TV column for Sunday, Dec. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Frozen” (2013), 8-10:04 p.m., ABC.

December is a time
for families to snuggle up and watch shows together. Here a gem that
is ideal. It started with a Hans Christian Andersen tale, then added
all the Disney touches -- gorgeous artwork, a funny snowman and great
songs handled by gifted singers.

Idina Menzel and
Kristen Bell star, joined by Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Santino
Fontana and more. The film won Academy Awards for best animated
feature and for the powerhouse ballad, “Let It Go.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Dick Van Dyke Show – Now in Living Color!” 8-9 p.m.,
CBS.

We're not too crazy
about the title, with its exclamation mark and it's “Living Color.”
(Is there a “dead color,” a “zombie color,” a ...) Still,
this is part of a great trend: By adding color by computer, CBS has
introduced new generations to some great comedy.

“I Love Lucy”
was first; now here are two favorite episodes of the Van Dyke show.
The first has a flashback, with Rob and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore)
recalling their son's birth. The second has hilarious moments, when
Laura tells the world that Rob's boss (Carl Reiner, the show's
creator) has a toupee.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Critics Choice Awards,” 8-11 p.m., A&E.

Each year, award
shows seem to keep nudging earlier. Now this one jumps to the front
of the line, running five weeks earlier than it did last year ... and
before some of the films have reached theaters.

Viewers may
recognize “Sully,” “Arrival” or “Hacksaw Ridge”; other
best-picture nominees are “Fences,” “La La Land,” “Lion,”
“Loving,” “Moonlight,” “Hell or High Water” and
“Manchester by the Sea.” TV has familiar titles (“Game of
Thrones,” etc.), plus newcomers for best comedy (“Atlanta,”
“Fleabag”) and drama (“This is Us,” “Westworld,” “The
Crown,” “Stranger Things”).

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Great Performances,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Here is amazing TV –
perfectly filmed and acted and (we're told) quite well-written.
Still, that doesn't mean it's for everyone. It's Shakespeare's “Henry
VI, Part I,” starting a three-Sunday “Hollow Crown” series.
Those of us not steeped in old-England history and verbiage will have
to scramble to keep up.

Let it wash over
you, without worrying about details. Director Dominic Cooke has made
this violent tale poundingly cinematic and has a stunning cast. Hugh
Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”) is especially terrific, as a
good-hearted man who loves both his scheming wife and his
light-headed king.

Other choices
include:

“Ho Ho Holiday
Special,” 7 p.m., Nickelodeon. Here's a rerun of last year's
special, which found a way to lump most of the channel's stars into
one hour. Invited to a big party, they find that it's a trap set by a
madman (voiced by Diedrich Bader). Now they must figue out how to
escape.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Spending Christmas with the Simpsons, Krusty tries to
impress his daughter. Meanwhile, little Maggie is haunted by a creepy
toy.

“Legends &
Lies,” 8 p.m., Fox News. This views the oft-overlooked blacks in
the Revolutionary War.

“Son of Zorn,”
8:30, Fox. The handy thing about being the child of a mixed marriage
is you might get more gifts. Alan's mom has Christmas; his dad has
Grafelnik, the Zephyrian holiday of revenge.

“Madam Secretary,”
9 p.m., CBS. Elizabeth rushes to prevent a war between Israel and
Iran. Also, her daughter hopes the president's chief of staff will
recommend her for Harvard Law School.

“Love You Like
Christmas,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. A piano
teacher (Lindy Booth) learns her student's father is trying to buy
the school. That's one of three new Christmas films. Also at 9, Ion's
“A Husband For Christmas” has a marriage of convenience. At 8,
Hallmark's “Love You Like Christmas” sees car trouble dump a busy
executive (Bonnie Somerville) in Christmas Valley.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Shinwell has been framed for a gang-related killing.
Holmes and Watson have three days to clear him, before he's sent back
to prison.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mary Poppins” (1964), 8-11 p.m., ABC.

By 1964, the Disney
studio had lost its joy; it hadn't had a memorable movie in three
years. What was Walt Disney doing during this time? He was dabbling
with his theme parks ... and preparing this dream project. Starting
with a book about a magical nanny, he added songs and animation.

The result remains a
delight for any age. It drew 13 Academy Award nominations (including
best picture), winning two for its music and one apiece for its
editing, its special effects and Julie Andrews.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 7:30 p.m., TBS, and more
cartoons.

This is a night
overflowing with family delights. That peaks with this gem, which
links a great author (Dr. Seuss) and an animation master (Chuck
Jones).

Yes, it's already
aired once this season on NBC and will return there at 8 p.m. Dec.
23; it will also be on TNT at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Still, you can catch
it now in an animation evening: On TBS, try the wonderful “Lego
Movie” (2014) at 5:30 p.m. and “Grinch” at 7:30; then go to CBS
for the season's second run of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
(8), “Frosty the Snowman” (9) and its sequel (9:30).

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “A Nutcracker Christmas.” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark.

Lilly (Amy Acker)
was a young ballerina who almost starred in “The Nutcracker,”
until her former boyfriend Mark intervened. Now her niece Sophie is
up for the role ... and Mark is the artistic director.

Our weekends are in
holiday overload, including new Hallmark movies every Saturday and
Sunday. But the channel calls this one of its most ambitious, with
dancers in key roles. Sascha Radetsky, the former American Ballet
Theatre soloist and “Center Stage” star, is Mark; Sophia Lucia is
Sophie.

Other choices
include:

“Star Wars”
films, all day, TNT. The prequel trilogy airs at 5:18, 8:15 and 11:22
a.m.; then it's the original trilogy, at 2:28, 5:13 and 8 p.m. For
another classic trilogy, catch the “Toy Story” films at 3:45,
5:45 and 7:50 p.m.

Soccer, 7:30 p.m. ET
preview and 8 p.m. start, Fox. Toronto and Seattle have a one-game
battle for the MLS Cup.

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. On Monday, the show's final four will get their last
chance to grab viewer votes before the Tuesday finale. First, this
rerun helps show how they got there; it's last Monday's show, with
eight acts performing.

More Christmas
movies, 8 p.m. USA has the classic “It's a Wonderful Life”
(1946), which will also return to NBC on Christmas Eve. Lifetime has
Marla Sokoloff in “A Christmas Wedding Date” (2012). And TV One
debuts “Merry Ex-Mas,” rerunning it at 10; single parents are
raising their daughter in separate homes ... complicated when he
plans a holiday-time wedding.

“Christmas With
the Andersons,” 9-11 p.m., Ion. When Mike (George Stults) loses his
job shortly before the holiday, he and Caroline (Christy Romano)
expect to cancel Christmas for their family. Then odd Aunt Katie
(Julie Brown) arrives with different ideas.

“Dirk Gently's
Holistic Detective Agency” season-finale, 9 p.m., BBC America.
There are two good reasons to catch this hour from the start: In the
early minutes, Todd (Elijah Wood) gives an explanation of what's
happened so far; it's a weird delight. Also, the crises are settled
early, leaving several minutes to set up the second season. And yes,
there will be a second season of this neatly daft nonsense.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. After a long hot streak, “SNL” finally
had a so-so episode last week. Now it has another new one, its ninth
in 11 weeks; John Cena makes his debut as host, with Maren Morris as
music guest.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 9 p.m., CW.

Best friends really
should have something in common, you know. But the brainy Rebecca and
the shallow Valencia share only one thing: Both say they're over
Josh; both still obsess on him.

Now they fret about
his too-perfect girlfriend (Brittany Snow); soon, there's a stalking
adventure that would do Lucy and Ethel (of “I Love Lucy”) proud.
The result is one of the show's funniest episodes, with two great
songs – one by Snow, the other by Rebecca and her real (but
estranged) friend Paula.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Albert” debut, 7-8 p.m., Nickelodeon.

Vertical bias seems
to be harshest when aimed at fir trees. We ignore the small ones and
cherish the tall ones -- putting them in public place and caressing
them with lights and music.

Now a little guy
(voiced by Bobby Moynihan) tries to beat the odds. He heads to the
city with his friends (Sasheer Zamata, Judah Friedlader), while a
cactus (Rob Riggle) tries to stop them. Visually, this offers the
sort of delights delivered by “VegieTales” and other offbeat
animation..

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mozart in the Jungle” (Amazon) and “Captive”
(Neflix), any time.

A weak night for the
networks is a strong one for the streaming services, let by the
excellent “Mozart.” Its third season starts with the conductor
(Golden Globe-winner Gael Garcia Bernal) in Venice, where he must
love and nudge a temperamental star back to the opera stage.

Meanwhile, Netflix
tries a hybrid. It links the producer of acclaimed documentaries
(“Man on Wire,” “Searching for Sugarman”) and the scripted
“Bourne” films; they describe real-life hostage crises, using
re-enactments and first-person recollections by the victims, the
police and even the kidnappers.

Other choices
include:

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. John Heard guests as the middle-school science teacher who
inspired MacGyver. Now his new prodigy has been kidnapped and his old
one must rescue her.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Ever since losing her teaching job, Vaness
hovered over everyone at home; Mike scrambles for a solution.
Meanwhile, there are bigger issues to deal with: Ryan and Kyle are
competing to see who knows more about zombies and who could survive a
zombie apocalypse.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30
p.m., ABC. After overlooking a key medical detail, Ken feels he
should apologize. The clinic administrator (Dave Foley) advises
against it.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. A decade ago, a teen vanished. Now a boy undergoing
hypnosis realizes he may have seen her being murdered. Also, Missy
Peragrym (“Rookie Blue”) guests as Danny's sister.

“Savage Kingdom”
conclusion, 9 and 10 p.m., NatGeo Wild. Over three weeks and six
hours, this has offered brilliant craftsmanship and lots of
disturbing footage of animal savagery in Africa. Tonight's first hour
is the roughest, with wild dogs struggling; “the five will have to
kill like never before,” Charles Dance intones. The second eyes the
leaders of five deadly packs, with this helpful advice from Dance:
“The best way to end a dynasty is to kill its young.”

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. The Rev. Darnell Potter has been a sharp critic of
Frank in the black community. Now his son has been slain and the two
men must work together to find the killer.

“The Legacy of
Barack Obama,” 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET CNN (barring breaking news).
Here's a rerun of Wednesday's documentary, a thoughtful look at
Obama's sweeping victories in the first two years ... and his tricky
battle against the odds in the six years that followed.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Taraji's White Hot Holidays.” 8 p.m., Fox.

Fox is making sure
the Christmas season goes beyond white-bread cliches. This week, it's
given us an Apollo Theatre special and an intense “Empire”; next
week, it introduces “Star.” And now “Empire” starTaraji
Henson has her special,

She'll have two of
her “Empire” co-stars, Jussie Smollett and Taye Diggs. There will
also be music from Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott,
Snoop Dogg, TLC and Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC. Others will pop in,
including Terry Crews (of “Brookly Nine-Nine”) and Tyler Perry.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Toy Story That Time Forgot,” 8 p.m., ABC.

It's tough to be a
toy, especially if you're surrounded by identity crises. Bonnie takes
several of her favorites on a play date, then tosses them in with her
friend's Battlesaurs. Alas, they've never been played with and don't
know they're toys; Reptillus Maximus is organizing fights for Woody
and Buzz.

This is more ominous
and less fun than most “Toy Story” shows, but still fairly
entertaining. It's followed at 8:30 by “Shrek the Halls,” which
is beautifully drawn, but has a so-so story.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Holiday Joy,” 3-5 p.m., Freeform.'

This channel's
ambitious “25 Days of Christmas” is long on old movies, including
Will Ferrell's excellent “Elf” (2003), at 7 p.m. today. What it's
short on is anything new. This is the month's only newly created
movie or special and it's confined to an odd timeslot.

Bailee Madison, a
Hallmark Channel favorite, plays a teen whose mom died; she wishes
she could be in the family next door. Then she wakes up and IS in
that family ... and has secound thoughts about it.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Picasso, the Legacy,” 7 p.m. ET, Ovation.

To understand Pablo
Picasso, one man says here, just look at his paintings. “His work
is his diary, his autobiography.” Examine any phase and you can
tell which woman he was with.

The women varied –
from sophisticated ballerina Olga Khokhlova to quiet teen
Marie-Therese Walter to artist Francois Gilot ... a confident woman
who dumped Picasso, took their children, wrote about their romance
and married Dr. Jonas Salk. Gilot, 95, is a key part of the film; so
is Maya Widmaier Picasso, 81, whose son Olivier co-wrote and
co-produced this intriguing view of his grandfather..

Other choices
include:

Animation, cable.
The Disney Channel's zesty “Aladdin” (1992) is at 8 p.m. ... the
same time that FXX starts a four-hour “Simpsons” block. There's
more on FX, with “Ice Age 4: Continental Drift” (2012) at 6 p.m.
and “Hotel Transylvania” at 8 and 10.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In any show -- “Breaking Bad,” “Under
the Dome” and more – Dean Norris can be intimidating. In this
funny rerun, he's an Air Force colonel, confronting the
easily-intimidated Wolowitz about his invention.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS,. After going several weeks without a
raise, Emma quits. That means Jack and his boss (the terrific Stephen
Fry, Hugh Laurie's former comedy partner) have become approximately
the world's worst social-media managers.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. After previous weeks took serious looks at young Roscoe's drug
use, this show has another crisis: Jill (Jaime Pressly) gives a cry
for help, on the anniversary of her mom's suicide.

“Pitch,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. The “fall finale” of this show seems suspiciously like the
series finale. “Pitch” has drawn hight praise, but low ratings.
Tonight, Ross warns that Ginny -- the first woman in the Major
Leagues – has thrown too many innings; like other young pitchers,
she should be shut down.

“Notoriety,” 10
p.m., ABC. Nudged back an hour (to make room for a baking show), this
overheated series finds a TV producer (Piper Perabo) mistakenly
kidnapped by a Mexican cartel leader.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Hairspray Live,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

NBC launched TV's
live-musical comeback with the safe-and-solid “Sound of Music.”
It flopped with “Peter Pan,” bounced back with “The Wiz” ...
then saw Fox master the genre with a vibrant “Grease.”

Now NBC copies the
“Grease” formula – lively oldies-rock music, sprawling over a
movie-studio lot. It has the same TV director as “Grease” and a
much better story. Newcomer Maddie Baillio plays the teen who just
wants to dance on TV ... then changes the world. She's joined by
Jennifer Hudson, Derek Hough, Ariana Grande, Dove Cameron and Harvey
Fierstein, who's already won a Tony in the role.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Stay away from this
family, one woman warns firmly: “The Lyons are all gangsters.”
That's for sure. Tonight, Andre has a variation on a classic
“Godfather” techniques; it's not original, but it is effective.
Also, Jamal proclaims his hatred for his father ... who promptly
reveals a secret about Jamal's mother.

Some of this is
wildly over the top, but “Empire” keeps giving us reasons to
watch. Tonight brings three great songs and two potent scenes with
Lucious – one involving his mother (Leslie Uggams), another that
offers a Lyon-ized view of marital relations.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Legacy of Barack Obama,” 9-11 p.m., CNN
(barring late news events), rerunning at midnight.

On the night of
Obama's first inauguration, Republican leaders agreed on a plan: They
would simply oppose everything. Obama still pushed key parts of his
agenda – the economy stimulus, the auto-industry bail-out and
Obamacare. But doing that despite total resistance cost him sharply.

All of his
“political capital” was gone, CNN's Fareed Zakaria says here. His
party lost the House, the Senate and, ultimately, the White House. On
key priorities -- gun control, climate change, etc. -- Obama
succeeded only when skipping Congress. Here is a strong portrait of
victories and frustration.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: Pearl Harbor reflections, cable.

It was 75 years ago
today that the Pearl Harbor attack profoundly altered history.
Hollywood tackled that in tonight's epics: “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
(1970, 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies) had separate American and
Japanese directors; “Pearl Harbor” (2001, 8 p.m., AMC) overlaid a
silly soap opera.

On the documentary
side, the American Heroes Channel debuts “Pearl Harbor: The Heroes
Who Fought Back” at 10 p.m. and two channels rerun Sunday films.
“Ghosts of Pearl Harbor” is 11 p.m. on National Geographic; “The
Lost Tapes: Pearl Harbor” is 9 p.m. and midnight on Smithsonian.

Other choices
include:

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. A week before the finale, there's still no edge for
members of the former “Millennials” and “Gen X” tribes. Last
week's ouster of Zeke Smith, 28, left eight people, four from each
tribe; tonight, two of them will be sent home.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. As his depression deepens during the holidays, Riggs
must probe a ruthless murder done by the nephew of the drug lord he's
known in the past.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of the season-opener, families are scattered
as Father's Day nears. The Dunphys are in New York; others are at a
wedding in Mexico and a funeral in Missouri.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Here are teen-job complications: Junior may to be too
diligent; Zoey is the center of her parents' argument about nepotism.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. Searching for the person who leaked
classiied documents, the president hits an obstacle. Meanwhile, Agent
Wells (Maggie Q) scrambles to prove MacLeish – who's ready to
become the vice-president -- was involved with the attack on
Washington;

“Rectify,”
10-11:20 p.m., Sundance. We're a week from the finale, but don't
expect things to turn jolly. This starts with Daniel's long monolog,
recalling a brutal moment from his years in prison for a crime he
probably didn't commit. It's quietly moving ... and deeply morose.
The other moments aren't much cheerier. “Rectify” is slow and
solemn; it's also beautifully written and acted.