TV column for Thursday, Dec. 29


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Big Bang Theory” and “Mom,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

It's a rerun night
on the big networks, which we'd complain about bitterly ... except
some of the reruns are delightful. That starts with “Big Bang,”
TV's best comedy, doing what it's best at – isolating Sheldon
one-on-one. This time, he's with Bernadette, when they both skip a
wine-tasting.

Then comes “Mom,”
another great comedy. Allison Janney has won seven Emmys, including
two as Bonnie, the wayward great-grandma. She's enthusiastically
heterosexual, but during her financial troubles had a two-year
lesbian affair with Jeanine (Rosie O'Donnell), who resurfaces
tonight.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Safe Haven” (2013), 8 p.m., E.

At first glance,
this is just another movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel: On the
lam, a young woman (Julianne Hough) stops at a pretty, waterfront
town, where she's befriended by a widowed dad. She's cute, he's Josh
Duhamel, there is room here for romance, mystery and danger.

The difference,
however, is that this one is directed by Lasse Hallstrom, a master of
classy subtlety. From “Gilbert Grape” to “Chocolat,” “Cider
House Rules” and “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” Hallstrom keeps
finding quiet human depth; here, he turns a so-so plot into a fairly
good movie.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATVE: “Project Runway Junior,” 9 p.m., Lifetime, rerunning
at 11:02 p.m.

Wasn't there a time
when teen-agers barely bothered to pick out their own clothes? Now
some of them are passionate and talented designers. This is the
second edition in which they compete.

You can watch the
entire first edition from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., then catch a rerun of the
second-season-opener at 7. It introduced one person who's the minimum
age (13), two who are the maximum (17) and nine who are in-between.
That debuted last week, after the “Project Runway” finale ...
which picked Erin Robertson as its 15th champione; now
“Runway” has a reunion at 8 p.m. today.

Other choices
include:

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. In a rerun, the employees come down with food poisoning at
the worst possible time – while preparing for the post-Thanksgiving
rush. Also, Amy fears it's morning sickness.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. In a funny rerun, Jack (Joel McHale)
tries the new world of Online dating. Naturally, he's awful at it and
needs to be rescued by millennials.

“America's Got
Talent Holiday Spectacular,” 9-11 p.m. NBC. This reruns a special
that includes the show's current champion (12-year-old Grace
VanderWaal), a previous champ (magician Mat Franco) and a runner-up
(Jackie Evancho), plus the Clairvoyats, the Olate Dogs and Professor
Splash.

“Mysteries at the
Museum,” 9 p.m., Travel. The channel continues its icy-week theme.
Tonight, Don Wildmon probes the key elements that sank the Titanic;
on Friday, he views a North Pole expedition.

“Nothing Left
Unsaid,” 9-11 p.m. ET, CNN. Barring a late change – which happens
at CNN – this terrific documentary will rerun. Anderson Cooper
profiles a fascinating woman: His mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, who went
from a rich and lonely kid to a vibrant lover of arts and people.

“Modern Family,”
10 p.m., ABC. It's definitely a good night when we get TV's three
best comedies in one night -- “Big Bang,” “Mom” and this one.
In a rerun, Phil has a real-estate segment on local TV.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 10:31, ABC. Is it time for some Halloween fun? In this
rerun, Louis obsesses on scaring Jessica ... who's busy trying to
write a horror novel.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 28


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“MacGyver,” 9 p.m., CBS.

In a week filled
with reruns, CBS is making sure everyone sees this first-season
ratings success. It repeats three episodes, each time with Mac
creating quick inventions.

On Sunday, he fixed
a train, using only an armrest, a curtain rod and a toothpick.
Tonight, he has to defuse a bomb at the United Nations, using a
wrench and a rope. And at 8 p.m. Friday, he must engineer a prison
break, using only batteries and salt. This guy really needs to get a
better tool belt.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “North by Northwest” (1959), 5:30 p.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies.

This is a weak day
for TV shows, but a strong one for classic movies. TCM shows “Citizen
Kane” (1941) at 3:15 p.m. and this one at 5:30; the American Film
Institute puts them at No. 1 and 55 all-time.

When Alfred
Hitchcock was 6, his dad taught him a lesson by jailing him. It
turned out to be for five minutes, but it led to a lifetime of films
about the falsely accused. For “The Wrong Man” (1956), which TCM
has at 11 a.m., Hitchcock had a dark view and a true story. For
“North by Northwest,” he crafted a fun romp: A wrongly accused
Cary Grant eludes a plane and even climbs Mount Rushmore.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
Bowl games, all day.

Go figure this: Of
all the 40 bowl games this year, exactly one will get a primetime
spot on a broadcast network. A super-big bowl? No, it's the Foster
Farms Bowl, which has Utah (8-4 and ranked No. 19) and Indiana, which
is 6-6 (4-5 in conference play) and hasn't won a bowl game since
1991.

That's 8:30 p.m. ET
on Fox, alongside an ESPN triple-header. At 2 p.m. ET, the Pinstripe
Bowl has Pittsburgh (8-4, No. 23) and Northwestern (6-6). At 5:30,
the Russell Athletic Bowl has West Virginia (10-2, No. 16) and Miami
(8-4). At 9, the Texas Bowl has Kansas State and Texas A&M; both
are 8-4.

Other choices
include:

“Rambo” trilogy,
1:45 (1982), 3:45 (1985) and 5:45 p.m. ET (1988), BBC America,
rerunning at 8 and 10 p.m. and midnight. This starts with the
well-made but disturbing “First Blood,” then turns crowdpleaser
with two sequels. For more action, there's “The Fast and the
Furious” (2001) at 7:30 pm. and two 8 p.m. films -- “Speed”
(1994) on CMT and “Taken” (2008) on Lifetime.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. In a change, NBC has
back-to-back reruns. In the first, an athlete is the victim of a
sexual assault, but her secret double life complicates the case. In
the second, Wyclef Jean plays a record mogul, accused of an assault
on a transgender student.

“Expedition
Unknown,” 9 p.m., Travel Chanel. All week (through Saturday), this
channel is helpfully reminding us that things are much colder
somewhere else. Tonight, Josh Gates heads to the North Pole, South
Korea and Siberia, in search of DNA from a wooly mammoth.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. When Luke and Manny compete for senior-class president,
their parents get overinvolved. Also in this rerun, Martin Short
plays a promotion whiz who mentors Haley.

“Black-ish,”
9:31, ABC. This rerun finds the family going to Disney World.

“Match Game,” 10
p.m., ABC. With “Designated Survivor” waiting until March, Alec
Baldwin's show gets a fine time slot. New shows start next weekend;
first is a rerun with mostly comedy people; it has Leslie Jones, Jack
McBrayer, Leah Remini, Ike Barinholtz, Cheryl Hines and Josh Charles.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, Platt is attacked after visiting her
father. Investigating the case, police soon find an even-more-brutal
attack.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 27


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Kennedy Center Honors,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Each year, this
offers a spendid mixture of tributes, biographies and performances.
This time, the honorees are James Taylor, Mavis Staples, Al Pacino,
pianist Martha Argerich and the Eagles.

The night peaks when
great music blends with idealism – in Staples' freedom songs and in
a John Kennedy mini-tribute that has Tony-winner Cynthia Erivo
singing a stunning “Impossible Dream.” There's more music,
including Garth Brooks, Bonnie Raitt, Vince Gill, Bob Seger, Sheryl
Crow, Darius Rucker, Kings of Leon, Andra Day, pianist Yuja Wang
and an Izhak Perlman-Yefin Bronfman duet.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “American Masters,” 8 p.m., PBS.

At first, a report
of St. Louis' 1947 design-competition winner was in error. People
assumed it was Eliel Saarinen, the noted Finnish architect; instead,
his son Eero had designed the now-famed Gateway Arch.

That was the start
of a spectacular stretch for Eero. In a quick burst (before his death
at 51 in 1961), he would create gorgeous designs for furniture,
airports, office buildings and more. This superb hour visits many of
his creations, from a hockey rink in Yale to a chapel at MIT. It also
views his complex marriages to two talented women, Lilian (a
sculptor) and Aline (an art critic and TV commentator).

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Just 10 episodes
into its existence, this passionate show is already piling up praise.
The Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards nominated it as best
drama; the American Film Institute picked it as one of the year's 10
best. Three of its stars drew Golden Globe or Screen Actors Guild
nominations.

Now late-comers can
catch up. Two weeks before the second half of the season starts,
here's a rerun of the pilot film. We meet five interesting people,
with no idea how they entwine. In the final minutes, with great work
from Gerald McRaney as a folksy doctor, the series propels forward.

Other choices
include:

Bowl games, all day,
ESPN. There are four of them today, at noon, 3:30, 7 and 10:15 p.m.
ET. The most attention may be on the 7 p.m. game: Minnesota – whose
players briefly boycotted while demanding an explanation of 10
suspensions – faces Washintong State in the Holiday Bowl.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The focus shifts to Abby in this rerun. On a private plane, the
passengers and crew were lethally poisoned. Her brother, the plane's
chef, is the prime suspect.

“New Girl,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. In a funny rerun, Nick and Jess are in charge of the
engagement party for Schmidt and Cece. Jess promptly invites Cece's
mom, stirring fresh complications.

“Bones,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. A week before the show launches its 12th and final
season, here's a rerun of last season's finale. It's a grisly and
jolting one, involving the serial killer called “The Puppeteer.”

“No Tomorrow,” 9
p.m., CW. On the big-five networks, this is the only series tonight
that does NOT have a rerun. Evie nudges Xavier to resolve issues with
his dad; while he's gone, she uses the time to re-connect with her
ex-boyfriend ... who's been impressed by her new, carefree lifestyle.

“Frontline,”
9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). News footage has shown the
massive immigration crisis in Europe. Now “Frontline” has given
cameras and smartphones to some immigrants from Syria, Gambia and
Afghanistan, so they can tell their stories. “Anyone can become a
refugee,” a former English teacher in Damascus says. “It's not
something you choose.”

“The Real
O'Neals,” 9:30-11 p.m., ABC. The first rerun is on National Coming
Out Day: Kenny starts a gay student club, draws exactly one person
... and complicates her life. The second is on Halloween, which he
calls “the gay Super Bowl”; his mother reluctantly lets him have
a party at his house. The third, with his mom obsessing on the
Christmas choir competition, offers a chance for romance.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 26


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

In just three years,
the notion of live musicals has grown immensely. It went rom the
safe-and-solid “Sound of Music” to the vibrant “Grease”; now
this one is (by a tad) even better.

When it opened (Dec.
7), we thought we had a ceiling view of Tracy in bed; as the backdrop
pulled away, we saw she was vertical, on a city streets. It was a
great start to a live production sprawling over a movie-studio lot.
This is visually ambitious and musically potent, with great moments
from Jennifer Hudson, Derek Hough, Kristen Chenoweth, Ephraim Sykes
and gifted newcomer Maddie Baillio.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“iHeart Radio Jingle Ball,” 8-9:30 p.m., CW.

This is a double
night for Ariana Grande, with two reruns. In “Hairspray,” she
does nifty comedy support, finally singng after the story is done.
And in this one, she and other pop stars perform.

Others include
Justin Bieber, Charlie Puth, Lukas Graham, Diplo, DNCE, Fifth
Harmony, The Chainsmokers and more, including Niall Horan of One
Direction.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings; some stations are running this an hour later).

At 38, Ravi Patel
has had a busy acting career, including regular roles in a comedy
(“Grandfathered”) and a drama (“Past Life”). What was
missing? His family kept urging him to find romance ... preferably
with someone who shares his Indian roots.

So Patel went a step
further: On a cross-country jaunt, he confined his search to women
named Patel. He co-directed (with his sister) this documentary,
co-wrote it, was the prime focus ... and, yes, ended up in a romantic
relationship. We won't say with whom, but the search is a delight.

Other choices
include:

Football, all day,
cable. First are three bowl games – none involving teams with
winning records. That's

11 a.m. ET on ESPN
and 2:30 and 5 p.m. on ESPN2. Then the pros have two teams with
surprisingly strong seasons: The Dallas Cowboys (12-2) host the
Dettoiyt Lions (9-5), at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.

“Scientology and
the Aftermath,” 7-10 p.m., A&E. While her former co-star Kevin
James does comedy on CBS, Leah Remini has three reruns of her series.
It's a scathing look at Scientology, of which she was a long-time
follower. The third views David Miscavige, the leader after L. Ron
Hubbard's death.

“Happy New Year,
Charlie Brown,” 8 p.m., ABC. After showing some great animated
specials at Christmastime, TV lowers its standards. This adequate,
1986 tale has Charlie trying to get in a party mood, while finishing
“War and Peace.” The 1976 “Rudolph's Shiny New Year” follows
at 9.

“Kevin Can Wait,”
8 and 9 p.m., CBS. So far, this show has had fairly funny episodes
and good ratings. Now here are two reruns: First, Kevin wishes his
friends would be as much fun as his wife's book club. Then he's
caught borrowing a friend's story of police heroism; funny flashbacks
offer the truth.

“Man With a Plan,”
8:30 and 9:30, CBS. The first rerun has some fairly good moments, as
Adam (Matt LeBlanc) finds that both his wife and his brother (Kevin
Nealon) expect to get the extra Steelers ticket. In the second, he
rebels from the demands of his daughter's kindergarten teacher.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. In a rerun, someone is killing newcomers to Los Angeles.
Also, Maze asks Chloe to go out for drinks, but has an ulterior
motive.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. Sylvester isn't really suited for hard-core prison life.
In this rerun, however, he must go undercover; when things go wrong,
the others must engineer a prison break.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 25


TODAY'S MUST-TRY:
Disney Christmas parade, 10 a.m. to noon, ABC (check local listings).

By mid-morning on
Christmas, presents have been unwrapped and people want something
cheery on the TV screen. That's where the Disney people step in.

The brother-sister
team of Derek and Julianne Hough introduce parks parades, plus music
numbers filmed in advance. Kelly Clarkson sings “I'll Be Home for
Christmas,” Sofia Carson does “Silent Night” and recent “Voice”
champion Jordan Fisher does “The Christmas Song.” Also:
OneRepublic, Alessia Cara and Gavin DeGraw, plus solos and duets from
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“I Love Lucy” and “Dick Van Dyke Show” specials, 8 and 9
p.m., CBS. Some of the best moments of the 1950s and '60s were in
black-and-white ... and were abruptly discarded. Now computer-added
color brings them to new generations.

One “Lucy”
episode – slow by modern standards – has lots of Santas; the
other lets Lucy be a dancer in a movie musical. One hilarious Van
Dyke episode has Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) tell the world that Rob's
boss (Carl Reiner, the show's creator) is bald; the other flashes
back to when their baby was born.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS.

The first two
chapters of this Shakespearan trilogy were filled with gore, rage,
madness and brilliant performances. For the finale, the gore is
finally set aside, but the madness hits overdrive.

As King Edward IV
fades, his brother Richard (brilliantly played by Benedict
Cumberbatch) schemes. To clear a path to the throne, he disposes of
two young princes and his own brother George. This leaves their
mother (Judi Dench) appalled and the widowed former-Queen Margaret
(Sophie Okonedo) filled with rage and curses. The result – superbly
filmed and acted – brings the story to a fierce finale.

Other choices
include:

“A Christmas
Story” (1983), 6 a.m., 8 a.m., etc., TBS and TNT. Last night, this
darkly funny film began its annual marathon. It started at 8 p.m. and
re-starts ever two hours, until 8 p.m. today.

Football, 4:30 p.m.,
NFL Network and 8:30 p.m., NBC. Most of the games were on Saturday,
giving the players a Christmas break. These games, however, prevent a
football-free Sunday. First, the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) could
cinch their division title when they host the Baltimore Ravens (8-6).
Then the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) could cinch a play-off spot,
hosting the Denver Broncos (9-5).

“Call the Midwife
Holiday Special,” 7:30-9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). For five
seasons, this has skillfully mixed feel-good emotions and feel-awful
situations. Deeply decent doctors, nurses and nuns have battled
wretched health crises and poverty. Now the year is 1962 and the
awfulness is amped up, as volunteers head to a clinic in rural South
Africa. Medicine is scarce, the water supply is vanishing and the
lone doctor (well-played by Sinead Cusack) is sick. It's tough and
involving.

“Beauty and the
Beast” (1991), 8-10 p.m., ABC. In the midst of a long slump, Disney
had this animated gem. It won two Oscas for its music and was
nominated for four more, including best picture.

“When Calls the
Heart Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. This frontier Canadian town
is deeply dependant on shipments by train. Now a derailment leaves it
without food ... and Christmas presents.

“Madam Secretary,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season-opener, President Dalton faces
a tough re-election bid and wants no drastic ideas; that's when
Elizabeth pushes a big change in foreign spending. Morgan Freeman,
one of the show's producers, directed the episode and plays the chief
justice.

“MacGyver,” 10
p.m., CBS. A transplanted rerun has Mac protecting a whistleblower.
First, of course, he has to fix something – in this case a train,
using only an armrest, a curtain rod and a toothpick.