TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 28


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

An odd thing happened back in 1965:
Everyone was in a hurry. There wasn't time for network supervision;
there wasn't time to make it bland.

Rushing to meet a Christmas deadline,
producers could break all the rules. They had kid actors … and
simple animation ….and a spare, jazzy score … and even a bit of
scripture.

Yes, a Christmas show actually
mentioned (albeit briefly) the first Christmas. Simple and
passionate, this is a classic. Rounding out the hour is the
seven-minute “Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Christmas in
Rockefeller Center,” 8 p.m., NBC.

Now for something new and noisy. At the
core is the lighting of the mega-tree, hosted by Al Roker and
Savannah Guthrie; alongside that will be lots of music.

Performers range from Victoria Jackson
and Scotty McCreery, both 19, to Rod Stewart, 66, and Tony Bennett,
86. They include Mariah Carey, CeeLo Green, Trace Adkins, Chris Mann
and Il Volo.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Hour”
season-opener, 9 p.m., BBC America, rerunning at 10:15.

The first season began in 1956.
England's stodgy and stagnant news world energized by a new TV show,
sparked by smart producer Bel (Romola Garai) and intense writer
Freddie (Ben Whishaw).

Now it's1957. Freddie is gone, Bel is
struggling and her anchor Hector (Dominic West) is drinking and
lusting, while ignoring meetings and his rich wife (Ooona Chaplin,
who is Geraldine's daughter, Charlie's granddaughter and Eugene
O'Neill's great-granddaughter).

Into this chaos steps a new news
director and fresh crises involving a crime surge and nuclear scares.
This first hour is packed with surprises, with tougher twists coming
next week. It's a great start.

Other choices include:

– “The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.
Last week, two of Britney Spears' teens – Beatrice Miller and Arin
Ray – were ousted. That evens things up, with each judging having
two finalists.

– “Arrow,” 8 p.m., CW. This hour
(which reruns Friday) sets up a logical link – Arrow (Oliver's
alter-ego) and The Huntress. She's new in town and he's smitten;
she's also the daughter of a Mob boss.

– “SNL Christmas,” 9-11 p.m.,
NBC. In a late change, NBC rests two shows (“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit” and “Chicago Fire”) and inserts its
annual collection of “Saturday Night Live” sketches.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
There are some hilarious moments on all sides. Cam protests to save a
tree … then gets Mitchell as a reluctant ally. Gloria suffers from
what she calls “pregnancy brain.” Haley, freshly expelled from
college, hesitantly returns to family life.

– “Suburgatory,” 9:31 p.m., ABC.
George's suburban makeover is mocked by his city friends.

– “Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC. On
one side, Peggy (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) forces Teddy to tell the
truth to his wife Rayna. On the other, Rayna is pressured to work an
event with her nemesis Juliette.

– “Hot in Cleveland”
season-opener, 10 p.m., TV Land. Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli) gets a
public-relations job offer; Elka (Betty White) seeks the upper hand
over Pierre (Regis Philbin).

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “How the Grinch
Stole Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Two immense talents combined in 1966,
to create one of TV's greatest shows.

One was Dr. Seuss, whose story has the
perfect mixture of wit and sentiment. The other was Chuck Jones, one
of the geniuses behind Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner.

Jones provided great animation and cast
“Grinch” perfectly. Boris Karloff narrates and Thurl Ravenscroft
(the voice of Tony the Tiger) sang the Grinch's theme song.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Dancing With
the Stars” finale, 9-11p.m., ABC.

You can think of this as a rematch: In
the spring of 2009, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson was the winner
and reality-show star Melissa Rycroft was third. Now they again
compete for the championship.

There's more, though: Kelly Monaco –
the soap star who was the show's first champion – is also in the
running. Tonight, each does an “instant dance,” shortly after
being told the music and the style; that will be added into Monday's
scores. Also, the 10 eliminated contestants return and dance.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Rizzoli &
Isles” and “Leverage” return, 9 and 10 p.m., TNT.

In the pre-Christmas weeks, when TV has
fewer new drama hours, TNT brings back two smart shows..

The good news is that “Rizzoli” is
as sharp as ever. A customer died at the diner where Jane's mom
worked, leaving everyone suspect. Also, people adjust to the fact
that Lydia abandoned a baby on Jane's porch … and that Jane's
brother Tommy might be a dad.

The bad is that “Leverage” tries a
change-of-pace that doesn't quite work. It has a passionate subject
(the chilling effect a big-box store has on Main Street America) and
a clever villain (Bridgid Brannagh of “Army Wives”), but lacks
the usual clever scam to stop her.

Other choices include:

– “Mankind: The Story of All of
Us,” 7-11 p.m., History. First is a rerun of last week's two-hour
episode – the second of six, in a series that's strong in scope,
graphics and reenactments; the Roman Empire rises and falls, with the
Dark Ages settling in. Then is a new round: Genghis Khan advances, a
plague spreads, the gun and the printing press are invented.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m.,CBS. A teen has
been abducted; now Ziva and Abby must protect her friend, who was a
witness. Also, Gibbs questions a woman (Alex Kingston of “ER”)
who may know what happened.

--”Frontier Earth,” 8 p.m., Animal
Planet. In its first two hours, this ambitious series visited the
ocean and the jungle; now it's in the Arizona desert, to study
colonies of honey-pot ants.

– “Ben and Kate,” 9 p.m., Fox.
Kate seemed to have an ideal boyfriend in Will (Geoff Stults). Then
she gets turned off while watching him play guitar with his cover
band.

– “New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox. When a
friend is pregnant, Jess and Cece fret about their biological clocks.

– “Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. A
retired NCIS agent became a millionaire – and then was killed. The
team probes the case and wonders how much Hetty (Linda Hunt) knows
about it.

– “Vegas,: 10 p.m., CBS. Last week
brought two detours: Rizzo killed Angelo and became the mobster in
charge of Vince (Michael Chiklis) and the casino; also, Vince and his
wife actually became likable. Now comes an aftershock: Rizzo hires
Vince's former girlfriend (Ivana Milicevic) as a singer.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 26


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-9 p.m., ABC.

In its final weeks, this first
“all-star edition” became a battle of champions. Four of the five
finalists were past winners; three of them were top athletes.

Last week, two of them – football
star Emmitt Smith and Olympic speed-skater Apolo Anton Ohno – were
ousted. Now we have the all-female finale, with Olympic gymnast Shawn
Johnson, actress Kelly Monaco and reality-show star Melissa Rycroft;
on Tuesday, one will be the champion.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: The Big Bang
Theory, 8:30 p.m., CBS.

In a last-second move, CBS dumped
“Partners” last week and started inserting reruns.

There was a so-so “Two and a Half
Men” last week; now TV's best comedy has its turn:

One university office has opened up.
Competing for it are Sheldon and his nemesis Kripke.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Extreme
Makeover: Home Edition, 9:01-11 p.m., ABC.

Raised by single mothers, Daniel and
Mandy Watson turned their lives into a mission. They adopted three
children and house two single-mom families at their farm; through
their Restoration House charity, they house three more moms in a
Knoxville apartment building.

Daniel has a part-time job – besides
working 50 hours a week for Restoration House. His family shares one
bathroom; the former dining room became the couple's bedroom.

Now the show – in the first of four
feel-good specials at Christmas time – comes to the rescue. The
result is sometimes contrived, often repetitive – but worth it with
the beautifully designed result.

Other choices include:

– “A Boy Named Charlie Brown:
(1969) and “WALL-E” (2008), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family. Animated
films often push loudly for big laughs; now here are refreshing
alternatives: “Charlie Brown” is understated and pleasant;
“WALL-E” is often silent and sometimes charming and moving.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. Last week, Marshall's old friend Brad tricked him into
getting a job at Marshall's law office. He promptly stole information
and will use it when they battle in court tonight. That leads friends
to recall their days as teen delinquents.

– “Liz & Dick,” 8-10 p.m.,
Lifetime. If you missed the debut Sunday, catch it now. Lindsay Lohan
and Grant Bowler are excellent as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard
Burton, launching an epic affair. The first half of the film,
dripping in glamor and romance, is great fun; the rest slides
downhill.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Max and Caroline have talked loosely about their cupcake business,
but now comes a break: A storefront may be available; they try an
unusual financing plan.

– “Mike & Molly,” 9:30 p.m.,
CBS. Mike and Molly are ready to have kids now. When she doesn't get
pregnant right away, Mike turns – unwisely, perhaps – to Carl and
Samuel for advice.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
McGarrett feels a therapist (Vanessa Marcil of “General Hospital”)
killed her patient. A cat-and-mouse game begins; Carlos Bernard and
Christin Lahti are guest stars.

– “Revolution,” 10:01 p.m., NBC.
Miles, a rebel leader, finally confronts Gen. Monroe, the militia
leader. He's trying to rescue his nephew Danny ... whose sister
Charlie makes a shocking discovery. Also, Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell)
tests Monroe's patience.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 25


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Revenge,” 9
p.m., ABC.

We met these characters in full fury,
already set in their ways. Now “Revenge” backs up to 2006, to
show they got this way.

Victoria has a visit from her estranged
mother, bringing memories of her troubled childhood. Emily goes on
her first mission under Takeda's training. Also, Nolcorp goes public;
Carl Porter gets in trouble.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Liz &
Dick,” 9-11 p.m., Lifetime.

No modern-day scandal can match
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for size and scope.

Not yet 30, she had already made 29
movies, married four men and won an Oscar. At 36 and on his first
marriage, he was a gifted stage star with a so-so film career. Now
their “Cleopatra” was big enough to save or destroy an entire
movie studio.

It's an epic story, fairly well told.
Lindsay Lohan – like Taylor, a talented actress before stirring the
tabloids – and Grant Bowler are excellent. “Liz & Dick”
does deliver glamor and gorgeous settings. What it can't give is a
full story; like the duo itself, it starts strong, then slowly slides
downhill.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Boardwalk
Empire,” 9 p.m., HBO.

A week before the season-finale,
Nucky's world seems to be crumbling.

His mistress was killed by Gyp's bomb;
his wife has left him, taking the kids. Now Gyp's men are coming,
with rifles ready.

A series often built around smart drama
now turns to shoot-em-up action, all centering on an often-bad man
who has a sturdy soul. There are plenty of surprises along the way,
peaking in the final minute.

Other choices include:

– “A Golden Christmas” (2009), 5
p.m., Ion. At her childhood home, a woman is helpfully nudged by a
dog. The story is predictable, but Andrea Roth (“Rescue Me”) is
always good and this starts a series of films with a golden
retriever. The sequel is at 7 p.m.; “Golden Christmas 3” debuts
at 9.

– “Home Alone” (1990), 6 p.m.,
ABC Family. Cleverly written (by John Hughes) and lushly directed (by
Chris Columbus), this revived the art of the big sight gag, while
overlaying some holiday heart. It's had four sequels; the latest –
this time, a boy thinks ghosts are invading – debuts at 8 and 10
p.m.

– “Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. David's life is endangered by an effort to reach Emma and Mary
Margaret across the portals of time.

– “BET Awards,” 8-10:30 p.m.,
BET. For 36 years, Don Cornelius was the booming host of Soul Train.
He died this year, at 75, and there will be a tribute tonight. Also,
a lifetime award to New Edition and lots of performers – Stevie
Wonder, John Legend, Ne-Yo, Keyshia Cole, Fantasia, 2 Chainz, Leah
Labelle, Rapael Saddiq, Charlie Wilson, Marcus Canty, Elle Varnr and
Eddie Levert.

– Football, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. The
two most-recent Super Bowl winners collide. Aaron Rodgers and the
Packers (7-3 this year, with a five-game winning streak) visit Eli
Manning and the Giants (6-4).

– “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m. (or
later, with football overrun), CBS. It's a busy night for veteran
actors: Brian Dennehy and Bebe Neuwirth return as a lawyer and a
judge; Stockard Channing arrives as Alicia's mom, looking for
emotional and legal help.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m. or
later, CBS. A slain real-state agent had former gang ties

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Indiana Jones
and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008), 8 p.m., NBC.

After a 19-years rest, Harrison Ford
returned to a role he'd perfected. Yes, Ford (then 66) was too old
for action-adventure. Wisely, “Skull” acknowledged that; it ha
some old-guy jibes and gave him a young protege (Shia LaBeouf) who
ends up playing a key role.

Beyond that, this is standard “Indy.”
Some plot twists are absurd –in real life, a refrigerator is meager
protection from a nuclear blast – but director Steven Spielberg
makes them all seem exciting.

TONGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Made in Jersey,”
8 p.m., CBS.

After two episodes, CBS yanked this
show. Now it tosses episodes into the Saturday abyss.

At the core is Janet Montgomery, who
was superb as a young thief in “Human Target.” Here, she's TV's
version of a New Jersey woman –big hair, big mouth – in an
upscale law firm. Her case at work involves a comatose woman's
husband and sister; at home, it involves hr sister and the neighbors.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Unlikely
Animal Friends,” 8-11 p.m., Nat Geo Wild.

Anyone can hang with a dog or cat or
such, but now come less-traditional friendships.

Dominic Ehrler was adopted by a goose;
it walked with him in the park and flew above his motorbike. A Welsh
couple kept a sheep at home; an Irishman kept Sammy the seal, even
after marrying. “In fairy tales, Sammy would have been a bridesmaid
at their wedding,” a friend said.

Don't rule that out; when Casey
Anderson married actress Missi Pyle, one of the wedding guests was
his 900-pound grizzly. The first, fun hour views these humans and
their animal pals. The second views assorted animal mismatches; the
third reviews these plus highlights from Friday's opener.

Other choices include:

– “Christmas Angel,” 7, 9 and 11
p.m., GMC (formerly Gospel Music Channel); same times Sunday. Kids
feel that wishes will only come true if they break windows in a
creepy old house. Grown-ups disagree – but then some wishes really
do come true. Emerging is a fairly solid drama that's a step up for
GMC. There are slow parts and illogical parts, but :”Christmas
Angel” has sharp production values and a cast led by Terri Polo,
Kevin Sorbo and Della Reese.

– “Alice in Wonderland” (1951),
7:30 p.m., Disney. One of the all-time greats returns, on a night
filled with cartoon movies. At 7 and 9 p.m., Bravo has Jerry
Seinfeld's “Bee Movie” (2007), with a clever script and OK
visuals. Starz has “Cars 2” (2011) at 7:10 p.m. and “Finding
Nemo” (2003) at 9.

– Football, 8 p.m., ABC. Notre Dame –
suddenly back to its old spot at No. 1 in the nation – visits
Southern Cal. Fox gets a jump on this, with Stanford at UCLA, at 6:30
p.m.

– “Marvin Marvin” debut, 8:30
p.m., Nickelodeon. Marvin (Lucas Cruikshank) is pretending to be a
typical teen-aged Earthling; only his host family knows he's from
another planet. The idea is fairly goo, but the rest – the script
and some of the performances – is way too broad and blunt.

– NCIS, 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the
husband of Diane Sterling (Melina McGraw) has been kidnapped.
Fortunately, her previous husbands are agents with the FBI (Fornell)
and NCIS (Gibbs).

– “Kyle Kinane: Whiskey Icarus,”
11 p.m., Comedy Central. A terrific storyteller, Kinane makes
everything seem funny – including his own arrest and the time a
couple had sex next to him on a plane.