TV column for Monday, Dec. 1


 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“CMA Country Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

Each December, TV
re-discovers music. Now there will be at least one special on each of
the next five days; the first one – despite the title – isn't
confined to country.

Broadway's Idina
Menzel performs; so does pop's Lucy Hale and contemporary-Christian
star Michael W. Smith. Rock's Steven Tyler jams with Brad Pasley, a
country guy with a hot guitar. Other country people incluce Carrie
Underwood, Alan Jackson, Jennifer Nettles (who hosts), Hunter Hayes,
LeAnn Rimes, Sara Evans, Brett Eldredge, the Dan + Shay duo and the
Little Big Town group.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Each week, this
ambitious show tries to deliver a movie-style look and feel. After
tonight's episode – the 11th straight new one – it
will take a break before new episodes return Jan. 5.

Fox is saying little
about this hour, except that sacrifices will be made and loyalties
will be tested. It follows an 8 p.m. rerun of the lush “Gotham”
pilot, making our TV sets look like movie screens.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Normal Heart” (2014), 8 p.m., HBO; and “The
Last One” (2014), 8:30 p.m., Showtime.

On World AIDS Day,
the two pay-cable giants have films showing the desperate early
efforts to get awareness. For Showtime, that involves the history of
the AIDS quilt, which now has more than 48,000 patches ... a small
sampling of the reported 30 million people who have died from AIDS
worldwide.

HBO reruns the film
it made from a seething, 1985 play. “Normal Heart” suffers from
its character's counter-productive rage, but it's superbly crafted.
It won the best-movie Emmy, with nominations for Mark Ruffalo, Julia
Roberts, Albert Molina, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Joe Mantello.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: Movies, 6 p.m. to midnight, ABC Family.

Now for something
completely different: Dec. 1 also starts the annual “25 Days of
Christmas” for ABC Family, which stockpiles many of the best
holiday shows. It starts with a dandy triple-feature.

At 6 p.m.,
“Christmas Vacation” (1989) has Chevy Chase as a dad taking it
all to excess; at 10, “The Santa Clause” (1994) has Tim Allen as
a dad suddenly drafted into North Pole duty. In between is “Elf”
(2003) at 8 p.m., with Will Ferrell – suddenly realizing he's not
an elf -- trying the real world. Its great supporting cast includes
Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, James Caan and then-newcomer Zooey Deschanel.

Other choices
include:

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The final eight singers perform and viewers vote.
Next week, this edition has its semi-finals, with its final five.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8-10 p.m., CBS. Next week, this show has its delayed
season-opener, bumping the cancelled “The Millers.” First, it
reruns four episodes from last season, starting with guest shots by
Oscar-winners Kathy Bates (as Peggy's childhood friend) and Susan
Sarandon (as Molly's literary hero). At 9 p.m., Molly gets a spot in
a writers' camp; at 9:30, she reluctantly agrees to see a therapist.

“Greatest Holiday
Commercials Countdown,” 9 p.m., CW. The network pauses for light
Christmas specials – a cartoon rerun (“Grandma Got Run Over by a
Reindeer”) and this now one. Don't fret; “Jane the Virgin” will
be back on the next two Mondays, before taking a mid-season break.

“Tiger's Revenge,”
9 p.m. and midnight, NatGeo Wild. With an ancient fort as the
backdrop, tiger sisters compete for control of a territory. That's
surrounded by big-cat reruns, from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.

“State of
Affairs,” 10 p.m., NBC. The president (Alfre Woodard) gives
Charleston (Katherine Heigl) a near-impossible task: Rescue 21
kidnapped Nigerian girls, with no one knowing the U.S. was there.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. The star of Castle's favorite 1980s action movie has been
killed.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 30


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“One Christmas Eve,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark.

TV can be proud of
“Hallmark Hall of Fame.” It started in 1951 with an original
opera (“Amahl and the Night Visitors”) and followed with three
Shakespearean plays and “Alice in Wonderland.” It switched to
movies – great ones, from “Promise” to “What the Deaf Man
Heard” – and has won 81 Emmys.

And TV can be
ashamed of this: After 63 great years on NBC, CBS and ABC, “Hall”
is confined to cable. As it happens, the first cable-only film is a
dandy. It starts with a puppy on a doorstep, then adds a frantic mom
(Anne Heche), her kids, strangers, pratfalls, laughs, warmth and
“Hall of Fame” quality.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Mentalist” season-opener, 9:30 p.m. (barring football
overrun), CBS.

The good news is
that CBS avoids reruns. “The Good Wife” and (after tonight)
“Madam Secretary” will rest until Jan. 4; “Mentalist” starts
its 13-week final season here, then slides to Wednesdays.

Also good is a mild
overhaul: The two lead characters are a couple now; Robin Tunney and
Simon Baker actually get to smile. And Josie Loren – who was good
as a gymnast in “Make It or Break It” -- arrives as a new FBI
agent. The bad news: This opening case is a weak one, straining
believability.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Sleepless in America,” 8-10 p.m., National
Geographic.

Our ancestors simply
went to bed when the daylight faded, this compelling documentary
says. Then came lights, TV, Internet and more; Americans average two
hours less sleep than they did 50 years ago.

The impact is
immense. Lack of sleep has been considered a factor in disasters –
from Chernobyl to Exxon Valdez to bus and truck crashes; cancer,
diabetes and heart disease thrive on sleeplessness. Hardest hit are
shift-workers and high school students. “Sleepless” offers
possible solutions, both institutional (school start times, workplace
medical programs) and individual.

Other choices
include:

“Big Cat Week,”
noon to 3 a.m., National Geographic. Amid lots of
reruns, the intriguing “Future Cat” debuts at 9 p.m., rerunning
at
midnight.
Computer animation shows
lions and tigers
evolving into sleeker creatures that could
converge
when the continents merge anew.

“The Walking
Dead,” 2 p.m. to midnight, AMC. First is a seven-hour rerun
marathon, to get us ready; then the season finale sees Rick trying to
make peace with a new enemy. That's at 9 p.m. and reruns at 11, after
fans ponder it all in the “Talking Dead” hour at 10:01.

Madame
Secretary,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. This ratings success will take December
off, to avoid reruns. First, Elizabeth tries to find
the
secret bank account of Vincent Marsh, who preceded her as secretary
of state, before dying in a
suspicious
plane crash. She's soon surprised by who
has access to the account.

The
Newsroom,” 9 p.m., HBO. Much of this hour is Shakespearean –
meaning we know it's good, but can't always comprehend it. Then co
mes
an amazing shift. With virtually no words (except some gorgeous
singing by newcomer Katie Boeck) the final minutes are strong,
surprising and moving.

“Killing Kennedy”
(2013), 9-11 p.m., Fox News Channel. With one exception – the lame
John-and-Jackie scenes – this is a well-crafted film, sharply
outlining Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothaar). It aired last year on
cable, but now Bill O'Reilly (who co-wrote the book) also anchors a
preview hour at 8.

“Revenge,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Desperate to salvage his reputation, Nolan offers new
information.

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 29


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

For Tardar Sauce, a
real-life cat, the last two years have been a swirl. Under the stage
name Grumpy Cat, her frowning face has been on shirts, on mugs and in
commercials; she's had two books, six million Facebook “likes”
... and now a movie that – except for overwrought villains – is
quite good.

At the core is
lonely Chrystal, played by Meghan Charpetier, a likable, 13-year-old
Canadian in her 10th year as an actress. Helping at a pet
store, she's startled to hear the cat's grumpy thoughts, drolly
voiced by Audrey Plaza. Then come plot twists that are often silly
and sometimes very clever.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Just when “SNL”
seemed a tad predictable, Chris Rock strode onstage with a monolog
that was fresh, funny and controversial. He joked about the Boston
Marathon bombing, 9/11, gun control and Christmas; he reminded us
that almost anything can be funny if it's done with real wit.

Rock sees irony, for
instance, in commercializing Christmas: “From what I've heard,
Jesus was the least commercial person who every roamed the Earth. No
bling.” Here's a rerun, with music from Prince.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Flight Before Christmas” and “The Story of
Santa Claus,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

It's still November,
but TV has already declared Christmas. For tonight, CBS has two
cartoons.

“Flight” was a
Finnish movie about a reindeer who had vertigo, but was determined to
join Santa's Flying Force; in 2012 it was shortened and dubbed, with
Emma Roberts and (as an offbeat squirrel companion) Norm Macdonald.
Then a 1996 cartoon has good-hearted Nick (Ed Asner) and his wife
(Betty White) transformed by events and an elf leader (Tim Curry).

Other choices
include:

“Big Cat Week,”
noon to 3 a.m., NatGeo Wild. Here are lots of reruns, plus the debut
of the excellent “Leopard: Ultimate Survivor” (9 p.m., rerunning
at midnight). It traces a mother and her cubs – one cautious, one
dangerously adventurous – for two years in Botswana. Some of the
scenes – including learning to catch fish – are classic.

Football, 7:45 p.m.
ESPN and 8 p. m., ABC. The two top-ranked teams appear
simultaneously. ESPN has Alabama (No. 1) hosting Auburn (No. 14),
which upset it last year on a bizarre final-play return of a blocked
field goal; ABC has Oregon (No. 2) at Oregon State.

National Dog Show,
8-10 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of the Thanksgiving event.,

“Bones,” 8 p.m.,
Fox. In a rerun, one gymnast is killed and another (played by Olympic
gold-medalist McKayla Maroney) is the prime suspect.

“SleepHollow,” 9
p.m., Fox. To rescue Ichabod's wife, he and Abbie try to resurrect a
Frankenstein-type monster created by Benjamin Franklin.

“Missing,” 9
p.m., Starz. This episode – the third of eight – has two great
actors colliding powerfully. James Nesbitt and Frances O'Connor are
the parents of Oliver, who disappeared during their vacation in
France. We bounce between the days after the abduction (Tony's past
violence is discovered) and eight years later, when the case is
re-opened. She's re-married, he's obsessing, passions are fierce.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 28


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Christmas cartoons, CW and CBS.

As soon as
Thanksgiving vanishes, the networks obsess on Christmas.

CW fills its
primetime with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (8 p.m.),
“Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special” (9) and -- from the dandy movies
and TV series -- “Merry Madagascar” at 9:30. CBS counters with
“Frosty the Snowman” (so-so story, fine use of music) at 9 and
“Yes, Virginia” at 9:30.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Kristin Chenoweth: Coming Home,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

This sounds exotic –
Chenoweth performing in her home town of Broken Arrow, Okla.; one
envisions a little bandstand on the prairie. Actually, Broken Arrow
is a city of 100,000 people, among the million (almost) in the Tulsa
area; Chenoweth is in a lush, 1,500-seat theater built in 2009 and
named after her.

She brings a great
talent. Tiny (4-foot-11) and big-voiced, Chenoweth has gone from
gospel to opera to Broadway. She won a Tony for “You're a Good Man,
Charlie Brown,” was nominated for “Wicked” and has had a total
of four Emmy nominations for “Pushing Daisy” (winning once) and
“Glee.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Big Cat Week,” all night, NatGeo Wild.

This is what the
National Geographic people do best – solidly made wilderness
documentaries. Now their “Wild” channel has those films until 3
a.m. daily; they start at 7 p.m. today, noon Saturday and Sunday, 7
p.m. Monday, 6 p.m. Tuesday, 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and noon
Dec. 5.

There are plenty of
reruns, starting tonight with “Lion Army” at 7 p.m. and “Game
of Lions” at 8. Most nights have a new hour at 9 p.m., rerunning at
midnight. Tonight, that's the fairly interesting “Man v. Lion,”
with Boone Smith and a cameraman inside an acrylic box, surrounded by
jungle creatures.

Other choices
include:

“America's
Funniest Home Videos,” 8 p.m., ABC. Here's a transplanted
collection of Christmas moments. That includes one boy weeping
because Santa ate his cookies and another suspecting there was a
mistake, because Santa put him on the “good” list.

“Jessie,” 8-9
p.m., Disney. This show links with “Liv & Maddie,” when
Jessie (Debby Ryan) and the Ross kids plan a Christmas vacation in
Hawaii.

“Grimm” 9 p.m.,
NBC. The latest attack on Monroe and Rosalee shows Nick the
importance of getting back his Grimm powers; meanwhile, he and Hank
probe the site of an awful ritual.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of a Thanksgiving episode from last season,
McGarrett's aunt (Carol Burnett) arrives for the holiday, bearing a
family secret.

“Momsters”
debut, 10 and 10:30 p.m., Investigation Discovery. To get us in the
mood, ID starts a 15-hour “Deadly Women” marathon at 6 a.m.,
follows with “Wives with Knives” at 9 p.m. and then has Roseanne
Barr debut two oddly entertaining true stories. First is the familiar
one (turned into a cable movie) about the Texas mom who hired a hit
man to boost her daughter's cheerleading chances. Then is a mom
convicted of embezzling a fortune, to get treatments in hopes of
having a third child.

“Russell Brand:
Messiah Complex,” 10 p.m., Epix. With his usual mix of audacity and
self-mocking, Brand discovers things he has in common with his
heroes – Jesus, Gandhi, Malcolm X and Che Guevera. He recounts a
Gandhi misdeed ... and some hilariously awful moves of his own.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 27


THIS MORNING'S
MUST-SEE: “Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade,” 9 a.m. to noon, NBC
and CBS.

Each year, the
parade offers size and spectacle. This year, it has a dozen marching
bands, 1,000 clowns, 1,300 dancers and cheerleaders, 16 giant
balloons, Big Apple Circus, Cirque du Soleil and 27 floats, bearing
singers (Renee Fleming, Idina Menzel, Nick Jonas, KISS), Muppets and
more.

The result annually
draws huge ratings for NBC, which adds some extra performances; this
year, it has the casts of five Broadway shows and its own upcoming
“Peter Pan.” CBS counters with music from Taylor Swift and the
Broadway casts of “Pippin” and “Matilda.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The McCarthys,” 9:30 p.m., CBS.

On Thanksgiving, the
family's big challenge seemed to be Jackie's sudden interest in
cooking. Alas, there's s steeper one: Gerard (Joey McIntyre) has
re-united with his acid-tongued girlfriend Katrina.

Think of it as a
heartwarming (sort of) holiday episode – the oft-squabbling
McCarthys are now united by the common cause of hating Katrina.
Despite a tendency to sometimes reach too hard for jokes, this is
mostly a sharp and funny episode.

ALL DAY: Football,
12:30 p.m. ET, CBS; 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox; 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.

For years,
Thanksgiving football wallowed in mismatches. The Detroit Lions, who
started this custom, lost nine straight times, including scores of
34-12, 41-9 and 47-10.

But the Lions won
(big) last Thanksgivng and have been winning (small) this season.
They face the Chicago Bears to start a tripleheader; then it's
Philadelphia at Dallas and Seattle at San Francisco.

ALL DAY II:
Marathons, cable.

There are some good
ones today, led by National Geographic's well-crafted “Life Below
Zero” (9 a.m. to 3 a.m.) and two terrific batches of network
reruns: FXX starts “The Simpsons” at 4 p.m., with the movie
(2007) at 10 p.m.; Pivot picks top “Friday Night Lights” hours,
from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.

For a mini-marathon,
try “The Carbonaro Effect” -- a dandy mixture of magic and
hidden-camera – from 8-11 p.m. And more: “The Transporter” (a
Canadian action drama), 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., TNT; “Nature's
Weirdest,” noon to midnight, BBC America; “Blue Bloods,” noon
to 7 p.m. ET, WGN; “Pawn Stars,” 4-11 p.m., History; “Homicide
Hunter,” 8 p.m. to midnight, Investigation Discovery.

Other choices
include:

Dogs, noon to 2
p.m., NBC, 8-10 p.m., Fox. Fresh from the parade (which it repeats
from 2-5 p.m.), NBC has “The National Dog Show,” which draws big
ratings each year. At night, Fox debuts “Cause for Paws”;
produced by Hilary Swank (who hosts with Jane Lynch), it ranges from
rescue heroes to funny videos to stars – Josh Duhamel, Scarlett
Johansson, etc. -- introducing dogs for adoption.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's last season's Thanksgiving episode, a
funny one that finds everyone at the Wolowitz house ... where
Leonard fumes about Penny's past Las Vegas mistake.

Movies (each 2014),
8 p.m., cable. Family films include the dandy “Lego Movie” on HBO
and “Northpole” (great visuals, so-so story) on Hallmark. For a
different sort of family, “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax” is on the
Lifetime Movie Network.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. No longer homeless – her mom became a building manager –
Christy worries about other relationships: Her parents are back
together and her ex-husband has a girlfriend.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. Now that his adoption plans have fallen
through, Walden tries fostering a 6-year-old ... with, at first,
shaky results.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. A murder leads to a probe of the illegal diamond trade.

“All-Star
Non-Denominational Christmas Special,” 10 p.m., Comedy Central. The
channel assembles its stars for an hour that will be repeated at the
same time for four straight nights.