TV column for Friday, Dec. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Amazing Race” finale, 8 p.m., CBS.

Last week, “Race”
scuttled tradition by – for the second straight week -- eliminating
no one. That spared Amy DeJong and Maya Warren, the friends and food
scientists who were in last place.

Brooke Adams and
Robbie Strauss, the wrestlers who are dating, lead the million-dollar
chase, followed by two married couples. Bethany Hamilton – who
continued to be a top surfer after losing an arm to a shark – is in
second with Adam Dirks; Jim and Misti Raman, both dentists, are
third.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “A Home for the Holidays,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Each year, this
special ripples with strong music. This year, it has two women –
Jennifer Hudson and Katharine McPhee – who became more famous than
the people who beat them on “American Idol”; it also has Train,
Rixton and Earth, Wind & Fire, plus country's Ashley Monroe and
Dan + Shay.

Intermingled are
stories about adoption. Jared and Kelly Williams, for instance, had
two biological sons when they met Mara. “She didn't know how to
speak, because no one had talked to her,” Jared says. Now, eight
years later, she's a talkative 12-year-old ... and the family has
adopted two more kids.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Christmas in Washington,” 8 p.m., TNT, rerunning at
10.

In the elegant
National Building Museum, President Obama and others hear musical
variety.

There's country,
from Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish) and Hunter
Hayes. And pop, from Christina Perri and Rita Ora. And soulful
singers, some new (Aloe Blacc) and some not (Earth, Wind & Fire).
Dwayne Johnson – far above his wrestling days as The Rock – is
the host.

Other choices
include:

More Christmas, 8
p.m. NBC repeats its “Christmas in Rockefeller Center,” with
music by Mariah Carey, Trisha Yearwood and more, including a Lady
Gaga/Tony Bennett duet. There are also plenty of movies, including
“Elf” (2003) on ABC Family and “Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol”
(1962) on CW.

“MasterChef
Junior” and “Hell's Kitchen,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. Here –
repeated from Tuesday and Wednesday – are the two-person showdowns
from both shows, choosing the champions.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Boyd is sent home from a party
for starting a war game. His grandfather (Tim Allen) is promptly
blamed for showing him action movies and video games.

“Cristela,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. Here's a rerun of the pilot film, with comedian Cristela
Alonzo as a law-office intern, living with her mother, sister and
brother-in-law. The characters are appealing, but the humor is blunt
and forced, including one joke (about poison) which is literally a
century old.

“Christmas With
the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
The holiday gets a classical touch, when soprano Deborah Voight links
with the choir; actor John Rhys-Davies also performs. Many stations
follow at 10 with Minnesota's St. Olaf Choir performing in Norway.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, teens have been randomly punching
strangers. That turns tragic with a pregnant victim.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Mom,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

After giving up her
baby for adoption, Violet (Sadie Calvano) slid downhill. She moped,
drank and repeated the mistakes of her recovering-alcoholic mother
and grandmother.

Now she cheats on
her good-guy boyfriend and her elders step in with lies, therapy and
more. On one hand, “Mom” is very funny – a worthy show to
follow “Big Bang Theory”; on the other, it handles drama
skillfully. We knew Allison Janney is gifted; last year she won an
Emmy (her sixth overall) as the grandma. The surprise is how good
Calvano and Anna Faris are, making an ideal combination.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “White Collar” series finale, 9-10:05 p.m., USA.

Over six seasons,
this show has given us clever scripts, focusing on smart guys
enmeshed in scams. Peter (Tim DeKay) is the FBI agent who caught Neal
(Matt Bomer), a master thief. A fragile friendship grew, while Neal
helped catch other crooks ... while sometimes hatching schemes of his
own.

Now Peter plans a
con against a crooked group known as the Pink Panthers ... a
dangerous move that his pregnant wife (Tiffani Thiessen) objects to.
Neal has a risky heist of his own; he often does.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The iHeartRadio Jingle Ball,” 8-10 p.m., CW.

Pop music's power
players assemble in Madison Square Garden, for an all-star show.
Taylor Swift will be there, of course; so will Iggy Azalea, Sam
Smith, Ariana Grande and half the “Voice” judges – Adam Levine
(as part of Maroon 5) and Pharrell Williams.

There's more,
including One Republic and 5 Seconds of Summer, plus Charli XCX,
Jessie J, Nick Jonas, Shawn Mendes, Rita Ora and Meghan Trainor.

Other choices
include:

“Bones,” 8 and 9
p.m., Fox. In the first rerun, the murder victim is a country singer;
in the second, it's a swim coach. That one introduces Laura Spencer
(Emily in “Big Bang”) as an intern Sweets falls for.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Wolowitz's skills have never included
throwing a ball. In this rerun, however, NASA wants him to throw out
the first pitch at a Los Angeles Angels game.

“People Magazine
Awards,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. Nick Cannon hosts a special that looks at
the year in pop culture. Guests including the top Jennifers (Aniston
and Lopez), plus music by Maroon 5 and 5 Seconds of Summer – groups
that are also in tonight's CW special – and Lady Antebellum.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. The guys try to convince young Louis that
Santa is real. Also, Rose is back.

“The McCarthys,”
9:31 p.m., CBS. Alyson Hannigan (“How I Met Your Mother”) plays
the upstairs tenant. She's heart-broken about a failed romance, so
Marjorie invites her to the family Christmas.

“Elementary,”
10:01 p.m., CBS. Holmes and Watson join the search for a cop-killer.
Also, someone has been posting things that Sherlock said in the
anonymity of his recovery group.

“The Colbert
Report,” 11:30 p.m., Comedy Central. After more than eight years,
Stephen Colbert has his final new show. His guest – a frequent one
– is Grimmy, better known as the Grim Reaper. Then Colbert will
prepare to take over CBS' “Late Show,” after David Letterman's
May 20 finale.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Survivor” and “Hell's Kitchen” finales, 8-10 p.m., CBS and
Fox.

“Survivor” is
down to its final five, after Baylor Wilson convinced her mom (Missy
Payne, suffering a tough ankle injury) to break their pact with Jon
Misch. Jaclyn Schultz (Misch's fiancee) remains in the hunt for the
million-dollar prize, with Keith Nale and Natalie Anderson; a reunion
hour follows at 10.

Meanwhile, “Hell's
Kitchen” has its final four – Sade Dancy, 25; Bryant Gallaher,
29; Jennifer Salhoff and La Tasha McCutcheon, both 33 – taking
turns in charge of a fast-paced dinner service ... while they're
tested by deliberate mistakes. Then Gordon Ramsay chooses two for the
second and final hour.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Sing-Off,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

This vibrant
competition grows and shrinks at NBC's whim. It had four episodes the
first season, then five, then 11 ... then vanished in 2012. It had
seven last year, but now shrinks to this two-hour special.

Throughout, it's had
superb groups, singing a capella. There are six this year, rangng
from gospel to pop. Also performing: 2011 winner Pentatonix, 2013
winner Home Free (linking with host Nick Lachey) and the judges --
Jewel, Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) and Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy).

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The 100” mid-season finale, 9 p.m., CW.

Desperate to save
Clarke, Finn went on a shooting spree, killing 18 “grounders.”
Bad move; now these “sky people” (newly returned to Earth) are
told: Hand over Finn or see everyone massacred.

It's a tense time
for everyone ... including viewers, who have already seen that this
show is willing to kill main characters. Now we learn why Finn was
sentenced; then comes a powerhouse moment.

Other choices
include:

“The Normal Heart”
(2014), 7:15 p.m., HBO. This intense film (about early days of the
AIDS crisis) has three Golden Globe nominations – best movie or
mini-series and actors Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer. It already had
Emmys for best movie and make-up, plus 10 nominations, six for its
great cast.

“Michael Buble's
Christmas in New York,” 8 p.m., NBC. Buble goes to Radio City Music
Hall, joined by two grand divas – Barbra Streisand and Miss Piggy.
Ariana Grande is also there, plus the Rockettes.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. An all-rerun ABC night starts with last year's Christmas
episode: Sue is allergic to the tree, Axl whould rather be with his
friends and Brick has a sort of Ponzi scheme.

“White Christmas”
(1954, AMC) or “A Christmas Carol” (1999, TNT). The “White
Christmas” song actually debuted in the 1942 “Holiday Inn,”
which was partly remade into this musical, with Bing Crosby and Danny
Kaye. For a superb holiday film, catch Patrick Stewart's brilliant
work in “Carol.”

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30, ABC. Barry's mom doesn't want him on the wrestling team. His
father and grandfather offer a semi-solution: Lie about it.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Here's last year's Christmas episode, with Jay and Manny
heading out to chop down a Christmas tree. Meanwhile, Mitchell
scrambles after getting Lily the wrong gift.

“Black-ish,”
9:31-11 p.m., ABC. A three-rerun string has, among other things,
Andre encouraging his son to have more black friends and giving him a
botched version of a sex talk.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 16


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

Sometimes, reruns
are a good thing ... if someone is rerunning greatness. So now –
for its second and final time this season – ABC has this 1965
classic, offering warmth, depth and sheer simplicity.

This time, the hour
is filled out with “Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales,” a 2002
collection of shorts, based on material in the “Peanuts” comic
strip. Then come “Prep & Landing” reruns at 9 and 9:30; quick
and high-tech, they're the opposite of “Charlie Brown” in every
way except being well-made.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Voice” finale, 9-11 p.m., NBC.

As the show chooses
its seventh champion, all we know for sure is that it will be a guy
and will be from somewhere in the Blake/Adam universe.

Women has won three
of the six titles, but this time there's an all-male final four.
Blake Shelton – who's already coached three champions – has Craig
Wayne Boyd, 35, who grew up in suburban Dallas. Adam Levine, who's
won twice, has the othetr three: Chris Jamison, 20, from Pittsburgh;
Matt McAndrew, 23, from the Jersey Shore; and Damien, 35, from
Monroe, La.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

This all started
with the amiable “Elf” movie: Buddy never realized he's not an
elf. Stunned to learn he's adopted, he left the North Pole to search
for his biologic dad.

That became a
musical that had seasonal Broadway runs in 2010 and 2012; then its
songs were compacted into this animated hour. As it happens, the
songs are so-so (except for the zesty opener) and the script is weak.
Still, there's a neatly odd animation style and a good cast, led by
Jim Parsons.

Other choices
include:

“MasterChef
Junior” finale, 8 p.m., Fox. Like “Voice,” this has an all-male
finale. Ousted last week were Adaiah Stevens, 12, and the endlessly
cheery Abby Major, 8. That leaves two guys who have always seemed
like front-runners – Samuel Stroberg, 12, and Logan Guleff, 11.

“Sacred Journeys,”
8 and 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). In 1858, a 14-year-old girl
said she'd seen the Virgin Mary 18 times at a French riverside. The
Catholic church endorsed Lourdes as holy ground. Today it has a giant
basilica, chapels and medical office, with 350,000 people a year
bathing in the water. In this first hour (interesting, but
repetitive), author Bruce Feiler follows wounded American soldiers on
a pilgrimage. The second hour visits Japan, with four more hours on
the next two Tuesdays. “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. A week before
Christmas, Washington faces a citywide Internet shotdown. The team
huddles with three cyber-terrorists it put in prison.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. A murder victim was a retired SEAL, tracking
people who pretended to be military. After a sudden twist, Pride
heads to Afghanistan.

“Ascension,” 9
p.m., Syfy, rerunning at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. If you're planning to see
the first part (which reruns at 7:30 p.m.,), skip the rest of this
paragraph to avoid a spoiler. That opener started 51 years into a
100-year journey, with the crew expecting its offspring to populate a
new world. It was mostly so-so, but ended with a jolt: These people
were duped; the ship has been landlocked from the start.

“Forever,” 10
p.m., ABC. Here's a rerun of the excellent pilot film. A New York
detective (Alana De La Garza) is fascinated by an all-knowing medical
examiner (Ioann Gruffudd) who can't stay dead.

“Real World,” 10
p.m., MTV. The 30th edition begins with seven strangers
sharing a loft in Chicago. It's sub-titled “skeletons,” because
each has a secret that will eventually be revealed by visitors.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Country Countown Awards,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

After four years of
American Country Awards, Fox has linked with radio's “American
Countrty Countdown.” Most awards are based on sales and radio
airplay, plus special ones for Reba MeEntyre – who gets a musical
tribute from Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert – and Kenny
Chesney.

Luke Bryan and
Florida Georgia Line (also hosting) lead with seven and six
nominations. They perform; so do Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Eric
Church, Brett Eldredge and Chesney.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Voice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

After a brief detour
– a win for Usher's team last spring – we're back to total
domination by two people. So far, Blake Shelton has had three winners
and Adam Levine has had two. This time, Shelton has only Craig Wayne
Boyd; Levine has the others – Matt McAndrew, Chris Jamison and
Damien.

That's an all-male
finale, for a show that has seen women win half its championships.
Tonight, viewers get one more chance to vote; on Tuesday, there will
be a champion.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mike & Molly,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.

After starting a
sexy novel during writers' camp, Molly landed a publisher's advance –
then spent the money and went blank. The solution, friends tell Mike,
is to nudge her by abstaining from sex.

The result has
extremely funny moments. It also reflects a common flaw for the show,
which keeps turning Molly from smart to stupid and back, for plot
convenience; tonight, she's back to stupid.

Other choices
include:

“Hart of Dixie,”
8 p.m., CW. The fourth season won't start until Friday, Jan. 9, but
CW calls this “an early holiday gift.” Like many gifts, it's a
mixed blessing. It's wildly overwrought, with some moments
(especially the training of would-be firefighters) quite funny and
some (Cricket's first days as an out lesbian) just silly.
Overshadowing that are absurd twists in the Zoe-Wade romance.

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Fresh from its Golden Globe nomination for best comedy
series, this show (always good, sometimes a comedy) has Jane and
Rafael learn a secret about his estranged wife.

“Ascension”
opener, 9 p.m., Syfy, rerunning at 10:30. In the early '60s, 600
people volunteered for a noble project – a century-long space
voyage, with their descendants populating a new world. Now, 51 years
later, they have a 1950s-style class and gender structure, oblivious
to the changes on Earth. It's an interesting concept; with OK
execution. It ends powerfully tonight, then continues through
Wednesday.

“The American
Revolution,” 9 and 10 p.m., American Heroes Channel, concludes
Tuesday. Over three hours or re-enactments, we meet Revolutionary
War heroes whom history overlooks. That includes Joseph Warren, a
physician, a general and a spy organizer ... Salem Poor, an ex-slave,
battling on Bunker Hill ... And Samuel Prescott, who completed a
ride after Paul Revere was captured.

“State of
Affairs,” 10 p.m., NBC. Charleston (Katherine Heigl) tries to stop
a TV interview with a key terrorist ... while ducking her knowledge
of Nick Vera, the handsome adventurer. It's a strong hour, despite
having no ending, a ridiculous portrait of a TV reporter and
Charleston's continued secrets.

“Journey to Planet
Earth,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This sounded so much
easier when it was called “global warming.” Now scientists call
it “climate change,” with fierce repercussions. This disturbing
hour shows how it spurred everything from the Arab Spring to the rise
of the Taliban.