TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 14


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Biggest
Loser” finale, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

Last week, we learned two of the
finalists: Frado Dinten, 43 when this edition started, is a
commodities trader from Staten Island; Patrick House, 28, is a sales
rep from Vicksburg, Mass.

Then viewers had a chance to decide who
gets the third spot. Elizabeth Ruiz, 31, is a medical assistant from
Lawrence, Mass.; Ada Wong, 27, a coordinator for a teaching company,
is from Gilroy, Cal.

There's a $250,000 prize – plus
$100,000 for one of the ousted contestants who shed weight at home.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Glee,” 8
and 9 p.m., Fox.

If you're not yet into this show –
which has scored with critics and in the ratings – here's a good
night to start. These reruns center on the music of two pop divas.

First is Madonna. With the guys tending
to be bullies, Will wants songs of empowerment; they include “Express
Yourself,” “Like a Prayer” and – with a makeover of Sue
Sylvester – “Vogue.”

Then is Britney Spears. Will frets
about her music … and about Emma's new guy (John Stamos).

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Three Wise
Women,” 8 and 10 p.m., Hallmark.

For sheer Christmas quantity, Hallmark
wins. It has eight new movies, including three this week.

This is the second one filmed in
Ireland, with a lush look. That makes up (partly) for the story.

Liz was a vibrant person, until one
awful holiday night. She went on to become a great doctor and
scientist, with no sense of joy; in her old age, she'll become sad
and somber.

Now her guardian angel conspires with
the past and future Liz, to transform the current one. For viewers,
those two (Lauren Coe and Fionnula Flanagan) are far more interesting
than drab current-Liz.

Other choices include:

– “Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?”
6:30 p.m., ABC Family. Here's an obscure Dr. Seuss tale from 1980,
about a klutzy chap with a magic piano. It's surrounded by two more
Seuss cartoons (“The Cat in the Hat” at 6 and “The Grinch
Grinches the Cat in the Hat” at 7) and the “Puff the Magic
Dragon” cartoon at 7:30. The “Grinch” movie (2000), not a
cartoon, is at 8 and 10:30.

– “I Want a Dog for Christmas,”
8-9 p.m., ABC. This cartoon was created in 2003, using pieces of the
late Charles Schulz's “Peanuts” comics. ReRun hopes Snoopy's
brother Spike can visit.

– “Minute to Win It,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. This game show has the second of three holiday-themed hours.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Annie
Wersching, who was escellent as Renee in “24,” guests as an
assistant district attorney. A Navy petty officer, her only witness
in a murder trial, has disappeared.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. A former Navy officer, suffering from post-traumatic stress, is
the only survivor of a dispute that turned violent.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
After a vague tip from a courthouse clerk, the team races to stop the
execution of a Death Row inmate.

– “Detroit 1-8-7,” 10 p.m., ABC.
Originally planning to repeat the show's pilot film tonight, ABC
instead airs the third episode. One murder victim was a squatter;
another is a teen whose dad, a Vietnam veteran, barely survived a
fierce beating.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 13


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Marry Me”
conclusion, 9-11 p.m., Lifetime.

The first half of this mini-series
(rerunning from 7-9 p.m.) had great flashes of wit.

After growing up on castle romances,
Rae (Lucy Liu) gave up hope of marrying. Then everything changed: She
had proposals from Adam (Bobby Cannavale) and Luke (Steven Pasquale
of “Rescue Me”); she also had an outspoken teen foster child and
the unspoken love of Luke's playboy friend.

Now those forces crash together –
appropriately, at a castle. This is both smart and broadly funny.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Sing-Off”
(NBC) or “Skating With the Stars” (ABC), 8 p.m.

Both are designed as quickie
competitions, filling up December and then vanishing.

“Skating” has dumped rocker Vince
Neil and actor Sean Young. The others – reality-show star Bethenny
Frankel, skier Jonny Moseley, actors Rebecca Budig and Brandon Mychal
Smith – perform.

Meanwhile, “Sing-Off” has been
almost anti-elitist. In the first week, it ousted students from the
prestigious Berklee College of Music; in the second, it dumped
Whippenpoofs, the Yale group that has been doing this kind of music
for 101 years. Two others were dumped, leaving six groups tonight.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Men of a
Certain Age,” 10 p.m., TNT.

After being too morose in its first
season, “Men” is getting lighter and better. Terry is a prime
example.

A handsome (and rarely employed) actor,
he's had no steady job or romance. Last week, he hesitantly decided
to continue working at his friend's auto dealership; there, the guys
mock and envy him.

The latter peaks when they discover a
commercial he made, long ago. That story concludes cleverly.

Other choices include:

– “Christmas Cupid,” 7-9 p.m.,
ABC Family. Here's an above-average film that debuted Sunday. The
ghost of a hard-partying actress (Ashley Benson) counsels a
hard-working publicist (Christina Milian). It's sandwiched by “A
Flintstone Christmas” at 6 p.m. and the so-so “Holiday in
Handcuffs” at 9.

– “Vampire Diaries,” 8 and 9
p.m., CW. This week (through Friday) is devoted to rerunning all 10
of this season's episodes. That starts with uncle trouble – Uncle
John's body has been found; Uncle Mason moves to town. In the second
episode, Damon suspects Mason is a werewolf, then is set on fire.

– “Moguls & Movie Stars”
finale, 8 p.m., Turner Classic Movies. As the 1960s began, most of
the original, seat-of-the-pants movie moguls were gone; studios
planned to be more businesslike. Then the audience changed and the
industry was in chaos; young hippies had more success than crafty
MBA's.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. Princess
Bride (1987, 8 p.m., AMC) and Jerry Maguire (1996, 9 p.m., TV Land),
are wonderful comedy-dramas, with superb casting of the supporting
roles. “27 Dresses” (2008, 8 p.m., FX) puts likable Katherine
Heigl in a story that feels way too contrived.

– “Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas to
You,” 9 p.m., ABC. Carey does songs – originals and classics –
from her Christmas album. The samples we saw were unexceptional.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Charlie has ended another romance, this time to a scheming
beauty (Jenny McCarthy); he retreats to his therapist (Jane Lynch).

– “The Closer,” 9 p.m., TNT. A
series of heists from medical-marijuana spots turns deadly.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. In a
strong rerun, a Victorian-style crime has Castle talking time-travel.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Marry Me,”
9-11 p.m., Lifetime; concludes Monday.

Here's a December mini-series with lots
of wit and no holiday references.

Barbara Hall (the “Joan of Arcadia”
creator) writes about a woman (Lucy Liu) who goes from no marriage
prospects to two. The plot and casting are so-so, but the dialog is
brilliant.

Early on, one of the guys (Steven
Pasquale of “Rescue Me”) is asked why men are so flawed. His
monologue shows that a great writer is at work.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Brothers &
Sisters,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.

Nora (Sally Field) goes on a romantic
weekend, leaving her kids to create Christmas on their own. There are
big laughs ahead, including a “Wonderful Life” dream scene.

Still, there's also a moving moment,
when Saul meets a long-ago lover (Richard Chamberlain).There's even
some warmth near the end, wrapping up a dandy hour.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Wishful
Drinking,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Carrie Fisher takes us on a giddy
journey through her own life.

She talks about her eccentric parents
(Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds), complete with botched romances
and odd perspective. And she goes through her own success (“Star
Wars”) and failures, including addiction and being
institutionalized. The first half is hilarious, the second half
bittersweet.

Other choices include:

– “Christmas Cupid,” 8 and 10
p.m., ABC Family. After a fatal olive accident (really), a
high-living teen star (Ashley Benson) returns as a Christmas ghost,
nudging the social life of her publicist (Christina Milian). The
result is slickly entertaining. Benson has great fun with her role;
for the likable Milian, this follows “Snowglobe” as her second
terrific holiday film for ABC Family.

– “Taliban,” 8 p.m., CNN, repeats
at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. If you missed this well-made documentary
(showing Taliban soldiers at work and at leisure), here's a second
chance.

– “Big Cat Week” finale, 8 p.m.
to 2 a.m., Nat Geo Wild. Three of the show's new documentaries get
two more showings, wrapping up a strong week. Dereck and Beverly
Joubert produced “Lion Warriors” (8 and 11 p.m.) and directed
their personal saga “Big Cat Odyssey” (9 and midnight); John
Varty devoted 17 years to “Leopard Queen” (10 p.m. and 1 a.m.).

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Paul's plan – putting a halfway house on Wisteria Lane –
seems to have its final step. Also, Keith insists that merely
co-habitating with Bree isn't enough.

– “Sarah Palin's Alaska,” 9 p.m.,
TLC. All reality shows, apparently, are inter-related. Tonight, Kate
Gosselin and her eight kids head to Alaska for what's supposed to be
a camping trip with Palin. Gosselin, we soon learn, isn't the
camping-in-Alaska type.

– “Dexter” season-finale, 9 p.m.,
Showtime. Last week, Lumen (Julia Stiles) was captured by her former
tormenter (Jonny Lee Miller). Now he's using her as bait to lure
Dexter.

– “Leverage,” 9 p.m., TNT. This
smart show is back with a past villain (Wil Wheaton) helping an evil
store-owner (Dave Foley). We see a sweetly naïve side to Parker
(Beth Riesgraf), as she struggles to help a framed Santa. It's a
clever story that somehow manages to have a Christmas-y ending.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Frosty the
Snowman,” “Frosty Returns” and “The Flight Before Christmas,”
8, 8:30 and 9 p.m., CBS.

As Christmas nears, the networks break
out of their Saturday cop-rerun lethargy. ABC and NBC have big
movies; CBS has this animation block.

“Frosty” is a lightly entertaining,
1969 tale; “Frosty Returns” is a mess of a 1992 sequel. “The
Flight Before Christmas” shortens a 2008 Finnish movie, inserting
American voices. Nikko the reindeer feels his father is part of
Santa's Flying Forces. On a daring trip he's accompanied by a patient
squirrel (Norm Macdonald) and a singing weasel (Emma Roberts).

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Lombardi,”
8-9:30 p.m., HBO.

Vince Lombardi once planned to be a
priest. Instead, he became an obsessive coach and parishioner.

Every morning, this superb documentary
says, Lombardi was in church, often as altar boy. Then he ran the
Green Bay Packers with a religious fervor. Inheriting a team that had
won one out of 12 games, he roared to five championships in nine
years. His players say they loved and feared him; his children say
they only slightly knew him. Lombardi died at 57, having built a
football empire.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Meet Me in
St. Louis” (1944) and “Private Screenings,” 8 and 10 p.m.,
Turner Classic Movies.

First is a gentle gem of a musical.
Vincente Minnelli created a beautifully idealized vision of 1904
family life, with Judy Garland radiant as the star.

They married in '45 and had Liza
Minnelli – the subject of “Private Screenings” – in '46.
Minnelli is a poor interviewee, but she has great stories and Robert
Osborne patiently coaxes her.

Other choices include:

– “The Santa Clause” (1994) and
sequels (2002, 2006), 5, 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family. The first film is
terrific and the others are still kind of fun.

– “Relentless Enemies” (2007) and
“Eye of the Leopard” (2006), 7 and 9 p.m., Nat Geo Wild. “Big
Cat Week” has included four new films, two from Dereck and Beverly
Joubert. Now it pauses to show two of their movie-length classics.

– “Chronicles of Narnia” (2005),
8-11 p.m., ABC. C.S. Lewis' worthy tale (kids battling evil) has been
given epic treatment. Still, there's an episodic nature that makes
this a good, not great, movie.

– “It's a Wonderful Life” (1946),
8-11 p.m., NBC. This classic will air tonight and Christmas Eve.
Frank Capra directed James Stewart as a small-town banker, unsure
about the effect of his life.

– “Taliban,” 8 p.m., CNN, repeats
at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.; same times Sunday. Living with the Taliban in
the mountains of Afghanistan, Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal
captured contrasts. He found murderous intent, but shaky execution.
He found songs, hugs, “games” consisting only of heaving a rock
for distance. Anderson Cooper skillfully weaves the footage and an
interview with Refsdal.

– “Ice Quake,” 9-11 p.m., Syfy.
Don't expect one of those silly-but-fun movies Syfy often has on
Saturdays. This is a believable tale of a snowy disaster, mixing
humanity and special effects. Most of the characters are solid;
Brendan Fehr (“Roswell”) stars and Victor Garber adds substance
as a colonel.

– “An Old-Fashioned Christmas,” 8
and 10 p.m., Hallmark. There are touches of class here – Irish
settings, fine costumes, Jacqueline Bisset and characters taken from
a Louisa May Alcott story. Still, the generational drama is fairly
stiff.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Paul Rudd hosts, with Paul McCartney as music guest.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Bridging the
Gap,” 7 p.m., USA.

By some accounts, Americans have never
been angrier and more divided. Gays are bullied, border patrols are
armed, Congress is deadlocked, cable and radio talk is hateful.

But how does this look to someone who
has seen worse? Tom Brokaw, 70, covered the days when blacks, Latinos
and women had to fight for legal equality and gays remained
invisible. He hosts this special, which includes the results of a
second annual “United or Divided Poll”; he also introduces people
he calls “champions of change” in their communities.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Good Guys,”
8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

Fox calls this the “season finale,”
which is more like a permanent finale. “Good Guys” never caught
on, partly because younger viewers hadn't seen the old cop shows
being mocked by it's main character.

He's Dan Stark, stridently opposed to
anything that keeps him from shooting suspects. In the rerun at 8
p.m., we finally meet his hard-nosed ex-partner Frank Savage (Gary
Cole). Stark and Savage once rescued the governor's young son; now
Dan is framed for kidnapping the same person, 25 years later.

Then a new episode brings Savage back
and also has Jack Bailey's ex-partner (Chris Klein). He's the
assistant police chief, amid a messy case in which an informant has
been killed.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Gold Rush:
Alaska,” 10 p.m., Discovery.

Just reaching an Alaskan mining site is
hard enough, we saw in last week's opener. Now comes the complexity
of setting up a camp that can handle some young boys now and visiting
families later.

There's instant housing, with
generators and toilets, There's the messy matter of a bear hunt. And
the mining must start, with the two leaders disagreeing on details.
This continues to be an interesting show.

Other choices include:

– “The Year Without a Santa Claus”
and “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town,” 6 and 7 p.m., ABC Family.
These cartoons aired Thursday, but now they're in an earlier slot,
for kids. They're followed by a fun Tim Allen double-feature – “The
Santa Clause” (1994) and “Santa Clause 2” (2002) at 8 and 10
p.m.

– “Minute to Win It,” 8 p.m.,
NBC. Tuesday's episode, with Christmas music and prizes, reruns.

– “The Mentalist,” 8 p.m., CBS.
An all-rerun night for CBS starts with an amnesiac woman stepping in
front of a car driven by Cho and Van Pelt. (Yes, the same plot was
also used in “Lie to Me.”) Now Patrick Jane must figure out who
she is and why she's covered with blood.

– “Hairspray” (2007), 8-10:30
p.m., Bravo. Director Adam Shankman turned the Broadway musical into
a lively movie. John Travolta is wasted, but Nikki Blonsky and Zac
Efron are terrific.

– More movies, 8 p.m., cable.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), Steven Spielberg's great
adventure, is on USA. TNT has “The Matrix” (1999); others have OK
Christmas films – Vince Vaughn in “Fred Claus” (2007) on TBS,
Christine Taylor in “Farewell Mr. Kringle” (2010) on Hallmark.

– “CSI:NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. The team
finds a century-old corpse and a booby-trapped penthouse.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. In
a strong episode, the entire police force mobilizes after an off-duty
cop is killed. Jennifer Esposito gives the show a boost as Danny's
police partner.