TV column for Friday, Dec. 20



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Christmas in Washington,” 8 p.m., TNT.


Each year, this special offers gorgeous music in an elegant
setting.


Now Hugh Jackman, a terrific singer himself, hosts and does
a song. Other singers include Sheryl Crow, Janelle Monae, Anna Kendrick, the
Backstreet Boys and Pat Monahan of Train.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “I Love Lucy Christmas Special,” 8
p.m., CBS.


Two vintage episodes have been re-assembled here, with color
added by computer. One is set on Christmas Eve, with black-and-white flashbacks
of Lucy announcing her pregnancy and being taken to the hospital; the other has
her grape-stomping adventure in Europe.


The subtle color process works beautifully. As for the rest,
we’re reminded of the TV changes since 1956: The set-up scenes are surprisingly
slow and stiff; the big, sight-gag scenes, however, are perfectly done and
thoroughly hilarious.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Anchorman” (2004), TBS or “Anchorman
2” special, E; both 8 p.m.


Few movies have been promoted as relentlessly as “Anchorman
2.” In his Ron Bergundy character, Will Ferrell has shown up in truck
commercials, newscasts, everywhere except (oddly) “Saturday Night Live.”


Now that the movie has opened, the TV attention continues. E
reruns its special, with Giulani Rancic interviewing Ferrell, Steve Carell,
Christina Applegate and more; TBS reruns the original movie … which has its
funny moments, plus a few others – the anchorman street fight, for instance –
that strain for lame laughs.


Other choices include:


“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), 8-11 p.m., NBC. In a late
decision last week, NBC yanked this film’s Saturday airing, replacing it with a
“Sound of Music” rerun. Now that clogs things up: “Wonderful Life” airs tonight
and four days later on Christmas Eve.


“Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. Obsessed with the teamwork philosophy
of basketball coach Phil Jackson in this rerun, Brennan has her five lab people
link to solve a Sept. 11-related mystery.


“Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown,” 9 p.m., Fox.
This rerun of a 2011 special finds people struggling to break Linus’
security-blanket addiction.


“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS. Chin’s life may be in danger,
when it turns out that a suspect in his case might be a serial killer. Also,
Danny and Grace find a mysterious box that washes onshore.


 Movies, 9 p.m.,
cable. There are good ones tonight on TNT (“A Christmas Carol,” 1999, with
Patrick Stewart as the perfect Scrooge), ABC Family (Chevy Chase in “Christmas
Vacation,” 1989) and “Starz” (Sam Raimi’s lush “Oz the Great and Powerful,”
2013). And there’s an American debut: “Rolling Stones Sweet Summer Sun” follows
the group as it performs its hits in the same spot – London’s Hyde Park – where
it gave a free concert in 1969.


 “Blue Bloods,” 10
p.m., CBS. Danny investigates a friend who may be tied to a Mob family. Tom
Cavanagh plays the friend, with Rebecca Budig as his wife.


TV column for Thursday, Dec. 19



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The X Factor” finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox.


Still struggling to get ratings and mold a star in the U.S.,
this show reaches into its splendid British past.


Leona Lewis won the 2006 edition and has gone on to sell 20
million records; One Direction finished third in 2010 and has sold 35 million.
They’ll perform tonight, Fox says.


So will Mary J. Blige and others, including the final three
acts – Jeff Gutt, Carlito Olivero and the duo of Alex Kinsey and Sierra Deaton.
By the end of the night, one of those three will be a winner.


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


For the second time this month, viewers can relive this
half-hour of perfection.


Racing to beat a deadline in 1965, this cartoon didn’t have
any time for network interference. It broke all the rules – kid voices, jazzy
score, primitive animation, scripture, an anti-commercialism theme – and
created a gem. Filling out the hour are “Charlie Brown Christmas Tales,” short
bits based on the “Peanuts” comic strip.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Waitress,” 8-10:30 p.m., CMT.


Here’s an understated delight, a perfectly crafted independent
movie.


Adrienne Shelly wrote this film and directed it beautifully,
with Keri Russell as a quiet waitress with an oafish husband (Jeremy Sisto), a
decent doctor (Nathan Fillion) and a knack for making pies. Shelly also
co-starred as a fellow waitress … then was slain in her Manhattan apartment
before learning the film was a triumph.


Her stars went on to TV success in “The Americans,”
“Suburgatory” and “Castle”; still, “Waitress” remains proof that a modest movie
can have wit and charm.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II:  “The Returned” finale, 9-10:15, Sundance.


From “Twin Peaks” to “Lost,” TV’s best dramas tend to start
wonderfully and end adequately. This French mini-series (with English
sub-titles) continues the pattern.


The start was stunning, as people quietly returned to this
mountain town, unaware that they had died and been buried years ago. As a
power-failure grips the town, the returnees are huddled at a religious retreat,
alongside their family and others – many of them bitter about who returned and
who didn’t. This finish can’t match the power of the previous episodes, but
“Returned” is directed and acted with rare subtlety, skill and impact.


Other choices include:


“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Returning home from his
North Sea expedition, Leonard spends time at Penny’s place, without telling
Sheldon he’s home. The result puts their wobbly friendship in question, in a
funny rerun.


“The Sing-off,” 8 p.m., NBC. The final four groups tackle
songs assigned them by the judges. One will be ousted, with the others reaching
Monday’s finale.


“The Descendants” (2011), 8:30 p.m., HBO. George Clooney
stars in this smart film, an Oscar-winner for its script. Against a gorgeous
Hawaiian backdrop, Clooney plays a guy struggling with information about his
comatose wife.


“Saturday Night Live Christmas,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. Here’s a
compilation of holiday sketches.


“The Year,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. Robin Roberts – freshly deemed
by colleague Barbara Walters as one of the year’s 10 most fascinating people --
hosts this recap.


“Reign,” 9 p.m., CW. The pilot film reruns, with a teen-aged
Mary Queen of Scots settling into the French court . It’s an odd blend of
history and teen romance, semi-salvaged by Megan Follows as the conniving
queen.


“Elementary,” 10 p.m., CBS. This rerun has Sherlock renewing
his search for Moriarty, now that a hit man (F. Murray Abraham) is loose.


TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 18



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “A Home for the Holidays,” 8 p.m., CBS.


For three siblings, a summer camp was a rare opportunity to
meet; the rest of the year, they were scattered to different foster homes. Then
Tammy Gerber volunteered at the camp; she and her husband soon adopted all
three, ages 12, 9 and 8.


Such stories ripple through this annual special; one couple even
tells of deciding to adopt after seeing a previous “Home.” Alongside that is
lots of music from host Celine Dion, Chris Young and Ne-Yo.


TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The 10 Most Fascinating People of
2013,” 9:31-11 p.m., ABC.


As her retirement nears, Barbara Walters, 84, chooses her 21st
(and final, we’re told) “most-fascinating” list.


There are people who have done nothing (Baby George, William
and Kate’s son; also Kim Kardashian) and ones who have done a lot (Jennifer
Lawrence, also Kanye West, who’s paired with Kardashian). There are those who
stirred controversy (Miley Cyrus, Edward Snowden), sympathy (Robin Roberts) and
confusion (the “Duck Dynasty” clan), plus others being kept secret.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Mob City,” 9-11 p.m., TNT.


Wrapping up its first mini-season, this series – set in 1947
Los Angeles -- continues to juggle real and fictional characters.


On the fictional side are Jasmine, the Mob moll, and her
ex-husband Teague, the cop. She’s overlooked a detail that could put her in
danger; he tries to protect her.


Real-life is Bugsy Siegel, the mobster who molded Las Vegas
and wanted to control Los Angeles; also William Parker, the straight-arrow
police chief trying to tame a corrupt department. Tonight, Siegel faces a
trial; Parker sees his reforms wobble due to a violent massacre.


Other choices include:


“The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. With their last chance to
grab votes before Thursday’s finale, we get three very different performers. Jeff
Gutt, 37, is a power-rocker from Detroit … Alex Kinsey and Sierra Deaton, both
22, are sweethearts and sweet singers from Florida … Carlito Olivero is an
energetic, bilingual rocker from Chicago.


“The Sing-off,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The groups tackle songs from
movies. Then judges trim the field from six to four, with one more round
(Thursday) before Monday’s finale.


More music, 8 p.m. For current stars, CW has the “iHeart
Radio Jingle Ball.” Miley Cyrus – deemed fascinating by Barbara Walters, who was
63 when Cyrus was born – is joined by Robin Thicke, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis,
Pitbull, Fall Out Boy, Selena Gomez, Austin Mahone and more. For a classic, ABC
Family has “Mary Poppins” (1964), two days before “Saving Mr. Banks” opens,
detailing the film’s chaotic birth.


“The Goldbergs,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Here’s a transplanted rerun
of a busy and funny episode. Barry gets to use the car, but only if he agrees
to phone his mom when he gets there. That isn’t so easy, in an era before cell
phones; the night spins wildly out of control.


“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Jay wants a quiet birthday;
naturally, he gets the opposite in this rerun.


 “Michael Buble’s 3rd
Annual Christmas special,” 10 p.m., NBC. The young Canadian with a
classic-crooner voice adds guest stars who are talented (Mariah Carey, Mary J.
Blige) or hungry (Cookie Monster).  Songs
range from the light-hearted “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to the pensive
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”


“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 10 p.m., CBS. This rerun
finds the team, jolted by Hodges’ engagement to an Italian beauty, probing a
case involving a tennis star.


TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 17



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 8 and 9
p.m., CBS.


On a night when ABC and Fox retreat to reruns, CBS has new
episodes of these ratings-leaders.


First, a mysterious illness hits children who were at a
military hospital. Also, Vance grasps for forgiveness, when his estranged
father-in-law (Ben Vereen) visits.


Then a senator’s daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) is
attacked. The team must protect her while figuring out why it happened.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Voice” finale, 9-11 p.m., NBC.


Sure, Adam Levine should be on top of the world now. His
band (Maroon 5) has had three No. 1 hits and four more in Billboard’s top-10.
He’s officially been declared (by People magazine) the sexiest man alive.


But can he finally win another “Voice”? After coaching the
first winner, Levine lost three straight times to Blake Shelton.


Now the odds are with him; Levine has two finalists (Tessane
Chin and Will Champlin), Christina Aguilera has one (Jacquie Lee), Shelton and
CeeLo Green have no one. Tonight, after lots of commotion, there will be a
winner.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “How Sherlock Changed the World,”
9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).


Back in 1887, a fictional detective was all-knowing; real-life
ones were unknowing.


That was when Sherlock Holmes stories debuted. A year later,
London police were perplexed by the real “Jack the Ripper” murders; they might
have done better if they’d followed the lead of the fictional Holmes, who
studied ballistics, footprints, blood splatter and more.


This was not mere whimsy, we’re told here.  Arthur Conan Doyle, the author, was a doctor
who had studied under a Holmes-like mentor. This terrific film is filled with
modern forensic scientists, praising the Holmes techniques that still work
today. It’s a rich and compelling documentary.


Other choices include


“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011), 6:30 p.m., HBO.
Before the PBS special, you can catch one of three current incarnations of
Holmes. He’s Robert Downey Jr. in these movies (which go for action, not wit) …
Jonny Lee Miller in CBS’ excellent “Elementary” … and Benedict Cumberbatch in
PBS’ brilliant “Sherlock,” which returns next month.


“Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913,” 8 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). A century ago, a massive strike shut down Michigan’s
copper mines. Violence followed. Mine security men and a deputy sheriff were
convicted after four miners were shot to death; no one could identify the
person who shouted “fire” at a Christmas party, leading to 73 people (mostly
children) being trampled to death. The strike – a predecessor to Michigan’s
soaring union surge – is traced in this documentary.


“Dads,” 8 p.m., Fox. The dads (Martin Mull and Peter Riegert)
challenge their son to see who can handle the most marijuana brownies. There
are some funny moments, but drunk-or-stoned scenes are much funnier when
they’re accidents (as in last week’s terrific “Trophy Wife”) than when they’re
on purpose.


“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. Jake is punished by
being assigned to a minor graffiti case … which turns out to be a major deal.


“The Goldbergs,” 9:01 p.m., ABC. This rerun finds Barry
trying to make money by working with his dad at the furniture store.


“Trophy Wife,” 9:31 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of the excellent
pilot film, Kate (Malin Akerman) falls into the lap (literally) of Pete
(Bradley Whitford) at a karaoke bar. Then we jump ahead a year; they’re married
and she’s adjusting to life with his three kids and his two very different
ex-wives.


“Person of Interest,” 10 p.m., CBS. Flashbacks to Finch’s
youth show how the machine was created. Saul Rubinek (“Warehouse 13”) and
Camryn Manheim are guest stars.


TV column for Monday, Dec. 16



TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.


This is finale week for the singing competitions, first
“Voice” and then (Wednesday and Thursday) “X Factor.” Each has its final three
acts get one last chance to impress voters, with the results the next day.


For “Voice,” Blake Shelton has been shut out, after coaching
three straight champions. Adam Levine – the only other person to coach a winner
– has Tessane Chin and Will Champlin; Christina Aguilera has Jacquie Lee.


TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas,” 9
p.m., Fox.


The overeager Sid (John Leguizamo) manages to break Manny’s
favorite ornament and (on Christmas Eve, no less) destroy Santa’s workshop.
Ellie and Diego (Queen Latifah and Denis Leary) rush to help.


It’s a fun rerun, on a night when families don’t need cable
to catch animation. Fox follows at 9:30 with “Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury”;
from 8-9 p.m., you can catch catch two clever “Prep & Landing” tales on ABC
or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on CW.


TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Double features, cable.


Here’s some more family fun, this time putting a film
(strong on sight gags) and its sequel back-to-back.


FX has “Night at the Museum” (2006) at 6 p.m. and “Night at
the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” (2009) at 9. ABC Family has Tim Allen’s
terrific “The Santa Clause” (1994) at 7 p.m. and the OK “Santa Clause 2” (2002)
at 9.


Other choices include:


“Almost Human,” 8 p.m., Fox. Set in 2048, this gives us a
problem we needn’t worry about (yet). There’s a black market for mechanical
hearts, which are being stolen from people. Also, the hearts can be shut off by
remote.


“Home Alone” (1980), 8 and 10:30
p.m., AMC. Here’s another family delight, filled with great sight gags.


“Mermaids: The Body Found – Extended Cut,” 8 and 10 p.m., Animal
Planet. Stylishly filmed but oddly conceived, this pretends to be a documentary
about the discovery and cover-up of actual mermaids.


“2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Caroline has a great
make-out session with Max’s teacher (Gilles Marini), then has a reason to
regret it.


“Mike & Molly,” 9 p.m., CBS. Mike, a cop, ponders
life-changing decisions after being shot during a robbery.


“Mom,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. Christy has ended her affair with a
co-worker, but now her mother starts one with the boss, Chef Rudy (French
Stewart).


“Independent Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
Forgive the first couple minutes, which have generic verbiage about theater and
life. Once that ends, we get portraits of two fascinating young playwrights as
their shows are mounted. Terrell McCraney, young and black and gay, grew up in
Miami’s inner city; Rajiv Joseph, with Indian-American roots, grew up in
Cleveland and spent three Peace Corps years in Africa. We see their works take
interesting journeys.


“The Sing-off,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. The seven remaining groups
sing hits from the past.