TV column for Friday, Dec. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 9 p.m., CW.

Best friends really
should have something in common, you know. But the brainy Rebecca and
the shallow Valencia share only one thing: Both say they're over
Josh; both still obsess on him.

Now they fret about
his too-perfect girlfriend (Brittany Snow); soon, there's a stalking
adventure that would do Lucy and Ethel (of “I Love Lucy”) proud.
The result is one of the show's funniest episodes, with two great
songs – one by Snow, the other by Rebecca and her real (but
estranged) friend Paula.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Albert” debut, 7-8 p.m., Nickelodeon.

Vertical bias seems
to be harshest when aimed at fir trees. We ignore the small ones and
cherish the tall ones -- putting them in public place and caressing
them with lights and music.

Now a little guy
(voiced by Bobby Moynihan) tries to beat the odds. He heads to the
city with his friends (Sasheer Zamata, Judah Friedlader), while a
cactus (Rob Riggle) tries to stop them. Visually, this offers the
sort of delights delivered by “VegieTales” and other offbeat
animation..

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mozart in the Jungle” (Amazon) and “Captive”
(Neflix), any time.

A weak night for the
networks is a strong one for the streaming services, let by the
excellent “Mozart.” Its third season starts with the conductor
(Golden Globe-winner Gael Garcia Bernal) in Venice, where he must
love and nudge a temperamental star back to the opera stage.

Meanwhile, Netflix
tries a hybrid. It links the producer of acclaimed documentaries
(“Man on Wire,” “Searching for Sugarman”) and the scripted
“Bourne” films; they describe real-life hostage crises, using
re-enactments and first-person recollections by the victims, the
police and even the kidnappers.

Other choices
include:

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. John Heard guests as the middle-school science teacher who
inspired MacGyver. Now his new prodigy has been kidnapped and his old
one must rescue her.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. Ever since losing her teaching job, Vaness
hovered over everyone at home; Mike scrambles for a solution.
Meanwhile, there are bigger issues to deal with: Ryan and Kyle are
competing to see who knows more about zombies and who could survive a
zombie apocalypse.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30
p.m., ABC. After overlooking a key medical detail, Ken feels he
should apologize. The clinic administrator (Dave Foley) advises
against it.

-- "Duck the Halls," 8:30 p.m. Dec. 9, Disney. This revisionist tale
claims that Donald used to fly south for the winter, with the other
ducks. Now we see his first attempt to stay in the North and learn
Christmas spirit from Mickey and the gang. 

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. A decade ago, a teen vanished. Now a boy undergoing
hypnosis realizes he may have seen her being murdered. Also, Missy
Peragrym (“Rookie Blue”) guests as Danny's sister.

“Savage Kingdom”
conclusion, 9 and 10 p.m., NatGeo Wild. Over three weeks and six
hours, this has offered brilliant craftsmanship and lots of
disturbing footage of animal savagery in Africa. Tonight's first hour
is the roughest, with wild dogs struggling; “the five will have to
kill like never before,” Charles Dance intones. The second eyes the
leaders of five deadly packs, with this helpful advice from Dance:
“The best way to end a dynasty is to kill its young.”

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. The Rev. Darnell Potter has been a sharp critic of
Frank in the black community. Now his son has been slain and the two
men must work together to find the killer.

“The Legacy of
Barack Obama,” 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET CNN (barring breaking news).
Here's a rerun of Wednesday's documentary, a thoughtful look at
Obama's sweeping victories in the first two years ... and his tricky
battle against the odds in the six years that followed.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Taraji's White Hot Holidays.” 8 p.m., Fox.

Fox is making sure
the Christmas season goes beyond white-bread cliches. This week, it's
given us an Apollo Theatre special and an intense “Empire”; next
week, it introduces “Star.” And now “Empire” starTaraji
Henson has her special,

She'll have two of
her “Empire” co-stars, Jussie Smollett and Taye Diggs. There will
also be music from Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott,
Snoop Dogg, TLC and Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC. Others will pop in,
including Terry Crews (of “Brookly Nine-Nine”) and Tyler Perry.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Toy Story That Time Forgot,” 8 p.m., ABC.

It's tough to be a
toy, especially if you're surrounded by identity crises. Bonnie takes
several of her favorites on a play date, then tosses them in with her
friend's Battlesaurs. Alas, they've never been played with and don't
know they're toys; Reptillus Maximus is organizing fights for Woody
and Buzz.

This is more ominous
and less fun than most “Toy Story” shows, but still fairly
entertaining. It's followed at 8:30 by “Shrek the Halls,” which
is beautifully drawn, but has a so-so story.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Holiday Joy,” 3-5 p.m., Freeform.'

This channel's
ambitious “25 Days of Christmas” is long on old movies, including
Will Ferrell's excellent “Elf” (2003), at 7 p.m. today. What it's
short on is anything new. This is the month's only newly created
movie or special and it's confined to an odd timeslot.

Bailee Madison, a
Hallmark Channel favorite, plays a teen whose mom died; she wishes
she could be in the family next door. Then she wakes up and IS in
that family ... and has secound thoughts about it.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Picasso, the Legacy,” 7 p.m. ET, Ovation.

To understand Pablo
Picasso, one man says here, just look at his paintings. “His work
is his diary, his autobiography.” Examine any phase and you can
tell which woman he was with.

The women varied –
from sophisticated ballerina Olga Khokhlova to quiet teen
Marie-Therese Walter to artist Francois Gilot ... a confident woman
who dumped Picasso, took their children, wrote about their romance
and married Dr. Jonas Salk. Gilot, 95, is a key part of the film; so
is Maya Widmaier Picasso, 81, whose son Olivier co-wrote and
co-produced this intriguing view of his grandfather..

Other choices
include:

Animation, cable.
The Disney Channel's zesty “Aladdin” (1992) is at 8 p.m. ... the
same time that FXX starts a four-hour “Simpsons” block. There's
more on FX, with “Ice Age 4: Continental Drift” (2012) at 6 p.m.
and “Hotel Transylvania” at 8 and 10.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In any show -- “Breaking Bad,” “Under
the Dome” and more – Dean Norris can be intimidating. In this
funny rerun, he's an Air Force colonel, confronting the
easily-intimidated Wolowitz about his invention.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS,. After going several weeks without a
raise, Emma quits. That means Jack and his boss (the terrific Stephen
Fry, Hugh Laurie's former comedy partner) have become approximately
the world's worst social-media managers.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. After previous weeks took serious looks at young Roscoe's drug
use, this show has another crisis: Jill (Jaime Pressly) gives a cry
for help, on the anniversary of her mom's suicide.

“Pitch,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. The “fall finale” of this show seems suspiciously like the
series finale. “Pitch” has drawn hight praise, but low ratings.
Tonight, Ross warns that Ginny -- the first woman in the Major
Leagues – has thrown too many innings; like other young pitchers,
she should be shut down.

“Notoriety,” 10
p.m., ABC. Nudged back an hour (to make room for a baking show), this
overheated series finds a TV producer (Piper Perabo) mistakenly
kidnapped by a Mexican cartel leader.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 7


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

NBC launched TV's
live-musical comeback with the safe-and-solid “Sound of Music.”
It flopped with “Peter Pan,” bounced back with “The Wiz” ...
then saw Fox master the genre with a vibrant “Grease.”

Now NBC copies the
“Grease” formula – lively oldies-rock music, sprawling over a
movie-studio lot. It has the same TV director as “Grease” and a
much better story. Newcomer Maddie Baillio plays the teen who just
wants to dance on TV ... then changes the world. She's joined by
Jennifer Hudson, Derek Hough, Ariana Grande, Dove Cameron and Harvey
Fierstein, who's already won a Tony in the role.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Stay away from this
family, one woman warns firmly: “The Lyons are all gangsters.”
That's for sure. Tonight, Andre has a variation on a classic
“Godfather” techniques; it's not original, but it is effective.
Also, Jamal proclaims his hatred for his father ... who promptly
reveals a secret about Jamal's mother.

Some of this is
wildly over the top, but “Empire” keeps giving us reasons to
watch. Tonight brings three great songs and two potent scenes with
Lucious – one involving his mother (Leslie Uggams), another that
offers a Lyon-ized view of marital relations.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Legacy of Barack Obama,” 9-11 p.m., CNN
(barring late news events), rerunning at midnight.

On the night of
Obama's first inauguration, Republican leaders agreed on a plan: They
would simply oppose everything. Obama still pushed key parts of his
agenda – the economy stimulus, the auto-industry bail-out and
Obamacare. But doing that despite total resistance cost him sharply.

All of his
“political capital” was gone, CNN's Fareed Zakaria says here. His
party lost the House, the Senate and, ultimately, the White House. On
key priorities -- gun control, climate change, etc. -- Obama
succeeded only when skipping Congress. Here is a strong portrait of
victories and frustration.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: Pearl Harbor reflections, cable.

It was 75 years ago
today that the Pearl Harbor attack profoundly altered history.
Hollywood tackled that in tonight's epics: “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
(1970, 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies) had separate American and
Japanese directors; “Pearl Harbor” (2001, 8 p.m., AMC) overlaid a
silly soap opera.

On the documentary
side, the American Heroes Channel debuts “Pearl Harbor: The Heroes
Who Fought Back” at 10 p.m. and two channels rerun Sunday films.
“Ghosts of Pearl Harbor” is 11 p.m. on National Geographic; “The
Lost Tapes: Pearl Harbor” is 9 p.m. and midnight on Smithsonian.

Other choices
include:

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. A week before the finale, there's still no edge for
members of the former “Millennials” and “Gen X” tribes. Last
week's ouster of Zeke Smith, 28, left eight people, four from each
tribe; tonight, two of them will be sent home.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. As his depression deepens during the holidays, Riggs
must probe a ruthless murder done by the nephew of the drug lord he's
known in the past.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of the season-opener, families are scattered
as Father's Day nears. The Dunphys are in New York; others are at a
wedding in Mexico and a funeral in Missouri.

“Black-ish,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Here are teen-job complications: Junior may to be too
diligent; Zoey is the center of her parents' argument about nepotism.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. Searching for the person who leaked
classiied documents, the president hits an obstacle. Meanwhile, Agent
Wells (Maggie Q) scrambles to prove MacLeish – who's ready to
become the vice-president -- was involved with the attack on
Washington;

“Rectify,”
10-11:20 p.m., Sundance. We're a week from the finale, but don't
expect things to turn jolly. This starts with Daniel's long monolog,
recalling a brutal moment from his years in prison for a crime he
probably didn't commit. It's quietly moving ... and deeply morose.
The other moments aren't much cheerier. “Rectify” is slow and
solemn; it's also beautifully written and acted.

 

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“This is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

The show's first
half-season ends the way it started – with richly layered emotions,
sprawling across two eras ... and with great moments from Gerald
McRaney as a folksy doctor.

In the opener, he
was the guy who suggested a couple adopt an abandoned baby, to join
their twins. Now the kids are 10 and one is rushed to the hospital on
Christmas Eve ... where the doc is the one needing help. Flashing
ahead to their adult years, we have crises – involving romance,
weight, show-business, even life-and-death – for all three. This
“fall finale” deftly blends intelligence and emotion.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“New Girl,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Often, “New Girl”
has brightly clever stories centering on Jess; just as often, it has
lame ones, requiring Nick or Schmidt to be a total fool. Tonight, it
has one of each.

The guys' story –
Schmidt doesn't know how to stand up to his contractor (Billy
Gardell) – is pocked with idiocy. Jess' story, however, is a
delight. Having thrown herself into romances that imploded, she now
insists that she and Robby can date other people; that brings brings
big (and funny) trouble.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Good Behavior,” 9 p.m., TNT; rerunning at 10.

Last week, Letty
(Michelle Dockery) made a futile stab at normality, living in her old
home town, near her son. That crumbled when she covered for her
friend's drug-using husband. Banished and alone, she reluctantly
returns to Javier, a hitman who shares her knack for deceit.

Letty is intriguing,
but tonight adds much-needed depth to the men. There's Javier, with
his own complications; and there's Christian, Letty's parole officer,
teetering toward an intriguing career shift.

Other choices
include:

“Star Wars: The
Force Awakens” (2015), 6:40-9 p.m., Starz. This first-rate action
film leads a night that mostly has light movies. Sundance has an
amiable John Candy double-feature -- “Uncle Buck” (1989) at 7 and
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987) at 9:15. At 8 p.m.,
oddly, two “Home Alone” sequels collide -- “Home Alone 2”
(1992) on AMC and “Holiday Heist” (2012) on Disney.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. A congresswoman (Mary Stuart Masterson) is being threatened. The
team probes the threats and Vance is in charge of a temporary
protection detail.

“Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8 p.m., Fox. Ken Marino is back, as approximately the
clumsiest cop ever. Now he's misplaced a bag full of drugs and
evidence; he fears that might be a bad thing. In a fairly funny
episode, Jake and Holt try to help him, so he can get promoted to a
job somehwere else.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Brooke Shields is back as Rita, the trashy neighbor.
Somehow, she convinces Frankie to join her on an undefined trip to an
undisclosed location.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 9 p.m., ABC. When Eddie takes his girlfriend to a
Romeo-and-Juliet movie, their dads come along, bonding over a mutual
fondness for Shakespeare. Yes, that can nip the kids' romance.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A member of the prestigious U.S. Navy Band
has been killed and her 9-year-old nephew was the only witness. Now
Pride must takes care of the boy.

“Scientology and
the Aftermath,” 10 p.m., A&E. In the opener, Leah Remini showed
how hard it can be to leave Scientology. Now she talks to Mike
Rinder, who says his job was to discredit those who left. Then he
left ... and was the target of a similar campaign.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Showtime at the Apollo,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

For 82 years, the
Apollo Theatre in Harlem has been a centerpoint for black stars. It's
had the great bands (Ellington, Basie, Gillespie) and dancers (Bill
Robinson, Nicholas Brothers); it's had comics, from Stepin Fetchit to
Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Steve Harvey ... who hosts this
special.

It's had Jimi
Hendrix and the top singers, from Billie Holliday to Ray Charles,
Mariah Carey and most of Motown. This special will have various
performers pop in ... and will also view the theater's “amateur
night,” when audiences might voice disapproval and the act is
abruptly whisked away.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Great Christmas Light Fight” season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m.,
ABC.

In the wrong hands,
Christmas lights can be a lot of wasted wattage; in the right hands,
they bring awe and wonder. This show tends to find families who know
what they're doing – good-hearted folks who also have a sense of
artistry. We'll see four each hour, with one winning $50,000.

One family tonight
has 250,000 lights ; another has train rides through acres of
decorations. There are Christmas emojis, a 20-foot “Frozen”
castle and what ABC calls “America's tallest and brightest
Nativity” scene. We'll try it ...even though the original Nativity
was neither tall nor well-lit.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mars,” 9 p.m., National Geographic, and more.

Fact and fiction
blend beautifully in two outer-space projects from Ron Howard and
Brian Grazer. They produced (and Howard directed) “Apollo 13”
(1995), the Oscar-nominated film that's at 9 p.m. and midnight on WGN
America. And they produced “Mars,” a richly crafted, six-week
mini-series.

From 6-9 p.m. today,
you can catch the first half of the mini; it skillfully jumps between
current documentary footage (SpaceX, Scott Kelly, etc.) and a 2033
mission. At 9, the non-fiction includes a Mars-like facility in
Anarctica; the fiction finds a fierce storm heading toward the
outstation.

Other choices
include:

“The Brokenwood
Mysteries: The Black Widower” any time, www.acorn.tv.
New Zealand provided the splendid backdrop for the “Lord of the
Rings” movies; now the barkeep in this little town – far from the
real settings – offers a phony tour. This starts with humor, ends
with a clever mystery, sags some in between. It's the first of four
“Brokenwood” movies, one on each Monday in December.

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. Last week was rough on the oft-victorious Blake
Shelton: Two of his three singers were ousted, while Miley Cyrus'
Aaron Gibson got his third straight instant-save. Now Shelton has
only Sundance Head (the former “American Idol” contestant),
compared to three people with Adam Levine and two apiece with Alicia
Keys and Cyrus.

“Supergirl,” 8
and 9 p.m., CW. Here are reruns of the season's first two episodes.
Those are the ones with Kara visited by her cousin Superman (Tyler
Hoechlin) ... and getting a new boss. The terrific Calista Flockhart
steps aside and Ian Gomez (who also co-hosts ABC's baking show) takes
over.

“Scrooged”
(1988), 9 p.m., Freeform. Bill Murray plays a soulless TV executive,
in this clever “Christmas Carol” take-off. Also at 9, Starz has
“The Rainmaker,” a strong convergence of talent – novelist John
Grisham, director-screenwriter Francis Coppola and then-newcomer Matt
Damon.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. For its 200th episode,
rerunning here, the show brought in lots of its people. That includes
Leonard's mom and ex-girlfriend (Christine Baranski, Sara Gilbert),
Wil Wheaton and – as a birthday surprise for Sheldon -- ex-Batman
Adam West.

“Victoria's Secret
Fashion Show,” 10 p.m., CBS. Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and The Weeknd
will perform. Also, slender women will display lingerie.

“Timeless,”
10:01 p.m., NBC. To learn what Flynn is up to in the 1930s South, the
team must get on the good side of Bonnie and Clyde ... while avoiding
being arrested.