Return of ‘American Idol,’ ‘Deception’ Like a Magic ‘Castle,’ ‘Timeless’ Rebounds in WWI


A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:

American Idol (Sunday, 8/7c, ABC): Even if all of America was screaming for the return of this once-mighty singing competition—and that’s an arguable proposition—will they settle for a Disney-fied sweetness-and-light version? In the two-hour audition opener, it rarely gets rougher than perky judge Katy Perry consoling an also-ran with the advice, “You’re not failing, you’re learning.” Well … Anyway, it’s a perfectly pleasant if stubbornly ordinary premiere, as Perry settles in with aw-shucks country star Luke Bryan and the authentically legendary Lionel Richie, who serves as the “children, please” pragmatist with welcome perspective on how tough the business (starting with the “Hollywood” round) can be. The episode hopscotches from New York to Los Angeles and Nashville, with the inevitable detour to Orlando’s Walt Disney World, where (drum roll) dreams come true. That’s the theme of the season so far—and you’ll hear that again in next week’s NBC musical drama, Rise, where it’s just about as authentic. Nothing objectionable here, which may be a problem if Idol once again wants to make noise. And yet I’m still more likely to stay on this ride, at least this year, than to endure yet another season of The Voice.

Deception (Sunday, 10/9c, ABC): Don’t be surprised if ABC ends up with a bigger sleeper hit in its latest attempt to conjure the next Castle. Formulaic for sure but painless in its escapist charms, Deception features Jack Cutmore-Scott as cocky celebrity magician Cameron Black, whose brush with the law exposes his greatest secret (no spoilers). His attempt to clear his name puts him on the improbable but predictable path to becoming a crime-solving sidekick to the FBI, using elaborate Mission: Impossible-style sleight-of-hand ruses to catch the bad guys. Ilfenesh Hadera, as agent Kay Daniels, is the Beckett to his magic Castle, and as usual, there’s a super fan (Prison Break’s Amaury Nolasco) on the team, as well as a disapproving boss (Laila Robins). You’ve seen it all before, but lots of potential viewers won’t mind that a bit as long as they keep it light and breezy.

Timeless (Sunday, 10/9c, NBC): This year’s winner of the “never say die” prize is the goofily fanciful time-travel thriller that NBC canceled after its first season, then changed its mind after fan outcry. Timeless does itself no favors by doubling down on the Rittenhouse conspiracy complications, because the real fun of the show is watching its heroes—historian Lucy (Abigail Spencer), dashing soldier Wyatt (Matt Lanter) and nervous scientist/pilot Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) steer their rickety time machine into fun eras of yore, starting with World War I France. Hey, isn’t that Marie Curie? Of course it is.

NCIS: Los Angeles (Sunday, 9/8c, CBS): After a nearly two-month spell of pre-emptions for event TV from the Super Bowl through the Olympics and Oscars, CBS’s regular Sunday lineup is back. Following two hours of 60 Minutes (7/6c), NCIS: LA returns with the team engaging in a rescue mission to finally bring Hetty (Linda Hunt) back from Vietnam. Her war buddies, including JAG’s John M. Jackson as Chegwidden, join in the hunt. A new Madam Secretary follows (10/9c) in which Elizabeth (Téa Leoni) tries to preserve a trade agreement, which sounds awfully timely.

Inside Weekend TV: Want to know how they produce such stunning nature photography for BBC America’s Planet Earth: Blue Planet II? This week’s “Making Of” episode (Saturday, 9/8c) shows and tells all. … In advance of Tuesday’s season finale of This Is Us, Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown shows off his comic chops as first-time guest host on NBC’s Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c). James Bay is the first-time musical guest. … If the Oscars didn’t give you awards-show fatigue, saddle up for this year’s iHeart Music Awards (simulcast Sunday, 8/7c 5/PT on TBS, TNT and truTV), where Bon Jovi performs and receives the iHeartRadio Icon Award. Other acts on the Forum stage in Los Angeles include Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, Cardi B, Charlie Puth and iHeart Radio Fangirls Award winner Camila Cabello. … Fox dives deep into the tabloid gutter with Sunday’s two-hour special O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession? (8/7c)—notice the question mark—resurrecting a special the network wisely shelved back in 2006. Simpson gives his own “what if” scenario to the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Soledad O’Brien hosts, and a panel of analysts includes former prosecutor Christopher Darden and publisher Judith Regan, who conducted the initial interview.