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.


TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 4

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “Christmas in Rockefeller Center,” 8
p.m., NBC.

Back in 1933, the Rockefeller Center celebrated its first
Christmas with a giant tree. Now, 80 years later, the tree-lighting (once
confined to “The Howdy Doody Show”) has become a primetime spectacle.

The “Today” crew hosts, introducing top female voices –
Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, Jewel and Ariana
Grande – plus the Goo Goo Dolls and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “Mob City” debut, 9 and 10 p.m., TNT.

Back in 1947, we’re told, Los Angeles had all the elements –
crime, corruption and potential. It had new money and new mobsters, taking over
this city and Las Vegas; it was ripe for “film noir” stories.

Now that’s being re-created by writer-director Frank
Darabont, in the same form he did with “The Walking Dead” -- a six-hour mini-series
that could lead to more. Skillfully crafted, with jazzy music and a stylish
look, this introduces one honest cop (Neal McDonough) and lots of real-life
crooks, led by Bugsy Siegel (Ed Burns) and Mickey Cohen. Somewhere in between
is Teague (Jon Berenthal), a cop and former war hero, on the precarious edge
between good and evil.


Amid all its stone-faced, macho types, “Arrow” has the
welcome addition of Barry Allen.

Comic-book buffs know he’ll someday be Flash, but that’s
later. For now, he’s a lab guy, the perfect counterpoint to Felicity, our hero’s
brainy assistant. They have a lot to worry about, with steep-powered villains
banging down doors; don’t expect closure tonight, but this promises good things

Other choices include:

“The X Factor,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. Last week, Josh Levi and
Lillie McCloud were sent home, leaving only one act apiece for Paulina Rubio
(boys) and Kelly Rowland (over age-25). Simon Cowell still has two groups; Demi
Lovato still has two girls … after young Rion Paige survived the sing-off
against Levi. Tonight, the six acts sing opposite songs – one from a diva and
one in a stripped-down version.

“Saturday Night Live Christmas,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. Just a week
after giving us its Thanksgiving special, “SNL” does the same with Christmas,
again assembling four decades of holiday sketches.

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. Cam obsesses on coaching,
showing the other team no mercy. Meanwhile, Claire struggles with being the
boss’ daughter and Phil tries to teach about optimism.

“Killer Contact,” 10 p.m., Syfy. If you happen to believe in
these things – little meters indicating that ghosts are offering accurate
answers – then this reality show offers a huge breakthrough in the Jack the
Ripper case. If not, it’s a lot of nonsense, albeit neatly packaged in old
London settings.

“Kirstie,” 10 p.m., TV Land. This cable network likes doing
traditional-style situation comedies with familiar stars. This one has Kirstie
Alley of “Cheers” (as a Broadway star suddenly meeting the grown son she put up
for adoption), with Michael Richards of “Seinfeld” in support.

“Best Ink,” 10 p.m., Oxygen. The third season starts for
this tattoo competition, hosted by Pete Wentz.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 3

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

Blake Shelton performs tonight … which could be when his
winning streak ends.

He’s coached three straight champions, but last week his Ray
Boudreaux and CeeLo Green’s Caroline Pennell were ousted. That left Green with
no one and Shelton with only Cole Vosbury; Christina Aguilera has Jacquie Lee
and Matthew Schuler … and Adam Levine, Shelton’s friendly rival, has half the
final six: Will Champlin, James Wolpert and Tessane Chin.

Two more will go tonight, after some Christmas songs. Shelton
sings “Silver Bells” with Xenia and Kelly Clarkson sings “Underneath the Tree.”

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “The Mindy Project,” 9:30 p.m., Fox.

How desperate is Mindy to get together with Cliff? In a fun
episode, she throws a Christmas party for the entire building, just so she can
impress him by singing a sexy “Santa Baby.”

It’s a bad plan, of course. (If you want to be the sexiest
person, don’t invite Maria Menounos.) Or is it? And in the romantic-comedy
tradition, the audience knows Danny, not Cliff, is the one for Mindy.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Sons of Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX.

With no Thanksgiving-week episode, viewers had extra time to
digest the fierce events: The long struggle between Jax and his step-father
Clay is over; Jax killed Clay and three Irish mobsters.

He planned it in a deal to get immunity for his biker club …
but doesn’t know the prosecutor is nixing the deal and cutting a new one with
his estranged wife, to destroy the club. Tonight, the aftershocks begin.

Other choices include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Billy Dee Williams plays
the World War II veteran Gibbs was named after.

“Dads,” 8 p.m., Fox. The Sachs guys really don’t take well
to Christmas. David (Peter Riegert) is the world’s grumpiest Santa; Eli (Seth
Green) tried to create a holiday videogame, only to have it sabotaged. That
sets off some misadventures that range from funny to crude or merely really

Noir night, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. This
week, TNT launches “Mob City,” an ambitious miniseries (three Wednesdays, six
hours) in the “film noir” crime style. First, sister-channel TCM has noir
classics. “White Heat” (1949) and “The Roaring Twenties” (1939) – James Cagney
films directed by Raoul Walsh – are at 8 and 10 p.m., with “The Big Heat”
(1953) at midnight and “Key Largo” (1948) at 2 a.m.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. Faced with death
threats, the captain chooses Jake to be his bodyguard. The plot teeters toward
mere stupidity, before righting itself in the final minutes.

“New Girl,” 9 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the season-opener,
Nick and Jess try a romantic vacation in Mexico.

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the team is
undercover to probe an ambush tied to a cartel.

“Marshal Law: Texas,” 10 p.m., TNT. Like last week’s debut,
this reality hour leaves us admiring federal marshals’ no-surprises efficiency
… and realizing this doesn’t make for interesting drama.

“Chicago Fire,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Chief Walker is ready to
confront McLeod (Michelle Forbes), the official who is eyeing his firehouse to
be closed.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 2

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

This happened almost by accident, the key people say. With a
tight deadline, there was no time for advertisers or network minions to interfere.
Charles Schulz and friends made the cartoon their way.

That was a splendid way, a masterpiece with a jazzy score,
kid actors and a mix of humor and sentiment. Rounding out this hour is the
seven-minute “Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa.”

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “CMA Country Christmas,” 9-11 p.m.,

In a show of efficiency, the Country Music Association tapes
this annual special when stars converge for its award show. Now Jennifer
Nettles has her fourth straight year as host.

She’ll have lots of country groups (Lady Antebellum, Rascal
Flatts) and individuals – Luke Bryan, Trace Adkins, Darius Rucker Kellie Pickler,
Jake Owens and Hunter Hayes. She’ll also have songs by people who are better
known for rock (Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige), contemporary Christian (Michael W.
Smith) and TV, with Lucy Hale of “Pretty Little Liars” and – really -- Willie
Robertson of “Duck Dynasty.”


A comedy episode about cancer? That works fairly well here,
after a weak start.

Christy and her mom – both recovering alcoholics and former
teen moms – have befriended Marjorie (Mim Kennedy), a veteran of AA meetings.
When they learn of her cancer, they wedge into her life.

On its own, that’s humor-deficient. The fun is set off by
Marjorie’s cats and Christy’s allergies; the final half of “Mom” is about as funny
as a cancer comedy can be.

Other choices include:

“It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie” (2002), 8-10
p.m., CW. A banker has closed Muppet Theatre; now an angel tries to convince Kermit
that live is still fine.

“The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The final six acts perform
and viewers vote.

“Almost Human,” 8 p.m., Fox. This futuristic views an
advanced drug that has a fierce effect.

“Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the second
episode, Ichabod Crane is still adjusting to this century; now he learns that
an ill-tempered witch from his time (the 18
th century) is here.

“Major Crimes,” 9 p.m., TNT. A former teen rapist, now on
parole, has disappeared. Is he on a rampage … or has he been lured by vengeful
grown-ups. There are sharp plot twists, plus excellent work by guest stars Esai
Morales, Jeanine Mason (the former “So You Think You Can Dance” champ and – as Rusty’s
psychologist and chess partner – Bill Brochtrup of “NYPD Blue.”

“The Blacklist,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Here’s the second half of
a story that started with Red kidnapped. He tries to bargain with his captors,
while Liz has precariously slipped into the building where he’s held.

“The Story of Film,” 12:45 a.m., Turner Classic Movies. One
week from its finale, this documentary has its 14th chapter, viewing the impact
of the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and other stylish writer-directors. The
Coens’ “Hudsucker Proxy” (1994) is at 8 p.m., with Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator”
(2000) at 10.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 1

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife” and “The Mentalist,”
about 9:30 and 10:30 p.m., CBS.

For “Good Wife,” it’s time to celebrate (briefly). This is
its 100
th episode, there’s a Christmas party … and Alicia could
inherit. There are problems, of course, and Lockhart/Gardner firm is fighting
the will.

And for “Mentalist,” it’s a fresh start. Patrick Jane has
finally beaten Red John; we flash ahead two years. Jane has found peace and
pleasure, then gets a surprising job offer.

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Christmas in Conway,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Bad concepts can sometimes -- not often – become good
movies. Here, a guy make a grand gesture for his dying wife; we can find him
simultaneously advirable and foolish

 Still, this is a classy
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” production. John Kent Harrison (“What the Deaf Man
Heard”) directed beautifully, as usual. He has a strong cast (led by Andy
Garcia, Mary-Louise Parker and Mandy Moore), a great-looking film and an
emotional finish that semi-compensates for a bad idea.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Treme” season-opener, 9 p.m., HBO.

The “Treme” parts are always greater than the whole. Indeed,
we’re not sure there is a whole; are these stories going anywhere, or will they
– like John Goodman’s character – inexplicably plunge overboard?.

We mayor may not  find
out over these final five weeks. Tonight starts in 2008, with New Orleans
celebrating the election while still staggering three-plus years after
Hurricane Katrina. There’s great music – including a dandy piano solo from
Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of New Orleans – and lots of interesting
characters and situations, which may or may not be resolved.

Other choices include:

Movie series, all night. The first three “Star Wars” films
(1977, ’80 and ’83) are at 3, 6 and 9 p.m. on Spike; they overlap with thne
“Ghostbusters” films (1984 and ’89), at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on VHI.

“Silver Bells,” 7, 9 and 11 p.m., UP. The former Gospel
Music Channel now dubs itself “America’s Christmas Channel,” with music, movies
and more. Here, Bruce Boxleitner plays an overwrought guy, sentenced to bell-ringing.
It’s mostly so-so, but has some good moments near the end.

“Once Upon a Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Flashbacks tell us how
Henry ended up with mean Regina.

“Soul Train Awards,” 8-10:30 p.m., BET and Centric. The
classic stars – Chaka Khan, Smoky Robinson, Gladys Knight – perform along with
newer generations. There’s music from Jennifer Hudson, Ruben Studdard, Tamar
Braxton, Faith Evans, T.I., Candice Glover, Eric Benet and more.

“The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC. The mid-season finale finds
the Governor eyeing revenge.

“Getting On,” 10 p.m., HBO. Last week’s terrific opener
introduced perverse characters – beautifully played by Alex Borstein, Laurie
Metcalf and Niecy Nash -- at an extended-care unit. Now the show adds Mel
Rodriguez as Patsy De La Serda, the new supervising nurse. Large and fragile,
he’s bubbles slogans about treating the patients as cruise-line customers; he
clashes neatly with the cynicism around him.

“Brody Stevens: Enjoy It,” midnight and 12:30 a.m., Comedy
Central. Stevens was already working on a comedy series produced by his friend
Zach Galifianakis, we’re told here, when he had a breakdown. He ranted,
berated, drove away his friends; they had him institutionalized … then helped
his comeback. That story is told in a documentary series that is (like Brody)
alternately fascinating and disturbing.