's where this
deeply involving hour begins. Boreanaz – usually confined to
strong-and-silent roles – is subtly perfect here. So are the
others, in a strong episode that never settles for the easy emotion.

“A Million Little Things,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Secrets don't last
long in this well-crafted drama. Last week, people learned that
before Jon's suicide, his wife Delilah was having an affair with his
friend Eddie. Reactions against Eddie were fierce; his wife threw him
out, his friend Gary fought him.

Jon had jointly left
a restaurant property for Delilah to co-own with Rome's wife Regina,
who's a chef. That's iffy now; so is Gary's relationship with Maggie.
She's been hiding her illness and her past, but now an old boyfriend
has come to visit.

ALTERNATIVE: “All-American,” 9 p.m., CW.

Chances are, this
new show will keep pleasing and frustrating us. At its core is a
solid, culture-clash story – based loosely on a true one – about
a young football star who went from a tough neighborhood to Beverly
Hills. It's “90210” meets “Friday Night Lights,” with the
talented Taye Diggs as the coach.

But it also keeps
confounding us. For the second straight week, this smart kid finds a
way to batter his body on the night before he's needed. And a rich
dad (the sort who would know when to stay quiet) rants loudly like
... well, like a character in a so-so soap opera -- which this
sometimes is.

Other choices

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. Last week's season-opener turned bizarre when Archie
confessed to a murder he didn't do. More bizarre: He was sent to the
Leopold and Loeb juvenile detention center (named after convicted
child-killers) and arrived wearing a bow tie. Now we see the
aftermath and a new mystery.

“Autumnwatch New
England,” 8 p.m., PBS. Over the next three nights, PBS tries a sort
of super-travelog, mixing live (in some time zones) and filmed
footage. Based at a New Hampshire lake, it ranges from Maine moose to
backyard squirrels, visiting cranberry bogs, pumpkin festivals and

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. Having walked away from a so-so offer from their old
record label, the Lyons are desperate to start something new. Their
goal is to sign Devon (played by Mario). Andre tries to help on the
business side and Jamal panics when he doesn't hear from Kai, who's
doing overseas reporting.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. As Carlotta lands a celerity host (Terrence J) for one big
event, Simone is asked to speak at another. Also, Star learns that
Maurice stole from her; Derek is skeptical about Alex's superfan.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Now that the kids are older, their romances get more
complicated. Haley can't decide between her past and present
boyfriends; Manny has gone back to college, but his girlfriend Sherry
is still living with his parents ... and may be overstaying her

“Single Parents,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Angie and Douglas (Leighton Meester and Brad Garrett)
claim they'll sleep-train Miggy's baby. That puts Miggy in charge of
the kids ... which means it's party time.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. A ride-along quickly goes wrong. Meanwhile, Burgess
faces a tough choice: She can follow the advice of Voight or of a
potential new ally.