I know the holidays are here because our viewing options have expanded. For instance, an outstanding Revolution will be televised for the last time in the foreseeable future, the SNL season gets a bit longer with a holiday special and the guy with termites in his smile returns. That's all well and good, but the best way to know 'tis the season for holiday TV? All the political ads from a month ago have been replaced by ads with snow, red ribbons and toys that you know your kids will finish playing with in one-twentieth of the time it takes you to put them together.
Revolution, NBC, Monday, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
I hate to say "I told you so"…..aw, who am I kidding? I'm a TV critic. I live to say "I told you so." And if you'll recall, I did say at the beginning of the TV season that Revolution was one of the best new series. As it turns out, plenty of people agreed with me. This has become one of the fall's few breakout hits, and in terms of content, it's been able to take its high-concept premise – what happens when all electric power in the world goes away for good? – and become something deeper as it finishes up the first half of its season tonight.
The show has avoided painting itself into a creative corner by moving characters to the forefront and its clever plot hook onto the sidelines. Sure there is the slowly unraveling mystery about how the power went out and how those charming little necklaces could turn it back on, but mostly, Revolution has been playing out like an old-fashioned Western. A feisty young girl (Tracy Spiridakos) recruits a bitter old tough guy (Billy Burke) to go on a quest through a harsh land to take on the villain who destroyed her family. (Think True Grit or The Searchers, but with better special effects and more handsome faces.) There is plenty of action and enough unexpected character backstories to sustain the show for a long time to come. The only problem? Revolution is going away until some time next year in order to keep from showing reruns, so here's hoping its absence will make our hearts grow fonder for it.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, ABC, Tuesday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
Who knew that the most memorable holiday character (outside of that guy in a red suit with a desperate need for a Slim Fast shake) would be mean, green and speak in rhyme? And yet, the Grinch has become such a staple this time of year, he's a symbol of the season and the namesake for every crabby shopper yelling at a store clerk. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without him, Cindy Lou Who and roast beast.
Don't get me wrong. I do start feeling the holiday spirit when a stop-motion Santa Claus visits the Island Of Misfit Toys or when Snoopy decorates a tree the size of a twig. Still, it doesn't really feel like it is time to start celebrating until somebody's heart grows three sizes in one day. I've always loved how The Grinch ultimately features the same sentiment as other Christmas specials, but it does it with a subversive sense of humor that makes the sentimentality tolerable even to the real Grinches out there.
Leverage, TNT, Tuesdays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
It's an odd time for a series to return to the airwaves, but then again, it is holiday time so I'm happy to receive this gift of TV's snazziest caper show. Leverage is back after an extended hiatus to finish up its fifth season and continue being a series that has yet to disappoint. I've reminisced often about how I grew up worshipping The Rockford Files and the way it both mocked and indulged in traditional cop/action clichés. Few shows since then have managed to capture that tricky tone, but Leverage has always come pretty close. And there's no sign it'll be stopping anytime soon.
There have been a few changes that keep things progressing. Timothy Hutton still stars as the leader of a group of crooks who now ply their criminal trade to help the disadvantaged and unfortunate get even with their tormentors. However, their glitzy crime-fighting equipment and even their new headquarters (now it's a gourmet restaurant) have been upgraded and the wiseguy banter between the members of Hutton's team has grown even sharper. It's that chemistry that carries the day and these new episodes should make for fun items to unwrap for the next few weeks.
SNL Christmas, NBC, Wednesday, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
Saturday Night Live is kind of like a Christmas stocking. Sometimes, both are filled with goodies that bring smiles for hours. And just as often, both are stuffed with lumps of coal to signify some very bad behavior. As the years have gone by, the show has tended to contain much more of the latter, which is why it's always nice to see seasonal specials like this holiday-oriented one. It means the best sketches have been found and stitched together, so you don't have to sit through the multitude of lame ones. Whether it's something recent like "Christmas Duets With Michael Buble" or a classic like Adam Sandler's "Hanukah Song," here's hoping Santa has packed the right presents this year.
It's A Wonderful Life, NBC, Saturday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
There are certain firsts in life that we never forget. Some are pretty obvious, although decorum prevents me from mentioning in this column. So I'll just skip to this one: the first time I ever saw It's A Wonderful Life. It was Thanksgiving weekend. I was still in college. All my friends had gone home for the holiday, and as I sat there in our roach-infested apartment eating a turkey sandwich, I flipped around the dial until I came across this black-and-white image of Jimmy Stewart talking to an angel. I stopped, watched and an hour later, was weeping all over the canned cranberry sauce on my paper plate.
Ever since then, I've made it a point to watch this movie every holiday season. And frankly, I still want to bawl bucket loads by the time George Bailey reaches into his pocket and finds ZuZu's petals. It's very difficult these days to find a show or movie that doesn't have a snarky bone in its story. Not that cynicism is such a bad thing. We wouldn't have most network sit-coms or every single R-rated comedy without it. Still, especially this time of year, everyone wants to find something that appeals to his or her better nature. It's the holiday way to want to feel good about yourself and how you help others (yes, even that guy who stole your parking spot at the mall). And there is no movie that's ever been able to truly reinforce that feeling of goodwill better than It's A Wonderful Life. So if you haven't yet made it your holiday tradition, start now. And make sure you've got a box of tissues handy.