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.

 

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “A Michael Buble
Christmas,” 8 p.m., NBC.

The Christmas songs are mostly pure
Americana, but there's a global feel to the performers.

That includes two Canadians ( Buble and
Justin Bieber), a Mexican singer-actress (Thalia), an English trio
(The Puppini Sisters), a country star (Kellie Pickler) and a New York
a cappella group that's big in Europe (Naturally 7). Added, for
laughs, are Tracy Morgan, Ed Helms and Oscar the Grouch.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “New Girl,”
9 p.m., Fox.

After six years with the same guy, Jess
frets about having sex with someone new. “It's like starting a job
with a really weird interview,” she says.

Naturally, she seeks help from her guy
friends and from porn. The result is exceptionally funny and
exceptionally adult. Despite a weak secondary story, this is another
terrific “New Girl.”

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Warehouse
13,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

Pete is having a really bad day. None
of his colleagues know him and most don't believe his story of a
South Dakota warehouse for potent artifacts; also, Myka wants him
arrested.

It's a fun hour, with the show's knack
for weaving in humor while saving the world. It's also part of a
night of offbeat Syfy Christmas shows: “Eureka” is light, “Haven”
is serious, “Warehouse 13” is both.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE II: “Sons of
Anarchy” season-finale, 10 p.m., FX.

As this hour starts, the biker club
faces fierce pressure from inside and from out. Linc Potter – the
odd-but-crafty federal attorney – is ready to make mass arrests.

Can producers find a credible way to
keep “Sons” going? They do, in a remarkable episode. This one
ranges from a wild chase to a rich portrait of Potter, one of the
great “Sons” characters.

Other choices include:

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. Finn tries
to convince Sam (Chord Overstreet) to rejoin the glee club.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. An
all-rerun CBS night starts with a Marine killed in his own back yard

– “Eureka,” 8 p.m., Syfy. Don't
you hate it when someone uses the wrong batteries and everyone turns
into a cartoon? That happens in an episode using many animation
styles. It's erratic, but interesting.

– “The Biggest Loser,” 9-11 p.m.,
NBC. All of the contestants return for a marathon. The winner
automatically becomes one of the three people in next week's finale.

– “Hide,” 9-11 p.m., TNT. It's
not easy to stuff a novel into a two-hour movie. This one gets way
too busy and requires an absurd coincidence. Still, director John
Gray makes it work; Carla Gugino stars.

– “Hidden Cities” debut, 10 p.m.,
Travel Channel. Each week, novelistMarcus Sakey will dig into a
city's dark past. He starts in Chicago, with serial killer H.H.
Holmes and bank robber John Dillinger. In a nicely balanced segment,
he sees the 1968 Democratic-convention riots from both sides.

– “Covert Affairs” season-finale,
10 p.m., USA. Heading to Sweden on vacation, Annie makes a
last-second decision to bring her despondent sister. Soon, both are
involved in a bracing adventure.

– “Haven,” 10- p.m., Syfy. Audrey
seems to be the only person wondering why Christmas is in July –
and why people keep vanishing from town and from memories. It's a
good finish to a strong Syfy night.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “A Charlie Brown
Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC, and “Mickey's Christmas Carol,” 10:30
p.m., ABC Family.

In an era of shows that try too hard,
here are two gems that proved less can be more.

“Charlie Brown” used primitive
animation, a simple score and real kids. Its humor is scattered and
casual; it's a classic, sometimes funny and sometimes moving.

And “Christmas Carol”? Charles
Dickens' short story is usually stretched hugely; this one is quick
and concise, with every moment looking like a gorgeous Christmas
card.

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

There will be a flurry of performers ,
large (Toby Keith, Trace Adkins) and small (Kristin Chenoweth.).

Also performing are Blake Shelton,
“American Idol” winner Scotty McCreery and lots of groups, new
(The Band Perry, Eli Young Band, Thompson Square, Pistol Annies) and
old (Alabama).

Adkins and Chenoweth host, bringing a
19-inch vertical disparity.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Mortified
Sessions,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Sundance.

Each celebrity was asked to bring a
memory box. That seems to trigger deeper profiles.

We hear about Edward Helms, a lawyer's
son who was virtually the first kid in school with glasses; he didn't
become “Ed,” and less geeky, until college. We hear of Mo'Nique,
putting out such strong vibes that her prom date (incorrectly, she
implies) brought an overnight bag. In the second half-hour, Eric
Stonestreet describes being a clown one moment and a football player
the next.

Other choices include:

– “Sing-Off Holiday Special,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. A week after winning the championship, Pentatonix
will perform; so will the first two “Sing Off” champs. There will
also be fresh combinations – one linking college groups, another
with lead singers – plus guest stars.

– “Saved,” 8 p.m., Animal Planet.
“Temple Grandin” was a great TV movie about an autistic genius
who created a better ways of handling cattle. Now this well-made
series profiles her.

– “Prep & Landing 2,”
8:30p.m., ABC. The first “Prep” – showing Santa's high-tech
support crew – was fairy good; this one is much better. It has
catchy visuals, broad laughs, a touch of heart ad a warning: The
ultimate identity-theft crisis would be if someone hacked into the
naughty-or-nice list.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Rose used to obsess on Charlie. Now he's gone, but she's back.

– “The Closer,” 9 p.m., TNT. The
100th episode of this above-average show isvmerely OK.
Buzz's beautiful sister distracts cops from a tale of two Santas, one
(Fred Willard) drunk, the other dead.

– “Stolen Voices, Buried Secrets”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery. Rose Larner was a
good-hearted teen who liked guys and night life, her mother says
here. At 18, she didn't come home; a gory murder story was uncovered
in Lansing, Mich. That story is told (18 years later) quite well by
the mom, her brothers and police. Getting in the way, however, is the
show's gimmick – imagined narration from the victim, in a style
that suggests a paperback novelist, not an everyday teen-ager.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Neverland,”
9-11 p.m., Syfy; concludes Monday.

Here's a vibrant version of the Peter
Pan story, spanning centuries and continents.

Peter (played by likable newcomer
Charlie Rowe) is a street scamp in 1906 London. Suddenly – a magic
orb is involved – he's in another land, surrounded by an
18th-century pirate captain (Anna Friel), Indians and his old mentor
Jimmy Hook (Rhys Ifans). It's a grand story, richly crafted.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Good
Wife,” 9 p.m. (or later, with football overrun) Sunday, CBS.

Michael J. Fox is back as Louis
Canning, the cunning lawyer who's willing to use his disability to
gain jury sympathy. He's done the role three previous times,
receiving an Emmy nomination.

He again faces Alicia in court. Then an
event brings them closer.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Adventure
marathons, all day.

Take your choice of action hero –
young and sorta-naive, older and sorta-craggy.

Harry Potter? AMC starts with his
second film, at 7 a.m.; it has the next four at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30
p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Indiana Jones? Syfy has all our films,
at 10 a.m., and 1, 3:12 and 6:04 p.m.

Other choices include:

– “November Christmas” (5:45
p.m., Hallmark) or “The Heart of Christmas” (7 p.m., GMC).
Beautifully acted and directed, “November” is the deeply moving
story of a community starting Christmas early for an ill child. It
aired last year on CBS and reruns now. Meanwhile, GMC (formerly
Gospel Music Channel) debuts a film based on a similar, real-life
story.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. This hour focuses on the character played by Josh Dallas. In the
fairytale world, he's Prince Charming, facing a crucial event; in our
world, he's David or the John Doe, married to Kathryn, suddenly in
love with Mary Margaret.

– “Dinner With the Kings,” 8 and
11 p.m., CNN. It's easier to throw a dinner party when you're rich
and the cameras are rolling. Larry and Shawn King have Wolfgang Puck
prepare the meal. The conversation includes humorists Conan O'Brien,
Russell Brand and Seth MacFarlane, plus supermodel Tyra Banks,
basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, musician Quincy Jones and Twitter
founder Jack Dorsey.

– Football, 8:20 p.m., NBC. The
network once had big expectations for today''s Colts-Patriots game.
Alas, the Colts are Peyton-less and winless; instead, NBC has
switched to a battle of play-off contenders – the Detroit Lions at
the New Orleans Saints.

– Desperate Housewives, 9 p.m., ABC.
After a two-week break the housewives find big troubles for Bree. Her
former friends – interrogated by her former boyfriend, the cop –
aren't speaking to her.

– “Leverage,” 9 p.m., TNT. In a
change-of-pace, the show tries a light take-off on “The Office.”
Much of it – especially an odd documentary-maker – doesn't work,
but it's an interesting try.

– Hell on Wheels, 10 p.m., AMC. The
stars (played by Common and Anson Mount) have a fierce fight. It's a
brutal hour, brightened by the growing power of Lily and the arrival
of the preacher's daughter.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 3


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

The Big Ten's first championship game,
with Wisconsin and Michigan State, could be a dilly. Their previous
game this season wasn't decided until video replays showed that an
MSU receiver had barely crossed the goal line on a last-second,
hail-Mary pass.

That game (on Fox) faces the Atlantic
Coast Conference championship, with Virginia Tech and Clemson, on
ESPN. ABC has Oklahoma State, No. 3 in the nation, hosting
10th-ranked Oklahoma.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “It's a
Wonderful Life” (1946), 8 p.m., and “Saturday Night Live,”
11:29 p.m., NBC.

A night of opposites starts with
“Wonderful Life,” a black-and-white gem that flows with optimism
and idealism. It didn't win any Oscars, but was nominated for five,
including best picture, director (Frank Capra) and star (James
Stewart). A Christmas classic, it will air tonight and on Dec. 24.

Then the sometimes-cynical “SNL” is
hosted by Steve Buscemi, best-known for playing compelling crooks on
“The Sopranos,” “Boardwalk Empire” and more. There's music
from the Black Keys.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Trek Nation,”
9-11 p.m., Science.

If you missed this documetary
Wednesday, catch it now. It starts slowly, as Gene Roddenberry Jr.
explains that he grew up disinterested in the “Star Trek” world
his dad created; now he's studying it.

He acknowledges his dad's flaws at home
(extra-marital affairs) and work (basically ignoring the entire third
season of “Trek”). Mostly, though, he celebrates the man who
proved TV could do smart sci-fi.

Other choices include:

– Harry Potter films, all day, ABC
Family. The first five movies rerun in order, at 7 a.m., 10:30 a.m.,
2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. That concludes with “Harry Potter
and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007); on Sunday, the marathon will
cover the second through sixth films.

– Indiana Jones films, 1 p.m. to
midnight, Syfy. Steven Spielberg, the master of action adventure,
directed all four films. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981, 1 p.m.)
is a gem, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984, 3:35
p.m.) has a few flaws, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
(1989, 6 p.m.) makes brilliant use of River Phoenix and Sean Connery;
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008, 9
p.m.) stretches things at times, but brings a redeeming sense of
humor.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a change – something CBS does a lot on Saturdays – this
rerun is inserted. Amy – Sheldon's sort-of girlfriend – find
she's attracted to Penny's former boyfriend.

– “A Princess for Christmas,” 8
and 10 p.m., Hallmark. Roger Moore used to save the world as James
Bond, from 1973-81. Now life is more mellow: He's Sir Roger Moore,
84; in this film, he plays a British duke whose American
grandchildren are visiting for the holidays.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8:30
p.m., CBS. In another change, CBS inserts this rerun. Ted is best man
at a wedding; also, Barney and Robin intervene on his relationship.
Meanwhile, Marshall waits and worries, convinced that he's about to
come down with food poisoning.

– “State of Play” (2009), 9 and
11:30 p.m., Bravo. Russell Crowe stars in a sharp political thriller.
It's adapted from a six-week mini-series that will return Wednesday
to BBC America.