TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

Thanksgivings offer
the ideal situation-comedy formula – wedge all the family members
together, add some mismatched outsiders and let people talk. ABC has
four straight episodes tonight, from 8-10 p.m.

“Modern Family”
thrives on such chaos, so we can expect good things here. Jay toasts
all the “successes” of the past year, while people try not to
reveal that most of these were closer to failures.

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

Last week ended
powerfully. A disguised caller – billed as the “Black Hood”
serial killer – demanded a name of someone to kill. Betty wavered,
then named of a young rapist.

Now she races to
prevent a new murder. It's a strong start to an episode that merely
becomes OK afterward. Jughead persists in joining his dad's old gang
... Veronica's parents scramble for financing ... and the sunny world
of Archie comics just doesn't seem the same.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Beyond a Year in Space,” 9 p.m., PBS.

From the beginning,
PBS covered Scott Kelly's record, 340-day stay in space. Some of that
coverage is rerun at 8 p.m., but then an interesting new hour looks
backward and forward.

We see Kelly's
return (20 months ago) and face the next question: What would happen
to people during a two-year round trip to Mars? Kelly, 53, continues
to undergo testing and talks about the after-effects. Also, we see
two newer astronauts -- Jessica Meir and Victor Glover, 40 and 41 –
train. Neither looks like the old-school astronauts (all of them
white males); either could be the first person on Mars.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Mythbusters” return, 9:02 p.m. ET, Science,
rerunning at 12:08 a.m.

This was an early
cable giants, persisting for 15 years and 282 episodes. It did
endless experiments, blew lots of stuff up, disproved hundreds of
myths and found that a few are possible. The Discovery Channel
finally canceled it, but this sister channel had a reality show to
choose new hosts.

Now we can sample
some of the old episodes (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), see the full reality
show (1-9:02 p.m.) and then see the debut with the new hosts. The
reality finale reruns at 11:06 p.m..

Other choices
include:

“The Blacklist,”
8 p.m., NBC. Here's what NBC calls the “fall finale.” Tom is
missing and Liz retraces his steps; Red's search for the suitcase of
bones may put him on a collision course with Tom.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. The oft-split family links together to support Hakeem in a
custody fight. No one, however, is prepared for the revelations Anika
soon makes against him .

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Last week, a vibrant music event suddenly crashed: A nervous
cop, given little provocation, shot and killed a young black man
during a traffic stop. Now come the aftershocks; also, the trio tries
to convince a star (played by Teyana Taylor) to sing a verse on one
of its songs.

“Dynasty,” 9
p.m., CW. For a guy who runs a mega-company, Blake Carrington can be
pretty thick-headed. Last week, he rushed to stop someone from
hurting an enraged widow ... and promptly crashed his car into her.
Tonight, he ignores a lesson we all know: NEVER strip and enter a
bathtub, without checking to see who else is there. Add some
cardboard performances and you have a so-so episode.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. Turkey's president demands the extradition
of an activist who has been stirring protests in the U.S. Also, a
controversy threatens the future of the president's teen son.

ALSO: It's a
Batman-vs.-Superman night. At 8 p.m., “Man of Steel” (2013) is on
FX, facing Tim Burton's classy “Batman” (1989) on CMT and “The
LEGO Batman Movie” (2017) on HBO. For a past master, catch Alfred
Hitchcock's superb “Vertigo” (1958), at 8 p.m. ET on Turner
Classic Movies.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Middle” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” 8-9 p.m., ABC.

For situation
comedies, Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday. It throws together
mismatched people, often with great results; bow ABC has these shows
tonight, then all four Wednesday sitcoms.

For “Middle,”
this is the ninth – and, alas, final -- Thanksgiving show; the
Hecks keep running into problems, while racing to get to the home of
Frankie's sister (Molly Shannon). On “Boat,” Louis invites the
English teacher (George Takei) Grandma has flirted with; she decides
to make the entire dinner.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Mindy Project” finale and “Future Man,” any time,
Hulu.

If you get some of
the pay-extra streaming services, things have been busy lately. One
(acorn.tv) had the charmingly low-key “Doc Martin” season finale;
another (CBS All Access) had the mid-season finale of “Star Trek:
Discovery,” then the sometimes-hilarious start of a droll comedy,
“No Activity.”

Now Hulu introduces
“Future Man” -- a dandy blend of science-fiction whimsy – and
wraps the sixth and final season of “Mindy.” It ends in ways that
mirror the first episode – a wedding reception, a rambling speech,
a frantic bike ride, good people bumbling through life in funny ways.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Horror Story” finale (FX) or “Damnation”
(USA), 10 p.m.

There's a trend that
ripples through many of the 10 p.m. cable dramas – superb direction
and camera work, sharp writing, strong actors ... and a story that's
tough to watch. That's true of most rounds of “Horror,” including
this one, with small-town terror; and now it's true of “Damnation.”

In 1930s Iowa, a
preacher is trying to stir a farmers' revolution; a tough cowboy (his
brother, actually) was hired to stop him. Tonight, the farmers face
retaliation, then mass angrily. Also, the preacher's past – a messy
one, apparently – looms. This is tough, taut, sometimes messy, not
terribly entertaining.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. A strange voice guides a runner to find a body. The murder
victim turns out to be someone the team has been seeking in a
bribery and fraud case.

“The Long Road
Home” documentary, 8-10 p.m., and new episode, 10 p.m., National
Geographic. Last week, the channel had the compelling start of a
mini-series about an Army unit ambushed in a Baghdad suburb. Now
Martha Raddatz has an advance look at her documentary, “The Heroes
of The Long Road Home.” That's followed by a new chapter, with the
first attempt to rescue the trapped Americans.

“This is Us,” 9
p.m., NBC. Kevin's world has been crumbling, ever since he skipped
surgery and began gobbling pain pills. Now he heads back to his high
school to accept an award.

“The Mick,” 9
p.m., Fox. Life has been complicated for Mick and her niece and
nephews, ever since they accidentally burned the mansion of their
parents. Now they show up – quite unwanted – at a relative's
house; in strange (and sometimes funny) ways, that leads to a fresh
possibility.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 9:30, Fox. The Vulture – played by Dean Winters,
who's been Mayhem in all those insurance commercials – is back,
bringing trouble for Jake and Amy. Also, a popular police horse has
been kidnapped; Boyle and Rosa are searching.

“Law & Order:
True Crime” finale, 10 p.m., NBC. After the Menendez brothers
survived the first trial with a hung jury, the judge (Anthony
Edwards) and prosecution clamp down on defense options.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. There's a family crisis for Dr. Wade, the
team's forensics chief. Danny, her adopted son, was attacked at the
home of his girlfriend, who's now missing.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 13


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Man With a Plan” season-opener, 8:30 p.m., CBS.

We expected “Man”
to return sometime this season ... but not this soon. After just six
episodes, CBS yanked “Me, Myself and I” and juggled its Monday
schedule. “Superior Donuts” gets the 9 p.m. slot, “9JKL”
moves to 9:30 and “Man” steps in at 8:30.

Tonight, Andi (Liza
Snyder) and Adam have a new babysitter. One problem is that their
daughter prefers her advice to theirs; another is that the sitter
admits she has the hots for Adam. This news is viewed warily; she's
played by Victoria Justice, 24, and he's played by Matt LeBlanc, 50.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Superior Donuts,” 9 p.m., CBS.

We had high hopes
for this inconsistent but promising comedy. It introduced a strong
character in the season's first week, then planned to tackle strong
subjects – cops last week, biases tonight.

Alas, the episode
scheduled for tonight – a fairly good one – received a late
change, nudging it back to Nov. 27. Tonight, Franco joins the Big
Brother program ... then is dismayed when the kid likes Arthur (Judd
Hirsch) more than he likes Franco.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Cinderella” (2015), 8 p.m., TNT.

At times, the Disney
people come up with great ideas; here were two of them: First, take
some of the classic cartoons and redo them as lush, live-action
epics; that has yielded “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast”
and movies that cross generations.

The second was to
get Kenneth Branagh – a classy actor-director with a strong
Shakespearean record – to direct this one. The result is both
intelligent and gorgeous. Lily James has the title role, with lots of
top people – Cate Blanchett, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter,
more – in support.

Other choices
include:

“Futurama,” all
day, Syfy. Moving to a new channel, this witty cartoon (from the
“Simpsons” people) continues a marathon that started Saturday and
ends at 2 a.m. Wednesday. After that, it will air on Monday and
Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. With the two-night finale coming next
week, the show is down to its final five couples.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. Kara sets aside her Supergirl duties for a while and
returns home with her sister. The triggers painful memories of a
childhood friend's death.

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. An angry reporter says his estranged wife (Linda, the
therapist) has been sleeping with Lucifer. That provides a
distraction, as a past killer returns.

“The Gifted,” 9
p.m., Fox. As police launch a fresh surveillance program, several of
the mutants must confront their secrets. Eclipse gets a call from his
ex-lover ... Blink opens up about her past ... and Reed and Sage
learn startling things about Lauren's new friend.

“Scorpion, 10
p.m., CBS. You know things will go wrong when the team tries to have
fun at a Renaissance festival. Walter spends way too much time
muttering about historical inaccuracies; also, as usually happens to
these people, there's a crime nearby.

“The Good Doctor,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. Tonight, both the doctor and the patient suffer from
autism. That brings some bias from a surprising source.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“No Activity” debut, any time, CBS All Access.

This pay-extra
service – stuffed with decades of CBS reruns – has started its
original shows slowly. “The Good Fight” is great; “Star Trek:
Discovery” was tardy and a mixed blessing.

Now, however, comes
a true delight. Taken from an Australian hit, it wisely uses the
show's creators – Trent O'Donnell (who directs every episode) and
Patrick Brammell (who plays he competent half of a cop duo). As
people wait for a drug shipment, we hear wonderfully droll dialog
involving the cops, two dispatch operators and two crooks. The result
is quietly hilarious ... and then comes a sudden plot twist.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography,” 9 p.m., A&E, rerunning at
10:33.

This story
fascinated people for almost a year. Elizabeth Smart was 14 wen she
was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home; she was found nine months
later, in a nearby town.

Now, 15 years later,
Smart is working with two networks. Tonight, this documentary offers
her account of what happened; at 8 p.m. next Saturday, Lifetime
debuts the scripted film, “I Am Elizabeth Smart.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II; “The Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS.

It's the season's
second-to-last episode for two shows – mismatched, but well-crafted
– under the “Masterpiece” banner. “Poldark” is solemn, but
“Durrells” is mostly a fun jaunt.

At the core is the
wonderful Keeley Hawes as Louisa, a penniless widow who moved her
four kids to a Greek island in 1935. Now the amiable Spiro tells her
(quite accurately) that she has bad taste in men. He's also busy with
Hugh, organizing a maybe-friendly Greeks-English cricket match. And
speaking of terrible taste, Louisa's son is still with evil Vasilia,
who makes an extremely un-romantic proposal.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,” 9 p.m., CNN
(barring breaking news).

Tower's life has had
the dizzying extremes that make for great biography. With no chef
training, he linked with Alice Waters to revolutionize American
cuisine ... then broke from her bitterly.

He was the image of
a celebrity chef, communing easily with patrons ... disappeared from
the public view for 16 years ... and returned in an ultra-public way,
running a New York mega-restaurant. It's a fascinating story,
described vividly by Anthony Bourdain (who also produced this) and
other foodies.

Other choices
include:

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Running for mayor, Marge needs someone to mock. She
chooses Homer.

“Ghosted,” 8:30,
Fox. Don't you hate it when your office puts an
artificial-intelligence entity in charge, but it turns out to be an
evil and powerful force? That's happens to the guys tonight.

“Poldark,” 9
p.m., PBS. In her final burst of venom, the dowager Agatha told
George he's probably not the baby's father. Now he fumes and takes it
out on others. Meanwhile, their are marital problems in the homes of
the nasty Rev. Whitworth and the sturdy-but-distant Ross Poldark.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30, Fox. As some of the planet's few survivors, these
people feel obligated to procreate. But now Carol's pregnancy has
complications; Melissa discourages Todd's baby enthusiasm.

“Madam Secretary,”
10 p.m., CBS. This is perilous for the secretary of state and her
husband. They disagree on whether to negotiate with terrorists; also,
their daughter Stevie is having a difficult time.

“SMILF,” 10
p.m., Showtime. In its second episode, this seems to find its tone.
The first – like many pilot films – leaned clumsily on sex; this
one is fairly similar to “Better Things” -- a low-key look at a
parenting life that's improvised, moment by moment. Bridgette
(Frankie Shaw, the show's creator) drifts between her job, her son's
illness, her dour mom (Rosie O'Donnell) and mere circumstance.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 9 (slightly out of order)


(This is the Nov. 9 TV column, a bit out of order. If you scroll down, you'll see Nov. 11 and then Nov. 10)

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

In just three
episodes, “Young Sheldon” has found its place as its own kind of
gem. It's different from “The Big Bang Theory” in huge ways –
no studio audience, fewer jokes, a softer, gentler tone.

Still, it's the same
in all the ways that count – great characters who are very funny in
flawed, human ways, without ever seeming cartoon-ish. Tonight, Annie
Potts plays the grandma that old Sheldon has praised on “Big Bang”;
caregiving isn't one of her strengths. Also, Sheldon's older brother
takes him on a wild ride. In its own way, the episode delivers big
laughs and some dabs of warmth.

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

Here's a situation
anyone can stumble into: You've spent lots of time with someone, then
realize you don't know his or her name. That happens to Jen tonight,
in a hilarious segment. After charming her boss, she needs to know
his wife's first name ... and hasn't a clue, turning increasingly
desperate.

The other stories
are mixed: The teens are trying an open marriage ... Matt has a
bizarre dream ... Heather feels her mom has a drinking problem. They
have their moments, but the first one is terrific.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: All night, ABC.

This is the 300th
episode for “Grey's Anatomy,” a show that has kept viewers
engaged for 14 busy seasos. Tonight, a roller-coaster disaster has
the doctors flashing back to previous crises.

That's at 8 p.m.,
launching a busy night. At 9, “Scandal” will include Taylor Swift
debuting a three-minute song from her album, “Reputation.” At 10,
“How to Get Away With Murder” gives Annalise a surprising ally in
her class-action lawsuit. Also, Laurel's scheme to take down her
father is discovered.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Better Things,” 10 p.m., FX, repeats at 10:45.

At times, this
brilliant show doesn't even pretend to be a comedy. Tonight has a
couple laughs at the beginning and end, but this is mostly
bittersweet and quietly moving.

Pamela Adlon builds
“Things” around her complex life, with a British mom, a late
Jewish-American dad and three daughters. She created this story with
Louis C.K. (who wrote the script) and directed the tale of a trip to
see her mom's brother in Canada. The result is filled with
understated elquence.

Other choices
include:

"Doc Martin" season-finale, any time, www.acorn.tv. Even on the best of days, the doctor remains stoic; now we see him on his worst, as he's supposed to resist practicing medicine until he faces a hearing. Naturally, crises intervene -- one of them involving guest star Sigourney Weaver. It's an amiable way for a perpetual pleasure to end its season.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Fans know that Jim Gordon will eventually be the police
commissioner and Batman's best ally. For now, he's offered a
promotion to captain, putting him at odds with his colleague Bullock.
Also, Ed Nygma is mocking Penguin on the Cherry's Place stage,
setting up a confrontation.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon is collaborating with Bert, the
geologist. He tries to keep it a secret, after all his time mocking
geology.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Bonnie's half-brother is back from rehab. When he promptly
strikes a friendship with Adam, she becomes suspicious.

“The Orville,” 9
p.m., Fox. This takes mixed romance to an extreme: Claire Finn is the
ship doctor; Yaphit (voiced by Norm Macdonald) is a gelatinous blob.
Now he says he loves her. Also, the ship is mediating peace talks, at
a time when Ed and his ex-wife are feeling very unpeaceful.

“Project Runway,”
9-11:02 p.m., Lifetime. We're down to five people for the Fashion
Week finale, but there's a catch: The show only guarantees it will
take three; tonight, they each present two pieces.

“S.W.A.T.,” 10
p.m., CBS. In its second week, this continues to draw mixed feelings.
It has a great hero (Shemar Moore), who's strong and smart and
sensitive. But it overloads each scene with arch-macho lines. There
are big action scenes, but our guys still need luck and bad-guy
stupidity to triumph.

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