TV column for Thursday, Sept. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Murphy Brown” debut, 9:30 p.m., CBS.

Few shows have been
more eagerly awaited. A sharp comedy from the 1990s has been revived
for a new age, with its original producer and stars.

It would be great to
say this version – Murphy starts a morning show on cable – is
back on top. In the best comedies, big laughs flow smoothly out of
the dialog and the characters; these feels forced, like a series of
semi-connected one-liners. Fortunately, those lines are clever enough
to keep us watching.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Good Place” season-opener, 8-9 p.m., NBC.

Breaking all the TV
rules, this clever comedy has – for the second time – switched
its concept. Now the four main characters aren't even in the
afterlife any more. Michael (Ted Danson) schemes a way to keep them
on Earth, hoping they'll meet, bond and become better people.

To do that, he has
to keep getting past an immensely disinterested doorman (Mike
O'Malley) to Earth, then manipulate people. It's often quite odd and
sometimes terribly funny.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Young Sheldon,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

Viewers have seen
Mckenna Grace in some dramatic situations lately. She was the
president's daughter in “Designated Survivor,” young Tonya
Harding in “I, Tonya” and a very bad seed in “Bad Seed.”

And now? She's Paige
– pretty in pink, fond of unicorns and, at 10, as smart as Sheldon.
He's not happy about this. It's a funny episode, with some great
moments for both kids' discontented siblings.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Grey's Anatomy” season-opener, 8-10 p.m., ABC.

In the
season-finale, the wedding of Jo and Alex didn't go as planned. (They
accidentally locked themselves in a shed during some pre-ceremony
consummation.) Now the honeymoon doesn't, either.

Back at the
hospital, the doctors are vying for a new position, but Meredith
seems distracted. Also, Maggie is keeping a big secret and Amelia and
Owen are trying to figure out their relationship.

Other choices
include:

Football, 7:30 p.m.
ET preview and 8 p.m. game, Fox. The Los Angeles Rams – the only
3-0 team in the NFC – host the Minnesota Vikings, who are 1-1-1.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Back from their honeymoon, Sheldon and Amy
try to discern the meaning of a wedding gift. That story is smart and
interesting, but not terribly funny. Two other stories are better, as
the show's neediest guys – Raj and Stuart – begin their
final-season search for love.

“Mom”
season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS. Christy's first day of law school goes
badly.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit” season-opener, 9 and 10 p.m., NBC. Moving to
its new night, the show has a two-parter centering around a teen who
shows evidence of rape, but refuses to name his attacker. Also,
Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Rollins (Kelli Giddish) relate some
major life changes.

“SWAT”
season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS. In a tricky juggling act, this show
manages to jump between strong dialog – beautifully played by guest
stars Nikiva Dionne and E.R. Ruiz – and big action, as rescue
operations continue during and after an earthquake.

“How to Get Away
With Murder” season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC. A flashforward introduces
the new mystery. Meanwhile, Annalise is juggling job offers and
choosing the students for her new legal clinic.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 26


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

These guys aren't
really sure why they became friends. They range from Jon (Ron
Livingston), a big-money businessman, to Eddie (David Giuntoli), who
sometimes gives music lessons. They have little in common; mostly,
they bonded by going to hockey games.

Then a jolt changes
everything. The rest is enigmatic, but skillfully written, filmed and
acted. Grace Park (“Hawaii Five-0”) plays Eddie's intense wife,
Christina Ochoa (“Valor”) is Jon's mysterious secretary and
Allison Miller is excellent as the outsider, on a funeral “date”
with Gary (James Roday).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Empire” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

Last season ended
with the family in tatters ... again. Lucious and Cookie had lost
their record label to ex-friend Eddie (Forest Whitaker). One son was
shot, another was in prison, the third was in London.

Now the latest
comeback begins. As usual, it includes extremes; some of the twists
would seem absurd in other shows, but work because “Empire” is so
well done. And it has great music: In the final minutes, Katlynn
Simone – a talented actress (“The Game”) and singer – makes a
quick impact.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Single Parents” debut, 9:31 p.m., ABC.

In the first couple
years after he left “Saturday Night Live,” Taran Killam was
semi-visible; he made an indie movie and did some voice work. But now
he's at the core of a fairly smart, fun series.

He's Will, the dad
who signs up for everything at school. His social life – or any
other life – has faded. Now some less-intense parents, including
Brad Garrett and Leighton Meester -- try a makeover.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: All night, CBS or NBC.

This is an
overloaded night everywhere, so we should alert our recording
devices.

CBS ends one season
(“Big Brother,” from 9:30-11 p.m.) and starts another. That's
“Survivor,” at 8 p.m., this time with a “David vs. Goliath”
theme – one 10-person tribe with people who are physically
imposing, another with people who aren't. And NBC has revamped its
night to make it all Chicago – the Dick Wolf productions of
“Chicago Med” at 8 p.m., “Chicago Fire” at 9 and “Chicago
P.D.” at 10.

Other choices
include:

“Burden of Truth,”
8 p.m., CW. A week before the finale, Joanna and Billy face another
obstacle in suing the potential polluter. Now she searches for a
surprise witness, to get dirt on the opposing lawyer.

“Chicago Med”
season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC. Heather Headley, a Tony-winner in
Broadway musicals, arrives as the hospital's chief operating officer.
She promptly clashes with Goodwin, the administrator.

“Star”
season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox. Carlotta is ready to put together a tour
– if she can re-assemble the trio. But the others are fuming at
Star for leaving on a three-month tour, as soon as she had a solo
hit. Also, Carlotta's sister and mother (Brandy Norwood and Patti
LaBelle) are back and angry. This is only a fairly good episode, but
it could set up much better ones ahead.

“Modern Family”
season-opener,” 9 p.m., ABC. Jay is the grand marshal of the Fourth
of July parade. And Haley expects a warm goodby with Arvin, before
his trip to Switzerland; then an ex-flame arrives.

“Chicago Fire”
season-opener, 9 p.m., NBC. As Casey tries to sort out his unsettled
personal life, his firehouse has a newcomer. Also, there's a new
assistant deputy commissioner, clashing with Boden.

“Chicago P.D.”
season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. Bad drugs, deliberately poisoned, are
randomly killing people. The team tries to track this down, while its
leader is suspended and investigated. That puts Antonio in charge –
with Ruzek battling him. It's a tough, solid hour, sometimes hit by
macho excess.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“This Is Us” season-opener, “New Amsterdam” debut; 9 and 10
p.m, NBC.

First, TV's best
drama returns. On their 38th birthday, these three are on
opposite paths: Kate is newly wed, Randall has been expanding his
family via foster care and Kevin tries to avoid self-destruction.

Then comes a
hospital show that tries to do a year's worth of plotlines in one
hour. The new medical director (Ryan Eggold) has two big stories
himself, while instantly shaking up the entire place. Other stories
include a teen runaway, international terrorism and a formerly dead
patient. Parts of this are quite good, but other parts – firing the
entire cardiology department? -- are wildly absurd.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Mayo Clinic,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

One “New
Amsterdam” notion is that doctors should quit focusing on their
incomes. As it happens, the Mayo Clinic solved that long ago:
Everyone's on salary, free to spend ample time on each patient.

There have been
other innovations, including having the lab next to the operating
room, so doctors can make decisions mid-procedure. Started in 1889 in
small-town Minnesota, the Mayo has kept setting new standards. This
superb documentary jumps between its rich history and some current
scenes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Lethal Weapon” season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox.

Riggs is gone now
and it's time for Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) to meet his new partner
(Seann William Scott). In the Hollywood tradition, they meet cute –
in this case, both commandeering the same truck.

By the end of the
hour, they will have leapt from fierce explosions (twice), battled
Eastern European toughs (often ) and stood atop a speeding,
driverless truck. The hour is overstuffed – just as tonight's “New
Amsterdam” and “FBI” are. That's excusable here, since it fits
the show's light, frolicsome tone.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “FBI,” 9 p.m., CBS.

This isn't the “FBI”
of long-ago TV, with simple (by modern standards) problems. Within
minutes, a building crumbles spectacularly; more could follow, amid
elaborate webs of hatred.

And it isn't the
just-white-guys FBI of old. The solutions are more varied; there's
early-stages technology to create a sketch from DNA. And the people
are more varied: Missy Peregrym is the lead agent, with Zeeko Zaki,
an Egyptian native, playing her assistant. They lead a good, if
crowded, hour.

Other choices
include:

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. Monday's season-opener started with a group
number from the 13 celebrities; this one starts with the 13 pros
dancing to “The Greatest Show,” from the “Greatest Showman”
movie. It's a two-hour episode, going against NBC's one-hour “The
Voice.”

“Gifted,” 8
p.m., Fox. It's no longer just mutants-vs.-others; now there are
intra-mutant battles. The Hellfire group has power, has Andy ... and
soon may have Polaris' potent baby. It's a high-voltage hour.

“The Great
American Read,” 8 p.m., PBS. Walter Isaacson – now a famed
biographer, then a newspaper reporter in his native New Orleans –
recalls a strange woman claiming that her late son's oft-rejected
novel was good. He soon agreed; “The Confederacy of Dunces” won a
Pulitzer Prize. That story and others brighten this jaunt through
novels that are about heroes.

“NCIS” and
“NCIS: New Orleans,” 8 and 10 p.m., CBS. First, Gibbs is the
acting director while the team searches for Vance; then Pride is in
Intensive Care, while the team seeks his would-be assassin.

“Mayans MC,”
10-11:30 p.m., FX. In a strong episode, new villains are shooting
people at the border. Are they racists ... or patriots ... or just
guys trying to reduce competition for their drug business?

“Mr. Inbetween”
debut, 11:30 p.m., FX. Back in 2005, Scott Ryan made a micro-budget
Australian film about a quiet hit man. Few people saw it ... but now
it's been turned into this weirdly understated series about a quiet
dad who kills people. In its own odd way, it's kind of fun.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Magnum P.I.” debut, 9 p.m., CBS.

On the opening day
of the TV season, we meet what could be the biggest new hit. Sure,
some critics – well, many critics – have said this is
flashy-but-empty; fans will notice that the new Magnum (Jay
Hernandez) is 7 1/2 inches shorter and maybe 58 percent as handsome
as the original (Tom Selleck).

Still, this is
thoroughly entertaining. It has sleek cars, great (if exaggerated)
action, gorgeous Hawaiian settings and a likable story about old war
buddies who remain close friends. Give it a try.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
(or record): “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” 8-10:15 p.m., HBO.

For two decades,
Susan Lacy made PBS' “American Masters” a national treasure. It
won 27 Emmys and three Peabodys, setting the standard for filmed
biography. Now she's at HBO, where she has more time, more money and
a chance to do the biggest subjects – first Steven Spielberg and
now Fonda.

It's a life of rich
variety. Fonda has been a glitzy starlet, a two-time Oscar-winner, an
anti-war activist, a strong feminist and the wife of three alpha
males. At 80 (she was 78 during many of the interviews), she
discusses it all frankly, illustrated by movie scenes, news clips,
even a Richard Nixon tape.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Big Bang Theory” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

Desperate to patch
its wobbly Mondays, CBS has TV's best comedy air twice – now and
Thursday – this week. Tonight, the show opens its final season with
Sheldon and Amy on their honeymoon.

That part feels a
bit forced; the hilarious moments are back home. At the wedding, we
met Amy's forceful mother (Kathy Bates) and quiet father (Teller, of
Penn-and-Teller). Now they're back and he even gets to talk. Some
great moments seem to reflect the mismatched marriage of Leonard and
Penny.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Manifest” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

We expect a plane
trip to have surprises – a bumpy ride, a late arrival, maybe bad
peanuts. We don't expect to be told that five years have passed ...
even though no one on the plane noticed it or aged.

That happens early
in this hour, told subtly and skillfully. “Manifest” soon
fascinates us ... and worries us: Broadcast networks sometimes take
sci-fi ideas that would be great for a movie or a limited run and
stretch them to a series. Some wear thin, others never finish; let's
hope this is an exception.

Other choices
include:

“Ackley Bridge”
second season, any time, www.acorn.tv.
The season starts with the focus on its best character, Nasreen, and
her friend, Missy; one is Pakistani, the other isn't, but both are
teen outsiders in a tough, blue-collar world. Despite some soapy
excesses, “Ackley” tells moving stories.

“The Voice”
opener, 8-10 p.m., NBC. Blake Shelton and Adam Levine are there, as
always, with Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson returning to the
other chairs.

“Dancing With the
Stars” opener, 8-10 p.m., ABC. This starts with the 13 contestants
dancing to “I Won't Dance.” Then, of course, they do; John
Schneider even dances to the theme song of his “Dukes of Hazzard.”
The line-up includes another past TV star (Nancy McKeon) and some top
athletes – gymnast Mary Lou Retton, linebacker DeMarcus Ware and
visually disabled skiier Danielle Umstead.

“Young Sheldon”
season-opener, 8:30 p.m., CBS. Sheldon plunges into the work force,
perilously. It's a fairly good episode, with some strong moments for
his sister and, especially, their dad.

“9-1-1,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. There's trouble everywhere. On “The Resident” (8 p.m., Fox),
it's a blackout; here, it's an earthquake. Buck's sister (Jennifer
Love Hewitt) faces her first crisis as a dispatcher.

“The Good Doctor,”
10 p.m., ABC. The season starts amid chaos. Dr. Glassman, who has
brain cancer, is out as hospital president; Dr. Andrews is in. Jerrod
is leaving; Shaun is wobbling. This hour is flawed – Andrews is too
much the cliche villain – but packs an emotional punch in its final
minutes.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 23


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“9-1-1” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

The new season
officially starts Monday, but this show takes advantage of a football
lead-in. It starts a two-parter tonight, then jumps to its regular
spot at 9 p.m. Monday.

On the hottest day
of the year, crises grow, alongside personal issues. Athena (Angela
Bassett) questions her relationship with Bobby (Peter Krause). Buck
feels competitive toward a handsome newcomer; also, Buck's sister
arrives. She's played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, who fills the hole
created when Connie Britton -- who had only signed for one season –
decided not to return.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Celebrity Family Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC.

We know that the
Kardashians are a family and that they may, for unclear reasons, be
celebrities. So Kim Kardashian West is on “Celebrity Family Feud”
with her husband (Kanye West), facing a team that includes her
mother (Kris Jenner), sister (Khloe Kardashian) and half-sister
(Kendall Jenner).

That rerun is paired
with a new half-hour, with country star Jana Kramer and actor Gary
Busey.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Parts Unknown” and “This is Life”
season-openers, 9 and 10:15 p.m. ET, CNN (barring breaking news).

“Unknown” has
just won four more Emmys, including one for best informational series
and another for Anthony Bourdain's superb scripts. But this opener
(in Kenya) is the last one that will have Bourdain's full narration;
he filmed the other six, but they were completed after his death.

That's followed by
Lisa Ling's strong film about MS-13, the gang that preys on
Salvadoran teens in the U.S. This starts with an account of two
girls, 17 and 15; the older one stabbed the younger one 13 times,
while nine others watched and recorded. Ling catches other views,
from those in or near MS-13.

Other choices
include:

Football preview, 7
p.,m. ET, and game, 8:20, NBC. The Lions (0-2) host their new coach's
former team, the New England Patriots (1-1).

“$100,000
Pyramid,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. This summer show closes its season with
four battles. It's “Splitting Up Together” stars Jenna Fischer
and Oliver Hudson ... Olympians Johnny Weir and Gabby Douglas ...
Ross Mathews and Vivica A. Fox ... and Kelly Osbourne and Matt
McGorry.

“Masterpiece: The
Miniaturist” finale, 9 p.m., PBS. The characters face a chasm of
despair, including a trial, an unwanted pregnancy and crumbling
finances. But it is, at least, all beautifully filmed.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. Sam is shot, in a rerun of the season
finale.

“Madame
Secretary,” 10 p.m., CBS. In another season-finale rerun, there are
reports of incoming missiles and the president prepares a nuclear
retaliation.

“You,” 10 p.m.,
Lifetime. On one level, Joe has a gradual goal – convncing Beck
that he's not just a pal, but her one true love. On another is an
immediate need – dispose of the body of her sometimes-boyfriend,
whom he killed. “You” has lots of little jumps in logic and
credibility; beyond that, however, is a richly crafted show. And
tonight, Elizabeth Lail (as Beck) shows that she's a subtly superb
actress.

“Kidding,” 10
p.m., Showtime. With Jeff (Jim Carrey) deep in despair over his late
son and his collapsed marriage, his father has alternate schemes:
Jeff needs a lady friend; his show needs a back-up plan to oust him.
This is a better episode than the first two, taking focus away from
the marital agony and toward some intriguing surprises in Jeff's
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