TV column for Thursday, Dec. 25

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Sure, some bland
holiday shows have been thrown at us this month. But this one
(alongside “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) is the top of the field,
a true triumph.

The delightful Dr.
Seuss book offered warmth and wit. Chuck Jones, the genius behind
many Bugs Bunny and Road Runner gems, added vibrant animation. Boris
Karloff did the narration and Thurl Ravenscroft (also the voice of
Tony the Tiger) sang the booming theme song. The result is a gem.

II: “How Murray Saved Christmas,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

Clearly, life isn't
fair: “Murray” -- possibly the best Christmas special since
“Grinch” -- runs tonight against “Grinch.” Watch one, record
the other and enjoy.

Mike Reiss, one of
the “Simpsons” wits, wrote this book about a town where all the
holiday people – from Santa to St. Patrick – mingle. Most are
jolly; still, it's Murray (Jerry Stiller), the crabby deli owner, who
must save the day. Reiss also co-wrote songs that ripple with clever

ALTERNATIVE: “Call the Midwife,” 8-9:30 p.m., PBS (check local
listings) or “Doctor Who,” 9-10:30 p.m., BBC America.

Each Christmas,
British TV has special episodes of some of its best shows. Now
Americans get two of those; one is a new “Who,” encased by reruns
in a marathon that continues through latenight Sunday.

The other catches
“Midwife” in 1959, with all the '60s changes still far away. The
treatment of unwed mothers and of the mentally disabled seems grim
and Victorian. Profoundly decent people – midwives, nuns and
staffers – face immense problems, including a snowstorm. There's
great work from Miranda Hart (as Chummy) and others; even narrator
Vanessa Redgrave has brief moments on-camera.

Other choices

Disney parade, 10
a.m. to noon, ABC. In its 31st year, this special gets a
makeover, with a “Frozen” emphasis. “Let It Go” will be sung
by 12-year-old YouTube star Lexi Walker, with other songs from the
movie by Laura Marano and the Alex-and-Sierra duo. Performing
non-Frozen songs are Ariana Grande, Trisha Yearwood, GavinDeGraw,
Lucy Hale, Trey Songz, Prince Royce and Train.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of last year's Christmas episode,
people imagine what their lives would be like without Sheldon.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. In a rerun from last spring, Violet is wary about going to
her prom while very pregnant. Meanwhile, Bonnie battles with her
ex-husband, with Christy caught in the middle.

“Elf: Buddy's
Musical Christmas,” 9-10 p.m., NBC. The “Elf” movie and
Broadway musical had Buddy leaving the North Pole, after learning
he's not really an elf. Then the musical's songs were compacted into
this special. The animation style is neatly off-kilter, but the scipt
is so-so and the songs (after the zesty opener) are bland.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds Walden and Alan dating
beauties ... until a jealous Lyndsey intervenes.

“Vicious,” 9:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Ash is supposed to make Christmas
dinner and Freddie (Ian McKellen) is supposed to make polite
conversation; neither is good at it, of course. In the “Vicious”
style, this is broad, blunt, heavy-handed but randomly quite funny.

“Christmas in
Rockefeller Center,” 10 p.m., NBC. Here's one last burst of holiday
music, in a rerun with Trisha Yearwood, Idina Menzel and even a duet
with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Also, many PBS stations (check local
listings) have soprano Deborah Voight with the Mormon Tabernacle


TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 24

“It's a Wonderful Life” (1946), NBC or “A Christmas Story”
(1983), TNT and TBS; both 8 p.m.

Two traditions
collide, offering ways to keep grown-ups (and some kids) distracted
before Christmas.

NBC annually shows
“Wonderful Life” -- the warm Frank Capra classic with James
Stewart – twice in December, including Christmas Eve. Cable has an
annual marathon of “Christmas Story,” the wryly clever look at
1940s boyhood; it reruns at 10 p.m., midnight, etc., for 24 hours.

“Blackish,” 9:31, 10 and 10:30 p.m., ABC.

Critics have praised
this comedy and ABC has boosted it. Here's the second straight
three-rerun spurt.

The first episode
has the parents quit spanking ... with some second thoughts. The
second has Andre convinced he should be chosen, so his office will
have a black Santa; also, his wife and mom both want to be in charge
of Christmas dinner. The third has Andre obsessing over his
school-parent duties.

ALTERNATIVE: “Doctor Who,” all day, BBC America.

Most years, this
splendid show has a special Christmas episode. There's a new one
coming at 9 p.m. Thursday; it's surrounded by a 117-hour marathon,
from 8 a.m. today to 5 a.m. Monday.

Tonight, the three
most recent Christmas episodes are featured. At 6 p.m. (rerunning at
11:40), a Scrooge-type character holds the fate of the spaceship on
which Amy and Rory are starting their honeymoon ... At 7:20, a World
War II wife struggles to raise her two kids ... At 8:40, Jenna
Coleman is Clara, a young nanny who becomes the new companion. That's
followed at 10 p.m. by the episode that brought all the Doctors

Other choices

More movies, cable.
Kids can savor “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) on FX. Grown-ups
get the clever “The Sting” (1973) at 7:15 on Sundance. Both will
like “Elf” (2003), at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.

“'I Love Lucy'
Christmas Special,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a quick rerun of an hour
that assembled two past episodes. The first has some so-so Christmas
scenes setting up flashbacks to great moments, including Lucy being
whisked away to have her baby; the second has the classic scene at a
candy factory's assembly line. Color has been added, with only
flashbacks remaining in black-and-white.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Sue doesn't have much experience being asked out; she ends
up with multiple dates to the prom. Also in this rerun. Axl needs
Brick's help with an offbeat book report.

“Fox & Friends
Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., Fox News Channel. Stuffed with talent –
Renee Fleming, Scotty McCreery, Jackie Evancho, a chorus, Rockettes
and more – this also has reflections.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Murray expects the usual Thanksgiving
fights with his brother. Instead, the brother has a surprise.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. This rerun focuses on three dinners – Mitchell and Cam
on their own without Lily ... Phil and Claire hoping to question
Haley about her future ... and Jay getting some disquieting news from
Shorty and his wife (Chazz Palminteri and Jennifer Tilly).

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. In a transplanted rerun (after a transplanted “Madam
Secretary” at 9), the threat of a nuclear meltdown forces Walter to
work with a troubled former member of his team.

Christmas services,
11:35 p.m., NBC and CBS. NBC catches midnight Mass at St. Peter
Basilica in Rome; CBS has Protestant services from Sioux Falls, S.D.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 23

“One Direction: The TV Special,” 8 p.m., NBC.

It was just four
years ago that Nicole Scherzinger – a judge on the British “X
Factor” -- suggested that five contestants scrap their individual
plans and start a group. One Direction was formed; it finished third
in the show, but was promptly signed by Simon Cowell and soared.

Each of its four
albums has reached No. 1 on Billboard's U.S. chart; four singles have
reached the top six. Now this special shows the group on tour, in the
recording studio and giving an intimate concert.

II: “The Year 2014,” 9-11 p.m., ABC

This year that won't
stand still long enough for someone to take a picture. Even in its
final weeks, huge events rumble in Cuba, North Korea, Russia,
Pakistan and more.

So chances are, ABC
will be editing this until the final hours. Anchored by Robin
Roberts, it ranges from crises – Ebola, ISIS and more – to Taylor
Swift, George Clooney and Iggy Azalea.

ALTERNATIVE: “Mozart in the Jungle,” Amazon Prime

Can a show blend
humor, drama, sex and classical music? “Mozart” does all of that
in the first few minutes. It introduces a likable oboist, groping for
her life in the city ... catches a swirling solo by violinist Joshua
Bell ... and has a hilarious (if explicit) view of the bedroom styles
of instrumentalists.

There's much more in
the first season's 10 episodes, all available today. We empathize
with the oboist (Lola Kirke) and her experienced friend (Saffron
Burrows). Still, the heart of the story is a charismatic young
conductor (Gael Garcia Bernal), giving an old orchestra life, joy and
big headaches.

Other choices

“Home Alone”
(1990), 7-9 p.m., ABC Family. Packed with great sight gags, this
leads a strong movie night. Rob Reiner's masterful “Stand by Me”
(1986) is 8 p.m. on CMT; “King of Kings” (1961) is 8 p.m. ET on
Turner Classic Movies, with “Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) at
8:04 p.m. ET on WGN.

“Shrek the Halls”
and “Toy Story That Time Forgot,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Based on
terrific movies, these so-so animated specials draw strong ratings,
despite their flaws.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun of last year's Christmas episode, a mysterious
illness has struck children in military families. Ben Vereen guests
as Vance's estranged father-in-law.

“New Girl,” 8
and 9 p.m., Fox. Both reruns catch wayward holidays. First,
everyone's stuck at the airport. Then a Thanksgiving retreat is way
too rustic for the tastes of Winston and Cece,

“The Mindy
Project,” 8:30 and 9:30 p.m., Fox. Mindy has romance confusion in
both reruns. First, she thinks Danny might propose; then (from a year
earlier), she has a plan to seduce Cliff with a party and the song
“Santa Baby” ... which, alas, Maria Menounos (playing herself)
ends up singing.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. All three “NCIS” shows rerun tonight,
with this show sliding over from Mondays. Callen goes undercover at a
high school, to confront a 15-year-old hacker.

“Michael Buble's
Christmas in New York,” 9 p.m., NBC. Last week's special, a ratings
hit, reruns. It's followed at 10 by last year's Kelly Clarkson

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10:01 p.m., CBS. A Navy SEAL has been killed in a
sorority house.

Ignore this spot

OK, I accidentally had a blog (about "Mozart in the Jungle") in this spot. It's now been moved to where it belongs.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 22

“The Great Christmas Light Fight,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.

On a night stuffed
with reruns, here's one of the few new shows on a broadcast network.

Wrapping up a a
three-week, six-hour series, it shows people taking Christmas
decorations to the extreme. In Clayton, N.C., for instance, one
family has a shooting star, an orchestra of trees, a bridge and a
great sprawl of outdoor decorations.

II: “State of Affairs,” 10 p.m., NBC.

(Katherine Heigl) is in Qatar with the President, who gives her a key
assignment: Find out if the man who infiltrated the embassy, claiming
to be in the CIA, is telling the truth.

There's more: Nick,
the tough adventurer, is interrogated brutally. Also, Charleston goes
to dangerous extremes to remember what happened the night her fiance
(the president's son) was killed.

ALTERNATIVE: “Miracle on 34th Street,” 6:30 p.m.
(1947) and 8:45 p.m. (1994), AMC.

Separated by almost
a half-century, here are two versions of the same story. It's
fashionable to say the original – shorter, filmed in
black-and-white – is better. It has an ideal cast, with Maureen
O'Hara, Natalie Wood (then 9) and Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar as
the man claiming to be Kris Kringle.

Still, the remake
looks gorgeous and feels livelier. Richard Attenborough, an
Oscar-winning director for “Gandhi,” is a great Kringle; Mara
Wilson, then 7, glows as his true believer.

Other choices

“A Saturday Night
Live Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. Christmas sketches are rerun.

“The iHeart Radio
Jingo Ball,” 8-9:30 p.m., CW. Most Mondays, viewers are watching
“The Voice.” That has finished this edition (Craig Wayne Boyd
won), but fans can catch two of its judges here. Pharrell Williams
performs; so (as part of Maroon 5) does Adam Levine, who had three of
the four “Voice” finalists, but still lost to Blake Shelton. Also
in this rerun: Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande, Sam Smith, Charli XCX,
Jessi J, One Republic, 5 Seconds of Summer and more.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. This transplanted rerun has some big laughs,
as the guys ponder becoming part-owners of Stuart's comic-book story.
Also, Raj's new girlfriend is oddly cold to Penny.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. In CBS' only new episode tonight, Mike
assures Molly he'll be home for Christmas Eve dinner. Instead, he and
his police partner end up in the back of a stolen van.

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. Working a Las Vegas job, Walter is arrested for robbery.

“Major Crimes,”
9 p.m., TNT. Someone in a Santa suit has robbed a bank ... timing it
perfectly, when there's a flash mob of Santas nearby.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:59 p.m., CBS. Michelle Trachtenberg (“Buffy” and
“Gossip Girl”) plays a senator's daughter who survives an attack.
The team must get her home and learn why she was targeted.

“Anger Management”
finale, 10 and 10:30 p.m., FX. Fueled by Charlie Sheen's implosion,
this comedy started strong, then faded. Its deal called for 100
episodes; they were rushed out in two-and-a-half years, double the
usual pace. Here are No. 99 and 100; Charlie, a therapist, makes a
career choice.