TV column for Monday, Dec. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “1600 Penn”
debut, 9:31 p.m., NBC.

During Bill Pullman's previous
presidency (in “Independence Day”), he only had to worry about
saving the planet from aliens. Now he has bigger woes, in this
advance peak at a show that arrives Jan. 10.

His son (Josh Gad) has the good
intentions of a golden retriever, but not the good sense. His spouse
(Jenna Elfman) must explain to school kids what “trophy wife”
means. Also, his daughter's pregnant.

There's more, including an
international conference at the White House. The result is ragged,
but fun.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Gossip Girl”
finale, 8-10 p.m., CW.

For five-and-a-half seasons, “Girl”
has drawn a tiny audience – it recently finished dead-last among
118 shows in the weekly Nielsen ratings – yet has created stars,
fashion trends and conversations.

Now it concludes its 10-episode
mini-season. At a party, characters learn who has been writing those
texts under the name “gossip girl.” Clips and interviews round
out the night.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Extreme
Makeover: Home Edition,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

Here's the episode that ABC scheduled
for last Monday, then – quite late – pushed back a week.

At the core is a North Carolina family
that had been taking care of one or two foster kids at a time. Then
it learned that the latest one, a teen boy, has four siblings. Soon,
it adopted all five.

Now the team creates a new house. There
are splendid little touches (including a cozy study nook) inside and
big ones outside – including a drive-in movie theater, complete
with screen and pseudo-cars.

Other choices include:

– “The Voice,”8-9:31 p.m., NBC.
Three people get one more chance to impress viewers, before a
champion is announced Tuesday. Two – Cassadee Pope, 22, and Terry
McDermott, 35 – are from Blake Shelton's team; Nicholas David,
31,is from Cee Lo Green's.

– “How I Met Your Mother,”8-9
p.m., CBS. In an expanded, holiday episode, Barney is ready to
propose to Patrice. Ted isn't sure he should tell Robin.

– “Dreamworks Dragons,” 8 p.m.,
Fox. The “How to Train Your Dragon” characters star in a new
cartoon. The dragons have vanished for the holiday, leaving the
humans lonely and curious.

– “Ice Age: Mammoth Christmas,”
8:30 p.m., Fox. This drolly clever cartoon rerun finds Sid the Sloth
on a mission to the North Pole, to get off the naughty list.
Reluctantly, Manny follows him.

– “Happiness Is a Warm Blanket,
Charlie Brown,” 9-10 p.m., Fox. This quietly entertaining film, a
direct-to-video release last year, finds forces threatening Linus'
security blanket.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m., CBS.
They've barely opened their cupcake shop, but Max and Caroline
already have to scramble to pay the rent. That leaves them dealing
with some shady characters.

– “Picture Paris,” 9 p.m., HBO. A
former “Saturday Night Live” star and TV writer, Brad Hall seemed
to disappear after producing “Watching Ellie” – starring his
wife, Julia Louis-Dreyfus – in 2002-3. Now he's back, writing and
directing this half-hour gem. Louis-Dreufus plays an American who
obsesses on her trip to Paris. She gets there, amid sudden (and quite
funny) surprises.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Carjackers should really make better choices; tonight, one tries to
take McGarrett's car. Also, McGarrett and Katherine (Michelle Borth)
search for a missing dad.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Survivor”
finale, about 8:30 p.m., with reunion at 10:30, CBS.

Early in 2001, Michael Skupin seemed to
be dominating “Survivor.” Then his face fell into a fire and the
show had its first medical evacuation.

Now, almost a dozen years later, Skupin
has his second chance. At 50, he's back in the final four.

So is Lisa Whelchel, 49, the former
“Facts of Life” star, now a mother of three in Dallas.And Denise
Stanley, 41, a sex therapist from Iowa, And Malcolm Freberg. 25, a
California bartender. Tonight, one of them will win $1million.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II:“Bachelorette”
wedding, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

These shows rarely produce marriages;
you know.“The Bachelor” is 1-for-16; “Bachelorette” is
2-for-8.

So the second “Bachelorette”
wedding, which was held Dec.1, gets primetime treatment, We see
Ashley Hebert, 28, a dental grad student, marry J.P. Rosenbaum, 35, a
construction manager.

This special catches the planning, the
bachelor party and a bachelorette party, complete with stripper pole.
(Hebert, who's already proven she may be the sexiest dancer in dental
school, might give it a try.) There are also two songs by Lisa
Donnelly, a former Kansan who's big in Los Angeles clubs.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “A Christmas
Carol,” all day, cable.

We can choose our own Scrooge today.
There's Jim Carrey (2009) at 3 p.m. on Disney; Grouchy Smurf (2011)
at 5:30 p.m on Cartoon; and Alastair Sim (1951) at 9:30 p.m. on
Turner Classic Movies.There's also George C. Scott in a splendid,
1984 film at 8 p.m., 10:30 p.m. and 1 a.m., on AMC.

The odd variation is “Carol For
Another Christmas” (1964), at 8 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies. Rod
Serling was commissioned to write about one of the United Nations
projects. His film has Peter Sellers as a war-monger, visited by
three ghosts who show him peacekeeping efforts.

Other choices include:

– “November Christmas” (2010), 6
p.m., Hallmark. Here's an understated gem, one of TV's finest
Christmas movies. Without a maudlin moment, it captures a rush to
give a girl what may be her last Christmas. John Corbett, Sam Elliott
and others capture the rock-solid quality of small-town lives. It's
followed by another classy “Hallmark Hall of Fame” film,
“Christmas With Holly” (2012), at 8 p.m.

– “America's Funniest Home Videos”
and “Wipeout,” 7 and 8 p.m., ABC. Both have holiday specials.

– “Family Guy,” 9 p.m., Fox.
There's a Christmas theme to tonight's cartoons, from 7:30-10 p.m.
This one has Peter telling his version of the Nativity story, with
family members filling the roles.

– “Royal Pains Wedding,” 9-11
p.m., USA. The real-life “Bachelorette” wedding competes with
this fictional one. As a blizzard nears, Hank's brother Evan (Paulo
Costanzo) weds Paige. She's played by Brooke D'Orsay, who has spent
the last two “Two and a Half Men” episodes as Walden's lover.

– “Dexter,” 9 p.m., Showtime. As
the second-to-last season ends, LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) seems to be
closing in on Dexter and his sister Debra.

– “Homeland,” 10 p.m., Showtime.
The second-season finale finds turning points for Carrie and Brody
(Emmy-winners Claire Danes and Damian Lewis) and a secret mission for
Saul (Mandy Patinkin).

TV column for Saturday, Dec.15


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

Back in 1984, “SNL” was crumbling
in quality and in ratings. Its solution was to bring in Martin Short
(with his Ed Grimley character), Billy Crystal, Harry Shearer,
Christopher Guest and more.

They only stayed a year, but they saved
the show. Short hasn't been back since 1996, but now – a week after
Jamie Foxx and one of the best “SNL” nights – he hosts; Paul
McCartney is music guest.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Elf” (2003),
8-10 p.m., CBS.

Cable networks are stuffed with movies.
Now the broadcast people join in.

Will Ferrell, who's 6-foot-3, plays
someone startled to learn he's not an elf. He leaves the North Pole
and finds the quirks of life in the real world.

That's a so-so plot, similar to Steve
Martin's 1979 “The Jerk,” but “Elf” has sharp direction (from
Jon Favreau) and a great cast, with Bob Newhart, James Caan, Ed Asner
and a charming Zooey Deschanel.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “My Fair
Wedding” season-finale, 9 p.m., WE.

The bride quickly tells wedding-planner
David Tutera that “I need to be the star of the show.” That
doesn't surprised him; another statement – “glitter is my
favorite color” – does.

This is Rachel Reilly, former “Big
Brother” winner and “Amazing Race” contestant, marrying fellow
reality star Brendon Villegas. Tutera soon refers to her (plus her
mom and sister) as “the crazy train.” He creates a gorgeous
reception, but she still manages a wondrously ugly finish.

Other choices include:

– Football, 1 and 4:30 p.m., ESPN.
The bowl season starts now – 17 days before New Year's Day. The New
Mexico Bowl has Nevada and Arizona (both 7-5) in Albuquerque. Then
the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl has two not-really-famous teams; Toledo
(9-3) and Utah State (10-2), in Boise.

– “Toy Story” (1995) and “Toy
Story 2” (1999), 6 and 8 p.m., ABC Family. Here are the gems that
launched the surge of computer-animated movies. Both had clever
writing and catchy music; the first drew an Oscar nomination for its
script; each was nominated for a Randy Newman song.

– “Transformers” (2007), 8-11
p.m., ABC. A fairly good kids' cartoon was transformed into a zesty
adventure. It has a clever script (from the producers of “Fringe”
and “Hawaii Five-0”), brisk direction (from Michael Bay) and
likable young stars (Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox).

– “Chicago Fire,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.
Still struggling to draw viewers, this show gets a chance to rerun
three episodes, with their entwining stories. One has Casey (Jesse
Spencer) ready to testify against a cop's son; another (already used
in “Southland”) has Severide seeking drugs to cover up his
injury.

– “Cinderella” (1950), 8:30-10
p.m., Disney. Yes, it;s a great movie night. This has gorgeous
animation and top songs: “So This Is Love,” “Bibbidi Bobbidi
Boo” and “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

– “Hitched for the Holidays”
(2012), 10 p.m. to midnight, Hallmark. To keep their families happy,
two attractive strangers pretend to be dating. The result veers
between pretty good comedy and badly contrived drama. Joseph Lawrence
is good; Emily Hampshire is instantly, immensely likable.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Christmas overload,
8 p.m. everywhere.

The holiday fills up our TV set at 8.
That includes four movies plus NBC's rerun of its Blake Shelton
special, with Miranda Lambert, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson and
Reba McEntire.

And there are cartoons, old and new.
CBS has the 1964 “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” leading into
the 2009 “Yes, Virginia” at 9 and the 2011 “Elf on the Shelf”
at 9:30 ABC Family counters with the 1970 “Santa Claus is Comin' to
Town.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Vanessa (Nancy Travis) has a sudden
scheme: If their three daughters and grandson left, she and Mike (Tim
Allen) could have a quiet Christmas at home.

The result is mixed; Mike is actually
cruel to one daughter and she retaliates. Still, a sub-plot – an
extreme hunting error by his boss (Hector Elizondo) – brings big
laughs.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Great
Performances,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

Wrapping up a hot year, the Beatles
debuted “Magical Mystery Tour” on English TV on Dec. 26, 1967.

It was a color film shown in
black-and-white, an artful film shown to a general audience. “A lot
of people were looking for a plot and there wasn't one,” Paul
McCartney says here.

“Tour” simply put the Beatles on a
bus, alongside character actors and others, with odd scenes and six
songs. “It was like a little home movie, actually,” George
Harrison said.

Modern audiences, accustomed to music
videos, will find the film (shown at 10 p.m.) mildly entertaining.
The real fun, however, is the first hour, relating the bizarre
history of this mystery tour.

Other choices include:

– “Big Cat Week finale, 7 p.m. to 3
a.m., Nat Geo Wild. Four of this year's new films rerun. The fairly
interesting “Snow Leopard of Afghanistan” is 7 p.m. and 2 a.m.,
with “Attack of the Big Cats” at 8 and 11 p.m., “Tiger Dynasty”
at 9 p.m. and midnight and “Cheetah: Fatal Instinct” at 10 p.m.
and 1 a.m.

– Christmas movies, 8 p.m. The gem is
“Eloise at Christmastime” (2003) on Hallmark, a warm-hearted and
great-looking film about a little girl in a big hotel. CW has
“Prancer Returns” (2001), Disney has Jim Carrey in “A Christmas
Carol” (2009) and Lifetime has “Holly's Holiday” (2012).

– “Malibu Country,” 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. Reba, a terrific singer, expects to be chosen as the church
soloist. She isn't, in a story that's strained and predictable, but
does have scattered funny moments.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. Walter
is desperate to remember a plan that would defeat the Observers. He
risks his already-fragile mind by taking a memory trip via LSD.

– “Restless” conclusion, 9-11
p.m., Sundance. In the opener, a 1960s woman (Michelle Dockery) was
stunned to learn her mother (Charlotte Rampling) is in danger because
of her 1940s work as a spy. Now flashbacks (with the superb Hayley
Atwell) bring smart twists and surprises.

– “20/20,” 10 p.m., ABC. Barbara
Walters talks to Barack Obama, then has a joint interview with him
and Michelle Obama. Then Michelle offers a tour of the holiday White
House.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. In
a rerun from last year, a heart attack to Henry (Len Carious) brings
together his son (Tom Selleck), grandchildren and
great-grandchildren.

– “Portlandia,” 10:30 p.m., IFC.
The new season of this terrific comedy is three weeks away, but
here's a “bonus episode,” acknowledging Portland's winter woes. A
main story (about pasta excess) is so-so, but there are great bits
with Jim Gaffigan, Matt Lucas (of “Little Britain”) and Bobby
Moynihan.

– Stand-up comedy, 11 p.m. and
midnight, Comedy Central. A rerun with the brilliant Demitri Martin
is followed by a quietly clever hour with Eugene Mirman.

TV column for Thursday, Dec.13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The X Factor,”
8 p.m., Fox.

Bruno Mars has been everywhere lately –
singing on the “Victoria's Secret Fashion Show,” hosting and
singing on “Saturday Night Live.” Now he has his second “X
Factor” performance of the season.

Then we learn who will be in next
week's finale. Tate Stevens, 37, and Carly Rose Sonenclar, 13, are in
the final four, alongside two teen groups. Fifth Harmony and Emblem3.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Scandal,”
10:02 p.m., ABC.

Last week's episode – sometimes
overwrought, always compelling – changed everything.

Fitz, the president, was shot. Sally
Langston, the vice-president, seized the interim presidency while he
lingered near death. Cyrus, the chief-of-staff who had cheated her
early in the presidency, raged.

Flashbacks showed that the First Lady
had long known about Olivia's affair with Fitz – and that Hollis,
the oil man, planned the fatal explosion that Quinn is accused of.
Now Olivia, back in the Oval office, forms a wary link with Langston,
while hoping for Fitz's recovery and searching for the shooter.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Glee,” 9
p.m., Fox.

For its holiday special, the show has
four mini-musicals, linking in the style of “Love, Actually.”

Jake and Puck celebrate Hanukkah, Kurt
has a memorable Christmas and Artie has a key dream. Then there's Sam
and Brittany; feeling the Mayans foretold an apocalypse, they savor
their final days.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II: “Live From
Lincoln Center,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The annual Richard Tucker Award has
propelled some of opera's top stars, including Renee Fleming and
Deborah Voigt. Now it has its first Hispanic winner.

Ailyn Perez, a soprano, is 33, a year
younger than the award. She was born in Chicago to Mexican immigrant
parents; her husband Stephen Costello won in 2009, making them the
first couple to win.

Tonight's show (with new host Audra
McDonald) includes a feature on her, plus performances by Perez,
Costello, six other opera stars, a chorus and members of the
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Other choices include:

– “Christmas Vacation” (1989) and
“Polar Express” (2004), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family. Two popular
holiday films rerun. The first has Chevy Chase and broad laughs. The
second is gorgeous, but short on plot and (due to the motion-capture
technique) warmth.

– “Up All Night,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., NBC. With a game show borrowing the 9 p.m. hour, NBC skips most
of its comedies tonight. The first episode involves trying to show
Amy her first snow. The second flashes back to the decision ro have a
hurried wedding with friends. Both descend into chaos.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. During a Dungeons and Dragons game, Sheldon revisits Christmas
memories. Also, the women try to find a girlfriend for Raj.

– Two and a Half Men, 8:31 p.., CBS.
Intent on finding a lover who doesn't know he's a billionaire, Walden
met Kate (Brooke D'Orsay). Now he's living with her and Alan is alone
on Christmas.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Bailey is usually strong and sturdy, but now she has the jitters and
wants to flee her wedding; Richard tries to talk her down. Also,
Meredith and Lizzie (Neve Campbell) argue; Derek considers risky
surgery that could restore full use of his hand.

– “Cheetah: Fatal Instinct,” 9
p.m. and midnight, Nat Geo Wild. A mother transforms her cubs to be
skilled predators. This is the final new “Big Cat Week” film, but
four of them will rerun Friday.

– “Elementary,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Sherlock Holmes must figure out how someone broke into a seemingly
impenetrable vault. Also, he meets Watson's parents and defends her
choice to be a “sober companion."

– “Nightmare Christmas,” 10 p.m.,
Investigation Discovery. We've had plenty of tales of holiday good
deeds. Now here are the guys who stole from a church on Christmas …
and the shoplifter who attacked someone with a stolen ornament …
and the woman who stabbed her husband because he opened his presents
early. The stories – often with comments from real-life victims –
are perversely entertaining.

– “Secrets of the Royal Nursery,”
10 p.m., Lifetime. Well, maybe not secrets. There's speculation by
“royal family experts” and by friends of William and Kate. Also,
a history of royal babies, a look at potential names and a review of
the royal marriage and its effect on England and beyond.

--”Impractical Jokers”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Tru TV. Guys dare each other to do stupid
stunts, then giggle absurdly. The witless results reflect poorly on
the male half of humankind.