Here’s what’s up in the world of TV for Tuesday, November 18. All times are Eastern.
The Flash (The CW, 8 p.m.): The CW’s current crop of superhero shows have mostly left behind the myriad creative miscues that plagued their spiritual predecessor Smallville, but one weird storytelling tic remains: Neither Arrow nor The Flash wants to call its heroes by their actual, comics-approved names. Oliver Queen took an entire season just to go from “The Hood” to “The Arrow,” and the full “Green Arrow” appears a still distant dream. As for Barry Allen, he’s been stuck with the nickname “The Streak,” a name that actually manages a certain bizarre majesty in its awfulness. But that might all be about to change tonight, as the episode is simply called “The Flash Is Born.” Scott Von Doviak will believe it when he sees it.
Person Of Interest (CBS, 10 p.m.): Because I can’t make Person Of Interest the top pick every week—I mean, I suppose I can, but I’m not going to, because I’m kind of a jerk that way—please accept this spiffy consolation prize. The wonky, incomprehensible rules that govern the TV Club electoral college may have selected another show as top pick, but Person Of Interest is always going to win the top pick in the popular vote. Alexa Planje really doesn’t want her show to be the Samuel Tilden of What’s On Tonight, but she’ll take what she can get.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC, 9 p.m.): You can generally judge the greatness of an episode synopsis by the utter whiplash caused by its “Meanwhile,” as a two-sentence description attempts to pivot from quick encapsulation of the main plot to even quicker rundown of a key subplot. To wit: “The team race against Hydra to uncover an ancient secret.” Okay, sure. So far, so good. Perfectly normal stuff there. Now, hit me with the crazy! “Meanwhile, Ward abducts his brother in order to brutally reflect on their past.” That’s not as psychotic as both NCIS shows devoting half their Halloween episodes to involved discussions of costumes, but that’s still very solid. Oliver Sava is prepared for some hardcore perusing of old photo albums.
Benched (USA, 10:30 p.m.): A key plotline tonight finds Phil and Trent facing a curmudgeonly judge, as though anyone ever needs to specify that a judge on television is curmudgeonly. Honestly, it’d probably be more of a challenge to deal with a super nice and easygoing judge, if only because I assume all television law schools are geared toward how to most effectively needle but ultimately impress with your slick smarts the endless parade of no-nonsense, hard-ass judges. Emily L. Stephens has just informed me that she will not be hiring me as her lawyer for her next court appearance. Your loss, Emily! I’ve seen several episodes of Boston Legal!
Sons Of Anarchy (FX, 10 p.m.): Once again, TV Guide taunts me with a listing that takes us all the way to 12:30 a.m., but we can feel pretty confident that that includes an after-show devoted to unpacking all the nuances of “Jax faces an ugly truth.” If the reruns are anything to judge by, the episode itself is an hour and 42 minutes, suggesting even the new, bloated standard of 90 minutes per episode is no longer enough to contain all the anarchy.
30 Rock (3 p.m.): It’s gone much too quickly, but Erik Adams closes another previously open circuit in our TV Club coverage by completing the first season of 30 Rock. But before he wraps up his retrospective on the show’s first season, we still need to go to Cleveland, where Liz Lemon suddenly discovers she can be a model. Erik Adams can’t relate to that feeling at all.
Cold War Roadshow: American Experience (PBS, 9 p.m.): This hour-long documentary looks at Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s 1959 visit to the United States, which saw him meet with America’s most beautiful celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and, yes, you guessed it, Richard Nixon.
Frontline (PBS, 10 p.m.): Frontline is not messing around tonight, as it unveils a special report on the relationship between the tire company Firestone and the deposed Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. I’m going to go ahead and guess Firestone isn’t going to come out looking great here. I’m also not feeling super good about Charles Taylor’s chances, truth be told.
Saving Africa’s Giants With Yao Ming (Animal Planet, 10 p.m.): Retired NBA center and China’s most beloved athlete Yao Ming heads to Kenya and South Africa to protect elephants and rhinoceroses from poachers. Beyond the impressively global feel of this series, the sight of the 7’6” Yao Ming standing next to elephants and rhinos should offer some particularly awesome entries in the ongoing phenomenon of Yao Ming making everyone and everything else on the planet look tiny.
Risking It All (TLC, 10 p.m.): Let’s go to the description: “Three families leave the comforts of home behind to live off the grid without electricity or running water for very specific reasons.” So … the reason isn’t just that they wanted to appear on TV? Amazingly, I’m going to go ahead and guess these reasons—which, to earn the descriptor “very specific,” better take 15 damn minutes to explain—are going to be even less sound than just wanting to be on TV. Also, the series premiere is called “What The Frontier?”, which may be the worst pun I’ve ever seen, in that it is barely a pun at all.
Ratatouille (Disney, 8:05 p.m.): One of Pixar’s finest, this Brad Bird-directed, Patton Oswalt-voiced movie is so good that it might be worth putting up with commercial breaks featuring aggressively hyper-energetic ads for all of Disney’s live-action sitcoms. Also, can we get a little spicy and add this to the list of movies for which Peter O’Toole should have won his damn Oscar?
The Punisher (IFC, 9 p.m.): Sadly, this Punisher is neither the high camp of the 1989 Dolph Lundgren Punisher nor the psychotic whimsy of War Zone, which featured this. No, this is the relatively humble 2004 version, in which Thomas Jane takes on John Travolta. Pretty sure I saw this one in theaters when it came out, because I was 15 and just the right kind of dumb to want to see this. I mostly remember Tom Jane spending about half the movie painstakingly fixing his car up to be a suitable vehicle for punishment.
College Basketball: Michigan State vs. Duke/Kansas vs. Kentucky (ESPN, 7 p.m./9 p.m.): There’s no shortage of basketball tonight, but it’s really hard to beat the Champions Classic, which features a quartet of highly ranked teams and some of the most exciting players in the country, including Duke freshman and possible first overall draft pick Jahlil Okafor. Also, the Kentucky Wildcats are so ludicrously overstuffed with talent that coach John Calipari may use hockey shifts to get everyone playing time, which is wonderfully ridiculous.
Jane The Virgin: Hey, anyone remember when this show’s premise seemed irredeemably contrived and cheesy, and that there was a very real chance this show would only be worth people’s time as a morbid curiosity? Yeah, continuing one of the more impressive comebacks since Lazarus rose from the dead, tonight’s episode got another “A.” Let Oliver Sava explain why.