TV column for Friday, Dec. 5


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

The
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.

That's
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.

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

A
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.

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

Let's
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.

Katie
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.

Other
choices include:

“A
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.

“America's
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.

“The
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.

“Grumpy
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.

“Cristela,”
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.

Football,
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.

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

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

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 4


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

Last
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.

Now
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).

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

“I've
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.

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

This
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.

They
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.

Other
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
help.

--
“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
illusion.

-- “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.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 3


 

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

NBC is
ready to grab seasonal viewers with live events. It has “Peter Pan”
on Thursday and this event – leading to the lighting of the giant
Manhattan tree – tonight.

There
will be lots of talented women, singing alone – Mariah Carey,
Trisha Yearwood, Idina Menzel, LeAnn Rimes – and with others. Lady
Gaga links with Tony Bennett, Cyndi Lauper with Billy Porter, Sara
Bareilles with “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane,. Also
performing will be Darius Rucker, Prince Royce and Pentatonix, the
group that won NBC's “Sing Off.”

TONIGHT'S
MIGHT-SEE: “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

You
reallly shouldn't buy a fancy white couch, if you have an energetic
kid who keeps cookies in her back pocket. Or if an overwrought
co-worker (Kristen Johnson) needs a place to crash.

Cam and
Mitchell learn all this the hard way. Also, Jay and Gloria drag each
other to parties they dread. And Alex's family suspects that her new
boyfriend is imaginary.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Survivor,” 8-10 p.m., CBS.

This
edition started with nine duos split into opposite tribes. Now, with
a single tribe, three duos are intact; with others, they form the
final nine, to be trimmed to six during this double episode.

Missy
Payne, 47, who has a Dallas cheerleading gym, is with her daughter
Baylor Wilson, 20; Keith Nale, 53, a fire captain, is with his son
Wes, 23, also a firefighter. Jon Misch, 26, a financial consultant in
Waterford, Mich., is with his college sweetheart, Jaclyn Schultz, 25,
a media buyer in Las Vegas.

Other
choices include:

“Arrow,”
8 p.m., CW. Here's the second half of the story that started Tuesday
on “The Flash.” Captain Boomerang has planted five bombs around
Oliver's city; now Barry Allen flashes over to help.

“The
Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC. Just as he's doing a school project, Brick
finds himself alone, except for a string of babysitters. His dad and
sister are touring colleges; his mom is seeing his older brother's
first college football game.

“The
Goldbergs,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. Here's the second show this season to
point to the fictional hoverboards in “Back to the Future.” When
Adam is injured, he claims it was a hoverboard accidents

“Saturday
Night Live Christmas,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. This reruns last year's
special, with four decades of Christmas clips, from Dan Aykroytd as a
sleazy businessman to lots of people as elves.

“Blackish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. The parents introduce a “Team Johnson” approach
to togetherness; naturally, it soon has troubles.

“Nashville,”
10 p.m., ABC. Rayna and Luke plan a Christmas TV special with her
kids, even singing a “Baby, It's Cold Outside” duet. She includes
Deacon, however, and complications follow. Also, Winterfest provides
performance chances for Zoey, Gunnar, Avery and Terry (Mykelti
Williamson).

 

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Back in 1965, this
show skirted TV traditions. It had child actors, primitive animation,
a jazzy score and even a tad of scripture. It was fresh and different
... and one of the best half-hours in TV history.

The only bad news is
that it's paired tonight with a rare mis-step. Ever since the
original “Toy Story” in 1995, the Pixar people have been
brilliant. Still, the new “Toy Story That Time Forgot” (8 p.m.)
is oddly grim, short on laughs and long on violence and threats.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Masters,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

For a casual-seeming
guy, Bing Crosby covered immense scope. He was a sports buff who
co-owned a baseball team and invented pro-am golf, a technology buff
who propelled the idea of taping radio shows, an actor who made a lot
of silly movies and won an Academy Award.

Still, he's known
mainly as two things – a crooner with 41 No. 1 hits and a distant
dad (during his first marriage) who was blasted in his son's book.
All of that and more is covered in a fascinating profile.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce” debut, 10 p.m.,
Bravo.

In its first
scripted series, Bravo tries to cover the entire turf in one gulp.
“Guide” is partly comedy and mostly drama, partly a West Coast
variation on “Sex and the City,” turning darker.

Lisa Edelstein
(“House”) plays a writer who tells others how to live a pleasant
life ... while her own marriage to Jake (Paul Adelstein) crumbles.
She turns to mismatched friends – a cynical little lawyer (Janeanne
Garofolo) and a flashy ex-model (Beau Garrett); the result tries
hard, sometimes succeeding.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “CMT Artists of the Year,” 8-9:30 p.m., CMT and
VH1.

Country music gets
another chance to celebrate itself. There will be performances by the
honorees – Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean
and Florida Georgia Line – and others.

The 90-minute
special gets a two-network play. In addition, CMT will rerun it at
9:30.

Other choices
include:

-- “NCIS” and
“NCIS: New Orleans,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. Gibbs (Mark Harmon) is
key to both reruns. In the first, the theft of drone secrets has him
working with former girlfriend Hollis Mann (Susanna Thompson). In the
second, Pride (Scott Bakula) needs his help, when key information is
secret.

-- “The Voice,”
8 p.m., NBC. Three people will be ousted, nudging the other five to
the semi-finals.

-- “The Flash,”
8 p.m., CW. Here's the start of a two-night crossover that blends
opposites – the bright, boyish enthusiasm of “The Flash” and
the dark urgency of “Arrow.” Tonight, the “Arrow” people
arrive in search of Captain Boomerang; on Wednesday, the “Flash”
people visit them.

-- “Agents of
SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. The team rushes to find the ancient city
before Hydra does – an outcome that could be fatal. Also, Skye and
May try to get to Raina before Whitehall does.

-- “Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. The squad has a classic rescue ... then is startled by
who takes credit.

-- “Sons of
Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX. Often brilliant (and sometimes just
sadistic), “Sons” is now a week from its series finale. Jax knows
that his mother killed his wife and then told lies that set off a
brutal rounds of misdirected vengeance. Now she knows he knows; the
end is near.

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.