TV column for Thursday, Dec. 9


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

Here is one of the freshest things to
hit TV in a while. It's not always funny, but it's unique, smart and
thoroughly entertaining.

Abed feels that everyone is in
stop-motion animation. We see it from his perspective and agree, but
the others don't; Professor Duncan (John Oliver) sees this as a
chance to write for psych journals.

Soon, they're visiting Christmas –
and singing. Danny Pudi (Abed) is a pretty good singer, Alison Brie
and Yvette Brown (Annie and Shirley) are great ones and this is a
breezy delight.

“Fringe,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

First is an excellent “Bones,”
digging deeply into the psyche of the oft-stoic Brennan. Convinced
that the victim mirrors her own life, she even imagines conversations
with her. Nudged by an all-knowing security guard (Enrico Colantoni),
Brennan questions everything.

Then “Fringe” follows up on last
week's superb episode, in which Olivia finally escaped from the other
world; the alternate-world Olivia barely got back to her own side.
Tonight, amid a new case, Peter faces the fact that his warm affair
was with the wrong Olivia.

specials, 9 and 10:01 p.m., ABC.

First is “Oprah, the Next Chapter.”
Oprah Winfrey talks about the 25-year run of her talk show (which
ends this season) and next month's start of her cable Oprah Winfrey
Network. She also talks about her longtime relationship with Stedman
Graham and friendship with Gayle King.

Then the annual “10 Most Fascinating
People” ranges from Justin Bieber, 18, to Betty White, who turns 89
next month. It includes Kate Middleton, Sarah Palin, LeBron James,
Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lopez and, of course, the cast of “Jersey

Other choices include:

– Animation, 7-11 p.m., ABC Family.
“The Gruffalo” debuts at 7 p.m., sandwiched by reruns, At 6 p.m.
is “Rudolph's Shiny New Year”; from 8-11 p.m. are three tales
with Mickey Rooney voicing Santa – “Santa Claus Is Comin' to
Town,” “The Year Without Santa Claus” and “Miser Brothers'

– “Shrek the Halls” and “Disney
Prep & Landing,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Here are two recent
cartoons. “Shrek” is so-so, propelled by the popularity of its
characters; “Prep” is a fast-paced and fairly entertaining look
at the elves people who prepare for each Santa arrival.

– “The Santa Incident,” 8 and 10
p.m., Hallmark. Fresh from playing a scheming priest in “Sons of
Anarchy,” James Cosmo plays a kindly Claus. This is the second
recent Hallmark film in which Santa crashes and is cared for by a
family. This time, bumbling Homeland Security agents are at fault.

– “The Office,” 9-10 p.m., NBC.
Amy Ryan is having a great season on “In Treatment.” Now she
returns to her “Office” role of Holly; when she fills in for
Toby, a second Christmas party is mandated.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. A pedophile is the prime suspect in the killing of an
FBI agent's wife and kidnapping of their children.

– “Lions on the Edge,” 9 p.m.,
Nat Geo Wild. As a drought grips Tanzania, animals converge on the
few water holes; in one somber sequence, lionesses must gather
strength to chase the others away. It's a fairly good film; so is
“Lion Warriors,” re-running at 8 and 11 p.m.

– “The Apprentice,” 10 p.m., NBC.
The charity events involving Kathy Griffin and Liza Minnelli
conclude. Then Donal Trump chooses this edition's champion.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
When a Santa is killed, members of a Santa Society are probed.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 8

8-10 p.m., NBC.

Monday's opener included some
surprisingly good groups – and an especially surprising ouster.

Now the eight surviving groups link for
a vibrant opener, to Kings of Leon's “Use Somebody.” (It's kind
of like the “America Idol” openings, only good.) By the end of
the night, two more will be gone.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Human Target,”
8 p.m., ABC.

Last season had its best moments when
Chance collided with his former mentor Baptiste, a hit man superbly
played by Lennie James.

Now this improving show brings him
back. A friend of the new boss (Indira Varma) has been kidnapped; for
help, Chance contacts Baptiste in a Russian prison.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Mythbusters,”
9 p.m., Discovery.

The good news comes right away: The
guys are called to the White House, where President Obama says he's a
big fan and gives them a challenge.

The bad: The question – could a Greek
hero really have reflected the sun to burn enemy ships? – is one
they've already tried once, so all they can do is make it bigger. The
approach is painstaking; the episode's second challenge is so-so.
Also, the conversations seem contrived – and it's way too obvious
that two possible endings were taped right after the first White
House chat.

Warriors,” 9 p.m., Nat Geo Wild.

With only about 2,000 lions remaining
in Kenya, strong action has been taken. The government bans
lion-hunting; private sources compensate for lost cattle – if
there's no revenge.

Still, it's not easy in a culture that
uses lion kills to measure manhood. This balanced report visits all
sides, including new warriors. Also, Tuesday's excellent “Leopard
Queen” reruns at 8 and 11 p.m.

Other choices include:

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Frankie thinks she'll have a low-money Christmas. Then her parents
(Jerry Van Dyke and Marsha Mason) start spending big.

– “Better With You,” 8:30, ABC.
Here are more generational problems on Christmas, with some very
funny moments: Maddie concocts a lie to avoid spending the holiday at
the family lake house.

– “Miracle on 34th
Street” (1994), 8:30-11 p.m., ABC Family. Most people want the 1947
original. We prefer this remake, with lush visuals and Richard
Attenborough as Kris Kringle.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
The family obsesses on the first school dance for Luke and Manny.

– “Hell's Kitchen” (9 p.m., Fox)
and “Top Chef: All-Stars” (10 p.m., Bravo). First, the four Fox
survivors make a fusion dish, with two advancing to next week's
finale. Then Bravo has its second episode; in the fun opener
(rerunning at 9), the chefs made the dishes that had doomed them

– “Friday Night Lights,” 9 p.m.,
101 Network, DirecTV. Last week, East Dillon had a big win over the
team it forfeited to last season; now a magazine heralds Coach
Taylor. He doesn't realize his daughter is in trouble over a college
affair. Tonight, her troubles grow; so do those of Vince, the

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit” (NBC) and :The Whole Truth” (ABC), both 10 p.m. Two “Lost”
actors are guest stars. NBC's rerun has Henry Ian Cusick as a former
suspect, helping with a rape case; ABC's new episode has Harold
Perrineau as a psychic who seems to know too much.



TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 7

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “A Charlie Brown
Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

One of TV's greatest moments came
through inattention.

Back in 1965, this special was ordered
late and was rushed. There was no time for anyone to meddle.

So “Charlie Brown” broke all the TV
traditions. It used real children, not squeaky-voiced grown-ups. It
had primitive animation and a jazzy score. It even included some

It did it beautifully, creating a
classic. This hour will be rounded out by a sequel to “Prep &

1-8-7,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Here is a brilliant hour, making
perfect use of the Detroit setting.

Longford (James McDaniel) grew up in a
neighborhood that collapsed after the 1967 riots. In a moving scene,
he drives past the crumbling buildings, telling what was once there.

In an abandoned shelter under one
burned-out home, two skeletons have been found. These were young
lovers – he was black, she was white – who had vanished. Old
issues return after 43 years.

There are strong moments from McDaniel,
Michael Imperioli, Albert Hall (as Longford's father) and Della Reese
and Giancarlo Esposito, as a victim's mother and brother. It's a
powerful hour.

Like Boys Who Like Boys,” 10 and 10:30 p.m., Sundance.

This is reality at its most basic –
eight New Yorkers (straight women, gay men), bright and likable.

Rosebud Baker's name and free spirit
belie the fact that her grandfather (James Baker) was big in the
White House of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. Her friend Sahil
Farooqi has a mostly closeted life.

Crystal McCrary is a lawyer whose
second novel lashes at basketball stars (which her ex-husband Greg
Anthony was). Her friend and TV-producing partner is Nathan Williams.

Sarah Rose is an author, envying the
romance of her friend Joel Derfner; Elisa Casas, newly divorced,
employs her newly sober friend David Munk. Each is worth spending TV
time with.

Other choices include:

– “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery
Day” and “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too,” 6 and 6:30 p.m., ABC
Family. Originally movie-theater shorts in 1968 and '74, these
cartoons offer gorgeous artwork.

– “Mickey's Christmas Special,” 7
p.m., ABC Family. Three small Christmas cartoons are assembled. This
is followed by TV animation – “Cranberry Christmas” at 7:30,
“Frosty's Winter Wonderland” at 8” – and then “Home Alone
2” (1992) at 8:30.

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. Here are
extremes of idealism (Brittany believes in Santa, Finn tries to bring
Christmas cheer) and its opposite (Sue is Grinchy, the secret-Santa
is rigged). Also, there are carols.
– “Minute to Win It,” 8
p.m., NBC. Here's the first of three holiday-themed episodes.

– “Biggest Loser,” 9-11 p.m.,
NBC. After six weeks at home, the final four have a marathon and
another weigh-in. That decides two people for next week's finale;
viewers will choose the third.

– “No Ordinary Family,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. Clinging to their secret powers, Jim and Stephanie each have a
confidant. Now – in a fun scene bouncing between them – they
split with George and Katie.

– “Leopard Queen,” 9 p.m., Nat
Geo Wild. Leopards are usually camera-shy in the wild, but John Varty
traced one for all of her 17 years, capturing tragedy, heroism and
survival. It's a strong second film for “Big Cat Week,” with
Monday's fine “Big Cat Odyssey” rerunning at 8 and 11 p.m.

– “Raising Hope,” 9:01 p.m., Fox.
At Christmastime, Jimmy's parents scheme. His dad is scalping toys;
his mom wants to star with Hope in the living nativity. The result
brings occasional laughs.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 6

(NBC) or American Country Awards (Fox), 8-10 p.m.

It's music overload tonight. We're
tempted to go with Fox's sheer starpower – Trace Adkins (who
hosts) and Alan Jackson (who gets a special award), plus Keith Urban,
Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan,
Blake Shelton, Josh Turner, Steel Magnolia and more.

Still, “Sing-Off” has 10
surprisingly good – and extremely varied – groups. They link for
a vibrant opening number, then perform separately. This short-term
series – Mondays and Wednesdays, through Dec. 20 – is a fun
little treat.

Certain Age” return, 10 p.m., TNT.

Last year, this drama-comedy was too
consumed with woe. Joe (Ray Romano) was divorced and an addicted
gambler, Terry (Scott Bakula) was an actor and temp worker with
fleeting relationships, Owen (Andre Braugher) hated working at his
dad's car dealership.

Now there's been a mid-course
correction. Joe quit gambling, Owen was put in charge and hired Terry
as a salesman. “Men” remains droll and dry, but has glimmers of
hope for guys worth watching.

Odyssey,” 9 p.m., Nat Geo Wild.

The splendid TV traditions of National
Geographic have moved over to this spot, which replaced the Fox
Reality Channel. Now “Big Cat Week” offers richly crafted (albeit
gory) films on four nights.

That starts with this oddly interesting
film from Dereck and Beverly Joubert. We get glimpses of the nomadic
life they've had in Africa for 30-plus years … and glimpses of the
current lives of lions … and great moments from past films. In one,
a lion kills a chimp before noticing its newborn baby – which it
then cuddles and protects. Alternately harsh and tender, this is
wildlife filmmaking at its best.

Other choices include:

– “Jack Frost” and “Rudolph,
the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys,” 6 and 7
p.m., ABC Family. These animated reruns lead into the delightful
“Willie Wonka” (1971) at 8:30.

– “Skating With the Stars,”
8-9:30 p.m., ABC. Sean Young was the first contestant eliminated –
just as she was bounced early from “Gone Country,” a couple years
ago. Five stars remain.

– “Martha Stewart's Holiday Open
House” and “Mad Hungry for the Holidays,” 8 and 9 p.m.,
Hallmark. Here are two quietly adequate hours. Stewart is helped by
the likability of Claire Danes and Jennifer Garner; Quinn adds her
sons and her mom – an Italian by marriage, who mastered the

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Unable to buy his girlfriend a gift, Alan must get creative.

– “Sundays at Tiffany's,” 9-11
p.m., Lifetime. In her wedding week, a bride-to-be (Alyssa Milano)
suddenly spots her invisible friend from childhood. He's visible,
penniless, kind of clueless. It's an odd story – from James
Patterson, known for crime novels – that gradually becomes quite

– “The Closer,” 9 p.m., TNT. This
terrific series returns for one strong episode. One of the detectives
has been fiercely attacked; Brenda must figure out why and take quick

– “Tabitha's Salon Takeover”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Bravo. Two sisters own a California salon,
with their two younger sisters as employees. All four behave as
siblings (not co-workers), arguing in front of customers. Tabitha
Coffey faces a steep challenge, in a fairly interesting hour.

– “Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. An
investigation takes Castle to New York's bar culture of the past –
probing tunnels from the Prohibition days – and present.



TV column for Sunday, Dec. 5

Empire,” 9 p.m., HBO; “The Walking Dead,” 10 p.m., AMC.

These shows have re-established Sundays
as cable turf. Now “Boardwalk” – TV's best new show – wraps
up a 13-episode season; then “Dead” wraps up its jolting,
six-week season.

In last week's “Boardwalk,” Nucky
(the boss of Atlantic City) fired his brother as sheriff. Nelson (the
FBI agent) fueled the suspicions of Nucky's mistress, then drowned
his own corrupt assistant. Tonight, Nucky frets as his candidates
(including Warren Harding) face the 1920 election.

In the previous “Dead” episodes
(rerunning from 4:30-10 p.m.), Jim tried to get through the zombies
to reach the Center for Disease Control. Now he arrives, but can he
trust the odd doctor who lets him in?

Housewives,” 9 p.m., ABC.

After a two-week break (for American
Music Awards and a rerun), “Housewives” has fresh schemes.

Paul Young has a new form of
retaliation, opening a halfway house on Wisteria Lane. Meanwhile,
Gabrielle's plan would give her permanent care of her biological
daughter (part of a baby switch, years ago), by reporting the girl's
mother as an illegal immigrant.

Salute the Troops,” 9-11 p.m., VH1.

From a Marine base in San Diego, this
concert is on cable and on the Armed Forces Network. It focuses on
female singers – Katy Perry, Keri Hilson, Nicki Minaj – with some
guys in the background for Sugarland, Paramore (performing in the
Middle East) and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (joined by Ann and
Nancy Wilson of Heart).

Kathy Griffith hosts. Other presenters
include Brandy, Marisa Miller, comedian Jeffrey Ross and Snooki and
The Situation from “Jersey Shore.”

Other choices include:

– Harry Potter marathon, 7 a.m. to
midnight, ABC Family. This repeats Saturday's marathon, but starts
earlier to make room for the fifth film. That's “Harry Potter and
the Order of the Phoenix” (2007) at 9 p.m.; the others are
chronological at 7 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

– “The Fugitive” (1993),
6:30-9:30 p.m., Ion. Sleekly directed by Andrew Davis, this is a
superb portrait of a wrongly convicted man (Harrison Ford) and his
relentless pursuer (Tommy Lee Jones).

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Four holiday tales are told, including one that has Martha Stewart
converting the Simpson home into a holiday chalet; another (not a
cartoon) has Katy Perry singing.

– “On Strike for Christmas,” 8-10
p.m., Lifetime. As her well-meaning husband and sons keep being
distracted, a woman (Dapne Zuniga) feels overwhelmed. There's
potential here, but this sluggish story needs half its time to get

– “Farewell Mr. Kringle,” 8-10
p.m., Hallmark. Here's a much better holiday film, visually slick and
perfectly cast. Christine Taylor and William Morgan Sheppard are
perfect as a reporter and a man who has been his home-town Santa for
50 years, even changing his name to Kris Kringle.

– “The Cleveland Show,” 8:30,
Fox. An hour-long episode (pre-empting “Family Guy”) has
Cleveland joining the Charity Beer Walk and Rallo helping an old man
escape from the retirement home.


– “Nick News,” 9 p.m.,
Nickelodeon. We meet kids who get great help from service dogs. A boy
with Asperger's syndrome has a dog who calms him; one with Down
syndrome has a dog who keeps him from wandering away. Another gets
protection because of his peanut allergies.

– “Top Gear,” 10 p.m., History
Channel. The third episode brings the show's best challenge –
taking $1,000 cars through a sort of moonshine run. Also, Ty Burrell
(“Modern Family”) is the guest.


– “Brothers & Sisters,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Romances dominate tonight – new ones for Kitty and Nora
and an attempt by Sarah to have a night alone with her husband Luc.