A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:
Grey's Anatomy (9/8c, ABC): TV's longest-running prime-time medical drama returns for its 17th season with a two-hour opener, jumping forward a month into the COVID-19 crisis, finding Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and her Grey Sloan co-workers overwhelmed by pandemic cases. As if that weren't enough, the unintentional fire started on the Station 19 premiere an hour earlier brings even more patients into the hospital. But don’t worry, it won't be all COVID-19 all the time. There will be still be time to catch up on what’s happened in the messy personal lives of these essential frontline workers.
Law & Order: SVU (9/8c, NBC): Also confronting the new realities in a time of COVID-19 and socio-political racial unrest, the police drama will do some soul-searching as the 22nd season begins. An assault case in Central Park is complicated when the SVU, led by Capt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), faces its own racial bias even as the community is losing faith in the police and D.A.'s office.
For a lighter change of pace, the SVU premiere is followed by The Paley Center Presents Law & Order: Before They Were Stars (10/9c), a special that acknowledges how many future stars of TV and film (including Bradley Cooper!) passed through as guests of the legendary franchise. (It used to be fun to page through the Playbill of a Broadway show and see how many various L&O credits the cast had amassed among them.) Among those reflecting on their big Law & Order break: Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr., This Is Us stars Chris Sullivan, Susan Kelechi Watson and Ron Cephas Jones, The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli and Aida Turturro, Abigail Breslin and current Chicago Med star S. Epatha Merkerson. Inevitably, some current cast members recall guesting earlier in their career: SVU's Peter Scanavino as an assailant and Kelli Giddish as a victim.
The Unicorn (9:30/8:30c, CBS): The search for an elusive object of desire drives the second-season premiere of the charming comedy about widower Wade (the disarming Walton Goggins), who's obsessed over tracking down the woman he met-cute over a spraying skunk last season. Because that mystery woman is played by the appealing Natalie Zea (Justified), we root for Wade to find her. "This is the universe finally cutting me a break," he exults when discovering a new clue to her whereabouts. But will it be love, or disappointment, at second sight?
Star Trek: Discovery (streaming on CBS All Access): It's all smiles aboard the U.S.S. Discovery when they first lay eyes on a Starfleet/Federation headquarters that has undergone significant change in 930 years. But then they meet Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr), Starfleet's commander in chief, who greets this crew from the distant past with more suspicion than open arms. Turns out time travel has been banned, rendering their trip through the wormhole a no-no. So in classic Trek tradition, it's up to Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to embark on a mission to show the new guys just who it is they're dealing with. Look for cult director David Cronenberg in a nifty cameo, interrogating the defiant Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).
Valley of Tears (streaming on HBO Max): An intense 10-part docudrama recreates the events leading to 1973's Yom Kippur War in Israel. Being shown over five weeks (two episodes a week) in its native Hebrew language and a dubbed-in-English version, the series profiles several young combatants in a story of sacrifice and courage, including tank crewmen representing Israel's Black Panthers social-reform movement and a female officer who defies orders to leave the battlefield.
Inside Thursday TV: ESPN's coverage of The Masters golf tournament, delayed from spring by the pandemic, features the first round starting at 1 pm/12c, as Tiger Woods defends his title… With Amy no longer working at NBC's Superstore (8/7c), Jonah (Ben Feldman) decides to try for the open position of floor supervisor. Dina (Lauren Ash) is not amused… CBS's new sitcom B Positive (8:30/9:30c) introduces new recurring characters when Drew (Thomas Middleditch) begins his dialysis treatments alongside Terrence Terrell, Briga Heelan and David Anthony Higgins as fellow patients. Sitcom great Linda Lavin (Alice) also appears as a retiree who takes a special interest in Drew's connection to his future kidney doner, Gina (Annaleigh Ashford)… In what could become a new normal for stand-up comedy in the age of COVID-19, HBO Max presents Colin Quinn & Friends: A Parking Lot Comedy Show, in which the Saturday Night Live veteran gathers nine fellow comics to perform at a Brooklyn drive-in theater while patrons stay in their cars. Instead of laughs, honking means you've killed… Also new to HBO Max: the documentary Transhood, filmed over five years as it tracks the coming of age of four young transgender people in Kansas City, whose journeys of discovery take very different paths.
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