Monday TV: Halloween Competitions Start

Halloween-Baking-Championship-Coming-to-Food-Network1It’s that time again, to show you care about the pumpkin holiday. So here’s “Halloween Baking Championship” (Food Network, 8 p.m.), in which they make spider cupcakes and the such. Carla Hall, Sherry Yard and Ron Ben-Israel judge; host is Richard Blais. It’s the fourth in the network’s “Baking Championship.”

It’s followed by “Halloween Wars” (Food Network, 9 p.m.), returning for its fifth season, it’s a show about people who try to outdo one another in seasonal decor.

Dancers dance on “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, 8 p.m.), where Kim Zolciak is the most recent to withdraw. And singers sing on “The Voice” (NBC, 8 p.m.), where blind auditions slog on.

Monday Night Football has Lions at Seahawks (ESPN, 8:15 p.m.).

Once, there were museums of medical oddities and circus sideshows. Now there is TLC, featuring “The Man with the 80-Pound Groin” (TLC, 9 p.m.) and “The Man With No Penis” (TLC, 10 p.m.), They follow their earlier success and remaining title holder, “The Man with the 132-Pound Scrotum” (TLC, 8 p.m.).

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Sunday TV: ‘Homeland,’ ‘Affair,’ ‘Leftovers’

homeland-season-5-review-20150930-001Network shows have largely begun for the season. Now it’s time for premium cable to shine and they roll out some of their biggest titles.

“Homeland” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) hasn’t diminished as much as some have claimed; I’ve always thought it’s retained its tension and story telling ability even as it continues to be one of the few dramas to reflect some of the most pressing issues of the day.

Set two years after last season’s action, Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison is living in Berlin, actually raising her child, out of the CIA but working as security chief for a private investor.

She has a way of falling into the action, though, and this time it involves refugee crisis, Hamas bombs and righteous hacking of the CIA mainframe by Berlin slackers. The new season gets off to a fast start and doesn’t slow down.

“The Affair” (Showtime, 10 p.m.) picks up where it left off in its first season by doubling the points of view. Once, the action was seen through the eyes of the two lovers; now the narrative thickens with the points of view of the partners they left behind. It’s still slickly done and thoughtfully put together, stringing along a crime story that may be a confusing add on at first.

On “The Leftovers” (HBO, 9 p.m.) with the storytelling now surpassing Tom Perrotta’s original novel, the action moves wholesale to Texas. The actual reason is cost of production, but xx makes it work, as the bast characters from upstate New York suddenly find themselves in a Texas town that is considered a miracle in that nobody there disappeared. It has its own set of problems though, and “The Leftovers” remains one of the more brutal viewing experiences of cable.

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Saturday TV: Live Again, But With Miley

snlMileyThe 41st season of “Saturday Night Live” (NBC, 11:30 p.m.) begins with no new cast changes and a repeat as host: Miley Cyrus, who recently wore out her welcome as MTV Video Music Award host. Luckilly, there is a backlog of material, in the summer’s political circus alone (Hillary Clinton is rumored to show up for the premiere, though Kate McKinnon has her otherwise covered).

For those who want to catch up on the first four decades, the big “Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special” (NBC, 8 p.m.), which won a bunch of Emmys a couple of weeks ago, gets a replay. Though I suppose watching so many highlights will only lead to season premiere disappointment.

Prime time is once more dominated by college football with Arizona State at UCLA (Fox, 7:30 p.m.) and Notre Dame at Clemson (ABC, 8 p.m.).

In the made-for-TV “Autumn Dreams” (Hallmark, 9 p.m.), Jill Wagner and Colin Egglesfield play a couple who met as teen sweethearts have to finalize plans for their divorce. Which is kind of what will happen on “The Affair” Sunday.

Kiernan Shipka, Sally Draper in “Mad Men,” plays a teenage fan of the band All Time Low in “Fan Girl” (ABC Family, 9 p.m.) and Meg Ryan plays her mom.

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Friday TV: Ai Weiwei’s Fearless Art

AiWeiweiA week after a visit by the Chinese president, here comes a scathing portrait about that government has been treating its most celebrated contemporary artist. “

Andreas Johnsen’s film Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case,” making its debut tonight on “POV” (PBS, 10 p.m.) begins with the there month isolation imprisonment on a fake case of tax evasion and pornography and continues with a show trail and a year under house arrest. Cheerfully, he continues to resist.

The first Asian sitcom in a quarter century, “Fresh Off the Boat” has done well enough to spawn a second one. Unfortunately, “Dr. Ken” (ABC, 8:30 p.m.) has none of the wit or humor or the other. It features Ken Jeong of “Community” and “The Hangover” series of movies as a doctor. The actor claims he was once a doctor, too. But that hardly helps the sitcom at hand.

It may make “Last Man Standing” (ABC, 8 p.m.) look smart by comparison.

Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Adam Gopnik, Angela Rye and Matt Welch join a new “Real Time with Bill Maher” (HBO, 10 p.m.).

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‘Numb3rs’ Add Up for Krumholtz

Gigi-Does-It-Trae-Patton-IFCThe oddest performance of the fall TV season might come from David Krumholtz, who you know as the bright young man in the series “Numb3rs.”

Starting tonight, he stars, completely unrecognizably, as a 76 year old woman in the comedy “Gigi Does It” (IFC, 10:30 p.m.). In the role, where he does Caitlyn Jenner one better by jumping decades in age as well as gender, he futzes and does inappropriate things and seems to be pranking people in the manner of Johnny Knoxville in “Bad Grandpa,” whose prosthetic makeup people were also involved in the transformation.

Much of his interaction with a hired helper — co-producer Ricky Mabe — is more scripted, though.

It was Mabe’s idea of casting a grandmother in the first place.

“I created this weather-based website where an old, Jewish grandmother tells you the weather,” he told reporters at the TV Critics Association summer press tour. “We were originally going to cast an old, Jewish women to play the part, but after we wrote the scripts for that website, we felt really bad making anyone over 60 say those words.

“Dave and I have been friends for a over a decade, and I called him, and I was, like, ‘Would you be willing to play a grandpa a grandma?’” Mabe said.  ”And on the phone, he literally broke into this character that’s based on his grandmother, and it was for 20 minutes. He didn’t shut up as this old woman. And then we ended up getting a great deal on the makeup, so we transformed him into Gigi.”

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Also on Thursday: A New ‘Benders’


Another new comedy starting tonight that may be worth seeking out is “Benders” (IFC, 10 p.m.), ostensibly about a surprisingly terrible amateur hockey team.

Mostly it’s an excuse for a bunch of guys — in this case, pictured left to right, Chris Distefano, Andrew Schulz, Ruy Iskandar and Mark Gessner — to sit around and toss wisecracks and insults in the manner of other shows produced by Denis Leary, from “Rescue Me” to “Sirens.”

Leary himself isn’t in it so far, but his love for hockey is well-documented. Most of the stories of the series, however, occur well off the ice, as when one guy’s grandfather in tonight’s premiere solicits help in assisted suicide.

October is the perfect time for a third season return of “Sleepy Hollow” (Fox, 9 p.m.), where a newly discovered tablet opens the battle with evil up all over again.

Also returning tonight for its 11th season is “Bones” (Fox, 8 p.m.) with domestic bliss shattered by Booth’s disappearance. Kim Raver guest stars.

And in the third season return of “The Blacklist” (NBC, 9 p.m.), Liz is a suspect in the death of an attorney general.

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Wednesday TV: ‘Of Ants and Men’

eo-wilson_1121.jpg.640x360_q85Growing up in Alabama, he was always fascinated with ants. From that, he studied other insect commutes and eventualy humans, leading him to make groundbreaking contributions to human evolutionary theory. His books “The Theory of Island Biogeography” and “Sociobiology,” in 1975, revolutionized contemporary thought about animal behavior, including the animals who were humans.

The life and times of Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist is documented in the two hour special, “E.O. Wilson — Of Ants and Men” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).

Who misses “ER”? Time to get the gurneys moving fast again and fix those people in the new “Code Black” (CBS, 10 p.m.) which includes in its cast Marcia Gay Harden and Luis Guzman.

The second half of “iHeartRadio Music Festival” (The CW, 8 p.m.) features the Weeknd, Blake Shelton, Nick Jonas, Fall Out Boy and Janet Jackson, from Las Vegas for two hours.

A new season starts for “Criminal Minds” (CBS, 9 p.m.), as if you need another show to track serial killers.

Cookie’s efforts to start a new label don’t go easy on “Empire” (Fox, 9 p.m.), which roared back last week to big numbers.

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Tuesday TV: After ‘My Brother’s Bomber’

FL_MyBrothersBomber1For a guy who spent time as an editor at “Frontline” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings), filmmaker Ken Dornstein has a surprisingly undisciplined approach to his personal documentary about trying to find those responsible for the 1988 crash of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people including his older brother.

The way “My Brother’s Bomber” stretches out in the first of its three (!) hours, we get to hear fromDornstein’s kids about what they think of his plans — an approach most documentarians avoid. Going to Libya during the fall of Quaddafi adds some excitement, but there’s a lot of visits with old investigators of the crash in the half-baked first episode. His worst influence may be the “Serial” podcast, as it both stretches out the investigation and, if we are to believe publicity, leads to subsequent episodes that are still being worked on.  Better that he would have completed his reporting before completing his film.

One of the few highlights of the new fall season is the meta comedy “The Grinder” (Fox, 8:30 p.m.) in which Rob Lowe plays a former TV laser who returns home to his family’s practice and tries to dazzle juries there as well, to the consternation of his brother, played by Fred Savage.

It comes after a much more conventional new comedy, “Grandfathered” (Fox, 8 p.m.), starring John Stamos as a bachelor restauranteur who suddenly learns that he not only has a son (Josh Peck), he’s got a grandchild as well.

In lieu of its new fall season, two nights this week will be spent recapping the “iHeartRadio Music Festival” (The CW, 8 p.m.) from Las Vegas, a two night event featuring Kanye West, Sam Smith, Sam Smith, Kenny Chesney, Duran Duran, Puff Daddy,  Coldplay, Demi Lovato and the Killers. among others. It concludes Wednesday.

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Walking the Landmark Music Festival

C3 - Landmark Music FestivalSince the days of Woodstock, the big destination rock festivals for years only occurred in England, Europe and other exotic places.

In the past decade or two, though, there has been a concentrated effort to create big annual music festivals tied to specific U.S. locales: Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Coachella in California, the Austin City Limits in Texas, the Lollapallooza setting shop in Chicago. New Orleans and Newport kept their distinction with their particular styles of music. Now every city seems to have its own fest, from Philly’s Made in America to Atlanta’s Shaky Knees and Dover’s Firefly.

And now so does D.C.

The first Landmark Music Festival occurred the last weekend in September while another music festival was going on in New York, the Global Citizen thing with Beyonce and Pearl Jam. Compared to that, the Landmark wasn’t a landmark at all; it was scarcely a blip. Its headliners were Drake and The Strokes and having spent most of their money on those, they apparently didn’t have a big pile of money left for the rest of the dozens of acts.

Either that, or I have much less tolerance for mediocrity than I once had, especially when you have to walk a quarter mile back and forth between stages desperate to see something, anything good to hear (it’s not like turning the channel, believe me).

Landmark, brought to you by the people who brought you Lollapallooza and other big annual fests, did seem to be very well organized from past experiences elsewhere. So in addition to recordings repeating what to do and where to go at the gate, there were people with loudspeakers greeting you before they repeated where to go at what to do at the gate.

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Monday TV: Trevor Noah’s ‘Daily Show’

daily_show_trevor_noah_hostTonight’s the night Trevor Noah, the smart South African comedian, takes over the chair at “The Daily Show” (Comedy Central, 11 p.m.), and while nobody expects he’ll be Jon Stewart, he’ll still have much of the same writing and production staff still there, as well as many of the same correspondents, and that biggest help for a topical comedian: a Donald Trump candidacy.

Noah’s unflappable cool is distinctly different than the hot, tear-your-hair outrage that was the stock in trade of Stewart and Lewis Black. but it’s been such a hole not having “The Daily Show” at all for two months, whatever he does will be welcome I’m sure. His first guest won’t be subtle: it’s Kevin Hart.

The technology boom has changed San Francisco from whatever romantic beat or hippie notions you might recall, to a high priced place nobody but techies can afford, according to the latest documentary from Alexandra Pelosi, “San Francisco 2.0″ (HBO, 9 p.m.).

In the slot that has been the most consistent documentary showcase on television, with “POV” and “Independent Lens” is the new “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings), a light-hearted foodie show you might find on any number of cable networks, in which “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal tastes different cuisines with some of his friends, which, yes, includes Ray Romano.

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