TV column for Thursday, Jan. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Fam” debut, 9:31 p.m., CBS.

For a few minutes,
this is just your standard, sorta-fun comedy. Nick and Clem (Tone
Bell and Nina Dobrev) tell his parents (Brian Stokes Mitchell and
Sheryl Lee Ralph) they're engaged. The young people are gorgeous and
the old people are semi-goofy; TV viewers sort of expect that.

But then Clem's
half-sister Shannon (Odessa Adlon) arrives; she has a drug-dealer
lover and no clue her life is a shambles. “Fam” promptly becomes
a smart and funny show. Adlon's mother (Pamela) has a fictional
version of their life in the “Better Things” series; now Odessa
helps make “Fam” a delight.

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

Most shows have
trouble coming up with one good premise; this one has several,
switching them at will. In the current one, the four humans are
finally aware that Michael is an angel, trying to find them a place
in Heaven. Breaking the rules (and helped by magical Janet), he gets
them tantalizingly close.

Naturally, fresh
complications arise. This episode includes a delightful satire of
committee decision-making. It also may be the only time you'll hear
someone ask: “Remember that time you killed us all and then we were
in your void?” Janet responds that yes, she does remember that.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” season-opener, 9 p.m., NBC.

Andy Samberg is a
likable guy and a talented comedy actor, but this isn't his week. His
Golden Globes co-hosting stint Sunday was a disappointment; now his
series has a so-so start.

As it opens, we
learn whether Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) will be the police
commissioner. Then it's time for Jake (Samberg) and Amy (Melissa
Fumero) to start their resort honeymoon. There are some funny
moments, but not nearly enough of them.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Truth and Lies: Monica,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Suddenly, ABC is
obsessed with old scandals. Its eight-Friday series is starting with
Lorena Bobbitt last week and Robert Blake this week. And now it adds
this look at the Monica Lewinsky affair.

New interviews
include Kenneth Starr (the independent counsel whose probe led to
Bill Clinton's impeachment hearings) and Lucianne Goldberg (the
literary agent who told Tripp to tape her conversations with
Lewinsky). Also included are some of Starr's surveillance material
and segments from Barbara Walters' interview with Lewinsky, back on
March 3, 1999.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In its final season, TV's best comedy is
tying things up – tonight, Raj tries to mend things with his
ex-fiancee – and bringing back characters. Zack, Penny's
ex-boyfriend, first showed up in 2010, at the end of the third
season. Now he needs Leonard's help.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. In a city now overrun by villains, Gordon and Bullock
check a spot where several kids have been kidnapped. Surprisingly,
Barbara becomes their ally on this one.

“The Orville,” 9
p.m., Fox. Here's the episode originally scheduled for last week,
then pushed back. Ed and Gordon join Alara, on a visit to her home
planet.

“Roswell:
Mysteries Decoded,” 9 p.m., CW. On Tuesday, CW launches a fresh
version of “Roswell,” the series about young love as impacted by
a long-ago spaceship landing. First, tonight's non-fiction film has
an investigator and a “ufologist,” looking for fresh
information.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. While shedding other vices (alcohol and gambling), Christy
has resumed smoking. That's a problem for everyone else, during a
road trip.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. Mark Feuersein, who played a
good-guy doctor in “Royal Pains,” plays a celebrity plastic
surgeon. He and his girlfriend are accused of rape.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“You're the Worst” season-opener, 10 p.m., FXX.

For four seasons,
we've seen the spirited chaos of Jimmy and Gretchen. He's a novelist
and she's a publicist. They're smart and attactive; they're also
self-centered, deceitful and made for each other.

Now the final season
begins and they're planning their wedding ... except we don't see
them anywhere. This opener is set in 1999, with two characters we've
never met. Yes, there's an explanation ... which gradually unfolds.
Just stick with this it; this is a weird and clever start to a
promising season.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Schooled” debut, 8:30 p.m., ABC.

For years, Adam
Goldberg has been trying to create a 1990s spin-off of his
“Goldbergs” series. ABC rejected his first try (built around
Coach Mellor) and bought this one, with AJ Michalka as Lainey

As a kid, she was a
friend of Erica Goldberg and the girlfriend of Erica's brother Barry.
After a failed singing career, she's teaching music at her old school
-- where Mellor still coaches and Glescott (Tim Meadows) is now the
principal. This could be fun, in the style of “School of Rock,”
but it's often so-so; the Mellor scenes are lame, the Lainey ones are
sometimes funny and sometimes just frantic.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Grown-ish,” 8 p.m., Freeform.

Who knew that a
little phone could cause this much trouble? Spotting a maybe-problem,
Zoey makes all the wrong moves; she breaks the unwritten rules and
causes problems to expand via text-message.

It's a slick, smart
and sometimes funny episode that offers insights about young life.
“We all think that we're all free and liberated,” Zoey groans,
“but we have all these rules.”

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

At 7, Kim Il Sung
was an organist at a Christian church in Korea. Then the Japanese
occupiers arrested his father for disloyalty; his hatred hardened,
this excellent documentary says. At 19, he was a guerrilla; forced to
retreat to Russia, he found new backers. Shortly after World War II,
he ruled North Korea.

There was success
(land reform), failure (the Korean War, leaving one-fifth of his
people dead) and then a rebuilt image. At the time of his death,
there were 34,000 monuments to him and his family; people were
astonished. “They didn't know that he was even mortal,”
journalist Jean Lee says.

Other choices
include:

“Chicago Med,” 8
p.m., NBC. At the core of this hour is the serious issue of
loneliness. In modern times and big cities, it can affect anyone –
from an angry loser to a young doctor or a prominent psychiatrist.
It's a good subject – encased, alas, in tons of wretched soap
opera. (When was the last time you saw a doctor slug his father at an
elegant party?) It's a good subject and awful execution.

“The Goldbergs,”
8 p.m., ABC. The Barry-and-Lainey wedding is approaching. (Except, of
course, that “Schooled” tells us these two won't be together in
the '90s.) Adam may get to shoot the video.

“The Masked
Singer,” 9 p.m., Fox. In last week's opener, the panel guessed that
the unmasked contestant was an athlete, not a singer. They were
right; it was Antonio Brown, the Steelers receiver (four times
All-Pro) who also finised fourth on “Dancing With the Stars.” Now
we hear the other six contestants, ranging from a “sexy alien” to
a laidback pineapple. It's goofy and moderately fun.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Haley, who's pregnant, moves into her new apartment with
Dylan.

“Match Game”
return, 10 p.m., ABC. It's been four months since this had a new
episode. Now it's back for a while, with a panel that includes Kenan
Thompson, Ellie Kemper and Sherri Shepherd.

“I'm Sorry,” 10
p.m., TruTV. This is a show we want to like – a writer (Andrea
Savage) creating a comedy of everyday life. She frets about her
daughter's start in school; she asks her husband how much she'd get
as a prostitute. But the humor is erratic ... and is muted by
Savage's sing-song delivery.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Good Trouble” debut, 8 p.m., Freeform.

This is what
Freeform (formerly ABC Family) does best – sleek-looking dramas
(spiced with humor, romance and sex) about young people at starting
points.

Like “The Bold
Type” and “Grown-ish,” it centers on attractive women leaping
into new lives. It starts with two adoptive sisters from “The
Fosters”; leaping ahead five years, Callie is a lawyer and Mariana
is a computer engineer. They've just moved to Los Angeles ... where
things go very bad (and quite good) in entertaining ways, before
“Good Trouble” settles into some serious and promising stories.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “New Amsterdam,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Six weeks ago, Max
spread his sister's ashes in the lake they loved as kids. Then he
collapsed, his wife Georgia screamed ... and the show took a long
break.

Now it's back, with
huge questions. Will Max survive? Can he remain the chief medical
officer of a mega-hospital? Will he continue to keep his cancer
secret, while trying a risky trial procedure instead of
chemo-therapy? This is a big episode, with key flashbacks to his
courtship and marriage. Despite some flaws – Georgia seems
erratically defined – this is a richly moving hour.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Project Blue Book” debut, 10 p.m., History,
rerunning at 11:03.

As UFO reports piled
up, the Air Force tried small studies and then a huge one. In 1952,
it launched Project Blue Book, compiling 12,600 incidents. Most were
explained away and the project ended in 1969, with officials saying
there was nothing extraordinary.

But J. Allen Hynek,
an astrophysicist who was the science advisor, disagreed. He went
from skeptic to coining the phrase “close encounter of the third
kind” and being a consultant to the movie with that title. Now this
10-week series has Hynek and a military skeptic probing reports.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Finding Your Roots” season-opener, 8 p.m., PBS.

Andy Samberg's
mother grew up comfortably, with adoptive parents. Still, she was
always curious about her birth parents. That leads to what host Henry
Louis Gates calls one of his most satisfying endings: Mother and son
meet a branch of the family tree they had never imagined.

The result is in
contrast to George R.R. Martin, the “Game of Thrones” author. He
starts with questions about the grandfather he hardly knew ... and
ends with questions about who was his real grandfather.

Other choices
include:

“Ellen's Game of
Games” season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. Alongside some of the
previous games, the show adds ones with such titles as “Taste
Buds,” “Mount St. Ellen” and “See You Later, Alligator.”

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The Secretary of Defense (Mitch Pileggi of “X-Files”) shuts
down the murder probe and insists that McGee and Torres be arrested.

All night, ABC. One
of TV's best nights is back, after resting for a month. That starts
(“The Conners” at 8 p.m.) with a tough call for Dan: Injured
while covering for his son D.J., he could sue the company – but
that might cost D.J. his job. It ends (“The Rookie,” 10 p.m.)
with Nolan facing a home invasion

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. Required to take his kids camping, Dre wants to.help them
escape to a hotel.

“We'll Meet
Again,” 9 p.m., PBS. Amid a fresh wave of feminism, we might forget
how recently this was resisted: In the early 1970s, women were told
flatly they couldn't pilot passenger planes; in '82, seven women held
a hunger strike, trying to propel the Equal Rights Amendment. This
involving (if slow and repetitive) hour traces two pioneers' efforts
to re-meet the women who inspired them.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Avenging a death, the team tries to take
down a lethal team of former intelligence agents.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“America's Got Talent: The Champions” debut, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

We always suspected
that America isn't the only place with singers, dancers,
ventriloquists and dog acts. It turns out that this “Got Talent”
format is in 70 countries. Now 50 previous contestants, from here and
abroad, will be in this seven-week series.

Each week, Terry
Crews will introduce 10 acts. The panel -- Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum,
Mel B and Howie Mandel – will comment; then two will advance, one
via “golden buzzer,” the other via a vote of some “superfans.”
That provides the top-10 for the two-week finale.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Bachelor” opener, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

Colton Underwood was
sort of sculpted for dating shows or beach parties. In his football
days, he was listed at 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds; he was a defensive
end at Illinois State (all-conference, with 22 career sacks) and
spent a couple years as a tight end on pro-football practice squads.

Still, his
dating-show history is spotty. He was fourth on “The Bachelorette”
and quit during the fourth week of “Bachelor in Paradise.”
Underwood, 26, has said he's a virgin; tonight, he meets 30 women.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Football, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, with preview at 7:30..

It's time for the
national college championship game, which has a familiar look.

In 2016, Alabama
beat Clemson ... in 2017, Clemson beat Alabama ... in 2018, Alabama
beat Clemson again ... but his time in the semi-finals, prior to
beating Georgia. And in 2018 – surprise? -- it's Alabama and
Clemson. Undefeated giants collide in Santa Clara, Cal.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

“People just don't
talk about their feelings,” Kalie Rider says here. At least, “they
don't in my family.”

That helps make this
documentary so interesting. Strong-silent people are in a situation
that forces the emotions and the words to seep out. Parts of North
Dakota had become oil-rich. Some people – including Ruben Valdez,
Geronimo's great-grandson, herald the surge in employment; other –
including Rider -- see it as a distracting and disrupting force in a
quiet ,rural world.

Other choices
include:

“No Offence” new
season, any time, www.acorn.
This is sometimes called a drama/comedy, but don't look for laughs
now. The season starts with hate protests; shots are fired and soon a
popular cop is dead. That launches the six-week story; it's tough and
well-made, hindered only by the thick accents.

“The Resident”
and “9-1-1,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. Weddings never seem to go well on
Fox. In the first rerun, Devon's wedding collapses; in the second, a
couple has a car accident on its wedding day.

“The Flash” and
“Arrow,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW. This reruns the first half of a
four-part crossover, starting when Barry (The Flash) wakes up in the
body of Oliver (Green Arrow) and vice versa. Both men are upset about
this, even though it's quite an upgrade for Barry. They soon look for
help from Supergirl.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Barring a late change—such as the switch in
last Thursday's line-up -- this will be a rerun of last season's
hilarious finale, with the Sheldon/Amy wedding.

“The Neighbrhood,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a transplanted rerun, Dave becomes popular at the
neighborhood barbershop ... a fact that infuriates Calvin.

“Manifest,” 10
p.m., NBC. After being gone five weeks, this show is back for its
final seven episodes of the season. Tonight, Michaela pursues her
calling, while Ben considers an alternate meaning to it.

TV column for Sunday, Jan. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Golden Globes, 8-11 p.m. ET, NBC.

Five years ago, Andy
Samberg won the Globe for best actor in a TV comedy. Now – four
days before his “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (which Fox canceled) opens
on NBC – he hosts with Sandra Oh.

Two musical films --
“A Star is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” -- are in the drama
category; that puts them against “Black Panther,”
“BlacKkKlansman” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Another
musical, “Mary Poppins Returns,” is (quite logically) in the
comedy-or-musical category. It faces “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Vice,”
“The Favourite” and “Green Book.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Madam Secretary,” 10 p.m., CBS.

This show crafted a
tough, two-part story, tense and angry; it carted its central
character off to jail ... and then, oddly, took a week off. Now we
see how the story ends.

Flipping the
real-life issue, this has the president and his staff favoring
moderation on border issues. But the Arizona governor has arrested
asylum seekers, has split children from their parents ... and now has
arrested the secretary of state. That's Elizabeth McCord, who has
been working on plans to renew her vows with her husband (Tim Daly);
tonight, we'll see if he's married to a convict.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Dirty John,” 10 p.m., Bravo.

On TV, we're used to
seeing the occasional liar, momentarily eluding the truth. But John
Meehan offered an endless web of lies. A week from its finale, this
fascinating, true-life story takes an overview.

We see him selling
drugs as a nurse in Ohio ... and, once he was out of prison,
manipulating young women in California. Then he zeroes in on Debra
Newell. We get explanations for the creepy stranger in her living
room ... for his physical collapse ... and more. There are attacks,
indirect (a naked photo, Internet swipes) and direct (a luxury car in
flames). It's a chilling portrait of an obsessed mind.

Other choices
include:

Football, 1:05 p.m.
ET, CBS, and 4:40 p.m., NBC. The first play-off round concludes with
two more wild-card teams on the road, trying for spots in the top
eight. First, the Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) are at Baltimore
(10-6); then Philadelphia (9-7) is at Chicago (12-4).

Golden Globe
previews, 4-8 p.m. ET, E. This network can't resist the presence of a
gown or a star; by 6 p.m., it will have its red-carpet coverage, with
Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic; it adds an “after party” (with
Busy Phillips hosting) at 11 and reruns the red-carpet at midnight

“The Longest Yard”
(1974), 5:30 p.m., Sundance. This starts a string of some of Burt
Reynolds' more popular films – albeit not his best ones. It's
followed by “Smokey and the Bandit” (1974) at 8 p.m., its sequel
(1977) at 10:30 and the mostly Burt-less third film (1980) at 12:45
a.m.

“The Simpsons,“
8 p.m., Fox, The family visits Grampa's past, when he was a post-war
toy model.

“God Friended Me,”
8 p.m., CBS. Here's another chance to link Miles, the atheist, and
his dad, the pastor. The latest friend suggestion is someone who was
dropped off at the dad's church as a baby.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. While Kensi and Deeks research honeymoon
locations, the team has something else to ponder: Was the collapse of
a weapons station's logistics chief caused by stress or by terrorist
activity?

“Victoria,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). A week before the third season, PBS
reruns the final three episodes of the second year. The 8 p.m. and 9
p.m. hours bring personal and political pain, but this one is set at
Christmastime; Albert wants to re-create the holiday splendor of his
German youth.