TV column for Monday, Dec. 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.

It's final-four
time, with Blake Shelton again in the lead. This guy has already had
five of the 12 champions; now he has half of this year's finalists.
There's Chloe Kohanski, 23, one of the viewers' top-three picks last
week. And there's Red Marlow, 40, the surprise survivor of the viewer
“save.”

Adam Levine, who's
had three champions, has Addison Agen, 16. Miley Cyrus, trying for
her first, has Brooke Simpson, 26. Tonight, they'll sing and viewers
vote; on Tuesday, we'll have a winner.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Ellen's Game of Games” debut, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

Ellen DeGeneres has
thrived as a producer. “First Dates” was a delight, “Little Big
Shots” is a ratings hit, her own talk show thrives. And now she
produces and hosts this collection of odd games.

There are plenty of
flaws here. The questions are wildly inconsistent; the guests are so
universally screechy that it all becomes one-note. But as host,
DeGeneres makes sure this remains quick and fun.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Yearly Show,” 11 p.m.. Comedy Central.

This has been a boom
year for news and satire. Whether someone's being straight or funny,
the real events offer endless material. Now “The Daily Show,”
which is good at this, looks back at the year.

Unlike some previous
specials, this plans to have all new material, not clips. Taped live
in a New York theater, this has the brilliant Trevor Noah as host,
with his correspondents – Hasan Minhaj, Ronny Cheng, Desi Lydic,
Michael Kosta, Dulce Sloan, Lewis Black and Roy Wood Jr.

Other choices
include:

“L'Accident,”
any time, www.acorn.tv. Early on,
we see a horrendous traffic accident. Over six episodes, a widower
tries to learn what happened, finding layers of secrets and rage.
This is an involving story, worth the extra effort of reading
sub-titles for the French dialog.

“The Great
Christmas Lights Fight” finale, 8-10 p.m., ABC. In the first hour,
Carter Oosterhouse sees a home with 115,000 lights plus three more --
one with a decorated mine shaft and a three-story castle. Then Taniya
Nayak ranges from “dancing lights” to an estate with 13
dollhouse-type buildings.

“Decorating
Disney,” 8 p.m., Freeform. Whoopi Goldberg hosts a look at the
holiday preparations at Disney parks. She's aided by young Disney
actor/singers Sofia Carson and Jordan Fisher.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. Politics raises its ugly (and, presumably, funny) head.
Arthur decided to run against Fawz in a local election ... with
Franco as his too-intense campaign manager.

“Hollywood Walk of
Fame Honors,” 9 p.m., CW, This looks at star celebrations for Adam
Levine, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Amy Adams, Allison Janney, Ice
Cube and more, plus a new tribute for the late Selena. That follows
an 8 pm. special in which Popstar looks at highlights of this year.

“The Year in
Memoriam,” 10 p.m., ABC. This views people who have died in the
past year or so, from Zza Zsa Gabor to Janet Reno, from George
Michael to Fidel Castro.

“Independence
Lens: Supergirl,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). When Naomi
Kutin lifted 209 pounds, the world noticed. She was 10 years old and
weighed under 93 pounds. This documentary follows her from ages 11 to
14. We see the quiet pleasures of regular life (including her Bat
Mitzvah) and the noisy extremes of competition. It's a mixed portrait
of a complicated life.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“A Christmas Story Live,” 7-10 p.m., Fox.

It was two years ago
that Fox perfected the art of a live TV musical. “Grease Liv e”
rippled with zest; it was a triumph ... and last year's “Hairspray
Live,” on NBC, was even better.

Now Fox is back.
Adapted from a delightful, 1983 movie, “Christmas Story” had a
brief Broadway run in 2012, drawing a Tony nomination for best
musical. It was soon ignored, but its composers have soared in movies
(“La La Land,” “World's Greatest Showman”) and on Broadway
(“Dear Evan Hansen”). They've added new songs, for a cast led by
Maya Rudolph and Matthew Broderick.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Sound of Music” (1965), 7-11 p.m., ABC.

Most days, TV offers
zero musicals. Why, then, do two of them have to show up
simultaneously?

This one is no
ordinary movie musical. It won five Academy Awards (including best
picture) and was nominated for five more (including Julie Andrews as
best actress). Its story, based loosely on real life, is OK; its
songs are among the best in Broadway history.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “Frozen” (2013), 8:15 p.m., Freeform.

OK, this sort of
makes it three big musicals in one night, each worth seeing.

“Frozen” has
gorgeous animation, plus great voices (Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell)
and an Oscar-winning song (“Let It Go”). That officially makes
this too much of a good thing.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Good Behavior” (TNT) or “Search Party” (TBS)
season-finales, both at 10 p.m.

One show is a drama,
the other a comedy, but they still have much in common. Each is a
distinctive series with a female lead. Each is on a Turner network.
And each wraps up a 10-episode season.

“Search Party”
does it with two episodes, repeating at 11 and 11:30: The gang
scrambles to raise $60,000 for its blackmailer; then it faces the
possibility that everyone might go to prison. “Good Behavior”
does it with one episode, repeating at 10:58. Letty and Javier
(Michelle Dockery and Juan Diego Botto) must quickly undo the mess
she's created.

Other choices
include:

“Toy Story”
marathon, Disney. At 5 p.m. is the fairly good TV special, “Toy
Story That Time Forgot.” That's followed by the delightful,
animated movie trilogy -- “Toy Story” (1995) at 5:30, “Toy
Story 2” (1999) at 7 and “Toy Story 3” (2010) at 8:40.

“Last Tango in
Halifax,” 8-9 p.m., PBS (check local listings); concludes Christmas
Eve. This show opened appealingly, with two oldsters (Derek Jacobi
and Anne Reid) re-meeting and after more than a half-century. Now the
stories sprawl across generations and are tough to follow ...
especially given the accents. Americans can follow precise
“Masterpiece” accents, but these are another matter.

“Scrooged”
(1988), 8 and 10 p.m., AMC. Bill Murray's clever comedy offers a
sharp contrast to most Christmas movies. New ones tonight are 8 p.m.
on Hallmark, 9 p.m. on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

“The Girlfriend
Experience,” 9 and 9:55 p.m., Starz. Another series wraps up its
season. This one has separate stories to conclude, involving a
courtroom confrontation and a break-up.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9:30 p.m., CBS (9 p.m. in the Pacific zone). Sam faces
the first Christmas since his wife's death. Meanwhile, “ransomware”
hackers have knocked out the power grid.

“Madam Secretary,”
10:30 p.m., CBS (10 p.m. Pacific). As Daisy returns from maternity
leave, Elizabeth faces a tough decision: Should she advise the
Afghans to compromise with the Taliban?

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Ten Days in the Valley” return, 9 and 10 p.m., ABC.

To its credit, ABC
does serialized mini-series well: “American Crime” was brilliant;
“Secrets and Lies” and this one have both been very good. And to
it utter shame, ABC pulled “Valley” after four episodes; it made
the move late in the week, with little warning, while the show was at
a crucial point.

Now, two-months
later, “Valley” will conclude on four Saturdays. Jane's assistant
Casey kidnapped her daughter, stashing her with her sister; now Casey
is dead and the others are missing. Flashbacks offer a deep portrait
of Casey; then the hunt resumes. Despite Jane's excessive
foolishness, this is compelling.

TODAY'S MIGHT-SEE:
Bowl games, all day.

The bowl season
starts with what should be impressive – two strong offenses from
historically black colleges: Grambling (11-2 and averaging 32 points
a game) faces North Carolina A&T (11-0 and 36).

That's at noon ET on
ABC, which also has Oregon (7-5) and Boise State (10-3) at 3:30. The
CBS Sports Network has Georgia State (6-5) and Western Kentucky (6-6)
at 2:30 p.m. ET and ESPN has a bowl tripleheader – North Texas
(9-4) and Troy (10-2) at 1 p.m. ET, Carolina State and Marshall (both
7-5) at 4:30 and Arkansas State (7-3) and Middle Tennessee (6-6) at
8.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Christmas Cruise,” 9-11 p.m., Ion, and more.

At a time when
Christmas films look too much alike, let's welcome one with some
differences. There's its tropical setting (a cruise to Jamaica), its
diverse cast and top stars (Vivica Fox, Kristoff St. John). We'll
have to forgive a plot that feels stretched, with the main character
denying the obvious.

There are other new
Christmas films, of course. At 8 p.m., Hallmark has Jesse Metcalfe in
“Christmas Next Door” and Lifetime has Bethany Joy Lenz in
“Snowed-inn Christmas.”

Other choices
include:

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. Callen and Sam go undercover, tracking
someone who may be flying to Tokyo to sell classified information.

“Will &
Grace,” 8 p.m., NBC. In a season that's had some great episodes,
this rerun is merely very good. There are silly moments, when Jack
learns he's a grandfather and when Grace and Karen go ga-ga over a
hot guy in the office. The episode finally clicks with a visit to a
“gay conversion” camp.

“Superstore,”
8:30, NBC. In previous episodes, people paid little attention to an
elderly co-worker named Brett. But now, in the aftermath of the
tornado, there's a memorial service for him. It's a fairly good
rerun, with some hilarious moments.

“S.W.A.T.,” 9
p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a bomber has died and the team races to stop
his partner.

“Dirk Gently's
Holistic Detective Agency” season-finale, 9 p.m. ET, BBC America,
rerunning at midnight. This strange (and, mostly, fun) season has
found crises in two worlds. Now Dirk goes back to the CIA program
where this started; Todd and his sister battle Suzie Boreton.

“Checked Inn,”
10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. This reality show follows an inn at
the former Woolworth mansion in the Poconos, run by former Essence
editor-in-chief Monique Greenwood. Tonight, she tries to learn why a
couple has been engaged for 11 years.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Kevin Hart has already drawn strong
Saturday audiences, via his stand-up specials. Now he hosts “SNL,”
with the Foo Fighters as music guest.

 

TV column for Friday, Dec. 15


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Hawaii Five-0,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS.

Many dramas have
started their holiday breaks. They have nothing new until January ...
or mych later. But “Five-0” is going the opposite way – with
two new episodes, instead of one.

Both have unusual
themes and both focus on Danny (Scott Caan). In the first, he's one
of four people quarantined after last weeks bio-weapon; then he's
shot in the hospital. Clinging to life, he imagines a future for
everyone. In the second hour, he's telling a Christmas Eve story to
his son Charlie. It describes a “Five-0” case involving bad
Santas and a miracle; real-life military veterans are guest stars.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “The Exorcist” season-finale, 9 p.m., Fox.

For nine weeks,
we've seen a decent man (John Cho) haunted by a fierce force. He's
raising foster kids on a Washington island, demonized by a being that
takes the shape of his late wife (Alicia Witt).

Father Ortega and
Father Keane desperately try an exorcism, while Mouse (Keane's former
love) has her own extreme methods. Someone, Fox says, will make the
ultimate sacrifice.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Shop Around the Corner,” 1940, 8 p.m. ET,
Turner Classic Movies; “It's a Wonderful Life” (1946), 8 p.m.,
USA.

Two Jimmy Stewart
classics share the night. “Wonderful Life” is the big one during
the holiday season; NBC will run it on Christmas Eve. And “Corner”
is the amiable tale of co-workers who don't realize they're falling
in love with each other, via anonymous letters.

And yes, that's a
plot that's copied often. A Hungarian play in 1937, it became this
movie, then was adapted into two more films – “In the Good Old
Summertime” (1949) and “You've Got Mail” (1998). It also became
the musical “She Loves Me,” which reached Broadway in 1963, 1993
and 2016.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: Streaming networks.

Two series returns
to Netflix -- Ashton Kutcher's comedy “The Ranch” and the
obstacle competition “Tthe Beastmaster” -- and a new show reaches
Amazon Prime. That's “Jean-Claude Van Johnson,” with Jean-Claude
Van Damme pretending his film career has just been a front for his
work as a spy.

Netflix also has
“Wormwood,” a six-parter from documentary master Errol Morris.
And it has a holiday movie – “Christmas Inheritance,” written
by Dinah Eng, a longtime writer/editor for Gannett papers. Eliza
Taylor (“The 100”) plays an heiress, working for her keep while
stranded in a small-town inn.

Other choices
include:

“Hollywood
Christmas Parade,” 8-10 p.m., CW. It's the 86th parade,
in a place that knows spectacle. There will be big balloons, plus
celebrities hosting (Erik Estrada, Dean Cain, etc.) and waving.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. Fearing there's an enemy somewhere in the FBI, Jane and
Weller run a covert operation out of their apartment.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. This Christmas party isn't going as planned: The police
arrive to arrest Mac, who built a bomb that caused a fatal explosion.

“Agents of
SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC, We finally learn what the captors have in
mind. And in space, Coulson realizes, simply escaping is not an
option.

“Savage Kingdom,”
9 p.m. ET, NatGeo Wild. With “Big Cat Week” in its final two
nights, Wild reruns the season's first three episodes (6-9 p.m.),
followed by this new one, with lions' bloody battles.

“Twice Upon a
Christmas” (2001), 10 p.m. ET, GetTV (via digital or Dish). “Once
Upon a Christmas” (2000), at 8 p.m., is a warm film about Santa's
daughter (Kathy Ireland) trying to save Christmas by reviving the
interest of one family. Now this sequel adds some clever satire: Her
evil sister Rudolfa is even on a home shopping network, selling
pieces of the North Pole.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 14


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Taraji's White Hot Holidays,” 9:02 p.m., Fox.

Things have been
booming for Taraji Henson. Her “Empire” just finished the first
half of its season, she stars as “Proud Mary” in theaters Jan. 12
... and here's her second Christmas special.

She again has Jussie
Smollett -- who's her son Jamal on “Empire.” There will be
classic stars (Chaka Khan, Faith Evans,Salt-N-Pepa) plus Ciara,
Fergie, the Ying-Yang Twins and Tony-winner Leslie Odom Jr. And
there's humor, with Jay Pharoah, Tituss Burgess and Niecy Nash.

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

This is a night of
music overload – two specials on Fox ... some music-stuffed
animation on ABC ... and this special (which reruns Dec. 25), sifted
from a concert filled with pop stars.

Taylor Swift sang
alone and with Ed Sheeran. Two former One Direction guys – Niall
Horan and Liam Payne – were there, singing separately. Others
included Camila Cabello, Fifth Harmony and The Chainsmokers. Some
included Christmas songs, but many stuck to their pop hits.

TONIGHT'S SURPRISE:
“Olaf's Frozen Adventure,” 8 p.m., ABC.

This is virtually
unprecedented – showing up for free on TV, immediately after people
paid to see it.

In theaters, this
“Frozen” spin-off had a limited run as the 21-minute prelude to
“Coco.” The big movies -- “Frozen” and “Coco” -- are
wonderful; this short, however, is merely fairly good. Its plot --
Olaf racing to find a Christmas tradition for the palace – is lame;
the four songs are sort of pleasant. As free family fun – leading
into the zesty, animated rerun “Prep & Landing” -- it's kind
of fun.

Other choices
include:

“The Fake News
With Ted Nelms,” 7:50 p.m., Comedy Central. If you missed this
hilarious hour Wednesday, catch this quick rerun. Ed Helms – whose
“The Hangover Part III” (2013) precedes this at 5:30 – plays it
straight, as the anchorman for a truly inept newscast.

“Showtime at the
Apollo,” 8 p.m., Fox. For 103 years, the Apollo Theater has brought
the greats to Harlem, from Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson to the
Jacksons and Prince. Steve Harvey hosts this special, which ranges
from newcomers to Snoop Dogg, Boyz II Men, Fifth Harmony and DMX.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Halley happened to be born on Amy's birthday
... which is also the day for Amy's annual sex with Sheldon. Now
birthday parties are planned for both of them.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. It's time for another road trip. This time, the three
guys go from Texas to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to watch a space-shuttle
launch.

“The Great
American Baking Show,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. It's dessert and cookies
week, including gingerbread houses and towers of macaro0ns.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy) has been offering solid support,
whenever the others have trouble – which is often. Now it's her
turn, after her husband's stroke.

“S.W.A.T.,” 10
p.m., CBS. This is a step above most cop shows, beccause of the depth
of Hondo (Shemar Moore), the squad leader. That's vital tonight: His
boyhood friend, in prison, worries about a son's gang involvement;
also, a squad member has mixed feelings about his late grandfather.