TV column for Sunday, Dec. 3


(Please note: The Christmas TV list -- see "blog" -- originally listed "It's a Wonderful Life" for Dec. 3 and 24 on NBC, That was a mistake; it will be Dec, 24 only.)

 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special,” 8-10
p.m., CBS.

From the moment
Burnett's show debuted, it was unique. That's partly because it was
led by a woman; the other eight variety-show hosts were men. And it's
mostly because Burnett swung for huge laughs.

Her show would
continue for 11 years, 276 episodes and 25 Emmys, three of them for
best variety series. Now Burnett, 84, re-unites with Lyle Waggoner,
82 and Vicki Lawrence, 68. She shows her favorite sketches and hears
comments from Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Jane Lynch and more.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Fifty Years of 60 Minutes,” 7 p.m., CBS.

This show actually
arrived a year after Burnett's, but let's not be picky. It's in its
50th year and is celebrating a tad early. There is much to
celebrate: The longest-running show in primetime history, “60
Minutes” has won 20 Peabody Awards, 138 Emmys and a consistent spot
in the Nielsen top 20.

Now it will show
some of its most serious moments – John McCain reflecting on his
brain tumor, Bill and Hillary Clinton reacting to accusations, a
guilt-ridden Secret Service agent for President Kennedy. It will also
eye exotic sights – from South American jaguars to an Icelandic
volcano – and celebrities.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “My Christmas Prince,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

If nothing else,
this is sort of topical: It takes the notion of an American woman
dating European royalty. The difference is that Meghan Markle knows
what she's getting into; this fictional woman hasn't a clue ... until
her boyfriend visits her Wyoming hometown and is identified by a
prince-spotter.

The result resists
any temptation to surprise us, settling for seasonal adequacy. Alexis
Knapp stars, backed by more-familiar names. Marina Sirtis (of “Star
Trek: Next Gen”) has a fairly solid role as a royal aide; Pamela
Sue Martin – fiery Fallon in the first “Dynasty” -- appears
briefly as Knapp's mom.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Miss Me This Christmas,” 7-9 p.m., TV One.

Here's one channel
that's ignoring all those small-town, hay-ride stereotypes. On the
next two Sundays, it has movies that are set in an upscale hotel.

This opener focuses
on a former rhythm-and-blues singer (Erica Ash) whose does design
work for her husband's label. Enraged by his night life, she moves
out of their home at Christmastime. It's a good setting, but also
brings a problem: She's not an easy person to like or to empathize
with.

Other choices
include:

More Christmas
movies. Really. In addition to the two listed above, there are three
more new ones. At 8 p.m., Hallmark's “Christmas at Holly Lodge”
stars Allison Sweeney, whose films tend to be above-average. At 9, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries has “The Magical Christmas Ornaments” and Ion has “The
Spruces and the Pines.”

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Maybe bad birthdays are good for character-development.
Flashing forward, we see Lisa reflect on them while writing an essay
for her Harvard application.

“Outlander,” 8
p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10. A week before the season-finale, Jamie
and Claire are much closer to their goal. At a lavish ball in
Jamaica, they meet old allies ... and encounter past enemies who
could derail their mission.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Ever since finding a young boy, the
world's few survivors have felt frustrated. Now Carol and Erica fight
for the boy's attention; also, Todd wants parenting advice.

“CSI: Los
Angeles,” 10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Sam assumes a former alias, in
a dangerous undercover operation. Also, duty interrupts a romantic
night for Callen and Kolcheck.

“Curb Your
Enthusiasm,” 10 p.m., HBO. It's the season-finale, a fact that
should be viewed seriously:

The last time”Curb”
ended a season, it didn't return for six years.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Saoirse Ronan keeps
spanning time and geography. Born in the Bronx and raised in Ireland,
she drew Oscar nominations playing a teen in 1930s England
(“Atonement”) and an Irish immigrant in 1950s U.S. (“Brooklyn”).
Now she's a 16-year-old Californian in the Greta Gerwig's superb
“Lady Bird.”

And now comes
another big moment: She hosts “SNL” ... with U2, no less, as the
music guest.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: Football, 8 p.m. ET, Fox and ABC.

Two conference
championships are at stake. Fox has the Big Ten, with Wisconsin
(ranked No. 4) and Ohio State (No. 8). ABC has the Atlantic Coast
Conference, with Clemson (No. 1) and Miami (No. 7).

Those games will
play a key role in the bowl picture, along with two other
championships: The Big 12, at 12:30 p.m. ET on Fox,has Oklahoma (No.
3) and TCU (No. 11); the SEC, at 4 p.m. on CBS, has Auburn (No.2) and
Georgia (No. 6). Other conference championships are at noon ET on
ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, 12:30p.m. on Fox, 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU and 7:45
p.m. on ESPN.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Christmas in Evergreen,” 8 p.m., Hallmark.

Now the
Christmas-movie rush begins – three films debuting tonight, five
more on Sunday, plenty of oters for three more weekends. This one
brings unusual roots and a strong cast.

It launches a
trilogy, based on art by Geoff Greenleaf, who's a Hallmark cards
illustrator. Ashley Williams plays a Vermont veterinarian who plans
to spend Christmas in New York City ... until her daughter
complicates things with a magic wish. Holly Robinson Peete and
Barbara Niven co-star.

Other choices
include:

“Will &
Grace,” 8 p.m., NBC. We finally see things that can shatter Karen's
icy surface – the death of the maid that she hounded and depended
on ... and the brief return of her hated in-law (Minnie Driver). This
rerun pushes the overacting too far, but has its big-laugh moments.

“Four Christmases
and a Wedding,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime. An event planner is in charge
of the local festival – where, for four straight years, she keeps
coming across a guy she likes. We have a suspicion how this will end.
Arielle Kebbel stars, with Markie Post as her mom.

“Superstore,”
8:30 p.m., NBC. Jonah comes up with a homemade scheme for health
insurance. It's a good rerun, except for some sophomoric humor about
Glenn's health fear in an intimate area.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a plane crash in the bayou links
the NCIS and the FBI.

“Christmas in
Angel Falls,” 9-11 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. A small
town has always felt it has its own Christmas magic, including a star
that appears that day. Now the magic is fading and an angel arrives.
Rachel Boston, Paul Greene and Beau Bridges star.

“Dirk Gently's
Holistic Detective Agency,” 9 p.m., BBC America. “There is no way
for a normal person to understand portals,” one character groans.
Or to follow this bizarre tale, with Todd and his sister imprisoned
in an alternate dimension. Just go with it; there's an odd
explanation near the end.

“The Ugly
Christmas Sweater,” 10 p.m., Lifetime. After each new Christmas
movie, Lifetime has a one-hour “mini-movie.” Here, a social-media
employee must wear her odd grandmother's sweater.

 

TV column for Friday, Dec. 1


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Agents of SHIELD” season-opener, 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

This has the wobbly
distinction of being the final arrival of the fall line-up. After
four adequate seasons, “SHIELD” had to wait for the awful
“Inhumans” to finish its eight-week run.

Now the show is
back, in the midst of a reboot. Five team members – Coulson, May,
Mack, Jemma and Daisy – have been kidnapped. On a mysterious ship,
they try to figure out what's going on. So do we.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Disney Channel Holiday Celebration,” 8:30 p.m., Disney.

For the second
straight night, a Disney-owned channel offers lots of music, while
promoting the parks. On Thursday, it was ABC; tonight, this channel
offers younger performers -- Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson, Asher Angel,
Milo Manheim and Meg Donnelly.

Also, there's a look
at Disney World's “Toy Story Land,” which will opening next
summer. And feel-good segments visit three families that are big on
philanthropy.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
Christmas shows, all day, Freeform.

Ever since 1996,
this channel has been stuffing the month with “25 Days of
Christmas.” It has changed its own name three times – Family
Channel to Fox Family to ABC Family to Freeform – but launched this
on each Dec. 1. By now, the emphasis is on a few movies and cartoons,
repeated often.

Many of the prime
ones show up on this first day. They include Tim Burton's “The
Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) at 2 p.m., the animated “Year
Without a Santa Claus” at 3:35, “Willie Wonka” at 4:35 and two
delights -- “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 7:05 and “Elf”
(2003) at 9:15.

Other choices
include:

“Eloise at
Christmastime” (2003), 7:30 a.m., and much more, Freeform. The “25
Days” line-up starts early – a “Last Man Standing” episode at
7 and then this lush-looking charmer. It's the second film starring
Sofia Vassilieva (who went on to “Medium”) as a headstrong kid in
an upscale hotel. Julie Andrews co-stars.

“Ice Age:
Continental Drift” (2012), 3:30 p.m., FX. This starts a night of
animated reruns. It's followed by “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
(2014) at 5:30 and “Despicable Me 2” (2013) at 8 and 10.

“Grandma Got Run
Over By a Reindeer,” 8-9 p.m., CW. In this offbeat cartoon from
2000, young Jake scrambles to find his grandmother and to prove Santa
Claus is real.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. As Indonesian mercenaries haul deadly nerve gas. The team
follows them, amid distractions. Riley's dad (Billy Baldwin) is back
and Bozer has trouble in spy school.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. After a fatal air-race crash, McGarrett investigates by
posing as a pilot.

“Masters of
Illusion: Christmas Magic,” 9 p.m., CW. With Dean Cain hosting and
a Christmas choir singing, we get magic from Jonathan Pendragon,
Murray SawChuck, Jibrizy, Ed Alonzo, Farrell Dillon, Tommy Wind,
Nathan Phan, Greg Gleason, Les Arnold and Jarret and Raja.

“The Exorcist,”
9 p.m., Fox. As time is running out on the exorcism, Mouse (Zuleikha
Robinson) heads there with Father Bennett. Along the way, we learn
more about her troubled past.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Working on a narcotics task force, Baez has an
accidental overdose.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 30


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

Back in 1965, CBS
was in a hurry. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” had been a hit
the year before; “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was still a
year away. The network wanted another holiday hit. It turned to
Charles Schulz and his “Peanuts” comic strip. And since time was
tight; it didn't interfere.\

Schulz and director
Bill Melendez ignored TV traditions. They used real kids for the
voices ... a sparse animation style ... a jazzy score ... and even a
bit of Scripture. They created a masterpiece. The classic, which has
moved to ABC, will be followed by short bits, called “Charlie Brown
Christmas Tales.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Magical Holiday Celebration,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Remember when “boy
bands” ruled the pop-music world? There will be hints of that here.
Hanson -- which soared 20 years ago, when the brothers were 12, 14
and 17 – will perform. So will In Real Life, which was created on
the reality show “Boy Band.” Nick Lachey (of the boy-band 98
Degrees) hosts.

That's from the
Disney parks. Julianne Hough also hosts, with Jesse Palmer doing
reports. Other performers are Ciara, Darius Rucker, Jason Derulo, Lea
Michele and Fitz and the Tantrums.

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

It's tough to
believe, but this show is already a week away from its season-finale.
“Orville” started before the other shows, only filmed 13 episodes
and will hold one of those until next season.

So tonight, we get
the year's second-to-last episode. A spatial anomaly causes harrowing
effects on all living things. Also, Kelly finds that Lt. Lamarr is
smarter than he lets on; she wants him promoted.

Other choices
include:

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. At this pace, young Bruce Wayne will never become Batman;
he's currently in a downward spiral of teen angst. Alfred tried to
snap him out of it.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Leonard tryies to remember where he put an
investment that could be valuable. That leads to an old tape,
revealing a secret about his relationship with Penny.

“The Christmas
Train,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. This film – under the prestigious
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” umbrella – debuted Saturday and will
rerun often (including 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday). Desperate
to get home for Christmas, a man takes a train ride with intriguing
strangers.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. What happens if a NASA scientist dares to disagree
with Sheldon? The 9-year-old convinces his family to take a road
trip, so he can prove his point.

“Project Runway,”
9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime. It's time to re-assemble everyone for the
reunion episode. Kentaro Kameyama, the winner, will be there. So will
the people who came close – Ayana Ife, Brandon Kee and Margarita
Alvarez – and the controversial Buitendorp twins. Shawn left the
show to give a better chance to Claire ... who was promptly dismissed
for designing outside of the work room.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Bonnie is injured, leaving repercussions. Now she and her
boyfriend are both in wheelchairs. And now Christy – unskilled and
clueless – must take over as building manager.

“S.W.A.T.,” 10
p.m., CBS. Disguised as a SWAT team, burglars have invaded three
upscale homes. Now the real cops must figure out what they were
searching for.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Here is a truly
extraordinary hour. Skipping all the quick-cut styles of modern
drama, it simply puts two great actresses – occasionally with a
third – in a small room, to bare their souls.

The guest star is
Melora Walters, as an apparent victim who – at first – can't
remember anything. It's a huge, Emmy-worthy performance, hitting all
the extremes; the perfect counterpoint comes from Emmy-winner Mariska
Hargitay as the understated Det. Benson. Occasionally adding Joanne
Going as Walters' sister, this has a smart plot (twisty and grueling
to watch), perfectly performed.

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

Here's more proof
that it's Christmas time – an hour that culmiates with the lighting
of a mega-tree.

There will be music,
some of it seeming familiar. On Monday, Matt Eldridge was on ABC and
Pentatonix had its own NBC special. They perform tonight, along with
Gwen Stefani (whose NBC special will be Dec. 12), Jennifer Nettles,
the Tenors and Leslie Odom Jr.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Bruno Mars: 24K Magic Live at the Apollo Theatre,” 10 p.m.
CBS.

OK, it's still
possible to have a music special without a Christmas theme. In this
case, Mars – the vibrant Super Bowl performer who's won five
Grammys – is at the historic New York theater.

Despite the title,
this isn't live. Mars opens it atop the marquee, does some street
scenes and performs songs from his “24K” album, which opened a
year ago at the No. 2 spot on the Billboard chart.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Vikings” season-opener, 9-11 p.m., History.

Five years ago, this
began with Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) rising as a tough and heroic
leader. Now he's been killed and his son Ivor has been on a vengeance
spree. He killed his brother Sigur and led a raid that brought the
death of the Saxon king and the sacking of a church.

That was a mistake,
because Heahmund, the bishop of Sherborne, has become his new enemy.
In real life, Heahmund (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers of “The
Tutors”) was a warrior-bishop, before being killed in battle in
871; both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches named him a
saint.

Other choices
include:

“Survivor,” 8
and 9 p.m., CBS. With 10 contestants left, the show has a double
episode.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. After pausing for a rerun last week, Fox's best drama is
back. Work on the 20th-anniversary album halts, when
producers say Eddie Barker (Forest Whitaker) pushed them too hard.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Star has double trouble: She's jealous because Noah spends more
time with Alexandra. Also, their trio has only two weeks to prepare,
after Ayanna moves up the showcase date.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. People recall their celebrity encounters. Jay served on
a jury with a football icon ... Phil showed a house to a musical hero
... And Manny met an esteemed playwright and an actor/comedian.
Naturally, none of these turned out as expected.

“Titantic: 100
Years Later,” 9 p.m., National Geographic, rerunning at 11. It's
been 105-and-a-half years since the epic ship sank, but interest
continues. This rerun has James Cameron (who wrote and directed the
1997 movie). At 10 p.m. is another rerun, “Save the Titanic”; Bob
Ballard – who discovered the ship 73 years after its sank – meets
descendants of the men who built it.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. On a secret mission to Afghanistan, the
president meets two infamous warlords and isn't sure whom to trust.
Also, Seth (Kal Penn) has a run-in with police that jeopardizes his
White House job.