TV column for Wednesday, March 28

“Empire” return, 8 p.m., Fox.

At first, we can
only wince: A demented caregiver (Demi Moore) has kidnapped Lucious
and taken him to a cabin, where he's supposed to learn to love her. A
proud show has descended into silly soapdom.

But stick around:
Tonight's final 10 minutes smartly define two of TV's best and most
complicated characters. Given great dialog, Terrence Howard and
Taraji Henson are perfect as Lucious and Cookie. Rumer Willis has the
only music number, while her real-life mom (Moore) is busy being daft
and evil.

“Star” return, 9 p.m., Fox.

As Carlotta (Queen
Latifah) emerges from the hospital, her world is shattered. Her hair
salon burned down; arson investigators and insurance people are
suspicious. Now she'll learn who did and didn't die. And now her
conniving mom and sister (Patty LaBelle and Brandy) arrive.

That much is sharply
written and played. Alas, scenes involving Take 3 (which Carlotta
manages) feel as forced and overwrought as Star's ugly outfit. Alex –
whose real boyfriend is paraplegic – is faking a relationship with
a star, Noah. But is it really fake? Things get loud and angry and
often a mess.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Americans” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX.

This all started
with two Russian spies posing as a married couple in 1980s American
suburbia. Elizabeth (Keri Russell) was the most intense; Philip
(Matthew Rhys) sometimes wavered.

Now he has retired
from the spy business -- or is trying to, anyway – and focuses on
their travel agency. She's still intense – as shown in a sudden,
startling moment tonight. Other complications are personal – their
daughter is an emerging spy – and political: Mikhail Gorbachev's
centrist approach leaves Russian hard-liners talking overthrow. A
terrific show launches its final season with great potential.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Krypton,” 10 p.m., Syfy.

In many ways, this
Superman prequel is extraordinary. Its visuals are stunning; its
scripts are smart (mostly) and sharp. “Krypton” is easy to like –
despite gnawing flaws.

The background music
booms relentlessly. The main character (who's been told he'll be the
grandfather of the future Superman) teeters toward lunkheadedness.
And what kind of government lets a guy walk around a bar with a
computer bearing all its secrets? Or chooses a military commander via
a fight to the

death? At moments
like that, we want to exit ... except that the rest is way too good
to ignore.

Other choices

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. “I don't know who you've become,” Archie's mom tells
him. Neither do we; this cheery comic-book character is siding with a
conniving businessman and challenging mobsters. That part of
tonight's hour is pretty bad; two other parts, involving Cheryl and
Betty, are much better.

“Alex, Inc.”
debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC. A family guy (Zach Braff) quits his job to try
a long shot, making his own podcast. The characters are likable and
there are reasonably amusing moments ... sort of like “Splitting Up
Together,” which reruns Tuesday's OK pilot at 9:31 p.m. today.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Haley has never been considered brilliant, but her
boyfriend (Chris Geere of “You're the Worst”) is. Now Phil and
Claire compete to seem like the smarter parent.

“Life Sentence,”
9 p.m., CW. Applying for a job as manager, Stella learns another
secret about her life. Meanwhile, the family house has been sold,
forcing her dad and brother into an odd arrangement.

Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. While the president is in Camp David,
trying to broker a deal between warring nations, Seth and Emily are
trying to decide whether to move forward as a couple.

“Andrew Lloyd
Webber: Tribute to a Superstar,” 10 p.m., NBC. Four days before its
live, concert production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” NBC has a
special focusing on its composer.

TV column for Tuesday, March 27

All night.

In some ways,
Roseanne Barr and Dolores Huerta are opposites. Barr is an outspoken
Trump supporter; Huerta – who once said “Republicans hate
Latinos” -- is not.

But in a bigger way,
they're the same: Savvy women with working-class smarts, they stepped
into male-dominated fields and won. They've persisted; at 65 and 87,
they are strong forces. Tonight, they're back-to-back – Barr's
comeback at 8, a Huerta profile at 9. We'll talk about them

“Roseanne” debut, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Can a show really
return after a long break? “Will & Grace” did it
successfully after 13 years; now “Roseanne tries it after 21. It
wisely adjusts the time -- Dan and Roseanne are grandparents, with no
empty nest in sight – and even finds a way to include both
actresses who have played Becky.

The opener subtly
refers to the fact that it used to say Dan had died. Still, subtlety
has never been the “Roseanne” style; many lines are written and
played like sledge hammers, but they work.

II: “Independent Lens: Dolores,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

Popular history says
Cesar Chavez created the United Farm Workers and led it to triumph.
That's half the story. Dolores Huerta co-founded the group, became
its prime organizer, then negotiated its labor agreements. “I don't
know why he likes to argue with me,” she told a friend. “He knows
I'll win.”

The cost was steep,
physically (one attack left her in critical condition), financially
(“she always told us, 'We're poor by choice,'” a son says) and
emotionally. Her 11 children were often left with others; it took 10
months to learn her son had dropped out of school. But she kept
winning; it's a great story.

ALTERNATIVE: “For the People,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Kate and Sandra are
the same person, yet opposite. Each is intense, driven, an
overachiever; one is a rules-follower who works for the prosecution,
the other defends the rules-breakers. In its third episode, “For
the People” has them collide, with intense results.'

There are other
cases – a sort of silly one involving a stranded boat, an intense
one about sentencing software – but this one dominates. Britt
Robertson and Susannah Flood mold passionate characters.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. A body is found on the headquarters roof, alongside bomb

“The Social
Network” (2010), 8 p.m. Pop. As Facebook goes through its current
woes, we can savor this smart film about its birth. Also at 8, Disney
has its bright “Descendants 2”(2017) musical; HBO has the second
half of “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” with the first half
rerunning at 6.

“Rise,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Jason Katims' shows have great depth and detail. “Friday Night
Lights” and “Parenthood” were high-quality; they also never
drew big audiences, because the emotions were so complicated. Now we
see the the same thing here. There are great moments tonight for the
assistant theater director (Rosie Perez), the overprotective mom
(Broadway's Stephanie Block), even the cheating husband and his
ex-mistress. “Rise” is deep and smart ... and not easy to

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. Bringing everyone together for Easter gets complicated.
Dre's family and Bow's family have different food customs; also, some
cousins scoff at an Easter egg hunt.

“Splitting Up
Together” debut, 9:30. ABC. Here's an ABC-style comedy – quick
and slick and moderately funny. A husband and wife are divorcing, but
can't afford two places. Instead, they alternate weeks, with one
living in the garage. Oliver Hudson and Jenna Fischer make these
characters bright, attractive and likable ... so much so that it's
tough to believe (or enjoy) their deep divide.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A former colleague asks for help in South
America. Pride heads there with Tammy and Sebastian.

TV column for Monday, March 26

“One Strange Rock” debut, 10 p.m. ET, National Geographic,
rerunning at 11:01..

Every now and then –
not too often – television does something that's truly splendid.
BBC America does that with its “Planet Earth” shows; now Nat Geo
matches that, delivering TV at its best.

The subject,
literally, is the planet Earth. We visit some of its most unusual
spots ... and we hear from the astronauts who have seen it from afar.
In tonight's opener, about oxygen, Chris Hadfield has s compelling
story about being temporarily blinded in space. Director Darren
Aronofsky (“Pi,” “Black Swan”) offers stunning visuals; with
soaring music and Will Smith's hosting, you have a great hour.

“American Idol” (ABC) or “The Voice” (NBC), 8-10:01 p.m.

The auditions are
done now and both shows are into the new phases.

For “Voice,” the
battle rounds continue. And for “Idol,” it's the start of
“Hollywood Week”; that continues Sunday, trimming the field to
50. A week later, it should be down to 24.

II: “Good Girls,” 10:01 p.m., NBC.

At first, these
women were driven by financial desperation; they would pull one
robbery and return to normal. But the desperation continues – along
with, for Beth (Christina Hendricks), a sense of adventure. So
they're working with a gang to pass counterfeit bills via returns at
big-box stores.

It's a bad plan,
both evil and unworkable, but we'll just have to suspend disbelief –
a lot of it. Then we'll find an amiable mixture of humor and drama,
as ordinary people tackle unfamiliar worlds.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” 8 p.m., HBO.

Back around 1983, a
16-year-old landed a radio interview with Shandling, They would later
be colleagues and friends. Shandling would transform cable comedy
with two series; the kid, Judd Apatow, would become one of
Hollywood's top comedy producers.

Now, two years after
Shandling's death at 66, Apatow has put together an extraordinary
biography, running four-plus hours over two nights. Using both comedy
clips and excerpts from Shandling's diary, it traces someone who
juggled comedy and philosophy, while being both warm and distant.

Other choices

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. Wouldn't you hate it if you wanted to go to Hell and
Lucifer wouldn't let you? That happens to Maze, when she's a murder
suspect. She turns to Det. Pierce for help.

“iZombie,” 9
p.m., CW. There's some fun here, as usual: Liv takes the personality
of a tough Canadian hockey player; Major takes a road trip with some
angry cargo. Mostly, however, this is a serious episode, with
Renegade – the kindly human smuggler – in custody. That sets up
big changes ahead.

“Into the Night,”
9-11 p.m., PBS. Now PBS tackles one of the most perplexing subjects –
death itself. It follows nine people who are confronting it for
themselves or for loved ones.

“The Terror”
debut, 9 and 10 p.m., AMC. In the mid-1800s, it was scary enough when
ships headed into the Arctic. Now imagine what it's like to have your
ship get stuck when a fierce monster is looming. In this series, the
sailors will try anything, including native magic, to survive.

Biblically,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. Some Biblical rules can seem
especially difficult. Chip struggles with “honor thy father,”
when his overwhelming dad (Christopher McDonald) visits.

“The Good Doctor,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. The team scrambles to find what's behind a college
student's unexplained injuries. And Shaun is distracted during
surgery, after losing his most prized possession.

TV column for Sunday, March 25

“Trust” debut, 10 p.m., FX.

“All the Money in
the World” seemed to be the definitive retelling of a big story –
the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty's grandson. But now, three
months later, here's a fresh version.

Like the movie, this
is beautifully crafted; Donald Sutherland and Hilary Swank are
excellent as Getty and his daughter-in-law. Unlike the film, “Trust”
says young Getty was in on the plot, then saw it implode. Also
different is Getty's security chief; in the movie, Mark Wahlberg
played him as an average chap; now Brendan Fraser makes him a
bigger-than-life Texan, dominating every room.

“Call the Midwife” season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m., PBS.

Maybe we need a new
category: “feel-good tragedy.” That fits “Midwife,”
especially in the first hour.

As London struggles
with the fierce winter of 1962-3, we see crises at both ends of life.
A lonely woman gives birth; a dying woman clinging to her home
despite eviction orders. The stories are brutal – but most of the
people are earnest and good-hearted.

ALTERNATIVE: “Barry” debut, 10:30 p.m., HBO.

Working as a hit
man, Barry shows a lot of competence and little joy. Then he meets
people with opposite lives: Would-be actors, they have friendship,
fun and few prospects.

It's hard to juggle
both worlds ... especially with people trying to kill you. This is an
interesting start, a drama (mostly) filled with comedy people,
including Bill Hader, Stephen Root and Henry Winkler.

Other choices

12:35 p.m., Starz. Here's a chance to catch up on the entire season
in one gulp. This opener has a lowly bureaucrat (J.K. Simmons) learn
of an alternate world, where he has a near-identical counterpart.
This continues to a new episode at 8:05 p.m., leading to next week's

Basketball, 2 and
about 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS. Today's winners head to San Antonio,
rounding out the final four in the NCAA tournament.

“Instinct,” 8
p.m., CBS. Matching last week's opener, this again has interesting
characters in a so-so mystery. Tonight, that involves archery and

“Legends &
Lies” season-opener, 8 p.m. ET, Fox News. The first season took a
fresh look at the Old West; the second viewed the Revolutionary War.
Now we're in the Civil War era, with John Brown. Bill O'Reilly, who
hosted and produced the first two seasons, is replaced by Brian
Kilmeade as host.

Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. Charlie Robinson – whose “Ghosted”
used to have this slot – guests as Jake's sometimes-crooked friend.
It's a broad and funny episode, with an elaborate scheme.

“CSI: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. Callen scrambles to find a way to free his
father (Daniel Travanti), who's been apprehended by the Diplomatic
Security Service.

“Dark Angel”
opener, 10 p.m., PBS. In the 1870s, Mary Ann Cotton was accused of
killing three of her husbands and most of her children. Her story is
told in this drab and dreary rerun.

season-opener, 10 p.m., Showtime. Things look rough for Axe (Damian
Lewis). He's been indicted and his wife is threatening to pull her
money from his company.

TV column for Saturday, March 24

“Over the Hedge” (2006), 8-10 p.m., ABC.

These days, TV
delivers an important life lesson: Be really careful whom you steal

In “Good Girls”
(Mondays on NBC), a robbery succeeded, but the money belonged to gang
members; they want it back. In this one, a raccoon steals food from a
bear; he INSISTS on compensation. Now the only solution is to trick
other animals into stealing for him. It's a fun cartoon.

II: Kids Choice Awards, 8-10 p.m., Nickelodeon.

Who would have
predicted that fake wrestlers would become big-deal movie and TV
stars? John Cena repeats as the show's host and Dwayne “The Rock”
Johnson is the top star among presenters.

There will be music
by JoJo Siwa and N.E.R.D., plus lots of well-known presenters. That
includes Kristen Bell, Zendaya, Channing Tatum, Hailee Steinfeld,
Nick Cannon, Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes, Anthony Anderson and the
casts of Nick shows -- “Knight Squad,” “Game Shakers,” “Rise
of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky &

ALTERNATIVE: Basketball, 6 and about 8:30 p.m. ET, TBS.

It's time to find
the final four teams in the NCAA basketball tournament. Two will
emerge tonight; the others will be from games at 2 and 4:30 p.m. ET
Sunday on CBS.

The final stop is
San Antonio, with the semi-finals next Saturday and the finals two
days later.

ALTERNATIVE II: “39 Days,” 8 p.m., CBS.

In the 39 days since
17 people were killed at a Parkland, Fla., high school, events have
moved quickly. Students protested in Florida, bringing quick
legislation .... A school walk-out was held in many cities .... And a
Washington march has been scheduled for today.

This special starts
with footage from the day of the shooting, then traces the follow-up.
It focuses on four Parkland teens – two student journalists, an
activist and a drama student – who sparked reactions.

Other choices

“Hope & Fury,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. This documentary looks at how Martin Luther King and
others used the media to bring a fresh focus to their civil-rights

“O.J. Simpson: The
Lost Confession?” 8-10 p.m., Fox. In 2006, Simpson sat down with
publisher Judith Regan, for a book and TV special called “If I Did
It,” giving an account (hypothetical, he said) of killing his
ex-wife. The public was appalled, the special was dropped, Regan was
fired and the book was delayed. Now Simpson's tapes are the basis for
a special, which ran March 11 and reruns here.

“Up” (2009),
8-10 p.m., Disney. It's a serious night for grown-ups, but a fun one
for kids. Alongside the ABC and Nickelodeon choices, they can try
this lovely (if, at first, bittersweet) animated gem.

“Bull,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Isaiah Washington plays a high-powered lawyer, accused of
killing his fiancee. He's fond of courtroom theatrics, so Bull lets
him do his own defense.

“Soul Surfer,”
10 p.m., CMT. It's a night for true tales of beating the odds. E has
“The Blind Side” (2009) at 9; CMT has the story of Bethany
Hamilton, who lost an arm to a shark at 13, then went on to win
surfing championships. A quiet and competent film, it closes with
views of Hamilton surfing.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Saoirse Ronan hosts this rerun, with U2 as
music guest.