Even by Peak TV standards, the glut of new programming this April Fools’ Day is no joke. The big headline: Christopher Meloni’s return to the Law & Order world. I’m nearly as excited for a new season of TV’s best cooking competition, filmed during the pandemic. Plus: TCM’s annual Oscars countdown. A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:
Law & Order: Organized Crime
In a comeback fans have waited nearly a decade for, Christopher Meloni returns to the Law & Order world as Det. Elliot Stabler in a two-part crossover that begins on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit(9/8c). He reunites with Capt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) after a threat to his family gets the SVU squad’s attention. In the Organized Crime spinoff, Stabler joins an elite task force that targets crime syndicates while attempting to rebuild his life.
United States of Al
Chuck Lorre’s latest sitcom is a buddy comedy with a twist: The pals met during wartime. United States opens with ex-Marine Riley (Parker Young) opening his Columbus, Ohio home to Awalmir (Adhir Kalyan)—though you can call him Al—the incurably optimistic Afghan interpreter who saved and changed Riley’s life. The culture clash provides easy laughs, although moving on is no snap for these battle-scarred veterans. And Al can’t help himself from meddling in his friend’s messy particulars: his busted marriage, the way he spoils his daughter. Hey, what are friends for?
How can you tell that TV’s most enjoyable food competition is cooking up a storm during a pandemic? The contestants are no longer shopping for ingredients in person, and like so many of us during the lockdown, they’re ordering online and picking up their essentials at the curb. Otherwise, it’s business as usual as Top Chef relocates to Portland, Oregon for its 18th season, with fun challenges including a collaborative team Quickfire and a blind-tasting Elimination Challenge involving different kinds of fish—including the dreaded chukar (or partridge). In another twist, a rotating group of former Top Chefall-stars joins the judging and dining panels. One thing hasn’t changed: You don’t want head judge Tom Colicchio calling your dish “a bowl full of pain.”
The supernatural drama about the mysterious flight of Montego Air 828—which lost five and a half years during its voyage, and gifted its passengers with strange “callings”-jumps several months ahead for its third season, with Ben (Josh Dallas) heading off on an international mission to try to decipher the latest revelations. (Good luck with that.) His sister Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) and new husband Zeke (Matt Long) have their own mystery to solve now that he’s passed his so-called “death date.”
The slapstick obstacle course has reopened as the series moves to cable. John Cena and the hilarious Nicole Byer (Nailed It!) are the new hosts, and 2019 Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model Camille Kostek is in the field interviewing hapless contestants as they face the prospect of epic falls when they encounter those iconic big balls.
The dysfunctional family, introduced in a 2019 Christmas special, return for a midseason run and a crowded house, when Sean Sr.’s (Denis Leary) plans for empty-nest retirement and RV mobility with wife Ann (Elizabeth Perkins) are dashed when their adult offspring all move back into their Chicago home.
The horror anthology delivers a second season of knowingly cheesy comics-inspired shocks with back-to-back stories. The first, “Model Kid,” will speak to anyone who grew up obsessed with vintage monster movies and the mail-order model kits that let you make your own Frankenstein creatures at home. (That would be me.) The Walking Dead’sGreg Nicotero directs both episodes, including “Public Television of the Dead,” where the reading of an antique book of the dead disrupts the local pledge drive. A parody version of Bob Ross puts down his paintbrush long enough to battle the demons.
Guess who’s visiting Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) next during her beachfront COVID-limbo reverie? We don’t even have to guess, because ABC’s promos have already blasted the news that Lexi (Chyler Leigh), Mer’s dear departed sister, is the latest ghost giving counsel to the comatose doc. Back in the waking world, Grey Sloan has a serious ventilator shortage, forcing the doctors to make a tough decision when a mother and daughter are both in need.
The psychological thriller inspired by The Silence of the Lambs is back from a brief hiatus with a strong episode in which Agent Starling (Rebecca Breeds) is desperate to be reinstated after being put on administrative leave in the wake of her latest harrowing adventure with a deranged villain. So desperate that she turns to Attorney General Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), who insists that she come to dinner and finally break bread with her troubled daughter Catherine (Marnee Carpenter)-also known as “the girl in the well” who Clarice rescued from Buffalo Bill. Turns out neither have fully recovered from that terrifying incident.
31 Days Of Oscar
The vintage movie channel’s annual monthlong countdown to the Oscars (this year delayed to April 25) takes an A-to-Z approach, with each film that either won or was nominated for an Oscar airing in alphabetical order. The marathon begins with 1949’s great Hepburn–Tracy comedy Adam’s Rib, continues at 8 am/7c with Errol Flynn’s iconic The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1938 and continues into the wee hours with Greta Garbo in 1930’s Anna Christie at 5:15 am/4:15c. And that’s just the first day!
On the Stream:
- Made for Love (streaming on HBO Max): The wonderful Cristin Milioti (Palm Springs) is in fine and frantic form in this futuristic anti-romcom. She’s Hazel Green, who seems to be living a perfect life as the trophy wife of a tech billionaire (Billy Magnussen). But when he announces his “Made for Love” device, a chip that would fuse their minds and souls forever, she makes a run for it—unaware that she’s already carrying the tracker in her head.
- Worn Stories (streaming on Netflix): We are what we wear—or so goes this thoughtful, whimsical docuseries based on Emily Spivack’s 2014 best-seller. Using animation and interviews, this eight-part series uses treasured articles of clothing as the jumping-off point for personal testimonies.
- The Challenge: All Stars (streaming on Paramount+): MTV gathers 22 of the most popular players from past seasons of the various iterations of Real World/Road Rulesfor an ultimate competition set in the Andes Mountains in Argentina. They’ll vie for a $ 500,000 grand prize over nine episodes, dropping weekly. An after-show, The Challenge: Aftermath, is hosted by Challenge veteran Devyn Simone.
- Ramona and Beezus (streaming on Hulu): Made newly relevant by the recent passing of beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary, this 2010 film introduces a very young Joey King as the irrepressible third-grader Ramona Quimby and Selena Gomez as her big sis Beatrice (or “Beezus” in Ramona-speak).
Inside Thursday TV:
- Major League Baseball Opening Day: There will be fewer fans in the stands, depending on the venue, but “Play Ball” is the order of the day, as a new baseball season opens on schedule after a truncated-by-COVID 2020. ESPN broadcasts four games, including the Toronto Blue Jays at the New York Yankees at 1 pm ET/12c.
- Young Sheldon(8/7c, CBS): Just renewed for three more seasons—by which time little Sheldon (Iain Armitage) may not be quite so young anymore—the sitcom pairs the young genius with Dr. Linkletter (Ed Begley, Jr.) and Meemaw (Annie Potts) for a science experiment.
- Mom (9/8c, CBS): Christy (Anna Faris) may be gone, but she’s certainly not forgotten. Not when Adam (William Fichtner) discovers an old billboard displaying her gifts for all to see, and Bonnie (Allison Janney) makes it her mission to preserve her daughter’s honor. Better Call Saul’sBob Odenkirk makes a memorable guest appearance as a sleazy strip-club owner who remembers Christy well.
- A Million Little Things (10/9c, ABC): In a topical subplot addressing the wave of anti-Asian discrimination, Katherine (Grace Park) realizes her adorable son Theo (Tristan Byon) is being victimized when a classmate asks him to put on a mask during Zoom schoolroom classes.