TV column for Sunday, Oct. 7


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Madame Secretary” season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS.

The gimmick here is
a convergence of secretaries of state. One is fictional (Tea Leoni as
Elizabeth McCord); the others – Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton and
Madeleine Albright -- are very real.

All three are solid
and the scene is quite good... but the rest of the hour is much
better. As an historic pact nears, an explosion hits the White House.
Flashbacks offer beautifully written and acted moments with Elizabeth
and her husband (Tim Daly) and with their daughter and a veteran aide
(Linda Lavin).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Doctor Who” and “The Walking Dead” season-openers.

Fantasy fans can
easily catch both events. “Dead” debuts at 9 p.m. on AMC, with a
daring incursion into Washington, D.C. It reruns (after a 10:26
“Talking Dead”) at 11:26 p.m. and 12:52 a.m.

And “Who”? To
celebrate the arrival of the first female Doctor (Jodie Whittaker),
BBC America will simulcast with the British debut. That's at 1:45
p.m. ET (after a preview at 1:15), repeating at 3:30. The opener
later repeats at 8 and 10 p.m, midnight and 2 and 4 a.m. ET.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Masterpiece: Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS.

Two jolts come early
in this hour. We won't spoil any plot twists, except to say that
Louisa (the superb Keeley Hawes) sees it as a cycle-of-life
experience.

A young English
widow with a tiny pension, she moved to this Greek island (where life
is inexpensive) with her four eccentric children. Now Larry has had
modest success as a writer, Gerald has obsessed on nature, Leslie has
leapt into romances and Margo has caromed between obsessions. They're
a wide-eyed bunch, so even this episode -- with its harsh jolts –
brings an abundance of humor and warmth.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Dancing With the Stars: Juniors” debut, 8-10
p.m., ABC.

No, we really don't
need a second version of “DWTS.” We probably don't need a
two-hour opener; we definitely don't need the return of Alana “Honey
Boo Boo” Thompson .

The good news is
that next week this will shrink to an hour ... and that some young
“stars” will be sent home. There are 12, including Stevie
Wonder's son, Scottie Pippin 's daughter and Sarah Palin's grandson,
plus lots of actors and kids who have triumphed at cooking, spelling
and skateboarding.

Other choices
include:

“iHeartRadio Music
Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW. Today and Monday, a star overload
includes Kelly Clarkson, Justin Timberlake, Carrie Underwood, Shawn
Mendes, Mariah Carey and Imagine Dragons.

“God Friended Me,”
8 p.m., CBS. Miles achieves his dream of moving his podcast to
satellite radio. He also gets a fresh Facebook suggestion from the
mysterious “God account.”

“The Family
Business: Trump and Taxes,” 8:30 p.m. Showtime. This half-hour
documentary follows reporters, working on the massive Trump-finances
story that the New York Times ran Wednesday.

“Masterpiece:
Poldark,” 9 p.m., PBS. Before complaining about current democracy,
try this variation in 18th-century England. There are no
secret ballots ... and no teeming masses; a member of Parliament is
chosen by 17 white men. The evil George expects an easy win against
Hugh, the gentle and sickly man who once had sex with Ross' wife.
Then come major moments, in an excellent hour.

“Shark Tank”
season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC. Five years ago, Jamie Siminoff was on
the show, pitching a smart-doorbell idea. He was rejected ... and
later sold it (now called The Ring) for a reported $1 billion. Now
he's a guest shark, alongside people who rejected him.

“Kidding,” 10
p.m., Showtime. At times, this episode sparkles. It has great lines,
some cheery (“clouds are just rabbits learning to fly”) and some
not (“you're good at the quiet arts, like conveying disdain”),
plus a dandy Tara Lipinski scene. Still, there's the usual feeling of
doom, past and future.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 6


TONIGHT''S
MIGHT-SEE: “Hotel Transylvania” (2012), 8 p.m., FXX.

Remember when
Halloween didn't creep in until the final days of October? Not any
more; as soon as the month starts, the cable obsession begina.
Twenty years ago, Fox Family launched “The 13 Days of Halloween”;
now the same channel (as Freeform) calls it “The 31 Nights of
Halloween.”

Others join that
trend, including FXX with this clever cartoon: Deep in the forest,
Dracula (Adam Sandler) has a high-end hotel for his monster friends.
But just as his young daughter (Selena Gomez) turns 118, a human
(Andy Samberg) arrives. The clever sequel (2015) is at 6 and 10 p.m.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Yes, “SNL” can
throw in lots of starpower. Last week's opener (a fairly good one),
even had a surprise turn by Matt Damon, as Brett Kavanaugh. Now it
goes to a relative newcomer, with Awkwafina as host.

She grew up as Nora
Lum, a New Yorker with Chinese and Korean roots, then became a rapper
and actress. Her breakthrough (as the quirky friend) came in “Crazy
Rich Asians,” one of the highlights of the summer movie season. Now
she hosts, with Travis Scott as music guest.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet” season-opener, 9 p.m. ET,
NatGeo Wild.

Michelle Oakley
never expected this far-North life. She grew up in Indiana, studied
in Michigan, liked to do research. But now she lives in the Yukon,
with a veterinary practice that ranges from household pets to elk,
bear, wolverines and reindeer.

One daughter is
heavily involved as her assistant; another isn't. These are likable
people, as you'll see in reruns from noon to 3 a.m.; the new hour at
9 ranges from a horse-kick to an emergency C-section.

Other choices
include:

More Halloween,
Freeform. Some holiday-type films are scattered among others. There's
the “Monster House” cartoon (2006) at 10:10 a.m., “Haunted
Mansion” (2003) at 2:50 p.m., “Hocus Pocus” (1993) at 7:35 and
“Maleficent” (2014) at 9:45. And at 11:50 p.m., “Warm Bodies”
(2013) asks whether there's hope for a mixed romance between the
living and the dead.

And more, Food
Network. Yes, even Food is into the holiday, with reruns from 1 p.m.
to 4 a.m. That includes “Halloween Baking Championship” (1 p.m.,
5-9 p.m., 3 a.m.) and “Halloween Wars” (2-4 p.m., 9 p.m. to 3
a.m.), plus a couple holiday themed round of “Beat Bobby Flay,”
at 4 and 4:30 p.m.

Football, all day.
Things start with top-ranked Alabama at Arkansas, at noon ET on ESPN.
In prime time, Fox has Washington (ranked No. 10) at UCLA at 7:30
p.m. ET and NBC has Notre Dame (No. 6) at Virginia Tech (No. 24) at
8.

“The
Neighborhood,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's the first of three pilot reruns.
It story – white family greeted warily by a black neighbor – is
only so-so. Still, it has its moments, because talented talented
director James Burrows has a likable cast, led by Cedric the
Entertainer and Max Greenfield.

“Happy Together,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. An ordinary couple, nudging toward middle age,
suddenly shares its home with a young pop star. The result is
moderately entertaining.

“God Friended Me,”
9 p.m., CBS. After boosting atheism on his podcast, Miles is notified
that God has friended him on Facebook. He assumes it's a prank ...
but related surprises keep appearing. The result remains interesting,
even when we (like Miles) have no idea what's going on.

“Parts Unknown,”
10 p.m. ET, CNN (barring breaking news). Here's a rerun of the last
episode that Anthony Bourdain fully completed. (There are subsequent
ones, on Sundays, but not with Bourdain's writing and narration.) He
goes to Kenya with W. Kamau Bell, whose own show reruns at 11.

TV column for Friday, Oct. 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Last week's
season-opener – after a one-year gap and a switch of networks –
was fairly flat and bland. Now the show rights itself with an
excellent episode.

There are some
too-silly moments with Kyle, but Tim Allen has a pair of
well-crafted, two-person scenes. One is imagined, with his late
father (Robert Forster); the other is real, with his daughter Kristin
(Amanda Fuller). Each is well-written, with Allen and his co-stars
knowing when to play it straight.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Speechless” season-opener, 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Here is another
dandy pairing – this one with two generations of talented
Englishfolk. There's Minnie Driver, 48, the show's star ... and John
Cleese, 78, guesting tonight and next week.

Long ago, Cleese
co-created comedy greatness, via Monty Python and “Fawlty Towers.”
He slowed down after that, but now shows up (strictly as an actor) in
“Hold the Sunset” on Britbox and here: Broke, Maya (Driver)
visits her estranged father (Cleese) in London; their scenes are
first-rate.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances: Grammy Salute to Music Legends,”
9 p.m., PBS.

Mickey Dolenz has
been singing “I'm a Believer” for 52 years, ever since his
Monkees days. Now – for the first time, we're told – he links
with the guy who wrote it, Neil Diamond.

Other Diamond songs
are performed by Yolanda Adams and by Diamond himself; that provides
a great start to a mixed evening. The films, stuffed with empty hype,
are lame; so are many of the speeches. But the music – by Sammy
Hagar, Ledisi, Shelea and others –is great. The night honors
Diamond, Queen, Tina Turner, John Williams, Emmylou Harris, Louis
Jordan, promoter Bill Graham and more.

Other choices
include:

“Manifest” and
“New Amsterdam,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. Here are quick reruns of the
second episodes. Passengers – jolted to learn that five years have
passed – find their worlds have changed. Then some so-so hospital
stories are juggled with stronger portraits of the tangled life of
the new medical director.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. It's time to revisit the military past of Jack (George
Eads). One of his buddies has been accused of terrorism in a foreign
country. Now he and Mac lead a rescue attempt.

“Fresh Off the
Boat” season-opener, 8 p.m., ABC. Everything seems to be changing:
The neighbors have their baby, Jessica has her book and Louis has an
RV, planning a national book tour.

“The Cool Kids,”
8:30 p.m., Fox. Margaret (Vicki Lawrence) is grumpy about her 65th
birthday, so the others try to cheer her up. The result, like the
opener, is loose and silly and often quite funny.

“Child Support”
season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Grown-ups try to answer questions, with
the possibility that five kids will save them with the right answer.
It's a cute concept, but has a quirk: For kids, the questions vary
absurdly – Harry Potter one moment, 1980s pop music the next.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Danny, Tani and Junior search the jungle for, they're
told, an ordinary family man who was kidnapped and forced to
parachute from the plane.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. An ex-cop is suspected of being the person threatening
Frank, the police commissioner. Now Frank's son, Danny, is asked to
investigate.

TV column for Thursday, Oct. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Will & Grace” season-opener, 9 p.m., NBC.

From “Cheers” to
“Frasier” and beyond, director James Burrows has mastered the art
of comedies done in front of a studio audience. Alongside the clever
banter, he manages to include some big sight gags.

This episode is a
prime example. Midway through it, Jack (Sean Hayes) has a sight gag
that is big and broad, but – as usual with Burrows – doesn't
plummet into total goofiness. That's alongside some sharp dialog, as
Grace meets a curmudgeon (David Schwimmer). She kind of likes him, he
kind of likes no one, and they offer promise for some great episodes
ahead.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Murphy Brown,” 9:30 p.m., CBS.

These two comedies
are linked: The success of “Will & Grace” proved that an
older comedy – one done with a studio audience – could be revived
with the original cast.

The difference is
that “Will” crackles with the natural flow of dialog; “Murphy”
tends to be stop-and-start, closer to disconnected punchlines and
rants. Still, some moments tonight make it worthwhile. There's clever
use of news footage of Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders
(supplemented by a voice actress). And there's the latest temporary
secretary, played with flaky zest by Ashley Morris.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Station 19” season-opener, 9:01 p.m., ABC.

This has been a
tough week for skyscrapers. On Wednesday, fatal flames hit the top
floors in NBC's “Chicago Fire”; tonight, we see more of the fire
that raged in the cliffhanger season-finale.

More lives are
endangered, while the captain (Miguel Sandoval) is in grave health in
the hospital and his daughter (Jaina Lee Ortiz) hopes to take over
his job. Also, Boris Kodjoe – from “Code Black,” “Last Man on
Earth” and more -- arrives as a veteran firefighter with a
mysterious past.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. This final season is trying to adjust each
character's life. Even Stuart has a girlfriend ... which is
complicated, because he's living with Howard and Bernadette. Also,
Raj explores an arranged marriage and Leonard and Penny consider
having kids,

“Superstore”
season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC. Amy and Jonah are back at work, after a
suspension because of their sex video. That leads to a double
standard and then to a big-scale staff meeting. The result eventually
becomes very funny ... but also extremely adult for an early
timeslot.

“The Good Place,”
8:30, NBC. Michael had a fine scheme to return these four people to
Earth, then have them meet each other and become better humans. That
went well until Trevor (Adam Scott), the worst of all demons,
intervened. In a funny episode, Michael must improvise ... which
isn't his strength.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. When his mom has a crisis of faith, Sheldon becomes
comforting.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Christy insists she no longer needs to go to Gamblers
Anonymous. Her mom – who once stayed in jail because Christy had
gambled away the bail money – disagrees.

“I Feel Bad,”
9:30 p.m., NBC. Emet tries a small lie, to get a better spot during
after-school pick-ups. It soon spins out of control, in a moderately
funny episode.

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Annalise prepares her first
class-action case, but there are still echoes of her past
controversies. Frank investigates Gabriel; Asher complicates Bonnie's
life.

TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“A Million Little Things,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Last week's opener
started with a jolt: Jon – a businessman, seemingly thriving –
jumped to his death. We later learned that his wife was having an
affair with his married friend Eddie (David Giuntoli of “Grimm”)
... but did Jon know? And what were the secrets that his secretary
grabbed?

Now the life-goes-on
phase begins, infused with the easy fun of Jon's friends. That's
boosted by the addition of Maggie -- the “date” of Gary (James
Roday of “Psych”) at the funeral; she's a therapist with her own
secret. Despite a lame plot about a dance, this is a smart, appealing
hour with a strong finish.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.,” 8-11 p.m.,
NBC.

The first two shows
switch places so the story can evolve logically – first a massive
apartment-building fire ... then the survivors at the hospital ...
and then the search for the culprit. Adding to the weave: A
firefighter is hospitalized; another victim is related to guys in
“Med” and “P.D.”

This is ambitious,
but is it good? Yes, no and yes. “Med” has lots of contrived
moments; people posture a lot, with two altercations and many
arguments, most of them for the scriptwriters' convenience. But
surrounding that, “Fire” has strong, non-stop action and “P.D.”
has an intense, well-crafted cop story.

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

The season opened
powerfully last week: Eddie Barker – who stole control of the
record company – fought with his wife; she accidentally killed him
... then dumped his ashes into the sewer and took over the company.
Also, Lucious and Cookie started a mini-label, with a new star named
Treasure.

Now that plot skids
in wild directions, some of them absurd. (A canny tech guy decides to
say exactly the wrong thing at a key moment.) Still, it's a tough,
strong and emotional hour.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Burden of Truth” season-finale, 8 p.m., CW.

While other shows
are in the second week of the fall season, “Truth” is wrapping up
its 10-week summer run. That started with a young lawyer (Kristin
Kreuk) returning to her home town, to help a drug company et a quick
settlement from teen girls who fell ill.

She soon found that
the problem wasn't the drug, it was pollution. Switching sides, she
now represents the girls and has the polluter ready to settle. The
girls wonder if they should demand more.

Other choices
include:

“The Goldbergs,”
8 p.m., ABC. When Adam's girlfriend returns from a college summer,
she seems like a different person. He gets some bad advice from loved
ones, then tries a drastic plan.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. As last week's season-opener ended, Star told the others she's
pregnant. That's another complication for the trio ... and for the
record-company schemes of Carlotta (the talented Queen Latifah) and
Mateo (the wooden William Levy). Also stirred into the hour are the
soapy excesses of Carlotta's sister and the quiet agony of Derek's
mother, who is a rape victim.

“SEAL Team”
season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. The team rushes to the Gulf of Guinea,
where militants have taken over an oil platform and hold Americans
hostage.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Haley isn't sure if she should tell Arvin about kissing
Dylan; she turns to Mitch and Cam for advice. Also, Gloria wonders if
Manny's Canadian girlfriend is real.

“Single Parents,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Douglas (Brad Garrett), the underinvolved dad, has to
host the kids' sleepover; Will (Taran Killam), the overinvolved dad,
sees it as a chance to bond with him. Also, young Graham is leery of
sleepovers ... and his mom is worried about her sleepover with a guy
friend.

“Criminal Minds”
season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS. The 14th season begins with
the 300th episode, which wraps up a cliffhanger. The team
probes its history two learn why Reid and Garcia were kidnapped.