You can't say television doesn't embrace Christmas with gusto. It's just the timing I can't figure. Starting sometime before Thanksgiving we've had ample opportunities to watch Charlie Brown, Rudolph, the Grinch, "It's a Wonderful Life," any number of Scrooges and several generations of Frosty.
But it's hard not to get the impression that Christmas on television tends to peak sometime around Dec. 17 or that programmers tire of the holiday before it even arrives. There isn't a single Christmas special on network television tonight, and the offerings on cable have all the hallmarks of a half-off sale at a day-old bakery. With Christmas and Hanukkah still two days away, why do I get the impression that we've reached the bottom of the holiday barrel?
Now, I'm not going to say that the 2004 special "Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas" (7 p.m., Disney) is just not up to "Grinch." You can easily see that for yourself.
Family Channel offers the 2002 Rudolph update "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys" (6 p.m., Family), and the Cartoon Network presents a number of eponymous and self-promotional specials from years past, including "A Johnny Bravo Christmas" (7:30 p.m.) and "Bill & Mandy Save Christmas" (8:30 p.m.).
The best, and most original, holiday offering of the night is "Creature Comforts: Merry Christmas Everybody" (9:30 p.m., BBC America). From the creators of "Wallace & Gromit," this charming series "stars" more than 100 animated animal characters that appear in short vignettes based on actual interviews with members of the British public. The combination of natural speech patterns - including halting observations, mumbling and overlapping dialogue - with animated animals is consistently hilarious - particularly when a menagerie of dogs, pigs, birds and cats tries to figure out the words and meaning of "The 12 Days of Christmas." If you've never seen "Creature Comforts," give yourself an early holiday treat. It's as if the cast of "This is Spinal Tap" hijacked Gumby and Pokey and took them for a wild ride.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ An institutionalized patient is haunted by her dead twin on "Ghost Whisperer" (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ Howie Mandel plays host to "Deal or No Deal" (7 p.m., NBC).
¢ An opportunity to save an innocent woman's life may jeopardize a case against a predator on "Close to Home" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ The death of a judge's wife on "Numb3rs" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ A Victorian miser (Reginald Owen) receives a lesson he'll not soon forget in the 1938 adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (9 p.m., TCM).