What’s On: The blind auditions begin as Gwen Stefani returns to ‘The Voice’ for its 12th season
The Voice (8/7c, NBC): The best part of any season of The Voice is always the opening round, which is something of a mixed blessing because it tends to reinforce the singing competition’s weak link: that it’s more about the personality of the coaches, as they vie for new contestants in the addictively suspenseful “blind auditions,” than it is about the actual voices. And the thrill is definitely gone once the teams are chosen. But for now, enjoy the fun as Gwen Stefani returns to fight for the best of the new batch alongside Alicia Keys and stalwarts Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.
Stay tuned to NBC and you’ll see the least deserving show yet to be rewarded the mighty Voice lead-in. That would be a series version of Taken (10/9c), a 30-years-earlier sequel that for some reason is taking place in the present. (Although there are occasional flip phones used amid modern tech, also a puzzlement.) Bryan Mills, now played with a minimum of charisma by Clive Standen, is introduced as a former Green Beret, your basic taciturn tough guy, who’s not yet recovered from a family tragedy he feels responsible for when he’s recruited into one of those shadow agencies so popular on the newtork. Jennifer Beals is the icy deputy director, and much like the teams on Blindspot and The Blacklist, the supporting players have names but little else to distinguish them. If mindless action and murky plotting is your thing, you might be taken by this one.
When We Rise (9/8c, ABC): This stirring if sometimes pedantic history of activism within the gay-rights movement and beyond opens in the 1970s, with its true-life protagonists experiencing social and sexual awakenings in the post-Stonewall early 1970s. No one said changing hearts and minds would be easy, and Dustin Lance Black’s (Milk) script doesn’t shy from depicting divisions among these idealistic warriors, especially among the militant feminists who are wary even to let gay men into their protest circle. Austin McKenzie, Emily Skeggs, Fiona Dourif and Jonathan Majors are terrific as the younger versions of the characters who will be played in later chapters by Guy Pearce (who appears in all episodes as a narrator), Mary-Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths and Michael K. Williams. Bravo to ABC for reviving the long-neglected miniseries format with this imperfect but important chronicle, which continues Wednesday through Friday.
Bates Motel (10/9c, A&E): This final season, which might as well be titled My Mother the Ghost, ratchets up the madness quickly, as Caleb (Kenny Johnson) returns to White Pine Bay to learn of sister Norma’s (Vera Farmiga) death, giving Norman (Freddie Highmore) yet another mortal enemy to worry about. But first, he’s going on a double date with Madeline (Isabelle McNally), which not only doesn’t go swimmingly but sends the Norma-within-Norman into a jealous tizzy. It would all be so scary if it weren’t so weirdly funny.
Humans (10/9c, AMC): Sam Palladino is one unlucky Romeo. On Nashville as Gunnar, he’s begging Scarlett to give him another chance, to little avail. On the haunting sci-fi drama Humans, as struggling café owner Ed, he has just learned his gorgeous “synth” employee Mia (Gemma Chan) isn’t as robotic as he thought, and when she reveals her romantic feelings towards him, he’s understandably uneasy. But that’s nothing compared to the dilemma of Niska (Emily Berrington), undergoing a personality assessment to prove she’s more than “an appliance with zero rights” as she argues to be allowed to stand trial.
Inside Monday TV: Acorn TV’s three-part Code of a Killer (streaming starting Monday) is a 1980s period procedural reminding us how far we’ve come in this post-CSI era. David Threlfall stars as a detective investigating the murders of two schoolgirls, and whose breakthrough will rely on a university scientist, played by John Simm, who has discovered how to read individual DNA fingerprints. … Smithsonian Channel’s The Obama Years: The Power of Words (8/7c) relives the former president’s political career through his gift of oratory, examining six landmark speeches that helped define his times. … Dr. Henry Louis Gates (Finding Your Roots) returns to PBS to explore Africa’s Great Civilizations (9/8c, check local listings at pbs.org), a three-part series airing through Wednesday that looks back 200,000 years to mine the rich history and culture of the African continent and its peoples.