TV column for Sunday, Dec. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Amazing
Race” finale, 8 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), CBS.

Still in the running for the
million-dollar prize are three couples – dating (Jeremy Cline and
Sandy Draghi), engaged (Ernie Halvorsen and Cindy Chang) and married
(Marcus and Amani Pollard),

Pollard – a tight end who scored 40
pro-football touchdowns – is the best-known. From 2001-3 – as
Peyton Manning and the Colts moved to the top – he caught 130
passes, 17 of them for touchdowns.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The 12 Dates
of Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC Family; repeats at 10.

In its 12th year, the “25
Days of Christmas” line-up tends to be stuffed with reruns. This is
its only new movie; fortunately, it's terrific.

The story is a “Groundhog Day”
variation, with the same chaotic Christmas Eve repeating a dozen
times. But the script peppers that with great touches – some funny,
some warm – and twists.

Amy Smart is wondrous in the lead, with
Mark-Paul Gosselaar solid in support. Under director James Hayman (a
key “Ugly Betty” producer-director) this is gorgeous in its look
and its music; new songs – from Jordin Sparks and Michael Buble,,
respectively – open and close the film.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Once Upon a
Time” (8 p.m.) and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005, 9
p.m.), ABC.

Something special happens when a
fanciful, fantasy story is handed to a director who has visual flair.

That was the case with “Charlie.”
Under the deft touch of Tim Burton – with great work from starr
Johnny Depp and composer Danny Elfman – it was the best movie of
2005.

And it seems to be the case each week
with “Time,” which jumps between worlds. Tonight in fairy-tale
land, the queen seeks someone to assassinate Snow White. In our
world, the same characters are in Storybrooke, Maine, mourning a
death; now, one of them recalls shards of that other world.

Other choices include:

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
This year's Christmas episode flashes forward 30 years. In a
high-tech Springfield, Bart and Lisa – both married, with kids –
ask Homer and Marge for parenting advice.

– “A Very BET Christmas,” 8 p.m.,
BET. Expect lots of music and memories, with Monica, Lloyd, Robin
Thicke, Mindless Behavior, Elle Varner, Jacob Latimore ad Jawan
Harris.
– “Stalking the Mountain Lion,” 8 p.m., Nat Geo
Wild. The second “Big Cat Week” begins with two hours in the
Rocky Mountains – Casey Anderson pursuing mountain lions, then
Boone Smith studying cougars. At 10 p.m., “Cat Wars” eyes a rare
and violent collision of lions and cheetahs in Africa.

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m. (or
later, with overrun), CBS. When a guilty verdict stuns the defense
and the prosecution, Alicia scrambles for a solution.

– “Bag of Bones,” 9-11 p.m., A&E.
In the first half of this miniseries, adapted from a Stephen King
novel., an author (Pierce Brosnan) mourns his wife. At a lakeside
home, he sees a bluesman's ghost.

– “Boardwalk Empire,:”9 p.m.,
HBO. The second season ends with Nucky facing trial.

– “Luck,” 10 p.m., HBO. This
series debuts Jan. 29, but HBO is giving the opener a sneak preview.
David Milch (“Deadwood”) set it in the world of horse-racing;
Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte star.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer” (CBS) and more, 8 p.m.

This is the year's second run for
“Rudolph,” which drew huge ratings on Nov. 29.

If you don't want that, cable has
adequate Christmas movies. There's “The Santa Clause 3” (2006)
on ABC Family, “The Polar Express” (2004) on Disney and Vince
Vaughn'a “Fred Claus” (2007) on TNT.

There's also the debut of “Annie
Claus is Coming to Town” on Hallmark, repeating at 10. Santa's
daughter visits Los Angeles in hopes of romance; the result is
utterly predictable, but Maria Thayer is radiant, charming and a
Claus-ible heroine

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Snowmageddon”,
9-11 p.m., Syfy.

Clearly, Syfy understands the needs of
a Saturday audience. This is, after all, the network that has
announced summer plans for “Jersey Shore Shark Attack,” our new
favorite title.

For its Christmas movie, Syfy has a
little mountain town being shaken by a magical snow globe. There's
are winds storms, an avalanche, even things bolting up from
underground. A silly story is adequately crafted, with Michael Hogan
(“Battlestar Galactica”), David Cubitt (“Medium”) and more.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Appropriate
Adult,” 10 p.m., Sundance.

For British viewers, this true story
was familiar. Americans, however, will be fascinated.

We see it through Janet Leach (Emily
Watson), a mom who volunteered to be an “appropriate adult,”
accompanying someone during police questioning. She meets Fred West
(Dominic West, no relation), being questioned about his missing teen
daughter. Then the words and twists start flowing.

Here are opposite roles – one soft
and subtle, the other broadly colorful – each done perfectly.

Other choices include:

– “The American Giving Awards,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. Bob Costas hosts a show that will introduce five
charities (none well-known nationally) and give them Chase Grants.
People voted Online to decide who gets the most; the grants are for
$1 million, $500,00, $250,000 and two for $125,000 each.

– Debate, 9-11 p.m., ABC. We're just
24 days from the Iowa caucuses that will quickly impact the race for
the Republican presidential nomination. With that in mind, here's a
debate from Des Moines.

– “The Flight Before Christmas,”
9 p.m., CBS. A young reindeer is sure his dad is a member of Santa's
Flying Forces. Joined by a clumsy squirrel and a singing weasel, he
searches for him and discovers a evil plot. This 2008 Finnish cartoon
was re-dubbed by Emma Roberts, Norm Macdonald and more.

– “Terra Nova,” 9 p.m., Fox. The
Shannons have separate adventures in this rerun: Jim is probing the
colony's first murder, his wife is trying to help the birth of an
ankylosaurus; their son may have found a way to bring his girlfriend
to this past world.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. This rerun of the season-opener is a barely
fictionalized account of the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Anika Noni Rose plays a hotel maid, accusing a diplomat of attacking
her. The hour introduces one new regular (Kelli Giddish, formerly of
“Chase”), with another (Danny Pino) on the way.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Katy Perry hosts, with Robyn as the music guest.

 

TV column for Friday, Dec. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Chuck,” 8
p.m., NBC.

Some day, scientists may determine why
this show – which ends its five-year run on Jan. 27 – never
became a big hit. This episode, a splendid one, has everything.

There's action, adventure, humor and
warmth, all of it well-done. There are geeks saving the world;
there's a gorgeous, karate-kicking heroine and a nerd battling
Superman.

Well, he's battling Brandon Routh, the
“Superman Returna.” star. It's part of an excellent hour.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Frosty the
Snowman” and more, 8-10 p.m., CBS.

After a slow spell, networks are making
new cartoons again. Four have debuted this year, including “The Elf
on the Shelf,” which reruns at 9:30 p.m., wrapping up an animated
block.

That starts with the original “Frosty,”
a 1969 classic with an adequate story and rich use of the song.
“Frosty Returns,” a clumsy disappointment, is at 8:30, with the
2009 “Yes, Virginia” at 9.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Boss”
season-finale, 10 p.m., Starz.

Propelled by Kelsey Grammer's
thundering, Emmy-worthy performance as Mayor Tom Kane, this series
has been powerful in its first seven weeks. Now it ends its season on
election day.

Kane isn't in the race for governor,
but he sees it as a test of his power; uncovering a plot, he requires
his wife (Connie Nielsen) go to extremes to prove her loyalty,.
Also, their daughter's world is jolted.

Other choices include:

– “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. At 16, Wyzhir Johnson-Goslee is already a passionate
builder and designer, both for community projects and for his
family's 80-year-old home. Last Christmas Eve, his hand was severed
in a power-saw accident; now the team renovates the home.

– “Top Gear,” 8 p.m., and “Road
Warrior” (1981), 9 p.m., BBC America. For sheer horsepower, this
could be a busy night. First, the “Gear” guys test a Porsche and
race a Jaguar a Vauxhall and a Chrysler; then is the strong Mel
Gibson sequel, with makeshift vehicles in post-apocalyptic Australia.

– “Fringe, 9 p.m., Fox. In a rerun,
a serial killer is loose in the alternate world. The two teams
reluctantly co-operate, working with his equivalent persona in our
world.

– “Grimm,” 9 p.m., NBC. As a
recovering wolf, Monroe has been helpful while Nick probes other
creatures. Now, however, he confronts a reminder of his own wild
side.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of the season-opener, which centers on a party for the
mayor-elect, with Carrie Underwood and Tony Bennett performing. Then
a supporter is found dead and the major wants it to be called random
violence. Other guest stars are Tony-nominee Kelli O'Hara as Erin's
friend Lisa and Cassidy Gifford (daughter of Frank and Kathy Lee
Gifford) as Mandy.

– “Sanctuary,” 10 p.m., Syfy.
Kate Freelander, played by Agam Darshi, is back. She warns of a
Hollow Earth scheme that may involve the bigfoot monster.

– “Onion News Network,” 10 p.m.,
IFC. This oft-hilarious show wraps up its second season by viewing
the year in review and announcing its “Person of the Year” and
“Stock Photo of the Year.”

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Community,” 8
p.m., NBC.

When NBC switches its schedule next
month, “Community” will be off the air, with an iffy future.

That's too bad; often merely average,
this show occasionally has episodes that ripple with creativity.
Prime examples are Christmas episodes – next week's animated rerun
and tonight's “Glee” take-off.

The glee-club director lures singers
for the holiday show. Abed and Troy jump in eagerly; others must be
seduced. There are some great songs, including a gleeful mocking of
Chevy Chase's generation.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Whitney,”
9:31 p.m., NBC.

Here's another show that will be hurt
by the mid-season shuffle, being nudged to Wednesdays.

Still, this is a bright and brash
comedy. Whitney Cummings' – the writer and star of thus show and
co-creator of “2 Broke Girls” – has a knack for sharp
punchlines and youthful perspective.

Tonight, she plants some lies so she
can spend Christmas with her friends, not her parents. Naturally, the
parents – played with zestful abandon by Peter Gallagher and Jane
Kaczmarek – arrive anyway.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Person of
Interest,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Some talented people are stuffed into
small roles in CBS dramas. Taraji P. Henson is a prime example.

Henson drew an Oscar nomination for
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” after drawing attention in
“Hustle & Flow” and the final “Boston Legal” season.
Here, she's Carter, the skeptical cop. Tonight, th computer says that
she is about to be a crime victim or a criminal.

Other choices include:

– “Wipeout” and ans “America's
Funniest Home Videos,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. Tonight, both shows offer
holiday editions. Lots of people will fall down and go splat, in the
name of Christmas.

– “The X Factor,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Already down to five people, the show dumps at least one more.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Leonard is confronted by the bully who tormented him in high
school. That has Penny wondering if she was a bully, too.

– “Have a Little Faith,” 8-10
p.m., Hallmark. The splendid “Hallmark Hall of Fame” films used
to have long waits, before moving to cable. Not any more; this one
arrives just 11 days after debuting on ABC. Beautifully filmed and
acted, it dramatizes Mitch Albom's account of two men of religion –
his boyhood rabbi (Martin Landau) and an ex-con pastor (Laurence
Fishburne).

– “Parks and Recreation,” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Last week's episode had some hilarious moments, with
Leslie drawing a one-week suspension for breaking the office-romance
rules. Now she fidgets to fill the week, in an episode that has fewer
laughs, but a surprising amount of warmth.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. In a
funny episode, the Christmas party brings music, mischief and a
porcupine. It also brings confusion: Andy frets about a hug between
his boss and Erin … whose jealousy of Andy's new girlfriend grows
as she consumes more liquor.

– “It's Always Sunny in
Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FX. At its best, this is a broadly funny
show. At its worst – including tonight and next week's season
finale – it piles things on with bludgeon excess; the characters
seen so cruel or pathetic that the humor fades.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC.

Early on, the show throws all 11 people
into a scene around the pool. It's a dazzling reminder of how good
these characters are; it also sets up the concept.

Suddenly, they realize this is the only
time they'll be together for the holidays; “Express Christmas” is
developed. Great moments range from Haley's shopping prowess to her
sister bonding with Mitchell.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “From Here to
Eternity (1953) Turner Classic Movies, or “Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours
After,” History; both 8 p.m.

Today us the 70th
anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, For non-fiction, catch
History, focusing on Franklin Roosevelt's decisions. For fiction,
“Eternity” is a classic, set mostly before the attack.

The result won eight Oscars, including
best picture, director (Fred Zinnemann) and supporting actors (Frank
Sinatra, Donna Reed). It was nominated for five more, including star
Burt Lancastr.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “State of
Play” opener, 10 p.m., BBC America.

Here is British drama at its best –
sharp writing, superb acting and sleek, energetic filmmaking.

David Morrisey plays a married
politician, overwhelmed when his aide is found dead. John Simm plays
a friend, a reporter who sympathizes with him … until finding a
link to another deat.

The result won a dozen international
awards, half off them for Paul Abbott's script or Bill Nighy as the
paper's editor A subsequent American movie was good; this start of a
six-week mini-series is great.

Other choices include:

– “The X Factor,” 8-9:30 p.m.,
Fox. Last week, the show dumped Astro and Drew. That leaves five
people: Simon Cowell has Rachel Crow and Melanie Amaro, L.A. Reid has
Chris Rene and Marcus Canty; Nicole Scherzinger has only Josh
Krajcik, Paula Abdul has no one.

– “Up Al Night,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.,
NBC. Both episodes focus on Ava and her new love interest (Jason Lee
of “My Name is Earl”). In a fairly funny one, she spies on him at
Christmas time; then is a rerun of the episode in which they met.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a
giddy (and drunken) moment, Frankie decides to host a holiday party.
That starts a four-show run of Christmas comedies on ABC.

– “Suburgatory,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Tessa feels she's ruined her dad's romance and schemes to revive it.
Actually, he wantes someone new; soon, there's an overcrowded
Christmas party.

– “The Silent Witness,” 9-11
p.m., TNT. The odd thing about these mystery movies – each adapted
from a top novelist – is that they tend to have weak stories, but
strong execution. Tonight's tale (from a Richard North Patterson
novel) has a lawyer (Dermot Mulroney) return home to defend a friend.
Any plot flaws are overcome by great work from Michael Cudlitz
(“Southland”) and director Peter Markle.

– “I Hate My Teenage Daughter,”
9:30 p.m., Fox. Last week's debut was quite awful, but this episode
is very nearly adequate. The families' mandatory game night brings
mixed reactions.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
10 p.m., CBS. A rancher who died was also an expert on ballistics.
Soon, the FBI is involved, with Matt Lauria (“Friday Night Lights”)
and Grant Show as agents.