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.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “12.12.12: The
Concert For Sandy Relief,” 7:30 p.m. to midnight, AMC, Sundance,
Independent Film Channel and WE.

The greats of rock 'n' roll are
expected – subject to late change – to be at Madison Square
Garden for a fund-raiser shown worldwide on TV and (for free) in some
theaters in the Hurricane Sandy region.

That includes groups – Bon Jovi, The
Who, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – and individuals.
Paul McCartney, Alicia Keys, Eric Clapton, Kanye West and Billy Joel
are expected, plus Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam ), Chris Martin
(Coldplay), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Survivor,”
8 p.m., CBS.

Tonight, we'll learn who will be in
Sunday's finale, going for the million-dollar prize.

Carter Williams was dumped last week,
continuing a tough year for younger contestants. This started with
nine people in their 20s; only Malcolm Freberg, 25, a bartender, is
still there.

By comparison, four of the nine older
contestants remain. There's Lisa Whelchel, 49, the former “Facts of
Life” star;Michael Skupin, 50, who might have won the second
“Survivor” if he hadn't fallen into a fire; Denise Stapley, 41, a
sex therapist; and Abi-Maria Gomes, 32, a business student.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The 10 Most
Fascinating People,” 9:30-11 p.m., ABC.

In 90 minutes, this covers a huge range
in age – Barbara Walters, 83, talks to 16-year-old gymnast Garielle
Douglas and the teen group One Dimension – and in occupations.

There's an actor, an author and an
animator (Ben Affleck, E.L. James, Seth McFarlane). And there are
possible opponents in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton
and Chris Christie.

Other choices include:

– “The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.
Simon Cowell, who coached the first-season winner, has half of the
final four – the groups Fifth Harmony and Emblem 3. They face Carly
Rose Sonenclar (from Britney Spears' teen category) and Tate Stevens
(from L.A. Reid's over-age-25). That leaves Demi Lovato with no one;
on Thursday, we'll learn who reaches next week's finale.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. Even
this witty show can misfire. Tonight, it has a cell-phone gag that
was better a year ago on “Modern Family.” And Axl takes
big-brother cruelty to an unfunny extreme.

– Modern Family, 9 p.m., ABC. With a
play-off game coming, Cam and Claire must renovate a Little League
field. They're so good at it that they might go further, updating and
flipping a house.

– “Hotel: Behind Closed Doors at
Marriott,” 9 p.m.,CNBC. Bill Marriott grew up in a conservative
Mormon family, with a dad who didn't like borrowing. He took bold
risks,even building a 2,000-room behemoth in what was then a
crime-ridden Times Square. Then he reversed his plan, licensing and
managing without owning. The result covers 18 brands and 3,700
properties in 74 countries. This hour takes an overview, while
catching one 43-story giant (in New Orleans) in depth.

– CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 10
p.m., CBS. A plane crashes near the Las Vegas strip, killing five
people. Sara (Jorja Fox), already feeling the strain of her
long-distance relationship with Grissom, is soon working with her
former lover (Josh Randall of “Ed” and “Courting Alex”).

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 11


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

Tonight, we learn who will be in the
third-season finale, next Monday and Tuesday.

Blake Shelton, who had last season's
winner, has two prospects, each a former rock-band singer. Cassadee
Pope, 22, is from Los Angeles; Terry McDermott, 35, is from Scotland
and lives in New Orleans. Cee Lo Green has Trevin Hunte, 18, of
Queens, and Nicholas David, 31, of Eagan, Minn.

That leaves Adam Levine (who had the
first-year winner) and Christina Aguilera with no one.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Ben and
Kate,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Here's a second chance to see this
show's terrific pilot film, with likable young people groping at
life.

Kate is the diligent one, a single mom
with a job and a romantic void. Dakota Johnson – daughter of Don
Johnson and Melanie Griffith, granddaughter of Tippi Hedren –
provides charm and humor.

Ben (Nate Faxon) is her flaky but
well-meaning brother. There's good support from Lucy Punch and young
Maggie Elizabeth Jones as her delightful daughter.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Leverage,”
10 p.m., TNT.

The good news is that “Leverage”
has amped up its idealism for its four holiday-season episodes. Each
of one rages about business greed.

The bad news is that these hours lack
the clever twists “Leverage” is known for.This is the best of the
bunch,with some good moments. A winery owner pushes his workers hard,
while diluting quality. Now Sophie (Gina Bellman) needs smarts and
sex appeal to cheat the cheater

Other choices include:

– “Home Alone” (1990), 5 p.m.,
ABC Family. There are some big-laugh sight gags here, along with
enough holiday warmth to qualify for this channel's “25 Days of
Christmas.” It's followed by the clever “The Santa Clause”
(1994) at 7 p.m. and the adequate “Santa Clause 3” (2006) at 9.

– “Save the Titanic” and “The
Titanic With Len Goodman,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Two well-crafted reruns take a blue-collar view of the Titanic. The
first, strong on re-creations, eyes the workers in the ship's bowels.
The second views the ship's construction. It's hosted by Goodman, now
a “Dancing With the Stars” judge and once a welder for the
company that had built the Titanic.

– “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,”
8-9 p.m., ABC. This 1970 classic goes back to when young Kris Kringle
was making presents for the kids of Sombertown.

– “Frontier Earth,” 8 p.m.,
Animal Planet, and Tiger Dynasty, 10 p.m., Nat Geo Wild. Both films
looks at tigers in India's national parks. The first is an effort to
re-introduce them to Sariska; the second, part of “Big Cat Week,”
spent almost 15 years tracing the life and reign of a matriarch in
Ranthambhore.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. A bold gold heist may be an effort to cripple the U.S. economy.

– “Don't Trust the B in Apartment
23,” 9:30 p.m., ABC. James Van Der Beek makes his “Dancing With
the Stars” debut. Chloe promptly uses his vacant apartment for her
latest scam.

– “Vegas,” 10 p.m., CBS. When a
showgirl is killed, Sheriff Lamb realizes something about the case
resonates personally with Katherine (Carrie-Anne Moss), the assistant
district attorney.

TV column for Monday, Dec.10


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

Looking for a feel-good,
Christmas-season show? This has it all – worthy people and stunning
results.

The people are the Fridays of
small-town North Carolina. With two teens of their own, they adopted
five siblings, squeezing everyone into a small home.

The home built for them ranges from
flash – its Christmas light show is spectacular – to quiet;
there's a study room and a cozy book nook. And in the back yard, the
pretend drive-in theater is a gem.

 

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

Repeating last year's vertical
disparity, 6-foot-6 Trace Adkins hosts with 4-foot-11 Kristin
Chenoweth.

Both will also perform. So will Luke
Bryan, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen and Kip Moore, plus
groups – Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town and Rascal Flatts.

Also, Keith Urban, the new “American
Idol” judge, performs with seven Grammy Camp musicians.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Michael Buble:
Home For the Holidays,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Long ago Bing Crosby an Andy Williams
had specials each Christmas. Now Buble has his second one.

Wisely, he includes Blake Shelton, from
the lead-in “The Voice.” He also has Carly Rae Jepsen, Elmo and
Rod Stewart – who is in his fourth holiday special in two weeks.
Who ever guessed the voice of Christmas would be the guy who asked
the musical question: “Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?”

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: : “Take It
All” debut, 9:01 to 10 p.m., NBC.

In the middle of the Christmas season,
NBC launches a show – continuing through Friday, plus next Monday –
that is the exact opposite of the holiday. It's about taking things
away.

Like “Deal or No Deal” (also hosted
by Howie Mandel), this requires no skill. Someone chooses and opens a
prize. The next person steals it or chooses another. Near the end of
the hour, two people each have a choice – keep or take. If both
choose “keep,” they do; if both choose “take,” they both
lose. If one goes “keep” and the other “take,” the taker gets
everything, making it the Grinch's favorite show.

Other choices include:

– “Mickey's Christmas Carol,”
7:30 p.m., ABC Family. Charles Dickens' story is told concisely and
with a lush artistic style. That's followed by another cartoon (“The
Year Without a Santa Clause”) at 8 p.m. and “Home Alone”
(1990), with its great sight gags, at 9.

– “The Voice,” 8-9:01 p.m., NBC.
Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green each have two singers left. Adam
Levine (who lost both of his people last week) and Christina Aguilera
have none.

– “How I Met Your Mother,”: 8
p.m., CBS. Increasingly suspicious of Barney's relationship with
Patrice, Robin schemes to break them up. Also, Marshall is unhappy
about his mom's new romance.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8:30
p.m., CBS. Borrowing the now-vacant “Partners” spot, this funny
rerun has Sheldon haunted by guilt (and by Leonard Nimoy's voice)
after breaking Sheldon's Spock doll.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 and 9:30
p.m., CBS. The first episode has the cupcake shop opening; reveling
in the moment, Max invites her former boyfriends. In the second,
Sophie becomes a silent partner.

– “Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. Freshly
returned from her suspension, Beckett is hiding her romance with
Castle, while probing a murder among ambitious people in a local TV
station's newsroom. Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (“Prison Break”) plays the
station's entertainment reporter, lusting after Castle.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A gunman (Tom Arnold) takes McGarrett and a little girl hostage.

– “Attack of the Big Cats,” 10
p.m., Nat Geo Wild. Four species – lions,tigers, leopards and
jaguars – top the wild cat world, we're told. This film – part of
the channel's “Big Cat Week” – looks at why.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 9


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Christmas With
Holly,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

On a gorgeous Washington island, lives
are being remade.

Maggie was jilted at the altar, as TV
brides often are; now she's opening a toy store. Mark is in charge of
his 6-year-old niece, after his sister's death; he runs a coffee shop
and lives with his brothers.

“Holly” is not big on surprises or
villains. It's populated by pretty people – Sean Farris looks like
early Tom Cruise, Eloise Mumford like current Elizabeth Banks – in
pretty places, with good intentions. Offering the typically high
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” production quality, it's a holiday
pleasure.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Amazing
Race” finale, about 8-10 p.m., CBS.

No one was dumped last week, so there
are four duos ending the 25,000-mile race in New York.

Finishing first last week – and
winning a vacation to Mexico – were Trey Wier, 23, and Lexi
Beerman, 22, who are dating. Jaymes Vaughn, 30, and James Davis, 27,
friends and Chippendale dancers, were second; Josh Kilmer-Purcell,
43, and Brent Ridge, 38 – formerly an ad man and a doctor, now
gentleman farmers – were third. That left twins Natalie and Nadiya
Anderson, 26, in last place.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Curiosity:
Volcano Time Bomb,” 9 p.m., Discovery.

There are 169 volcanoes in the U.S.
alone, this compelling documentary says, including some big ones
hovering near Seattle, Portland and other cities.

One, in Yellowstone Park, hasn't
erupted in 640,000 years, but could create a “super-volcano”
Another, near Mammoth Mountain in California, leaked gas, killing
trees and three ski-patrol people.

Worldwide, we learn of an active
volcano in Italy; we hear of one in Indonesia that (74,000 years ago)
triggered a thousand-year ice age. This is strong material,
illustrated by spectacular footage.

Other choices include:

– “Prep & Landing” and “Prep
& Landing 2,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. An energetic, high-tech
animation style spices clever stories focusing on Santa's advance
men.

– “The Mistle-Tones,” 8 and 10
p.m., ABC Family. A vindictive Marci (Tori Spelling) has blocked
Holly (Tia Mowry-Hardrict) from a vocal group; desperate, Holly
starts her own. The plot is lame, but “Mistle-Tones” ripples
with talented singers – especially Mowry-Hardict and Jonathan
Patrick Moore – performing Christmas classics vibrantly.

– “Black in America,” 8 and 11
p.m., CNN. Once a simple matter of black-and-white, racism now meets
“colorism.” Light-skinned blacks may face negative bias in the
black community, but receive favorable bias in jobs and education.
Soledad O'Brien – whose skin tone reflects an Irish father and
black Cuban mother – meets people who approach the subject with
deep emotion.

– “Snow Leopard of Afghanistan,”
8 p.m., Nat Geo Wild, rerunning at 10. The third annual “Big Cat
Week” will bring one new documentary on each of the next five
nights, plus reruns. This OK film (sandwiched by “Lion Army” at 7
and “Cat Wars: Lion vs. Cheetah”at 9) follows young tracker Boone
Smith's dangerous attempt to find and put a radio collar on a rare
snow leopard in Afghanistan.

– “The Mentalist,” about 10 p.m.,
CBS. The team probes the big-money world of medical marijuana.