TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 21

“Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas,” 8 p.m., NBC.

It's been an odd
journey for this amiable tale of a guy who exits the North Pole,
after learning he's not really an elf. First was the fun 2003 Will
Ferrell movie ... which reruns at 8:55 p.m. today on Freeform. Then
was a musical that reached Broadway for the Christmas seasons of 2010
and 2012.

And then came this
2014 cartoon, which takes most of the Broadway songs, writes a new
story and squeezes everything into an hour. There are good things
here, including a neatly offbeat animation style and a voice cast led
by Jim Parsons. The opener is terrific, but the rest of the music is
merely OK.

II: “Star,” 9 p.m., Fox.

This show – which
reruns its pilot tonight, then returns Jan. 4 -- triggers a cascade
of mixed feelings. The music is great, the characters are fascinating
... and yet there's a sameness. Unlike “Empire” (from the same
producer), this has everyone spit out slight variations of a similar,
hard-core attitude.

Jude Demorest is
terrific as Star; a survivor of the foster-care system, Star is ready
to rescue her half-sister and form a girl group with someone she met
on the Internet. Grown-ups are beautifully played (by Queen Latifah,
Benjamin Bratt and Lenny Kravitz) ... yet all seem to occupy a narrow

ALTERNATIVE: Christmas movies, cable.

The Hallmark
channels rerun some of their main new films this year, including two
with Oscar-winners: Shirley MacLaine mentors an ill-suited guardian
angel in “A Heavenly Christmas” (8 p.m., Hallmark); Mira Sorvino
has amnesia after a small-town car crash in “A Christmas to
Remember” (7 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, followed by
“Sound of Christmas” at 9).

There's more,
including “The Santa Clause” (1994) at 6:50 p.m. on Freeform and
George C. Scott's terrific “A Christmas Carol” (1984) at 8 p.m. on AMC.

Other choices

“Undercover Boss,”
8 and 9 p.m., CBS. The eighth season (really) begins; it will borrow
the 8 p.m. slot until “Hunted” arrives Jan. 25 ... with
“Survivor” waiting until March. This opener has two female bosses
– the Build-a-Bear CEO and the mayor of Gary, Indiana.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. The two cops sort of reverse their roles in this rerun.
Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), the cautious family guy, tries some
dangerous motorcycle stunts; Riggs (Clayne Crawford), the wild one,
becomes paternal when an 8-year-old is the only good witness to a
deadly casino heist.

“Christmas at the
White House,” 8 p.m., and Michelle Obama interview, 9 p.m., Oprah
Winfrey Network. First, Winfrey visits the Obama White House at
Christmastime; then we get a rerun of her Michelle Obama interview,
which debuted Monday on CBS.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. This rerun has Anthony Edwards
(“ER”) as a police sergeant whose son has been accused of rape.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Jay tries to make an impression on the new
family across the street. Also, Manny tries to attract a free-thinker
and the Pritchetts take advantage of Alex's mono.

“Game Changers,”
10 p.m., ABC. Robin Roberts interviews the year's key people in
sports (LeBron James, Michael Phelps) and show-business (Chance the
Rapper, Broadway's Lin-Manuel Miranda),plus Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha,
the pediatrician who led the push to stop the water crisis in Flint,

“Surprise! Instant
Xmas Carol,” 10 p.m., TBS. Our Christmas fantasies have never
really included being serenaded by Charles Barkley, Fred Willard,
Shaquille O'Neal or Tony Sirico. That happens in this special, which
also includes musical people – Ludacris, Alfonso Ribeiro, Conan
O'Brien (a lovely Irish-tenor voice), Rashina Jones (daughter of
music man Quincy Jones), Kenny G., T-Pain and more.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 20

“Tony Bennett Celebrates 90,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Bennett actually
turned 90 four-and-a-half months ago, but there was no reason to rush
this. He'll be around approximately forever and will stay in good

He performs here, as
do other superstars – Lady Gaga (a favorite of his from his duet
album), Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and Elton John. Also singing:
Michael Buble, Andrea Bocelli, Diana Krall, RufusWainwright, k.d.
lang and Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.”

Animation, cable.

With lots of
vacation days before Christmas, kids can spend time staring at the
TV. The best choices, both at 8 p.m., borrow movie characters -- “Ice
Age: A Mammoth Christmas” on Fox and “Toy Story That Time Forgot”
on ABC. Another movie spin-off, “Shrek the Halls” (8:30, ABC) is

Earlier, Freeform
has old TV cartoons -- “Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town” at 4:30
p.m. and “The Year Without a Santa Claus” at 5:35. Also, FX has
animated movies from 2012 -- “Madagascar” at 6 p.m. and “Hotel
Transylvania” at 8 and 10.

ALTERNATIVE: “Good Behavior,” 9 p.m., TNT.

At first, it was
tough to care about Letty (Michelle Dockery) the scam artist or
Javier (Juan Diego Botto) the hit man. But now – in the seventh
episode – we dig deeply into his soul.

For decades, Javier
has been estranged from everyone but his sister, who thinks he's a
personal chef. Now she's asked him to a family dinner at her new
restaurant, to mend old wounds. The result is intense, passionate and
brilliantlly acted – especially by Botto (whose real-life father
was one of the thousands who disappeared in Argentina in the 1970s)
and Daniel Faraldo as his dad.

Other choices

“Wedding Crashers”
(2006), 6:30 p.m., TNT. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have the title
roles, in a fun film that includes Rachel McAdams, Isla Fisher and
(briefly) Will Ferrell. Vaughn also stars with Reese Witherspoon in
the OK “Four Christmases” (2008), at 8 p.m. on AMC.

“Terry Crews Saves
Christmas” opener, 8 p.m., CW. It would be nice if good people
always made good shows. Alas, Crews – a national treasure with his
energy and good will – fails. Here, he helps a nice family improve
its Christmas party, with the aid of a chef and a designer. He shouts
lots of upbeat things, but it all becomes noisy and repetitious.
There will be four more over the next three days.

“Michael Buble
Sings and Swings,” 8 p.m., NBC. This is a concert that the Canadian
crooner taped in Manchester, England.

“New Girl,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. In a rerun from last spring, the show's 100th
episode finds Jess returning from jury duty and Reagan (Megan Fox)
moving out.

“Scream Queens,”
9 p.m., Fox. The second season -- which has stirred little attention
– concludes with the Green Meanie's revenge scheme set in motion.
Also, Hester (Lea Michele) makes a bold move and Dr. Holt (John
Stamos) tries dangerous surgery to save Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee

“The Year 2016,”
9-11 p.m., ABC. A strange, Trumpish year will apparently get the
light treatment here. A sampling sees discussions that range from
politics to celebrities to Olympic heroes and villains.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m. to midnight, PBS (check local listings). This reruns the second
half of a mini-series viewing what historians know about Christianity
in its first three centuries. Tonight, we see it grow from a small
and persecuted group to the official religion of the Roman Empire.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 19

“Mars” season-finale, 9 p.m., National Geographic.

Skillfully produced
by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, this six-week series has neatly
juggled two things – a fictional story of a Mars mission in 2033
and brief, documentary footage from nowadays. Tonight, you can catch
the three most-recent episodes from 6-9 p.m., then savor an emotional

A fierce storm has
struck, killing several people and destroying the food project.
Intermingled is the non-fiction story of the Apollo 13 near-disaster
in 1970, which left the space program in disarray.

“America's Got Talent Holiday Spectacular,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

Hey, nothing quite
says Christmas like a magician, a mindreader, a high-diver and The

Grace Vanderwaal,
who won this year's championship at age 12, will be there; so will
Jackie Evancho, who was the runner-up in 2010, at age 10. There are
also plenty of grown-ups, including Olae Dogs, The Clairvoyants and
Professor Splash diving into a pool of eggnog.

ALTERNATIVE: Oprah Winfrey special, 8 p.m., CBS.

A big admirer of the
Obamas before and during these past eight years, Winfrey now sits
down with Michelle Obama for her final White House interview.

And yes, this will
also be on cable's Oprah Winfrey Network. That will be at 9 p.m.

ALTERNATIVE II: “MacGyver,” 5 and 9 p.m. ET, MeTV; “Smoky
Mountains Rise,” 8 p.m. ET, GetTV.

These semi-obscure
networks are available on stations' digital platforms and elsewhere –
GetTV on DirecTV, MeTV on AT&T U-verse. They're strong on
memories ... as evidenced by MeTV bringing back the original
(1985-92) “MacGyver”; starting today, it airs at these times each

Now getTV adds a
more-recent rerun. Dolly Parton's telethon for the fire-ravaged
Smokys aired Tuesday, with music from country's Kenny Rogers, Reba
McEntire, Chris Stapleton, Alabama, Chris Young, Hank Williams Jr,
Big & Rich and more, plus Cyndi Lauper, Amy Grant and Michael W.

Other choices

Football, 2:30 p.m.
ET, ESPN. The Miami Beach Bowl has Tulsa and Central Michigan. And
yes, if you're in Michigan this winter, Miami Beach sounds like fun.

“The Great
Christmas Light Fight,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. The finale of this
three-week, six-hour series offers everything you might ask for –
hand-crafted animatronics, classic toys, a patriotic light-and-music
show and a two-acre display masterminded by a 15-year-old. Also, a
parrot sings “Jingle Bells.”

“Young Women's
Honors,” 9 p.m., CW. In the slot where her “Jane the Virgin”
usually airs, Gina Rodriguez hosts an hour honoring Olympian Simone
Biles, Paralympian Tatyana McFadden, critical-care physician Dr.
Vanessa Kerry and more.

“Man With a Plan,”
9 p.m., CBS. With his wife Andi unavailable, Adam (Matt LeBlanc) must
guide his daughter through a key time. Also, Andi has a car ride with
an annoying talking toy.

“The Wall”
debut, 10 p.m., NBC. Here's an advance episode of a game show that
steps into the 8 p.m. Tuesday spot next month. Chris Hardwick hosts
and two-person teams answer questions, unsure how much money the
giant, electroic wall will add or subtract.

“America's Next
Top Model,” 10 p.m., VH1. Last week, the show launched its new
version, with Tyra Banks staying as producer, but turning hosting
chores over to Rita Ora. It trimmed the field from 28 women to 14,
many with intriguing back stories. Tonight, they head to modeling
“boot camp.”

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 18

“The Sound of Music” (1965), 7-11 p.m., ABC.

At the core is a
true story: Maria, a young orphan training to be a nun, began
teaching the children of a retired Austrian Navy captain. They
married, formed a family singing group and fled fron the Nazis.

Layered onto that
were Rodgers and Hammerstein at their songwriting peak. Before his
death (of cancer at 65), Oscar Hammerstein added the lovely
“Edelweiss” during rehearsals; it would be his last song. On
Broadway, the show won five Tonys, including best musical; the movie
won five Oscars, including best picture. It was nominated for five
more, including Julie Andrews as best actress.

“Madam Secretary,” 9:30 p.m., CBS (but 9 p.m. PT).

As anyone who's seen
“Scandal” already knows, fictional politics is even messier than
real life. In this case, the presidential election has been thrown
into the House of Representatives. That's complicated by a possible
war between Iran and Israel, so Elizabeth rushes both sides to the
negotiation table.

Meanwhile, the
president's chief of staff (played by the talented Zeljko Ivanek) has
had a heart attack. Emelyn Daly – whose dad, Tim Daly, plays
Elizabeth's husband Henry -- is back as Henry's niece.

ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances,” 9-11:30 p.m., PBS.

Last week's “Henry
VI, Part I” was messy enough, with beheadings and stabbings and
such; it was a mere warm-up for tonight's nastiness. Henry VI is
quiet and sensitive; Queen Margaret (Sophie Okonedo) is not. Deals
are made and broken, people are butchered, often slowly and close-up.

Some viewers will be
driven away by the gore or the Shakespearean language. Still, this is
brilliantly filmed, with all the qualities of a great action movie,
plus a superb cast. Benedict Cumberbatch is often in the background,
but emerges powerfully in the final minutes, setting up next week's
“Richard III.”

Other choices

“Star Wars”
(1977), 11:41 a.m., TNT. The splendid trilogy airs here, with “The
Empire Strikes Back” (1980) at 2:23 p.m. and “The Return of the
Jedi” at 5:05. That's followed by a new “Librarians” -- a
magician dared to use real magic – at 8 and “Attack of the
Clones” (2002) at 9.

Football preview, 7
p.m. ET, and kick-off, 8:30, NBC. Using its “flex-schedule”
option, NBC has Tampa Bay – currently clinging to the final playoff
spot -- at Dallas. The Cowboys – winless against the Giants,
undefeated against the rest of the world – still have the
conference's best record.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. The beauty of a cartoon is that you can burn down a city
whenever it's convenient. In this rerun, Springfield has burned and
people need Mr. Burns to rebuild it.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8:30 p.m., CBS (8 p.m. PT). A missing Navy officer had
been working on foreigh cyber threats. Now Callen teams with Deeks
and Sam is with Anna Kolcheck, played by Russian-born actress Bar

“A Christmas to
Remember,” 9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Oscar-winner
Mira Sorvino plays a harsh TV personality who has amnesia after a car
crash. Naturally, a handsome chap (Cameron Matheson) helps. That's
one of two new movies; “Sleigh Bells Ring” (8 p.m., Hallmark) has
a single mom rushing to create a perfect Christmas parade ... but the
sleigh seemsto have a mind of its own.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. In this rerun, Todd feels deep remorse.
Tandy needs to tell some lies, in order to comfort him.

10:30 p.m., CBS (10 p.m. PT). Someone seems to be using Watson's
medical license to sell drugs. Now she's a suspect and must scramble
to find the real criminal.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 17

“Saturday Night Live,” 9-11 p.m. and 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Sketch comedy fills
up much of NBC's evening. That starts with a quick rerun of “SNL
Christmas” (just three days after its previous rerun), with lots of
past bits.

Then comes a new
episode, with Casey Affleck – getting Oscar buzz for “Manchester
By the Sea” -- hosting and Chance the Rapper as music guest. This
is Affleck's first time as host ... something Ben has done five
times; they'll now join the Mannings (Peyton and Eli) as brothers who
have hosted.

Bowl games, all day.

New Year's Eve is
still two weeks away, but the bowl season starts today with six
games. Some are bowls – and teams – we've never heard of; four of
the teams have 6-6 records. Still, it's a chance to see fun and
action in warm-weather places.

ABC has games at
noon and 3:30 p.m. ET; ESPN has ones at 2, 5:30 and 9 p.m. ET.
Rounding out the line-up is the CBS Sports Network, with Central
Florida and Arkansas State at 7 p.m. ET in Orlando.

ALTERNATIVE: “A Christmas Carol” (1984), 8 p.m., AMC.

Like Hamlet and
such, Ebenezer Scrooge is one of those roles that keep attracting
great actors. Few have done it as well as George C. Scott does here;
it's a lush production that surrounds him with talented English
actors, particularly Edward Woodward as the vibrant Ghost of
Christmas Present.

That's sandwiched
between two other Christmas films. “Santa Claus: The Movie” -- a
so-so story, but great visuals – is at 5:30, with “White
Christmas” (1954) at 10:30. The latter has Bing Crosby singing
Irving Berlin tunes, including the title song ... which he debuted in
the 1942 “HolidayInn.”

II: “Frozen” (2013) and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
(2005), 9 and 11:30 p.m., Freeform.

Here are great films
for families to watch ... or, more reasonably, record.

“Frozen,” which
ABC aired last Sunday, is a gem, winning Oscars for best animated
feature and for its “Let It Go” song. “Charlie” is director
Tim Burton at his quirky best; Freeform also has Burton's production
of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) at 1 p.m.

Other choices

More Christmas
movies, cable. At 7 and 10 p.m., Bravo has “Love Actually,” with
a scattered but clever script from Richard Curtis. At 8, Hallmark
debuts “My Christmas Love,” with a young woman trying to figure
who is sending her “12 Days of Christmas” presents. Also,
“Hallmark Movies & Mysteries” reruns this year's “Journey
Back to Christmas” and “Sound of Christmas,” at 7 and 9 p.m.

“Big Game”
(2014), 8-10 p.m., CBS. Interesting things can happen when you go
camping. In this case, Air Force One has been shot down over the
wilderness of Finland; a teen-ager must help the U.S. president
(Samuel L. Jackson) reach safety. This is a Finnish film, new to most

“I Want a Dog For
Christmas, Charlie Brown,” 8 p.m., ABC. Lucy and Linus' little
brother Rerun wants a dog. This was created in 2003, from previous
cartoon strips by the late Charles Schulz.

“A Pentatonix
Christmas Special,” 8 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of
Wednesday's show, with the a cappella group joined by Kelly Clarkso,
Reba McEntire and more.

“Ho Ho Holiday
Special,” 9 p.m., Nickelodeon. This debuted last year, as a way to
wedge all of the channel's young stars into one hour. Invited to a
party, they feel trapped by a mysterious host.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Malcolm-Jamal Warner's career
started at the top, as the “Cosby Show” son. At 46, he continues
to land good roles; this hour re-meets him, plus skater Tai Babilonia
and Johnny Gill of the singing group New Edition.