TV column for Monday, Dec. 9

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Sing-off” opener, 9-11 p.m., NBC.

This show offered three amiable seasons of a cappella music,
then died when producer Mark Burnett drew bigger ratings in the same slot for “The
Voice.” Now, after a year off, it’s back … this time with Burnett producing and
NBC wedging it into December, when other shows are resting.

That cramming – Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, through
Dec. 23 – is a plus. Seven episodes air in 15 days, going from 10 groups to a
winner. Returning are Nick Lachey as host and Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman as
judges, joined by Jewel. “Sing-off” has smart people, bright music, good

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Great Christmas Light Fight”
debut, 9 p.m., ABC.

Who are these people who fill their yards with endless
lights and figures? Hollywood depicts them as bumbling zealots, but this
reality show finds them merely to be amiably odd.

There’s a guy who grew up in a small trailer, now using his
wealth to brighten his California estate. And a farm family, filling acres on a
garage-sale budget. And a retired firefighter and a guy who dresses as an elf.
All are upbeat; so, alas, is judge Michael Moloney, whose gushing makes this
seem too one-note.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Six by Sondheim,” 9-10:30 p.m., HBO.

Stephen Sondheim is an astute analyst of musicals, including
the most important subject – the life and work of Stephen Sondheim. Now his
friend James Lapine has deftly weaved decades of interviews.

We get brief glimpses of Sondheim’s first 83 years – the coldness
of his mother, the warmth of his boyhood neighbor Oscar Hammerstein – and cascades
of ideas about songwriting. There are lots of clips, plus new mini-films by
other directors, re-staging three songs.

The “I’m Still Here” film is oddly unsettling, but “Opening
Doors” and “Send in the Clowns” have brilliant films. Also highlighted via
clips are three songs that typify Sondheim’s life – “Something’s Coming,” “Being
Alive” and “Sunday,” which builds to the appropriate final word: “Forever.”   

Other choices include:

“The Voice,” 8 p.m., NBC. This is down to its final five,
with Adam Levine dominating. He has Will Champlin, James Wolpert and Tessanne
Chin. Christina Aguilera – whose Matthew Schuler was dumped last week – has only
Jacquie Lee; Blake Shelton has Cole Vosbury and CeeLo Green has no one.

“How I Met Your Mother,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Robin and
Barney are heading to their wedding weekend, when they learn a family secret.
Also, Lily urges Ted to face his lingering passion for Robin.

“Mike & Molly,” 9 p.m., CBS. The only new episode in
tonight’s comedy line-up finds Molly’s shoe-buying addiction creating money

“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. This rerun (following a new “Almost
Human”) has a great guest role for James Noble, who was the brilliant “Fringe”

“Bonnie & Clyde” conclusion, 9 p.m., History, Lifetime
and Arts & Entertainment. If you missed the first half, catch the rerun at
7 p.m.; then things peak: Savoring the attention, Bonnie wants bigger risks.

“Mom,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. In a funny rerun, Christy tries her
first date since being sober.

“Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. In a rerun from last spring, Beckett
has stepped on a bomb and must remain still. Castle tries to distract her with
a discussion of who fell for the other one first.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 8

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Bonnie & Clyde,” 9-11 p.m.,
History, Lifetime and A&E; concludes Monday.

OK, there was zero reason to re-tell this story; the 1967
movie did it brilliantly. But after the success of History’s “Hatfield and
McCoys,” it’s logical to offer another violent slice of real-life Americana.

Bonnie Parker was a sometimes-waitress; Clyde Barrow was a
many-times stick-up man. For two years they rampaged together, robbing banks, stores
and gas stations. Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch star, with the “Broadcast
News” duo of William Hurt and Holly Hunter as a Texas Ranger and Parker’s mom.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Amazing Race,” 8-10 p.m. (or later,
with football overrun), CBS.

Only four teams remain, in the 35,000-mile, nine-country
race for $1 million. They’ll start in Tokyo, shed one duo, then head to Alaska
for the finish.

One duo – Jason Case, 33, and Amy Diaz, 29 – is dating;
another, Timothy Sweeney, 32, and Marie Mazzocchi, 29 – used to be. There are
also cousins (Leo Temory and Jamal Zadran, both 26) and a married pair of
emergency-room doctors, Travis and Nicole Jasper, 43 and 39.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m. or later,

Last week, the show jumped ahead two years. Red John was dead;
the CBI was disbanded.

Lisbon was a small-town police chief, Rigsby and Van Pelt
had a security firm and Patrick Jane was enjoying the quiet life, with a new
love interest (Emily Swallow) … and then a job offer from the FBI. Now a
computer expert is missing and Jane wants Lisbon to help with the case.

Other choices include:

“Global Lessons on Guns,” 7 p.m., CNN. A year after the
Newtown shootings, with Americans still groping with gun policies. Fareed
Zakaria finds intriguing approaches elsewhere. Australia cut its gun deaths by
59 percent, he says; Bogota has a gun-murder rate that’s one-third of Detroit
or New Orleans.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas,” 7 p.m., UP (formerly
Gospel Music Channel), repeats at 9 and 11. Last week’s film (“Silver Bells,”
rerunning at 5 p.m.) was so-so, but this is a winner. A tattered rock star (Drew
Lachey) ends up at the home of a small-town preacher, whose daughter (MacKenzie
Porter, a singer-actress) returned when she lost her job. You’ll guess the
rest, but it’s done with wit and charm.

More new Christmas movies. In “Holidaze” (8 p.m., ABC
Family), Jennie Garth finds herself in an alternate universe. In “Christmas
Belle” (9 p.m., Ion), Haylie Duff doesn’t go that far, but she finds herself
leaving the city to help close an estate at an old mansion.

“The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. Bart tries to be a model
student. Really.

Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC. For the second time since Aaron
Rodgers’ injury, NBC has replaced a Packer game. This time it has Carolina at
New Orleans, with both tied for the division lead at 9-3.

“Getting On,” 10 p.m., HBO. Last week, we met the wondrously
odd Patsy De La Serda (Mel Rodriguez), a supervising nurse who treats patients
like cruise-ship customers. In the chaos, DiDi jokingly repeated a patient’s “fat
fairy” barb. Now, in an oddly funny session, she’s accused of being homophobic.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 7

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: Football, all day.

In a noisy, 13-hour spree, six college conferences have
their championship games.

Two will help choose the Rose Bowl teams. The Pac-12 has
Stanford (ranked No. 7) at Arizona State (11) at 7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN; the Big Ten
has Ohio State (2) and Michigan State (10), at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Two other, plus that Ohio State game, will help fill the
national championship game. The SEC has Auburn (3) and Missouri (5) at 4 p.m.
on CBS; the ACC has Florida State (1) hosting Duke (20) at 8 p.m. on ABC. The
other championships: Conference USA has Marshall at Rice, at noon on ESPN;
Mountain West has Utah State at Fresno State (23), at 10 p.m. on CBS.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: The Blacklist,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Taking a sort of holiday break, this show will skip the next
few Mondays, where it has become a ratings hit. Still, you can catch this

Red (James Spader) has a new target – a beautiful and lethal
corporate criminal. Liz, his FBI contact, has a major distraction: Her husband
insists the box she found – filled with ID’s and passports – was planted.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Santa films, cable.

At 8 p.m., Hallmark debuts “Santa Switch,” with an appealing
notion: A struggling dad has flunked his try to be a mall Santa … when he gets
to be the real Claus, complete with uptight assistant (Sean Astin).

That’s fine, except that the consummate Santa-switching
movie airs at the same time. Tim Allen’s dandy “The Santa Clause” (1994) is at
7 p.m. on ABC Family, followed by the OK “Santa Clause 3” (2006) at 9.

Other choices include:

“Christmas at Rockefeller Center,” 8 p.m., NBC. A quick
rerun of Wednesday’s special includes music by Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey,
Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Jewel, the Goo Goo Dolls and more.

“Mike & Molly,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS. The first rerun
finds Mike fretting about his first Christmas with Molly; the second finds him
grumbling about her holiday spending.

Pink concert, 8 p.m., Epix and The tone is set
by an opening that feels like “Rocky Horror” meets Circus du Soleil. Yes, Pink
can deliver slow-and-strong ballads when needed; mostly, however, this night is
filled with a high-octane blasts of music and dance and acrobatics and more.

“We Are Marshall” (2006), 8-11 p.m., AMC. First, watch that noon
game on ESPN, to see if Marshall wins the Conference USA championship; then
watch this movie to recall how far the team has gone: In 1970, a plane crash
killed the Marshall players and others; this film shows the efforts to rebuild
in a hard-scrabble West Virginia team. Well-crafted by the director named McG,
it has subtly excellent performances by Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox and
David Strathairn.

“Batman Begins” (2005), 9 p.m., Syfy. The franchise is
skillfully rebooted by director Christopher Nolan, star Christian Bale and a
great supporting cast led by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.

“Saturday Night Live,” 10 and 11:29 p.m., NBC. First is a
shortened rerun, then a new episode with Paul Rudd hosting and One Direction as
music guest.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 6

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

Four generations collide, bringing laughs and interesting

While babysitting, Bud (Robert Forster) spanked his great-grandson.
That brings complaints from the boy’s parents – and puts Mike (Tim Allen) in
the unfamiliar position of being a moderate.

This is an unusual episode, ending its main story early and
closing with some goofiness about Kyle’s hat. By then, however, it has managed
some solid humor while letting decent people disagree.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Winter’s Bone” (2010), 10 p.m.,
Lifetime Movie Network.

Before becoming a multi-million-dollar star, Jennifer
Lawrence was perfect in this micro-budget masterpiece.

She plays an Ozarks teen, trying to save her siblings and
her family home by finding (dead or alive) her dad before his bail is
forfeited. “Bone” beautifully captures a world of understated survivors who
follow an unwritten code of ethics. Few people saw it, but it drew an Oscar
nomination for best picture.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: Grammy Nominations concert, 10 p.m.,

Some music fans will want to pay attention to the
announcements, with nominees in key categories.

Others can just settle back for the music from Keith Urban
(a four-time Grammy-winner), Robin Thicke, Drake and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
LL Cool J hosts.

Other choices include:

“The Muppets Christmas Carol” (1992), 6:30-8:30 p.m., ABC
Family. The classic tale is retold with a human Scrooge (Michael Caine) and
lots of Muppets. It starts wonderfully, then is pleasant enough.

 “Forrest Gump” (1994)
7-10 p.m., VH1; or “Catch Me If You Can” (2002), 8-11 p.m., TNT. Choose between
slickly crafted Tom Hanks films. In “Gump,” he’s a simple soul, wandering
through historic events; Hanks won his second Oscar, one of six for the film. In
“Catch” he takes the secondary role of an FBI agent, stalking a master of false
identities (Leonardo DiCaprio). Based on a true story, it’s boosted by Steve
Spielberg’s nimble direction and John Williams’ jaunty music score.

“Frosty the Snowman,” 8 p.m., CBS. Making good use of the song,
this 1969 cartoon is fairly enjoyable, with Jimmy Durante narrating. It’s
followed at 8:32 by the lesser “Yes, Virginia.”

“The Neighbors,” 8:31 p.m., ABC. Meredith Baxter and
Reginald VelJohnson return to their roles as Jackie’s parents, visiting from
the home planet. Marty and Debbie inadvertently make trouble for Jackie.

“Nikita,” 9 p.m., CW. The Amanda-Nikita struggles could
bring an international crisis: Amanda planted evidence that Pakistan hired
Nikita to kill the president. Meanwhile, the CIA interrogates Alex.

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9:02 p.m., CBS. As a lead-in to LL Cool
J hosting the Grammy special, CBS reruns last year’s Christmas episode. He spends
the holiday on an aircraft carrier, during a murder investigation.

“Fred Claus” (2007), 10 p.m., TBS. Vince Vaughn is Santa’s
self-centered brother, in this OK comedy.


TV column for Thursday, Dec. 5

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Sound of Music,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

Returning to TV’s live-theater era, NBC has a gifted star (Carrie
Underwood) in a family-friendly show.

This is based on the true story of the Von Trapps, whose family
singing group was popular in Austria, just as the Nazis were looming. Its stars
– Mary Martin on Broadway, Julie Andrews in the movie – soared.

Now it’s Underwood, singing the title song plus “My Favorite
Things,” “Do-Re-Mi” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Stephen Moyer – yes, the “True
Blood” vampire – sings “Edelweiss”; that has Oscar Hammerstein’s final lyrics,
written during out-of-town previews after his unsuccessful surgery. Audra
McDonald sings “Maria” and newcomer
Rinehart does “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”

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

On a show usually dominated by individuals, this is sort of
group night. Two of the surviving six acts (Restless Road and Alex &
Sierra) are groups; so are both guest-performing acts.

Last year, Emblem3 finished fourth on “X Factor.” The three
guys would go on to tour with Selena Gomez, win a Teen Choice Award and have
their album reach No. 7 on the Billboard chart.

A year earlier, four women tried out for the British
edition, then were linked. Little Mix became the first group “X Factor” winner,
with an album reaching No. 4. Tonight, both perform and one act is ousted.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “An Unreal Dream,” 9-11 p.m., CNN.

On his 32nd birthday, Michael Morton went to
dinner with his wife and their 3-year-old son. The next morning, she was found
in bed, beaten to death; he was found guilty, based on an examiner’a ruling –
false science, other experts testified – that the murder has happened in the
middle of the night.

It would be almost 25 years before the Innocence Project
could free him, while officials resisted DNA testing and release of a police
report. Slowly and calmly, “Unreal Dream” moves toward a gripping conclusion:
This story is way too common; the Innocence Project has freed more than 700

Other choices include:

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon faces the
aftershocks, now that his discovery is disproved.

“Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox. The show pretends this was a Christmas
episode that Fox refused to air last year. That allows it to jump back to last
season’s timeline: Glee-clubbers compete for roles in a “living nativity”;
Santana travels to New York, where she, Rachel and Kurt work as grumpy elves.

“The Returned,” 9 p.m., Sundance. Two weeks from its finale,
this brilliant French (with English sub-titles) miniseries gathers power. Simon,
returning 10 years after his death, was killed anew, this time by the police
boyfriend of his ex-fiance. Camille, returning four years after her death, has
been recognized by a boyfriend. Lucy, the barmaid who was brutally attacked, is
out of her coma and can identify her attacker … who is housing Camille’s sister
Lena. Circles are tightened in quietly gripping ways.

“Millionaire Matchmaker” season-opener, 9 p.m., Bravo. Patti
Stanger works with opposites: She quickly dislikes a glib party DJ … and
instantly likes Don Swayze, a tough-guy actor with a gentle nature, who hasn’t
returned to dating since his late brother Patrick was diagnosed with cancer,
four years ago.

“Courtney Loves Dallas” debut, 10 p.m., Bravo. Bright and
fun, this show centers on Courtney Kerr, 30, a zesty fashion blogger who has
great taste in mix-and-match fashions and shaky taste in guys.