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.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 12


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

Next week, the show
will have its million-dollar winner. First, however, it trims to
three duos.

Last week saw Jim
and Misti Raman (the married dentists) finish first for the fifth
time; Brooke Adams and Robbie Strauss (the dating wrestlers) were
last, but it was a non-elimination week. Also surviving: Bethany
Hamilton – famed for continuing to be a top surfer after losing an
arm to a shark – and her husband Adam Dirks; plus food-science
co-workers Maya Warren and Amy DeJong.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“MasterChef Junior,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

The season concludes
Tuesday, with a young chef winning $100,000. We can warm up for it
with these reruns of the last two episodes.

First, six chefs are
split into two teams, each with a restaurant. Then four survivors are
given Alaskan king salmon and challenged to prepare something with
minimal ingredients.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Tim Allen, everywhere.

Did someone appoint
Allen to be TV's Christmas king? His “Last Man Standing” (8 p.m.,
ABC) finds him offering a generous Christmas gift (with conditions)
to Kristin and Ryan; there's more, on cable.

Allen stars in the
clever “Santa Clause” (1994) at 7:30 p.m. on ABC Family and
voices Buzz Lightyear in the oft-wonderful “Toy Story” tales. The
Disney Channel has “Toy Story 3” (2010) at 6:40 p.m. and the
somewhat-disappointing “Toy Story That Time Forgot” half-hour at
8:30.

Other choices
include:

“The Librarians,”
8-10 p.m., CW. This show got off to a strong start Sunday on TNT,
with 5.4 million viewers immediately and 7.3 million overall that
night. Now that debut gets a second run, this time on CW. Expanding
the “Librarian” cable movies, this has a new team – Rebecca
Romijn, Christian Kane, Lindy Booth and John Kim – rescuing
artifacts ... starting with King Arthur's crown.

“Cristela,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. For Cristela, Christmas is the season to prepare tamales.
But what about her law-office co-workers? Josh mistakes a joke for an
invitation and shows up; the boss and his flashy daughter find one
thing in common at their own home – neither has any ability to
prepare a feast.

“Live From Lincoln
Center,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings). It was 80 years
ago that George Balanchine started the School of American Ballet;
later, it began annual workshop performances. This one, the 50th,
has an all-Balanchine program, with portions of “Coppelia,” “Swan
Lake” and more.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Christmastime in Hawaii finds McGarrett nudging Danny to
steal a tree. Also, a poisoning case has Max (Masi Oka) clashing with
another medical examiner.

“Grimm,” 9 p.m.,
NBC, Travelers really need to be more careful. Now one brings a
blood-sucking legend to Portland, which had enough troubles without
it.

“Constantine,”
10 p.m., NBC. John and Chas go to Mexico, putting them closer to The
Rising Darkness. Meanwhile, Zed's past comes back to haunt her.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Three community leaders have been killed in apparent
hate crimes. While Danny tries to find the killer, his dad (the
police commissioner) wants to make sure this is viewed seriously.
Also, Danny's unhappy that his wife, after being mugged, wants to
carry a gun.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox.

The show's 200th
episode is done in the style of a 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Everything is retro, from the color palette and mood music (both a
tad harsh, by modern standards) to the '50s attitudes.

Brennan is convinced
she can be a good cop; the guys (including her dad, the police chief)
scoff at that. On her own, she traces Booth, a good-hearted thief.
She links with dinosaur experts, convinced that science can help
solve crimes. All of the “Bones” regulars are woven into a
wonderfully clever hour.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Gracepoint” finale, 9 p.m., Fox.

For nine weeks of
low ratings and high quality, this show has developed a rich set of
characters, in the seaside town where young Danny Saldano was killed.
Tonight, we find out who did it.

Vince, a foul man,
is in jail, but there are plenty of other suspects. There's Mark
(Danny's dad and Vince's boss), who had an affair with Gemma. Or
Susan, who says she's Vince's biologic mother. Or Paul, the priest
who has a thing for Danny's mom. Or Tommy, who was once Danny's best
friend. Det. Carver, nudged toward medical leave, hopes to salvage
something from the computer Tommy battered.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Dinosaur 13,” 9-11 p.m., CNN.

In 1990, this
compelling films says, only 12 tyrannosaurus rex skeletons had been
excavated, none more than 40 percent complete. Then came Sue, 80-per
cent complete; under 115-degree heat, she was unearthed by the Black
Hills Institue, to be the center of a museum in Hill City, S.D.,
population 900.

What followed was a
fierce tangle of federal and tribal laws. Mixed in, says dinosaur
expert Robert Bakker (who has a Yale doctorate) was academia's bias
against people with mere bachelor's degrees. Beautifully crafted,
“Dinosaur 13” will grip your emotions, enroute to a sort of happy
ending,

Other choices
include:

“The Taste,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. In last week's opener, the four judges chose
four-person teams (“Voice”-style) and had their first challenge.
Nigella Lawson's team lost and sent one person home; tonight, two
more will go, after creating a seafood dinner for Eric Ripert.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Amy has created a Victorian Christmas party;
Sheldon wants revenge on her, for making him celebrate. Meanwhile, a
bird is loose in a contamination-free lab.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. Christy had a lot of misdeeds during her drinking years.
Now she tries to atone to some people ... but not her ex-husband. Her
mom does admit her own marital sins.

“Project Runway,”
9 p.m., Lifetime. Last week, the designers went to London and
Benjamin Mach (who had lived in London for over a decade) was ousted.
Tonight, the survivors face a fashion gamble.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. This erratic-but-fun show now has a finale
date (Feb. 19). Meanwhile, the guys befriend moms at a kids' gym ...
a good idea, until Walden falls for one.

“A to Z,” 9:30
p.m., NBC. Trying to buy the perfect presents for each other, Andrew
and Zelda turn to friends for advice ... with shaky results.

“Elementary,”
10:01 p.m., CBS. Watson (Lucy Liu) is on her own now, but a bored
Sherlock jumps into her case. The only clue is that there was the
smell of nutmeg at a site where a woman disappeared.