A critical checklist of notable Wednesday TV:
Modern Family (9/8c, ABC): ABC’s most honored sitcom, winner of the Emmys’ top comedy prize for its first five years, marks its 200th episode by going for the emotional jugular. When Gloria (Sofia Vergara) rushes Phil (two-time Emmy winner Ty Burrell) to the hospital for emergency surgery after he suffers severe stomach pain, the entire extended family (including Fred Willard returning as Phil’s dad, Frank) gathers to rally around their beloved doofus.
Alone Together (8:30/7:30c, Freeform): ABC’s cable offshoot has created an hour comedy block worthy of competing with the mothership. Joining the excellent black-ish spinoff grown-ish (8/7c) is a snarky and savagely funny male/female buddy comedy that at times feels like a West Coast millennial version of Hulu’s lamentably canceled Difficult People. Starring as misfit millennials unable to crack L.A.’s cool code are co-creator/executive producers and stand-up comics Esther Povitsky and Benji Aflalo. As platonic best buds Esther and Benji: “We’re both small and undesirable.” In the premiere, Esther’s desire to get on the radar of “hot girls” including Benji’s fashionista sister somehow leads to her joining an escort service. Probably not the best move for someone described by BFF Benji thusly: “Esther’s way of being cute is, like, not trying. She’s lazy chic.” Alone Together is anything but lazy. It’s a riot.
This week’s grown-ish episode is its best to date, as college freshman Zoey (Yara Shahidi) takes a crash course in social-media etiquette when her crush sends her an ambiguous “U up?” text in the wee hours. Is that an invitation to sex? Is not responding a power move? Could overtexting be the ruin of a promising relationship? This earns all the positive emojis in your toolkit.
The Magicians (9/8c, Syfy): The third season of the exhilarating fantasy sends the young conjurors on their most perilous and important journey to date. The mission: to bring back magic after Quentin (Jason Ralph) killed a got last season that resulted in everyone losing their powers—with the exception of outsider Julia (Stella Maeve). Mystical adventures await as the fledgling sorcerers board a living ship to seek seven keys that could reopen the doors to the sort of magic kingdom that would probably give Uncle Walt (Disney, that is) nightmares.
The X-Files (8/7c Fox): “Who needs Google when you got Scully?” For just that classic Mulder quote alone, this back-to-form episode rises above the murk of last week’s season opener. There are some mythology-based elements to the story, written and directed by Glen Morgan, but it’s fresher and spookier when a familiar face reaches out, seemingly from beyond the grave. It turns out the X-Files aren’t the only thing that’s gone digital.
Inside Wednesday TV: I’m a bit leery whenever CBS’s The Amazing Race (8/7c) introduces new elements to the competition, but I am curious to see what happens (and why) when teams are made to face off in a contest to earn a place on the mat and thus avoid elimination. … Fox’s 9-1-1 (9/8c) opened strong last week, and with stunts like a roller-coaster malfunction challenging the first responders, it’s likely to hold the audience’s attention again. … PBS’s Nova goes into deep space for the two-hour “Black Hole Apocalypse” (9/8c, check local listings at pbs.org), with astrophysicist Janna Levin introducing the latest discoveries about these mysterious gravitational forces.