TV column for Friday, Dec. 9


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

Some day, scientists may determine why
this show – which ends its five-year run on Jan. 27 – never
became a big hit. This episode, a splendid one, has everything.

There's action, adventure, humor and
warmth, all of it well-done. There are geeks saving the world;
there's a gorgeous, karate-kicking heroine and a nerd battling
Superman.

Well, he's battling Brandon Routh, the
“Superman Returna.” star. It's part of an excellent hour.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Frosty the
Snowman” and more, 8-10 p.m., CBS.

After a slow spell, networks are making
new cartoons again. Four have debuted this year, including “The Elf
on the Shelf,” which reruns at 9:30 p.m., wrapping up an animated
block.

That starts with the original “Frosty,”
a 1969 classic with an adequate story and rich use of the song.
“Frosty Returns,” a clumsy disappointment, is at 8:30, with the
2009 “Yes, Virginia” at 9.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Boss”
season-finale, 10 p.m., Starz.

Propelled by Kelsey Grammer's
thundering, Emmy-worthy performance as Mayor Tom Kane, this series
has been powerful in its first seven weeks. Now it ends its season on
election day.

Kane isn't in the race for governor,
but he sees it as a test of his power; uncovering a plot, he requires
his wife (Connie Nielsen) go to extremes to prove her loyalty,.
Also, their daughter's world is jolted.

Other choices include:

– “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. At 16, Wyzhir Johnson-Goslee is already a passionate
builder and designer, both for community projects and for his
family's 80-year-old home. Last Christmas Eve, his hand was severed
in a power-saw accident; now the team renovates the home.

– “Top Gear,” 8 p.m., and “Road
Warrior” (1981), 9 p.m., BBC America. For sheer horsepower, this
could be a busy night. First, the “Gear” guys test a Porsche and
race a Jaguar a Vauxhall and a Chrysler; then is the strong Mel
Gibson sequel, with makeshift vehicles in post-apocalyptic Australia.

– “Fringe, 9 p.m., Fox. In a rerun,
a serial killer is loose in the alternate world. The two teams
reluctantly co-operate, working with his equivalent persona in our
world.

– “Grimm,” 9 p.m., NBC. As a
recovering wolf, Monroe has been helpful while Nick probes other
creatures. Now, however, he confronts a reminder of his own wild
side.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of the season-opener, which centers on a party for the
mayor-elect, with Carrie Underwood and Tony Bennett performing. Then
a supporter is found dead and the major wants it to be called random
violence. Other guest stars are Tony-nominee Kelli O'Hara as Erin's
friend Lisa and Cassidy Gifford (daughter of Frank and Kathy Lee
Gifford) as Mandy.

– “Sanctuary,” 10 p.m., Syfy.
Kate Freelander, played by Agam Darshi, is back. She warns of a
Hollow Earth scheme that may involve the bigfoot monster.

– “Onion News Network,” 10 p.m.,
IFC. This oft-hilarious show wraps up its second season by viewing
the year in review and announcing its “Person of the Year” and
“Stock Photo of the Year.”

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 8


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

When NBC switches its schedule next
month, “Community” will be off the air, with an iffy future.

That's too bad; often merely average,
this show occasionally has episodes that ripple with creativity.
Prime examples are Christmas episodes – next week's animated rerun
and tonight's “Glee” take-off.

The glee-club director lures singers
for the holiday show. Abed and Troy jump in eagerly; others must be
seduced. There are some great songs, including a gleeful mocking of
Chevy Chase's generation.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Whitney,”
9:31 p.m., NBC.

Here's another show that will be hurt
by the mid-season shuffle, being nudged to Wednesdays.

Still, this is a bright and brash
comedy. Whitney Cummings' – the writer and star of thus show and
co-creator of “2 Broke Girls” – has a knack for sharp
punchlines and youthful perspective.

Tonight, she plants some lies so she
can spend Christmas with her friends, not her parents. Naturally, the
parents – played with zestful abandon by Peter Gallagher and Jane
Kaczmarek – arrive anyway.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Person of
Interest,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Some talented people are stuffed into
small roles in CBS dramas. Taraji P. Henson is a prime example.

Henson drew an Oscar nomination for
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” after drawing attention in
“Hustle & Flow” and the final “Boston Legal” season.
Here, she's Carter, the skeptical cop. Tonight, th computer says that
she is about to be a crime victim or a criminal.

Other choices include:

– “Wipeout” and ans “America's
Funniest Home Videos,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. Tonight, both shows offer
holiday editions. Lots of people will fall down and go splat, in the
name of Christmas.

– “The X Factor,” 8 p.m., Fox.
Already down to five people, the show dumps at least one more.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Leonard is confronted by the bully who tormented him in high
school. That has Penny wondering if she was a bully, too.

– “Have a Little Faith,” 8-10
p.m., Hallmark. The splendid “Hallmark Hall of Fame” films used
to have long waits, before moving to cable. Not any more; this one
arrives just 11 days after debuting on ABC. Beautifully filmed and
acted, it dramatizes Mitch Albom's account of two men of religion –
his boyhood rabbi (Martin Landau) and an ex-con pastor (Laurence
Fishburne).

– “Parks and Recreation,” 8:30
p.m., NBC. Last week's episode had some hilarious moments, with
Leslie drawing a one-week suspension for breaking the office-romance
rules. Now she fidgets to fill the week, in an episode that has fewer
laughs, but a surprising amount of warmth.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. In a
funny episode, the Christmas party brings music, mischief and a
porcupine. It also brings confusion: Andy frets about a hug between
his boss and Erin … whose jealousy of Andy's new girlfriend grows
as she consumes more liquor.

– “It's Always Sunny in
Philadelphia,” 10 p.m., FX. At its best, this is a broadly funny
show. At its worst – including tonight and next week's season
finale – it piles things on with bludgeon excess; the characters
seen so cruel or pathetic that the humor fades.

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.