TV column for Sunday, Dec. 23

Christmas movies, cable.

This is Christmas
Eve eve, so feel free to obsess. If you want new movies, you'll find
them at 7 p.m. on UP (rerunning at 11), 8 p.m. on Hallmark and 9 p.m.
on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

If you prefer older
ones? “Santa Clause” and “Santa Clause 3” are 5:05 and 7:10
p.m. on Freeform; “SC 2” is 5 and 9:30 p.m. on AMC. Turner
Classic Movies goes black-and-white, with “Holiday Inn” (1942) at
6 p.m., “The Holly and the Ivy” (1952) at 8 and Alastair Sims'
“Christmas Carol” (1951) at 10. “Inn” debuted the “White
Christmas” song ... which has its own movie (1954) at 8 a.m. on

“Madam Secretary,” 8:30 p.m., CBS (but 8 p.m. PT).

You'll love or hate
this show, depending on your political view. The story (concluding
Jan. 6) stridently offers its view on the separation of parents and
children at the border. It's “an affront to human dignity,” one
person says; it's “an affront to decency and an assault on our
country's core values,” another adds.

In the real
controversy this year, that grew from federal policies; in this show,
the Arizona governor sets the policy and the White House fights it.
There are flaws here: One judge is too easy a target; a plan offered
to an Arizona senator is far-fetched. Still, it's a strong story that
will stir thought and emotion.

ALTERNATIVE: “Escape at Dannemora,” 10 p.m., Showtime.

The first five
chapters of this true story may have left viewers rooting for the
escape by Richard Matt (Benicio Del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul
Dano), with help from “Tilly” Mitchell (Emmy-worthy work from
Patricia Arquette). But now, a week from the finale, we back up to
see what got them there.

We get a jolting
view of the murders the men were convicted of. We also see Tilly
before she worked at the prison. That's when when Lyle was the guy
she was cheating with, not the husband she cheated on.

Other choices

“Little Women,”
8 p.m., PBS. Here's the mid-section of a superb, three-hour
mini-series. With their parents away – the mom is tending to the
sick dad, who's a Civil War chaplain – Jo takes charge, even
pulling Amy out of school. Beth gets scarlet fever, but there are
also reasons for Christmas joy.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. This was the first episode to air – just over 28 years
ago. When the family uses its Christmas money to remove Bart's tatoo,
Homer gets a job as a store Santa.

“Disney Prep &
Landing,” 8 p.m., ABC, with sequel at 8:30. Here are reruns of the
specials focusing on the advance people at Santa's landing sites.
Both films are slick, high-tech and fairly funny.

“The Year: 2018,”
9 p.m., ABC. A busy year is squeezed into two hours.

“God Friended Me,”
9:30 p.m., CBS (9 p.m. PT). In a rerun, Miles gets a chance for his
podcast to go n national, via satellite radio. Also, the God account
asks him to befriend a single mother.

“Dirty John,” 10
p.m., Bravo. Somehow, John has talked his way out of trouble again.
He kicks drugs cold-turkey; Debra feels compassion ... but her
daughter is furious.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 10:30 p.m., CBS (but 10 p.m. PT). The ream starts to
doubt a CIA agent's back story, after she escapes from kidnapping and
turns to Callen for help.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 22

“CMA Country Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

Here's a rerun of
the Dec. 10 special, complete with some of Nashville's top people. It
has two Bretts (Eldredge and Young) and a Brad (Paisley), plus Reba
McEntire (who hosts), Martina McBride, Dustin Lynch, the Isaacs, Old
Dominion and Dan + Shay.

There are also
people from outside country music. They include Amy Grant, Michael W.
Smith, Lindsey Stirling and Tony Bennett with Diana Krall.

Bowl games, all day, ESPN.

The people in
Buffalo – often America's snow capital – deserve someplace warm.
Fortunately, they'll be in Mobile, Ala., where the Dollar General
Bowl has Buffalo (10-3) and Troy (9-3).

That's at 7 p.m. ET,
as part of a four-bowl day on ESPN. At noon, the Birmingham Bowl has
Memphis (8-5) and Wake Forest (6-6). At 3:30, the Armed Forces Bowl
has Houston (8-4) facing, appropriately, Army (9-2). And at 10:30,
the Hawaii Bowl has Louisiana Tech (7-5) and, surprise, Hawaii (8-5).

ALTERNATIVE: “Frozen” (2013), 6:16 p.m., Starz; and.or
“Spotlight” (2015), 8 p.m., Showtime.

Here are two great
movies ... but not for the same audience.

First is a cartoon
classic, with gorgeous visuals and potent songs. Then is a riveting –
and, sadly, still topical – account of the Boston Globe's stories
in 2001-2 about sex abuse by priests. It won Academy Awards for best
picture and its script, with nominations for Mark Ruffalo, Rachel
McAdams and more.

Other choices

“Fun in Acapulco,”
4 p.m. ET, Sundance. Here's a wintertime chance to catch Elvis and
sunshine. That's followed by “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” (1966)
and “Blue Hawaii” (1961) and “Girls, Girls, Girls” (1962) at
6:15, 9 and 11. They're in Hawaii ... which you can also see via the
bowl game.

“A Christmas
Carol” (1999), 6 p.m., TNT. Patrick Stewart is a superb Scrooge.
That's followed by the great “Wizard of Oz” (1939) at 8 p.m. and
the OK “Fred Claus” (2007) at 10:15. Also at 8 p.m.: a new
Christmas film (“Jingle Around the Clock”) on Hallmark and the
fun “Home Alone” (1990) on Starz.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Gibbs attends a memorial service for a Navy captain
lost at sea. Then he learns the guy has been hiding in a fallout
shelter, ever since his boat was attacked.

“A Golden
Christmas,” 8 p.m., Lifetime. Listed as a new movie, this actually
came out nine years ago, as the first film after the former Pax TV
became Ion. It's a likable film, thanks to the talented Andrea Roth
(Tommy's wife on “Rescue Me”) and a golden retriever.

“FBI,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In this rerun, eight people have been fatally poisoned at a New
York deli. Tracing the crime to an unlikely culprit, Bell and Zidan
plan a sting operation.

“The Alec Baldwin
Show,” 10 p.m., ABC. Baldwin's guests are RuPaul and Erna Solberg
(the prime minister of Norway) ... two people who probably don't
spend a lot of time together.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Scheduled is a rerun of the episode with
Seth Meyers as host and Paul Simon as music guest. And yes, Meyers
did return to his Weekend Update desk; he linked with Colin Jost and
Michael Che for hilarious riffs on Kanye West's visit to the White

TV column for Friday, Dec. 21

“A Home For the Holidays,” 8 p.m., CBS.

This is the 20th
year for “Home,” which offers stirring music and warm stories
about adoption. This time, the music is from Gwen Stefani, Lukas
Graham and Train, plus Andy Grammer at a Los Angeles tree-lighting;
LL Cool J updates several past stories and introduces a new one.

In Iraq, John
Pascucci was struck by the pain of kids in need. Back home, he and
his wife hoped to adopt a pre-teen girl. Instead, they found Ethan,
16, who had been in foster care for seven years, since his stepfather
was stabbed to death in the home where he slept. Now Ethan has a
college scholarship.

“Midnight, Texas,” 8 p.m., NBC.

The world isn't all
holiday sweetness, you know. This hour includes two beheadings (after
last week's de-winging) and much more, fomented by the impatient

It's a wild ride,
complete with high-level incest and an asthmatic computer geek. Don't
try to grasp everything; for explanations, we get such comments as:
“They teleported. It's dangerous, but witches will do that when
they're desperate.” There's desperation here, some of it gory, most
of it intriguing.

ALTERNATIVE: Classics, 7 p.m. to 12:15 a.m., TNT.

Here are two more
chances to see “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” one of the best
TV shows ever. This time it's at 7 and 9:45 p.m., alongside two
terrific movies.

At 7:30 is “The
Wizard of Oz” (1939), which is No. 10 on the American Film
Institute's all-time list. And at 10:15 is “A Christmas Carol”
(1999). That's been filmed a lot, but this one includes a blistering
performance by Patrick Stewart, who's a great Scrooge.

Other choices

“Vanity Fair,”
any time, Amazon Prime. William Thackeray's sprawling novel of love
and war is sometimes wedged into a single, two-hour movie. Now it's a
seven-parter starring Olivia Cooke. Also being streamed is Netflix's
“Bird Box,” with a mom (Sandra Bullock) eluding an alien force.

Bowl games, 12:30
and 4 p.m. ET, ESPN. The football people treat this as an extra
Saturday. The Bahamas Bowl has Toledo (7-5) and Florida International
(8-4). Then the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – which isn't actually
very famous – has Western Michigan (7-5) and Brigham Young (6-6).

“Wonder Woman”
and “Justice League” (both 2017), 5:35 and 8 p.m., HBO. This
launches a big movie night. At 8 p.m., there's “Walk the Line”
(2005) on Pop and “Love, Actually” (2003) on TBS; also,
“Breakfast at Tiffany's” (1961) is 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic

“I Want a Dog For
Christmas, Charlie Brown,” 8-9 p.m., ABC. This reruns a 2003
special that was adapted from the late Charles Schulz's comic strips.

More Christmas
shows. At 8 p.m., Lifetime has its “Christmas Kiss” movie, At 9,
NBC reruns “America's Got Talent: A Holiday of Champions” and ABC
reruns a :Christmas Light Fight” hour.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, four people – McGarrett, Danny, Tani and
Junior – are exposed to a deadly bio-weapon. The rest of the team
has eight hours to find an antidote.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, Danny probes the murder of a mother
whose ex-husband has a history of violence. Also, Jamie tries to save
a young woman who overdosed on drugs.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 20

“Timeless” finale, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

Surprise visitors
tend to show up at Christmastime, but rarely like this: Time-team
members get a visit from their future selves. That stirs their effort
to save Rufus.

As usual, it's not
easy. Lucy (Abigail Spencer) and colleagues find themselves chasing
villains in the 1848 Gold Rush ... then in wintertime of the 1950
Korean war ... and beyond. And then? After two seasons of fascinating
-- albeit complicated -- tales, “Timeless” finally runs out of

II: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (ABC) and/or “A Christmas Story
Live” (Fox), both 8 p.m.

Here are classic
stories, viewing the holiday through some boys' unique perspectives.

On ABC, that
includes scripture, music and a quiet fondness for a shabby Christmas
tree; on Fox, it's a single-minded obsession with getting a BB gun.
That was in a dandy, 1983 movie that will start its 24-hour marathon
at 8 p.m. Dec. 24 on TBS and TNT. The film was adapted into this fun
musical, first on Broadway and then (aired live) last year on Fox;
Maya Rudolph and Chris Diamantopoulos star.

ALTERNATIVE: Season-finales, 9:30 p.m., CBS; midnight and 12:30 a.m.

Two finales receive
opposite treatment: CBS' “Murphy Brown” gets a strong boost, with
a transplanted “Big Bang” lead-in. IFC's “Baroness Von Sketch”
is pushed two hours later than usual, to late-night.

The “Murphy”
season has been moderately disappointing – funny at times, but also
stiff and stagnant; tonight, Murph frets about her son's overseas
reporting. And “Von Sketch”? Like most sketch-comedy shows, it's
wildly uneven. Tonight's first half-hour is so-so, but the second
ripples with great moments. It ranges from the world's worst
sexual-harassment response to a big (and funny) musical number.

Other choices

“Howie Mandel
Stand-Up Extravaganza,” 8-10 p.m., CW. We can sample the stand-up
work of several people who have had regular TV roles – Lil Rel
Howery (“Rel”), Maz Jobrani (“Superior Donuts”) and Melissa
Villasenor (“Saturday Night Live”). Others – in a strong night
for women -- include Amanda Seales, Laurie Kilmartin and the
Garfunkel & Oates duo.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. TV's best comedy offers a pair of
clever reruns. In the first, we meet the adult version of Tam, who
was Sheldon's only real childhood friend. In the second, Stuart's
struggling comic-book store is transformed by a visit from writer
Neil Gaiman.

Gasparilla Bowl, 8
p.m. ET, ESPN. Southern Florida (7-5) faces Marshall (8-4) – the
school at the core of the movie “We Are Marshall” (2006).
Marshall almost ended its football program after a fatal plane crash
in 1970; in the last two decades, however, it has been in 12 bowl
games, winning 11 of them.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of he season-opener, a fairly good one
that manages to go from a noisy refrigerator to Sheldon's first real

“The Great
American Baking Show,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. Five contestants remain, on
the final night of this three-week competition. They'll tackle cakes,
French custards and more.

“SWAT,” 10 p.m.,
CBS. This reruns the season-opener, a good one that juggled a
human-trafficker story and an earthquake, emerging with strong dialog
and big action.

“Deal of No Deal:
Happy Howie Days,” 10 p.m., NBC. After watching Mandel host CW's
special, you can catch him in this rerun. It focuses on three
contestants who need a holiday boost.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 19

“Survivor” finale, 8-10 p.m., CBS, with reunion at 10.

This started with a
“David and Goliath” theme – one tribe was physically imposing,
the other ribe wasn't. Only two on the latter have reached the finals
-- Nick Wilson, 27, a public defender, and Davie Rickenbacker, 30, a
social-media manager.

Four Goliaths
remain, including Mike White, 47, the clever screenwriter and actor
who created “School of Rock.” The others are Kara Kay, 30, a
realtor; Alison Raybould, 28, a doctor; and Angelina Kennedy, 28, a
financial consultant. Tonight, one of those six wins a million

Animated reruns, 8 p.m., ABC and CW.

We almost had a
three-network cartoon collision tonight. Then, wisely, NBC dropped
its plan for a “LEGO Jurassic World” rerun; it has a night of
Christmas rerun, none of them animated.

That leaves us with
the whimsical “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on CW and two
ABC shows based on hit movies: “Olaf's Frozen Adventure” (8 p.m.)
and “Shrek the Halls” (8:30) both have rich visuals and so-so
plots; the former, however, partly redeems itself with some good

ALTERNATIVE: “Schitt's Creek,” 9 p.m., Pop, rerunning at 1 and
2:30 a.m.

Sure, we love
Charlie Brown's straggly little tree; now Johnny has one that's even
sadder. So, for that matter, is his Christmas party. He used to throw
huge ones; now, impoverished, he tries a comeback.

There are good
moments for Levy's son Dan (who created the series and plays David),
daughter Sarah (who plays Twyla), comedy partner Catherine O'Hara and
more ... including Emily Hampshire. After being great as the crazed
Jennifer in “12 Monkeys,” she's fine here as the almost-normal

Other choices

“Forrest Gump”
(1994), 7 and 10:30 p.m., Paramount; or “Polar Express” (2004), 8
and 10 p.m. ET, WE. In “Express,” Tom Hanks plays six people,
none of them very interesting; in “Gump,” he plays one
fascinating person. “Express” is gorgeous, but has a so-so story
and a motion-capture method that robs Hanks and others of humanity
... which abounds in the Oscar-winning “Gump.”

“Pentatonix: A Not
So Silent Night,” 8 p.m., NBC. It's a busy rerun night for
Pentatonix fans. First, the group has its own special from Las Vegas,
with Kelly Clarkson, Maren Morris, the Backstreet Boys and Penn &
Teller. Then it's a guest at “Darci Lynne: My Hometown Christmas”
at 9 p.m., with Toby Keith, Hunter Hayes and more. At 10 p.m.,
“Ellen's Game of Games” inexplicably doesn't have Pentatonix.

Frisco Bowl, 8 p.m.
ET, ESPN. With a name like that, this probably should be in San
Francisco. Alas, it's the second season for a bowl (played in a
20,000-seat soccer stadium) in Frisco, Texas. Ohio (8-4) faces San
Diego State (7-5).

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Carlotta's plans are disrupted when her scheming sister links
with a businessman (Chad Michael Murray). Also in this rerun, Simone
learns a secret about Mateo.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. The July 4 parade – yes, this is a rerun, starting a
string of four ABC comedy repeats – has Jay as its grand marshal.

“Single Parents,”
9:31 p.m., ABC. Douglas and Angie (Brad Garrett and Leighton Meester)
have a competition to see who can sleep-train Miggy's baby in one
night. That leaves Miggy in charge of the other children ... soon
turning it into an impromptu kids' party.

“The Goldbergs,”
10 p.m., ABC. Here's another competition – to create the best
Hanukkah party.