TV column for Thursday, Dec.12

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 8:30
p.m., Cartoon.

One of Hollywood’s greatest half-hours is working its way
through the cable and TV world. “Grinch” will move to TBS at 8 p.m. Friday,
return to the Cartoon Network for two more turns (9 p.m. Wednesday, 6 p.m. Dec.
21), then do Christmas Eve on ABC.

Catch it often; this is that rare show that has it all – a
great story (from Dr. Seuss), brilliant animation (co-directed by Chuck Jones)
and three ideal voices.  Boris Karloff
narrates, Thurl Ravenscroft sings and June Foray is Cindy Lou Who. The voices
of Frankenstein’s monster, Tony the Tiger and Rocky Squirrel combine for a

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Millers,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

TV loves to have one generation try to deceive another; now
that expands a bit, with two generations ganging up to fool a third.

Carol’s parents (Jerry Van Dyke and June Squibb) don’t know
that she’s left her husband … or that her son Nate (Will Arnett) has divorced
his wife. Now everyone must pretend they’re back together; they work at it so
hard that Nate thinks about trying to reconcile.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Christmas Movies, cable.

This month overflows with Christmas movies that were made
for TV. Still, there are also strong ones that were shown in theaters.

Tonight, ABC Family has dandy comedies, starring two of the
original “Saturday Night Live” guys. Chevy Chase’s “National Lampoon’s
Christmas Vacation” (1989) is at 7 p.m., Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” (1988) is at

The gem, however, is “Love Actually” (2003), from 8-11 p.m.
on AMC. Writer-director Richard Curtis deftly weaved together unrelated holiday
tales, ranging from a young, lovestruck prime minister (Hugh Grant) to an old,
naked rock star (Bill Nighy). They vary, but add up to great fun.

Other choices include:

“The X Factor,” 8 p.m., Fox. One act is expected to be sent
home tonight, with the other three propelled to next week’s finale. Before that
happens, however, we get guest performances from Jennifer Nettles (of Sugarland
fame) and Enrique Iglesias.

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. With Sheldon gone home
to Texas, the others start to ponder how much he’s changed their lives

“Grey’s Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC. This day is supposed to be
all about April’s wedding, but other problems prevail. Former friends Meredith
and Cristina continue to argue; Derek gets a life-changing call.

“The Returned,” 9 p.m., Sundance. A week before its finale,
this brilliant mini-series has two brothers racing to elude the police … while
one of the cops is trying to flee with her lover. Meanwhile, people realize
that Camille’s false claims led two parents to commit suicide.

“The Crazy Ones,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. Ashley Tisdale guests as
the firm’s new intern. She’s the bratty daughter of an important client … which
makes Sydney (also a boss’ daughter) ponder her own image.

“Two and a Half Men,” 9:31 p.m., CBS. This Christmas episode
– not the warm-and-huggy type – includes errant carol lyrics and the ex-wife of
Alan’s transgender girlfriend.

“Elementary,” 10:01 p.m., CBS. A man who bilked his clients
out of their money has been killed. That leaves Sherlock Holmes with an
overload of suspects.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 11

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

On the night before Christmas, chaos persists in funny ways.

Mitchell misread Lily’s note to Santa; Cam mis-interpreted a
charity event. Phil obsesses on his exercise machine while his wife Claire is
suddenly the favorite of Gloria’s mother. Some of these tie together; others
are just fun tangents of a clever show.

Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale,” 10 p.m., NBC.

For the second time in six days, NBC turns to an “American
Idol” winner to spark its holiday-season ratings.

Last Thursday was Carrie Underwood; now it’s Clarkson, the
first “Idol” champion. She blends a Las Vegas concert with a variation on “A
Christmas Carol,” stuffed with guest stars from music (Blake Shelton, Reba
McEntire, Trisha Yearwood) and comedy (Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay
Leno, Ken Jeong), plus William Shatner, Heidi Klum and Jai Rodriguez.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Most of this hour is set against the backdrop of a music
festival, the brainchild of Teddy (now the mayor, formerly Rayna’s husband) and

Deacon and Gunnar – banished by sort of music politics –
fight back with their own show. Juliette faces the rage of a fresh scandal
rumor, while Rayna finally makes a decision on whether to start a new label.

The Juliette plot is absurdly overwrought, but others are
well-done. Then comes the shock of two unexpected jolts in the final minutes.

Other choices include:

“The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. The final four acts sing
tonight and viewers vote; on Wednesday, we’ll learn which ones will reach next
week’s finale. Last week, Ellona Santiago ad Rion Paige – the final singers
coached by Demi Lovato – were both ousted. Simon Cowell still has two acts (the
groups Restless Road and Alex & Sierra); Paulina Rubio has Carlito Olivero
and Kelly Rowland has Jeff Gutt.

“The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. Frankie dreams of making
something special out of her son’s first Christmas vacation from college. Then
again, when have any of Frankie’s dreams been realized? This is a fairly funny
episode, with a surprisingly warm moment from Frankie’s husband Mike.

“Melissa & Joey,” 8 p.m., ABC Family. After months away,
this show and “Baby Daddy pop back briefly to show Christmas episodes. In this OK
one, Jaime Pressly plays Mel’s sister, the one whose crooked finances left Joey
broke and bitter. Given a two-day holiday break from jail, she finds
forgiveness is difficult.

“Baby Daddy,” 8:30 p.m., ABC Family. Like, “Melissa &
Joey,” this sometimes lacks subtlety or wit; what it does have tonight,
however, is a guest shot by Leslie Jordan. The 4-foot-11 actor plays the chief
elf for a department-store Santa. It’s fun to see him confront the 5-foot-10
Melissa Peterman and even do a song-and-dance bit with the 6-foot-5 Derek
Theler. We’ll temporarily forget that the only good parts of this episode are
the ones that seem way too familiar.

“Mob City,” 9-11 p.m., TNT. 
Last week’s promising start gave us Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal), a former
war hero who’s now part of a 1947 Los Angeles police force wracked with
corruption. He stopped the bad guys, but lied to his bosses while trying to
protect his ex-wife (and mob moll) Jasmine. Now the focus shifts to Bugsy
Siegel (Edward Burns). Unlike Teague, he’s a real-life person; he has violent
plans to transform LA.

“Killer Contact,” 10 p.m., Syfy. Five centuries ago,
Lucrezia Borgia’s family schemed its way to power. Her father became pope; she
married three times, had at least seven children, was the center of endless
rumors of poisoning and lust. Now this reality show, which claims to contact
other-world spirits, heads to Italy to contact her ghost.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec.10

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “American Country Awards,” 8-10 p.m.,

This is the fourth year for the show, which has had
super-sized stars. Trace Adkins, 6-foot-6, hosts each one (this time with
race-car driver Danica Patrick); Toby Keith, 6-3, won the only Video Visionary

Now Brad Paisley will get that award and will perform.
Darius Rucker and Sheryl Crow will do a duet; other performers include Lady
Antebellum, Jake Owen, Kellie Pickler and Florida Georgia Line … which is one
of the leaders. It has seven nominations, tied with Blake Shelton and one
behind Taylor Swift. Those three are all up for artist of the year, along with
Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Trophy Wife,” 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Here’s the Christmas-TV equivalent to the movie “The Hangover””:

The grown-ups wake up on Christmas morning with their world
askew. The toys are missing, the tree is burning and an important work document
has been turned into artificial snow. Also, eyebrows have been clipped and
there seems to be a wolf ion the house.

Surprisingly, there are logical explanations for this that
leave no one particularly at fault. The result is bright, bizarre and
exceptionally funny.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE:  “Sons of Anarchy” season-finale, 10-11:52
p.m., FX.

A terrific season ends with a double-wide (almost) episode
that has everything at stake. Jax killed his step-dad Clay, while trying to cut
a deal and get the biker club out of gun-running. But that was soon complicated
by fresh violence and by his estranged wife’s own deal.

When this expanded episode ends, FX viewers can see the
first eight minutes of the “Anarchy Afterward” talk show; the rest of that hour
is at

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Music, everywhere.

On a night when they’re up for awards on Fox, Blake Shelton
and Taylor Swift show up elsewhere. He’s on “The Voice” (9 p.m., NBC), which is
trimming for next week’s finale. And she’s singing on “Victoria’s Secret
Fashion Show” (10 p.m., CBS); Fall Out Boy also performs.

There’s more. The CW has diva night, rerunning the “iHeart
Radio” specials for Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. And on the audio-only side, Music
Choice (on many cable system) counts down the year’s 100 fan-favorites, from 6
p.m. to midnight Tuesdays and Sundays. Bruno Mars and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
lead with three songs apiece, in a year that has seen newcomers (Lorde, Imagine
Dragons, Kendrick Lamar) and country crossover.

“Agents of SHIELD,” 8 p.m., ABC. There’s a cliffhanger-ending
tonight, ABC warns us, as Coulson brings back super-soldier Mike Peterson to
battle Centipede.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. As the new staffer (Emily Wickersham)
adjusts to the team, there’s a murder case linked to the boyfriend of Gibbs’
ex-wife (Melinda McGraw).

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. A suspected Romanian war
criminal has been living in Los Angeles for 20 years, under an assumed name.

“The Goldbergs,” 9:01 p.m., ABC. The school talent show
brings crises, including a debate over whether karate is a talent.

“Chicago Fire,” 10 p.m., NBC. As the closing of their
firehouse nears, the team faces a demanding apartment-building blaze. Also,
Dawson gets life-changing news and the union president makes headlines.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 9

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Sing-off” opener, 9-11 p.m., NBC.

This show offered three amiable seasons of a cappella music,
then died when producer Mark Burnett drew bigger ratings in the same slot for “The
Voice.” Now, after a year off, it’s back … this time with Burnett producing and
NBC wedging it into December, when other shows are resting.

That cramming – Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, through
Dec. 23 – is a plus. Seven episodes air in 15 days, going from 10 groups to a
winner. Returning are Nick Lachey as host and Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman as
judges, joined by Jewel. “Sing-off” has smart people, bright music, good

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Great Christmas Light Fight”
debut, 9 p.m., ABC.

Who are these people who fill their yards with endless
lights and figures? Hollywood depicts them as bumbling zealots, but this
reality show finds them merely to be amiably odd.

There’s a guy who grew up in a small trailer, now using his
wealth to brighten his California estate. And a farm family, filling acres on a
garage-sale budget. And a retired firefighter and a guy who dresses as an elf.
All are upbeat; so, alas, is judge Michael Moloney, whose gushing makes this
seem too one-note.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Six by Sondheim,” 9-10:30 p.m., HBO.

Stephen Sondheim is an astute analyst of musicals, including
the most important subject – the life and work of Stephen Sondheim. Now his
friend James Lapine has deftly weaved decades of interviews.

We get brief glimpses of Sondheim’s first 83 years – the coldness
of his mother, the warmth of his boyhood neighbor Oscar Hammerstein – and cascades
of ideas about songwriting. There are lots of clips, plus new mini-films by
other directors, re-staging three songs.

The “I’m Still Here” film is oddly unsettling, but “Opening
Doors” and “Send in the Clowns” have brilliant films. Also highlighted via
clips are three songs that typify Sondheim’s life – “Something’s Coming,” “Being
Alive” and “Sunday,” which builds to the appropriate final word: “Forever.”   

Other choices include:

“The Voice,” 8 p.m., NBC. This is down to its final five,
with Adam Levine dominating. He has Will Champlin, James Wolpert and Tessanne
Chin. Christina Aguilera – whose Matthew Schuler was dumped last week – has only
Jacquie Lee; Blake Shelton has Cole Vosbury and CeeLo Green has no one.

“How I Met Your Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Robin and
Barney are heading to their wedding weekend, when they learn a family secret.
Also, Lily urges Ted to face his lingering passion for Robin.

“Mike & Molly,” 9 p.m., CBS. The only new episode in
tonight’s comedy line-up finds Molly’s shoe-buying addiction creating money

“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. This rerun (following a new “Almost
Human”) has a great guest role for James Noble, who was the brilliant “Fringe”

“Bonnie & Clyde” conclusion, 9 p.m., History, Lifetime
and Arts & Entertainment. If you missed the first half, catch the rerun at
7 p.m.; then things peak: Savoring the attention, Bonnie wants bigger risks.

“Mom,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. In a funny rerun, Christy tries her
first date since being sober.

“Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. In a rerun from last spring, Beckett
has stepped on a bomb and must remain still. Castle tries to distract her with
a discussion of who fell for the other one first.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 8

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Bonnie & Clyde,” 9-11 p.m.,
History, Lifetime and A&E; concludes Monday.

OK, there was zero reason to re-tell this story; the 1967
movie did it brilliantly. But after the success of History’s “Hatfield and
McCoys,” it’s logical to offer another violent slice of real-life Americana.

Bonnie Parker was a sometimes-waitress; Clyde Barrow was a
many-times stick-up man. For two years they rampaged together, robbing banks, stores
and gas stations. Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch star, with the “Broadcast
News” duo of William Hurt and Holly Hunter as a Texas Ranger and Parker’s mom.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Amazing Race,” 8-10 p.m. (or later,
with football overrun), CBS.

Only four teams remain, in the 35,000-mile, nine-country
race for $1 million. They’ll start in Tokyo, shed one duo, then head to Alaska
for the finish.

One duo – Jason Case, 33, and Amy Diaz, 29 – is dating;
another, Timothy Sweeney, 32, and Marie Mazzocchi, 29 – used to be. There are
also cousins (Leo Temory and Jamal Zadran, both 26) and a married pair of
emergency-room doctors, Travis and Nicole Jasper, 43 and 39.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m. or later,

Last week, the show jumped ahead two years. Red John was dead;
the CBI was disbanded.

Lisbon was a small-town police chief, Rigsby and Van Pelt
had a security firm and Patrick Jane was enjoying the quiet life, with a new
love interest (Emily Swallow) … and then a job offer from the FBI. Now a
computer expert is missing and Jane wants Lisbon to help with the case.

Other choices include:

“Global Lessons on Guns,” 7 p.m., CNN. A year after the
Newtown shootings, with Americans still groping with gun policies. Fareed
Zakaria finds intriguing approaches elsewhere. Australia cut its gun deaths by
59 percent, he says; Bogota has a gun-murder rate that’s one-third of Detroit
or New Orleans.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas,” 7 p.m., UP (formerly
Gospel Music Channel), repeats at 9 and 11. Last week’s film (“Silver Bells,”
rerunning at 5 p.m.) was so-so, but this is a winner. A tattered rock star (Drew
Lachey) ends up at the home of a small-town preacher, whose daughter (MacKenzie
Porter, a singer-actress) returned when she lost her job. You’ll guess the
rest, but it’s done with wit and charm.

More new Christmas movies. In “Holidaze” (8 p.m., ABC
Family), Jennie Garth finds herself in an alternate universe. In “Christmas
Belle” (9 p.m., Ion), Haylie Duff doesn’t go that far, but she finds herself
leaving the city to help close an estate at an old mansion.

“The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. Bart tries to be a model
student. Really.

Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC. For the second time since Aaron
Rodgers’ injury, NBC has replaced a Packer game. This time it has Carolina at
New Orleans, with both tied for the division lead at 9-3.

“Getting On,” 10 p.m., HBO. Last week, we met the wondrously
odd Patsy De La Serda (Mel Rodriguez), a supervising nurse who treats patients
like cruise-ship customers. In the chaos, DiDi jokingly repeated a patient’s “fat
fairy” barb. Now, in an oddly funny session, she’s accused of being homophobic.