TV column for Sunday, Dec. 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Survivor”
finale, 8 p.m., CBS; reunion at 10.

This Nicaragua edition started as a
tribal battle between young and old.

That part basically broke even;
Wednesday's semi-final had three from each tribe, before Jane Bright,
56, was ousted. She took the ultimate exit strategy – dousing the
campfire she had started.

Now five have a shot at tonight's
million-dollar prize. Jud “Fabio” Birza, 21, is a student and
surfer from Venice, Cal.; Chase Rice, 24, is a race-car driver from
Fairview, N.C.; Matthew “Sash” Lenahan, 30, is a real-estate
broker from New York; Holly Hoffman, 44, is a swim coach from Eureka,
S.D.; Dan Lembo, 63, is a real-estate executive and teacher from
Watermill, NY.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Leverage”
season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., TNT.

This smart series has scam artists
trying to out-scheme the bad guys. Tonight, they confront the
dangerous Damien Moreau (Goran Visnjic of “ER) and the mystery
woman (Elisabetta Canalis).

First, they must stop Moreau from
killing an engineer and selling her secrets to terrorists. Then they
tail him to his home turf, where he has the government on his side.

Other choices include:

– “Gold Rush: Alaska,” 2-5 p.m.,
Discovery; 10 p.m. and midnight, TLC. Viewers quickly root for these
Oregon guys, battered by the recession, who risk everything. The
first three episodes (which aired on Fridays) rerun today on
Discovery; then the first is on TLC, alongside “Sarah Palin's
Alaska.”

– Animation, 4 p.m. to midnight, ABC
Family. First are some OK cartoons – “The Year Without Santa
Claus” at 4 p.m. and “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town” at 5. Then
are two superb movies – “Toy Story” (1995) at 6 p.m., “Toy
Story 2” (1999) at 8 and 10 p.m.

– “The Santa Clause 2” (2002) and
“The Santa Clause 3” (2006), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC. The first
“Clause” was terrific; these sequels provide a sorta-fun
double-feature. In “2,” Santa (Tim Allen) needs a wife; in “3,”
he faces a conniving Jack Frost (Martin Short).

– “The Simpsons,” 7-8:30 p.m.
(barring a football overrun). In a change, Fox puts three reruns
back-to-back. The first and third involve Lisa's college plans; she
learns about her mom's academic downfall and tries to beef up her
resume by coaching little league. The second is the recent “Treehouse
of Horror”; two of the tales – deadly board games and a
“Twilight” take-off – are terrific.

– “Marry Me,” 7-11 p.m.,
Lifetime. Here's one more chance to see this romantic-comedy
mini-series, wittily written by Barbara Hall, the “Joan of Arcadia”
creator. Lucy Liu stars.

– “Battle of the Bulbs,” 8 p.m.,
Hallmark. The opening is jaunty, complete with narration (in verse)
and quick-cut editing. Then “Bulbs” stretches, as former friends
battle over Christmas decorations.

– “Masterpiece Contemporary,” 9
p.m., PBS. Here's a rerun of the the beautifully crafted,
Emmy-nominated “Endgame” (2009), depicting the secret
negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa. Jonny Lee Miller,
Chiwetel Ejiofor and William Hurt are subtly perfect.

– “Sarah Palin's Alaska, 9 p.m.,
TLC; repeats at 11. Transportation takes all forms – an RV,
white-water rafting, ATV's and dog-sledding on a glacier. That's
preceded by reruns at 7 p.m. (caribou-hunting with Palin's dad above
the Arctic circle) and 8 (camping with a grumpy Kate Gosselin and her
kids).

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Madagascar”
(2005), 9-11 p.m., ABC.

This animated film has turned into a
media empire. There's been a sequel, a delightful kids' series
(“Penguins of Madagascar” on Nickelodeon) and a prime-time
special.

That all started with this film, in
which a perverse zebra wants to leave the comfy New York zoo. Soon,
the animals are dumped in the jungle; they're wildly unqualified to
be there.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Marry Me,”
9 p.m. to 1 a.m., Lifetime; repeats, 7-11 p.m. Sunday.

Unlike the other December movies, this
has much wit and no references to Christmas. Barbara Hall, the “Joan
of Arcadia” creator, has fashioned smart characters, then given
them clever dialog.

A woman (Lucy Liu) is convinced she'll
never marry. Then two guys propose to her and another loves her
quietly; also, a smart-mouthed teen stirs things up.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Battle of the
Bulbs,” 8 and 10 p.m., Hallmark; also, 8 p.m. Sunday.

Two guys have been best friends, worst
enemies and distant strangers. Now one moves across the street from
the other, just in time for a battle over who has the biggest,
brashest Christmas lights.

Other movies (“Deck the Halls,”
“Christmas Lights”) have struggled with this; indeed, “Bulbs”
would be better at half this length. Still, it has a clever
introduction (in verse), some sharp cross-cutting between the two
families and snippets of a Romeo-and-Juliet romance.

Other choices include:

– Cartoons, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., ABC
Family. This is Christmas-in-bulk – a marathon of old animation,
much of it so-so. If you're patient, great things are ahead –
“WALL-E” (2008) at 6 p.m,, “Toy Story” (1995) at 8 p.m. and
(after a 10 p.m. “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town”) “Happy Feet”
at 11.

– “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), 7
and 9:15 p.m., TNT. Here are two more chances to see this great film.

– “I Want a Dog for Christmas,” 8
p.m., ABC. Add one more piece to the animation overload. This cartoon
– assembled from comic strips by the late Charles Schulz – has
ReRun hoping Snoopy's odd brother Spike can visit for the holiday.

– “The Office,” 8-9 p.m., NBC. In
a rerun, Holly (Amy Ryan) fills in as human resources director.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
8 p.m., CBS. This reruns has two people killed in a gun store.

– “Billy Elliot” (2000), 8-10:30
p.m., BBC America. Long before this became a hit Broadway musical, it
was a wonderful movie about a boy in a tough mining town, who wants
to be a dancer.

– “CSI: Miami,” 9 p.m., CBS. In
this rerun, a customer is killed during a jewelry-store robbery.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. Here's one more rerun: To gain freedom, the
suspect in a child-rape case is ready to identify someone else.

– “Ricky Gervais: Out of England
2,” 10 p.m., HBO. Gervais manages to offend many people, while
joking about everything from religion to pedophiles. Still, he
manages to do it with an engaging charm. The first half-hour is
so-so, but once he begins his Noah's-ark analysis, Gervais is in top
form.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Jeff Bridges – suddenly starring in two remakes (“TRON”
and “True Grit”) hosts; Eminem is the music guest.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Christmas in Washington," 8 p.m.; and "Wizard of Oz" (1939), 9 p.m., Turner Classic Movies.

This classy night starts in the splendor of a national museum. Great voices -- Mariah Carey, Annie Lennox, Andrea Bocelli -- perform. So do pop stars -- Maxwell, Miranda Cosgrove of "iCarly" and Matthe Morrison, the "Glee" star and Tony nominee. Ellen DeGeneres hosts.

Then comes another showing of "Oz," with enough magic and music for kids or grown-ups.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "Vampire "Diaries," 8 and 9 p.m., CW.

This wraps up the five-day effort, repeating all 10 episodes that have aired this season. If you catch these two, at least, you'll be set to jump into the new ones.

Tonight's first hour gives Elena a tour of Katherine's nasty past, in 15th-century Bulgaria. The second involves a terrible idea -- going to the Lockwood cellar.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: "Frosty the Snowman," CBS, or "WALL-E" (2008), ABC Family; both 8:30 p.m.

Take your choice of animated show -- traditional or computer, kind of fun or sometimes stunning.

"Frosty" is perfectly pleasant, with a jaunty song and a brisk style. "WALL-E" is much more, daringly crafting an oft-wordless film about a lonely robot on a planet that exhausted its resources. In the great Pixar style, it manages to be moving for adults and fun for kids.

Other choices include:

-- "The Incredibles" (2004), 6-8:30 p.m., ABC Family. Leading into "WALL-E," here's another animated pleasure. It brings laughs and action, as a family of superheroes tries suburban anonymity.

-- "Yes, Virginia," 8 p.m., CBS. This relatively new animated special is built around the real-life reply to a girl's letter to the editor.

-- "An Old-Fashioned Christmas" (2010), 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. There's a feeling of class to this film, with Irish settings, Jacqueline Bisset and characters from a Louisa May Alcott story. That partly makes up for the fact that the story is fairly stiff.

-- "Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl" (1982), 8:15 p.m., Independent Film Channel. Some great sketches are revived in this concert film. Rounding out a fun evening, IFC focuses on David Cross with reruns of "Todd Margaret" and "Arrested Development," at 10 and 10:30 p.m.

-- "Frosty Returns," 9 p.m., CBS. This sequel is a mess, short on charm and magic.

-- "I Get That a Lot," 9:30 p.m., CBS. Highlights from previous specials are assembled, with celebrities slipping into ordinary duties.

-- "Blue Bloods," 10 p.m., CBS. A bomb is set to go off somewhere in Miami. Frank (Tom Selleck), the police commissioner, leads the search with his son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), a police detective.

-- "Gold Rush: Alaska," 10 p.m., Discovery. Last week, we saw the guys prepare a makeshift camp in the Alaskan hills; they set up generators and even shot a bear. Now comes a bigger challenge: The place must be livable for their wives and children, who are pahing a summertime visit.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 15


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

Here's this year's second and final
chance to catch this gem. It has it all – from satire to Scripture,
from warmth and poignancy to a dog doing a funny dance.

None of this seems contrived, because
it's done with such simplicity. Everything about it – the
animation, the children's voices, the piano score – is unforced and
endearing. Rounding out the hour is a seven-minute short with Betty
White as the voice of Mrs. Claus.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Funniest
Commercials of the Year,” 10 p.m., TBS.

Each year, this special is stuffed with
clever commercials. Some are familiar; others – often the most
outrageous ones – weren't shown in the U.S.

Isaiah Mustafa, known for his
bare-chested Old Spice commercial, hosts. Guests are Jonathan
Goldsmith, who is billed as “the most interesting man in the
world,” and David Hasselhoff, who is not.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Gift of
the Magi,” 8 and 10 p.m., Hallmark; and/or “It's Always Sunny in
Philadelphia,” 10 and 10:30 p.m., FX.

Here are the polar opposites of
Christmas stories – one sweet, one cynical.

“Magi” is O. Henry's 1906 tale of a
man and wife, short of money for Christmas gifts. It's been made into
a 1917 silent film, a 1978 Debby Boone TV movie and a 2004 short, 16
minutes long. That may be the ideal length for this slight story;
maybe the always-likable Marla Sokoloff can keep us watching.

“Sunny” has possibly the
least-sunny tale in Christmas history, filled with revenge. It's
spotty, but one moment – a naked Danny DeVito, emerging from inside
the sofa at an office party – is memorable.

Other choices include:

– “Finding Nemo” (2003) and “The
Incredibles” (2004), 6 and 8:30 p.m., ABC Family. It's a
double-feature of great Pixar films. Each mixes splendid visuals with
a story about family; each won an Academy Award for best animated
feature.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Willing to do anything to win a comic-store costume party,
Sheldon invites Zack – Penny's muscular boyfriend – to play
Superman. This brings resentment – especially from Leonard,
formerly the Superman and formerly Penny's lover.

– “Grey's Anatomy” (ABC) or “CSI:
Crime Scene Investigation” (CBS), 9 p.m. Both shows rerun their
season-openers. For “CSI,” that means Justin Bieber as a
dangerous teen; for “Anatomy,” it means the aftermath of the
hospital shoot-out.

– “Larry King Live,” 9 p.m., CNN.
It's the final new episode for King, who took over the show 26 years
ago, providing a ratings boost for a once-obscure news network.

– “The Queen” (2006), 9-11 p.m.,
BBC America. Written and played with depth and detail, this shows
Queen Elizabeth, stunned by the waves of grief the public showed for
her former daughter-in-law Diana. Helen Mirren got a richly deserved
Oscar.

– “Burn Notice,” 9 and 10 p.m.,
USA. The season ends with Michael facing endless trouble – first a
blackmailer, then an assault team.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Poisoned and dying, a woman wants her killer found.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 15


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS; and “Hell's Kitchen,” 9 p.m., Fox.

This is finale week for the network
reality shows. “Biggest Loser” picked a winner Tuesday, “Hell's
Kitchen” does tonight and “Survivor” will on Sunday.

For now, “Survivor” has six people
left; tonight, there's an emotional visit from people back home.

Then “Hell's Kitchen” has its final
face-off between Nona Sivley and Russell Kook II. When this edition
started, each was 29 and a sous chef; Sivley (a Texas native) was
living near Atlanta; Kook (a native of Madison, Wis.) was in Chicago.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Paris: The
Luminous Years,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

For a quarter-century, beginning in
1905, Paris was the artistic center of the universe. It offered low
costs, a willing audience and a cafe culture where artists could chat
for hours.

Key people fostered talent. D.H.
Kahnweiler exhibited Pablo Picasso and others, when their cubist
style was new. Gertrude Stein collected and heralded their work and
(until their falling-out) nurtured Ernest Hemingway. Serge Diaghilev
imported the Russian ballet greats, then added set designs from the
masters. Working from a tiny book story, Sylvia Beach published
“Ulysses” and promoted it tirelessly.

This is a fascinating story;
writer-director Perry Adato skillfully mixes old quotes and modern
experts.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Happy Feet”
(2006), 8 p.m., Disney; or “Finding Nemo” (2003), 8:30 p.m., ABC
Family.

Here are two masterful movies. Each won
the Academy Award for best animated feature; each mixed stunning
visuals with a clever story.

“Feet” is in an Antarctic world
where penguins distinguish themselves only by singing; then one dares
to dance. “Nemo” is in an undersea world; a timid clownfish tries
to rescue his captured son.

Other choices include:

– More animation, 5:30-8:30 p.m.,
cable. At 5:30 p.m., Cartoon Network reruns the splendid “How the
Grinch Stole Christmas.” Then switch to ABC Family; it has a
collection of Pixar shorts at 6 p.m., followed by “Disney's Prep &
Landing” at 8.

– “Elf” (2003), 7-9 p.m., USA.
Here's a fun alternative to all those cartoons. Will Ferrell plays a
6-foot-3 chap who never noticed he didn't fit in with the North Pole
elves. Sweet-spirited and naïve, he enters the other world. There's
strong support from Zooey Deschanel, Bo Newhart, Ed Asner and more.

– “The Sing-Off,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.
Tonight, we'll learn which groups will be in Monday's finale.

– “Human Target,” 8 p.m., Fox. A
client can't remember who he is or why people want to kill him.

– “Modern Family,” 9 and 9:30
p.m., ABC. In a change, ABC has six comedy reruns tonight. These two
have Claire (Julie Bowen) struggling with family details. In the
first, she wants people to turn off their electronic devices; in the
second, she's overly involved with her younger daughter's romance.

– “Psych,” 9 and 10 p.m., USA.
New episodes air back-to-back. First, Shawn botches a case and dreams
of what life would be like without him; then he feels a bear has been
falsely accused of murder.

– “Cougar Town,” 10:01 and 10:31
p.m., ABC. Here are two more comedy reruns. Laurie professes her love
for Smith in the first one … then breaks up with him in the second.