It's never too early to start opening holiday gifts. Whether it's the chance to cross the Amazing Race finish line, celebrate the return of Grammy time or soak up something Supernatural, feel free to dig into what I managed to get you so far. And as for what you're getting me, all I can say is that to really provide you with the quality reviews you deserve every week, a quality 52-inch flat screen would really do the trick.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, ABC Family, Monday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
What with all the shopping and wrapping and cooking and attending of kids' holiday pageants that occupy our days this time of year, we can sometimes lose track of what's most important: re-watching our favorite Christmas movies. There's nothing more comforting, and no better reminder of what time of year it is, than finding the movie or two that meant a lot to you growing up and sharing them with your children. There are plenty to choose from, but I highly recommend watching Chevy Chase stumble and explode his way through a very scary Christmas. Any film that includes not only the "Jelly Of the Month" Club and a skyrocketing Santa lawn ornament truly captures the spirit of the season.
Blake Shelton's Not So Family Christmas, NBC, Monday, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
Some of the advances of the past 40 years or so have no doubt been for the better. There's car airbags, for instance. The Internet has certainly had its moments too. And cell phones have made life better for many people. However, not every advancement is for the best. The banishment of TV holiday variety specials, for instance. I used to love it when people you wouldn't expect suddenly showed up to celebrate the season (this means you, David Bowie and Bing Crosby and the cast of Star Wars). Blake Shelton apparently shares my feelings because he's come up with this variety special featuring comedy, music, some sappy seasonal sentiment and incongruous appearances by the likes of Jay Leno and fellow Voice coach Christina Aguilera. Here's hoping this is a gift that keeps on giving, with over-the-top holiday production numbers and enough good-bad one-liners to fill a stocking.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, CBS, Tuesday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
Speaking of holiday traditions, as we apparently are, here's one that will forever be known as the Christmas special that set the standard for nearly 50 years of Christmas specials. There's been countless other shows and even car commercials that have tried to replicate the stop-motion animation, singing snowman and misfit toys. Still, there's nothing like the original, which returns tonight for its annual appearance. Watching it makes for some great holiday nostalgia, bringing back memories of your childhood, only without the horrible presents like socks and a block of cheese (and yes, I did receive those as presents more than once).
Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, CBS, Tuesday, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
I like the way CBS refers to this annual event as a "fashion show." This would lead you to believe that it is something where women can see what styles will soon be in vogue and way out of their price range. The truth is, this is a special for the men of the house. If history is any indication, this will be an endless parade of woman gliding around in skimpy outfits (at least a few of which will have wings) to loud rock music. The audience, meanwhile, will largely be men assuring their wives they're only watching in order to decide what gifts they're going to buy them.
Sons Of Anarchy, FX, Tuesday, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
If you didn't listen to me the first time about catching this intense drama because it's not what you think it'll be, here's one last chance to give it a shot before the fifth season ends. Sure, this drama about the struggles of a motorcycle gang can be pretty dark – this year's body count seems exceptionally high, thanks to the nefarious ways of newcomer Pope (Harold Perrineau) and the ongoing evil of Clay (Ron Perlman). Still, whether it's a son's struggle to relate to his mom or a man trying to lead a better life and take his friends with him, it's continually surprising how relatable this stunning series is. Even if the closest you'll ever come to joining a biker gang is taking your kids for a ride around the park on your new Schwinns.
The Hour, BBC America, Wednesdays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
As my son reminds me constantly, nobody likes a history lesson. I used to point out to him that that isn't entirely true. History teachers, for instance, probably enjoy history lessons. But now, I may start having him watch this well-done British series and see if it makes learning about the past more fun. It's certainly worked that way for me. Now in its second season here in the States, The Hour is part Mad Men/part 60 Minutes/part The Newsoom. Set in the late '50s, the series follows the lives of the staff at a high-minded BBC news program. And because it's all cloaked in several sudsy subplots – sometimes it seems that everyone either has or wants to sleep with each other – the ongoing discussions about the social and political issues of the day are much easier to tolerate. (The English accents don't hurt either, because nothing makes history seem classier than when you hear two Brits talking about the Suez Canal crisis.)
Nashville, ABC, Wednesday, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
Three months ago, I was convinced this was going to be one of the biggest new shows of the fall season. Sure, the story of an aging country singer (Connie Britton) battling a young upstart (Hayden Pannetierre) and her troublesome family might as well be called Laundry because it's so soapy. Still, this was a high-class soap, and the dramatic storylines were a perfect match for the overwrought country music its characters sang. My prediction hasn't quite come true. Nashville continues to struggle in the ratings and after tonight's mid-season finale, it goes away for a few weeks. Hence, I recommend giving it an appropriate sendoff by tuning in to boost its numbers. It'll be worth it, even if the closest you've ever come to listening to country music is buying your daughter a Taylor Swift CD.
Grammy Nominations Concert, CBS, Wednesday, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
Here's why I love the Grammys. Not only is it the only awards show where you get to see the performers receiving trophies actually do what it is they're getting honored for (when was the last time you saw Nicole Kidman or Jon Hamm get up and do a scene from their movie or show during the Oscars or Emmys?). It's also the only awards show that announces its nominees with a live concert, which happens again tonight. Hosts LL Cool J and Taylor Swift will let us know who will be getting up onstage in February, when the Grammys air, but they'll also introduce the Who, Maroon 5 and others. And let's just hope they get nominations during this broadcast, because that could put a little bit of a damper on their appearance.
Supernatural, The CW, Wednesday, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
I can't help it. I am compelled to mention TV's most underrated show once again. Supernatural is in the midst of yet another standout season, which comes to its mid-year finale tonight, and there's still no other series that can be both this philosophical (our monster-hunting heroes must deal with a Heaven that isn't always heavenly) and hysterical (last week's episode featured a killer who committed his bad deeds in Looney Tunes cartoon fashion). Don't be fooled by the fact that this is a CW series, which means everyone looks like the prom king and queen at your kids' high school. The sensibility at work here is more grown-up than it is on most older network series.
The Amazing Race, CBS, Sunday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
The best reality show on TV comes to the end of its latest season with tonight's episode, and as always, it's both a happy and sad occasion. It's happy because there's something very cathartic about seeing the final three teams go through their final million dollar paces. With a few exceptions, everyone has been so relentlessly nice this year that I'll be fine with whoever comes out on top (although at my daughter's insistence, I'm kind of pulling for good ol' Chippendale boys Jaymes and James). And as for why the finale will be sad, it's because even though my kids are teens and tweens at this point, watching The Amazing Race remains one of the few things that still brings us together every week. It's the perfect show to watch with your family, and until it returns next spring, I have to find some new way to keep my children from using the extra hour to send out more texts.