Forget the fiscal cliff. The real big finish to 2012 is happening on television. Whether it's top country music, a new game show, rednecks with duck calls or the season finales for two of cable's most intriguing dramas, there's plenty of TV worth watching. And who knows? If we do go off that cliff, what if we just consider it a special edition of Wipeout?
Mel Brooks Strikes Back!, HBO, Monday, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
As unaccustomed as I am to talking about me in these reviews….at least this week….so far….I figured it's worth sharing this anecdote. In the 20-some years I've been interviewing celebrities, my most exciting moment had to be interviewing Mel Brooks. There have been few funnier people on the planet during our lifetimes, and I'll never forget the moment I got a laugh out of him. (Sure it was a courtesy laugh, but still….) I bring this up right now to a) sound more connected than I really am and b) explain why you need to watch this documentary about the life of the man who gave the world Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. His sweetly sarcastic style is often imitated these days but nobody has ever done it with better jokes and a surprising amount of heart.
Take It All, NBC, Monday-Friday, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
I know what you're thinking….life is pretty good the way it is now, except that I don't get quite enough Howie Mandel. Well, worry not. NBC heard your concerns and has responded with this new Howie-hosted game show that will air every evening this week. The rules of the game have something to do with contestants picking prizes, and other contestants stealing that prize or going for another in the hope that it will be worth more than the previous one. As with most game shows, though, the rules are pretty irrelevant. What does count is having a host who is so experienced at this sort of thing, he knows exactly how to both gently mock yet also encourage the screaming participants. (Since, let's face it, you're at home not winning anything so who cares what the other people get to take.) So at least in this case, everyone is a winner all week.
American Country Awards, Fox, Monday,
You can't say I didn't warn you. Well, you could, but I'd point you to my mention of the American Music Awards a few weeks ago. I believe that's where I explained that awards season was about to begin, so be prepared for entertainers everywhere to telling you which of them is the best at what they do. This week, the back-patting continues with the American Country Awards. This time around, country music fan favorites will be revealed while the likes of Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Miranda Lambert and more show up to perform and (they hope) deliver a thank-you speech or two..
SyFy 20th Anniversary Special, SyFy, Monday, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
With the possible exception of the semi-literate spelling of its name, there are really nothing but good things going on with the SyFy Network. Over the past two decades, it's evolved from a quirky cable channel showing bad science fiction movies and reality shows about ghostbusters into the home of some of TV's most entertaining genre series, whether it was Battlestar Galactica or current programs like Lost Girl, Destination Truth and Warehouse 13. To celebrate its 20th anniversary of taking material for the boys who live in mom's basement and turning it mainstream, the network will have a retrospective special tonight featuring lots of clips, star interviews and hopefully at least one actual ghost (seeing as how in 20 years none of its ghost hunters have yet to locate even one).
The Concert For Sandy Relief, Check Listings, Wednesday
Seeing as how this is the time of year for giving, it's only fitting that several networks – HBO, Showtime, AMC, Sundance and others – are coming together for this special concert to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Among the scheduled performers are Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, The Who and Pearl Jam, and it'd be nice if they did such a good job at entertaining people that the holidays become just a little bit brighter for those they're working hard to help.
Duck Dynasty, A&E, Wednesday, 7 p.m./6 p.m. CT
For those who were worried that Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo might be just a bit too sophisticated, there's always Duck Dynasty to keep you entertained. And tonight, A&E gifts TV viewers with a marathon of episodes about the duck hunting Robertson family, who went from poor rednecks to wealthy….um….rednecks courtesy of the best-selling duck call they created. Now sure, there's something that feels overly produced (as in, set up) about the scrapes the bearded Robertson boys get themselves into. Being hauled in front of their homeowners association for burning leaves with gasoline in their front year, for instance. Still, they are so engaging and have such a relentlessly cheery attitude about life, Duck Dynasty is more fun than half the sit-coms on the air.
Royal Pains, USA, Sunday, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
Sure, it's nice to see Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch and all the other traditional holiday characters do their thing this time of year. But what I've always enjoyed more is the way shows that are on all year try to work the holidays into their storylines. Some do it well (Seinfeld) and some don't (you know who you are), but you have to admire Royal Pains for trying this week. Even though cable's nicest drama is on hiatus right now, it's offering fans this Christmas movie special in which Evan (Paolo Costanzo) and Paige (Brooke D'Orsay) get married in the midst of a snowstorm to prove it really is holiday time.
Survivor finale, CBS, Sunday, 8:30 p.m./7:30 p.m. CT
First and foremost, Survivor deserves a lot of credit for, well, surviving 25 seasons. I can't think of another reality show that's been as adept at changing things up yet not entirely shaking things up in order to keep the series interesting. And now we come to the latest finale, in a season that has been more intriguing than most thanks to the inclusion of Survivor fan and ex-Facts Of Life dream date Lisa Whelchel. It seems unlikely she'll make it all the way to the end, although to be fair, Blair did get plenty of survival training spending all those years with Natalie and Mrs. Garrett. And if all works out, maybe for Season 26….is the cast of Charles In Charge busy?
Dexter, Showtime, Sunday, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
Okay, I'll admit that there were plenty of weeks in this seventh season of Dexter where I swore I was done with it despite the many years when the show was one of the most satisfying crime dramas I'd ever seen. Seriously, a subplot involving the Russian mafia? At what point did one of TV's most daring crime dramas become an episode of Mannix? (Not that I don't love me some Mannix sometimes.) However, in the last couple of weeks, things have changed dramatically and as this week's season finale approaches, I have come back around to loving this show. As the focus has shifted back to serial killer for good, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), and the likelihood that he may final get caught, things are interesting and innovative again.
Homeland, Showtime, Sunday, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
Speaking of shows that started out strong, I can't think of any recent series that had a better first season than Homeland did last year. This drama about the return of a prisoner of war (Damian Lewis) who turns out to be a terrorist that a semi-psychotic CIA agent (Claire Danes) wants to bring down was everything you wanted in a thriller: intense, scary and very realistic. Unfortunately, that realism has been sorely lacking for the past several episodes as Homeland has turned into the new 24. The psychological tension of least season has largely been replaced by more conventional action-show thrills. Don't get me wrong. The thrills are still, well, thrilling and all. But here's hoping that there are a few surprises to come in tonight's second-season finale. If not, seeing as how this is President Obama's favorite drama, perhaps he could issue some sort of executive order demanding it get back on track.