TV column for Thursday, Dec. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Back in 1965, CBS
wanted a “Peanuts” special for Christmas. Time was tight; there
was no chance to meddle and make it bland. Charles Schulz and
director Bill Melendez could create greatness.

They chose a spare
style, with simple artwork and gentle, jazzy piano music. They used
real kids for the voices. They even mocked commercialism and added a
speck of Scripture. The result ranks with “Grinch” as two of TV's
finest moments. A seven-minute “Prep & Landing” rounds out
the hour.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“25 Days of Christmas” start, 3:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., Freeform.

Twenty years ago,
cable's Family Channel launched this holiday tradition. The channel
has changed its name three times, but the concept persists. It has
only one new show this year, but lots of fun reruns.

A few things –
including “Willy Wonka” (1971) at 3:30 – don't have much to do
with Christmas, but most do. Tonight has a cartoon (“The Year
Without a Santa Claus”) at 6, then two entertaining films -- Chevy
Chase's “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 7:05, Tim Allen's “Santa
Clause” (1994) at 9:15. Also: “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
(1993) at 11:30 p.m., “Rudolph's Shiny New Year” at 12:55 a.m.

TONIGHT'S
NON-ALTERNATIVE: Documentary, cable.

We had suggested “Enlighten Us,” a fascinating documentary that was supposed to make its TV debut at 9 and 10:55 p.m. ET. Alas, CNN is pondering a belated decision to delay it until Saturday.

At least, you can see it then (maybe). And if you get the Ovation channel, try "Picasso: A Museum Reborn" at 7 p.m. It views the re-opening of the Paris museum that owns more than 5,000 Pablo Picasso pieces; an intriguing portrait of the artis will air next Thursday.

Other choices
include:

 

“The Legends of
Tomorrow,” 8 p.m., CW. The all-star team is in place now, facing a
fierce opponent. Over the past three nights, The Flash has assembled
Supergirl, Green Arrow and the Legends team, to face the Dominators.
Stein has a plan to stop them ... but is distracted by an abberation
he created.

“A Heavenly
Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. Here's a rerun of Saturday's film
from the prestigious Hallmark Hall of Fame. When a self-centered
woman (Kristin Davis) dies, a mentor (Shirley MacLaine) tries to
teach her to be a guardian angel for a single dad (Eric McCormack).

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Jack has no idea how to help when Eddie,
his one real friend, is going through a divorce. Brooke must step in
as Eddie's interim best friend.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Now that they know that 12-year-old Roscoe is using drugs and
alcohol, the women (both recovering addicts) take opposite
approaches. Christy, his mom, is overprotective; Bonnie, his
grandmother, is in the unfamiliar position of being the calm one.

“The Great
American Baking Show” season-opener, 9 and 10 p.m., ABC. Based on a
British show – and even borrowing its judge, Mary Berry – this
short-run competition is hosted by Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek
Wedding) and her husband Ian Gomez. Johnny Luzzini judges with Berry.

“Falling Water,”
10 p.m., USA. A blackout brings together Taka and Tess, who havebeen
sharing parts of the same dream. Also, Burton finally learns that the
Woman in Red exists outside his dreams.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Christmas of Many Colors,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Just as the networks
were abandoning TV movies, Dolly Parton's “Coat of Many Colors”
arrived last year. Ratings soared; now here's a sequel, also
autobiographical.

Alyvia Alyn Lind,
now age 9, again plays Parton. Her dad (Rick Schroeder) scrambles to
get her mom (Jennifer Nettles) a wedding ring for Christmas ... just
as a blizzard nears. We meet the uncle who encouraged Dolly to sing;
and Parton plays the flashy woman she used to call “the painted
lady.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Christmas at Rockefeller Center,” 8 p.m., NBC.

Before her movie
arrives, Parton will perform here. So will Tony Bennett, who gets an
NBC special on Dec. 20; we're betting both shows will be mentioned.

Garth Brooks and
Trisha Yearwood will do holiday duets. Also performing: Sarah
McLachlan, Tori Kelly, Josh Groban, Neil Diamond and “Voice”
winner Jordan Smith. Then a very large tree will be lit.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

OK, enough with all
this good will toward men. Returning from a week off, “Empire”
has three new episodes before its long winter break; it will start
with some major family dysfunction.

Cookie is still
trying to impress the handsome councilman (Taye Diggs), so she plans
a dinner for his mom (Phylicia Rashad). Alas, Lucious shows up with
two of their sons, one of them high on medicine, and a disruptive
nature. Also, Cookie confronts a secret about her father

Other choices
include:

“Queen Sugar,” 2
p.m. to 2 a.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. First, catch most of of the
season in reruns. Then settle in for the season-finale at 10 p.m.,
repeating at 1 a.m. Charley scrambles to land new financing. Also,
there are key moments in the Nova-Calvin and Violet-Hollywood
relationships.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. Last week's double episode saw both of the show's lawyers
ousted – Chris Hammons, 38, and (by a sheer-luck draw, after a tie
vote) Jessica Lewis, 37. Now nine people remain.

“Polar Bear Town,”
8 p.m., Smithsonian, rerunning at 11. Most of us don't even volunteer
in our neighborhoods; Russell Hausler went way beyond that. Inspired
by a documentary, he flew from Australia to the Arctic, to help at a
sanctuary for Canadian Eskimo dogs. The dogs – many of them
replaced by snowmobiles – need protection from bears, but he may
not be the right person to help.

George Clooney
films, 8 and 10:30 p.m. ET BBC America, 8:14 and 11:02 p.m.,
Sundance. With smart dialog and (at times) distant emotions,
Clooney's films can be complicated, but worth the trouble. He's a
hero in BBC's “Monuments Men” (2014), leading a wartime effort
to find art that was stolen by the Nazia; in Sundance's “The
American” -- a strong film that doesn't always make sense – he's
a hitman.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Phil links with Gloria and Cam, in an effort to keep
secrets from their spouses. Meanwhile, his son is put in a
compromising position by a widow (Joely Fisher).

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. It's time for a quick election, replacing
the congressmen killed in the bombing. But new information has the
president (Kiefer Sutherland) considering cancelling it.

“Rectify,” 10
p.m., Sundance. Most of this hour is quietly morose, even by
“Rectify” standards. Daniel's mother and step-father visit the
halfway-house world that's been his life since he confessed to a
crime he may not have committed. The final scenes, however, suddenly
bring spark. There's his verbal confrontation with his girlfriend ...
and his step-brother's rifle confrontation with a blow-up figure.
Really; that scene – with Clayne Crawford, also of “Lethal
Weapon” -- is worth the wait.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“This is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Logic might say this
episode will be all about Randall. He's the one who was stunned last
week, learning that his adoptive mother had secretly known the
identity of his biological father. Now he's enraged – in his
calculated, list-making way. Sterling K. Brown plays him perfectly,
as usual.

But the surprise is
that this offers some fresh depth for is brother. People easily
dismiss Kevin as the pretty-boy actor who blew TV stardom and is now
in a play with a much-smarter Englishwoman. But tonight's twists give
us fresh insights into some beautifully layered characters.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Flash,” 8 p.m., CW.

As Monday's
“Supergirl” was ending, Barry Allen (The Flash) flashed in. His
town, Central City, was about to be attacked by the aliens called The
Dominators; he needed lots of superhelp.

That was the start
of something ambitious – a four-night crossover, assembling people
from four shows. Tonight, Barry seeks Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) and
the time-trekkers in “Legends of Tomorrow.” The story will
continue on their shows, Wednesday and Thursday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” 8-9 p.m., CBS.

Here is something
that goes way back. It's 52 years old ... or 67 ... or 77. In 1939,
the story was written as a Montgomery Ward promotion. The song
followed in '49, the TV special in '64

There are plenty of
things to grumble about here, from the weak animation to the
overstretched story, with arbitrary detours to make it an hour long.
Still, audiences keep returning, making it a classic.

Other choices
include:

“The Empire
Strikes Back” (1980), 6:10-9 p.m., TNT. The second “Star Wars”
film starts a srong movie night. At 8 p.m., there's “Mean Girls”
(2004) on E and “As Good as It Gets” (1997) on Pop. At 9, there's
the fun “Enchanted” (2007) on AMC and the taut “A Few Good Men”
(1992) on Sundance.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8 p.m., Fox. Terry (Terry Crews) puts himself in the
field, in order to meet his favorite author. He joins Jake in
protecting the guy, who's had a death threat.

“New Girl,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. Two mismatched stories share this half-hour. One -- Nick
can't decide on a wedding gift –is lame; it makes a character
stupid, for the sake of random laughs. But the other works
splendidly; striving for a promotion to school principal, Jess must
impress a key parent, played by David Hornsby (Cricket in “It's
Always Sunny in Philadelphia”).

“NCIS,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Nudged back an hour by “Rudolph,” this reruns an episodes
focusing on Ducky (played by David McCallum, 83). When an attacker
claims to know something about his late half-brother, we see
flashbacks to their final days together.

“Good Behavior,”
9 p.m., TNT, rerunning at 10. Here's a detour from the sleek, slick
Letty (Michelle Dockery) of the first three hours. She's in her home
town to catch a class reunion, see her son and maybe settle down.
It's an involving hour, but frustrating, with Letty's knack for for
self-sabotage.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. The parents of Gabrielle and Antonio Dawson arrive for
an anniversary celebration that soon goes bad. Also, a secret emerges
about Chief Boden's stepson.

“Leah Remini:
Scientology and the Aftermath” debut, 10 p.m., A&E. Amy Scovee
says she was lured into Scientology at 14. She was raped by an
executive, she says, but at 16 signed a billion-year (really)
contract to join the church's elite Sea Org. She kept being promoted,
but after complaining that the church's leader is violent, she was
sent to a “rehabilitation” camp. In this hour – poorly crafted,
but involving – she describes starting a life over at 42, with no
money, home or outside work history.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“CMA Country Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

Each year, the
Country Music Association assembles many of its stars do Christmas
songs. This year, it has plenty of them – Brad Paisley, Rascal
Flatts, Chris Young, Trisha Yearwood, Brett Eldredge, Kelsea
Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves and host Jennifer Nettles.

But it also adds
other genres. Tonight, we get “Voice” winner Jordan Smith,
Broadway's Idina Menzel, contemporary Christian star Amy Grant and
pop's Kelly Clarkson, Andra Day and Sarah McLachlan.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Supergirl,” 8 p.m., CW.

On some levels, this
is just your typical batch of supertroubles. Kara's mother – Helen
Slater, who starred in the 1984 “Supergirl” movie – is in town,
insisting that Mon El is attracted to Kara. Also, there's an
alien-killing virus; to stop it, Kara needs help from Lena Luthor,
Lex's sister.

At the end of the
hour, however, we're thrust into a bigger crisis: Barry Allen and
Cisco Ramon (both from “The Flash”) arrive; their city is being
invaded by evil aliens and they need help. That launches a
four-series crossover that will continue (at 8 p.m. nightly) through
Thursday.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

As long as you're
watching CW (to see the start of the superhero crossover), stick
around for a show that's different, but fun. This is a
comedy-drama-romance that can shift tones easily; tonight, while Jane
learns about mystery-writing, it takes some clever, Hitchcock-style
twists.

There are slight
nods to the master's movies, as Rafael searches for secrets about his
life. Other stories – about Jane's dad and her cousin Catalina –
are merely OK, but the mystery elements work well.

Other choices
include:

-- “Fred Claus”
(2007) and “The Holiday” (2006), 5:30 and 8 p.m., Freeform. Three
days before starting its annual “25 Days of Christmas,” Freeform
gives us Vince Vaughn as Santa's slacker brother and then Kate
Winslet and Cameron Diaz swapping houses for the holiday. By Winslet
standards, these are forgettable; by Christmas-movie standards,
they're fairly good.

-- “The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. Miley Cyrus is getting used to seeing her people
in the bottom two. Two weeks ago, she had one person (Aaron Gibson),
who was saved; last week, she had both of them – with Gibson saved
(again) and Darby Walker sent home. Now the top 10 singers compete.

-- “The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a transplanted rerun of last year's
Thanksgiving episode. It's a good (but not great) one, with Sheldon
and Amy trying just-friends time at the aquarium.

-- “Kevin Can
Wait,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Kevin figures he'll get away with hiring
someone else to do his chores, while he plays with his friends. The
result strains too hard, but is fairly funny. It's followed at 9 by a
rerun of the disappointing pilot film for “Man With a Plan.”

-- “Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. Lucifer knows that sinking feeling that comes when your
mom escapes from Hell and tries to sabotage your world. Now she's
trying to turn Chloe against him.

-- “Mars,” 9
p.m., National Geographic. Last week's episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.),
was sharp, smart and involving. After landing far from their target,
crew members tried to take their injured captain to safety. Tonight,
the struggle for shelter continues.

-- “Timeless,”
10:01 p.m., NBC. After seeing “Mars,” you can switch here for
some more space drama. Flynn has time-trekked to 1969, where he could
disrupt the Apollo 11 moon landing.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Wizard of Oz” (1939), 5:45 p.m., TBS.

This is the time of
year when the true classics return. We had “Grinch” on Friday and
now there's “Oz” today; “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is coming
on Thursday (Dec. 1).

What they have in
common is memorable music and a willingness to mix sophisticated
craftsmaship with an open-hearted sense of emotion. Ostensibly for
children, they keep grabbing all generations.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Madam Secretary,” 9:30 p.m., CBS (9 p.m. PT).

Here's a fictional
election night. That triggers moments of fretting, fears and high
drama ... just as you may have noticed in the real-life election; it
also triggers romance, which you may not have seen.

As President Dalton
worries, Elizabeth's staff considers romantic links. Meanwhile, she
has information that could jeopardize the peace deal with Iran; also,
her son supports one of the president's opponents. Sam Daly, the son
of co-star Tim Daly, plays the lobbyist who is Daisy's former fiance.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Soul Train Awards,” 8-10:35 p.m., BET and VH1; also
11:05 on BET.

“Soul Train”
vanished a decade ago, after a 35-year run, but its award show lives
on. Tonight's show will have definite nods to rhythm-and-blues
history. It's hosted by Erykah Badu ... Bobby Brown will perform ...
his old group (New Edition) will present ... Brandy and Teddy Riley
will get special awards.

But this is mainly
about music now; Drake and Beyonce lead with 12 and eight
nominations. Performers tonight include Dru Hill, Ma$e, Guy,
D.R.A.M., Yuna, Eric Benet, Ro James, Candice Boyd, Carl Thomas, Doug
E. Fresh, Wreckx-n-Effect and BJ the Chicago Kid.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Masterpiece: Poldark” season-finale, 9 p.m.,
PBS.

Ross' mine has
finally paid off, but that good news is surrounded by agony. His
cousin Francis drowned, leaving the widowed Elizabeth on her own. She
hooked up with Ross (who has loved her forever), then married the
evil Warleggan ... who is fencing off the estate and enraging the
neighbors.

Meanwhile, Dr. Enys
is enamored with the rich and beautiful Caroline. And Demelza, Ross'
fiery wife, is fuming about his dalliance. Things peak tonight,
including a powerhouse storm-the-manor scene, complete with torches.
The second season gets a strong, emotional finale.

Other choices
include:

“Soul Train”
preview, 7 p.m., BET. Here's the red-carpet show. Also, a follow-up
is at 10:35 p.m.

Christmas movies,
cable. At 7 and 9 p.m., UP's “A Rooftop Christmas” has Tim Reid
(“WKRP”) arrested for his tree. At 8, Hallmark's “Journey Back
to Christmas” has a 1940s nurse (Candace Cameron Bure) whisked to
2016. At 9, Ion has “A Christmas in Vermont” and Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries has “I'll Be Home for Christmas"; James Brolin stars, with background songs from his wife, Barbra Streisand.

“A Cinderella
Story: If the Shoe Fits,” 8-10 p.m., Freeform. Talented young Sofia
Carson gets the sort of role that launched Miley Cyrus – an
ordinary person who puts on a wig and becomes a diva. The result
includes both broad comedy and some strong singing and dancing.

“Secrets and
Lies,” 9 p.m., ABC. As secrets keep crumbling, Detective Cornell is
closer to learning who killed Kate. Eric, the widower, scrambles to
keep his business and family together. And when he finally unlocks
Kate's second iPad, he gets some jolting information.

“Quantico,” 10
p.m., ABC. The CIA trainees study the fine art of lying. That may be
helpful to Alex: In this timeframe, she feels disconnected from Ryan;
in the future, she must destroy a biological weapon.

“Elementary,”
10:30 p.m., CBS (10 p.m. PT). While they work on their first
death-by-sausage case, Watson learns that Holmes has been lying about
attending rehab.