TV column for Thursday, Dec. 17

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS.

On Sunday, this show will have its
champion. For now, there are still six survivors.

Yes, Russell Hantz remains, with a
variation of Munchausen-by-proxy. He secretly ruins life for people –
hiding the flint, burning someone's socks, emptying the water bottles
– so they'll need him. He also tries to juggle several alliances,
including one he says is with “dumb (bleep) girls.”

Somehow, he's made it work. Also
surviving are Brett Clouse, Jaison Robinson, Mick Trimming, Shannon
Waters and Natalie White.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY: “Saturday Night
Live Presents: A Very Gilly Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

The good news is that this reruns
sketches from the show's 35-year history, even adding new ones.

And the bad? The new sketches feature
Gilly, the one-note character who is also the host. She's played by
Kristen Wiig, whose work ranges from hilarious to horribly overdrawn.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin
introduce reruns of their sketches. Other bits range from John
Malkovich's malevolent Christmas reading to Justin Timberlake's
“(Bleep) in a Box.”

Other choices include:

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 8 and 9 p.m.,
ABC. In a change, ABC has back-to-back reruns. In the first, staffers
mourn George's death; in the second, Izzie – who almost died –
returns to work. In both, Jessica Capshaw has returned as a regular;
Cristina struggles to work with her. Also, the first hour has sexual
contrasts: Owen and Cristina face their therapist's order to abstain;
Derek and Meredith, who declared themselves married, find many places
to not abstain.

– “Bones,” 8 p.m., Fox. In a
rerun, the murder victim is a doctor Cam was once engaged to.

– "Origins: Josh Turner," 8 p.m., GAC (Great American Country). This profile talks with Turner, his parents, his wife and others who have seen the South Carolina guy become a country star.

-- “The Truth About Online
Anorexia,” 8 p.m., BBC America. Lots of online sites promote
anorexia, offering encouragement and semi-suicide diets. Fearne
Cotton, 27, a TV personality in England and on one season of “Last
Comic Standng,” tries one of those diets, with a half-apple for
breakfast, a half-apple for lunch and a cucumber for dinner. In an
hour that's sometimes compelling and sometimes painful, she meets
some women who survived anorexia and the mother of one who didn't.

– “The Jeff Dunham Show,” 8-9 and
10-11 p.m., Comedy Central. Four episodes are sandwiched around last
year's fun “Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special” at 9.

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m., Fox. Here's a
rerun of the terrific season-opener, in which Olivia is hurled –
fiercely, dangerously – back into our world. We see glimpses of
William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), whose company started this dangerous
burst of fringe science.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. A shoot-out at a gun show may be related to the death
(at first, considered suicide) of a young woman.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Here's a key episode that was scheduled for earlier, then delayed.
When he's hit on the head by a baseball, Patrick Jane flashes back to
his boyhood, when his overbearing father had him doing a sideshow
mentalism act.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Mary J. Blige performers, with “Avatar” star Sam Worthington
as the in-studio guest.


TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 16

Can Dance” finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Six talented dancers remain, including
two who have been immersed in praise.

Russell Ferguson, 20, is a krump and
hip-hop dancer from Boston who masters other styles. Jakob Karr, 19,
is a contemporary dancer from Florida, with the kicks and lines of a
ballet star.

There are two other contemporary
dancers, each 19 – Kathryn McCormick, from Augusta, Ga.,and the
neatly quirky Ellenore Scott, now of Brooklyn. And there's a
husband-wife duo with a ballroom background; Ryan and Ashleigh Di
Lello are 28 and 26, from Utah.

Lights,” 9 p.m., 101 Network, DirecTV.

There's no game this week, but there's
still some superbly crafted drama.

Matt's departure has stunned both his
girlfriend Julie (Aimee Teegarden) and his friend Landry (superbly
played by Jesse Plemons). In a lesser storyline, Julie's mom Tami
finally gets to celebrate some success at Dillon High School.

Over at East Dillon, her husband
worries about the star player who may have a gun. “Lights”
continues to have a wide gap between its portrayal of blacks and
whites; still, that story ends with subtle power.

Other choices include:

– “Mickey's Christmas Carol,” 7
p.m., ABC Family. Brief and beautifully crafted, this 1983 short
starts a terrific animation night. It's followed by the 1991 “Winnie
the Pooh & Christmas Too” at 7:30 and the wonderful “Happy
Feet” (2006) at 8.

– “The Sing-Off,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.
There are still five a cappella groups in the competition. Now that
will be trimmed to three for Monday's finale.

– “Christmas With the Mormon
Tabernacle Choir,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This hour
includes solos from Brian Stokes Mitchell, the “Ragtime” star,
and a reading from Edward Herrman.

– “Prep & Landing,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Here's the second airing of a fairly good, animated short.

– “The Middle,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
In the rerun of a fairly good episode, Brick's parents are told he's
“socially challenged.” His dad searches for a niche – then
finds the lawn tractor race.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
This funny rerun has people wondering if Luke is responsible enough
for a bike. Also, Mitchell and Cameron fret about being accepted at
the “Mommy & Me” class.

– “Great Performances at the Met,”
9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). There's an international feel to
this “Tosca,” with a Swiss director. Karita Mattila stars
(beautifully) for the first time outside Finland, opposite Marcelo
Alvarez of Argentina and George Gagnidze of the Republic of Georgia.

– “Top Chef: Las Vegas,” 9 p.m.,
Bravo. Following last week's finale (rerunning at 8 p.m.), the
contestants re-assemble to discuss the season.

– “The Big Business of Illegal
Gambling,” 9 p.m., CNBC. Here's a disturbing view of sports and
poker gambling, most of it by the Internet. We meet one man whose
life was ruined, others who lost a reported $22 million when someone
hacked into and manipulated poker games.

– “Spectacle,” 10 p.m., Sundance
Channel. Here is unplugged music at its best. Elvis Costello has four
gifted singer-songwriters (Sheryl Crow, Neko Case, Ron Sexsmith and
Jessie Winchester) take turns.

There are a few hits from Crow, plus
great songs you've probably never heard of.


TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 15

Can Dance,” 8-9 p.m., Fox.

One of TV's best reality shows is
wrapping up, albeit too abruptly.

There are still six dancers left,
making this seem neither final nor urgent. Still, Fox has set the
last performances and viewer votes for tonight, with the winner
announced Wednesday. Adding insult to injury, it is compacting
tonight's show to an hour, to make room for someone cooking.

Wipe all of that aside and you'll see
great dancers. Two of the best – the amazing Legacy Perez and the
immensely likable Mollee Gray – were bounced last week. That leaves
a superb hip hopper (Russell Ferguson), husband-and-wife ballroom
dancers (Ryan and Ashleigh Di Lello) and three contemporary dancers –
Kathryn McCormick, the steeply talented Jakob Carr and the neatly
quirky Ellenore Scott.

Ted,” 9:30 p.m., ABC.

Company policy basically forbids a
personal life. If Linda writes a book, Veridian owns it; if Lem has
an affair with the company lawyer, he owes Veridian her consultation

Meanwhile, Ted's daughter is scooping
up useful gossip from other employees' kids. Like last week's
season-opener, this is a dryly funny episode, with sly, satiric

Other choices include:

– “The Sing-Off,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.
There are seven a cappella groups left, but two will be ousted
tonight, with two more being dropped Wednesday. That will leave three
for Monday's finale.

– A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 8
p.m., ABC. For the second straight Tuesday, ABC airs this cartoon,
which is one of the great half-hours in TV history. Rounding out the
hour are “Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales”; those are shorter
bursts, adapted from the “Peanuts” comic strips.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Joe
Regalbuto (“Murphy Brown”) guests as a retired Marine colonel
whose son was killed in what may have been a hate crime. Corey
Reynolds (“The Closer”) plays a chaplain and Ralph Waite (“The
Waltons”) returns as Gibbs' dad, whose behavior has been changing.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. After a Marine is killed, the team races to find others from his
bomb-disposal unit, because they might also be targets.

– “Scrubs,” 9 p.m., ABC. When the
med students have a party, J.D. and Turk show up in costume.

– “Gordon Ramsay” Cook-A-Long,”
9 p.m., Fox. Here's a live hour in which Ramsay says he'll prepare a
dinner – steak Diane, with angel hair pasta as the appetizer and
quick tiramisu for desert. Viewers can make it at the same time. They
need to have a pan of boiling water ready at the start of the show,
plus the right ingredients; a shopping list is at

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A judge has inexplicably rejected a simple plea agreement. Now Alicia
tries to learn if he's keeping a secret.

– “Funniest Commercials of the
Year: 2009,” 10 p.m., TBS. These annual specials tend to be great
fun. Tonight, we'll get commercials from 30 countries. The top 10
were chosen in advance and Internet-users have voted on whichis best.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 14

Hudson: I'll Be Home for Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

We can expect strong emotions, plus
chances for Hudson to unleash her powerful, gospel-style voice.

Hudson dazzled people in the 2004
“American Idol,” but finished only seventh. Three years later,
she won an Academy Award in “Dreamgirls.”

This special was made in Chicago, where
she grew up (and where her mother, brother and nephew were killed, 14
months ago). Music ranges from an informal “O Come All Ye Faithful”
with the Nickel sisters to a dramatically shot “Silent Night” on
a river boat. Also, Michael Buble joins Hudson for duets of “Let It
Snow” and “Baby, It's Cold Outside.”

Sing-Off,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

When NBC held “Clash of the Choirs”
two years ago, Nick Lachey's team won with a spectacular a cappella
number he'd learned in high school. Now, appropriately, Lachey hosts
a competition that has a structure similar to “Clash.”

Competing are eight a cappella groups
from seven states and Puerto Rico. The tournament continues Tuesday
and Wednesday, then concludes next Monday.

Other choices include:

– Family-film marathon, 5-11 p.m.,
ABC Family. After the charming “Eloise at Christmastime” (2003)
at 5, we get an Academy Award evening. “Winnie the Pooh and the
Blustery Day” (1968, 7 p.m.) won an Oscar; “Winnie the Pooh and
Tigger Too” (1974, 7:30) was nominated. That's followed at 8 by the
delightful “Mary Poppins” (1964), which won five Oscars,
including best actress for Julie Andrews.

– “House,” 8-9 p.m., Fox.
Colleagues are perplexed by a gift Dr. House gives and one he gets.
Meanwhile, an oft-bullied teen collapses during a Christmas pageant.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8
p.m., CBS. The gang tries to give up cigarettes. And sweet Lily, with
her light voice? Harvey Fiersten offers her voice after too much

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Carl Reiner plays a legendary TV producer who is a guest for
Christmas dinner. Meanwhile, Charlie coaches Jake on the art of

– “Anatomy of a Pandemic,” 9
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Here's a solid overview of the H1N1
flu. It puts it in perspective to previous crises, modest (swine
flue, bird flu) and epic (1918 influenza outbreak). It views efforts
to rush vaccines – and to develop new ways of creating them. It
also raises the specter of the H1N1 mutating into a much deadlier

– “What Would Jesus Buy?” 9 p.m.,
Sundance Channel. Bill Talen has created Revered Billy and the Church
of Stop Shopping – a canny mixture of humor, music and outrage. Now
that's at the core of this film. Some funny moments, as Billy
confronts retail giants, are mixed with serious ones. There are
sobering moments, particularly viewing the effects of outsourcing and
a big-store mentality.


– “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. Leonard's mother (Christine Baranski) visits – a fact
that delights Sheldon much more than Leonard.

– “Men of a Certain Age,” 10
p.m., TNT. Like last week's opener, this has subtle character
portraits and patches of humor. Also like that opener, it gets
terribly dark. Terry (Scott Bakula) is perplexed by a situation; Owen
(Andre Braugher) is embarrassed at work. Joe (Ray Romano) can't kick
the gambling habit that ruined his marriage; he also can't move on,
even when a possible romance beckons.

– “One Minute to Nine (2007),” 10
p.m., HBO. This documentary – which has been re-titled “Every
(bleep) Day of My Life” – views a rural Oregon mother of four as
she prepares to be imprisoned for killing her husband, who was, she
says, abusive.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 13

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Santa Baby 2,”
8 and 10 p.m., ABC Family.

The original “Santa Baby” (2006),
which reruns at 6 p.m., was a fun film about Santa's daughter (Jenny
McCarthy). A sleek executive, she returned to the North Pole to help
her ailing dad.

Now, alas, Santa (Paul Sorvino) seems
to prefer jazz-singing to toymaking. Mary returns with her boyfriend
(Dean McDermott), unaware there's a saboteur at the Pole.

A fairly bright and enjoyable film,
“Santa Baby” leads a surge of three new Christmas films tonight.

Makeover: Home Edition” (8-10 p.m.) and “Christmas at the White
House” (10 p.m.), ABC.

It should be a feel-good night for ABC.

First, we meet Clara Ward, who keeps
doing non-profit work, despite having a degenerative disease and
little money. Volunteers, including Mary J. Blige, rebuild her home.

Then Oprah Winfrey interviews Barack
Obama separately and with his wife Michelle.

Narco State” (8 p.m.) and“Inside the Iraq War” (9-11 p.m.),
National Geographic Channel.

Here are tough, gritty views of
disturbing subjects.

First, Lisa Ling visits two cities
linked by drug traffic. Phoenix now averages a kidnapping or home
invasion per day; we see a task force tackle one. Juarez, Mexico,
averages five murders a day; few of the killers, we're told, are ever

Then comes a solid, even-handed
portrait of the Iraq war. It catches moments that are familiar (the
statue comes down, Jessica Lynch is rescued) and ones that are not.
Throughout, it offers a respect for people working under
near-impossible conditions.

Other choices include:

– “Snow” (2004), 10 a.m., ABC
Family. Christmas movies come in every style. This one has wit, charm
and two immensely likable stars, with Tom Cavanagh as Santa's son and
Ashley Williams as a zookeeper, helping him search for his reindeer.
It's followed by “Snow 2” (2008) at noon and preceded by the
truly awful “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (2002) at 8 a.m.

– “March of the Penguins” (2005),
7 p.m., Ion. Here's one more chance to see this film, which finds
humor, emotion and splendid vistas in Antarctica.

– “Christmas in Canaan,” 8 p.m.,
Hallmark. Quietly involving, this story has Billy Ray Cyrus as a
Southern farmer in the Civil Rights era, determined that his son
won't be a bigot.

– “Clash of the Dinosaurs”
conclusion, 8 and 9 p.m., Discovery. The first half of this
documentary (rerunning at 6 and 7 p.m.) was terrific, re-creating a
fierce world from as long as 115 million years ago. It pointed out
that even the plant-eaters had fierce killing ability. Tonight's
first new hour studies those mega-vegetarians; the second views
traits that boosted survival.

– “The Christmas Hope,” 8-10
p.m., Lifetime Movie Network. This is the third movie from a Donna
VanLiere novel, each sort of adequate. “The Christmas Shoes”
(2002) and “The Christmas Blessing” (2005) air at 4 and 6 p.m. In
“Hope,” a newly orphaned girl stays with a troubled couple. If
you can accept the preponderance of coincidences, you'll find a
rewarding finish.

– “Cold Case,” 9 p.m. (or later,
if there's a football overrun), CBS. The music of Bob Seger ripples
through this hour. The unit studies a 1980 case in which a
minor-league hockey player was killed on the night of the American
hockey team's upset Olympic win over the Soviets.

– “A Golden Christmas,” 9-11
p.m., Ion. This network (formerly Pax) plans to make a dozen movies
in the next year. In this first one, an executive returns to where
she once had a magical summer with a neighbor boy. There are no
surprises, but Andrea Roth (“Rescue Me”) makes it worth watching.