Holiday television can often seem like re-gifting – lazy networks recycle old episodes of shows rather than share something new. Luckily, as Katie Couric looks back on 2012 and the final Voice and X Factor contestants learn their respective fates, there are enough shiny new things airing this week to keep you from noticing all the familiar stuff.
Oliver Stone's Untold History Of the United States, Showtime, Monday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
Oliver Stone is like the guy you meet at a holiday party after he's had a bit too much spiked punch. The Oscar-winning director of movies like Platoon and Wall Street is a bit too loud, a bit too enamored of his own conspiracy theories and a bit too dismissive of those who don't agree with them. Still, he's always fascinating to listen to and that's why this new series wherein he shares his own version of how American history has gone down will be something worth watching (although perhaps not something to necessarily agree with).
Gossip Girl, The CW, Monday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
I realize that even though this series has been on for six seasons, the chances of anyone over the age of 30 watching it are about as strong as the chances of anyone over the age of 30 texting the phrase "Totes whatevs" to a friend. Still, if you've got a teenage daughter, chances are she is very sad this week because this uninhibited show about the wild lives of rich and troubled New York teenagers ends with this episode. So, if you want to create the illusion of being a cool and understanding parent, it wouldn't be a bad idea to tune in to the finale with her in order to offer your support.
How I Met Your Mother, CBS, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
First and foremost, it's amazing to me that this series has gone eight seasons and still hasn't lived up to its title. And this year seemed like the year we would finally meet the mother of Ted's (Josh Radnor) kids, but so far, the show seems more eager to be the new Friends, with all sorts of quirky plot devices, than it does with revealing the love of his life. I doubt the secret will be revealed this week but then again, the always-innovative, semi-surreal sit-com is airing back-to-back holiday episodes so perhaps there will at least be a few clues.
The Voice, NBC, Monday and Tuesday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
The third go-around for the best music competition series on television finishes up this week, and with all due respect to the contestants who have been singing their hearts out all season, I honestly couldn't care less who wins. Sure there have been some great performances during the fall and Cassadee, Nicholas and Kelly all deserve to be there. And sure I still miss Melanie and Suzanna in particular. But as we all know, the key to this series isn't so much the singing talents of the contestants. It's the side commentary of the coaches you really tune in for. So I'll be happy with whoever walks away the winner but will be seriously annoyed if Blake and Adam don't swap at least one insult with each other.
Don't Trust the B****, ABC, Tuesday, 9:30 p.m./8:30 p.m. CT
I realize how frequently I complain about this new era of television comedy, and the way every show seems more eager than the next to create mean-spirited characters who say nasty things about each other. So here I am, praising this sophomore sit-com about a mean-spirited Manhattan woman (Krysten Ritter) who is fond of saying nasty things about everyone around her. Why is that? Well, there's something so over the top about all of this (particularly James Van Der Beek playing a nastier version of a guy named James Van Der Beek) that it's almost a parody of all the other mean-spirited, less self-aware comedies out there.
A Home For the Holidays With Rascal Flatts, CBS, Wednesday, 8 p.m./7 p.m.
Heart-warming tradition is what this time of year is all about, and there are few TV traditions that will leave you feeling better than this one. For 13 years, Home For the Holidays has told the touching tales of real-life adoptees in order to inspire viewers to look into adoption as well. Country stars Rascal Flatts are the guests of honor for the 14th annual special, and the likes of Matchbox 20 and Melissa Etheridge will also be on hand to perform and share their own adoption stories.
The X Factor, Fox, Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
Speaking of music shows, as we just were a moment ago, this other competition series reaches its second-season conclusion this week as well. And it does so with far less fanfare than The Voice. The problem isn't the talent of the singers. Young Carly Rose is truly a find that has a great career ahead of her, whether she wins this week or not. The problem with X Factor has been the forced chemistry between Simon Cowell and coaches Britney Spears and Demi Lovato, who seem more scripted than honest in their interactions with each other and the singers. So, as opposed to the Voice finale, here's hoping that this show decides to focus on the performers rather than the judges' posturing.
Amish Mafia, Discovery, Wednesdays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
We've learned a lot of things from television over the years. For instance, I now know that a bunch of kids who travel in a van with a talking dog solve mysteries better than the police. Perhaps most importantly, though, we all have come to realize that the term "reality" is a very elastic one when it comes to reality television. And no show proves that theory more than this new series about a group of men who enforce Amish law by any means necessary. There's something about the whole concept that seems more like a plot for a Bruce Willis action film, and the reenactments of incidents rather than actual footage don't help. Still, there's something so bizarre about it all, you can't help but watch.
The Year With Katie, ABC, Wednesday, 9:30 p.m./8:30 p.m.
It's kind of appropriate that Katie Couric is anchoring this 90-minute special that looks back on the most intriguing stories of the past year. After all, she's had a pretty interesting year herself, going from a much-maligned network news anchor to the now Oprah courtesy of her daytime talk show. This retrospective will be anything but light – it'll deal with everything from the year's multiple shooting tragedies to the presidential election to Hurricane Sandy – but the same upbeat attitude that made Couric a heavily-criticized anchor will serve her much better in this more relaxed setting. The only question is, will she be reporting on her own year at some point?
CMA Country Christmas, ABC, Thursday, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
I'm not quite sure why country music is so identified with the holiday season – this is the fourth country-themed special I've noticed and yet the closest we've come to a rock holiday is Schroeder banging away on his piano in a Peanuts special. In any case, this two-hour show will feature the likes of Keith Urban, Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles and Lady Antbellum sharing Christmas music and memories. I just wonder that, given the country-Christmas connection, does this mean Santa's neck will be as red as his suit?