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Archive for Monday, December 5, 2011

Boldfaced names get ‘Mortified’

December 5, 2011

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I’m always interested in seeing some new wrinkle in the talk show format. “The Mortified Sessions” (7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Sundance) provides just that. Host David Nadelberg made a name for himself in the late 1990s by publicly reading a pathetic, unsent love letter from his adolescent years. He invited others to reveal similar squirm-inducing artifacts. The result was “Mortified,” a long-running stage performance that was painful and funny, narcissistic and communal at the same time.

‘‘Sessions” does the same thing, but with celebrities. Over the course of the first two shows, Nadelberg invites Ed Helms (“The Hangover”), Mo’Nique (“Precious”) and Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family”) to sit down with a shoebox of artifacts and discuss their dorkiest secrets from childhood and adolescence.

In some ways, “Sessions” is just another excuse for celebrities to talk about themselves. But it’s blissfully free of showbiz and the need to plug the next book, movie or CD. Mo’Nique discusses her weight issues as well as the incredible self-assurance that allowed her to open a comedy club in her early 20s. Affecting the emotional reticence of Andy Bernard (of “The Office”), Helms admits he made his biggest break when he stopped being called “Edward.”

Stonestreet makes the most of the confessional format. Like Mo’Nique, he praises his parents for never holding him back and for never making him feel that his dream to become a professional clown was the least bit unusual.

Stonestreet’s talent and his clown name, “Fizbo” (provided by his father), have been incorporated into the scripts of “Modern Family.” ‘‘Sessions” reveals just how much of Stonestreet is in his character, Cameron, and vice versa. “Modern Family” has become television’s best sitcom because of its emphasis on character and humanity, as opposed to cruelty and punch lines. And it is this humanity that often emerges on “Sessions.”

Tonight’s other highlights

• Inspired by a popular YouTube series, “The Young Turks With Cenk Uygur” (6 p.m. and 9 p.m., Current) joins the political talk show fray.

• Talents return from past seasons to sing holiday songs on “The Sing-Off” (7 p.m., NBC).

• Performances galore on “The American Country Awards” (7 p.m., Fox).

• A taunted outcast discovers the meaning of the holidays in the 1965 special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (7 p.m., ABC).

• Technology trumps sentiment in the animated “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” (7:30 p.m., ABC).

• “The Layover” (8 p.m., Travel) looks at the best things to do (and eat) during a short stay in Rome.

• Helen is adrift on “Enlightened” (8:30 p.m., HBO).

• Grim findings fuel the two-hour search for “The Long Island Serial Killer” (8 p.m., A&E).

• “Neverland” (8 p.m., Syfy), the four-hour prequel to “Peter Pan,” concludes.

• A busload of kidnapped children on “Hawaii Five-O” (9 p.m., CBS).

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