TV column for Sunday, Jan. 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Black Monday” debut, 10 p.m., Showtime.

On a Monday in 1987,
the stock market plunged 23 per cent; some investors were ruined. The
real reasons were complex and global, but this fun series concocts
its own explanation.

We meet Mo (Don
Cheadle), a rogue with a Lamborghini, and Blair Pfaff (Andrew
Rannells), a geek with an algorithm, plus Dawn (Regina Hall), the
only person Mo will listen to. Stick around for tonight's final
minutes, which show that Mo is far more clever and calculating than
we'd expected.

TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
Football, 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox, and 6:40 p.m. CBS; plus “Magnum P.I.”

Today, we learn
which teams will be in the Super Bowl. First, the New Orleans Saints
host the Los Angeles Rams; then the Kansas City Chargers host the New
England Patriots.

The night also
provides a springboard for “Magnum,” a sleekly entertaining show,
sill waiting to reach its ratings potential. There's one new hour
tonight – all the island's private eyes are searching for a murder
suspect on the lam – and another in the regular spot, 9 p.m.
Monday.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
“Minions” (2015), 7-9 p.m., NBC, and more.

Facing a Sunday void
after its football season ends, NBC inserts this popular family film.
That's a fine idea ... except it's on a day that's overloaded with
other animated movies.

FXX has “Trolls”
(2016) at 7 p.m. and “Rio 2” (2014) at 9. Disney has “Monsters
Inc.” (2001) at 5:20 and “Hotel Transylvania” (2010) at 7 ...
while giving the real Disney gems to Freeform: “Mulan” (1998) is
at 12:40 p.m.; “Tangled” (2010) at 2:40; “Incredibles” (2004)
a 4:50; and then the splendid pairing of “Moana” (2016) at 7:30
p.m. and “The Lion King” (1994) at 10.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
“Valley of the Boom,” many times, National Geographic.

If you missed the
opening of this delightful, three-Sunday series, catch it from 9-11
a.m. ET. We meet tearnest companies, in the early days of the
Internet – theGlobe.com, a social network started by two college
pals, and Netscape, a browser started by a savvy businessman and a
young computer genius.

We also meet a con
man -- a felon using a false name (Michael Fenne) and a faked concept
(Pixelon). The mid-section debuts from 9-11 p.m. ET today, rerunning
from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.. All three businesses soar, but problems loom
– big-money competitors for Netscape and Globe, the truth for
Pixelon.

Other choices
include:

“The Simpsons,”
7 and 8 p.m., Fox. The first rerun has people recalling divine
encounters. The second a “Treehouse of Horrors”; a “Jurassic
Park” segment is quite good, others are merely OK.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. Supergirl may have made the wrong enemy this time. She
ignores the demands of Col. Haley, who promptly focuses her energy on
finding Supergirl's true identity.

“Chamed,” 9
p.m., CW. Fed up with Harry's quirky ways, the sisters turn to The
Elders. Mel, however, is also unhappy with those Elders; without
telling her sisters, she seeks help from Jada.

“Victoria,” 9
p.m., PBS. There's no maternity leave for Victoria, after the birth
of her sixth child. The “Chartists” are at the gate and the
military people advise retaliation. It's a strong, well-crafted hour.

“True Detective,”
9 p.m., HBO. Now the Sunday line-up is in place. After the second
episode of this acclaimed drama (which reruns at 11:05 p.m. and 1:05
a.m.), we have the season-openers of two comedies: “Crashing” is
10 p.m. (rerunning at 12:35 and 2 a.m.); “High Maintenance” is at
10:30 (rerunning at midnight and 2:30 a.m.).

“SMILF”
season-opener, 10:35 p.m., Showtime. This comedy-drama leans sharply
to the drama side tonight, as Bridgette looks for her biologic
father, while a new crisis develops at home. There are some moving
moments involving star Frankie Shaw and Rosie O'Donnell, who plays
her mom.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Planet Earth: Dynasties” debut, 9 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. ET, BBC
America; also, 9 p.m. ET, IFC and 9 p.m. ET/PT, AMC.

There have already
been two “Planet Earth” series and several spin-offs, each
offering TV at its best – global scope, epic visuals, soaring music
and smart narration. Now comes a fresh approach: Each hour focuses on
one animal that is awesome, yet dwindling in number.

Coming are tigers,
chimps, painted wolves and emperor pigeons; first we go to Kenya to
follow a pride of lions that has prospered for generations, but is
now wobbling. The adult males have left, leaving two adult females to
hunt, defend and nurture eight others. Beautifully filmed, this stirs
joy and despair.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Saturday Night Live,” 10 and 11:29 p.m., NBC.

First we see a
familiar “SNL” face. Will Ferrell was in the cast for seven years
... but waited 15 years before returning to host. That's the 10 p.m.
rerun, from a year ago, with Chris Stapleton as music guest.

Then comes a
newcomer to the show: Rachel Brosnahan has already won an Emmy and
two Golden Globes in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the superb,
Emmy-winning comedy. She plays an emerging comedian ... which should
help her do her opening comments. Greta Van Fleet is the music guest.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Masked Singer” (Fox) or “America's Got
Talent: The Champions” NBC), both 8 p.m.

These quirky
competitions don't usually collide. Tonight, however, their reruns
do.

“Talent” repeats
Monday's episode; 10 past contestants – from the U.S. version or
from overseas – compete, with only two advancing. And “Masked”
repeats the episode from Wednesday, Jan. 9; sorta-celebrities perform
in elaborate disguises, ranging from a poodle to a pineapple.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Forrest Gump” (1994), 12:30 and 6:30
p.m.,Paramount; and/or “Spotlight” (2015), 9 p.m., Showtime.

Here are two movies
that won Academy Awards for best picture. They're skillfully crafted
... and have virtually nothing else in common.

“Gump” a
light-hearted fable starring Tom Hanks, made a reported $330 million
domestically; “Spotlight,” with the Boston Globe exposing
pediphile priests, made $45 million. Globally, it was $678 million
for one, $98 million for the other.

Other choices
include:

Basketball preview,
8 p.m. ET, and game, 8:30, ABC. The Rockets host the Lakers.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. This rerun has a dangerous effort to rescue
Hetty. Her colleagues, reassemble her old Vietnam War team, played by
Carl Lumbly, James Remar and John M. Jackson.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, Sebastian's old high school
friend wants help after her business partner is killed at a gaming
convention.

“The Passage,” 9
p.m., Fox. If you missed this opener Monday, catch the rerun. Flawed
but involving, it has a federal agent (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) assigned
to bring in an orphan for involuntary testing.

“Brexit,” 9
p.m., HBO. This dramatizes the battle over the British withdrawal
from the European Union. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the leade of the
campaign, with Rory Kinnear as his opponent.

“The Bad Seed”
(2018), 10:03 p.m., Lifetime. This was the fourth major time for the
story of a deadly little girl. There was a 1954 Broadway play and
1956 movie (both with Patty McCormack) ... a 1985 TV movie ... and
this reboot, with Mckenna Grace (who's also the genius rival on
“Young Sheldon”). Rob Lowe directed and played the dad.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Ghostbusters” (2016, FX) or “Ocean's Eight” (2018, HBO),
both 8 p.m.

Put these together
and you have a worthy mini-trend: Take a strong franchise, sleek and
entertaining. Then re-imagine it with a female cast; you'll get
something sort of the same, yet fresh.

Like the original,
this “Ghostbusters” mixes clever dialog and big sight gags. It
stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones
– plus Chris Hemsworth's variation on the cliche of a dim-witted
but great-looking secretary. “Ocean's” has Sandra Bullock
leading a jewel heist, with Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway and more.
Like most heist films, it strains credibility, but is a fun ride.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“MacGyver,” 8 p.m., CBS.

This may be why so
many people don't want to try a survival exercise: Mac takes Riley
and Bozer into the wilderness for training. They promply run into
violent criminals who are searching for money.

Also, Jack and Matty
have a road trip, to place her ex-husband and his family in witness
protection.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Grace and Frankie” new season, any time, Netflix;
“The Cool Kids,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Sure, TV is full of
cute youths, often with superpowers. But there's also fun in
retirement communities.

That's where the
“cool kids” -- ranging from David Alan Grier, 62, to Martin
Mull, 75 –live; tonight, oddly, is a rerun of the Thanksgiving
episode. And it's where Grace and Frankie – Jane Fonda, 81, and
Lily Tomlin, 79 – lived until they fled at the end of the last
season. Now they learn that their old beach house has been sold;
RuPaul plays the guy they have to deal with.

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

After a string of
orchestra concerts, PBS switches to two Fridays of opera. This first
one uses a modern setting for “Orphee et Eurydice,” the story of
a grieving husband who tries what seems like a log shot -- luring his
wife back from the dead, via the beauty of his music.

Genres blend
impressively. John Neumeier, a top ballet director, combines the
Joffrey Ballet with opera groups from Chicago, Los Angeles and
Hamburg. The show goes five minutes without vocals, 20 with no
soloists except the splendid Dmitry Korchak; that's enough to stir
strong emotion.

Other choices
include:

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8 p.m., ABC. It's great to have a driver's license, Eddie
finds ... except now his mom has endless errands for him. Will he get
to the rock concert on time?

“Speechless,”
8:30, ABC. Here's something you don't hear every day: Dylan actually
likes her father's band. And as JJ starts his new movie, Ray wants to
be cast opposite his crush.

“Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend,” 9 p.m., CW. Rebecca agrees to watch Darryl's baby;
then an unexpected guest arrives. That follows the 8 p.m. return of
“Dynasty,” after a four-week break.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. Red is getting used to federal prison, where he
confronts an old rival. Meanwhile, Liz and Jennifer – half-sisters
who believe he took the identity of their biologic father –
continue their investigation. Also, Samar goes undercover in a
black-market organization.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. It isn't easy to solve an undersea murder. Someone has
been killed in a remote, underwater lab and the killer may still be
onboard. Adam, Junior and Tani go there.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the season-opener, with Danny
pursuing the drug-cartel guy (Lou Diamond Phillips) who may be
responsible for burning down his house. Also, his brother argues with
their dad, after continuing to ride with the police partner he's
involved with romantically.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Good Place,” 9:30 p.m., NBC.

Forever changing its
concept, “Good Place” keeps viewers alert and (often enough)
amused. The four humans are now aware of their shaky status; they
haven't qualified for the good afterlife, but Michael (Ted Danson) at
least takes them to the good waiting room.

There, he'll try to
convince The Judge (Maya Rudolph) that the rating system is too
harsh. She takes a fast (VERY fast) tour of modern life, in a witty
episode that sets up yet another new concept.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 9 p.m., NBC.

For five seasons,
we've known only that Hitchcock and Scully are two of the laziest
cops in the TV universe. As played by Dirk Blocker (the son of
“Bonanza” star Dan Blocker) and Joel McKinnon Miller, they're
content with desk duty. Now we finally learn about their past.

It's a witty
episode, complete with an old-TV flavor. (Appropriately, former
“Baywatch” star Donna D'Errico has a guest role.) After last
week's so-so season-opener, “Nine-Nine” rebounds sharply.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
“Star Trek: Discovery” season-opener, CBS All Access.

The second season
starts with the Discovery receiving a distress signal from the
Enterprise. Soon, the two ships are linking to investigate seven
mysterious red signals and a being know as Red Angel.

The hour introduces
Anson Mount as the Enterprise captain and Rebecca Romijn as Number
One. And it brings in Ethan Peck (grandson of Gregory Peck) as Spock,
meeting his estranged foster sister (“Discovery” star Sonequa
Martin-Green). All Access will have new episodes each Thursday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “A Million Little Things” return, 9:01 p.m., ABC.

This is as
uncomfortable as life can get: Katherine, the brilliant lawyer, is
helping Delilah, whose husband's suicide left her with mountains of
unexpected debt. Then they come across Eddie – the husband
Katherine dismissed after learning about his affair with Delilah.

In scenes like this
– or in the end of a 5K run -- “Million” is terrific. At other
times? Too many characters deliver script-perfect speeches ... On the
flip side, Regina's mother is way too insufferable ... And the
financial schemes are too frustrating. The show, like life, is a
blend of good and bad.

Other choices
include:

“Grey's Anatomy”
return, 8 p.m., ABC. This has strained the patience of fans: Wind
whipped through Seattle, creating crises for patients ... including
Cece, who's being prepared for a heart transplant. Then the show took
a two-month break; it returns tonight, with the wind still howling
and Cece still waiting.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sean Astin and Kal Penn play physicists who
prove the theory created by Sheldon and Amy ... then try to grab
credit and bump Amy from the Nobel nomination.

“The Orville,” 9
p.m., Fox. This is a busy day for sci-fi fans – a “Star Trek”
on CBS All Access and this “Trek”-like show on Fox. (Tonight, Ed
crash-lands on a mysterious planet.) Also at 9 p.m., CW reruns
Tuesday's surprisingly good pilot film for “Roswell, New Mexico.”

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. For Bradley Whitford – an Emmy-winner from “West Wing”
and more – this is a big week. On Sunday, he has a key role in
cable's clever “Valley of the Boom”; tonight, he repeats a role
as Adam's untrustworthy friend ... now claiming he's reformed.

“Fam,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. Last week's opener was great fun, with much of the focus
on Clem's free-spirit teen sister. Tonight's episode – not as good,
but still funny – focuses on their uncaring dad (Gary Cole).

“How To Get Away
with Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Connor and Oliver are married now, but
TV weddings never go smoothly. Now people deal with the wedding-night
murder.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“All American,” 9 p.m., CW.

In its early weeks,
this show slid back and forth – strong drama one moment, forced and
exaggerated moments the next. But now it finds all the right moves
and stirs solid emotion.

Spencer, having a
great football season in Beverly Hills, was shaken by news from his
neighborhood. One childhood friend, Shawn, was killed; another, Coop,
feels she should get revenge. Back in the rich part of town, the
coach has cheated on his son's drug test. It's a strong hour, full of
emotional tangles.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Schitt's Creek” season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m., Pop; rerunning
at 11:02.

For four seasons,
this fun show has seen a once-rich businessman (Eugene Levy) and his
ex-soap-star wife Moira (Catherine O'Hara) owning a small motel in a
nowhere town. But now Moira tries her comeback – playing an evil
crow in a post-apocalyptic movie in Bosnia.

It's a great bit for
O'Hara ... especially when she returns in the second episode, amped
up by Bosnian uppers. The other stories in the first episode are
weak, but the second starts sharply with David (Dan Levy, Eugene's
son) and Stevie (the terrific Emily Hampshire) semi-confronting a
robber

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

The opener of this
excellent series profiled Kim Il-Sung; now it's Saddam Hussein. Like
Sung, he grew up poor. His father fled; his family lived in a shack,
with no toilet or water. He fostered a false image as a master
warrior, became Iraq's vice-president and turned the secret police
into a power base.

As president, he
used the oil riches to buy luxury cars for the elite and health and
education benefits for the poor. He assembled popularity and power
... then blew it all. An eight-year war with Iran killed a combined
half-million soldiers and drained the coffers; the disastrous Kuwait
invasion followed.

TONIGHT'S CAN-SKIP:
“Deadly Class” debut, 10 p.m., Syfy.

Sure, angry-youth
dramas are always popular. But if Holden Caulfield saw this one, he'd
ask it to lighten up; James Dean or Marlon Brando would ask for
something less brooding.

Before the story
starts, the central character has killed a dozen kids in a fire. Now
he is swooped into an assassins' academy. It's an unrelenting story,
with no one to root for and no reason to watch.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Holding a place until “Celebrity Big
Brother” arrives next week, here's a funny episode with Leonard
forced to decide who gets university grants. That's followed by
reruns of “Young Sheldon,” “NCIS” and “FBI.”

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. Tonight, CW says, Archie Andrews is forced to face his
demons. (We'll try to forget that Archie used to be he most
demon-free guy in comic history.) Meanwhile, Veronica fights her evil
-- and now powerful --- dad and Betty reluctantly houses patients who
escaped with her.

“The Masked
Singer,” 9 p.m., Fox. Behind those masks are some talented singers
... and others who are the first ousted. So far, football star
Antoinio Brown and comedian Tommy Chong have been dumped.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Phil and Claire decide they should bike through Italy
before becoming grandparents. Also, Jay and Gloria learn their
great-uncles may have fought on opposite sides in a war.

“Single Parents,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Former “Saturday Night Live” colleagues collide.
Vanessa Bayer guests as the ex-wife of Will (Taran Killam); at their
daughter's birthday, she undermines his rules.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. When a murder follows a fundraiser, police probe the
world of campaign-finance ... and emerge with a new perspective on
the pro-police mayoral candidate.