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.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The 10 Most Fascinating People,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Last year, Barbara
Walters said the 2013 “Most Fascinating” (her 21st)
would be the last. It wasn't; in fact, the 22nd is a
half-hour longer, packed with Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, Neil
Patrick Harris, Scarlett Johannson, two talk hosts (Chelsea Handler
and Michael Strahan) and more.

It also has David
Koch, who funds fiercely conservative ads. Walters has had polarizing
figures on both sides, from Sarah Palin (thrice) and Rush Limbaugh
(twice) to Hillary Clinton (four times) and Michael Moore. She's had
Kardashians, “Duck Dynasty” folks, Queen Elizabeth and Honey Boo
Boo.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Mentalist,” 9 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), CBS.

Unbeatable heroes
aren't much fun, unless they face invincible villains. So now, for
the third time, Patrick Jane collides with Erica Flynn. As played by
Morena Baccarin (who's been a regular on “V,” “Homeland,”
“Gotham” and more), she is beautiful, brainy, charming and
utterly untrustworthy.

Jane helped arrest
her and helped her escape. Now she has a scheme that brings him to
Beirut, where his new love, Lisbon, eyes both of them warily. The
plot twists are fairly lame – especially when the FBI bungles an
easy operation – but the story lets gorgeous opposites collide in
interesting ways.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Newsroom” finale, 9-10:05 p.m., HBO.

Aaron Sorkin closed
his great “West Wing” series with a shrug, but he doesn't repeat
that mistake here. “Newsroom” ends the way we expected – with
intelligence, passion and sometimes warmth.

Emerging from jail
after refusing to reveal his source, the anchor (Jeff Daniels) finds
the news network transformed. The owner (Jane Fonda) had to sell it
to a tech billionaire with a trendy mind. Trying to juggle journalism
and gimmicks, the beloved news chief died of a heart attack. This
hour starts at his funeral and finds ways to give a brilliant show
the send-off it deserves.

Other choices
include:

Marathons, cable.
Comedy Central has 14 episodes of “South Park,” from 4:50 p.m. to
midnight; TruTV has eight episodes of “The Carbonaro Effect” -- a
dandy mix of hidden-camera and sleight-of-hand – from 7-11 p.m.

“Disney on
Broadway,” 7 p.m., ABC. In a Broadway world filled with noble
failures, the Disney record has been extraordinary – a six-years
run for “Mary Poppins,” 13 for “Beauty and the Beast,” 17 (so
far) for “Lion King,” at least a year for each of the other five.
Here's a 20-year celebration, with music by Elton John (the “Lion
King” composer), Ashley Brown (Broadway's first Mary Poppins) and
more.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. In the aftermath of the Snow Queen's spell,
Regina has a dilemma.

“Undercover Boss”
season-opener, 8:01 p.m. (or later), CBS. “Boss” will give other
shows a mid-season break, first on three Sundays and then on Fridays.
This opener has True Value CEO John Hartmann (a former FBI agent) go
undercover. He's pleased by many employees and shocked by one.

“CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation,” 10 p.m. (or later), CBS. Sharon Osbourne guests in
this episode, which, CBS says, has a man being killed twice.

“Getting On”
season-finale, 10:40 p.m., HBO. After being way too muted, this show
wraps its season strongly. Dawn drops her marital bombshell; then men
with briefcases focus on Dr. James. For Laurie Metcalf (who also
stars in “The McCarthys” and is Sheldon's “Big Bang” mom),
it's a great finish.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 13


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

Martin Freeman has
conquered the British classics. He stars in “Hobbit” movies (the
final one opens Wednesday) and “Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”
and co-starred (as Watson) in TV's “Sherlock.”

Now he's moved on to
the American classics -- “Fargo” (he starred in the brilliant
mini-series) and “Saturday Night Live.” Freeman hosts, with
Charli XCX as music guest.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
Animation, 8-10 p.m., CBS.

Here's our second
chance this season to see “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (at 8
p.m.) and “Frosty the Snowman” (at 9). It's our first to see
“Frosty Returns” (9:30).

That's fair, because
“Frosty Returns” (a bland, 1992 cartoon) is only half as good as
the others. And the others -- “Rudolph” from 1964, “Frosty”
from '69 – are merely OK. At least, the kids will be happy.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Peter Pan” (2014), 8-11 p.m., NBC; or “My Fair
Lady” (1964), 8-11 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

NBC deserves credit
for spotlighting musicals – first with “Smash,” then with last
year's “Sound of Music” and last week's “Pan.” It also
deserves criticism for choosing a show with weak music and a
painfully stretched story ... one which a good cast and ambitious
production couldn't make special.

For the opposite,
switch to TCM. Sure, it was silly to choose a star (Audrey Hepburn)
who can't sing, requiring everything to be dubbed. Still, “Lady”
reminds us that some shows ripple with great music.

Other choices
include:

Movies, 6 p.m.,
cable. A terrific movie night starts with one great film (“Good
Will Hunting,” 1997, TV Guide Network) and three good ones -- “Fast
Times at Ridgemont High” (1982, IFC), “Mean Girls” (2004, WE)
and “The Santa Clause” (1994, ABC Family).

“Limitless”
(2011), 8-10 p.m., ABC. This is the one Saturday without college
football, so the networks scramble. Fox has “ultimate fighting”;
ABC has this film about a guy (Bradley Cooper) who takes a dangerous
pill, letting him access 100 percent of his brain.

“Tangled”
(2010), 8:30 p.m., Disney. Here's another sfamily choice, with Mandy
Moore as Rapunzel.

“Missing,” 9
p.m., Starz. Bouncing between two years (2014 and 2006) and one
character's alternate reality, we get some key answers: What was the
involvement of Ian, the rich and folksy guy? Why did he disappear
eight years ago? And what's haunting the fragile teacher?

“Atlantis,” 9
p.m., BBC America. Scattered and surrounded by the undead, the heroes
need Medea.

“Santa Claus is
Comin' to Town,” 10 p.m., ABC Family. As soon as the CBS cartoons
finish, we can switch to cable. This is a 1970 one that catches
Santa's early years, dispensing toys in Sombertown.

“Mickey's
Christmas Carol,” 11 p.m., ABC Family. Here's one to record and
preserve. You'll find few laughs, but this half-hour gem is so
beautifully crafted that each frame looks like a Christmas card.