TV column for Monday, Nov. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Dancing With the Stars” finale, 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

It's time to choose
the show's 25th champion. Last week, paralympic champion
Victoria Arlen, a fan favorite, was ousted. Now the final four dance
and viewers vote.

There's Frankie
Muniz, 31, the former “Malcolm in the Middle” star ... Lindsey
Stirling, also 31, the vibrant violinist ... Jordan Fisher, 23, an
actor-singer ... and Drew Scott, 39, who is the real-estate half of
HGTV's “Property Brothers.” On Tuesday, one of them will be the
winner.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Brave,” 10:01 p.m., NBC.

Forget the standard
details of TV dramas – alternating plot lines, arbitrary shifts in
tone, etc. This skips all of that and goes on a rocket ride – no
pauses (except commercials) or shifts, just a high-octane rush.

The goal is to kill
the terrorist who created a deadly beach attack on soldiers and their
families. Then come the twists and the reactions; it's a great
episode for Natacha Karam as Jaz ... except that it doesn't really
have a satisfying ending. That will keep us watching next week.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Mark Twain Prize, 8 p.m., PBS.

Most award shows are
plagued by bland presenters and blander acceptance speeches. Agents
and managers get thanked; nothing interesting gets said. The
exception is this annual comedy prize.

This year's winner,
the 20th, is David Letterman. The presenters included Bill
Murray (last year's winner and a favorite Letterman' guest), Paul
Shaffer (his sidekick) and Steve Martin (a past winner), plus Jimmy
Kimmel, Amy Schumer, Norm Macdonald, Al Franken, Martin Short, John
Mulraney, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Jimmie Walker and musician Eddie
Vedder.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Independent Lens,” 9:30 p.m., PBS.

At its core, this
argues that -- as one man puts it -- forces “seek a perpetual state
of war.” It points to people – from Dick Cheney and Tony Blair to
a Saudi prince – who profited from the defense industry.

It makes that
argument, however, in circuitous ways. There are detours for
everything from astronauts to a human-spinning act and the guy who
threw his shoes at George W. Bush. All of this is fascinating, but
the whole is much less than the sum of its parts.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The “play-offs” are done now, giving us the
top 12. Tonight, they perform and viewers vote; on Tuesday, one
singer will be ousted.

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. We really don't want to find Lucifer on a dating app, do
we? (Or do some people feel they already have?) Tonight, he probes a
murder linked to a celebrity dating site.

“Baltimore
Rising,” 8-9:35 p.m., HBO. From “The Wire” to “The Corner,”
Baltimore has had a tough time on TV. Here's a passionate documentary
– directed by “Wire” co-star Sonja Sojn -- about idealists who
are fueling its comeback.

“The Gifted,” 9
p.m., Fox. Refugees keep reaching the Mutant Underground, but one is
a spy for Sentinel Services. Also, Reed (Stephen Moyer) gets some
useful information from his estranged father.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. There are Thanksgiving episodes on all the CBS comedies
... except “Man With a Plan,” which didn't expect to be here this
soon. In this one, Arthur agrees to invite his estranged daughter ...
but only if Franco invites his estranged father (Cedric the
Entertainer).

“The Good Doctor,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. So far, Shaun has been able to perform despite the
limits created by his autism. During a robbery, however, those limits
put lives at risk. Afterward, Dr. Glassman, his mentor, fears he's
not able to help Shaun.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
American Music Awards, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

Kelly Clarkson and
Pink will open with a duet, launching a night filled with female
stars. Tracee Ellis Ross will host; her mom (Diana Ross) will perform
and get a lifetime award. Also performing are Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato,
Selena Gomez and (in collaborations) Alessia Cara and Hailee
Steinfeld.

There's more,
including Christina Aguilera singing Whitney Houston songs from “The
Bodyguard,” on that film's 25th anniversary. Other
performers: Nick Jonas, Niall Horan, Shawn Mendes, BTS, Portugal,
The Man and a collaboration of Imagine Dragons and Khalid.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Masterpiece: Poldark” season-finale, 9 p.m., PBS.

At first, Ross
Poldark seemed strong, silent and heroic. But as he kept his distance
– refusing chances to be a magistrate or to go to Parliament –
his diffidence began to seem coldly distant. Cruel men (land-baron
George and the Rev. Whitworth) have destroyed life for good people.

Now things peak on
all sides. George's thug strikes ... villagers strike back ... the
French may be attacking ... and a young soldier can offer Ross' wife
the attention he rarely gives her. It's an emotionally powerful
finish to a sometimes-frustrating season.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Madam Secretary,” 10:30 p.m. (10 p.m. PT), CBS.

Sara Ramirez has
made an impact on Broadway (winning a Tony) and in “Grey's Anatomy”
(getting five ALMA Award nominations). Now she becomes a series
regular here.

We meet her as a
former United Nations ambassador. When a Russian dissident reaches
the U.S. after contracting smallpox, she works with Elizabeth and the
Russians to prevent an outbreak.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Secret Life of Lance Letscher,” 7-9 p.m. ET,
Ovation.

This network offers
a mixture of international dramas (“Versailles” on Saturdays,
“The Halcyon” on Mondays, “The Arful Detective”), reruns, old
movies and – especially – shows about the arts.

Here's a prime
example. Making her directing debut, Sandra Adair – nominated for
an Oscar for editing the wonderful “Boyhood” -- beautifully tells
about Letscher. Working with tiny fragments (found objects and pieces
of his own complicated psychology), he creates dazzling mosaics.

Other choices
include:

“Masterpiece: The
Durells in Corfu” season-finale, 8 p.m., PBS. There's a sudden baby
boom – two women and an otter, giving birth. That taxes the town
doctor and gives Leslie a chance to be heroic. Meanwhile, Louisa and
her daughter face romantic choices, in a fairly good end to a
pleasant season.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Foe. To cheer up Moe, Homer and the guys re-unite their old
bowling team. Soon, they're in a fierce competition against arrogant
millionaires.

“Ghosted,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. Two smug actors – from a show called “Ghost Studz”
-- stumble across real ghosts. Now Max and Leroy must save them,
going undercover at an abandoned mental hospital.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:30 p.m. (9 p.m. PT), CBS. The show's 200th
episode has Nell's bossy, older sister arrive to help with a
complicated case, after highway patrolmen are attacked.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Even among the few survivors in this world,
gender politics are tricky. Tandy goes to great lengths to convince
people he's a feminist; Todd tries to be a father figure.

And more, 10 p.m.,
cable. “Search Party” starts its second season on TBS, colliding
with other comedies -- “ Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO, “SMILF”
on Showtime – and a drama. That's TNT's “Good Behavior,”
introducing Holland Taylor as Letty's grandmother, who's also a
con-artist type.

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Cold Blooded,” 9-11 p.m., Sundance; concludes Sunday.

Herb and Bonnie
Clutter offered an idealized vision of Americana. On their 640-acre
farm, they built a home that became a gathering point for friends,
church groups and their teen daughter's busy social life. Then
strangers entered the unlocked home and killed everyone.

Those murders drew
national interest, even before Truman Capote arrived. His “In Cold
Blood” was brilliant non-fiction; so is this new, four-hour
documentary. Emmy-winning director Joe Berlinger blends new
interviews and old transcripts, retaining a sense of a quiet place
caught in a nightmare.

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

It's a two-rapper
night: Chance the Rapper hosts, with Eminem as the music guest.

Eminem, 45, has done
that six times before, but for Chance, 24, everything is new. This
year, he's been named best new artist by the Grammys, the Image
Awards and BET – which also gave him his humanitarian award. He's
been the “SNL” music guest once, but this is his first time
hosting.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Night of Too Many Stars,” 8 p.m., HBO, rerunning at
9:30.

Every two years, Jon
Stewart gathers other comedy geniuses for this fund-raiser for autism
research.

This time, that
includes Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock, John Oliver, Sarah Silverman,
Kumail Ninjiani, Will Forte and more. There are even people –
Robert De Niro, Edie Falco – known for serious drama.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “I Am Elizabeth Smart,” 8 p.m., Lifetime,
rerunning at 12:02 a.m.

Elizabeth Smart was
14 when she was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home. By the time
she was found – nine months later, in a nearby town – people
found the story compelling.

Now, at 30, she's
telling the story on two sister networks. A&E had a documentary;
Lifetime has this scripted movie (rerunning Sunday), which Smart
narrates.

Other choices
include:

“The Wizard of Oz”
(1939), 7 and 9:15 p.m., TBS. Families can catch a classic, ranked
No. 10 on the American Film Institute's top-10 list.

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
ABC and Fox. There's a West Coast feel tonight. ABC has Southern
California (ranked No. 11) hosting UCLA; Fox has Stanford (No. 22)
hosting California.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from Halloween-time last year,
Callen faces a personal crisis: His father (Daniel Travanti of “Hill
Street Blues”) has been found in a victim's hospital room; now
Callen must interrogate him.

“Will &
Grace,” 8 p.m., NBC. This rerun sees big career opportunities for
both people. Will could become a partner in his law firm; Grace could
be hired to design a string of boutique hotels. It's a good episode,
often smart and sometimes – Leslie Jordan returns for a flashy
guest role – quite silly.

“Superstore,”
8:30 p.m., NBC. The bad news is that a work crew has found a body;
the worse news is that customers assume it's a Halloween decoration.
That leads to some hilarious scenes.

“Dirk Gently's
Holistic Detective Agency,” 9 p.m. ET, BBC America, rerunning at
midnight. As Dirk gets closer to learning the identity of “The
Boy,” the villains are linking to stop him.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

Isabel Allende has
been a literary giant for decades. She's won top awards in at least
10 countries, from ones in her native South America to the
Presidential Medal of Freedom in her adopted U.S. homeland. And now
she plays a key part in this story.

Jane's first novel
has been published, at a time when fewer people go to the sort of
book store she's loved since childhood. This hour has lots of plot
twists – some of them making no sense in the timeline – but
Allende, 75, helps give it a feeling of heart and hope.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Once Upon a Time,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.

For way too long,
this was alongside the clumsy “Inhumans”; now the latter has
ended and “Once” has the night to itself. In the first hour's
fairytale portions, Hook seeks a powerful magic, but Rapunzel may be
too much for him; in the second hour, Henry follows a distressed
Alice to Wonderland.

There are also the
portions in modern Seattle. In the first hour, Henry tries to find
the missing Eloise Gardner; in the second, Jacinda makes a desperate
effort to regain custody of her daughter.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

We've applauded the
ambition of PBS' fall Fridays – a string of Broadway shows. We're
less happy about the choices: Three of them -- “Falsettos,”
“Present Laughter” and now “Indecent” -- are poorly suited
for TV. Onstage, they may be delightful; on TV, they seem forced and
exaggerated.

“Indecent” has
the true story of a play that was acclaimed throughout Europe. In the
U.S., it brought controversy – especially over its lesbian scenes –
and arrests. That's an interesting story, told here with zest; on TV,
however, we mostly get people screaming toward the back row of the
theater.

Other choices
include:

Movies, all night,
cable. It's a night of big-time fantasy, including the two-part
“Harry Potter” finale, at 4:30 (2010) and 8 p.m. (2011) on
Freeform. Elsewhere, there's the middle of the great “Lord of the
Rings” trilogy (2002) at 8 p.m. on AMC and the start of “The
Hunger Games” (2012) at 8 p.m. on TNT. Also, the delightful
“Princess Bride” (1987) is 8 and 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. While chasing a deadly bomber, Jane finds a secret from
her youth.

“Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend,” 8 p.m., CW. The “crazy” part was merely an
expression at first, but Rebecca has sunk deep into depression, even
attempting suicide. Her friends rally around her, in an hour that has
a couple strong songs, a few laughs (Valencia is key to both of
those) and some serious moments.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Things get complicated for the show's side characters:
Riley is visited by her estranged father (Billy Baldwin); Bozer is
sent to a spy-training camp. Then, of course, there's a big case to
solve. Armed with a shoelace and a tablecloth, Mac and Jack must
steal a priceless painting

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Adjusting to an empty home without Kono, Adam also faces
a crisis: He must back up McGarrett, when a bank heist forces him
into what could be a heartbreaking mistake.

“The Exorcist,”
9 p.m., Fox. An exorcism begins, with the future of the foster home
at stake.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. The focus shifts to Danny's police partner, Eddie
(Vanessa Ray); she arrests someone she hated in college. And Frank,
the police commissioner, is hesitant to mar the record of a cop – a
decorated U.S. veteran – who tested positive for marijuana.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Project Runway” finale, 9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime.

Last week's episode
(rerunning at 8 p.m.) saw the five surviving designers each prepare
10 pieces for a Fashion Week show. Then the judges saw two pieces
each and sent Kenya Freeman home.

Now the final four
are in New York, with one becoming the show's 16th
champion. Kee – a young (24) and stoic designer from San Francisco
– has dominated. The others are Ayana Ife, 27, of Salt Lake City;
Kentaro Kameyama, 38, of Los Angeles; and Margarita Alvarez, 30, of
San Juan, Puerto Rico.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Life in Pieces,” 9:31 p.m., CBS.

John (James Brolin)
manages to keep a cheery distance from pragmatism or reality. Mostly,
he sees the world into what-me-worry terms. So it shouldn't surprise
us that he blissfully refuses to accept the fact that he has a
hearing problem. That leads to some hilarious moments, in the last of
tonight's four pieces.

The others? Joan
(John's wife) gambles at cards ... their three kids search for a time
capsule ... Jen has an abysmal score with hired drivers. Each tale is
fairly good; then John provides the strong finish.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Better Things” season-finale, 10 p.m., FX.

This subtly
brilliant comedy-drama ends with another episode that barely
remembers the comedy part. Sam (Pamela Adlon) prepares for her oldest
daughter's high school graduation, with all the emotional baggage
that this complicated family keeps hefting. As usual, there are
setbacks.

This ends a season
that's been great on-camera and tragic behind the scenes. Louis C.K.
(who wrote this episode) admitted that sexual-harassment accusations
about him are true. FX dropped him as producer of this and other
shows; he leaves (for now) a track record of great and eccentric
television.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: All night, ABC.

It's time for what
ABC calls the “mid-season finales” of its strong Thursday shows.
On “Grey's Anatomy” (8 p.m.), a hacker busts the hospital's
computer system, creating chaos. On “Scandal” (9 p.m.), the
network will only say there are shocks and revelations; there usually
are.

And “How to Get
Away With Murder” (10 p.m.) has had a pattern of wrapping up key
storylines twice a year. Tonight, the probe of Wes' murder comes to a
head; also, we learn where Laurel's baby is.

Other choices
include:

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. We kind of figured nothing good would come of someone
named Professor Pyg. He continues to torment people, even showing up
as the chef at a fundraiser for the orphanage.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Leonard and Howard are furious when they
learn that Sheldon is working with the military without them. They
even turn to the disliked Kripke for help.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Here are two turning points for the 9-year-old
version of Sheldon: He develops a fear of solid foods – ALL solid
foods – and a love of comic books.

“The Orville,” 9
p.m., Fox. At first, crew members had doubts about their chief
security officer. Alara (played by Halston Sage, 24) is young and
small, with immense strength. She's proven herself so far ... but now
has doubts, after a deadly fire and other troubles.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Christy (played by Anna Faris, 40) was afraid she wouldn't
fit in, as a mid-life student in law school. Now she befriends a
fellow student, played by Michael Angarano, 30.

“S.W.A.T.,” 10
p.m., CBS. The stakes are high tonight, with Filipino immigrants
endangered by a drug ring. During this, the new cop is distracted by
his mother (Sherilyn Fenn of “Twin Peaks”), who's in prison for
killing his abusive dad. Despite its monotone nature, “S.W.A.T.”
has some strong moments.