TV column for Saturday, Dec. 12




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Christmas in
Canaan” (2009), 8 and 10:02 p.m., Hallmark.

On a night stuffed with Christmas
shows, this is the newest and one of the best. Quiet, country values
unfold in an unforced manner.

Billy Ray Cyrus plays a decent widower
in the 1960s, upset when his son is in a racial fight. His solution
is to make the two boys live together for a week.

From there, the plot skips ahead twice.
Skillfully filmed in British Columbia, it becomes a solid story of
good people and tough times.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Saturday
Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

This show is always erratic, but last
week had some great moments.

Now we'll see if it can do it again.
Taylor Lautner (who plays Jacob Black in the “Twilight” films)
hosts, with Bon Jovi as musical guest.

Other choices today include:

– Christmas cartoon marathon, 7 a.m.
to 6 p.m., ABC Family. The kids get 11 straight hours, from “The
Little Drummer Boy” at 7 a.m. to “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town”
at 5 p.m. The animation finally ends with “The Santa Clause 2”
(2002) at 6 p.m. and “The Santa Clause 3” (2006) at 8 and 10.

– “March of the Penguins” (2005),
7 and 9 p.m., Hallmark. This splendid documentary mixes stunning
photography and surprising bursts of emotion. We watch the amazing
penguin parenthood, with the dad shielding his young during the weeks
when the mom has gone for food.

– “The Polar Express” (2004), 7
p.m., Disney or 8 p.m., ABC. Choose your starting time tonight. It's
a fairly good film,with a sense of awe toward Santa's North Pole;
still, the digital-animation style robs it of human connection.

– “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
(8 p.m.) and “The Flight Before Christmas” (9:01 p.m.), CBS. Here
are animated specials from generations – first a perennial from
1964, then a 2008 Finnish hit that has gone out to other countries.
The story has a young reindeer struggling to find the North Pole,
where his father might be in Santa's Flying Forces; this version was
redubbed with voices by Emma Roberts, Norm MacDonald and more.

– “It's a Wonderful Life” (1946),
8-11 p.m., NBC. Frank Cabra's classic has a small-town banker (James
Stewart) realizing the impact of his life.

– More movies, 8 p.m., cable. OK, not
everything tonight is about Christmas; here are alternatives: “Body
of Lies” (HBO, 2008) is a smart spy tale with Russell Crowe and
Leonardo DiCaprio. “The Bourne Supremacy”(TNT, 2004) is a slick
sequel with Matt Damon and intense action. “The Mouse That Roared”
(Turner Classic Movies, 1959) is a low-budget, satirical delight with
Peter Sellers.

– “Eloise at Christmastime”
(2003), 8:50 p.m., Disney. Viewers now know Sofia Vassilieva as Ariel
on “Medium.” Long before that, she was immensely charming in two
films about a strong-willed girl in a luxury residential hotel. In
this one, she frets about a wedding and about her nanny (Julie
Andrews).

– “Aboard the Santa Train,” 9
p.m., GAC (Great American Country). For 67 years, the Santa Train
has taken toys and gifts to Appalachia. This special follows its
journey, with Santa, Wynonna Judd and 15 tons of presents.

– “Castle,” 10 p.m., ABC. In this
rerun, an explorer on a polar expedition has been killed.

 

TV column for Friday, Dec. 11




TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Hollywood
Christmas Parade,” 8-10 p.m., MyNetwork.

On a night stuffed with Holiday
specials, here's an edited view of the Nov. 29 parade in Los Angeles.

That includes 11 California bands, plus
ones from Kansas, Indiana and Connecticut. There are 12 floats (half
from Coke) and eight giant balloons. There's music – Ace Young,
Brian McKnight, War and the duos of Savvy & Mandy and O.H.M. –
plus Santa and other celebrities.

Susan Lucci is grand marshal, with lots
of other soap stars. Other celebritiess include Cindy Williams,
Lorenzo Lamas, Erik Estrada, Lou Gossett and Shawn and Kim Wayans.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Private
Practice,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.

Last season ended with hideous excess,
when a deranged woman attacked the pregnant Violet and carved out her
baby, convinced it was hers.

Now this rerun of the season-opener has
Addison and Naomi racing to save her life, while others worry about
where the baby is. The plot is outrageously overwrought, but the
writing, directing and acting are quite good. Viewers will get
involved, despite the excess.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Stars For
Stripes: Wounded Warriors Return,” 9:30 p.m., GAC.

Chris Young, only 24, had never been to
Iraq or Afghanistan. Craig Morgan was on his sixth trip there, after
spending years 10 years in the Army and six in the Reserves.

Now these country-music stars were
touring Iraq, with two ex-soldiers wounded in the war. This hour has
too little music, but has involving portraits of decent people. GAC
(Great American Country) is still easier to find on satellite than on
cable, but it's worth the search.

Other choices include;

– “The View,” 11 a.m. in most
areas (check local listings), ABC. After being criticized for
bouncing Adam Lambert from “Good Morning, America,” ABC has him
on consecutive days. The morning after Barbara Walters chose him as
one of the year's 10 most fascinating people, he appears on her show.

– “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town,”
7 p.m., ABC Family. This 1970 cartoon, which also ran Wednesday, has
Mickey Rooney as a young toymaker, destined for fame. It's followed
at 8 by “Holiday in Handcuffs” (2007), which is pleasant if you
can get past the huge jumps in believability.

– “The Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Two of the eight survivors head home today, CBS says. Also, one
survivor shocks colleagues at the tribal council.

– “Fallen Angel” (2003, 8 p.m.)
and “Silver Bells” (2005, 10 p.m.), Hallmark. These two – both
previously on “Hallmark Hall of Fame” – bring bigger budgets
and lusher visuals than most Christmas films. The first is
particularly good, with a big-time returning to his father's home;
Gary Sinise and Joely Richardson are excellent.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Here's a rerun of the season-opener, which comes after George's
death. There's a false note – questions about whether to donate his
organs – but the rest is well-crafted.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. Colleagues take Henry to a biker bar for his birthday.
Naturally, they soon find a double homicide and several suspects.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. Jim
lets Phyllis be Santa Claus at the school reunion, infuriating
Michael.

– “30 Rock,” 9:30 p.m., NBC.
Julianne Moore guests as Jack's old high-school crush, whom he finds
on a social-networking site. Meanwhile, Liz frets about finding a
Christmas present for him.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A rich jeweler has been killed at a fund-raiser for the crime unit.

ALSO: Some PBS stations (check
listings) will debut a “Soundstage” tonight, with Michael
McDonald's Christmas music mixed with occasional Doobie Brothers
tunes. The good news is that McDonald has sensational support from
his back-up musicians and singer; the bad news is that there's a
sameness to much of the music.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 10




TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Hollywood
Christmas Parade,” 8-10 p.m., MyNetwork.

On a night stuffed with Holiday
specials, here's an edited view of the Nov. 29 parade in Los Angeles.

That includes 11 California bands, plus
ones from Kansas, Indiana and Connecticut. There are 12 floats (half
from Coke) and eight giant balloons. There's music – Ace Young,
Brian McKnight, War and the duos of Savvy & Mandy and O.H.M. –
plus Santa and other celebrities.

Susan Lucci is grand marshal, with lots
of other soap stars. Other celebritiess include Cindy Williams,
Lorenzo Lamas, Erik Estrada, Lou Gossett and Shawn and Kim Wayans.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: “Private
Practice,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.

Last season ended with hideous excess,
when a deranged woman attacked the pregnant Violet and carved out her
baby, convinced it was hers.

Now this rerun of the season-opener has
Addison and Naomi racing to save her life, while others worry about
where the baby is. The plot is outrageously overwrought, but the
writing, directing and acting are quite good. Viewers will get
involved, despite the excess.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Stars For
Stripes: Wounded Warriors Return,” 9:30 p.m., GAC.

Chris Young, only 24, had never been to
Iraq or Afghanistan. Craig Morgan was on his sixth trip there, after
spending years 10 years in the Army and six in the Reserves.

Now these country-music stars were
touring Iraq, with two ex-soldiers wounded in the war. This hour has
too little music, but has involving portraits of decent people. GAC
(Great American Country) is still easier to find on satellite than on
cable, but it's worth the search.

Other choices include;

– “The View,” 11 a.m. in most
areas (check local listings), ABC. After being criticized for
bouncing Adam Lambert from “Good Morning, America,” ABC has him
on consecutive days. The morning after Barbara Walters chose him as
one of the year's 10 most fascinating people, he appears on her show.

– “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town,”
7 p.m., ABC Family. This 1970 cartoon, which also ran Wednesday, has
Mickey Rooney as a young toymaker, destined for fame. It's followed
at 8 by “Holiday in Handcuffs” (2007), which is pleasant if you
can get past the huge jumps in believability.

– “The Survivor,” 8 p.m., CBS.
Two of the eight survivors head home today, CBS says. Also, one
survivor shocks colleagues at the tribal council.

– “Fallen Angel” (2003, 8 p.m.)
and “Silver Bells” (2005, 10 p.m.), Hallmark. These two – both
previously on “Hallmark Hall of Fame” – bring bigger budgets
and lusher visuals than most Christmas films. The first is
particularly good, with a big-time returning to his father's home;
Gary Sinise and Joely Richardson are excellent.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Here's a rerun of the season-opener, which comes after George's
death. There's a false note – questions about whether to donate his
organs – but the rest is well-crafted.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. Colleagues take Henry to a biker bar for his birthday.
Naturally, they soon find a double homicide and several suspects.

– “The Office,” 9 p.m., NBC. Jim
lets Phyllis be Santa Claus at the office party, infuriating
Michael.

– “30 Rock,” 9:30 p.m., NBC.
Julianne Moore guests as Jack's old high-school crush, whom he finds
on a social-networking site. Meanwhile, Liz frets about finding a
Christmas present for him.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A rich jeweler has been killed at a fund-raiser for the crime unit.

ALSO: Some PBS stations (check
listings) will debut a “Soundstage” tonight, with Michael
McDonald's Christmas music mixed with occasional Doobie Brothers
tunes. The good news is that McDonald has sensational support from
his back-up musicians and singer; the bad news is that there's a
sameness to much of the music.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 9




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Glee,” 9 p.m.,
Fox.

Two of this season's best new shows get
a long break now, before an early-spring return. “V” has already
paused; now “Glee” has its fall-winter finale, with Eve returning
as an opposing director.

It's time for the sectionals, just as
the club crumbles with personal problems. People are learning about
Quinn's pregnancy; Will has learned of his wife's fake pregnancy –
just as Emma (giddy in love with Will) prepares to marry Ken. And
Sue, of course, schemes.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Spectacle”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Sundance Channel.

Long ago, two young Irishmen drove 17
hours to hear an Elvis Costello concert. “Everybody there formed a
band,” Bono tells Costello tonight.

He and The Edge learned as they did it.
“We formed a band before we knew how to play,” he said.

Their band, U2,soared. This starts a
season in which Costello talks to the stars, both big (Bruce
Springsteen on Jan. 20) and quirky.

In the show's style, there is humor and
sentiment. (Bono started dating his wife the week U2 started, 30
years ago. “That was a pretty good week.”) And there's great
music.

Bono and Edge tell stories about Frank
Sinatra and do a powerful song they wrote for him, but he never
recorded: “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad.”

Other choices include:

– “Mercy,” 8 p.m., NBC.
Veronica's world continues to wobble, as her marriage collapses, her
father sinks toward Alzheimer's disease and she faces post-combat
stress. Still, she's obsessed now with a charming victim with cystic
fibrosis; Jason Ritter guests.

– “Shrek the Halls,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Here's this season's second run of an OK animated special.

– “The Middle,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
Frankie (Patricia Heaton) is obsessing on her upcoming choir solo.
That leaves her husband to organize the holiday at home; annoyingly,
he's good at it.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Christmas brings complications for everyone. Gloria wants a Colombian
influence. Mitchell and Cameron stir trouble when they bring Lily to
the mall Santa. Phil (whose dad is played by Fred Willard) and Claire
threaten to cancel their kids' Christmas.

– “Cougar Town,” 9:30 p.m., ABC.
A rich guy pretends to be interested in an overpriced home, to get
closer to Jules (Courteney Cox).

– “Barbara Walters special,” 10
p.m., ABC. Walters talks to the people she considers the year's 10
most fascinating. That includes Adam Lambert, Sarah Palin, Kate
Gosselin, comeback quarterback Brett Favre and Tyler Perry, who has
created his own movie studio.

– “Top Chef: Las Vegas” finale,
10 p.m., Bravo. In last week's episode (rerunning at 9 p.m.),
Jennifer Carroll was ousted. That leaves three guys, two of them
(Michael and Bryan Voltaggio) brothers; they face Kevin Gillespie for
the top prize.

– “Launch My Line,” 11 p.m.,
Bravo. In the second episode, the designers catch the zest of Venice
Beach, then must create beachwear – preferably with orange. There
are battles between the designers and their assigned “experts,”
but the results are, again, impressive.

 

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 8




TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “A Charlie Brown
Christmas” and “Disney Prep & Landing,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.,
ABC.

Here's a wonderful holiday hour,
arriving later than expected. It was scheduled for last Tuesday, then
pushed back by a presidential address.

First is the 1965 Charlie Brown
classic, a triumph in minimalism. The drawings are simple, the actors
are kids, the music is a guy at a piano; the result is sometimes
funny, sometimes moving.

Then is a new, computer-animated
special, in which we meet the elves who prepare each house for Santa.
There are no big moments here, but it's still a bright, fun special.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Better Off
Ted” season-opener, 9:30 p.m., ABC.

Covering up a mistake can be far worse
– and far funnier – than the mistake. On a date, Ted goes from “I
love you” to “I love U … tah.” He's soon in an elaborate lie,
complete with his own Indian language.

That's part of a sometimes-hilarious
episode in which the corporation tries to match its genetically
compatible employees. Taye Diggs guests as Linda's perfect match;
also, Portia de Rossi, as Veronica, has a wonderful confrontation
with a medical receptionist.

Other choices include:

– “Mickey's Christmas Carol,” 7
p.m., ABC Family. Instead of bloating the story, Disney kept it at a
tidy half-hour, done with exquisite charm and style. There are no big
laughs here, just some great craftsmanship. It starts a cartoon night
that includes the fairly good “Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too”
at 7:30, “The Year Without Santa Claus” at 8 and its sequel, “A
Miser Brothers Christmas” at 9.

– “The Biggest Loser” finale,
8-10 p.m., NBC. It's time to choose a champion. Two of the finalists
are Danny Cahill of Broken Arrow, Okla., and Rudy Pauls of Brooklyn,
Conn.; the third – decided by viewers vote, will be either Liz
Young or Amanda Arlauskas. The $250,000 prize will be decided by the
percentage of total weight loss; there's also a $100,000 prize for
the biggest at-home loss by the others.
– “So You Think You
Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. Last week, viewers ousted two promising
teens, Nathan Trasoras and Noelle Marsh. Now, two weeks from the
finale, the eight survivors perform.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In this
rerun, Abby fills in for a government scientist who is missing. Her
friends worry that the same thing will happen to her.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, an Iraqi businessman has been killed and the prime
suspect is the former Marine who was hired to protect him.

– “The Forgotten,” 10 p.m., ABC.
This is a rerun of the fairly good series-opener, in which the victim
is a young woman whose move to the city turned tragic.

– “Teen Mom” debut, 10 p.m., MTV,
with preview at 9. The “16 and Pregnant” people are back, in a
fairly involving reality opener. Catelynn and Tyler gave their baby
up for adoption, creating friction with his father – who's married
to her mother. Maci and Amber both are engaged, the latter quite
shakily. Farrah, the former cheerleader, is starting from scratch:
After breaking up with the baby's dad, she tries to work, study and
be a mom – all while dating a promising guy who, alas, has a
secret.