TV column for Thursday, Dec. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Fringe,” 9
p.m., Fox.

Late at night, Peter gets a call:
Olivia, he's told, is in the alternate world, trying to get back.

This brings a problem: If it's true,
the woman lying next to him is the alternate Olivia in disguise.

That launches a key episode. “Fringe,”
which began as a good series, has now soared to the “X-Files”
level, intelligently ranging from wow-factor surprises to solid,
human drama.

These alternate worlds bring superb
work from John Noble and Anna Torv, as the Walters and the Olivias.
Tonight, she has some pivotal moments.

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

Having awakened Sheldon's emotions,
this show now toys with them.

This season, he became fond of Amy
Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik), a scientist who shares his detachment
from normal society. In a rerun tonight, they break up (at least for
a while) and he seeks an alternative to human companionship. Laurie
Metcalf returns as his mom.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Christmas shows,
all night.

The second day of ABC Family's “25
Days of Christmas” starts with “A Flintstone Christmas” at 6
p.m., then has “The Santa Clause” (1994) at 7 and 9. “Clause”
is lots of fun, with an ordinary chap (Tim Allen) transforming into
Santa against his will.

That same transformation happens –
much more suddenly – in the new “Santa Suit,” at 8 and 10 p.m.
on Hallmark. Kevin Sorbo plays a toy mogul who suddenly becomes a
scruffy Santa.

Yes, there's more. At 8 p.m., ABC has
the 40th anniversary of “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town,”
with Mickey Rooney as the voice of Kris Kringle turning into Santa;
at 8 and 10, AMC has “Scrooged” (1988), with Bill Murray as a TV
executive who needs ghastly intervention.

Other choices include:

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. A charred
body has a gunshot wound, yet neither the bullet nor the fire is the
cause of death. Things weren't going well for this guy.

– “Community,” 8 p.m., NBC. The
gang celebrates Troy's 21st birthday in a bar. Soon, Jeff
and Britta get silly, Shirley tears down incriminating photos and
Annie embraces the identity on her ID.

-- "High School Musical" (2006), 8-10 p.m., Disney. In a late change, Disney is replacing "Avalon High" with this popular film. Its story merely assembles teen cliches, but the songs and the dance moves are vibrant.

 

– “30 Rock,” 8:30, NBC. Jenna's
relationship with Paul (Will Forte) is going fine after six months,
but Liz feels her romance is wobbling. Oddly, she consults with
Kenneth.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC.
Michael is on a mission to stop the growing power of China. Also,
there are concerns that the office might move to a new building.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the murder of a teen boy may be linked to an
older case that recently re-surfaced.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Television already has some arrogant chefs. Here's a fictional one in
this rerun, killed during a cooking competition.

 

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Terriers”
season-finale, 10 p.m., FX.

This superb season started with Hank
saving Mickey's daughter, who'd had an affair with a developer. Soon,
the deaths piled up – Mickey, the developer, his architect (Hank's
ex-wife's fiance), more.

Now Hank has few allies. They include
his private-eye partner (facing jail time), his former police
partner, a gutsy reporter (played by art-film favorite Alison Elliot)
and his sister, a bi-polar genius.

This is tangled, but writer-director
Ted Griffith skillfully mixes action, warmth and intelligence.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Human
Target,” 8 p.m., Fox.

This macho show improved immensely with
the addition of Janet Montgomery as a reformed (barely) thief –
tough-talking, quick-thinking and vulnerable.

Tonight, she's the focus. To help a
childhood friend, she gets in too deep with a deadly crew. The
complications build, in an hour filled with quick twists and strong
action.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “25 Days of
Christmas” start, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., ABC Family.

For the 13th time, ABC
Family stuffs December with movies and specials, most related to
Christmas. That starts with a night that shows Dr. Seuss' knack for
to mixing entertainment and messages.

The best moments are cartoons unrelated
to the holiday: “Dr. Seuss on the Loose,” at 6 p.m., has “The
Sneetches,” “The Zax” and “Green Eggs and Ham”; “The
Lorax,” at 6:30, is a brilliant eco-tale.

Then comes “The Cat in the Hat” at
7, a sequel at 7:30 and the Jim Carrey movie version of “How the
Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000) at 8 and 10:30. “Grinch” is one
of the few Ron Howard films that critics hated, but there are lots
move movies – excellent ones – in the 24 days ahead.

Other choices include:

– “America's Next Top Model”
finale, 8-9 p.m., CW. Two people remain. Ann Ward – 6-foot-2 and
painfully thin – is a student, 19, from Dallas; Chelsey Hersley –
almost 5-foot-11 and gap-toothed – is a waitress, 23, from Boise,
Idaho. Tonight, they have a surprise visit from their parents; they
also pose for a print ad, do a commerical and have a runway show with
Robert Cavalli designs.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. A
night of comedy reruns starts with Frankie insisting that guys fall
apart more quickly. Then she has back trouble; also, a clerk assumes
she's buying adult diapers.

– “Better With You,” 8:30, ABC.
Casey and Mia want a bigger place, now that the baby is coming.
Casey, not the most mature soul, thinks it would be cool to live in
an old firehouse.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Claire hopes her brother Mitchell can talk Phil out of telling bad
jokes at his speech. Also, Mitchell hopes Claire can talk Cameron out
of some awful wardrobe choices.

– “The President's Book of
Secrets,” 9-11 p.m., History. On a week when the world seems to
have no secrets, this special (planned long ago) talks about what
secrets are handed to the president.

– “Cougar Town,” 9:30 p.m., ABC.
Jules (Courteney Cox) links with her new therapist (Jennifer Aniston,
Cox's old “Friends” colleague). Viewers soon suspect she's daft,
in a fun episode..

– “Grammy Concert Nominations,”
10 p.m., CBS. LL Cool J again hosts this show, mixing Grammy
nominations with music. That includes Justin Bieber, Katy Perry,
Bruno Mars and Miranda Lambert.

 

– “Top Chef All-Stars” debut, 10
p.m., Bravo. Here are second chances, en masse. All 18 contestants
finished in the top half in previous editions; seven of them –
Richard Blais, Tiffani Faison, Carla Hall, Dale Levitski, Angela
Sosa, Casey Thompson and Marcel Vigneron – were runners-up, among
the last two or three onstage. Tonight, they must re-invent the meals
that sent them home previously. The editing is brisk, the contestants
are colorful and the bottom three are livid.

 

– “The Whole Truth,” 10:01 p.m.,
ABC. The final new episodes air this month. Tonight, a lecherous
dentist has been killed; Parminder Nagra (“ER”) and Tricia Helfer
(“Battlestar Galactica”) guest.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 30


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

It was 34 years ago that “Grinch”
created TV perfection.

That started with a Dr. Seuss book,
mixing wit and sentiment. Chuck Jones produced and co-directed it,
adding the visual zest of his Looney Tunes craft. He had Boris
Karloff narrate, Thurl Ravenscroft sing the delightful song and June
Foray voice Cindy Lou Who.

All would become famous in other duties
– Road Runner (Jones), Tony the Tiger (Ravenscroft), Rocky J.
Squirrel (Foray) and Frankenstein's monster. Here, however, they
share TV's finest moment.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Raising Hope,”
9:01 p.m., Fox.

The “My Name is Earl” team of actor
Jason Lee and writer-director Greg Garcia is re-united.

Jimmy learns that his dad set aside
rock 'n' roll ambitions. Now he lets him sing with his old idol.

That's Lee, who's been in lots of
music-themed shows, including “Almost Famous,” the “Alvin”
films and “Memphis Beat” – where, alas, someone else dubs in
the Elvis-style vocals.

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

For the second straight season, “Sons”
manages to wrap up a terribly tangled plot.

This time, it probably went too far. It
has included a fierce trip to Ireland, many dead bikers and an
intense federal agent (superbly played by Ally Walker) who cut a deal
with Jax after framing his mom.

The problems are so steep that this
finale strains too far for a conclusion. Still, it pulls it off,
sometimes splendidly; even when trying too hard, this is a superbly
crafted hour.

Other choices include:

– “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,”
8-9 p.m., CBS. For no logical reason, two Christmas classics collide.
Like “Grinch,” this has a good moral and a fine song; unlike
“Grinch,” it lacks humor, zesty animation or a concise, 30-minute
story.

– “Christmas at Rockefeller
Center,” 8 p.m., NBC. Before the lighting of the massive tree, we
get lots of music. There are pop stars – Marian Carey, Jessica
Simpson, Sheryl Crow, Boyz II Men, Kylie Minogue, Anie Lennox and
Charice. There are also people who are known for classical-type
singing – Josh Groban, Katherine Jenkins, Susan Boyle and
10-year-old Jackie Evancho.

– “Glee,” 8 p.m., Fox. The glee
club heads to sectionals with its teen couples having problems. By
comparison, Emma and Carl (Jayma Mays and John Stamos) are doing
better than ever.

– “Shrek the Halls,” 8:30, ABC.
This so-so special is no “Grinch,” but it's been a ratings hit
for three straight years. Knowing nothing about the holiday, Shrek
tries to give his family a Christmas.

– “NCIS,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun
isn't a Christmas episode, even with a character named Holly Snow.
She's a Washington, D.C., madam, guiding the team through the world
of high-priced call girls.

– “Running Wilde,” 9:30, Fox.
Pulled from the air for most of the “sweeps” ratings period, this
returns with Emmy (Keri Russell) trying to make a point while going
with Steve to a charity ball.

– “The Victoria's Secret Fashion
Show,” 10 p.m., CBS. Nothing says the holidays quite like slender
women in their underwear. There's music from Katy Perry and Akon.
Perry – trimmed from “Sesame Street” for an outfit that was too
revealing – may be the most modestly dressed woman on the show.

 

TV column for Monday, Nov. 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “CMA Country
Christmas,” 9:30-11 p.m., ABC.

On the day after the Country Music
Association awards, singers taped this joyous show.

Brad Paisley, fresh from his first
Entertainer of the Year award, sang a tender “What Child is This”
… then blasted hot guitar licks behind Sheryl Crow's “Run, Run,
Rudolph.” LeAnn Rimes went from a zesty “Rockin' Around the
Christmas Tree” to a gorgeous “White Christmas.”

The concert is like that – upbeat and
uptempo one moment, deeply emotional the next. It adds some humorous
memories and a bonus: Kellie Pickler – stuffed artfully into a red
evening gown – turns “Santa Baby” into the sexiest moment at
any country Christmas.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “House,” 8
p.m., Fox.

For the third time in 10 weeks, “House”
airs this splendid mixture of pain, heart and humor.

As last season ended, Dr. House was
shattered by a death. He ended up with Dr. Cuddy.

That's where things start here, with
some beautiful and wordless moments. Then the others try to prop up
an ill neurosurgeon, to fulfill an inspector's requirement. It's an
episode worth re-seeing.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Moguls &
Movie Stars” (8 p.m.), Turner Classic Movies.

The last chapter ended in 1939, when
Hollywood proved – from “Gone With the Wind” to “The Wizard
of Oz” – that artful movies can be made in the studio system.
Tonight, we see that system disrupted by strong individuals (Orson
Welles, Preston Sturges) and the war.

We also see Hollywood lose its
idealism. Women, strong in the early days, were nudged aside. Studio
bosses lashed at unions and failed to confront anti-Semetism. They
even went along with blacklisting. “They ruined lives to protect
their swimming pools,” Welles said.

Other choices include:

– Christmas movies, 7 and 8 p.m.,
cable. There are double features on ABC Family at 7 and Hallmark at
8. The best films, however, are lighter ones: At 7, Lifetime has
Nancy McKeon in “Comfort and Joy” (2003); at 8, AMC has Bill
Murray's funny “Scrooged” (1988).

 

– “12 Nights at the Academy”
debut, 7 and 7:30 p.m., Golf Channel. For the next dozen nights, the
channel has tips from pros. That starts with an overview at 7 and
Greg Norman at 7:30.

 

– “Chuck,” 8 p.m., NBC. It's the
day after Thanksgiving, with Buy More people in a tizzy. Chuck has
bigger worries: His mom (Linda Hamilton) is back, with the dangerous
Volkoff (Timothy Dalton).

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m,
CBS. In a night of CBS reruns, this one is from when Charlie was
still with Chelsea. He has a colonoscopy, in an unsuccessful attempt
tomeether parents.

– “Unanswered Prayers,” 9-11
p.m., Lifetime. Twenty years ago, this splendid song reached No. 1 on
country charts and helped establish Garth Brooks' skill with gentle
emotion. Now Brooks produced this movie, which stumbles in its effort
to expand the story. After creating intelligent and likable
characters, it makes them do unlikely things. The film is best at the
beginning and end, when we hear Brooks' song; it has warm settings
and people, but is no match for a great ballad.

– “In Treatment,” 9 and 9:30
p.m., HBO. First is one of the best episodes of this powerful series,
as Sunil's intense daughter-in-law (Sonya Walger) announces that this
will be his last session. Then is another strong one, as an actress
(Debra Winger) is overwhelmed by her family.

– “Restrepo,” 9-11 p.m., National
Geographic. Author Sebastian Junger and filmmaker Tim Hetherington
spent a year in a dangerous Afghanistan outpost. The result ia
neither pro-war nor anti-war, but a profound look at good people in
an awful situation.

 

TVcolumn for Sunday, Nov. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “November
Christmas,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

No, all Christmas specials aren't
created equal. Everything about this one – from eloquently
understated characters to lush direction – reminds us that
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” brings quality.

The setting is a sweet-spirited farm
town. The father of a seriously ill girl wants to rush the holidays.

This could have been maudlin, but not
in these hands. Previously, Robert Harmon directed “Ike” and the
Jesse Stone movies, getting maximum emotion from minimal dialog. Now
he does it again; gifted actors (led by Sam Elliott and John Corbett)
quietly capture profound decency.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox.

In this show's first episode, the
family reluctantly took a scraggly dog named Santa's Little Helper.

Now, 21 years later, Helper makes a
major mistake, disturbing Bart. A therapist says the only solution is
to send the dog away.

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

From its first episode, this has been
the season's best new show. It re-creates 1920 Atlantic City, with a
fictionalized version of Nucky (Steve Buscemi), the local boss.

Now Nucky faces key confrontations with
his mistress and his brother. Meanwhile, his former mentor, the
Commodore (Dabney Coleman), seems to be dying. That creates one of
many crises for the Commodore's illegitimate son Jimmy.

There's much more, including a stunning
scene – involving an FBI agent and his corrupt aide – that walks
the line between baptism and waterboarding. It's a fierce moment in a
great hour.

Other choices include:

– “Star Wars,” all day, cable.
The original trilogy airs on Spike at 9 a.m. (1977), noon (1980) and
3 p.m. (1983), then reruns at 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight. There's
more; the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (2008) is 8 p.m.
on the Cartoon Network

– “The Dog Who Saved Christmas
Vacation,” 8 and 10 p.m., ABC Family. Here's the sequel to last
year's so-so movie, in which a mutt (voiced by Mario Lopez) stopped
bumbling crooks (including Dean Cain). Those crooks are back; added
is a rich and vain poodle – voiced, of course, by Paris Hilton.

– “Call Me Mrs. Miracle,” 8 p.m.,
Hallmark. If you missed Saturday's debut, here's another chance to
see one of the season's better Christmas movies. Doris Roberts is
Mrs. Merkle (dubbed Mrs. Miracle), inserting herself in people's
lives with a touch of magic. Jewel Staite is terrific as a likable
sort who tries to juggle work and raising her nephew. Director
Michael Scott gives us a rich-looking film.

– “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), 8
and 10:15 p.m., TBS. Here are more chances to see a family classic.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. In a rerun of the season-opener, Paul Young returns and
newcomers make an impact. There's Bree's hunky handyman (Brian Austin
Green), Lynette's upscale friend (Vanessa Williams) and Susan's
landlord (Lainie Kazan), who has a job idea.

 

– “Top Gear,” 10 p.m., History.
There was a good debut last week, but this episode is even better.
The guys try an Aston Martin Vantage and race cars against skiers.
Tanner Foust gets a quirky challenge in his specialty, called
“drifting.” And amid all this massive use of fossil fuels,
Dominic Monaghan (“Lost”), a fun guest, explains that he buys
electric or hybrid cars.

 

 

– “Brothers & Sisters,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Here's the rerun of a good episode from early in the
season. Returning from the wartime military, Justin is overwhelmed by
his wife's departure and her mother's amnesia. Meanwhile, a party for
Luc's underwear-modeling campaign brings trouble for 14-year-old
Paige and a new career option for Nora.