TV column for Saturday, Dec. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live,” 10 p.m., NBC.

When Jimmy Fallon
returned to host the show last Christmastime, he was ready to try
anything. He became singers -- Michael Buble, Barry Gibb, Harry
Styles, even Pitbull – plus Scrooge and more.

Now a shortened
version of that eruns at 10 p.m., with Justin Timberlake as music
guest and others – Madonna, Paul McCartney – popping in. Another
rerun, with Martin Freeman, is at 11:29.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Indiana Jones and Harry Potter films, all day, cable.

For different
generations, these are the heroes – a brawny archeologist and a
brainy wizard – who spark movie adventures. Spike has “Raiders of
the Lost Ark” (1981) at 12:32 p.m., then its sequels at 3:17, 6:13
and 9:18 p.m.; the first and third are the best – but all are
skillfully directed by Steven Spielberg.

By comparison, the
eight Harry Potter films had four directors. ABC Family has the first
(2001) at 7 a.m., the second (2002) at 10:30 a.m. and the third
(2004) 2:30 p.m. It skips the fourth and has the next ones (2007,
2009) at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.; the final two are 5:30 and 9 p.m.
Sunday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Bowl games, all day.

The second Saturday
of bowl season is packed with five games, none odder than this: The
Duck Commander Independence Bowl (3:30 p.m. on ABC) has no team with
a winning record; Miami and South Carolina are each 6-6. And the
naming rights were bought by the people in “Duck Dynasty.”

That's logical, sort
of. Phil Robertson, the duck patriarch, was a star high school
quarterback who started for Louisiana Tech. He quit after two so-so
years, but the guy who replaced him (Terry Bradshaw) did just fine.
CBS has the Sun Bowl at 2 p.m.; ESPN has bowls at 1, 4:30 and 8.

Other choices
include:

More marathons,
cable. WGN American reruns the complete first season of “Manhattan”
-- set in the early days of the atomic-bomb project – from 9 a.m.
to 10:30 p.m. Also, Starz has the first six episodes of “Missing”
-- a compelling story of someone's obsessive search for his son –
from 5-11:30 p.m.

“Bones,” 8 p.m.,
Fox. In a rerun, Brennan is the speaker at a forensic-science
convention. Naturally, a body is found; plenty of people volunteer to
help or to use their products; also, Hodgins is a suspect.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
8 p.m., CBS. Chin's life is in danger, when a probe leads to a
possible serial killer.

“The Grand
Budapest Hotel” (2014), 8-9:45 p.m., HBO. This odd gem could get
fresh attention, now that it has Golden Globe nominations. In comedy
categories, it's up for best movie and actor (Ralph Fiennes); in
general categories, Wes Anderson is nominated for best director and
screenplay.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. An undead Weeping Lady (from Ichabod's past) causes
trouble.

“Mysteries of
Laura,” 9 p.m., NBC. Probing a Koreatown murder in this rerun,
Laura comes across a lively karaoke scene, tries poker and meets her
estranged father (Robert Klein).

“Mean Girls”
(2004), 9 p.m., WE. This is one of two fun comedies; the other is
“Bridesmaids” (2011), at 8 p.m. on Oxygen. Other strong movies:
the gorgeous “Black Stallion” (1979), at 8 p.m. ET on Turner
Classic Movies ... the smart “Good Will Hunting” (1997), at 8:30
on TV Guide ... and “Michael Sam,” a documentary on pro
football's first openly gay player, at 9 on the Oprah Winfrey
Network.

 

TV column for Friday, Dec. 26


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

For one quirky
moment last season, “Glee” turned back its own clock. It
pretended this episode had been filmed (and shelved) in 2012; that
let kids be back in school, with old relationships restored.

In Ohio, teens
compete in tree-trimming and for Christmas-pageant roles; in New
York, a “Sexy Claus” creates chaos. Songs -- “Away in the
Manger,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Mary's Boy Child” and a
Nativity rendition of “Love Child” -- get us in the mood for the
final “Glee” season, starting Jan. 9.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Now, That's Funny,” 8-9:30 p.m., CBS.

This look at TV
comedy, assembled by the Paley Center, airs it on the logical
network. Lately, only CBS has been able to turn comedy into steady
ratings hits ... and to do it in front of a live audience.

This special
includes two terrific CBS shows (“Big Bang Theory” and “Mom,”
which has a rerun at 9:30), plus two undernoticed Fox gems (“Mindy”
and “New Girl”) and shows on ABC (“Modern Family”), NBC
(“Parks and Recreation”) and cable (“Episodes,” “Key and
Peele”).

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “American Masters,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Earlier this month,
stations nudged this terrific Bing Crosby profile around their
pledge-drive schedules. If you missed it then, you can catch this
quick rerun.

Some people know
Crosby as the easygoing singer (with 45 No. 1 hits) and low-key actor
... or as the intense dad whose son wrote an angry, tell-all book.
There's much more, though. He was a technology buff who launched the
idea of recorded radio shows ... a sports buff who co-owned the
baseball Pirates and created pro-am golf tournaments ... and a genial
dad after he started over, in a second marriage.

Other choices
include:

Marathons, cable. At
the top of the list are “Doctor Who” (all day, BBC America) and
“The Simpsons” (8 p.m. to midnight, FXX). There's more: “The
Listener,” a solid Canadian series, is 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Ion;
“Power” -- with a drug kingpin tryingt to focus on his classy
nightclub and his tangled romance – has its entire first season,
from 3 p.m,. to 11:20 p.m.
“Saturday Night Live in the '80s,”
6-8 p.m., VH1. Mixing candor and humor, this catches “SNL” as it
went from fad to fixture. It's followed by looks at the '90s (8 p.m.)
and 2000's (10 to midnight). “Caught on Camera,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.
Here's the second of two Friday specials, with odd moments captured
by cell phones, news crews and more. Nick Cannon hosts.

“Ice Age: A
Mammoth Christmas,” 8 p.m., Fox. In an amiable animated rerun, Sid
(John Leguizamo) is convinced he's on the naughty list. He tries a
tough journey, to negotiate with Santa (Billy Gardell).

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. This reruns the episode with Ed's
girlfriend (JoelyFisher) stirring trouble. She thinks Ed, the owner,
should be the face of the company, not Mike (Tim Allen).

“Mom,” 9:30,
CBS. In a rerun, Christy wants a relationship with her dad (Kevin
Pollak). Her mom is not pleased.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. This rerun has Tom Cavenagh as Danny's childhood
friend, now suspected of having Mob ties.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Sure, some bland
holiday shows have been thrown at us this month. But this one
(alongside “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) is the top of the field,
a true triumph.

The delightful Dr.
Seuss book offered warmth and wit. Chuck Jones, the genius behind
many Bugs Bunny and Road Runner gems, added vibrant animation. Boris
Karloff did the narration and Thurl Ravenscroft (also the voice of
Tony the Tiger) sang the booming theme song. The result is a gem.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “How Murray Saved Christmas,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

Clearly, life isn't
fair: “Murray” -- possibly the best Christmas special since
“Grinch” -- runs tonight against “Grinch.” Watch one, record
the other and enjoy.

Mike Reiss, one of
the “Simpsons” wits, wrote this book about a town where all the
holiday people – from Santa to St. Patrick – mingle. Most are
jolly; still, it's Murray (Jerry Stiller), the crabby deli owner, who
must save the day. Reiss also co-wrote songs that ripple with clever
moments.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Call the Midwife,” 8-9:30 p.m., PBS (check local
listings) or “Doctor Who,” 9-10:30 p.m., BBC America.

Each Christmas,
British TV has special episodes of some of its best shows. Now
Americans get two of those; one is a new “Who,” encased by reruns
in a marathon that continues through latenight Sunday.

The other catches
“Midwife” in 1959, with all the '60s changes still far away. The
treatment of unwed mothers and of the mentally disabled seems grim
and Victorian. Profoundly decent people – midwives, nuns and
staffers – face immense problems, including a snowstorm. There's
great work from Miranda Hart (as Chummy) and others; even narrator
Vanessa Redgrave has brief moments on-camera.

Other choices
include:

Disney parade, 10
a.m. to noon, ABC. In its 31st year, this special gets a
makeover, with a “Frozen” emphasis. “Let It Go” will be sung
by 12-year-old YouTube star Lexi Walker, with other songs from the
movie by Laura Marano and the Alex-and-Sierra duo. Performing
non-Frozen songs are Ariana Grande, Trisha Yearwood, GavinDeGraw,
Lucy Hale, Trey Songz, Prince Royce and Train.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of last year's Christmas episode,
people imagine what their lives would be like without Sheldon.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. In a rerun from last spring, Violet is wary about going to
her prom while very pregnant. Meanwhile, Bonnie battles with her
ex-husband, with Christy caught in the middle.

“Elf: Buddy's
Musical Christmas,” 9-10 p.m., NBC. The “Elf” movie and
Broadway musical had Buddy leaving the North Pole, after learning
he's not really an elf. Then the musical's songs were compacted into
this special. The animation style is neatly off-kilter, but the scipt
is so-so and the songs (after the zesty opener) are bland.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds Walden and Alan dating
beauties ... until a jealous Lyndsey intervenes.

“Vicious,” 9:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Ash is supposed to make Christmas
dinner and Freddie (Ian McKellen) is supposed to make polite
conversation; neither is good at it, of course. In the “Vicious”
style, this is broad, blunt, heavy-handed but randomly quite funny.

“Christmas in
Rockefeller Center,” 10 p.m., NBC. Here's one last burst of holiday
music, in a rerun with Trisha Yearwood, Idina Menzel and even a duet
with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Also, many PBS stations (check local
listings) have soprano Deborah Voight with the Mormon Tabernacle
Choir.

 

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“It's a Wonderful Life” (1946), NBC or “A Christmas Story”
(1983), TNT and TBS; both 8 p.m.

Two traditions
collide, offering ways to keep grown-ups (and some kids) distracted
before Christmas.

NBC annually shows
“Wonderful Life” -- the warm Frank Capra classic with James
Stewart – twice in December, including Christmas Eve. Cable has an
annual marathon of “Christmas Story,” the wryly clever look at
1940s boyhood; it reruns at 10 p.m., midnight, etc., for 24 hours.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Blackish,” 9:31, 10 and 10:30 p.m., ABC.

Critics have praised
this comedy and ABC has boosted it. Here's the second straight
three-rerun spurt.

The first episode
has the parents quit spanking ... with some second thoughts. The
second has Andre convinced he should be chosen, so his office will
have a black Santa; also, his wife and mom both want to be in charge
of Christmas dinner. The third has Andre obsessing over his
school-parent duties.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Doctor Who,” all day, BBC America.

Most years, this
splendid show has a special Christmas episode. There's a new one
coming at 9 p.m. Thursday; it's surrounded by a 117-hour marathon,
from 8 a.m. today to 5 a.m. Monday.

Tonight, the three
most recent Christmas episodes are featured. At 6 p.m. (rerunning at
11:40), a Scrooge-type character holds the fate of the spaceship on
which Amy and Rory are starting their honeymoon ... At 7:20, a World
War II wife struggles to raise her two kids ... At 8:40, Jenna
Coleman is Clara, a young nanny who becomes the new companion. That's
followed at 10 p.m. by the episode that brought all the Doctors
together.

Other choices
include:

More movies, cable.
Kids can savor “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) on FX. Grown-ups
get the clever “The Sting” (1973) at 7:15 on Sundance. Both will
like “Elf” (2003), at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.

“'I Love Lucy'
Christmas Special,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a quick rerun of an hour
that assembled two past episodes. The first has some so-so Christmas
scenes setting up flashbacks to great moments, including Lucy being
whisked away to have her baby; the second has the classic scene at a
candy factory's assembly line. Color has been added, with only
flashbacks remaining in black-and-white.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Sue doesn't have much experience being asked out; she ends
up with multiple dates to the prom. Also in this rerun. Axl needs
Brick's help with an offbeat book report.

“Fox & Friends
Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., Fox News Channel. Stuffed with talent –
Renee Fleming, Scotty McCreery, Jackie Evancho, a chorus, Rockettes
and more – this also has reflections.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Murray expects the usual Thanksgiving
fights with his brother. Instead, the brother has a surprise.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. This rerun focuses on three dinners – Mitchell and Cam
on their own without Lily ... Phil and Claire hoping to question
Haley about her future ... and Jay getting some disquieting news from
Shorty and his wife (Chazz Palminteri and Jennifer Tilly).

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. In a transplanted rerun (after a transplanted “Madam
Secretary” at 9), the threat of a nuclear meltdown forces Walter to
work with a troubled former member of his team.

Christmas services,
11:35 p.m., NBC and CBS. NBC catches midnight Mass at St. Peter
Basilica in Rome; CBS has Protestant services from Sioux Falls, S.D.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 23


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“One Direction: The TV Special,” 8 p.m., NBC.

It was just four
years ago that Nicole Scherzinger – a judge on the British “X
Factor” -- suggested that five contestants scrap their individual
plans and start a group. One Direction was formed; it finished third
in the show, but was promptly signed by Simon Cowell and soared.

Each of its four
albums has reached No. 1 on Billboard's U.S. chart; four singles have
reached the top six. Now this special shows the group on tour, in the
recording studio and giving an intimate concert.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “The Year 2014,” 9-11 p.m., ABC

This year that won't
stand still long enough for someone to take a picture. Even in its
final weeks, huge events rumble in Cuba, North Korea, Russia,
Pakistan and more.

So chances are, ABC
will be editing this until the final hours. Anchored by Robin
Roberts, it ranges from crises – Ebola, ISIS and more – to Taylor
Swift, George Clooney and Iggy Azalea.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mozart in the Jungle,” Amazon Prime
(www.amazon.com/PIV).

Can a show blend
humor, drama, sex and classical music? “Mozart” does all of that
in the first few minutes. It introduces a likable oboist, groping for
her life in the city ... catches a swirling solo by violinist Joshua
Bell ... and has a hilarious (if explicit) view of the bedroom styles
of instrumentalists.

There's much more in
the first season's 10 episodes, all available today. We empathize
with the oboist (Lola Kirke) and her experienced friend (Saffron
Burrows). Still, the heart of the story is a charismatic young
conductor (Gael Garcia Bernal), giving an old orchestra life, joy and
big headaches.

Other choices
include:

“Home Alone”
(1990), 7-9 p.m., ABC Family. Packed with great sight gags, this
leads a strong movie night. Rob Reiner's masterful “Stand by Me”
(1986) is 8 p.m. on CMT; “King of Kings” (1961) is 8 p.m. ET on
Turner Classic Movies, with “Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) at
8:04 p.m. ET on WGN.

“Shrek the Halls”
and “Toy Story That Time Forgot,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Based on
terrific movies, these so-so animated specials draw strong ratings,
despite their flaws.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun of last year's Christmas episode, a mysterious
illness has struck children in military families. Ben Vereen guests
as Vance's estranged father-in-law.

“New Girl,” 8
and 9 p.m., Fox. Both reruns catch wayward holidays. First,
everyone's stuck at the airport. Then a Thanksgiving retreat is way
too rustic for the tastes of Winston and Cece,

“The Mindy
Project,” 8:30 and 9:30 p.m., Fox. Mindy has romance confusion in
both reruns. First, she thinks Danny might propose; then (from a year
earlier), she has a plan to seduce Cliff with a party and the song
“Santa Baby” ... which, alas, Maria Menounos (playing herself)
ends up singing.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. All three “NCIS” shows rerun tonight,
with this show sliding over from Mondays. Callen goes undercover at a
high school, to confront a 15-year-old hacker.

“Michael Buble's
Christmas in New York,” 9 p.m., NBC. Last week's special, a ratings
hit, reruns. It's followed at 10 by last year's Kelly Clarkson
special.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10:01 p.m., CBS. A Navy SEAL has been killed in a
sorority house.