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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Luaine Lee

TV Tinsel: Screens merry and bright with holiday specials now through Christmas

That infernal clock keeps ticking as the days speed by till Christmas. While the kiddies may have visions of sugar plums dancing in their craniums, it’s another question for harried parents. But there is help on the way. Television promises sleighs full of colorful programming to keep the tykes occupied while parents wrestle with last-minute toy assembling, gift wrapping and catching up on their own Yuletide specials.

Paramount+ is streaming a new take on the misfit reindeer theme (no red-nose here) with “Reindeer in Here." This unfortunate reindeer sports one antler much smaller than the other. The animated special is based on the award-winning Christmas book by author Adam Reed.

Prime Video takes a hint from Dr. Seuss in the “Dr. Seuss Baking Challenge” hosted by Tamera Mowry-Housley Tuesday. Inspired by “Green Eggs and Ham,” (which are NOT on the menu) nine teams of pastry chefs vie for Seussian honors and – while it’s not green eggs – there will be some green cash on the plate of the winner.

Speaking of Dr. Seuss, PBS KIDS rings in the season with a one-hour special, “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About Christmas!” This tale finds the Cat in the Hat, Nick and Sally on a journey around the world to help a lost reindeer find his way home. Airing Dec. 23 and 25, this feature boasts lyrical musical numbers as well as Dr. Seuss’ famous fumbling feline.

And if you’re intimidated by that holiday kitchen yourself, it’s Dame Mary Berry to the rescue! Learn how to prepare the perfect three-course Christmas dinner with her “Mary Berry’s Ultimate Christmas” premiering on PBs next Monday. And you’ll find grumpy Gordon Ramsay preparing Christmas cuisine on “Festive Home Cooking” Friday via BritBox.

Homer will surprise Marge with an unusual gift: a concert from the famous Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli along with his son and daughter in “The Simpsons Meet the Bocellis in ‘Feliz Navidad,’” a special short streaming on Disney+ Thursday.

The Great American Family network is offering queues of feel-good Christmas films over the holiday. “The Art of Christmas,” premiering Sunday, is about a struggling artist who discovers a new sense of purpose in life.

The Turner Triplets, TNT, TBS and truTV, are airing favorite movie marathons all month long, including selections from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as “Star Wars,” “Rocky,” and more.

Of course, Christmas would not be Christmas without the 24-hour marathon of that evergreen winner, “A Christmas Story.” TBS and TNT reinstitute Ralphie’s perpetual quest for a Red Ryder BB gun beginning Dec. 24 and continuing till 8 p.m. Christmas day.

Over at the CW the sad saga of a young man’s search for his grandma gets underway with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” airing Wednesday and Dec. 23. If you long to see how the other half celebrates, the CW is premiering a festive special, “Christmas Around the USA” on Thursday with an encore Dec. 25. The show features a variety of different yuletide traditions and all kinds of decorative displays.

Charlie Brown and his little pals from the “Peanuts” gallery will gather once again for the special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and Apple TV+ is gifting nonsubscribers with a free viewing from Dec. 22 through 25.

For the devout, the film, “The Chosen” — the largest crowdfunded TV production of all time about the life of Jesus Christ — is streaming FREE on the BYUtv app and with a new episode rising each Sunday.

The charismatic Tony Award nominee Megan Hilty (we remember her from “Smash” and “Centaur World”) and actor Neal McDonough host “O Holy Night: Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir” on PBS Tuesday for a Gaelic-inspired celebration of the music and holiday traditions.

Kids can imagine that they are attending the Hollywood Bowl in person when Disney+ begins streaming “Encanto at the Hollywood Bowl” on Dec. 28. This concert, that was filmed live, features an 80-piece orchestra, 50 dancers, and eye-spoofing special effects. The music spectacle celebrates the Disney Animation movie “Encanto” and features its original cast.

With a unique kind of GPS, Hulu and ABC will be tracking Santa across the skies as he makes his way through the Milky Way on Dec. 24, starting with WABC in New York and hurtling from station to station as reporters, meteorologists and anchors trace any “atmospheric disturbance” that Santa may leave in his wake. Meanwhile, Mariah Carey may give her heart to someone special on “Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas to All!” Dec. 20 via CBS.

CBS is giving Hallmark, Lifetime and GAC a run for their money with its own noel-inspired movies. “When Christmas was Young,” sports original music and is executive produced by none other than Sheryl Crow. This celebratory drama premieres on Sunday.

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” proves another inspirational track about a little girl with a superpower brain and the courage to exercise it. The show, based on the book by Roald Dahl and the Broadway musical, premieres on Netflix Dec. 25. Starring Alisha Weir as spunky Matilda, the feature boasts a hilarious performance by Emma Thompson as the loathsome Miss Trunchbull.

Kirstie Alley remembered

So sorry to hear about the death of Kirstie Alley at 71 last week from cancer. The last time we talked she was her usual candid and uncensored self. She said that the one thing you need to succeed in show business is tenacity. “I think there is an element of luck, and I feel really lucky I’ve gotten to do what I’ve done for so long,” she said.

“I also feel like I'm a creative person, and I think when you stop creating your own destiny and your own projects, that’s the end. It’s like people that want to retire, whose goal is to buy a Winnebago and tour the country and retire. That’s my idea of hell. The word ‘retirement’ makes me want to throw up. What are you retiring to? Gardening? I can’t garden 18 hours a day. I don’t even get the concept. I think it’s a very toxic concept.”

Best known for her comic role as Rebecca Howe on “Cheers” from 1987-93, Alley struggled with her weight for years. “I don’t think anybody has heard the truth about me,” she told me.

“There’s a lot of exaggeration about me. If you look at the history of my career — this ‘fat’ thing is not new. I’ve been getting this for 15 years. I got it at 130, 40, 50, 60, 70 the whole time. So there’s nothing new for me. It’s probably the hardest thing because if I weighed 150, they said I weighed 200. If I weighed 200, they said it was 250. It was always a gross exaggeration.”

Alley credited Scientology for setting her life straight. “One day I woke up in the morning and wanted to kill myself. I thought: ‘You are old. You are fat. You're a loser and you're done.’ I went in and had this Scientology session and when I came out, I was flipped. It’s like ‘The Matrix.’ I said, ‘You know what? This is actually funny. C’mon, look at it from that point of view. You spent enough of your life being a pretty girl. You spent enough of your life being a wealthy girl. Now be really funny!’” And she was.

AI to the rescue

If illegible subtitles to stimulating foreign programs annoy the heck out of you, Topic has the cure. This streaming site that specializes in thrillers, mysteries and docs has introduced English sound dubbing — but not by actors — by artificial intelligence.

Called Deepdub, the system originated in Israel, and Topic is the first platform in the world to release dubbed programming using Deepdub's artificial intelligence-based system. They claim the sound will not lose any of its original vocal or audio veracity. Topic intends to take advantage of the new system by releasing some of the best foreign projects around, including Denmark and Sweden’s “The Bridge.” The original of this series was so good that we Americans copied it with our own version for FX, which starred Demian Bichir and Diane Kruger. Other prime projects include “The Killing” from Denmark. This was another series we duplicated starring Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos for AMC. Also on the AI docket are “Pagen Peak” from Germany, “Dead Mountain” from Russia and “Arctic Circle” from Finland.

An unintentional TV actress

The eight-part miniseries “The Recruit,” which premieres on Netflix Friday, boasts a nifty cast including stars Noah Centineo and Laura Haddock as well as Byron Mann, Linus Roache, Fivel Stewart. Centineo plays a new CIA recruit who finds himself in hot water when a former “asset” (played by Haddock) seeks reinstatement or ELSE.

Haddock tells me that she never dreamed of being on television. The theater was her goal. “I luckily signed with an agent in my third year (of drama school) during our showcases and started auditioning as I graduated,” she recalls.

“I always felt or hoped, had my fingers crossed, that I would work as an actor, but I thought it would be in theater. I never realized that people would cast me in telly and film. The first job I got was in telly and I remember calling my principal at my drama school saying, ‘Oh, my God, I just got a job! But it’s in telly. What do I do?’

“She said, ‘Just do everything you do on stage but slightly smaller.’ But it took me AGES to learn how to be an actor on screen. I remember an actress said to me once, ‘What you need to do is you need to be best friends with the camera, but also completely ignore it.’ She said, ‘You have to have an awareness that your best friend is in the room, but you mustn’t ever feel it, you must ignore it.’”

Haddock finally mastered that ruse. “When you fall in love with something so deeply you do everything you can to make it happen and it doesn’t, that just breaks your heart a little bit,” she says. “But the beauty of it is: fingers crossed you just stick with it.”


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