Archive for Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Christmas for ‘Chuck’

December 23, 2011

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Now in its final season, “Chuck” (7 p.m., NBC) becomes the last show this fall to air its Christmas episode. And that’s somewhat fitting because the holiday theme is so tenuous and barely connected to the story about a mad scientist, a computer virus and a threat to Carmichael Industries. But the mere whiff of Christmas makes the show’s violence — particularly toward Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), who is repeatedly punched in the face and spends about half the show bound, gagged and dangling from a rope — a tad jarring.

• For some, a co-production of the BBC and NPR could be a dream come true. But just don’t call it good television. The NPR game show-news quiz “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” (7 p.m., BBC America) makes its television debut with a cheeky roundup of the big news stories of 2011.

For the uninitiated, “Wait” features a panel of three “experts” who answer questions about news events with jokey asides. Each talent plays for charity, so the competition is good-natured and focused more on wisecracks than scoring points. Paula Poundstone, a comedian who is a regular on the radio series, acts generally befuddled but eventually gets things right in the end. Carl Kasell, an NPR regular with a distinguished voice, is the official judge and scorekeeper. Peter Sagal, also blessed with a great voice, is your host.

I’ve long held the position that modern radio hits almost never make good TV. And I’m sticking to it. During television’s infancy, soap operas, comedies and game shows, from “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” to “You Bet Your Life,” made a rather seamless transition from one medium to another. But over the past few decades, efforts to televise shows by Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern and Don Imus have fizzled. Showtime’s take on NPR’s “This American Life” was not an improvement. Some things just work better without pictures. And sometimes radio shows that seem distracting and amusing when you’re caught in traffic can seem boring and static when you have a hundred other things to watch.

“Wait” will certainly not break this trend. For starters, all of the on-air talent are shown wearing headphones, as if captured in a radio studio. And one of the virtues of “Wait” is that during its weekly news roundup, the banter is current and fresh. This year-ender, taped three weeks ago, already is as stale as a Herman Cain joke.

This invitation to watch folks sit and do a radio show ignores the central fact that TV is a visual medium. It would have been better had BBC America simply shown a black screen and aired only the audio so we could go back to pretending that we were listening to NPR.

Tonight’s holiday highlights

• A big green guy celebrates with friends on “Shrek the Halls” (7 p.m., ABC).

• The voice of Drew Barrymore animates the 1999 special “Olive, the Other Reindeer” (7 p.m., CW).

• Folks with a need to watch everything Tom Arnold has ever done just can’t miss “Moonlight and Mistletoe” (7 p.m., Hallmark) from 2008.

• Time to get away on “Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation” (7:30 p.m., ABC).

• Elves evaluate on “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” (8 p.m., ABC).

• A novelty song inspired the 2000 special “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (8 p.m., CW).

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