TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Modern Family” or “The Big Bang Theory,” 9 p.m., ABC or CBS.

In a rarity, two
comedy giants collide. “Modern Family” had a five-year string of
Emmys for best comedy series; “Big Bang” has five best-actor
Emmys for Jim Parsons.

“Modern Family,”
in is regular timeslot, has a new episode: Phil faces the
near-impossible task of finding a dream home for Pepper (Nathan
Lane). And in a borrowed slot, “Big Bang” has a great rerun:
Sheldon (Parsons) and Amy are perplexed by a wedding gift; also,
Stuart has a dating disaster.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Riverdale,” 8 p.m., CW.

“We were a town of
lost souls,” Jughead tells us, later adding: “No one is innocent
in Crime Town.”

Yes, THAT Riverdale
– the sunny spot from Archie comics; and THAT Jughead. Murders pile
up; now this episode is done as a detective tale in the style of '40s
and '50s films noir. The result is stylishly filmed and sharply
written, wrapping up many stories and starting another. It also
demands suspension of disbelief: When was the last time you saw a
hospital with patients and no nighttime staff?

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

Growing up with all
the disadvantages – a small kid, orphaned at 5 and scarred by acne
– Manuel Noriega turned to education. He was going to be a
psychiatrist, he said, and then Panama's president.

But the country was
run by the minority (10-percent) group of Caucasians, this
interesting documentary says; despite good grades, he was rejected
for med school. He turned to the military, found a powerful backer in
Omar Torrijos and followed him into power. But as his control
tightened, he enraged Americans with his drug deals and murders. Late
in 1989, Americans invaded Panama and arrested him

Other choices
include:

“Chicago Med,” 8
p.m., CBS. A toxic chemical endangers everyone – especially doctors
Charles and Manning. In the tradition of medical shows, they're in an
elevator with a pregnant woman.

“24 Hours to Hell
and Back,” 8 p.m., Fox. Gordon Ramsay tries to instantly transform
a Creole restaurant in Kansas City, Mo.

“The Masked
Singer,” 9 p.m., Fox. So far, non-singers keep being ousted and
unmasked – comedians Tommy Chong and Margaret Cho, former football
stars Terry Bradshaw (well, a sometimes-singer) and Antonio Brown.
Now eight people – many of them real singers – remain.

“All-American,”
9 p.m., CW. A college recruiting event is crucial to Spencer's
future. But when his former teammates from the tough Crenshaw
neighborhood show up, he's distracted.

“Chicago Fire,”
9 p.m., NBC. A teenager and her younger sister have been rescued from
a car accdent, but Brett suspects there's more to the story.
Meanwhile, Severide faces a crisis; also, Kim Delaney (“NYPD Blue”)
returns as his mother.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. Voight's boss (Anne Heche) pressures him to close the
investigation of the murder of an alderman's wife.

“Match Game,” 10
p.m., ABC. Caitlyn Jenner and director Kevin Smith are panelists,
along with comedy people Jane Krakowski, Chris Parnell, Ron Funchs
and Whitney Cummings.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Finding Your Roots,” 8 p.m., PBS.

Immigrants' stories
vary widely, we see tonight. The ancestors of Sheryl Sandberg and
Marisa Tomei arrived by boat, impoverished; Sandberg's family barely
survived the Russian genocide of Jews. Kal Penn's parents, an
engineer and a fragrance expert, arrived in comfort, by plane.

Earlier ancestors
also varied. Penn's marched with Gandhi; Tomei's, working for a
monarch, testified against protestors. There are fascinating stories
in Sandberg's roots, from deep tragedy to a breast-cancer survivor
who raised charity money by selling counterfeit watches.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Roswell, New Mexico,” 9 p.m., CW.

The second episode
ended with two explosive scenes of secret sex – Max with his police
partner Jenna; Michael with Alex, a wounded veteran whose dad keeps
nudging him toward being an alien-hunter.

That leaves the
show's central relationship wobbling: Max still loves Liz, who has
just returned to town. She's the only person who knows that he and
his siblings (Michael and Isobel) are descended from a 1947 UFO crash
in Roswell. But Liz has seen hints of his dark side; a scientist, she
secretly probes Max and the long-ago car crash that killed her
sister. The result is a fairly good episode.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Good Trouble,” 8 p.m., Freeform.

This stated as a
jaunty look at two adoptive sisters, starting their careers in Los
Angeles. By this fourth episode, things have darkened; Callie and
Mariana both have jerks for bosses and (in some cases) co-workers.
And Alice, their co-op manager, is overwhelmed by her work and a
failed romance.

Some of this feels
over-the-top; Mariana's co-workers are like cartoon stereotypes from
generations past. Still, the show's strong start suggests that “Good
Trouble” will have better troubles ahead.

TONIGHT'S ENIGMA:
The “State” hole, 9 p.m., ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and cable news
stations.

For days, a void
loomed from 9-11 p.m. That was supposed to be the State of the Union
address, plus responses and such. Then Speaker of the House Nancy
Pelosi withdrew her invitation until the shutdown ends; President
Trump said he would wait.

On Friday, the
shutdown was suspended for three weeks ... but neither side expected
the address to go back to its original night. For now, we'll ignore
that massive hole and look at the rest of the night.

Other choices
include:

“Super Bowl
Funniest Commercials,” 8 p.m., CBS Five days before the game, this
counts down a list of the 10 funniest commercials shown during Super
Bowl. It visits the making of two of this year's spots, then shows
the results. Former quarterback Boomer Esiason and Daniela Ruah
(“NCIS: Los Angeles”) host, with Kevin Frazier talking to Cedric
the Entertainer about his past commercials.

“The Flash,” 8
p.m., CW. Sherloque wants to use a memory machine on Nora, to get
Grace's memories. Nora's reluctant, because it might dislodge some of
her secrets. Here alternate plan creates a crisis.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. Mykelti Williamson plays Cole's old mentor, asked to
help on a case.

“American
Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS. This rerun looks at people who surived
the 1930s “dust bowl.”

“Jurassic Park”
(1993), 9 p.m., Syfy. On Saturdays, David Attenborough, 92, hosts a
great nature series on BBC America. Here's his younger brother
Richard, as the park founder who says he “spared no expense_ ...
but hired the lowest bidder to run his computers. Except for that,
this is a terrific film.

“Drunk History,”
10 p.m., Comedy Central. Here's baseball history – racism in the
19th century, the Black Sox throwing the World Series and
the sisters who inspired the movie “A League of Their Own.”

TV column for Monday, Jan. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Independent Lens: The King,” 9 p.m. , PBS.

Here's a fresh way
to tell Elvis Presley's story: Eugene Jarecki took Presley's 1963
Rolls Royce around the counrry; he ranged from Las Vegas glamor to
hard-scrabble Mississippi neighborhoods.

Others jumped,
including Ethan Hawke, Alec Baldwin, Emmylou Harris, Ashton Kutcher
and more. There are bursts of music, from an old bluesman to Stax
Academy kids. There's lots of conversation, both from Presley
admirers and from some -- Van Jones, Chuck D -- who question his role
in music history. “King” stretches too hard for broader themes,
but offers a vivid portrait of one man's world.

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

On one hand, this is
a solid story about a federal agent with a crisis of conscience. Brad
(Mark-Paul Gosselaar) tried to help young Amy (the terrific Saniyya
Sidney) flee from involuntary medical tests. Failing, he's sticking
around and keeping an eye on her.

And on the other
hand? Well, some of the infected test subjects are showing
vampire-like furor and mind-control skill. Straight drama co-exists
shakily with sci-fi whimsy.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “I Am the Night” debut, 9 p.m. , TNT, rerunning at
10:08.

Two stories unfold
tonight, thoroughly unrelated for now. Chris Pine plays a
tabloid-style reporter in early-'60s Los Angeles, sneaking around for
splashy photos; India Eisley plays a bright teen, a true-life person
who learned about her famous and infamous grandfather.

This start of a
six-week series is beautifully directed by Patty Jenkins (“Wonder
Woman”) and has stunning work by Golden Brooks as the teen's
mother. Still, much of it – especially the incendiary dialog given
to Brooks – is overwritten. “Night” often teeters toward being
a hideous melodrama.

Other choices
include:

“Agatha Raisin and
the Curious Curate,” any time, www.acorn.tv.
This is the last of the Agatha movies ordered by this streaming
service. If there are no more, it leaves its heroine (Ashley Jensen
of “Ugly Betty”) in a good place in her love life and in her
sleuthing. The story gets goofy at times, with cliches and wild plot
stretches; still, it offers so much bright-eyed fun that all is
promptly forgiven.

“America's Got
Talent: The Champions,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. Last week saw two singers
advance – Paul Potts, an opera singer who was the first “Britain's
Got Talent” winner, and Angelica Hale, who had just turned 10 when
she became the American runner-up in 2017. Now 10 more compete.

“The Bachelor,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. The show reaches Singapore, where dates with Colton
Underwood vary sharply: Tayisha goes bungee-jumping; Caelynn goes
shopping.

“Breslin and
Hamill: Deadline Artists,” 8-9:50 p.m., HBO. Here are two
blue-collar Irishmen with a rich sense of people and words. Pete
Hamill is 83; Jimmy Breslin died in 2017 at 88.

“Magnum P.I.,” 9
p.m., CBS. Suspecting (accurately) that he was going to be murdered,
a man hired Magnum to find the killer.

“Fatal Attraction”
and “For My Man,” 9 and 10 p.m., TV One. “True Crime Monday”
returns, with stories about women involved in deadly deeds.

“The Good Doctor,”
10 p.m., ABC. Lea has clearly been a great influence on Shaun. But
now it's time to figure out their relationship – roommate-wise and
maybe romantically

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Rent” live, 8 p.m., Fox.

Back in 1986, a
friend asked Jonathan Larson what he was working on. The reply: “I'm
the future of the American musical.” That seemed unlikely. Larson
would share the same shabby apartment for 15 years, hold he same
waiter job for nine years, write and re-write a modern-day “La
Boheme” for seven.

He died of an
aneurysm at 35 in '96, on the eve of the opening. “'Rent' ...
shimmers with hope for the future of the American musical,” the
New York Times wrote. It won Tonys and a Pulitzer, staying on
Broadway for 12 years. This live production has Jordan Fisher,
Vanessa Hudgens, Mario and more.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Three Identical Strangers,” 9 and 11 p.m. ET, CNN, barring
breaking news.

On his first day at
an obscure college, Bobby Shafran kept being greeted like an old
friend. It took a while to figure it out: Eddie Galland – the twin
he never knew about – had been there a year earlier. But they
weren't just twins; their story attracted David Kellman, re-uniting
triplets separated at birth.

This compelling
documentary starts with three 19-year-olds embracing life. Enjoy that
while it lasts; coming up are serious issues – science ethics,
parenting, nature vs. nurture – in a far-ranging film

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Valley of the Boom” conclusion, 9-11 p.m. ET,
National Geographic, rerunning at 11.

The opening of this
superb, three-week mini-series saw three companies in the internet's
early days. The mid-section (rerunning at 9 and 10 a.m. ET) saw them
get big-time investors, then wobble.

Two – Netscape and
theGlobe.com – were earnest efforts, slammed by a get-big-or-die
world. But the third was a scam; a felon (wonderfully played by Steve
Zahn), on the lam, raised money for a company (Pixelon) that didn't
work. Using lots of detours – including comments from experts and
from some of the people portrayed -- “Boom” tells the story
brilliantly.

Other choices
include:

Movie memories, all
day, Turner Classic Movies. This wraps up a 48-hour marathon, with
winners of the Screen Actors Guild's lifetime achievemen award. The
final films are Dick Van Dyke in “Bye Bye Birdie” (1963) at 2:15
p.m. ET, Debbie Reynolds in “The Mating Game” (1959) at 4:15 and
Alan Alda – who gets his lifetime award tonight – in Neil Simon's
witty “California Suite” (1978) at 6.

Pro Bowl, 3 p.m.
ET., ABC and ESPN, with preview at 2:45. Football's top players –
minus the ones who are injured or in next week's Super Bowl –
collide.

“SAG Awards,”
8-10 p.m., TNT and TBS. Megan Mullally (whose “Will & Grace”
returns Thursday) hosts the Screen Actors Guild event. TNT follows
with the opener of Chris Pine in “I Am the Night.”

“Masterpiece:
Victoria,” 9 p.m., PBS. It was Albert's idea to have everyone move
away from the chaos of London protests. In a fairly good episode,
Victoria is restless and disagreements are growing.

“Madam Secretary,”
10 p.m., CBS. An American-made cluster bomb has killed children in
Syria. Now Elizabeth scrambles to learn what happened.

“Black Monday,”
10 p.m., Showtime. In the final minute of last week's rowdy opener,
we learned how clever Mo (Don Cheadle) is: He tricked Blair Pfaff
into working for him, because Blair's future in-laws own crucial
stock. In a good follow-up tonight, Blair is hazed and Mo's favorite
co-worker is restless.

“SMILF,” 10:30,
Showtime. How grim does this episode get? It starts with a nightmare
scene involving disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, then gets
darker. On the plus side, there's strong work from Rosie O'Donnell as
Bridgette's newly widowed mother and Connie Britton as a
self-centered employer.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Planet Earth: Dynasties,” 9 p.m. ET, BBC America and IFC; 9 p.m.
ET/PT, AMC and Sundance; also, reruns at 12:25 a.m. ET on BBC
America.

Being the alpha male
is a mixed blessing. For David – an alpha chimp in Senegal – that
means he can, if he wishes, be the only one to mate with the females.
It also means the other males want to kill him.

We meet him three
years into his reign, which is a relatively long time for chimps.
With three females in heat, he faces a fierce challenge. Beautifully
filmed and narrated, this episode (the second of five, spanning the
globe) is alternately depressing and uplifting.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Hockey, 8-11 p.m. ET, NBC.

This is all-star
weekend. Football has its Pro Bowl at 3 p.m. ET Sunday; first, it's
hockey's turn.

For the fourth
year, the NHL is using a quirky, action-oriented format – only
three men on the ice for each team, with only two 10-minue periods.
That allows three games tonight in San Jose: The four divisions
collide in two semi-final games, with the winners in the finals.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Movies, all day, Turner Classic Movies.

This is the middle
of a 48-hour marathon, featuring winners of the Screen Actors Guild's
Lifetime Achievement Award. That includes two Hepburns – Katharine
in “Holiday” (1938), at 2:30 p.m. ET and Audrey in the tense
“Wait Until Dark” (1967) at 2:15 a,m.

There are musicals –
Frank Sinatra's “High Society” (1956) at 8:30 a.m. ET and Gene
Kelly's “Brigadoon” (1954) at 8 p.m. -- and comedy-drama masters:
Red Skelton's “The Yellow Cab Man” (1950) is at 6:15 p.m.; Jack
Lemmon's “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” (1974) is at 10.

Other choices
include:

“Star Wars”
films,” all day, TNT. The original trilogy runs at 11:30 a.m.
(1977), 2:15 p.m. (1980) and 5:02 p.m. (1983), with the firt two
repeatig at 10:57 p.m. and 1:42 a.m. Alongside, however, are newer
films -- “The Force Awakens” (2015) at 8:30 a.m. and “Rogue
One” (2016) at 8 p.m.

Figure skating, 11
a.m. and 7 p.m ET, NBC Sports Network. First is the free-skate portion
for men at the European championships. Then it's the dance finals for
the U.S. championships.

“Fast &
Furious 6” and “Furious 7,” 5 and 8 p.m., FX. Expect to see
lots of cars, many of them moving quite quickly.

“FBI,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, 18 young women have been murdered. A survivor helps
the probe.

“Snowcoming,” 8
p.m., Hallmark. Samantha (Lindy Booth) returns home to help celebrate
the retirement of her father, the football coach. One of the guys
there is the quarterback who jilted her. We would assume that there's
no chance they'll get back together.

Basketball, 8:30
p.m. ET, ABC, with preview at 8. Golden State, with three
championships in the past four years, visits Boston, which once had
10 in 11 years.

“Amanda Seales: I
Be Knowin',” 10 p.m., HBO. It was less than two years ago that
Seales reverted to her birth name and began doing comedy; now she has
a stand-up special. Often using the name Amanda Diva, she's been a
DJ, actress, musician (half the Floetry duo), poet and TV
personality.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. James McAvoy, the Scottish actor now
starring in “Glass,” has his first time as host. Meek Mill is the
music guest.