Christmas is 10 days away, but don't go looking for many more Christmas episodes of ongoing series. On tonight's "Las Vegas" (8 p.m., NBC), Ed forces everybody to play Secret Santa, Danny discovers that his car has been stolen on Christmas Eve and Delinda plans her first Christmas with Danny.
Next week, in a repeat-heavy schedule, NBC will offer viewers additional chances to catch notable Christmas episodes of "The Office" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." These two, along with "Everybody Hates Chris," offered the best seasonal celebrations of 2006. Monday's episode of "Two and a Half Men" mixed eggnog and holly with scenes of near-incest and therefore is my choice as the most wretched Christmas episode of the year. But I have always found that sitcom's soulless, mechanical approach to sex and innuendo to be more depressing than amusing.
Another sign that we have entered the last lap of the Christmas marathon is the arrival of "A Christmas Story" (7 p.m., TCM). Like "It's A Wonderful Life" (airing Saturday on NBC), this feature was not much of a box-office hit. And, like "Life," its appeal grew stronger with endless repetition on television. Look for the annual 24-hour "Story" marathon on TBS on Christmas Eve.
It's interesting to think of all of the truly forgettable TV Christmas movies that have been made in the 23 years since the debut of "A Christmas Story." In many ways, this film is the anti-Hallmark movie. For starters, it was shot in Cleveland and features a winter that looks like winter. Most TV Christmas movies have all of the December spirit of a Target commercial filmed in July. Light - or rather, its absence - is the essence of the season. So why do Hollywood producers insist on making Christmas movies in which Santa needs sunglasses?
Initially, some critics thought "Story" was too cynical to pass as a Christmas movie. But for all of Ralphie's troubles, his hotheaded "old man," his lapses into profanity and his soap-bar admonition, none of his problems or aspirations rings false. With the possible exception of his mother's anachronistic hairstyle, the period movie does not contain a single false note. To paraphrase its writer and narrator, Jean Shepherd, there's nothing phony about it. And its enduring appeal is a tribute to that honesty and proof that this time of year, viewers are just looking for something genuine.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Melinda is haunted by the spirit of an angry slob on "Ghost Whisperer" (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ "Biography" (7 p.m., Biography) profiles entrepreneur Mary Kay.
¢ A gruesome crime echoes another on "Close to Home" (8 p.m., CBS).