TV column for Thursday, Dec. 7


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Orville” season-finale, 9 p.m., Fox.

Wait a second ... a
season finale already? Doesn't it seems like the season just started?
Tonight, “S.W.A.T.” has only its sixth episode; on Friday,
“Agents of SHIELD” has only its second.

Let's credit the
networks for trying to avoid reruns. “Orville” started early –
three episodes before the season officially began – only made 13
episodes and will save one for next season. It steps aside for
specials next week, a rerun or two and then a short-run music show.
Tonight, the ship crash-lands on another planet; also, Ed and Kelly
(who's his First Officer and ex-wife) consider getting back together.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY
II: “The Great American Baking Show,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Here's the second
half of ABC's effort to keep things cheery and rerun-free in
December. “The Great Christmas Lights Fight” (Mondays) and this
show each get a quick, three-week run.

This one – adapted
from a British show – had “Holiday” in its title last season.
That was removed, but it still airs in December, with holiday-worthy
food. That starts here with cake and morning treats. Anthony “Spice”
Adams – a starting defensive lineman during most of his nine-year
pro football career – hosts with Ayesha Curry. Paul Hollywood and
Johnny Iuzzini are judges.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Psych: The Movie,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

For eight years,
this offered the sort of light adventure basic-cable was known for.
Shawn (James Roday), a cop's son, was merely a sharp observor, but
pretended to be a crime-solving psychic.

Now, three years
later, we get this movie. Roday (who co-wrote it) is back, along with
Maggie Lawson as his love interest, Dule Hill as his friend and
Corbin Bernsen as his dad. A colorful batch of guest stars includes
Zachary Levi, Ralph Macchio and Jimmi Simpson.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “A Nashville Christmas,” 8 p.m.ET, GetTV, rerunning
at 11.

Most of us are still
learning how to get GetTV. It's one of the “digi-nets” that exist
sometimes on cable and more often on stations' sub-channels,
available by digital antenna. But this is the time to find it; all
month, it reruns Christmas specials (tonight, Johnny Cash at 9, Mac
Davis at 10), plus this new hour.

Here are four great
talents – Wynonna Judd, Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis and Emmylou
Harris – joined by gospel's Ashley Cleveland and bluegrass' Dailey
& Vincent. We haven't seen the whole hour, but a sampling –
Morgan doing a gorgeous “Christmas Song,” Judd and Tillis rocking
out – is promising.

Other choices
include:

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. In the “fall finale,” Carmine Falcone – former Mob
boss in Gotham City – is back in town. That complicates things for
his daughter Sophia and for Det. Gordon and Penguin. Meanwhile,
Alfred tries to get through to Bruce; Nygma tries to control his
Riddler persona.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon isn't really a natural
wedding-planner, but now he tries to use math principals. Also, Raj
blames his lack of confidence on his best friend, Howard.

“The Toy Story
That Time Forgot,” 8:30 p.m., ABC; and “Toy Story” (1995), 9-11
p.m., Freeform. First, catch this fairly good special – which is
preceded by the so-so “Shrek the Halls” at 8. Then switch to
cable and savor the original movie delight.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. It's time for some serious family warfare: Sheldon's
grandma refuses to give Sheldon's dad her brisket recipe.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Steven Weber guests as the estranged brother of Bonnie's
boyfriend. Things get messy when he falls for Bonnie's daughter
Christy.

“Dian Fossey:
Secrets in the Mist,” 10 p.m. ET, NatGeo Wild, rerunning at 11. If
you missed Wednesday's debut of this compelling, three-week
documentary, here's another chance. And this time it's preceded at 7
p.m. ET by “Gorilla's in the Mist” (1988), with Sigourney Weaver
as Fossey.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 6


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist” opener, 9 p.m., National
Geographic, rerunning at midnight.

Fossey grew up in
California, with a step-father who was rich and distant. Shy with
people, she was warm with animals; at 35, she found her role in life
– studying mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

This three-week
documentary follows the controversies surrounding her life and her
murder. It mixes new footage (beautifully shot) and film from her own
cameraman. It interviews many of the key people and makes ample use
of Fossey's own writing – read by Sigourney Weaver, who played her
in “Gorillas in the Midst” (1989) ... which will rerun at 7 p.m.
and midnight ET Thursday on NatGeo Wild.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

For nine years,
we've seen Phil grasp for success in real estate. Now he's ready to
take a big chance, starting his own firm. To get in the mood, he's
trying a solo camping trip in the wild.

Meanwhile, Mitchell
decides he's going to teach Cam a lesson in gullibility and Lily a
lesson in responsibility. Naturally, this soon backfires.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Happy” (Syfy) or “Knightfall” (History) debuts,
both 10 p.m.

Two ambitious cable
hours start simultaneously. In one, don't let the title fool you.

“Happy” is
roughly the least-happy show ever. Happy is the imaginary friend of a
little girl who's soon kidnapped. He pursues a possible rescuer – a
bitter and violent chap, played by Chris Meloni; the result is loud
and frantic and not much fun. By elimination, we might try History's
series; it follows knights in the Christian-Crusade era, after the
Holy Grail has been lost in battle.

Other choices
include:

“A Very Pentatonix
Christmas,” 8 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of the Nov. 27
special, with guest stars including Jennifer Hudson, Jay Leno and
“America's Got Talent” winner Darci Lynne Farmer.

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. Jughead and Betty plan a welcome-home party for his dad,
who's getting out of prison. That leaves Archie and Veronica to take
over the Black Hood investigation.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. The master plan of Diana DuBois (Phylicia Rashad) is
starting to unfold. Cookie and Lucious try to take things into their
own hands, but their son Andre spirals out of control, worrying about
what's ahead for him. Also, Jamal's sobriety is put to the test.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. There are relationship complications everywhere: Noah is in a
triangle with Star and her bandmate, Alexandra ... Elliott is eager
to advance his relationship with Cotton ... And Carlotta is happy
with Maurice – but keeps her focus on her family.

“Dynasty,” 9
p.m., CW. We're reminded that Fallon is a bad daughter (she co-opts
her dad's Christmas presents as her own) and a worse ex-lover –
leaving a naked couple locked outside the fire escape. Then again,
there are few good people here, as Cristal lies to her husband and
Steven confronts a fatal error from his past. With lots of evil, but
few skilled actors, “Dynasty” becomes a chore to watch.

“Designated
Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. After sifting through thousands of letters
to the president, the staff chooses three to answer -- one of which
may involve saving a life.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. When the daughter of a judge (John Pankow) dies, the
team probes a pill mill that's spreading into the subutbs. Also,
Voight learns who's been leaking information.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Will & Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC.

After a splendid
start – six episodes, ranging only from very funny to hilarious –
this show began a long football break. It won't be back until Jan. 4,
but first it offers a brilliant (if brash) holiday episode.

Longing for the
elegance of 1890s New York, the gang is sort of transported there. It
finds an era that was sometimes elegant ... if you didn't happen to
be a woman, an immigrant, Irish or gay. This episode isn't for
everyone; its olden-days euphemisms for gay sex are very raw and very
funny. But even when it teeters toward raunch, it's brilliantly
crafted by director James Burrows, TV's comedy master.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “The Long Road Home,” 10 p.m., National Geographic, rerunning
at 11.

Here's the sixth
episode of this eight-part, true-life story. The soldiers are still
trapped in an Iraqi alley, after a horrific moment: They were forced
to shoot at attackers who deliberately put children in front.

Now another rescue
attempt begins and we focus on one of its men,Tomas Young. A liberal
– he and his mother used to protest the abortion protestors – he
joined the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks. This beautifully crafted
and deeply moving hour focuses on him before and after his military
time. Noel Fisher and Sarah Ramos are superb as Young and the woman
he loves.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.

For the show's 200th
episode, it's the 200th anniversary of this town, proud to
be named the 200th best place in Indiana. Soon, Mike must
perform unnatural acts – speaking in public and showing emotion.

That's in a good
episode that also has Sue helping Axl's job search by posing as his
assistant. And to win back his girlfriend, Brick must perform three
acts of bravery.

Other choices
include:

“Angry Angel,”
2:30 p.m., Freeform. In a sea of look-alike Christmas films, this one
stands out. Filled with sharp dialog, it gives us an angel trainee
who's thoroughly unfit for being dead or being good. That's followed
by the movies (good ones) that Freeform keeps running this month --
“Elf” (2003) at 4:35 p.m, “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 6:45
and “The Polar Express” at 8:55.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. This rerun focuses on David McCallum, 84, as Ducky. He ponders
past decisions, after murder evidence is linked to his late mother.

“SEAL Team,” 9
p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the team refuses to abandon a botched mission.
Also, Clay's controversial father (C. Thomas Howell) visits town on a
book tour.

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. When Dre is in charge of a charity campaign, his wife
argues that giving should involve more than just writing a check.

“Superstore,:”
9:30 p.m., NBC. Like “Will & Grace,” this won't be back until
Jan,. 4, but gets to air a holiday episode tonight. On a slow
Christmas Eve, Amy tries to prove she has a wild side.

“Chicago Med,”
10 p.m., NBC. Dr. Charles gets troubling information about the man
who shot him. Also, Will and Natalie face an ethics tangle, when an
unfaithful husband refuses to tell his wife the results of a Zika
test.

“Kevin (Probably)
Saves the World,” 10 p.m., ABC. This is the sort of thorny question
you face as one of God's chosen ones: Do you complete your mission or
attend the opening of your niece's play?

TV column for Monday, Dec. 4


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

Most of us might
hang out a few lights in December and figure we've done the world a
favor. Then there are the people whose mega-displays entertain the
masses. One family has a life-sized, interactive gingerbread house;
others range from giant lollipops to 78 wrapped trees, sprawling over
1.5 acres.

Taniya Nayak visits
four such homes and gives one a $50,000 prize. In the second hour of
this amiable, three-week series, Carter Oosterhouse visits four more,
including one with a carousel and Ferris wheel.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Good Doctor,” 10 p.m., ABC.

This is the time of
year when shows start to take a break until January. For “Good
Doctor,” a “mid-season finale” finds the surgical team facing
mixed reactions to a charming doctor: He's impressive at first, but
then puts someone in an awkward position.

Meanwhile, Dr.
Glassman worries that Shaun – the doctor hindered by his youth and
autism – still needs help with his personal life. He suggests a
therapist, but Shaun resists.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “The Newspaperman,” 8 p.m., HBO.

Ben Bradlee lived a
Hollywood-ready life. He was played by Jason Robards in “All the
President's Men” (1976), the superb Watergate film that follows
this at 9:30; soon, he'll be played by Tom Hanks in “The Post,”
Steven Spielberg's film about the Pentagon Papers. First, here's a
documentary.

Bradlee's roots --
back to 1637 Massachusetts – were pure Americana. He grew up rich,
went to Harvard, was in the Navy, worked for the government, then
transformed the Washington Post. Before his death (in 2014, at 93),
he was reviled by one president (Nixon) and honored by another
(Obama).

Other choices
include:

“Brokenwood,”
any time, www.acorn.tv. It's Det.
Mike Shepherd's birthday – no one knows which one – and he
reluctantly agrees to a picnic. Naturally, a murder case crashes down
(literally). That's starts a solid mystery, overlapping Det. Kristin
Sims' past love life. Like two other series -- “A Place to Call
Home” and “Love, Lies & Records” -- this has a new episode
each week, through Christmas Day.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CW. Now that last week's crossover epic is past, Supergirl
faces a new crisis. A mysterious symbol pops up all over town. It
refers to an ancient prophecy and to Reign (played by Odette
Annable), one of the worldkillers created -- and then banned -- on
Krypton.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Once again, TV's best comedy is asked to
boost the so-so Monday line-up. In this rerun, Sheldon gets to
mediate a dispute between Leonard and Penny.

“Lucifer,” 8
p.m., Fox. We always figured it might be dangerous to accept a favor
from Lucifer. Now the people who have done that start to turn up
dead.

“The Gifted,” 9
p.m., Fox. There's a risky new plan to help the mutants who are in
custody. Meanwhile, Reed (Stephen Moyer) finally gives his mutant
kids some key information about their family history.

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. This again eyes some the subtleties of race relations.
Franco – who wants to be judged solely on his art – fumes when
Arthur mentions ethnicity in a college application.

“The Wall,” 10
p.m., NBC. On New Year's Day, this game show will star borrowing the
8 p.m. Monday slot. First, here's a Christmas edition, with an Ohio
pastor and her daughter, a social worker.

 

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 3


(Please note: The Christmas TV list -- see "blog" -- originally listed "It's a Wonderful Life" for Dec. 3 and 24 on NBC, That was a mistake; it will be Dec, 24 only.)

 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special,” 8-10
p.m., CBS.

From the moment
Burnett's show debuted, it was unique. That's partly because it was
led by a woman; the other eight variety-show hosts were men. And it's
mostly because Burnett swung for huge laughs.

Her show would
continue for 11 years, 276 episodes and 25 Emmys, three of them for
best variety series. Now Burnett, 84, re-unites with Lyle Waggoner,
82 and Vicki Lawrence, 68. She shows her favorite sketches and hears
comments from Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Jane Lynch and more.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Fifty Years of 60 Minutes,” 7 p.m., CBS.

This show actually
arrived a year after Burnett's, but let's not be picky. It's in its
50th year and is celebrating a tad early. There is much to
celebrate: The longest-running show in primetime history, “60
Minutes” has won 20 Peabody Awards, 138 Emmys and a consistent spot
in the Nielsen top 20.

Now it will show
some of its most serious moments – John McCain reflecting on his
brain tumor, Bill and Hillary Clinton reacting to accusations, a
guilt-ridden Secret Service agent for President Kennedy. It will also
eye exotic sights – from South American jaguars to an Icelandic
volcano – and celebrities.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “My Christmas Prince,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

If nothing else,
this is sort of topical: It takes the notion of an American woman
dating European royalty. The difference is that Meghan Markle knows
what she's getting into; this fictional woman hasn't a clue ... until
her boyfriend visits her Wyoming hometown and is identified by a
prince-spotter.

The result resists
any temptation to surprise us, settling for seasonal adequacy. Alexis
Knapp stars, backed by more-familiar names. Marina Sirtis (of “Star
Trek: Next Gen”) has a fairly solid role as a royal aide; Pamela
Sue Martin – fiery Fallon in the first “Dynasty” -- appears
briefly as Knapp's mom.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Miss Me This Christmas,” 7-9 p.m., TV One.

Here's one channel
that's ignoring all those small-town, hay-ride stereotypes. On the
next two Sundays, it has movies that are set in an upscale hotel.

This opener focuses
on a former rhythm-and-blues singer (Erica Ash) whose does design
work for her husband's label. Enraged by his night life, she moves
out of their home at Christmastime. It's a good setting, but also
brings a problem: She's not an easy person to like or to empathize
with.

Other choices
include:

More Christmas
movies. Really. In addition to the two listed above, there are three
more new ones. At 8 p.m., Hallmark's “Christmas at Holly Lodge”
stars Allison Sweeney, whose films tend to be above-average. At 9, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries has “The Magical Christmas Ornaments” and Ion has “The
Spruces and the Pines.”

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Maybe bad birthdays are good for character-development.
Flashing forward, we see Lisa reflect on them while writing an essay
for her Harvard application.

“Outlander,” 8
p.m., Starz, rerunning at 10. A week before the season-finale, Jamie
and Claire are much closer to their goal. At a lavish ball in
Jamaica, they meet old allies ... and encounter past enemies who
could derail their mission.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Ever since finding a young boy, the
world's few survivors have felt frustrated. Now Carol and Erica fight
for the boy's attention; also, Todd wants parenting advice.

“CSI: Los
Angeles,” 10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Sam assumes a former alias, in
a dangerous undercover operation. Also, duty interrupts a romantic
night for Callen and Kolcheck.

“Curb Your
Enthusiasm,” 10 p.m., HBO. It's the season-finale, a fact that
should be viewed seriously:

The last time”Curb”
ended a season, it didn't return for six years.