TV column for Monday, Dec. 21




By MIKE HUGHES

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “How I Met Your
Mother,” 8 p.m., and “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30, CBS.

It's an all-rerun night for CBS, but
don't fret. These two are great episodes to rerun.

On “Mother,” Ted nears his first
day of teaching; he worries about everything from going to the wrong
classroom to misspelling “professor.”

On “Big Bang,” Leonard sulks when
his handsome colleague dates Penny. There are also some hilarious
moments when Sheldon tries to figure out the protocol for
gift-giving.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Sing-Off”
finale, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

It's refreshing to see a reality show
wrap up quickly, just a week after starting.

During the first three rounds (last
Monday through Wednesday) of this OK show, judges trimmed the field
from eight groups to three, all singing a cappella. Then viewers
voted.

That leads to this live finale. After
music and commotion, we'll learn which group wins a record deal.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Rufus
Wainwright: Prima Donna,” 9 p.m., Sundance.

When Rufus Wainwright began writing an
opera, people assumed it would have a pop feel. After all, he's a pop
singer and the son of two folk stars, Kate McGarrigle and Loudon
Wainwright III.

Rufus, however, is a buff of grand
opera; he even made a “Tosca” home movie in his early teens. He
wrote the “Prima Donna” opera in French (which he learned as a
boy in Montreal), using a co-librettist. This excellent film profiles
Wainwright, from his wild years – drink, drugs, temporary
blindness, sexual excess – to his opera's opening night in Milan.

Other choices include:

– “World News Tonight,” 6:30
p.m., ABC (check local listings). Diane Sawyer takes over as anchor.

– “I Want a Dog For Christmas,
Charlie Brown,” 8-9 p.m., ABC. This is one of the cartoons created
after Charles Schulz's death. It debuted in 2003 and focuses on
ReRun, stressed out by his sister Lucy. His best friend Snoopy is too
busy to play, but Snoopy's brother Spike arrives. So does trouble.

– “Find My Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
In the final episode (for now) of this feel-good reality show, we
meet two adoptees, each raising two children. One seeks her birth
mother; another seeks the baby she gave up for adoption when she was
16.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Jake has disappeared with the neighbor's daughter. Meanwhile,
Alan gets a hot date by driving Charlie's Mercedes.

– “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,”
9 p.m., Cartoon Network. There are still chances to catch this great
cartoon. It's on cable tonight and Tuesday, then returns to ABC on
Wednesday.

– “Closer” season finale, 9 p.m.,
TNT. Brenda's enemy (Mary McDonnell) wants her to probe a tricky
case: A policewoman's fierce husband has been killed by another
officer. There are twists and surprises, in a typically well-crafted
episode.

– “Men of a Certain Age,” 10
p.m., TNT. Owen (Andre Braugher) tries a nice-guy approach to car
sales, slash his commission. That's a fairly interesting story, but
others are weak: Terry (Scott Bakula), the part-time actor, is hired
to fake being a home-buyer; Joe (Ray Romano) nourishes his son's
golfing.

 

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 20




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Survivor”
finale (8 p.m.) and reunion (10 p.m.), CBS.

Back in 2000, this show started the
reality rush on American TV. It jumped to No. 1 in that year's
ratings, then spent four more years in the top-10.

“Survivor” has remained near the
top, thanks to slick production values, an emphasis on personalities
and Jeff Probst, its smartly understated host. Now the show picks its
new million-dollar-winner; afterward, Probst questions the re-united
contestants.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Gigantic
World of Epics,” 8 p.m., TCM (Turner Classic Movies).

For decades, Hollywood loved films that
had both size and soul. The best focused on a few passionate people,
against the sprawling backdrop of history.

Now this excellent documentary views
the ones that made a difference, from “Gone With the Wind” in
1939 to “Doctor Zhivago” (airing at 12:30 p.m.) in 1965.

The trend faded with a new generation
and with ill-will stirred by “Cleopatra” (1963) and others. The
epics died – then were reborn with “Titanic” and the “Lord of
the Rings” trilogy.

Steven Spielberg comments often, but
keeps the attention away from his own work. In particular, this film
(produced by Spielberg's company) celebrates David Lean, who proved
that epics – “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia”
and “Zhivago” – can have heart and brains.

Other choices include:

– More epics, Turner Classic Movies.
Before “Zhivago,” TCM has “How the West Was Won” (1962) at
9:30 a.m. Afterward, it has biblical-era epics – “Ben-Hur”
(1959) at 4 p.m., “King of Kings” (1961) at 9 and the silent
“King of Kings” (1927) at midnight.

– Animated movies, 3:30-11 p.m., ABC
Family. Here are Pixar films that won the Academy Award for best
animated movie. “The Incredibles” (2004) is at 3:30 and 8:30
p.m., sandwiching “Ratatouille” at 6.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
When Bart makes a new friend, Homer suspects the kid's parents are
plotting against the U.S.; he's soon spying on them.

– “The Santa Clause 3” (2006),
8-10 p.m., ABC. The best part of this movie has a guy (Tim
Allen) trying to keep his in-laws (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret) from
knowing he's Santa Claus. The worst involves a power-hungry Jack
Frost (Martin Short). The two even out, leaving an OK comedy.

– “White House Christmas 2009,” 8
p.m., HGTV. This annual special has its first look at an Obama White
House. Some 90 volunteers put up the decorations in two days,
emphasizing natural material; the hour ranges from a gingerbread
house to the arrival from West Virginia of the Blue Room tree.

– “Christmas in Washington,” 8
p.m., TNT. George Lopez introduces a strong music line-up, including
Mary J. Blige, Sugarland, Neil Diamond, Usher, Rob Thomas and
15-year-old Justin Bieber.

– “The Nativity Story” (2006), 9
p.m., TNT. Appropriately, TNT follows its Christmas concert with this
film, with Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) as Mary.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 10
p.m., ABC. This rerun comes after the attack on Julie, with people
clinging to secrets. That includes Bree's affair, Lynette's pregnancy
and Angie's life on the lam.

– “Headline Country: Year in Review
2009,” 10 p.m., GAC (Great American Country). Storme Warren leads
an overview of the year in country music.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 19




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Doctor Who: The
Waters of Mars,” 9-10:30 p.m., BBC America.

Ever since 1963, the British have
crafted clever fantasies about Doctor Who, the time lord. The show
faded away at times, then was revived by Russell Davies, a brilliant
producer-director, and David Tennant, terrific as the 10th
person to play the Doctor.

Now there are just three films left,
before the show again switches its star and producer. This is a huge
one, with the Doctor landing on Mars as a disaster unfolds.

The captain (superbly played by Lindsay
Duncan) tries to avert it; the Doctor can help – but should he?

This is a fierce ride, whip-sawing
through the Doctor's emotions; a classic show soars.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Muppets
Christmas: Letters to Santa,” 8 p.m., NBC.

The Muppets, alas, have mishandled
three letters. Now they must rush them to the North Pole – even
disrupting Miss Piggy's plan for a vacation in the tropics.

The special includes a mayor (Michael
Bloomberg), two “Sopranos” guys (Tony Sirico and Steve
Schirripa), actresses (Whoopi Goldberg, Uma Thurman, Jane Krakowski)
and Paul Williams as an elf.

Almost 30 years ago, Williams wrote the
Muppets' Oscar-nominated song “Rainbow Connection”; for this
hour, he wrote the Emmy-nominated “I Wish I Could be Santa Claus.”

Other choices include:

– Animation marathon, 1 p.m., ABC
Family. The delightful “Happy Feet” (2006) opens and closes this
string, at 1 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Sandwiched between is a great Pixar
stretch – “Cars” (2006) at 3:30 p.m., “Pixar Short Films”
at 6 and “Ratatouille” (2007) at 8.

– “Elf” (2003), 8-10 p.m., CBS.
As this movie begins, the 6-foot-3 Will Ferrell is the tallest of
Santa's elves. After learning he's adopted, he plunges into a
less-benign world. This story works well because Ferrell offers a
sweetness, especially in scenes with Zooey Deschanel.

– “The Santa Clause 2” (2002),
8-10 p.m., ABC. This ordinary chap (Tim Allen) is starting to like his job as
Santa. Then he learns he'll be ousted if he doesn't remarry;
Elizabeth Mitchell (“Lost”) co-stars.

– “He's Just Not That Into You”
(2009), 8 p.m., HBO. A non-fiction book was deftly turned into a
fairly good movie about dating. It has a lot of stars, including
Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore (also one of the producers) and Ben
Affleck. Still, the heart comes with Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”)
as Gigi.

– “Doctor Who: Inside the TARDIS,”
8 p.m., BBC America. As Tennant wraps up his “Who” run, here's a
feature that includes clips and interviews.

– “The Three Gifts,” 8 p.m.,
Hallmark. After three good Christmas films this year, Hallmark has a
dud. The story has a couple taking in three tough orphans. The
grown-ups are OK, but the kids seem more choirboys, not hell-raisers;
they're required to suddenly shift behavior, to serve the herky-jerky
plot.

– “Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory” (2005), 8:30 p.m., Disney. Tim Burton's masterful film is
a grand tale for kids or adults.

– “A Golden Christmas,” 9-11
p.m., Ion. Christmas barely appears in this film, a fairly sold
drama. We usually see Andrea Roth as Tommy's estranged wife in
“Rescue Me”; now, in gentler duty, she's an executive, returning
to where she once had a sweet summer with a neighbor boy.

– “Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. A model
has been brutally slain during Fashion Week.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. James Franco hosts, with music by Muse.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 18




TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Dollhouse,”
8-10 p.m., Fox.

This interesting show – dying in
obscurity on Fridays – is on its way out.

Tonight, Victor's contract expires and
he's pushed back into the real world. We learn about his past –
including a military background that could endanger him now.

Also, Echo is considered dangerous.
She's plunged into her worst nightmare.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Elf”
(2003, 7 p.m.) and “Enchanted” (2007, 9 p.m.), USA.

In a way, these films have the same
plot: Someone from a legendary land is thrust into the complications
of modern New York.

One (Will Ferrell) was an elf at the
North Pole; the other (Amy Adams) was a princess in a cartoon world.
Both are sweet, innocent and thoroughly unequipped for real life.

Both films look bright and cheery; both
add music – one song for “Elf,” several for “Enchanted.”
Both also inject some humor and humanity into a silly-but-fun plot.

Other choices include:

– “The Santa Clause” (1994, 7
p.m.) and “The Santa Clause 2” (2002, 8:50 p.m.), Disney. First,
an ordinary guy (Tim Allen) becomes the new Santa; then he has a
deadline to find a new Mrs. Claus.

– “Cars” (2006), 7:30 p.m., and
“Pixar Short Films,” 10 p.m., ABC Family. Here's another chance
for Pixar to show off. First is its popular movie, then a collection
of 20 of its shorts; many are wonderful and several show off the
feature the “Cars” characters.

– “Frosty the Snowman” and
“Frosty Returns,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS. Before Pixar arrived,
animated films were erratic. The original “Frosty” is fairly
good, making use of its bouncy song. The sequel, however, is flat and
dull.

– “Law & Order,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Here's a rerun of the episode that was originally planned for NBC's
“green week.” It mostly mocks environmentalists, however, and the
network delayed it for a while. Beyond that is a terrific storyline.
Ned Beatty and Sherry Stringfield are superb as an aged judge and his
protective assistant.

– “Christmas in Canaan,” 8 p.m.,
Hallmark. This film, which debuted Saturday, gets quietly convincing
work from Billy Ray Cyrus, as a decent dad in the 1960's South, upset
when his son shows a hint of racism. From there, the story jumps
ahead twice, offering some emotional moments.

– “Medium,” 9 p.m., CBS. Don't
you hate it when your daughter's soul is inhabited by a dead
stripper? That's what Allison suspects has happened to Ariel, in this
rerun.

– “Numb3rs,” 10 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, a super computer is the prime suspect in a scientist's death.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Two controversial figures appear. Glenn Beck is the in-studio
guest; Kate Gosselin answers the “10 at 10” questions.

– “Sanctuary,” 10 p.m., Syfy.
Teens are disappearing after being sent to rehab in Mexico.
Meanwhile, Nikola Tesla, the brilliant and eccentric 19th-century
inventor, resurfaces.

 

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 17




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS.

On Sunday, this show will have its
champion. For now, there are still six survivors.

Yes, Russell Hantz remains, with a
variation of Munchausen-by-proxy. He secretly ruins life for people –
hiding the flint, burning someone's socks, emptying the water bottles
– so they'll need him. He also tries to juggle several alliances,
including one he says is with “dumb (bleep) girls.”

Somehow, he's made it work. Also
surviving are Brett Clouse, Jaison Robinson, Mick Trimming, Shannon
Waters and Natalie White.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY: “Saturday Night
Live Presents: A Very Gilly Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

The good news is that this reruns
sketches from the show's 35-year history, even adding new ones.

And the bad? The new sketches feature
Gilly, the one-note character who is also the host. She's played by
Kristen Wiig, whose work ranges from hilarious to horribly overdrawn.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin
introduce reruns of their sketches. Other bits range from John
Malkovich's malevolent Christmas reading to Justin Timberlake's
“(Bleep) in a Box.”

Other choices include:

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 8 and 9 p.m.,
ABC. In a change, ABC has back-to-back reruns. In the first, staffers
mourn George's death; in the second, Izzie – who almost died –
returns to work. In both, Jessica Capshaw has returned as a regular;
Cristina struggles to work with her. Also, the first hour has sexual
contrasts: Owen and Cristina face their therapist's order to abstain;
Derek and Meredith, who declared themselves married, find many places
to not abstain.

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. In a
rerun, the murder victim is a doctor Cam was once engaged to.

– "Origins: Josh Turner," 8 p.m., GAC (Great American Country). This profile talks with Turner, his parents, his wife and others who have seen the South Carolina guy become a country star.

-- “The Truth About Online
Anorexia,” 8 p.m., BBC America. Lots of online sites promote
anorexia, offering encouragement and semi-suicide diets. Fearne
Cotton, 27, a TV personality in England and on one season of “Last
Comic Standng,” tries one of those diets, with a half-apple for
breakfast, a half-apple for lunch and a cucumber for dinner. In an
hour that's sometimes compelling and sometimes painful, she meets
some women who survived anorexia and the mother of one who didn't.

– “The Jeff Dunham Show,” 8-9 and
10-11 p.m., Comedy Central. Four episodes are sandwiched around last
year's fun “Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special” at 9.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. Here's a
rerun of the terrific season-opener, in which Olivia is hurled –
fiercely, dangerously – back into our world. We see glimpses of
William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), whose company started this dangerous
burst of fringe science.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. A shoot-out at a gun show may be related to the death
(at first, considered suicide) of a young woman.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Here's a key episode that was scheduled for earlier, then delayed.
When he's hit on the head by a baseball, Patrick Jane flashes back to
his boyhood, when his overbearing father had him doing a sideshow
mentalism act.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Mary J. Blige performers, with “Avatar” star Sam Worthington
as the in-studio guest.