TV column for Saturday, Dec.1


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Elf” (2003), 8
and 10 p.m., ABC Family.

Ever since 1996, “25 Days of
Christmas” has livened Decembers. Now there are lots of cable
copies, but the original is still busy and fun, starting today with
four big-screen movies.

The Richard Attenborough version of
“Miracle on 34th Street” (1994) is 12:30 p.m., with
Nicolas Cage in “Family Man” (2000) at 3 p.m. and Michael Keaton
in “Jack Frost” (1998) at 6.

But the highlight is “Elf,” which
puts Will Ferrell alongside a great supporting cast. There's Bob
Newhart, James Caan, Ed Asner, Peter Dinklage and a thoroughly
charming Zooey Deschanel.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: College
football, 8 p.m. ET, Fox.

For the second straight night, Fox has
a college football championship game. And this one – like Friday's
Pac-12 game – was affected by ineligibility.

Wisconsin lost three of its last four
regular-season games and had a 4-4 record, finishing four games
behind Ohio State and two behind Penn State. Both are ineligible, so
Wisconsin gets its division's shot at the title game; it faces
Nebraska (7-1 in conference play) for a trip to the Rose Bowl.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “It's a
Wonderful Life” (1946), 8-11 p.m., NBC.

After suffering from overkill for a
while, this Christmas classic now settles for two NBC showings each
year, one of them on Christmas Eve. Here's the other, with Frank
Capra directing Jimmy Stewart in the story of one man's impact on
small-town lives.

“Life” shows its age at times –
in black-and-white, with a slow story. Still, it's warm and
involving.

Other choices include:

– “A Few Good Men” (1992), 7-10
p.m., Bravo. A great movie night starts here, with Rob Reiner
beautifully directing Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of his own
military-courtroom drama.

– “Made in Jersey,” 8 p.m., CBS.
In the TV tradition of New Jersey women, Martina is a big football
fan. Now she uses that to convince a former high school quarterback
to hire her law firm. Meanwhile, an accounting problem delays her
first pay check – which she really needs.

– More movies, 8 p.m., cable. You can
choose between action mega-films – “Inception” (2010) on TNT or
James Cameron's superb “Terminator 2” (1991) on AMC – or go
with dramas. Hallmark debuts “A Bride For Christmas,” with
Arielle Kebbel as someone who keeps almost marrying; Lifetime repeats
“Liz & Dick” (2012), which starts well – with glitz, glamor
and Lindsay Lohan – before fading

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
This is a busy week for Brigid Brannagh, the “Army Wives” star.
On Tuesday, she was the guest villain in the return of “Leverage”;
in this rerun, she plays someone whose daughter disappeared. Exactly
seven years later, she suddenly goes missing.

– “Apollo 13” (1995), 10 p.m to 1
a.m., Bravo. Ron Howard superbly directed this true story of
astronauts almost lost in space. It was nominated for nine Oscars,
including best picture and supporting actors Ed Harris and Kathleen
Quinlan. Tom Hanks stars.

– “Saturday Night Live,11:29, NBC.
Daniel Craig hosts this rerun, with music from Muse.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 30


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

When college conferences added
championship games, they extended their TV season by a week. Now Fox
has two straight championships – the Pac-12 tonight and the Big Ten
on Saturday.

The Pac-12 game started a year ago on a
wobbly note: In its regular-season finale, UCLA was thumped by
Southern California 50-0, but reached the championship game because
Southern Cal was ineligible.

This year is marginally better: Last
week, UCLA lost to Stanford, 35-17; now it has a rematch. Stanford
(8-1 in conference play) hosts UCLA (6-3 in the conference).

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC.

It's time for another battle of the
generations. When Vanessa (Nancy Travis) speaks at Career Day, her
oil-company job draws environmental complaints from students; her
daughter Eve wants her to quit.

Mike (Tim Allen) is unhappy with Eve …
who is now camping in the yard in protest.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “CeeLo's Magic
Moment” (TV Guide Network) or “Christmas at Rockefeller Center”
(NBC), both 8 p.m. .

Christmas music specials are rare these
days, but you can't prove it by CeeLo Green or Rod Stewart. Both are
in NBC's special (a quick rerun from Wednesday) AND in the cable
special (which reruns at 11 p.m. today, 4 p.m. Saturday. noon Sunday,
8 p.m. Monday and more).

For that matter, both are in a so-so
Stewart special that will be on many PBS stations. (Yes, both have
new Christmas albums.) Green's special also has the Muppets and
several “Voice” singers.

Other choices include:

– “The Family Man” (2000), 8-11
p.m., ABC Family. A cold-hearted buinessman (Nicolas Cage) is
suddenly whisked into an alternate life, complete with wife (Tea
Leoni), kids and chaos. The result is a sleek and entertaining film
by “Rush Hour” director Brett Ratner.

– More holiday-movie reruns, 8 p.m.,
cable. Lifetime has “The March Sisters at Christmas” (2012), a
contemporary retelling of “Little Women.” Hallmark counters with
“Hitched for the Holidays” (2012), with two attractive people
(Joseph Lawrence and Emily Hampshire) pretending to be married.

– “Malibu Country,” 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. Reba frets that her teen daughter pays more attention to the
brassy Malibu mom next door than to her; her solution is to text-spy
and to try teen fashions. Also, her own mom (Lily Tomlin) tries to
show Reba's son how to be the man of the house..

– “Arrow,” 9 p.m., CW. In a quick
rerun of Wednesday's episode, the Huntress arrives. She's a logical
match for Arrow … but has a dark secret.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. The
undercover work of Detective Lovato (Natalie Martinez) is suddenly
blown. Now police must move quickly, to probe the street gang she'd
infiltrated.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
After graduating from law school, Jamie became a cop, like his
grandfather, father and brothers. Now he bumps into an old classmate
and re-thinks his life. Meanwhile, his brother Danny probes the death
of a college student who may have been a drug dealer.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 29


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The X Factor,”
8 p.m., Fox.

Only three weeks from its finale, this
show still has eight acts left and lots of eliminating to do. Some of
that comes tonight, alongside performances by people at opposite
points in their careers.

One is Josh Krajcik, still getting
started; he was last season's runner-up. The other is Alicia Keys.

Back in 2001, Keys had a No. 1 single
(“Fallin'”), a No. 1 album and five Grammys. Since then, she's
had four more top-10 singles, three more No. 1 albums (plus one at
No. 2) and nine more Grammys.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “A Fairly Odd
Christmas,” 7-8:30 p.m., Nickelodeon; repeats at 8 p.m. Friday,
Sunday and Dec. 7, plus noon Sunday.

Here's a rarity – a new Christmas
film that's fresh, fun and unique.

It's the second time the “Fairly
OddParents” cartoon has been done in live-action The fairies and a
few others are cartoons, but actors (charmingly played by Drake Bell
and Daniella Monet) fill the top roles. The result finds a balance
between cartoon – bright colors, brassy characters – and real.

It all seems bubbly and harmless …
until someone eats one of the gingerbread men, drawing rage. From
then on, this fairly odd film finds some fun for parents and their
kids.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Fargo”
(1996), 8-10 p.m., AMC.

Hollywood has given us plenty of
Westerns and Southerns, but here is the consummate Northern movie,
beautifully capturing that understated world.

The prime example is Marge Gunderson, a
police chief who calmy greets criminals – some grisly, some just
clumsy. Frances McDormand won a best-actress Oscar; her husband (Joel
Coen) and brother-in-law (Ethan Coen) won one for best script. There
were five more nominations, including best picture.

Other choices include:

– “30 Rock,” 8 p.m., NBC. Is this
really Liz's wedding day? We'll see tonight.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. This mean war, even among friends: Sheldon's parking spot has
been given to Wolowitz.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. It's been five years since we saw Kandi (April Bowlby),
Alan's hot ex-wife. Now she's back.

– “Happy Feet” (2006), 8:35-11,
ABC Family. Penguins (who all look the same anyway) seem to act the
same here, obsessing on singing. Then one dares to dance. The result
– filled with wit and some great dance routines via Savion Glover –
is an animated classic.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Arizona is back to work for the first time since losing a leg in the
plane crash. Also, Cristina sorts out her relationship with Owen, her
boss and estranged husband.

– “Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox.
Thanksgiving is noted in opposite worlds. In New York, Rachel and
Kurt settle for a non-traditional holiday meal. Back home in Ohio,
many of the other alumni are back in time to help the glee club
prepare for sectionals.

– “Elementary,” 10 p.m., CBS.
After a bomb kills two people, Sherlock Holmes finds signs of a case
that's been dormant for years. Also, Sherlock, recovering from a drug
habit, finally picks a sponsor.

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.