TV column for Thursday, Sept. 14


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Truth & Lies: The Murder of Laci Peterson,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

On Christmas Eve of
2002, Laci Peterson was reported missing. A former high school
cheerleader, she was 27 and eight months pregnant; the public found
the case compelling.

Her body was found
four months later and her husband (who was having affairs) was
convicted; almost 15 years later, interest endures. A&E has a
six-part documentary series which will conclude Tuesday; most of it
reruns from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. today ... before ABC packs the story
into two hours.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Zoo,” 10 p.m., CBS.

A week from the
season-finale, the story still has a delicate impasse. The hybrid
creatures are still loose, but they're confined by a barrier.

It's a workable idea
... except now our heroes' plane has crashed inside the hybrid zone.
Daniela and Tessa race to try a rescue.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Better Things” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX; reruns
at 11:07.

This keeps defying
TV's traditions and its categories. It's not really a comedy, but is
sometimes quite funny; it's not a drama, but is sometimes quite
moving. It's often slow, often quiet ... and has perhaps the most
inelegant season-opening minute in TV history.

Then why do we keep
watching? Because creator-star Pamela Adlon delivers someone to care
about, a divorced mom semi-managing her three daughters. The middle
one's troubles (shown in a rerun at 10:34 p.m.) are set aside;
instead, we see the 16-year-old, dating a 36-year-old. It's an oddly
fine start.

Other choices
include:

“Naked and
Afraid,” 1 p.m. to 3 a.m., Discovery. Encased by reruns, there's a
special from 8-11 p.m. After a nationwide search, the show chose six
fans for a 14-day adventure.

“Casablanca”
(1942). 6:15 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Here's the richly
crafted film the American Film Institute called the third best
American film ever, after only “Citizen Kane” and “The
Godfather.” It leads a great movie night that includes “Saving
Private Private Ryan” (1998) at 8 pm. ET on BBC America and “Hidden
Figures” (2016) at 8 p.m. on HBO. For fun, go with “Spy” (2015)
at 7:30 on FX.

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC. Paula Deen faces Carson Kressley. Also in this
rerun are people who have been comedy kids – Jaleel White (yes,
Urkel) and Rico Rodriguez (“Modern Family”).

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the government project is finally
finished ... and brings some bad news. Also, Amy might be leaving for
a summer research project.

“Mom,” 8:31,”
CBS. This rerun finds Christy suddenly adopting the healthy habits of
her new boyfriend. Naturally, this leaves her mother and others
dismayed.

“Project Runway,”
9-10:30 p.m., Lifetime. Last week's episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.) saw
Deyonte Weather – the first-week winner – ousted; Michael
Brambila – in the middle ground for the first three weeks – was
the winner. Now the 12 survivors watch the fantasy musical
“Descendants 2”; afterward, with two of its stars as judges, they
must design something representing good or evil.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. In a rerun (following a two-hour “America's Got
Talent” rerun), gang members take control of the firehouse.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“MasterChef,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

This is the show
that has home chefs, not pros. That means Gordon Ramsay does a lot
less screaming; it also means there's a rich mix of people, as the
final six go for spots in next week's finale.

The youngest is Cate
Meade, 25, a Chicago nutritionist; the oldest is Yachecia Holston,
43, a Detroit minister. In between are Dino Luciano, 28, a
Bensonhurst dancer; Jeff Philbin, 29, a Tampa marketing director;
Eboni Henry, 33, a Chicago addiction counselor; and Jason Wang, 34, a
high school music teacher in Newton, Mass. They're joined by family
members, then must make a dish inspired by family.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “You're the Worst,” 10 p.m., FXX; rerunning at 10:30 p.m. and
1:30 a.m.

These two have never
been any good at small talk, romance or ... well, anything that
involves a human being. Last season, Jimmy proposed to Gretchen; when
she said yes, he fled. In last week's hour-long season-opener
(rerunning at 11 p.m. today), both moped and he reluctantly returned
to town.

Now he learns that
Edgar and Lindsay – also not people people – have a sex-only
relationship. He also searches for Gretchen; their confrontation is
both odd and oddly funny.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Nova,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS.

Going in opposite
directions, cameras give us two worlds that haven't previously been
seen. First, they soar up, capturing images of Saturn from the
Cassini mission which was launched 20 years ago.

Then they dive down.
The U.S, Indianapolis was sunk in 1945; on Aug. 18, it was found by a
private group funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. This special
– unfortunately, replacing a rerun of a splendid film about the
Voyager mission – offers some of the first views.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Midnight, Texas,” 10 p.m., NBC.

This is the episode
that was scheduled for Tuesday, then bumped by the hurricane
telethon. It's worth looking for, the second-to-last episode of a
sharply made season.

This town already
has plenty of problems, without adding these – an apocalyptic
sandstorm and a faceless creature. But why does the creature only
target Fiji, the good-hearted witch? She knows, but won't tell; we'll
learn via flashbacks, setting up a promising finale.

Other choices
include:

“America's Got
Talent,” 8-9 p.m., NBC. On Tuesday, 11 acts performed and viewers
voted. Tonight, with the help of a “save” from viewers, five will
advance to next-week's 10-act finale.

“Marlon,” 9 and
9:30 p.m., NBC. Here are the final two episodes of the first (and,
one assumes, only) season. First, Marlon and his ex-wife must be
together, so she can get into a social club that prefers couples.
Then, on the first wedding anniversary since their divorce, they
recall their first date.

“Salvation,” 9
p.m., CBS. A week from the finale, Darius (the tech mogul) must link
with Grace and Harris (who have been government insiders) to prove
the president was murdered.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Mitchell and his dad each feel they need some time away
from the family. Then, alas, they end up at the same resort.

“Criminal Minds,”
10 p.m., CBS. This reruns the episode that brought back Shemar Moore
as Derek. He has a lead in finding Mr. Scratch, who had tormented the
team all season.

“Younger”
season-finale, 10 p.m., TV Land. Here's a big way to end the the
fourth season – a trip to Ireland. Liza (Sutton Foster) rushes
there with her friend Maggie (Debbi Mazar), to meet Josh, the
boyfriend 14 years her junior. At work, Kelsey (Hilary Duff) has to
play nice with a new colleague.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Hand in Hand,” 8 p.m., ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

This began as a
massive fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Harvey ... then added
Hurricane Irma; it's been that kind of month. Based in Los Angeles,
the hour will jump to stages in New York and Nashville, plus George
Strait's benefit concert in San Antonio.

Other music people
who will be there (or on tape), include Beyonce, Drake, Blake
Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Justin Bieber, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Tori
Kelly and Barbra Streisand. Also expected: Oprah Winfrey, George
Clooney, Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert, Dwayne Johnson , Ellen Degeneres
and more.

TONIGHT'S CHANGES:
Schedule switches, four networks.

The telethon forced
quick juggling. The biggest move is at NBC, which had planned a
Monday-Tuesday combo for its above-average “Midnight, Texas”; now
the second hour moves to Wednesday.

ABC had planned a
“Bachelor in Paradise” hour; that's out and the show apparently
ended Monday. CBS has dropped its “CSI: New Orleans” rerun,
nudging “NCIS” and “Bull” to 9 and 10. Fox replaced its
reruns with the telethon and, at 9 p.m., a rerun of Sunday's
flawed-but-interesting “The Orville.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “America's Got Talent,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Nudged back an hour
by the telethon, this ratings-leader is near its million-dollar
finish.

Tonight, 11 acts
will perform. There are lots of singers (five individuals, one group)
and dancers (one individual, two groups), plus a mentalist and a dog
act. Then viewers will vote; on Wednesday, we'll learn which five
acts will survive, joining last week's survivors in the 10-act
finale.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Horror Story,” 10 p.m., FX.

Even if a show is
well-crafted, you won't necessarily want to embrace it with glee.
“AHS” has typified that over the years, with brilliant acting,
stunning filming and smart – but, often, repulsive -- stories.

Sarah Paulson is
perfect in everything produced by Ryan Murphy, from her two-headed
“AHS” to her Emmy-winning work in the O.J. Simpson mini-series.
Here, crumbling with terror, she's superb; so are Alison Pill as her
wife, Billy Eichner as a creepy neighbor, Billie Lourd as a creepier
babysitter, Kai Anderson as the creepiest candidate. Yes, there's a
lot of creepiness here; proceed cautiously.

Other choices
tonight include:

“Casey Anthony: An
American Murder Mystery,” 7-10 p.m., Discovery. This channel had
planned on rerunning the previous “Manhunt: Unabomber” hours,
leading into the finale. It still has the finale at 10, but precedes
it with this film, mixing documentary segments and re-enactments.

“Martin Luther:
The Idea That Chanted the World,” 8-10 p.m., PBS. On Oct. 31,
people will mark the 500th anniversary of the day a
penniless monk challenged a deeply established religion. This
documentary dramatizes the events, using Europe's castles and
cobblestone streets as backdrop.

“The Flash,” 8
p.m., CW. Aside from the telethon, this is your only 8 p.m. choice
among commercial broadcast networks. It's a rerun, with the team
battling its former friend, now called Killer Frost.

“Black-ish,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., ABC. Both reruns focus on Emmy-nominee Tracy Ellis
Ross as Rainbow. In the first, she probes her feelings about being
biracial; in the second, her sister (Rashida Jones) arrives, fresh
from getting attention on a reality show.

“Top of the Lake:
China Girl,” 9-11:40 p.m., Sundance. Monday's chapter made one
character way too nasty; that reduced him to one dimension and made
his teen lover less interesting. Fortunately, this finale bounces
back from that, wrapping up its mystery and advancing its characters.

“Bull,” 10 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Bull must work with a top defense lawyer (Eliza
Dushku), to repay her for defending Billy. They promptly clash.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Reality-show finale (and near-finales).

It's time for summer
shows to wrap up. “So You Think You Can Dance” (8-10 p.m., Fox) –
which is down to six gifted dancers – is two weeks from its finish;
“American Ninja Warrior” (8-10 p.m., NBC) – now in its closing
round in Las Vegas – is a week away.

And “Bachelor in
Paradise” (8-10:01 p.m., ABC)? With a late start (due to scandal)
and an early finish (to make room for “Dancing With the Stars”),
ir's had a short season, ending now. Chris Harrison offers couples an
extra night, with a “fantasy suite”; some take it and three talk
with him afterward.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY:
“Kevin Can Wait,” 8:30 p.m. today, CBS.

Over the next two
Mondays, we'll see the episodes that led to a drastic makeover: In
its first season, “Kevin” drew shrugs from critics, but decent
ratings from viewers. Then came a stunt: Leah Remini – Kevin James'
“King of Queens” co-star – did a two-parter as Kevin's old
police rival.

Here's the first
half of that, as she nudges him out of retirement for some undercover
work. And the aftershock? CBS decided to keep Remini, kill Kevin's
wife (Erinn Hayes) and alter the show.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” 9 p.m., Sundance,
rerunning at 11:42.

Sunday's opener
introduced compelling characters, brilliantly co-written and directed
by Jane Campion. Robin, a tough cop with a tortured soul, finally met
Mary, the teen she gave up at birth. Elisabeth Moss and Alice Englert
(Campion's daughter) are superb; so is Nicole Kidman as the adoptive
mother.

As this unfolds,
Robin probes a prostitute's death ... which may or may not be linked
to Mary's way-too-old lover Alexander. Tonight's chapter stumbles in
its second hour; by making Alexander too extreme, it diminishes Mary.
It will right itself on Tuesday, wrapping up a superb mini-series.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: 9/11 films, cable.

The anniversary of
the World Trade Center attacks will be noted in newscasts and in
documentary reruns. On History, that goes from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.; on
National Geographic, it's 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Then there's a
scripted movie based on real events. Oliver Stone's “World Trade
Center” (2006) – 7:20 a.m. and 1:30 and 9 p.m. on Epix -- focuses
on some of the survivors, the rescuers and the families waiting for
word. It stars Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Mara
Bello.

Other choices
include:

“Newton's Law,”
any time, www.acorn.tv. Josephine
Newton's life and law office have exploded – one of them literally.
She might actually have to work in the high-end law firm she detests.
That's the start of a series that has interesting characters, clever
lines and good courtroom moments; it's sort of what David E. Kelley
(“L.A. Law,” “Goliath”) would write if he moved to Australia.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. This reruns the episode in which Raj moved in
with Leonard and Penny, after his parents quit supporting him.
Christine Baranski returns as Leonard's mother.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Bonnie has never known much about her mother, who gave her up to
foster care. In this funny rerun, her mother has just died, leaving a
major surprise.

“Hooten and the
Lady” season-finale, 9 p.m., CW. Lady Alex has trouble sticking to
the society stuff. Now she puts her wedding in jeopardy, to join
Hooten in a hunt for pirate treasure.

“Preacher”
season-finale, 9-10:15 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11:15 p.m. and 12:30
and 2:45 a.m. A strange season ends with waves of tragedy and
confusion. Jesse is being groomed for duty as the new Messiah, a role
that doesn't really fit him. Then his only two friends crumble.
There's also a flashback and Hitler in Hell and more. To understand
it (maybe), try “Talking Preacher” at 10:15, 1:45 and 4.

“Midnight, Texas,”
10 p.m., NBC. Things haven't been going well since the veil to Hell
was lifted; we probably could have predicted that. Now a faceless
supernatural arrives. Manfred confronts his drug problem, while his
girlfriend struggles after learning her brother is a killer, enabled
by their father.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Top of the Lake: China Girl” opener, 9 p.m., Sundance; reruns at
11:39.

On a night
overflowing with big-budget shows on big-deal networks, Sundance
counters with a three-night story that is strange, but stunningly
good. It's another triumph for director-writer Jane Campion.

She again has
Elisabeth Moss as Robin, a quiet cop with a troubled soul. And she
gets superb work from others – Alice Englert (Campion's daughter)
as the daughter Robin haf never met ... Nicole Kidman as the girl's
angry adoptive mother ... Gwendoline Christie as the towering
(6-foot-3) underling who seems to worship Robin. The story goes
slightly off-track Monday, then rights itself Tuesday.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Orville” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

Seth MacFarlane is
trying for it all – an outer-space adventure that has action,
humor, imagination, splashy visuals and intriguing beings. Give him
an A for effort, a wobbly C for execution.

Visually, “The
Orville” is a delight, with the kind of space ship we'd like to
move into. The scattered humor is OK, but other elements are flawed;
conversations seem stiff and stilted, action scenes require villains
to be awful shots. Still, this is a big, breezy effort that will be
work sticking with.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Deuce” debut, 9 p.m., HBO

We're back in the
1970s and Times Square had a ragged bunch of schemers and scammers.
Vincent (James Franco) runs a bar; his brother (also Franco) gets in
trouble. Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a pimp-free hooker; Abby
(Margarita Lavieva) is a brainy student who would rather make money.

Yes, this is leading
somewhere –to the sudden growth of the porn-film industry. But
we're getting there the HBO way – slowly, while building great
characters in compelling settings.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Outlander” season-opener, 8 p.m., Starz; reruns
at 9 and 10:30 p.m. and 1:10 a.m.

Bouncing between
eras, this can get tangled; fortunately, the entire second season
reruns today. It starts at 6:37 a.m., with the extended finale at
6:30 p.m. That thrusts us into the current tangles.

Claire has married
twice – to Frank in 1940s England and -- after some inadvertent
time travel -- to Jamie in 18th-century Scotland. When a
hopeless battle neared, Jamie urged his pregnant wife to flee to
modern times. Now we see the battle, which is big and brutal; we also
see its dark aftermath. And in 20th-century Boston, Claire
will eventually try some frantic genealogy, to see if her husband
survived.

Other choices
include:

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC. The first rerun has Amy Schumer and Kelly
Clarkson, with their families. The second has Chrissy Metz (“This
Is Us”) and Bindi Irwin, who has continued the conservation work of
her late father Steve, the “crocodile hunter.”

Miss America
pageant, 9-11 p.m., ABC. The event that used to fascinate viewers
must now fight through a thicket of TV choices. Chris Harrison again
hosts, with Sage Steele as co-host.

“Masterpiece:
Endeavour” season-finale, 9-10:30 p.m., PBS. When a body is found
near Oxford, people assume it's the botanist who disappeared five
years earlier. Then a deeper mystery unfolds.

“Fear the Walking
Dead,” 9-11 p.m., AMC, or “The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX. Yes, the
zombies and such still abound. “Fear” starts the second half of
its season, just as “Strain” prepares for next week's series
finale. Its few surviving heroes – Eph, Fet, Dutch, Gus, Quinlan –
prepare a final assault.

And more, 10 p.m.
“Get Shorty” -- the clever tale of a good-hearted crook in
Hollywood – has a new hour on Epix; previous ones rerun at 7:05. Also at
10, “Episodes” is on Showtime and football continues on NBC; it's
the first weekend of the pro season, with the Cowboys hosting the
Giants at 8:25 p.m. ET.