TV column for Sunday, Jan. 5

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Downton Abbey” season-opener, 9-11
p.m., PBS (check local listings).

After savoring gentle joys and pains, viewers were jolted in
the final minutes of last season: There was a sudden car crash; Matthew – new
dad, reforming head of the estate – was dead.

Jumping ahead six months, his widow Mary is still distant
and despondent; his mom feels useless, his valet is jobless. And without
Matthew, the estate’s management wobbles between Mary, her father and her
brother-in-law. As usual, “Downton” nimbly juggles soap opera and elegant human

TODAY’S MUST-SEE: Football, 1:05 p.m., CBS, and 4:40 p.m.,

The pro play-offs wrap up their first weekend, with
division-winners hosting wild-card teams.

First, San Diego (9-7) visits Cincinnati (11-5). Then San
Francisco (11-5) visits an oft-frigid Green Bay. The Packers scraped in with an
8-7-1 record … but were 6-2 when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was healthy, which
he seems to be now. This weekend’s four winners join the four teams that had a
first-week bye.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Muppets” (2011), 8 and 10 p.m.,
ABC Family.

At times after Jim Henson’s death, it seemed like the
Muppets were going to fade away. Then Jason Segel, a long-time fan, brought
them back with this clever film.

Segel links with his Muppet brother and his girlfriend (Amy
Adams) to re-unite the Muppets and put on a show. Along the way, there are some
wonderfully witty songs.

Other choices include:

“Admission,” 6:55 p.m., and “Identity Thief,” 9 p.m. (both
2013), HBO. A week before its new Sunday line-up, HBO tosses in two fairly good
comedies, first with Tina Fey and then with Melissa McCarthy. Both strain belief,
but the first finds warmth and the second has big (but scattered) laughs.

“The Simpsons,” 8 p.m. (or later, with football overrun),
Fox. Annoyed by a movie theater, Homer takes lessons (from Bart, of course) in
the art of pirating films.

“The Bachelor” preview, 8 p.m., ABC. On the eve of a new
edition, this show introduces the bachelor (former Venezuelan soccer player
Juan Pablo Galavis) and peeks at the season ahead.

“Elementary,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here’s a rerun of the hour that
was filmed in London. Holmes returns there to track a former mentor; also, his
estranged brother reveals secrets.

“The Good Wife” and “The Mentalist,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. Both
shows are back to new episodes. First, Alicia faces trouble when Will – once her
boss and friend, now her enemy – joins the opposing side in a case. Then
Patrick Jane probes the murders of three drug agents; he dates a beauty linked
to the case.

“Revenge,” 9 p.m., ABC. In the aftermath of Emily’s wedding–day
disaster, everyone becomes a suspect.

“Betrayal,” 10 p.m., ABC. Two weeks from the show’s finale, Sara
is desperate to clear her jailed lover.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 4

TODAY’S MUST-SEE: Football, 4:35 and 8 p.m. ET, NBC.

NBC wraps up its football season – a big one in the ratings
– with this doubleheader. Each game has a division winner hosting a wild-card

First, it’s Kansas City at Indianapolis, then New Orleans at
Philadelphia. Two more games Sunday (one CBS, the other Fox) leave us with the
final eight teams, each two wins from the Super Bowl.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Crazy Ones,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.

After decades of great hour-long shows – from “L.A. Law” to “Ally
McBeal” to “Boston Legal” – David Kelley hit a slowdown. He bounced back with
the dandy pilot film that reruns here.

Robin Williams stars as a former advertising star whose
passion for the business has drained. The great moments, however, come from Sarah
Michelle Gellar and James Wolk, who push hard to sign Kelly Clarkson for a McDonald’s

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Over the Hedge” (2006), 8-10 p.m.,

It’s family-film night. On cable, there’s a dandy Muppets
double-feature, airing in reverse order – “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984)
and “The Muppet Movie” (1979), at 7 and 9 p.m. on ABC Family. And on ABC, there’s
this fairly good animated film.

A raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) has stolen the food from
a bear … who really wants it replaced. The solution is to trick the other
animals into swiping from a sub-division. Wild sight gags follow.

Other choices include:

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), 6-8:30 p.m., Syfy. Steven
Spielberg crafted one of the great adventures.

“How I Met Your Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS. As the wedding nears,
Barney learns that Ted still has a thing for Robin. He takes it out on him
during a tough poker game.

Movies, 8 and 9 p.m., cable. Here are master filmmakers. At
8 p.m. on IFC is “No Country for Old Men” (2007), the Coen Brothers’ quietly eloquent
Oscar-winner for best picture. At 9 on Sundance is “The Pianist” (2002), a compelling
true story that won Oscars for Adrien Brody and director Roman Polanski.

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of last
season’s finale, an explosion in the Pacific triggers fresh efforts to find the
stolen nuclear device. Sam goes undercover with his wife (Aunjanue Ellis).

“Bones,” 9 p.m., Fox. This rerun has a new scheme to catch
the sly Pelant: Fix up a body to look like a killer is copying his style.
Meanwhile, Sweets is back and is suspicious of FBI Agent Flynn.

“Agents of SHIELD,” 10 p.m., ABC. This rerun offers the rare
case of a TV series linking with a movie. The SHIELD people deal with the
aftermath of “Thor: The Dark World.”

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m. (or later, with football
overrun), NBC. The show pauses for highlights from the first half of the season.

TV column for Friday, Jan. 5

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: Football, 7:30 p.m. Fox and 8:30 p.m.,

In the old days, the whole bowl bash wrapped up on an
overcrowded New Year’s Day. Now, instead, we get small bowls Saturday and
Sunday, the national championship Monday and these two big ones.

Fox has the Cotton Bowl, which has been around since 1935 in
the Dallas area; Missouri (11-2 and ranked No. 8 in the nation, faces Oklahoma
State (10-2), No. 13. ESPN has the Orange Bowl, which has been around since ‘37
in Miami. Ohio State (12-1), No. 7, faces Clemson (10-2), No. 12.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: Mark Twain Prize, 9 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

Filled with clever presenters, this humor award tends to
(appropriately) pack in the laughs.

In this rerun, we see Carol Burnett become the 16th
winner of the prize. She’s only the fifth woman to win, but the third in the
past four years, following Tina Fey and Ellen DeGeneres.

Fey will be a presenter, along with Amy Poehler, Maya
Rudolph, Martin Short, Tony Bennett, Lucie Arnaz and people linked closely to
Burnett’s career – Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence and Julie Andrews.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “We Are Marshall” (2006), 7-9 p.m.,

As the bowl season wraps up, it’s a good time to see this
quietly involving film about the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed
the Marshall University football players.

What could have been a cliché film added extra depth as it
viewed the recovery efforts in a small West Virginia town. A talented director
(McG) had a top cast, with Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox as coaches and
David Strathairn as the college president who insisted the team would return;
it did and, among other things, won the Military Bowl last Friday in Annapolis,
beating Maryland 31-20.

Other choices include:

“Last Man Standing,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. The first rerun
finds Mandy considering joining a sorority. The second has Mike (Tim Allen)
opposing his neighbor’s run for school board.

“Batman” (1989) and “Batman Returns” (1992), 8 and 11 p.m.,
AMC. Michael Keaton stars in two big-budget adventures, stylishly directed by
Tim Burton.

“Grimm” and “Dracula,” 9-11 p.m., NBC, The horror series are
back with new episodes. First, a “healer” brings danger. Then we find that
Grayson (Count Dracula’s new identity) has successfully become almost
invulnerable to sunlight; also, Renfield heads to Budapest, in search of a
mysterious artifact.

“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds McGarrett
taken hostage during a camping trip.

“Burn Notice,” 9-11 p.m., Ion. Here’s a rerun of this show’s
slick, smart opener. We see an agent cut off by the CIA, mid-mission. He barely
survives and retreats to Miami, where he needs back-up from some shaky souls,
including his mom (Sharon Gless) and a conniving colleague (Bruce Campbell).

“Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, Danny (Donnie
Wahlberg) pursues a bank-robbing duo in the Bonnie-and-Clyde mode. They’ve
injured a bystander and stolen an off-duty cop’s gun.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 2

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Community” season-opener, 8 and 8:30
p.m., NBC.

After four years, Jeff (Joel McHale) has finally graduated
from community college and returned to the real world … where he has no money,
skills or future. His last possessions are being hauled away.

Then comes an opportunity to destroy (or maybe save) his old
college. Soon, the study group is back and Jeff – who always ignored teachers –
is teaching.

Tonight marks the return of Dan Harmon, who created the
show, then was dumped by NBC. With big, broad strokes, “Community” is
inconsistent, but has enough big laughs to make us glad it’s back.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Taste” season-opener and “The
Assets” debut, 8 and 10 p.m., ABC.

Here’s one way to keep the serialized successes (“Grey’s
Anatomy” and “Scandal”) fresh: They get long, mid-season breaks, while
temporary shows fill in.

First, “Taste” takes the “Voice” and “X Factor” approach:
Four celebrities each mentor a team of contestants; then make blind judgments,
not knowing who cooked or what it is. Nigella Lawson, the British author and TV
personality, joins chefs Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre and Marcus Samuelsson.

Then “Assets” is an eight-week mini-series, based on the
memoirs of Sandy Grimes. The story starts in 1985, with a mole somewhere in the
CIA; Grimes – living a double life as a CIA agent and a wife and mother – tries
to find his identity before the Russian contacts are discovered.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Parenthood” return, 10 p.m., NBC.

Beautifully acted, this show still varies widely from one
plotline to the next. One story – the aftermath of Julia being kissed by a PTA
colleague – plays like bad soap opera; others have depth and quality.

In one, Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), whose wife is away,
reluctantly bonds with a fellow Vietnam vet. In another, a confrontation with Max
leads Hank (Ray Romano) to dig into the details of his syndrome. That brings to
an extraordinary scene, with a surprisingly perfect drama performance by

Other choices include:

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. After weeks of reruns
and specials, CBS has a full night of new episodes. That starts with TV’s best
comedy: Penny’s dormant acting career almost gets a break, then crumbles anew,
leading to a key moment with Leonard

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), 8-11:15 p.m.,
FX. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s odd tale – born an old man, Benjamin ages backward –
was beautifully directed by David Fincher (“The Social Network”). It won three
technical Oscars and was nominated for 10 more, including for Brad Pitt and
Taraji Henson.

Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. Alabama expected to be in the
national championship game; then a failed field goal was returned for a
touchdown. ‘Bama (11-1) settles for the Sugar Bowl, with Oklahoma (10-2).

“The Crazy Ones,” 9 p.m., CBS. Assigned the ad account for a
videogame company, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar) soon obsesses on the games.

“Elementary,” 10 p.m., CBS. Still adjusting to the fact that
this Dr. Watson is a woman, Sherlock Holmes fans are now coping with the fact
that Moriarty is also female. She’s back tonight; as a consultant on a
kidnapping case, working with her ex-enemy Sherlock.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 1

TODAY’S MUST-SEE: Parade, 11 a.m. ET, NBC, ABC, HGTV,
Hallmark, RFD TV and Univision.

Each year, the Tournament of Roses parade offers two hours
of sheer excess.

This year, that includes 44 floats, 16 horse units and lots
of music. Some of the music comes from the 21 marching bands; the rest from
atop some of the floats. An NBC float has Tessanne Chin, the new “Voice”
champion; an RFD one has Daryl Hall, others have Natalie Cole and KC & the
Sunshine Band.

It’s a big day for Hallmark, which has a preview at 10 a.m.
and a parade rerun until 4 p.m. And a bigger cay for HGTV, which annually has
the parade commercial-free, followed by a day of specials.

TODAY’S MUST-SEE II: Football, all day.

The big one is the 100th Rose Bowl, with Michigan
State (12-1 and ranked No. 4) and Stanford (11-2, No. 5). That’s 5 p.m. ET, the
mid-section of ESPN’s triple-header: At 1 p.m., the Outback Bowl has Louisiana
State (9-3, No. 16) and Iowa (8-4); at 8:30, the Fiesta Bowl has Baylor (No. 6)
and Central Florida (No. 15), each 11-1.

There are two noon bowls – Georgia (No. 22) and Nebraska,
each 8-4, on ESPN2; Las Vegas (7-5) and North Texas (8-4) on ESPNU. At 1 p.m.,
ABC has South Carolina (10-2, No. 9) and Wisconsin (9-3, No. 19).

TODAY’S ALTERNATIVE: “Island Hunters,” 1 and 1:30 p.m., HGTV,
and more.

Fresh from its parade coverage, HGTV has shows with varying
titles and a consistent theme – living in sunshine and warmth. In a six-hour
stretch, it visits Belize, Georgian Bay, St. Croix, Hawaii and more.

That pauses for “Living Alaska” at 7 and 7:30 p.m.; at 8,
HGTV introduces its annual “Dream Home” – this one at Lake Tahoe – that one
viewer will win.

Other choices include:

“Hawaii Five-0,” 8 p.m., CBS. A night of CBS reruns starts
with McGarrett trying to craft a reunion of his estranged mother (Christine
Lahti) and sister (Taryn Manning).

“The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. The ABC rerun night starts with
Sue getting a mall job. Meanwhile, Brick’s new principal (Rachel Dratch) has
bad news and Axl hates his college roommates.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of the
season-opener, the adults scheme for a kid-free week.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Fox. Amy has a tough
time in two holiday reruns. In the first, she needs a costume for undercover
Halloween duty; in the second, she tries to impress the captain with a
Thanksgiving party … only to see him race out on a case.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS. Five bodies
have been found at what looks like a meteor site. Finlay (Elisabeth Shue) recognizes
one of them and re-visits her past.   

“The Soup,” 10 p.m., E. This is Joel McHale’s big week.
Tonight, he hosts the second part of the show’s annual look at year’s high and
(especially) low points; on Thursday, he has some funny moments as NBC finally
airs the season-opener of “Community.”