TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 5

“Will & Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC.

After a splendid
start – six episodes, ranging only from very funny to hilarious –
this show began a long football break. It won't be back until Jan. 4,
but first it offers a brilliant (if brash) holiday episode.

Longing for the
elegance of 1890s New York, the gang is sort of transported there. It
finds an era that was sometimes elegant ... if you didn't happen to
be a woman, an immigrant, Irish or gay. This episode isn't for
everyone; its olden-days euphemisms for gay sex are very raw and very
funny. But even when it teeters toward raunch, it's brilliantly
crafted by director James Burrows, TV's comedy master.

II: “The Long Road Home,” 10 p.m., National Geographic, rerunning
at 11.

Here's the sixth
episode of this eight-part, true-life story. The soldiers are still
trapped in an Iraqi alley, after a horrific moment: They were forced
to shoot at attackers who deliberately put children in front.

Now another rescue
attempt begins and we focus on one of its men,Tomas Young. A liberal
– he and his mother used to protest the abortion protestors – he
joined the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks. This beautifully crafted
and deeply moving hour focuses on him before and after his military
time. Noel Fisher and Sarah Ramos are superb as Young and the woman
he loves.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.

For the show's 200th
episode, it's the 200th anniversary of this town, proud to
be named the 200th best place in Indiana. Soon, Mike must
perform unnatural acts – speaking in public and showing emotion.

That's in a good
episode that also has Sue helping Axl's job search by posing as his
assistant. And to win back his girlfriend, Brick must perform three
acts of bravery.

Other choices

“Angry Angel,”
2:30 p.m., Freeform. In a sea of look-alike Christmas films, this one
stands out. Filled with sharp dialog, it gives us an angel trainee
who's thoroughly unfit for being dead or being good. That's followed
by the movies (good ones) that Freeform keeps running this month --
“Elf” (2003) at 4:35 p.m, “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 6:45
and “The Polar Express” at 8:55.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. This rerun focuses on David McCallum, 84, as Ducky. He ponders
past decisions, after murder evidence is linked to his late mother.

“SEAL Team,” 9
p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the team refuses to abandon a botched mission.
Also, Clay's controversial father (C. Thomas Howell) visits town on a
book tour.

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. When Dre is in charge of a charity campaign, his wife
argues that giving should involve more than just writing a check.

9:30 p.m., NBC. Like “Will & Grace,” this won't be back until
Jan,. 4, but gets to air a holiday episode tonight. On a slow
Christmas Eve, Amy tries to prove she has a wild side.

“Chicago Med,”
10 p.m., NBC. Dr. Charles gets troubling information about the man
who shot him. Also, Will and Natalie face an ethics tangle, when an
unfaithful husband refuses to tell his wife the results of a Zika

“Kevin (Probably)
Saves the World,” 10 p.m., ABC. This is the sort of thorny question
you face as one of God's chosen ones: Do you complete your mission or
attend the opening of your niece's play?

TV column for Monday, Dec. 4

“The Great Christmas Lights Fight” season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m.,

Most of us might
hang out a few lights in December and figure we've done the world a
favor. Then there are the people whose mega-displays entertain the
masses. One family has a life-sized, interactive gingerbread house;
others range from giant lollipops to 78 wrapped trees, sprawling over
1.5 acres.

Taniya Nayak visits
four such homes and gives one a $50,000 prize. In the second hour of
this amiable, three-week series, Carter Oosterhouse visits four more,
including one with a carousel and Ferris wheel.

“The Good Doctor,” 10 p.m., ABC.

This is the time of
year when shows start to take a break until January. For “Good
Doctor,” a “mid-season finale” finds the surgical team facing
mixed reactions to a charming doctor: He's impressive at first, but
then puts someone in an awkward position.

Meanwhile, Dr.
Glassman worries that Shaun – the doctor hindered by his youth and
autism – still needs help with his personal life. He suggests a
therapist, but Shaun resists.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Newspaperman,” 8 p.m., HBO.

Ben Bradlee lived a
Hollywood-ready life. He was played by Jason Robards in “All the
President's Men” (1976), the superb Watergate film that follows
this at 9:30; soon, he'll be played by Tom Hanks in “The Post,”
Steven Spielberg's film about the Pentagon Papers. First, here's a

Bradlee's roots --
back to 1637 Massachusetts – were pure Americana. He grew up rich,
went to Harvard, was in the Navy, worked for the government, then
transformed the Washington Post. Before his death (in 2014, at 93),
he was reviled by one president (Nixon) and honored by another

Other choices

any time, It's Det.
Mike Shepherd's birthday – no one knows which one – and he
reluctantly agrees to a picnic. Naturally, a murder case crashes down
(literally). That's starts a solid mystery, overlapping Det. Kristin
Sims' past love life. Like two other series -- “A Place to Call
Home” and “Love, Lies & Records” -- this has a new episode
each week, through Christmas Day.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. Now that last week's crossover epic is past, Supergirl
faces a new crisis. A mysterious symbol pops up all over town. It
refers to an ancient prophecy and to Reign (played by Odette
Annable), one of the worldkillers created -- and then banned -- on

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Once again, TV's best comedy is asked to
boost the so-so Monday line-up. In this rerun, Sheldon gets to
mediate a dispute between Leonard and Penny.

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. We always figured it might be dangerous to accept a favor
from Lucifer. Now the people who have done that start to turn up

“The Gifted,” 9
p.m., Fox. There's a risky new plan to help the mutants who are in
custody. Meanwhile, Reed (Stephen Moyer) finally gives his mutant
kids some key information about their family history.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. This again eyes some the subtleties of race relations.
Franco – who wants to be judged solely on his art – fumes when
Arthur mentions ethnicity in a college application.

“The Wall,” 10
p.m., NBC. On New Year's Day, this game show will star borrowing the
8 p.m. Monday slot. First, here's a Christmas edition, with an Ohio
pastor and her daughter, a social worker.


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.)


“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.

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.

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

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.

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

Other choices

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

“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.

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.

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

“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.

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

“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.

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

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

“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.