Bones

Always a popular (if sometimes contentious) topic in my Ask Matt forum, Fox's Bones refutes any notion that its heart isn't in the right place in this week's ultimately touching episode (9/8c). Ralph Waite (forever Papa Walton to many of us, though nowadays better known as Jethro's dad on NCIS) makes a welcome return as Booth's grandfather, bearing some unwelcome news that has the very pregnant Bones (Emily Deschanel) wondering how best to reach out to a closed-off Booth (David Boreanaz, who's in especially fine form). "I should be able to help Booth, shouldn't I?" she frets to a sympathetic Angela. Maybe it's the pregnancy hormones and the uncomfortably swelling breasts, but Bones relaxes her guardedness enough to see her guy through an emotional rough patch that conjures up memories both bad and good. As for this week's case, which brings back Tina Majorino as gung-ho Agent Shaw — who'd do anything to impress Booth — let's just say it gives new meaning to the post office's "dead letter" operation. Piecing together this puzzle means putting together a body discovered in multiple shipping boxes — just another day on the job for the squints.

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ER
's Maura Tierney returns to NBC's Thursday night lineup — visiting The Office (9/8c) as the wife of enigmatic new CEO Robert California (James Spader), who's looking to find a role for his spouse at Dunder Mifflin. Elsewhere on NBC's comedy lineup: Leslie goes on trial on Parks and Recreation (8:30/7:30c); Jeff and Shirley team up to take control of the school's foosball table on newly christened TV Guide Magazine "fan favorite" Community (8/7c), while Annie makes matters worse when she tries to cover up the fact that she broke Abed's Dark Knight DVD; and in a bizarre preview of sorts to impending midseason changes, Chelsea Handler guests as a therapist on Whitney (9:30/8:30c) in an episode titled "Up All Night." As you may have heard, Whitney will be vacating Thursdays in the new year, swapping with Up All Night and forming a new Wednesday block with Are You There, Chelsea? — which could be a moot question if these shows don't pull their weight in a classically tough time period for NBC.

A few musical notes: It's a double elimination on Fox's The X Factor (8/7c), which means no matter how it plays out, at least one of the "girls" or "guys" will be eliminated from Simon Cowell's or L.A. Reid's teams — maybe one from each if Josh Krajcik, the last (and best) of the elders, manages to survive (though he struggled on Michael Jackson night with a bad, and badly overproduced, number). And judging from those hilarious cutaways Wednesday night to the bored-looking Jackson kids in the audience, if sour-faced little Blanket Jackson had his way, everyone would be going home. ... Noticeably missing from the X Factor ranks is anyone from the country persuasion. So if that's more to your taste, ABC obliges with CMA Country Christmas (9/8c), a two-hour holiday music hootenanny featuring American Idol alums Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Kellie Pickler, along with such A-listers as Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban — and in a nod to the box office, Vince Gill in a duet with The Muppets' Miss Piggy.

Among highlights of World AIDS Day-related programming: Logo begins a two-night presentation of the brilliant HBO miniseries version of Tony Kushner's epic Angels in America (10/9c; concludes Friday at 10/9c), featuring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep among an incredible ensemble. ... Showtime's centerpiece in a night of AIDS-related documentary programming is Keep a Child Alive With Alicia Keys (9/8c), in which the musician brings five contest winners to South Africa to visit sites where the "Keep a Child Alive" foundation provides medical care and moral support to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS.

Shows that demand to be taken in moderation: TLC reveals the consequences of being charged with D.U.I. (9/8c) in a new COPS-like series filmed in Oklahoma, where police crack down on drunk drivers, who cameras follow through field sobriety tests through arrest and sentencing. ... Discovery chronicles the Weed Wars (10/9c, simulcast on Discovery Fit & Health) in the world of medicinal marijuana, following the staff of Oakland, CA's Harborside Health Center, described as "the nation's largest medicinal cannabis dispensary," serving 94,000 patients. Snoop Dogg performs the series' original title track to the surprise of absolutely no one.

So what else is on? ... It's not quite as legendary or as entertaining as Rudolph, which once again proved a ratings winner for CBS earlier this week, but the 1970 Rankin-Bass Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (ABC, 8/7c) is tonight's bid for classic-cartoon supremacy, with Fred Astaire narrating and Mickey Rooney providing the voice of the young Kris Kringle, who memorably tangles with the odious Burgermeister Meisterburger. ... OWN's Documentary Club presents One Lucky Elephant (9/8c), which is really about the unlucky Flora, an orphaned African elephant who was adopted and trained by a circus owner who eventually realizes he must find a home for her after she retires. Much easier said than done. ... Tonight's Mentalist repeat from last season on CBS (10/9c) is notable for its guest turn by Morena Baccarin, so terrific on Showtime's Homeland this season, as an alluring matchmaker who Patrick Jane believes may have murdered her husband.

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