Considered by some to be the French-Canadian equivalent of Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivee is undeniably one of the most popular TV personalities in Quebec. Tonight he steps out of the kitchen for a friendly game of shinny, which naturally is followed by comfort food, including cheese fondue and a deliciously tart lemon-pudding cake. C'est magnifique.
A Muppets Christmas:
Letters to Santa
NBC, CTV, 8 p.m.
Destined to become a holiday perennial, this special is aimed at kids and parents who grew up loving the Muppets. The story: The Muppets accidentally prevent the delivery of three children's letters to Santa. Enter Kermit the Frog, who coerces Miss Piggy, Beaker, Oscar and several other Muppet favourites to deliver the missing missives to the North Pole before Christmas Eve. Watch for special guest appearances from Nathan Lane, Uma Thurman, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sopranos regulars Steve Schirripa and Tony Sirico, both listed as "Mafia Guy."
A Rugrats Chanukah
Treehouse, 9 p.m.
A charming counter to the usual Santa-themed programs, this special episode of the animated series Rugrats first aired in 1996. The story opens on Hanukkah with kindly Grandma Minkus explaining the history behind the Festival of Lights. The toddler characters -Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil - naturally picture themselves in the story. Later on, Grandpa Boris becomes livid that his old nemesis Schlomo has been chosen to play the lead role in the Hanukkah play at the local synagogue.
The Canadian Liberator
History, 9:30 p.m.
This short documentary tells the story of homegrown hero Leo Major. The Montreal native signed up for the Canadian army in 1940 and was shipped overseas the following year with Le Regiment de la Chaudiere. On D-Day he landed with the Chaudieres and suffered a facial injury that left him with only partial vision in one eye. Major continued fighting with his regiment and later earned the distinguished conduct medal for his assistance in liberating the city of Zwolle in the Netherlands.
CTV, 7 p.m.
Who among us couldn't use a good laugh? The hit of last year's Hot Docs festival, this raucous documentary follows the efforts of Canadian filmmaker Albert Nerenberg to rediscover his own laughing ability in the wake of a family tragedy. For research, Nerenberg travels all over the world, with stops in India, London and Tanzania, and interviews cardiologists and neuroscientists on the subject.
The Polar Express
ABC, 8 p.m.
Filmed in live-action animation format, the adventure begins on Christmas Eve with a young lad yearning to learn the true meaning of Christmas. Soon after, an ominous train called the Polar Express pulls up in front of his house and a genial conductor, voiced by Tom Hanks, invites him on a journey to the North Pole. All told, Hanks voices five characters in the film, including Santa Claus himself.
TLC, 9 p.m.
A new entry in the supernatural TV genre, this program is guaranteed to raise goosebumps. The four-part series follows a "case manager" and a team of female psychics as they assist families struggling with paranormal activity in their homes. In the opener, the team comes to the rescue of a Massachusetts family claiming their son was attacked by a shadowy figure in the basement rec room.
Criss Angel: Mindfreak
Discovery, 11 p.m.
The goth-rock magician/illusionist became hugely popular when this series launched on A&E in 2005 and then faded from the spotlight. In tonight's fifth-season episode, Angel attempts yet another death-defying illusion with a stunt titled "Death Crash." The setup: five upright coffins are placed on the Las Vegas strip and the gathered crowd of onlookers have to choose which coffin will be smashed to pieces by an enormous muscle-car. Of course, Angel is inside one of the coffins and all are eventually crushed to splinters.
CHCH, 9 p.m.
This underappreciated 1988 comedy stars Bill Murray as the heartless TV executive Frank Cross. A misanthropic vodka-swilling humbug, Frank is the sort of person who insults the homeless and sends his employees towels in lieu of a bonus. Borrowing loosely from Charles Dickens's fable, Frank's Christmas Eve brings the visitation of three ghosts - Christmas Past (David Johansen), Christmas Present (Carol Kane) and Christmas Future (Chaz Conner). Even with the inevitable treacly conclusion, the story works off Murray's manic comic performance and watch for cameos from Paul Shaffer, Mary Lou Retton and the late jazz legend Miles Davis.
A Touch of Frost
TVO, 10 p.m.
Broadcast last year on U.K. television, this crime-drama is an early present for fans of David Jason's portrayal of Detective Inspector William Edward Frost, aka Jack Frost. In the grim plotline, the naked bodies of three young men are found arranged in a triangle at an old burial site. A visiting American anthropologist theorizes the deaths are ritual killings, which Frost brushes off. At the same time, his caseload picks up a woman found dead on a houseboat. When he discovers the victim's boyfriend had a previous girlfriend die under mysterious circumstances, the great detective sets his trap.
Christmas at the White House: An Oprah Primetime Special
ABC, CTV, 10 p.m.
The first lady of daytime television enjoys unprecedented access to the first family in this new holiday special. According to ABC press materials, the program format will include an exclusive one-on-one interview with Barack Obama - Oprah's first interview with the president since he took office - but it's likely more time will be devoted to the behind-the-scenes preparations for the holiday season at the White House. Will Michelle hang mistletoe in the Oval Office? A nation waits.
Dr. Seuss: How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
CBC, 8 p.m.
First shown in 1966, the story of a miserable wretch named the Grinch who plans to ruin Christmas for the Whos of Whoville remains a classic for three reasons: First, The story by Dr. Seuss is brisk and witty and avoids the sentimental trappings of most kids' stories. Secondly, the narration by the late Boris Karloff, who also voices the Grinch, is gently superb. And finally, the animation by Chuck Jones, who spent decades on Bugs Bunny and other cartoon favourites, is timeless and, at times, quite touching.
The Sing Off
NBC, 8 p.m.
In NBC's latest misjudgment of viewer tastes - remember Jay Leno? - the peacock network has scheduled this talent contest during the holiday season, presumably in hope of finding a viewing audience among weary Christmas shoppers. Hosted by Nick Lachey, the show has eight a cappella groups competing for a recording contract with a major label. For the next four nights, the groups will sing on live television, and be judged by a celebrity panel that includes Ben Folds, Boyz II Men singer Shawn Stockman and Nicole Scherzinger, who sort of sings with the group known as Pussycat Dolls.
The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976
Bravo!, 9 p.m.
The late, great Johnny Cash is the reason to watch this remarkable program. The man in black apparently loved the holidays and shows rare enthusiasm in this special, which first aired on CBS in 1976. The format couldn't be simpler: Johnny and wife June throw a Christmas party in their rustic ranch house, and all their musical pals drop in. The guest list includes Roy Clark, Tony Orlando and country-guitar virtuoso Merle Travis. The program is followed by the 1977 Cash Christmas special, with the 1978 and 1979 editions airing tomorrow night.
Can Obama Save the World?
CBC News Network, 10 p.m.
This BBC documentary features British reporter Justin Rowlatt determining whether Barack Obama is on track with the promises he made to address global climate change while on the presidential campaign trail last year. Rambling across the U.S. via public transit, Rowlatt stops in Michigan to attempt some ice-fishing and discovers a profitable wind-turbine industry deep in the heart of Texas.
Mickey's Christmas Carol
CBC, 8 p.m.
First shown in 1983, this cartoon capsulizes the classic Dickens tale into a neat half-hour format. The Scrooge
persona is rightly assumed by the venerable Disney character of Scrooge McDuck, voiced by Alan Young. The role of misbegotten employee Bob Cratchit goes to Mickey Mouse. Everyone knows the story of Scrooge's redemption and the cartoon manages to work in cameos from such venerable Disney figures as Jiminy Cricket, Goofy and even those adorable chipmunks Chip and Dale.
NCIS: Los Angeles
CBS, Global, 8 p.m.
This season's highest-rated new series, the NCIS spinoff has engaged viewers with simple plotlines and plenty of action. The show has also rebooted the acting career of Chris O'Donnell, who stars in the pivotal role of special agent G. Callan. Tonight's episode has a festive theme, of sorts. While most of the NCIS team are busily putting up Christmas decorations, Callan races to solve the case of a Marine murdered by an exploding cellphone and to
locate the remaining members of the man's military unit before they suffer the same fate.
A&E, 10 p.m.
Currently one of the most downloaded A&E programs, this documentary-style series follows the life of college-aged ghost-hunter Ryan Buell and the fellow members of Paranormal Research Society (PRS). Tonight's fourth-season opener is particularly creepy: Ryan and his team travel to a New Jersey home where unpleasant deaths occurred years before. The present owners are obviously rattled and have reported ghostly apparitions and hearing hushed conversations. Scarier yet, they claim to be having suicidal thoughts. Ryan suspects one of the occupants may be the victim of demonic possession.
Magnificent Mind at Any Age with Dr. Amen
PBS, 11:30 p.m.
Getting old needn't mean getting senile, according to Dr. Daniel Amen. Although the self-help guru's methods have been roundly criticized in the medical community - and this special appears to be little more than an infomercial to sell his book of the same name - there is some merit
to the common-sense methods presented here. In the broadest strokes, the program promotes a healthy diet, exercise, the use of natural vitamins and supplements and positive thinking for people over 65. The benefits, claims Dr. Amen, include heightened memory, better impulse control and an improved sex life - without Viagra.
Ice Pilots NWT
History, 7 and 10 p.m.
Still holding strong in ratings - very few shows on Canadian cable can pull in 400,000-plus ratings each week - this reality series now has viewers fully engaged in the lives of the men and women working at Yellowknife's Buffalo Airways. In tonight's new outing, lead mechanic Cory Dodd is forced to work under tight deadline to convert two lightweight planes into transatlantic aircraft capable of flying to Turkey.
CBC, 8 p.m.
A throwback to simpler TV times, this special stars Cynthia Dale in a whimsical tableau. The former Street Legal star plays Rose Lunette, proprietor of a second-hand store specializing in strange curios. A woebegone 11-year-old named Samantha (Maranda Thomas) enters in search of a Christmas present for her older sister. Through the magic of special effects, Sam is transported into a fantasy world that includes a hip singer named Slim (Tom Cavanagh) and Santa's brother Jerry (Ed Asner), who runs the lost and found department for missing toys. Along the way, there is ample singing and dancing.
The New Adventures of Old Christine
CBS, A, 8 p.m.
Now into its fifth season, this genteel sitcom continues to be watchable for the presence of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The former Seinfeld star brings a human quality to her portrayal of ditzy single mom Christine Campbell, and has been awarded a best-actress Emmy as a result. Tonight's holiday episode is in keeping with most in the series: Christine bridles at the idea of attending her neighbour's annual festive block party, but once there, she's thrilled to pick up a juicy piece of neighbourhood gossip.
Saturday Night Live Christmas Presents a Very Gilly Christmas 2009
NBC, Global, 9 p.m.
Airing here 24 hours before its broadcast in the U.S., this retro-special recaps the most memorable holiday moments culled from SNL's 35-year history. Confirmed sketches include Steve Martin's "Holiday Wish," the remake of It's a Wonderful Life with an alternate ending and, of course, the more recent music-video classic of D-k in a Box, performed by Justin Timberlake and Adam Samberg. Enjoy.
CBS, CTV, 10 p.m.
Tonight's episode of the sturdy crime-drama boasts guest appearances by celubutante Kim Kardashian and ET hostess Vanessa Minnillo. The story follows the investigation into the murder of a reformed drug addict found dead in a New York alleyway. Although there are signs of a relapse and overdose, CSI lead Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) suspects a premeditated murder, and as usual, he's correct.
Storytellers in Motion
Bravo!, 7 p.m.
Tonight's episode profiles filmmaker Paul M. Rickard, who has spent nearly two decades creating films to preserve aboriginal language in Canada. The co-founder and director of the annual Weeneebeg Aboriginal Film and Video Festival, Rickard's most famous films include Okimah and the documentary Finding My Talk: A Journey into Aboriginal Languages, which covered his ongoing efforts to provide youth with workshops to encourage the language in his own community of Moose Factory, Ont.
HGTV, 8 p.m.
Tonight's show spends time with Fred and Sara, who believed they found their dream home in a two-storey historical house in a trendy downtown neighbourhood. The home inspector found no problems, but then things started to go terribly wrong. When Mike Holmes and his crew arrive, they immediately discover the house is in even worse condition than the couple imagined.
Peter, Paul & Mary: Carry It On
PBS, 9:30 p.m.
Long before the Beatles or the Summer of Love, there was Peter, Paul and Mary. For a brief period in the early sixties, the original folk group was among the top-selling acts in American music, with extended radio airplay given to songs like If I Had a Hammer and 500 Miles. The trio are also credited as the first arbiters of social change in music, courtesy of their renditions of Blowin' in the Wind and Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin'.
Slice, 10 p.m.
One of the best Canadian reality shows on the dial, X-Weighted follows the innumerable paths taken by people to lose weight. Tonight focuses on wisecracking radio announcers Angela and
Nicolle, both annoyed by the extra pounds gained from years of sitting in front of a microphone for a living. Once they team up for the weight-loss regimen, the pair discover that their bad eating and work habits have become excuses for masking deeper issues about body image.
"THIS WEEK / HIGHLIGHTS." Globe & Mail [Toronto, Canada] 11 Dec. 2009: R21. Popular Magazines. Web. 14 Dec. 2009.
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