Thursday TV: Olaf, Direct from the Theater

OlafWhen it appeared last month as the overly long short before the Disney hit “Coco,” it garnered some of the worst “Frozen” backlash. So here it is as it may have intended to be, another animated holiday TV special. “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” (ABC, 9 p.m.) features the voices of the original hit. No, “Coco” doesn’t follow it. Instead it’s the 2009 “Disney Prep & Landing” (ABC, 8:30 p.m.), about a couple of elves.

There’s a whole lot of holiday music specials tonight. The “iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2017” (The CW, 8 p.m.) had the first performance by Taylor Swift in eight month, with a guest spot by Ed Sheehan. Also: the Chainsmokers, Fifth Harmony, Liam Pyane, Camila Cabello and Niall Horan.

Fifth Harmony also appears on “Showtime at the Apollo: Christmas” (Fox, 8 p.m.) with Boyz II Men, Snoop Dogg and DMX. Steve Harvey hosts.

On “Taraji’s White Hot Holidays” (Fox, 9 p.m.), the “Empire” star hosts Chaka Khan, Ciara, Taye Diggs, Faith Evans, Fergie, Jussie Smollett, Leslie Odom Jr., Salt-N-Pepa and the Ying Yang Twins.

Thursday Night Football has Denver at Indianapolis (NBC, 8:20 p.m.).

“The Great Holiday Baking Show” (ABC, 9 p.m.) concentrates on desserts and cookies.

Seems like soldiers deserve better than the “WWE Tribute to the Troops: From San Diego” (USA, 8 p.m.).

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Wednesday TV: Ed Helms Back at the Desk

TedNelmsThings were more clear cut back when he was on “The Daily Show,” when fake news was just another word for satire. But now the term is a political weapon and there are a handful of satiric news shows. So Ed Helms seems a latecomer with his one-time one hour special “The Fake News with Ted Nelms” (Comedy Central, 10 p.m.).

It was amusing to watch people get all excited about Golden Globe nominations this week, as they are the results of the shadowy Hollywood Foreign Press Association, an aggregation of 85 or so foreign or freelance writers working for publications you never heard of (if they publish at all; some investigations have found no clips from some members). But Hollywood glam is Hollywood glam, and even on shaky pretenses, when there’s a red carpet full of movie and TV stars, people pay attention.

So not only are the Golden Globes a big prime time event, so is a show tonight that is a compilation of past events. Debra Messing and Eric McCormack of “Will & Grace” (which was, unsurprisingly, nominated) host Golden Globes 75th Anniversary Special (NBC, 9 p.m.), chock with past moments, like Renee Zellweger being in the bathroom when their award was announced. They probably won’t cover that era when fraud took the whole thing off of network TV for six years.

The importance of the connector of North and South America in migration is seen in “Panama’s Animal Highway” (Smithsonian Channel, 8 p.m.). Here’s a piece I wrote about it for Smithsonian

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Tuesday TV: Apatow Tries Standup Again

ApatowAs a teen, Judd Apatow really wanted to be a comedian. it was shyness in part that got him sidetracked to producing and directing comedies. But then the stand-up bug hit him again. A performance at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal was captured for the special “Judd Apatow: The Return” (Netflix, streaming).

Back when she was in the ska punk band No Doubt nobody would have expected her to have a network TV special. But that was before “The Voice” and Blake Shelton, who also appears on “Gwen Stefani’s You Make It Feel Like Christmas” (NBC, 9 p.m.). Other guests include Ne-Yo, Ken Jeong, Chelsea Handler and Seth MacFarlane.

Hats off for the quick turnaround with a “When Harry Met Meghan: A Royal Engagement” (TLC, 9 p.m.) cable special.

Questlove, Dr. Phil and Charlene Hunter-Gault are “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings).

And there’s campaign coverage on the cable news outlets tonight about a certain senatorial race in Alabama.

What were the 12 best holiday commercials ever? They are announced on “Greatest Holiday Commercials Countdown” (The CW, 8 p.m.).

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Monday TV: Descending Into ‘A Gray State’

GrayStateErik Nelson’s documentary “A Gray State” (A&E, 10 p.m.) is about an Iraqi veteran in Minnesota who was trying to make his own dystopian film (named “Gray State”) about an encroaching police state. Paranoid right wingers embraced his violent trailer enough to help fund it. But before he could get it made he was found dead in an apparent double murder suicide that killed his wife and daughter as well.

The resulting documentary is about the descent into madness, in a film produced by Werner Herzog, who worked with Nelson previously on another documentary about the delusions and tragedy, “Grizzly Man.”

The 22nd season of rose distribution and ritual date removal doesn’t start until New Year’s Day. But in till then there is “The Bachelor: A Countdown to Arie” (ABC, 10 p.m.), a preview of the future bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. You may need the refresher: the race car driver was a runner-up  in Emily Maynard’s season more than five years ago.

Similarly, the second season of “Better Late Than Never” (NBC, 10 p.m.) doesn’t start for a while, but there’s a one hour preview tonight of the agreeable travel show that features Henry Winkler, William Shatner, George Foreman and Terry Bradshaw. Looks like they’ll be the ugly Americans in Europe this season.

There’s no need to drill for oil in the Alaskan wildlife refuge with all of the new clean energy technology happening, as enumerated in the documentary “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” (HBO, 8 p.m.) from filmmaker Jamie Redford, son of actor Robert Redford.

Filmmaker Bob Poole finds himself a “Man Among Cheetahs” (Nat Geo Wild, 9 p.m.) in a new nature film about a female cheetah and her cubs in Brazil.

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Sunday: Reviving a High School Musical

EncoreAn actual high school alumni class in California returns to stage a production of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” 20 years after they first did so in the one-hour special “Encore” (ABC, 10 p.m.). This time, though, professional directors and choreographers get involved and they’ve got to get it done in a week. Plus they have to juggle jobs and home life (but at least not homework and sports). Kristen Bell hosts and serves as an encouragement.

Those weird gothic decorations are shown off by Melania in the annual “White House Christmas” (HGTV, 6 p.m.).

It’s Baltimore at Pittsburgh (NBC, 8:20 p.m.) in Sunday Night Football. Earlier games include Dallas at Giants (Fox, 1 p.m.), Washington at Chargers (CBS, 4 p.m.) and Philadelphia at Rams (Fox, 4:25 p.m.).

Claire and Jamie race through Jamaica to save Young Ian on the third season finale of “Outlander” (Starz, 8 p.m.).

“Madame Secretary” (CBS, 10 p.m.) has a holiday party, and somebody is in cahoots with the Russians.

The ninth season starts for “Robot Chicken” (Nickelodeon, 11:30 p.m.).

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David Rawlings Machine at Lincoln Theatre

IMG_4976David Rawlings Machine takes to the empty stage as they would if they were around during the end of the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago or more.

At the Lincoln Theatre in Washington Wednesday, with two guys in big hats and two women in long cotton dresses, they rather resembled a rural string band that could have assembled on anybody’s porch a century ago or more, picking out music, interlocking rhythms and singing harmonies about many of the same kinds of concerns. Americana indeed.

Rawlings may first have come to notice as the backing guitarist for his partner Gillian Welch, who, happily, is also part of the Machine. But here, the smiling, good natured Rawlings is front and center.

His voice is OK at best; his songs often simple constructions. What jumps out, and what brings the audience, are his guitar solos.

He had a few guitars on hand, but mostly used one mighty mahogany 1935 Epiphone Olympic, with a sprucewood arched top. It seemed a tiny instrument – less than 14 inches wide — for all he brought out of it. With a tone midway between the high, bright sound of a mandolin and the deeper tones of a more conventional guitar, he flatpicks his way into a superhighway of inventive melody, with one turn inspiring the next, faster and faster, but never losing its soul or appeal.

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Saturday: Holiday Romances Won’t Stop

Christmas in Mississippi CR: LIFETIMEThere’s a lot going on these days in the South, from the impending Alabama election to today’s opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Neither will be likely touched upon in the the new holiday romance “Christmas in Mississippi” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.) with Jana Kramer returning to help her mother with decorations and reuniting with a high school sweetheart. With Wes Brown, Faith Ford and Barry Bostwick.

Amid the family wedding on the new TV romance “The Christmas Cottage” (Hallmark, 8 p.m.) there is the myth that whoever stays in the holiday-themed cottage will have everlasting love. (Or rather, anyone who stars in a holiday-themed cable movie will find romance with an old flame). With Merritt Patterson and Steve Lund.

College football is practically over but for the bowl games, so prime time is turned over to “Mary Poppins” (AB, 8 p.m.), holiday specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (CBS, 8 p.m.), “Frosty the Snowman” (CBS, 9 p.m.) and “Frosty Returns” (CBS, 9:30 p.m.), as well as network reruns of “The Gifted” (Fox, 8 p.m.), “Will & Grace” (NBC, 8 p.m.), “Superstore” (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) and “Lethal Weapon” (Fox, 9 p.m.) and the newsmagazines “Dateline” (NBC, 9 p.m.) and “48 Hours” (CBS, 10 p.m.).

But the Heisman Trophy (ESPN, 8 p.m.) is given in New York.

Hugh Jackman puts on his Wolverine claws again in “Logan” (HBO, 8 p.m.), making its premium cable debut. Also on tonight: Olivier Assayas’ spooky “Personal Shopper” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) with Kristen Stewart.

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Joe Henry Addresses a Tearful Nation

IMG_4967A saving grace of not exactly being a household name is the ability of fans to hear the music of someone like Joe Henry in such an intimate setting as Jammin’ Java, a stripmall oasis in a Virginia suburb outside of D.C.

A hushed crowd of 100 or so is perfectly suited to the nuanced chamber-folk with a jazz flourish that Henry produces with his fine L.A. band.

Henry’s deep voice matches his brainy songs that often march to deliberate beats. Still quite youthful at 57, he began the show Tuesday solo, deconstructing one of his most enduring, enigmatic tunes,  “Trampoline.”

Then he was joined by his longtime band that includes Patrick Warren on keyboards, David Pilch on bass, the inventive Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion and Henry’s son Levon on tenor saxophone and alto clarinet – an expressive instrument that snaked its way into a lot of songs, providing the perfect mournful undertone.

Another Henry who wasn’t a relation — jazz saxophonist Vincent Henry — sat in for a few songs and he and the younger horn man seemed to have a good time playing off of one another. It was a trip to watch Bellerose work — for some songs he’d have both sticks in one hand handling the set, while the other was reserved for tambourine. He knew when to build and when to hang back. There was nothing standard about his approach.

Henry said he was reluctant to use a gig as a way to promote new product — “and yet,” he added, before going into the first of what would be nine of the 11 cuts from Thrum, his 14th solo album, released in late October.

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Friday TV: ‘The Crown’ Returns, Regally

thecrown_208_unit_00524_r2-h_2017Netflix has a lot of money to spend on programming, but they simply lavish it on “The Crown” (Netflix, streaming), the opulent series about the earlier life of Queen Elizabeth II which drops the entirety of its second season today. While barely remembered crises of the late 50s and early 60s occur, the focus comes more on the relationship of the royal couple. Claire Foy is faultless as Elizabeth (except for a tad too glamorous); Matt Smith is Prince Philip. It’s beautifully done history that ought to snag every former “Downton Abbey” fan.

Elizabeth forces Philip to go on a five month tour, but it’s nothing like “The Grand Tour” (Amazon, streaming), the car and adventure series led by Jeremy Clarkson formerly of “Top Gear,” whose James May and Richard Hammond are on board here as well.

Beyonce gives Colin Kaepernick the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award at Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsperson of the Year Awards (NBC Sports, 8 p.m.), where top athletes are honored for their sports achievements as well as humanitarian efforts. It was taped Tuesday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

One of the more unusual holiday movies on TV this season is online. “El Camino Christmas” (Netflix, streaming) is about a Christmas Eve hostage situation at a Southwest liquor store. Luke Grimes, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dax Shepard, Kurtwood Smith star, with appearances from Jessica Alba and Tim Allen.

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Thursday TV: ‘Psych: The Movie’ Flashback

psychMovieLight, goofy detective series seems to have faded on cable in recent years, so it’s a little of holiday treat to revisit one of them in “Psych: The Movie” (USA, 8 p.m.), which ended its run in 2014 after eight seasons. James Roday and Dulé Hill reprise their roles as the the wisecracking crime-solving buddies, with a new office in San Francisco. Maggie Lawson and Kirsten Nelson also return from the original series, and there are guest spots from Zachary Levi and John Cena in the holiday-themed caper.

The 15th season of “Top Chef” (Bravo, 10 p.m.) originates in Colorado. First challenge: a potluck meal.

“Great British Bake Off” judge Paul Hollywood pops up on the third season premiere of the American iteration, “The Great American Baking Show” (ABC, 9 p.m.).

Documentarian Hope Litoff deals with the 2008 death of her mentally ill sister in her very personal film “32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide” (HBO, 8 p.m.).

Fall seasons end for “Gotham” (Fox, 8 p.m.) with the arrival of Carmine Falcone, and “The Orville” (Fox, 9 p.m.), where a whole new universe is discovered.

On “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS, 8 p.m.), Sheldon and Amy are getting stressed out by wedding plans, while “Young Sheldon” (CBS, 8:30 p.m.) is trying to fix a family conflict.

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