TV column for Monday, Dec. 8

“Switched at Birth,” 9 p.m., ABC Family.

Two terrific young
actresses get a great showcase, in some holiday whimsy. Vanessa
Marano and Katie Leclerc have been perfect as Bay and the
hearing-impaired Daphne, teens who learned they were accidentally
switched at birth. Now each wakes up in a variation of the other's

Daphne (now called
Bay) has wealth and hearing; Bay (called Daphne) doesn't. Other
details have gone awry – kind of like things do in a fantasy
movie. The difference is that the girls quickly comprehend the
situation and work on it. With detours for warmth and humor, it's a
delightful episode.

“Mike & Molly” season-opener, 8:31 p.m., CBS.

For its first four
seasons, this has been the definition of good-enough TV. Sometimes
heavy-handed, it's willing to transform Molly from smart to stupid
and back, for the sake of a joke. Still, it has pleasant characters
and some clever lines; we're kind of glad it's back.

Tonight, Molly
returns from writers' camp. She's smart again; so, occasionally, is
the show.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Great Christmas Light Fight” season-opener, 8
and 9 p.m., ABC.

As Sabrina Soto
reaches her first house (in Springfield, Mo.), she marvels at the
sheer quantity – 110,000 lights, creating a beautifully
synchronized show. There's more (much more) ahead.

A Tennessee man has
two million lights sprawling over eight acres, plus a live-animal
nativity scene. A Texas family projects videos. A California man
(who's never been to Disneyland) has a 58-foot lighted castle and
giant, hand-painted Disney figures. Soto screams at all this (the
hour becomes repetitious) and awards $50,000 to one family; then a
second hour has Michael Moloney judging.

Other choices

“”Eric Greenspan
is Hungry,” 7 p.m., National Geographic. Plunging deep into
Mississippi (where the show sometimes uses sub-titles), the chef
meets people passionabe about hunting and cooking turkey. “The
Voice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The final five singers perform and viewers
vote. On Tuesday, we'll learn which three will survive to next week's
finale ... along with one ousted person, saved by viewers.

“2 Broke Girls,”
8 p.m., CBS. To CBS, the Christmas season means skinny women in
lingerie. Tuesday brings the annual “Victoria's Secret Fashion
Show”; tonight, two of the models (Lily Aldridge and Martha Hunt)
play themselves, renting the apartment of Max and Caroline.

“The Fosters,” 8
p.m., ABC Family. Last season ended with a possible romance between
foster siblings. That story will return in January, but here's a
pause for a flashback to Callie's first Christmas in the house.
Problems pile up quickly, especially with Stef's mom (Annie Potts)

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. Life has changed since Jane broke up with Michael and
kissed the biologic father of her baby-to-be. Tonight, they exchange
secrets; also, Michael, a cop, is close to solving his big case. And
Jane's mom gets a record-company audition.

“The Red Tent,”
9-11 p.m., Lifetime. The first half of this mini-series (rerunning at
7 p.m.) ended horribly: Dinah's brothers killed all the men in the
palace (including her husband, the prince), taking her and the
treasures. Now we see her transported to another world, in a
fictional account that merges with the story of another brother
(Joseph, of dreamcoat fame). The first half was awful, but the second
is much better, thanks partly to great work from Rebecca Ferguson
(“White Queen”) as Dinah.

“Regarding Susan
Sontag,” 9 p.m., HBO. In her 71 years, Sontag poured out novels,
plays, films and (especially) essays, provoking praise and rage.
Here's a profile.

“State of
Affairs,” 10 p.m., NBC. With other worries near home –
threatening texts, a looming Senate report -- Charleston must
engineer a secret way to avert a smallpox outbreak in Panama,

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 7

“The Mentalist,” 9 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), CBS.

Here's a personnel
problem: A woman with key information is behind bars; an FBI agent
needs to go undercover as a prisoner, pry that information and help
her escape. That would be easy for Patrick Jane, a master of deceit;
it will be tough for Teresa Lisbon, a by-the-books type.

That's in an episode
that starts and ends big, with some neat twists in between. It's a
big improvement over last week's season-opener and propels Jane
toward next week's collision with an old enemy.

“The Librarians” debut, 8 p.m., TNT, rerunning at 10:04.

The clever
“Librarian” movies had Noah Wyle as a bookworm-turned-adventurer,
retrieving ancient artifacts. Wyle's been busy fighting aliens
lately; he's in this series a little, but there's also a new team.

John Rogers, who
produced the brainy-but-fun “Leverage,” is in charge of this one.
He has Christian Kane (the “Leverage” enforcer) on the team, with
Rebecca Romijn, John Kim, Lindy Booth and (back in the library) John
Larroquette. Tonight, they scramble to get King Arthur's crown.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Newsroom,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Aaron Sorkin ended
“The West Wing” with a shrug, but his equally brilliant
“Newsroom” is making a grand exit. Its final episodes (tonight
and next Sunday), ripple with great plots, starting with the newlywed
anchorman (Jeff Daniels) going to jail (briefly, he thinks) for not
revealing his source.

Charlie, his boss,
tries to balance solid journalism and the trendy demands of the new
owner. Jim and Maggie stake out to find super-hacker Edward Snowden,
Don reluctantly tracks a rape accuser and the new digital guys launch
a celebrity-tracker. At the end of the hour, forces implode

Other choices

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. The first of Fox's four Christmas episodes tonight finds
Homer banned from his own house, because he got drunk on Christmas

“The Christmas
Secret,” 8 p.m., Hallmark Movies and Mysteries (formerly Hallmark
Movie Channel). A young mother with a deadbeat ex-husband is on the
verge of joblessness and homelessness. This story has way too many
coincidences; still, it's a refreshing change from the usual giddy
Christmas film and there's a strong cast, led by Bethany Joy Lenz.
Michael and Susan Hogan, married in real life, play good-hearted
store-owners ... the opposite of his “Battlestar Galactica” role
as tough Col. Tigh.

“Hot Chocolate
Nutcracker,” 8 p.m., BET. Four years ago, Debbie Allen (the
actress, dancer, director, choreographer and more) launched a
variation on the “Nutcracker” ballet, complete with modern music
(from Mariah Carey to Arturo Sandoval), exotic settinngs and talking
mice. Now that has its TV debut.

“I Love Lucy
Christmas Special,” 8:01 p.m. or later, CBS. Last year's “Lucy”
was a ratings hit, so CBS is rerunning half of it. That's a Christmas
episode (partly colorized) with black-and-white flashbacks, including
the hilarious rehearsal for a maternity run. This time, that episode
is paired with a newly colorized one that includes another great
moment -- Lucy working the candy assembly line.

“The Red Tent,”
9-11 p.m., Lifetime. Genesis tells of Dinah, whose affair with a
Hivite prince drew vengeance from her brothers. That slender story
was expanded into a novel and this mini-series. Monday's conclusion
is quite good, sparked by the gifted Rebecca Ferguson (“The White
Queen”). The problem is getting that far: Tonight's film is often
dry and dreary, then turns wretchedly brutal.

“CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation,” 10 p.m. or later, CBS. The team probes a murder in
the county jail.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 6


MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC,

James Franco made a quirky (at best) Academy Award host. Still, he
fits “SNL” neatly.

Now –
with his controversial “The Interview” opening on Christmas Day –
he has his third time as host. Nicki Minaj is the music guest.

MUST-SEE II: Football championships, all day.

have their championship showdowns now. CBS has two -- SCC (Alabama,
ranked No. 1, and Missouri, No. 16) at 4 p.m. ET; and Mountain West
(Fresno State at Boise State, No. 22) at 10 p.m.

more, including: Conference USA (Louisiana Tech at Marshall) at noon
ET on ESPN2 .... ACC (Florida State, No. 4, and Georgia Tech, No. 11)
at 8 p.m. on ABC ... and Big Ten (Ohio State, No. 5, and Wisconsin,
No. 13) at 8:17 on Fox.

ALTERNATIVE: “It's a Wonderful Life” (1946), 8-11 p.m., NBC; or
“Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), 8-10:30 p.m. ET, Turner
Classic Movies.

really was a time when people watched black-and-white TV. Willingly.
Here are prime examples, with great directors and opposite emotions.

Life” is a feel-good Christmas classic from Frank Capra, with James
Stewart as a good-hearted banker in bad times. “Virginia Woolf”
is a feel-bad drama from Mike Nichols, better known for comedy.
Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar and Richard Burton was nominated, for
their work as a seething husband and wife.

choices include:

Child,” 7 and 9 p.m., Sundance. First is a rerun of Friday's
opener, with a quiet British student lured back to her native China
to help a brother she didn't know existed. Then the conclusion
plunges her into the dark labyrinth of a provincial justice system.
The result is involving and well-acted – especially by Katie Leung
(“Harry Potter”) in the lead – but a tough and disturbing ride
for viewers.

Oakley: Yukon Vet,” 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., NatGeo Wild. Wrapping up its
“Big Cat” week, Wild switches to a marathon of its likable view
of a veterinarian with a far-flung northern practice.

Hours,” 8 and 9 p.m. ET, CBS. With tonight's extra football game,
CBS is skipping its drama reruns. Instead, it inserts a pair of hours
– true-crime tales, usually – from its news division.

Miracle,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. The “Mrs. Miracle” films have
been quietly well-made, but this variation – also from author
Debbie Macomber – stumbles. Rob Morrow broadly plays a guardian
angel on his first assignment; the people he meets are interesting,
but there's too much psycho-chat.

9 p.m., Starz. Flashing between two times, this has subtly superb
work from Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, as a teacher now and the
drug-addicted girlfried of a slain cop in 2006. We learn key things
about the retired French cop and the businessman who supported the

Christmas films, 9 and 10 p.m. At 9, ABC Family has “Arthur
Christmas” (2011), a pleasant animated tale of Santa's bumbling
son, called into emergency duty. At 10, Hallmark has the terrific
“One Christmas Eve” (2014), which starts with an abandoned puppy
and builds in odd and giddy ways.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 5

MUST-SEE: “How Murray Saved Christmas,” 8 p.m., NBC.

tiny town of Stinky Cigars is rarely visited, possibly because of its
name. But it's home to all the great holiday figures, from Santa and
the Easter Bunny to Columbus and Cupid. It's also home to Murray
Weiner (Jerry Stiller), the crabby deli owner ... who is nudged into
emergency duty.

part of possibly the best Christmas special in the half-century since
Charlie Brown and Dr. Seuss' “Grinch.” It crackles with
brilliant, Seuss-style rhymes and songs. Mike Reiss, a long-time
“Simpsons” producer, adapted his own book (with Walter Murphy
adding the music) and created a new classic.

MIGHT-SEE: “A Very Grammy Christmas,” 9 p.m., CBS.

musical TV week wraps up with this one, which has half the “Voice”
stars – Pharrell Williams and Adam Levine (with Maroon 5). Also
performing are Tim McGraw, Ariana Grande and Mary J. Blige.

LL Cool
J hosts and has one Grammy announcement. Other nominations will be
released this morning, but this special will have the nominees for
best album.

ALTERNATIVE: “One Child,” 9-11 p.m., Sundance; concludes

forgive the early minutes, which are frenetic and shaky; the rest of
tonight's chapter is the opposite – a complex drama, performed with
quiet subtlety.

Leung (Cho in the Harry Potter films) is excellent as a promising
British student who gets startling news: In China, a brother she
didn't know about has been framed for murder. Her adoptive parents
(Elizabeth Perkins and Donald Sumpter) are wary, but she makes a
tenuous journey home.

choices include:

Tribute to Bruce Springsteen,” times vary (check local listings),
PBS. This is pledge time, so schedules vary sharply. Some stations,
however, have this special, with Springsteen songs done by Elton
John, Sting, Neil Young, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Zac
Brown and others; then Springsteen takes over, performing “Born to
Run,” “Glory Days” and more.

Next Top Model” finale, 8 and 9 p.m., CW. First, the final four try
cosmetics commercials. Then the top three head to Seoul for a runway
show and “Top Model” has its 21st winner.

Amazing Race” (CBS). Bethany Hamilton – who continued to be a
surfing star, after losing an arm to a shark – has reached the
final four with her husband, Adam Dirks. They face another married
couple (Jim and Misti Raman), plus wrestlers who are dating and
food-scientists who are co-workers.

Cat's Worst Christmas Ever” (2014, Lifetime) or “Mrs. Miracle”
(2009, Hallmark), 8 p.m. Amid a cascade of Christmas films, these two
– one weird and funny, one warm and quiet -- stand out.

8:31 p.m., ABC. When the office floor needs to be redone, Cristela
gives the job to her brother-in-law and his friend (Carlos Ponce,
Gabriel Iglesias) ... and soon regrets it.

9 p.m. ET, Fox, with preview at 8. A weekend stuffed with
conference-championship games starts with this dandy: Oregon, ranked
No. 2 in the nation, hosts Arizona, ranked No. 11.

9 pm., NBC. Let's pity any family that forgets to change the channel
after the NBC cartoon. This story has home invasions darkening

Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Danny tries to find a troubled
veteran. Also, Karen Allen plays a grieving mother, demanding

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 4

MUST-SEE: “Peter Pan Live,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

year's live “Sound of Music” was mostlya big success. Carrie
Underwood sang beautifully and acted semi-adequately, the supporting
cast and production values were great and ratings soared.

comes a bigger venture. Its star (Allison Williams) is steeped in
comedy, not musicals, but sings well and is backed by people who have
done plenty of Broadway musicals – 10, with five Tony nominations,
for Kelli O'Hara (Mrs. Darling); seven, with a Tony, for Christian
Borle (Mr. Darling and Smee); two, long ago, for Christopher Walken
(Hook); one for young Taylor Loudermilk (Wendy).

MUST-SEE II: “Gracepoint,” 9 p.m., Fox.

been working the case for a long time now and I'm out of patience,”
Det. Miller (Anna Gunn) says. Viewers may agree; “Gracepoint”
returns (after a Thanksgiving break) for the ninth of its 10
episodes. Beautifully crafted and filled with great characters, this
has stretched on.

Now we
finally learn key secrets about Det. Carver (David Tennant) and about
the solemn dog lady. We also key in on a prime suspect; it's a great
episode, leading to next week's finale – at last.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Taste” season-opener, 8-10 p.m., ABC.

quick, slick cooking competition steps in, while scripted shows take
a mid-season break. Celebrity chefs – Anthony Bourdain, Nigella
Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, Marcus Samuelsson – sample food without
seeing the cooks. Tonight, they assemble their four-person teams –
yes, this is almost a precise copy of “The Voice” -- and have
their first competition, sending someone home.

have intriguing choices. One woman is a former stripper; another is a
reporter covering the Boston Red Sox. One man is a firefighter;
another competes with his mentor, who's also his girlfriend.

choices include:

-- “The
Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a funny rerun, Sheldon is forced
to actually teach a class; Howard signs up. Meanwhile, Amy deftly
works both sides of a spat between Penny and Bernadette.

-- “One
Christmas Eve,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. If you missed this film's
debut Sunday, catch it now. The first “Hallmark Hall of Fame”
film to go directly to cable, it's a giddy (but warm) drama that
starts with an abandoned puppy, then builds in odd and fun ways.

“Mom,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Fresh from homelessness, Christy and
Bonnie see how the other half lives, when Jill (Jaime Pressly) –
who has Christy as her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor – asks them to

“Disney's 'A Christmas Carol'” (2009), 9 p.m., ABC Family. Using
the performance-capture style he tried in “Polar Express” (2004)
– which runs at 7 p.m. – director Robert Zemeckis has Jim Carrey
playing Scrooge AND all three ghosts.

-- “Two
and a Half Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. Little Louis actually considers
Alan cool. Now Alan breaks Walden's rules in order to maintain that

-- “The
McCarthys,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. This gets complicated: Jackie's former
boyfriend is gay, so her mom wants to set him up with her brother.
That's part of a busy night for Rick Fox, the former Boston Celtic;
he plays himself here ... and plays Jill's husband on “Mom.”

“Elementary,” 10 p.m., CBS. Someone committed murder to get a
rare map. The rich heiress is played by Mamie Gummer, whose younger
sister Grace is terrific in the final year of HBO's “The Newsroom”;
their mom, Meryl Streep, also does good work.