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“Cougar Town” 

Tuesday 8:30pm, ABC

Things are not looking good for our favorite penny can enthusiasts. “Cougar Town” got off to a rough start, bedeviled by that controversial name and a first season that struggled to find its voice, like so many sitcoms. The second season was utterly hilarious, and for me inspired way more laughs than its critical-darling contemporary, “Modern Family.” The third season will finally debut on Valentine’s Day, but with a meager 15-episode order. If you ever watched the show and liked it, now is the time to tune in. If you’ve never watched the show, know that it features a seriously funny ensemble cast led by Courteney Cox. And if you’ve watched it and hated it, you need to drink more wine.

 

“Celebrity Apprentice” 

Sunday 9pm, NBC

Donald Trump and NBC have finally abandoned the conceit that the current seasons of “The Apprentice” are anything like the show’s initially critically acclaimed, high-tension look at aspiring businesspeople. People watch now to see washed-up celebrities backstab each other and get into crazy screaming matches, and that’s more or less what the promos for this new season have promised. The new crew has some interesting names in the mix, including former talk-show host Arsenio Hall, 80’s shock-rocker Dee Snider, and my pick for the win, “Star Trek” actor and wisenheimer George Takei. But I’m most eager to see if New Jersey “Housewife” Teresa Giudice can bring the batshit where her colleague Nene Leakes failed last season. I want more table flipping and less boo-hooing, ladies!

 

”Life’s Too Short” 

Sunday 10:30pm, HBO

Ricky Gervais obliterated a good chunk of his cred with his most recent Golden Globes hosting stint. But try to remember him as the genius behind “The Office” when you consider his latest TV project, a fake documentary following actor Warwick Davis. Davis played the Ewok Wicket in Return of the Jedi, went on to the title role in the awful/amazing Leprechaun horror flicks, and appeared in all the Harry Potter films. He is also, of course, a dwarf, which informs most of the humor in this series. In “Curb Your Enthusiasm” style, Davis plays an exaggerated version of himself, an egotistical jackass desperate for fame and fortune. Gervais and his production partner Stephen Merchant will recur as themselves, and other celebrity cameos include Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and perhaps most exciting, Right Said Fred.

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“The River” 

Tuesday 9pm, ABC

You might recognize the name Oren Pell if you’re a fan of the Paranormal Activity series of films. Inspired by The Blair Witch Project, writer-director Pell took a modest budget and made a fortune out of “found-footage” film. He’s taking a similar approach with this new drama/horror series about a film crew heading to the Amazon to track down the scientist-host of a popular nature show who went missing six months ago while embarking on a mysterious quest. If this one isn’t somehow influenced by the cult classic Cannibal Holocaust I will be amazed. ABC is playing coy with marketing of this show, barely identifying the actors and instead focusing on the characters themselves, helping to perpetuate the illusion that “The River” is “real.” 

 

“Full Metal Jousting” 

Sunday 10pm, History Channel

What History Channel dubs “the first extreme sport,” jousting features two men on horseback, riding toward each other at speeds up to 30mph, aiming long lances at a specific piece of armor on the opposing rider’s shoulder. If the lance connects and breaks, that’s some points. If the other rider is knocked off, that’s more points. It’s an incredibly complicated and dangerous sport, and thus it’s brilliant fodder for a reality competition. “Full Metal Jousting” features 16 competitors—some with jousting experience, some without—being trained in the jousting arts and then pitted against one another while wearing modern steel accoutrements. This isn’t the Candyland stuff you see at your average Renaissance fair.

 

“Comic Book Men” 

Sunday 10pm, AMC

Seeking to capitalize on the success of comic-book adaptation “The Walking Dead” (which returns from its hiatus immediately preceding this show), AMC is going unscripted for this new series focusing on the staff and customers of Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the New Jersey comic shop owned by Kevin Smith. You may remember Smith as the ’90s era darling of slacker comedies, with films like Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma to his name. Well, he’s also a huge comic geek, and has written story arcs for Daredevil, Green Arrow, and other super heroes when not making films. I fear this new series will reduce comic readers—like myself—to emotionally stunted, socially awkward man-children. (Not that there isn’t some truth to that.) I also wonder if any non-nerds will care.

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“I Just Want My Pants Back”

Thursday 11pm, MTV

They may act like they’re too cool for it, but hipsters need love too. Thus this new so-clever-it-hurts sitcom. The attention-grabbing title stems from lead character Jason (Peter Vack, basically an amalgam of Owen and Luke Wilson), whose favorite pair of jeans go missing after a one-night stand with the funny, hot girl of his dreams. He goes on a mission to retake both his pants and his crush, and of course gets into all kinds of wacky misadventures with his pals, all of it steeped in ironic conversation and pop-culture references. That sounds like a recipe for insufferable soufflé, but the previews are charming and include some actual laugh-out-loud moments. And really, we should all support anything MTV puts out that doesn’t involve guido juiceheads or psychotic teen mothers.

 

“The Voice” 

Sunday 10pm, NBC

Season 2 of NBC’s reality singing competition will debut immediately following the Super Bowl. Few changes have been made to the series, which was a success for the network last spring and summer. Carson Daly returns as host, the blind audition to music battle rounds to live voting format is the same, and the coaching panel is intact, with Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and Cee Lo Green. Look for a new schedule, with the show regularly airing Mondays 8-10 p.m., and a new social-media correspondent in forgettable singer/actress Christina Milian.

 

“Smash” 

Monday 10pm, NBC

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, this new drama-musical follows the fictional creation of a new Broadway show based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Debra Messing (“Will & Grace”) plays the show’s writer and composer, whose very early work on the show attracts the attention of a big-time Broadway producer (screen legend Anjelica Huston) looking to make a statement to distract from her messy and financially crippling divorce. The main plot focuses on the showrunners’ struggle to cast the role of Marilyn, as they’re torn between a seasoned actress desperate for a shot at stardom (Megan Hilty, Wicked and 9-to-5) and a mega-talented relative newbie (Katharine McPhee, “American Idol” Season 5 runner-up). “Smash” is the anti-“Glee.” It’s very grown up, sometimes verging on too serious, but there’s no creative ADD. The pilot builds nicely and fully invests you in all the characters, and the original song and dance numbers are dynamite.

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“Touch” 

Wednesday 9pm, Fox

Kiefer Sutherland returns to television with this new drama-mystery from the mind of Tim Kring. You might recognize that name as the creator of NBC’s “Heroes,” which could be a good thing if this turns out like “Heroes” Season 1, or a terrible thing if it turns out like any other season of that misbegotten show. Sutherland plays a widower who is in danger of losing custody of his severely autistic 11-year-old son, who refuses to speak or even be touched by anyone. But Sutherland’s character realizes that his son is communicating to the world, just through a complicated numerical system that exposes a hidden connectivity between seemingly disparate people. It’s high concept, to be sure. Note that this is a preview airing; the series has yet to receive an official start date.

“Spartacus: Vengeance” 

Friday 10pm, Starz

Starz’s divisive sword-and-sandals series returns with sad tidings. “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” immediately attracted a cult following for its surprisingly high production values, graphic violence, and even more graphic sex. But series lead Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer prior to the start of Season 2, and so the producers decided to buy time for his treatment by shooting a prequel mini-series, “Gods of the Arena,” which aired last year. The plan was for Whitfield to come back for this new season, subtitled “Vengeance,” but he relapsed and succumbed to his disease. So Starz has recast the Spartacus roll with Liam McIntyre, who at least looks great in naught but a loincloth. Finally we’ll be able to see the aftermath of Spartacus’ bloody revolt in the House of Batiatus, including the ex-gladiators’ war on the armies of Rome.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” 

Monday 9pm, Logo

None of us have truly lived until we’ve seen drag queens engaging in a professional-wrestling match. So God bless drag icon RuPaul for giving us exactly that in this fourth season of her fierce reality competition. The 13 queens culled for this season are certainly a varied bunch. Initial impressions suggest that the producers want a plus-sized winner this year, given that at least a quarter of the ladyboys are on the bigger end of the spectrum. We’ve got some legendary drag from longtime L.A. performer Chad Michaels, some gender bending courtesy of cueball-sporting The Princess, and you’ve never seen anything like Sharon Needles, a zombie-inspired drag queen.

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“Dance Moms”

Tuesday 9pm, Lifetime

The surprise hit from last summer returns for Season 2, and it will be interesting to see what has changed now that some of these women have seen their deplorable actions broadcast via reality TV editors. “Dance Moms” follows Abby Lee Miller, a purportedly world-renowned dance instructor and coach to mostly preteen girls. Miller is imperious, obnoxious, and has no qualms about verbally tearing down her students. So basically, she’s amazing television. Also featured are her students—adorable moppets, some of them very talented —and their mothers, who display some of the pettiest behavior I’ve ever seen committed to film. Seriously, everyone involved in this series owes an apology to women everywhere for their terrible portrayals of that sex. But just try to look away…

 

“Are You There, Chelsea?”

Wednesday 8:30pm, NBC

I have mixed feelings about Chelsea Handler. On the one hand, I applaud her scrappiness—she worked her ass off to become a fairly well known comedian and TV host in what is still largely a boy’s club. I’ve just never found her to be as funny as she thinks she is, though I have friends who swear her books are riotous. Especially Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, from which NBC Frankenstein-ed the nonsensical title of her new semi-autobiographical sitcom. Wisely realizing that Handler would be unconvincing as a 20something (honestly, I can’t believe she’s only 36…), her younger self is played by former “That 70s Show” star Laura Prepon, while Chandler will make guest appearances as Chelsea’s older, born-again Christian sister.

 

“Alcatraz”

Monday 8pm, Fox

One of the most well-received pilots of the 2011-2012 season is this new drama-mystery from J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” “Alias”). A San Francisco police detective (Sarah Jones, “Sons of Anarchy”) investigates a brutal murder and lifts a fingerprint that points her to a former inmate at the infamous island prison Alcatraz—an inmate who supposedly died decades earlier. The trail leads her to an amateur Alcatraz expert/comic-book geek (Jorge Garcia, Hurley from “Lost”) and together they discover that not only is her suspect alive, but he hasn’t aged a day since his prison stint—and he’s not the only supposedly dead Alcatraz inmate who has mysteriously reappeared in the present day. Expect lots of mind-bending twists and metaphysical woo-woo, plus familiar faces like Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) and Parminder Nagra (“E.R.”).
 

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“Project Runway: All Stars” 

Thursday 9pm, Lifetime

The good news: 13 of the most beloved and/or memorable contestants from “Project Runway” seasons past are back for a second chance. We’re talking Season 1’s Austin Scarlett (now with an unfortunate pornstache), Season 4’s Sweet P, Season 8’s Michael Costello, and Season 5’s Kenley Collins, for my money the most hateful contestant in this show’s history. The bad news: none of the regular “PR” crew is back—no Heidi, no Michael, no Nina. Instead, they’re replaced by new judges Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman, with model host Angela Lindvall and Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles in the Tim Gunn role. I am perplexed. The potentially worse news is that, according to a story that Gawker ran months ago, an inside source claims that obvious favoritism on the part of the judges ensured that a specific fan-favorite designer ended up winning the whole thing. So this should be interesting…

 

“Absolutely Fabulous” 

Sunday 10pm, BBC America/Logo

I may bitch about networks being out of ideas, bringing back hit shows from the recent past because nothing is working now. But I won’t bitch about this, sweetie darlings! “Absolutely Fabulous,” the gloriously hedonistic British sitcom starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, is celebrating its 20th anniversary (I’ll pause while you gag over your lost youth) with three new specials in 2012. The first airs this week, and involves Saffy returning home from prison, Patsy discovering that she has no actual traceable identity, and Bubble reenacting last summer’s royal wedding.

 

“House of Lies” 

Sunday 10pm, Showtime

Don Cheadle is one of those actors who gets lots of roles and lots of acclaim, but is rarely viewed as a headliner. This new project might change that. In “House of Lies,” Cheadle plays a successful, totally unscrupulous management consultant who lies, cheats, and manipulates his way into mega-dollar deals with wealthy companies. I think we would all enjoy seeing the rich get fleeced for a change. Cheadle is joined by another well-regarded, can’t-quite-break-through star, Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars,” “Heroes”), plus Ben Shwartz, better known as Jean-Ralphio on “Parks and Recreation.” The concept is interesting and the main cast is great, but I worry that the execution might veer into forced quirkiness, what with cross-dressing plot lines and a pill-popping, sex-obsessed ex who doubles as a business rival. It’s starting to sound a little “Ally McBeal” up in here.

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New Year’s Eve specials

There are so many NYE specials, and honestly, they’re all pretty similar: annoying host, fame-whore cameos, ball countdown, and some questionable live music performances. Here’s a rundown of the major entries: the venerable “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” will air on ABC starting at 10pm, preceded by a two-hour special at 8pm that will recount great moments from the 38(!) previous installments. Ryan Seacrest will continue primary hosting duties, with musical guests Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Pitbull, and Hot Chelle Rae. NBC’s coverage starts at 10pm, is hosted by Carson Daly, and will feature performances by Drake, Jessie J, “Voice” coaches Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green, and Tony Bennett, and NBC News’ Brian Williams will give his music review of 2011. Fox is going a twangier route with a country-themed special featuring “American Idol” runner-up Lauren Alaina and Rodney Atkins starting at 11pm. MTV is going for a younger crowd with its 11pm special hosted by “Teen Wolf’ star Tyler Posey and trying-too-hard Demi Lovato, with music by Selena Gomez, Mac Miller, Jason Derulo, and other folks who were fetuses in the 1990s.

 

“South Park” 

Saturday 9pm-midnight, Comedy Central

As you may have heard, the Mayans made this fabulous stone calendar way back when, and it happens to expire in 2012. Some people think this means they knew the date of the end of the world. Some people think it signals a new age of cosmic enlightenment. I think they ran out of rock, or their chiseling hands cramped up. Unsurprisingly, the “South Park” gang falls on the cynical side of things, and has decided to celebrate our impending extinction with a “Countdown to the End of the World” marathon. The “South Park” kids will help viewers prepare for the possible doomsday with three hours of apocalyptic episodes, including the brilliant “Make Love, Not Warcraft.”

 

“Intervention,” “Hoarders” 

Monday 7am-11pm, A&E

Start off your new year by scaring yourself into a productive, healthy lifestyle by taking in marathons of two of the most confronting shows currently on television. You could argue that documentary series like “Intervention” and “Hoarders” are incredibly manipulative, and you would be right. But the bottom line is, these shows are more powerful than any anti-drug PSA, and more useful than any home-improvement show. New episodes of both series start at 9pm Monday. Prior to that you can catch up with repeats of “Intervention” from 7am-3pm, and “Hoarders” from 3-9pm.

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“Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” 

Friday 8pm, BBC America

You read C-VILLE Weekly, so obviously you are intelligent, witty, and urbane. So I’m sure you already know all about “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”; National Public Radio has been broadcasting the news-panel game show for more than a decade. Host Peter Sagal corrals a group of smart, funny people and they participate in various games with questions based around the news of the week. It’s delightful. Apparently, even the Brits think so—and they’re usually so much fancier than us!—so BBC America is airing this special televised version of “Wait Wait,” which will offer a review of 2011’s news stories. Given that it’s an American program being broadcast on a British channel, look for a mix of Yankee and British news and personalities. At least they have the royal wedding as common ground.

 

“Christmas in
Chelsea Square” 

Saturday 11:35pm, CBS

I have some religious relatives who get furious this time of year, complaining about the rampant commercialization and simultaneously de-Jesus-ing of Christmas. Personally, I feel like you should celebrate the holiday however you want. For me, that involves baking a ton of cookies, drinking ill-considered amounts of eggnog, and emotionally scarring my young nephews and nieces with stories of Krampus. But if you’d rather spend Christmas Eve reflecting on the birth of your savior instead of watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the 90th time, CBS will broadcast a service of lessons and carols by the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, from the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in New York City. It will conclude with a reading of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for kids. So you still get some Santa in there, too.

 

The Polar Express

Sunday 8pm, ABC Family

This 2004 holiday film starring Tom Hanks (via vaguely creepy motion-capture digital animation) is just one example of ABC Family’s almost exhaustively cheery programming for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Starting at 10am Saturday you’ll get a nearly non-stop slew of holiday flicks, including the Joel Grey-narrated ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Santa Clause and Santa Clause 3 (I’m guessing the second film is too hot for TV?), and Home Alone 2 (which I would argue is better than the original). And once the kids pass out from their sugar/adrenaline highs, the adults can bask in the Griswoldian glory of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Sunday 10pm).—

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WWE Tribute to the Troops

Tuesday 9pm, TNT

When professional wrestlers and America’s armed forces come together, the first thing that comes to my mind is that episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” where the boys decide to wrestle for the troops, and Frank—as his garbage-eating alter-ego The Trash Man—ends the whole thing by mortally wounding the Taliban-outfitted Rickety Cricket. Lord knows how you top that, but this annual special will try by hearkening back to Bob Hope’s USO days with a star-studded variety show. In addition to WWE wrasslin’, the special will feature musical performances by Mary J. Blige and Nickelback, as well as videotaped messages to the troops from stars like Matthew McConaughey, Robin Williams, The Muppets, and Nicole Kidman. On a wrestling program. Amazing.

 

"Christmas in Washington"

Friday 8pm, TNT

This holiday concert has a little something for everyone in the family. Conan O’Brien hosts, which should make the hipsters happy. Nu country fans will be pleased to see The Band Perry, and Jennifer Hudson is set to serve up some R&B and gospel sounds, while Cee Lo Green presents a decidedly flashier dose of hackneyed urban pop. And kids, tweens, and teens everywhere will scream their little heads off for Victoria Justice (singer-songwriter and star of Nickelodeon’s “Victorious”) and the now-ubiquitous Justin Bieber. Now that he’s had his obligatory holiday CD, which includes that soul-killing cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”(Can we please move on to the latter-day Leif Garrett phase of his career?) And since it’s in Washington, the president and first lady will be on hand, which should spark some uncomfortable political discussions with mom and dad.

 

"Who’s Still Standing?"

Monday 8pm, NBC

Poor NBC is so deep in the ratings toilet that it has resorted to adapting an Israeli quiz show in which people drop down holes. But maybe it’s not so crazy after all. If they hit right, TV game shows can become huge phenomena (See: “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” “Deal or No Deal,” etc.). There is basically nothing else new on TV for the next two weeks. And Americans love watching people do stupid shit, so shooting them down holes for not knowing the answer to some trivia question could be a winning idea. Also in the plus column is the fact that Ben Bailey from “Cash Cab” is set to host, and he’s totally charming.

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Snowmaggedon 

Saturday 9pm, Syfy

Are you sick of touchy-feely holiday movies, what with their morals and sappy endings that make you waste the precious booze in your system by shedding what people with real feelings call tears? This year, forgo the miracles and the wonderful lives and tune in to Syfy Saturday for Christmas films where things blow up, and the only spirit people feel is terror, and maybe shame for the crappy special effects they’re acting opposite. Snowmaggedon is a new original movie featuring David Cubitt (“Medium”) and Michael Hogan (Tigh on “Battlestar Galactica”) as residents of a small town that is besieged by a magical snow globe that wreaks weather-related havoc. This is what happens when American manufacturing moves to China, people. Tune in at 7pm for last year’s Ice Quake, starring Brendan Fehr and Victor Garber.

 

“Luck” 

Sunday 10pm, HBO

This highly anticipated new drama doesn’t officially debut until the end of January, but we’ll get a sneak peek of it following the season finale of “Boardwalk Empire.” The pedigree for this series couldn’t be higher. Michael Mann (The Aviator) directs the pilot, written by David Milch (“Deadwood”), which tells the stories of myriad characters that frequent a horse-racing track. Can you think of a setting with more dramatic potential, between the jockeys, the trainers, the gamblers, and the management? It’s amazing no one has tried it before (that I’m aware of). The cast is almost too good to believe, led by Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Jason Gedrick, and even guest spots by Joan Allen and Michael Gambon, the artist formerly known as Professor Dumbledore.

 

“Fear Factor” 

Monday 8pm, NBC

Just as “Pop-Up Video” and “Beavis and Butt-head” have returned to the tube in recent months, NBC’s once-popular reality contest “Fear Factor” is back with all new episodes. “Factor” originally aired from 2001 to 2006. The show put regular people through a series of fear-inducing challenges, which ranged from extreme physical stunts to some gag-inducing gross-out scenarios. For instance, one notable stunt involved contestants drinking blended rats, while a military-themed episode tasked hopefuls with bungee jumping off a helicopter. Contestants were whittled down over the course of an episode until someone ended up with a couple thousand dollars for their trouble/humiliation. The new series will once again feature host Joe Rogan, and the preview shows scorpion eating, bees swarming, women sobbing, and things exploding. Same as it ever was!

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"Mystery Movie Night" 

Tuesday and Wednesday 8pm, TNT

Given TNT’s success with original and recycled crime procedurals (“The Closer,” “Bones,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” those never-ending “Law & Order” marathons), it only makes sense that the cable network would stick to a proven formula when making made-for-TV movies. The Mystery Movie Night slate will feature six original films airing over the next four weeks, all of them based on thrillers by best-selling crime/suspense novelists and featuring solid, recognizable casts. Innocent is up first on Tuesday, with Bill Pullman as a judge charged with the murder of his wife. Ricochet follows Wednesday at 9pm with John Corbett as a cop who starts an affair with the wife of the corrupt judge he’s investigating (Gary Cole).

 

"Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show"

Tuesday 10pm, CBS

I am having the worst time getting into the holiday spirit this year, but there’s one trick guaranteed to make me the jolliest bastard this side of the North Pole: the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Pretty girls! Wearing ridiculous outfits! They smile and wave and blow kisses! It’s all good, clean, giggly, jiggly fun, and I spend the whole show grinning and clapping to myself. And while it’s true that the star wattage of the Angels has dipped substantially since the days of Tyra and Heidi, you’ll still get Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Miranda Kerr, and other tall, leggy women in their underpants. Cee Lo Green was initially announced as the musical guest but has been replaced by Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Maroon 5. Upgrade!

 

“Neverland” 

Sunday and Monday 9pm, Syfy

Syfy’s original mini-series projects have historically been a mixed bag. For every “Battlestar Galactica” (which led to the genius series re-envisioning of the sci-fi property) and Oz-set “Tin Man” (majorly flawed, but with more good than bad) there have been some serious stinkers. This new project sticks to the modern reimagining of a classic property by offering a prequel take on J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.” The set up sees young Peter as a Dickensian pickpocket working for Mr. Hook (Rhys Ifans, soon to play The Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man), who sends Peter and his gang to steal a magical artifact that spirits them all away to a wacked-out fantasy world. There they come into contact with fairies (Tinker Bell is voiced by Keira Knightley), pirates searching for the secret of eternal youth (including Bob Hoskins and “Pushing Daisies” alum Anna Friel), and assorted other pieces of weirdness.

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“Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” 

Thursday 10am, NBC

I still love the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s my official kickoff to the holiday season, and I still have vivid childhood memories of being transfixed by it when I should have been getting the house cleaned for the impending Turkey Day festivities (and equally vivid memories of dad barking at me to get my ass off the couch). Interestingly, none of my nieces and nephews give a deuce about the parade, and I’m curious as to why it’s viewed by the current generation as an old-fashioned relic. Who cares about giant balloons and floats anymore? Me, I guess, although I do find it interesting that almost all of the big balloons in this year’s parade, including the new Sonic the Hedgehog, are essentially advertising mascots. Was that always the case and I was just too dense to get it?

 

“The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf’s Story” 

Friday 8:30pm, CBS

You can’t beat classics like “Rudolph” and “The Grinch,” but for the past few years a new wave of original holiday specials have been popping up in the hopes that they’ll become traditions in their own right. This new special is based on a Christmas book that became a self-published blockbuster. A mother-daughter team co-authored the book—about hidden scout elves that watch the activities of little boys and girls from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, and report back to Santa each night—back in 2005. After all the major publishing houses passed on it, they decided to print 300 copies on their own. Less than 10 years later it has become a Barnes & Noble bestseller and sold more than 1.5 million copies.

 

“Being Chaz” 

Sunday 8pm, OWN

Chaz Bono, the transgendered son of Sonny Bono and Cher, inadvertently sparked major controversy when he was announced as a cast member of the current 13th season of “Dancing with the Stars.” Some were outraged that an openly transgendered person would appear on a “family show,” but that take on things was met with strong support for Chaz from the LGBT community and his very vocal mom. Chaz ended up in seventh place, and more importantly became one of the most visible examples of a trans person in mainstream pop culture. This new special is a follow-up to the Emmy-nominated “Becoming Chaz,” which aired earlier this year. It chronicles Chaz’s preparations for “Dancing,” as well as him coping with his transition from female to male.

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“America’s Next Top Model” 

Wednesday 9pm, CW

We’re nearing the end of Tyra Banks’s “all-star” cycle, and this week’s recap episode is the only thing between us and the Final Four. However, the proceedings haven’t been nearly as cracked out as I imagined they would be when the 14 returning contestants were announced. Fully half of those girls were assholes the first time around, but precious few of them brought the crazy or the bitch this time (thanks for playing, Bianca). It has, however, been fun to see favorite contestants get another shot at quasi-relevancy. At this point the only horse I still have in the race is C12’s living kewpie doll Allison, and I’m still pulling for that charming nosebleed-loving weirdo. But I’ve read some juicy spoilers that, if they prove true, would result in one of the nuttiest wins in reality-show history.

 

“Live with Regis and Kelly” 

Friday 10am, NBC29

After nearly 30 years Regis Philbin will end his reign as co-host after Friday’s broadcast. Philbin was one of the original hosts of “The Morning Show,” which started in 1983 as a New York City-only talk show. It went into national syndication in 1988, quickly growing into a ratings juggernaut, and Philbin is no small part of that success. He’s likable, believable, and good at his job—there’s a reason he was also picked to host one-time sensation “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in the late ’90s. Plus, he put up with Kathie Lee Gifford for 15 years, so he must be saint. Expect many a tribute to Reeg (Katie Couric will also do an interview special with him the night prior on ABC’s “20/20”), but know that “Live” will continue with current co-host Kelly Ripa going through the same guest-host tryout process that landed her the gig a decade ago. Up first: Jerry Seinfeld, November 21-23.

 

“Donald Glover: Weirdo” 

Saturday 11pm, Comedy Central

I initially dismissed Donald Glover as the weak link when “Community” premiered on NBC a few years back. His jock character, Troy, seemed one-note at first. But then he developed his delightful bromance with Abed, explored interpretive dance, and introduced us to Annie’s Boobs, and now I find Troy to be one of the show’s best characters, and Glover one of its most versatile performers. He’s also a gifted comedic writer—he wrote for the first three seasons of “30 Rock”—a burgeoning rapper, and partially responsible for the new Spider-Man being part African-American. And this weekend you can catch him in his first comedy special.

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“Vietnam in HD” 

Tuesday 9pm, History Channel

As President Obama prepares to bring an end to one of the most controversial military engagements of our time, History Channel looks back at an even more contentious deployment with this six-episode mini-series. Following a similar format to 2009’s award-winning “WWII in HD,” “Vietnam” explores the Vietnam War via 13 stories of American men and women who were directly involved in the war. Among them are a Marine turned author, a journalist who received the Bronze Star for rescuing wounded soldiers, a nurse who was on the front lines during the Tet Offensive, an infantryman whose experience transformed him into an anti-war activist, and the wife of the highest-ranking military prisoner-of-war during the conflict. The documentary uses archival footage—including video shot by the soldiers during their service—as well as narration by Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”) and voiceover work by Ed Burns, James Marsden, Dylan McDermott and even Tempestt Bledsoe (Vanessa Huxtable on “The Cosby Show”). 

 

“Metal Evolution” 

Friday 10pm, VH1 Classic

In 2005 anthropologist Sam Dunn released Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, a film he co-directed that attempted to document the origins and appeal of heavy-metal music. He has since made several other documentaries dealing with metal, and now VH1 Classic is bringing Dunn and his fixation on the hyper-aggressive genre to TV with an 11-episode series that will further flesh out the metal “family tree” he came up with in A Headbanger’s Journey. The series is part of VH1 Classic’s 11-day metal celebration that also includes an all-metal episode of “Pop-Up Video,” remastered “Behind the Music” episodes, the return of “That Metal Show” and more. Maybe somewhere in there they can explain why metal guys have such terrible taste in facial hair.

 

“Diane Sawyer Interview with Gabrielle Giffords” 

Monday 10pm, ABC

On January 8, 2011, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot outside a Tucson supermarket in a alleged assassination attempt that left her with life-threatening wounds to her head, as well as six bystanders dead and 13 more injured. Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, has given interviews about the attack and its effect on his wife and their family, but up until now Giffords has remained silent. On the eve of the release of a memoir by Giffords and Kelly, the spouses will talk with Diane Sawyer. Giffords’ exact participation in the interview is still unclear, as it depends on her level of recuperation.

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“Hell on Wheels” 

Sunday 10pm, AMC

Those still lamenting the loss of the late, great HBO Western “Deadwood” might want to give this new offering from AMC a try. This basic-cable channel, currently riding high on the massive success of zombie thriller “The Walking Dead,” continues to take chances with a series set in the 1860s. Relative unknown Anson Mount plays a former Confederate soldier tracking down the people who murdered his wife. His quest for vengeance takes him to the violent moving city that surrounds the creation of the transcontinental railroad. As he gets drawn into the shady wheelings and dealings around the nation’s western expansion, the Cheyenne lash out over the tracks being built on their ancestral land. The cast also includes rapper/actor Common and Colm Meaney (“Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine”).

 

“The Heart, She Holler”

Sunday 12:30am, Adult Swim

If you’re into weird, twisted stuff on the cutting edge of humor, Adult Swim is your channel. Cartoon Network’s awkward teenage brother is best known for pop-culture bait like “Robot Chicken” and “Venture Bros.,” but it also includes some totally bizarre shows, like this new six-night mini-series that sends up everything from “Dynasty” to “Twin Peaks.” The series follows what happens after a wealthy tycoon who more or less runs an isolated Southern town leaves his entire fortune to his long-lost son (Patton Oswalt, Ratatouille), inducing his crazy hick sisters (one of them played by Kristen Schaal, formerly Mel on “Flight of the Conchords”) to try to murder him. The preview is bananas—there’s sex with disembodied ghost hands. What else do you need to know?

 

“Kung-Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness” 

Monday 5:30pm, Nickelodeon

As far as computer-animated kids movies go, you could do a lot worse than Dreamworks’ Kung-Fu Panda and its recent sequel. The animation is slick and lush, the setting is interesting, and the characters and plot, though not terribly original, are fun enough for kids (talking animals that do martial arts!) and relatively tolerable for adults. This spin-off TV series throws the same characters from the films into new kung-fu adventures. Don’t listen for the voice actors from the movies, though: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, and Angelina Jolie are kind of busy. However, Lucy Liu will reprise her role as Master Viper. (Translation: someone please get Ling Woo a regular on-screen job.)

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“Beavis and Butt-head”

Thursday 10pm, MTV

First “Pop-Up Video,” now “Beavis and Butt-head”—the ’90s are alive and well on basic cable. The original “Beavis and Butt-head” ran on MTV from 1993 to 1997, a crudely animated show following two tasteless Texas high-schoolers who pepper their sociopathic outings with critiques of music videos. The cackling-idiot duo gained a surprising amount of cultural notoriety, even earning a successful film adaptation. Because America continues to get more stupid by the hour, MTV and creator Mike Judge are bringing these morons back for a whole new run. Everything will remain the same-—the animation, the setting, their ages—but now they’ll be offering cultural commentary on reality TV shows, ultimate fighting matches, and films, in addition to music videos.

 

“Allen Gregory” 

Sunday 8:30pm, Fox

Fox has locked down “The Simpsons” for two more seasons, but the network knows it needs to sow the seeds for the future of its “Animation Domination” block now. Enter “Allen Gregory,” a new cartoon from the mind of Jonah Hill (Superbad, Moneyball) about the world’s most pretentious 7-year-old (voiced by Hill) who is forced to attend public elementary school. Allen looks at his new classmates as little more than savages, but has no choice but to attempt to make the best of it in order to survive. Supporting characters include Allen’s father, Richard; Richard’s straight husband; and Julie, Allen’s stepsister who was adopted from Cambodia, and who hates his guts.

 

“Ghost Hunters
Halloween Live” 

Monday 7pm, Syfy

Plumbers by day, ghost hunters by night Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson lead the (remarkably telegenic) Atlantic Paranormal Society. The group features everyday folks with an interest in the supernatural investigating supposedly haunted locations, looking for evidence that can explain the various spooky sights and sounds. For the past several years “Ghost Hunters” has done live Halloween episodes from a number of haunts. This year’s six-hour event will explore the infamous Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Spring City, Pennsylvania, which was notorious for its shabby treatment of patients before being forcibly closed in the 1980s. The special will feature interactive elements so folks at home can play along, which should be more entertaining than handing out candy to our nation’s obese youth.

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