TV column for Thursday, Jan. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Good Place,” 9:30 p.m., NBC.

Forever changing its
concept, “Good Place” keeps viewers alert and (often enough)
amused. The four humans are now aware of their shaky status; they
haven't qualified for the good afterlife, but Michael (Ted Danson) at
least takes them to the good waiting room.

There, he'll try to
convince The Judge (Maya Rudolph) that the rating system is too
harsh. She takes a fast (VERY fast) tour of modern life, in a witty
episode that sets up yet another new concept.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 9 p.m., NBC.

For five seasons,
we've known only that Hitchcock and Scully are two of the laziest
cops in the TV universe. As played by Dirk Blocker (the son of
“Bonanza” star Dan Blocker) and Joel McKinnon Miller, they're
content with desk duty. Now we finally learn about their past.

It's a witty
episode, complete with an old-TV flavor. (Appropriately, former
“Baywatch” star Donna D'Errico has a guest role.) After last
week's so-so season-opener, “Nine-Nine” rebounds sharply.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
“Star Trek: Discovery” season-opener, CBS All Access.

The second season
starts with the Discovery receiving a distress signal from the
Enterprise. Soon, the two ships are linking to investigate seven
mysterious red signals and a being know as Red Angel.

The hour introduces
Anson Mount as the Enterprise captain and Rebecca Romijn as Number
One. And it brings in Ethan Peck (grandson of Gregory Peck) as Spock,
meeting his estranged foster sister (“Discovery” star Sonequa
Martin-Green). All Access will have new episodes each Thursday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “A Million Little Things” return, 9:01 p.m., ABC.

This is as
uncomfortable as life can get: Katherine, the brilliant lawyer, is
helping Delilah, whose husband's suicide left her with mountains of
unexpected debt. Then they come across Eddie – the husband
Katherine dismissed after learning about his affair with Delilah.

In scenes like this
– or in the end of a 5K run -- “Million” is terrific. At other
times? Too many characters deliver script-perfect speeches ... On the
flip side, Regina's mother is way too insufferable ... And the
financial schemes are too frustrating. The show, like life, is a
blend of good and bad.

Other choices
include:

“Grey's Anatomy”
return, 8 p.m., ABC. This has strained the patience of fans: Wind
whipped through Seattle, creating crises for patients ... including
Cece, who's being prepared for a heart transplant. Then the show took
a two-month break; it returns tonight, with the wind still howling
and Cece still waiting.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sean Astin and Kal Penn play physicists who
prove the theory created by Sheldon and Amy ... then try to grab
credit and bump Amy from the Nobel nomination.

“The Orville,” 9
p.m., Fox. This is a busy day for sci-fi fans – a “Star Trek”
on CBS All Access and this “Trek”-like show on Fox. (Tonight, Ed
crash-lands on a mysterious planet.) Also at 9 p.m., CW reruns
Tuesday's surprisingly good pilot film for “Roswell, New Mexico.”

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. For Bradley Whitford – an Emmy-winner from “West Wing”
and more – this is a big week. On Sunday, he has a key role in
cable's clever “Valley of the Boom”; tonight, he repeats a role
as Adam's untrustworthy friend ... now claiming he's reformed.

“Fam,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. Last week's opener was great fun, with much of the focus
on Clem's free-spirit teen sister. Tonight's episode – not as good,
but still funny – focuses on their uncaring dad (Gary Cole).

“How To Get Away
with Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Connor and Oliver are married now, but
TV weddings never go smoothly. Now people deal with the wedding-night
murder.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“All American,” 9 p.m., CW.

In its early weeks,
this show slid back and forth – strong drama one moment, forced and
exaggerated moments the next. But now it finds all the right moves
and stirs solid emotion.

Spencer, having a
great football season in Beverly Hills, was shaken by news from his
neighborhood. One childhood friend, Shawn, was killed; another, Coop,
feels she should get revenge. Back in the rich part of town, the
coach has cheated on his son's drug test. It's a strong hour, full of
emotional tangles.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Schitt's Creek” season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m., Pop; rerunning
at 11:02.

For four seasons,
this fun show has seen a once-rich businessman (Eugene Levy) and his
ex-soap-star wife Moira (Catherine O'Hara) owning a small motel in a
nowhere town. But now Moira tries her comeback – playing an evil
crow in a post-apocalyptic movie in Bosnia.

It's a great bit for
O'Hara ... especially when she returns in the second episode, amped
up by Bosnian uppers. The other stories in the first episode are
weak, but the second starts sharply with David (Dan Levy, Eugene's
son) and Stevie (the terrific Emily Hampshire) semi-confronting a
robber

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Dictator's Playbook,” 10 p.m., PBS.

The opener of this
excellent series profiled Kim Il-Sung; now it's Saddam Hussein. Like
Sung, he grew up poor. His father fled; his family lived in a shack,
with no toilet or water. He fostered a false image as a master
warrior, became Iraq's vice-president and turned the secret police
into a power base.

As president, he
used the oil riches to buy luxury cars for the elite and health and
education benefits for the poor. He assembled popularity and power
... then blew it all. An eight-year war with Iran killed a combined
half-million soldiers and drained the coffers; the disastrous Kuwait
invasion followed.

TONIGHT'S CAN-SKIP:
“Deadly Class” debut, 10 p.m., Syfy.

Sure, angry-youth
dramas are always popular. But if Holden Caulfield saw this one, he'd
ask it to lighten up; James Dean or Marlon Brando would ask for
something less brooding.

Before the story
starts, the central character has killed a dozen kids in a fire. Now
he is swooped into an assassins' academy. It's an unrelenting story,
with no one to root for and no reason to watch.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Holding a place until “Celebrity Big
Brother” arrives next week, here's a funny episode with Leonard
forced to decide who gets university grants. That's followed by
reruns of “Young Sheldon,” “NCIS” and “FBI.”

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. Tonight, CW says, Archie Andrews is forced to face his
demons. (We'll try to forget that Archie used to be he most
demon-free guy in comic history.) Meanwhile, Veronica fights her evil
-- and now powerful --- dad and Betty reluctantly houses patients who
escaped with her.

“The Masked
Singer,” 9 p.m., Fox. Behind those masks are some talented singers
... and others who are the first ousted. So far, football star
Antoinio Brown and comedian Tommy Chong have been dumped.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Phil and Claire decide they should bike through Italy
before becoming grandparents. Also, Jay and Gloria learn their
great-uncles may have fought on opposite sides in a war.

“Single Parents,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Former “Saturday Night Live” colleagues collide.
Vanessa Bayer guests as the ex-wife of Will (Taran Killam); at their
daughter's birthday, she undermines his rules.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. When a murder follows a fundraiser, police probe the
world of campaign-finance ... and emerge with a new perspective on
the pro-police mayoral candidate.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Roswell, New Mexico” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

Here's one of the
season's better surprises – a smart and well-crafted show, in a
genre (sci-fi/soap) where things could be goofy. This follows the
basic idea of the 1999 “Roswell” series: Growing up in Roswell, a
waitress dismissed talk of a 1947 UFO crash; then she saw some
other-worldly powers.

This reboot adds
modern touches. There's a strong Latino flavor ... The waitress --
played by the terrific Jeanine Mason, who is Cuban-American and a “So
You Think You Can Dance” champion -- is a brainy scientist, helping
out at her dad's diner ... And immigration policies loom large.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“This Is Us” return, 9 p.m., NBC.

TV's best drama is
back after a six-week break, with complications abounding. Kate and
Toby are getting ready for their baby boy. Randall's campaign for
city council wraps up, amid deep trouble; he's been running far
behind and the race created a dispute with his wife, who has him
sleeping on the sofa.

Also, Kevin meets
someone from Zoe's past ... while we ponder the surprise: He isn't
sure that his uncle Nicky died in Vietnam ... and at the end of the
previous hour, viewers seemed to see Nicky, alive now.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Experience: The Swamp,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

At first, people
were determined to drain Florida's Everglades. A Philadelphia
businessman bought four million acres in 1881, with plans for canals;
heavy rains ended that. Then Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward
announced in 1905 that he was taking over the project; he reclaimed
only 12,000 acres.

Others faced
disasters; then, in 1934, Franklin Roosevelt created Everglades
National Park. Slowly, people decided wetlands are key to the
environment. “Swamp” skillfully tells a sprawling story.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY:
“Temptation Island” opener, 10 p.m., USA.

On one hand, this is
just a reboot of a brash and tacky show. Four couples, together for
years, spend a month on the island ... where 24 men and women (fit,
attractive, assertive) try to seduce them.

Still, there are
people to care about. Evan Smith, 28, was a 6-foot-7 basketball
player with two modest seasons (11 games, 18 points, 9 rebounds, 6
assists) at Southern California. It was during the second season that
his father disappeared; the husband of his dad's mistress was later
convicted of killing him. Now Smith has been reluctant to marry Kaci
Campbell, his girlfriend of nine years. Temptation awaits.

Other choices
include:

“Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS. Felicity Huffman and Michael K. Williams had
opposite starts. She grew up comfortably in Colorado, going to prep
schools and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts; he grew up in an East
Flatbush appointment. Now both have been TV stars (“Desperate
Housewives” and “The Wire, respectively) and both want to learn
about a long-absent biological father; surprises follow.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Charlie Robinson plays a Marine serving a life sentence for
murder. An old tape-recording left by the victim gives him a fresh
shot at exoneration.

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. Delicate arguments surface over skin color. Dre and Bow
are angry that their daughter wasn't lit propely in her class photo;
their son says there's unspoken “colorisim” in the family.

“New Amsterdam,”
10 p.m., NBC. Barely surviving his collapse, Max has agreed to do
chemo-therapy and to delegate. That's difficult, as two of his
doctors (Reynolds and Bloom) face personal crises.

“Drunk History”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Comedy Central. Dropping its usual format,
this spends the entire half-hour on the creation of the
“Frankenstein” story. It's a funny one, with Evan Rachel Wood as
the author, Seth Rogan as the doctor and Will Ferrell barely
recognizable as the monster.

More comedy. At 10
p.m., TV Land has the return of “Teachers.” At 10:30, Comedy
Central has the season-opener of “Corporate”; it's sometimes very
funny and sometimes just sledge-hammer blunt.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Good Doctor” return, 10 p.m., ABC.

The first half of
this two-parter brought Christmastime chaos. A few doctors (including
Shaun) were inside a quarantine zone; the others were outside. A
marrow donor was outside; the recipient was in. Shaun had a
breakdown, Dr. Lim's son had an asthma attack and a baby was about to
be born.

And then, despite
the holiday theme, “Good Doctor” took a five-week break. Now we
finally get the conclusion, a good one. There are crises and
confrontations, but there are also some quiet moments with emotional
depth. In the waiting room, Lea displays all the people skills that
the others lack.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Passage” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

Brad (Mark-Paul
Gosselaar) is a tough federal agent, accustomed to following orders.
Now he's told to bring a young orphan to a secret facility, where
she'll face unauthorized medical tests.

Soon, we have a
blend: This is a drama about ethics, but it's also action-adventure
and sci-fi, plus a hint of sort-of vampires. It's skillfully directed
and filmed and young Saniyya Sidney delivers both intelligence and
charm. Still, it never really answers a question it asks: Why not
just get another kid?

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Resident,” 8 p.m., Fox.

The collision of two
crooked doctors reaches a peaks powerfully tonight, in a big, busy
episode.

Meanwhile, Nicolette
looks for a doctor for her new clinic and Conrad's dad hovers near
death. Also, Devon – who walked away from his wedding because he
loves Julian – now can't find her; she was killed (apparently) by
the crooked employer she was about to expose.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Back in the 1930s,
Louisiana businessmen had a fresh idea: Import nutria – sort of
mega-rodents – from Argentina and raise them for their fur. That
was fine for a half-century, until the fur market crashed. Now the
state finds itself with 20-pound swamp rats, ravenous beasts
destroying the wetlands.

It's a tough
situation, but this quirky film also finds interesting approaches. A
fisherman gets a $5 bounty for each nutria tail. A jazzman (Kermit
Ruffin) barbecues nutria outside his concerts. Righteous Fur makes
clothes of pelts. Some nutria are pets and one is a minor-league
baseball team's mascot.

Other choices
include:

“The Bachelor,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. In the first week, Colton Underwood sent seven women
home. That gives him a mere 23 to deal with, ranging from a
phlebotomist to two who were contestants in last year's Miss USA,
from North Carolina and Alabama. Now the latter has the first
one-on-one date.

“America's Got
Talent: Champions,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. In the opener, the most famous
“Got Talent” contestant – singer Susan Boyle, a British
runner-up in 2010 -- advanced. So did comedian Junior Lawson, who was
in the American top 10 in 2017. Eight others (including Bianca Ryan,
the first American champ) were dumped. Now it's time for 10 more
contestants.

“Gretchen Carlson:
Breaking the Silence” debut, 8-10 p.m., Lifetime. Carlson – whose
suit was a first step in the downfall of Fox News founder Roger Ailes
– gathers sexual harassment stories nationwide.

“Magnum P.I.,” 9
p.m., CBS. Magnum helps a woman find her cousin, a Russian fugitive.

“Bull,” 10 p.m.,
CBS. Diana Lindsay (Jill Flint) has been Bull's opponent in court and
his lover and/or nemesis in life. Now he helps her, when her niece is
charged with robbery.

“Manifest,” 10
p.m., NBC. Captain Daly, who piloted the plane, is being blamed for
its trouble. Ben and Cal try to clear his name ... and soon uncoverr
a conspiracy.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Valley of the Boom” opener, 9 and 9:58 p.m. ET, National
Geographic, rerunning at 11 and 11:58.

For a wild and weird
time in the 1990s, Silicon Valley was full of money and short of
logic. Geeks, earnest and idealistic, created new internet ideas;
financiers descended.

This six-part tale
follows two good ideas (Netscape and TheGlobe) and a scam (Pixelon).
It's mainly a standard drama, including Steve Zahn's delightful
portrayal of the scam guy. But there are also talking-head moments
from the real people ... or an actor playing a real person ... or an
actor playing an unreal person. There are rappers, a young math whiz
and more; an odd story is told in oddly delightful ways.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Victoria” season-opener, 9 p.m., PBS.

You think we have
crises? Try this: Revolution is surging through the continent. Mobs
are at the gate, demanding changes from the leader ... who chooses
this moment to go into labor with her sixth child.

It's a tense time in
1848, beautifully captured. And we meet two newcomers, each complex:
Feodora is the queen's older sister, fleeing from her marriage to a
penniless prince in Germany. Lord Palmerston is a charismatic
politician who would go on to be prime minister (twice). It's a
splashy role for Laurence Fox, who was given little to do during all
his years as the “Inspector Lewis” sergeant.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Style,” 9 and 10 p.m. ET, CNN (barring
breaking news).

The 1940s and '50s,
profiled in the first hour, had comfortable conformity and Eisenhower
efficiency. Then the '60s began. Jacqueline Kennedy “knew who the
French designers were,” historian Douglas Brinkley says in the
second hour. “I promise you, Mamie Eisenhower didn't.”

And then the French
didn't matter as much. Dennis Christopher – then a fashion
assistant and later the “Breaking Away” star – leads a fun
account of Americans' triumph in France. With a dizzying number of
clips, stills and experts, this series opener offers little depth,
but offers a fun ride through history. TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II:
“True Detective” season-opener, 9 p.m., HBO.

The first “True
Detective,” back in 2014, was a triumph; the second, a year later,
was not. That led to a long pause and now – almost three-and-a-half
years later – a reboot.

Mahershala Ali, 44 –
who already has an Oscar (“Moonlight”) and a Golden Globe (“The
Green Book”) -- plays an old cop whose memory is fading as he
recalls a case for a true-crime documentary. We flash back to 1980
and '90, with Ali probing the case in small-town Alabama. Carmen
Elojo is his wife, with Stephen Dorff as his police partner and Sarah
Gadon as the reporter.

Other choices
include:

“Critics Choice
Awards,” 7-10 p.m., CW. Fresh from finally getting a major award (a
Golden Globe for “The Kominsky Method”), TV's best comedy
producer, Chuck Lorre, gets a career prize. The cast of his “Big
Bang Theory” will present it. There are tons of other awards, for
movies and TV.

“God Friended Me,”
8 p.m., CBS. Miles receives two jolts: The “God account” sends
him 76 friend

suggestions. Also,
his sister moves in with him, when her apartment is being fumigated.

“A League of Their
Own” (1992), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Penny Marshall, who
died last month at 75, was a gifted comedy actress and a talented
director who peaked with “Big” in 1988 and then this terrific
film, capturing the wartime era of professional women's baseball.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. A Syrian, delivering evidence that chemical
weapons were used on civilians, is brutally attacked. Kensi stays at
the crime scene when he's pinned behind a vehicle.

“Rel,” 9:30
p.m., Fox. After his daughter has trouble at school, Rel drives from
Chicago to Cleveland.

“Dirty John”
finale, 10 p.m., Bravo. For seven weeks, this true-crime miniseries
has shown John Meehan seducing and then terrorizing his wife and her
daughters. This has been too drawn-out, but fascinating; now comes a
fierce finish that viewers will find was worth the long ride.