Leave it to oddball Brick Heck (Atticus Shaffer) to stumble across the reason for the season: "Mom, you never told me church was based on a book." The Middle (ABC, 8/7c) leads off a night of holiday-themed sitcom episodes with an instant classic in which Brick's incessant questions about the Good Book lead sister Sue to enlist pied-piper roving Reverend Tim Tom (Paul Hipp) to provide some answers. But will they be enough? Meanwhile, Frankie (Patricia Heaton) has roped the family into throwing a Christmas Eve open house, despite a big hole in the kitchen counter where a dishwasher should be. "I think they'll be embarrassed for us long before they see the hole," husband Mike (Neil Flynn) counters — which is true enough, but this year, Mike hopes to reverse his tradition of giving awful gifts with a surprise act of generosity, if only he can keep Frankie from finding out. Hard to imagine there being another Christmas episode this year that feels as honest, and honestly funny, as this.
The rest of TV's best comedy lineup: For their first Christmas in the burbs on Suburgatory (8:30/7:30c), single dad George (Jeremy Sisto) hosts a tree-trimming party attended by a bevy of potential love interests. Who'll get the special mistletoe treatment? ... It's an "Express Christmas" on Modern Family (9/8c), as the various branches of the family realize they won't all be together on the actual day, so rush to organize a special evening. Good luck with that. ... On Happy Endings (9:31/8:31c), Max (Adam Pally) agrees to play Santa for Penny's charity, and that's reason enough to watch.
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Over on NBC, a scattershot but sweet episode of Up All Night (8/7c) celebrates baby Amy's first Christmas with control-freak mom Reagan (Christina Applegate) desperate to see her daughter's face light up over home decorations, dad Chris (Will Arnett) desperate to get his wife a memorable gift despite his limited resources as a stay-at-home dad, and a jealous Ava (Maya Rudolph) making herself more of a nuisance than usual by desperately stalking her new beau (Jason Lee) when he ditches her to spend holiday time with his family, including his ex-wife. Blythe Danner returns as Reagan's acerbic, wine-swilling mom, who's out to prove she's not all humbug.
Play It Again, BBC: Call it a second chance to catch the best show you may never have seen. BBC America's reliably strong "Dramaville" franchise is devoting its holiday weeks to replaying one of its best-ever miniseries imports: the six-part conspiracy thriller State of Play (10/9c), first shown here in 2004 and subsequently adapted into a feature film starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. If you've only seen the movie, you really haven't seen State of Play, and now is the time to correct that oversight.
This is a twisty, witty story of political scandal, journalistic ethics, corporate corruption and murder, that begins when a rising politician's researcher/lover fall under a train, and her death is linked to the shooting of a young street thief. Pulling it all together: a reporter who ran the politician's campaign years ago and who immediately gets in over his head, professionally and personally. The brilliant cast features John Simm (of the original Life on Mars) as the reporter, Boardwalk Empire's Kelly Macdonald and a young James McAvoy as his co-workers, David Morrissey (the original Viva Blackpool) as the politician, Polly Walker (Rome) as the politician's unhappy wife, and the great Bill Nighy as the cunning, witty newspaper editor. The talent behind the scenes is just as impressive, with a teleplay by Paul Abbott (Touching Evil, Shameless) and direction by David Yates, who went on to direct the latter-day Harry Potter blockbusters.
State of Play is a much better investment of your time than the latest in TNT's mixed-bag of "Mystery Movie Night" features. Based on a Richard North Patterson novel, Silent Witness (9/8c) is as generic as its title, a plodding courtroom drama in which a hotshot defense lawyer (the one-note Dermot Mulroney, in perennial sourpuss automaton mode) returns to his hometown to defend a remorseful high-school buddy (Southland's Michael Cudlitz, the best reason to watch), a track coach accused of murdering the 16-year-old student he now admits to having had a sexual relationship with. All together now: Ewwww. This case dredges up unpleasant memories of another murder 28 years earlier, in which Mulroney was the prime suspect while still a student. The overqualified supporting cast includes Anne Heche as Cudlitz's distraught wife and Judd Hirsch as the "rabbinical counsel" playing second chair to Mulroney, who he represented way back when.
Need a little melodrama in your TV menu? ABC's Revenge (10/9c) is more than happy to comply, and this episode gives us two juicy villains to bedevil our calculating heroine Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp). First, there's the show's black-hearted secret weapon, Tyler (Ashton Holmes), whose tangled relationship with Nolan is exposed; and now that the saucy Amanda (Margarita Levieva) — aka the actual "Emily Thorne" — is here to stay, with her claws into the unsuspecting Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler), she's bound to be making more waves in these Hamptons waters.
Guest-star alert for Wednesday's competing 10/9c crime dramas: On CBS's CSI, former Chicago Code cop Matt Lauria makes his first appearance as an FBI agent (working with Grant Show) helping the crime lab solve the murder of a rancher who was also a ballistics expert. Titus Welliver (The Good Wife) plays a CEO and Annabeth Gish (Brotherhood) is his wife. ... Andre Braugher returns to NBC's Law & Order: SVU as the estimable defense lawyer Bayard Ellis. His client: a former pro quarterback played by Treat Williams, arrested in an underage-prostitution sting but whose mental capacity after years on the gridiron becomes this week's legal hot potato.
The guest stars are coming out, in a manner of speaking, on TV Land's Hot in Cleveland (10/9c), when Victoria (Wendie Malick) decides to milk the publicity over her accidental "gay wedding" to Joy (Jane Leeves) by booking the couple on a high-profile gay cruise. Also on board: Malick's former Just Shoot Me co-star Laura San Giacomo as Melanie's lesbian sister, who's traveling with her partner Sandra Bernhard. And who's operating this love boat? Captain Gilles Marini.
The Reality-Competition Watch: It's family reunion time on CBS' Survivor: South Pacific (8/7c), which is now down to just the remaining members of the original Upolu tribe. According to CBS press notes, "a relative crosses the line" during the reunion — and could that refer to anyone other than Russell Hantz? Regarding strategy, a secret alliance could upend the hierarchy of who's deciding the votes. Based on recent events, I'll believe that when I see it. But even more important, what are the odds a miracle will occur so Cochran might be able to outlast Ozzy in the next Redemption Island duel? ... The first "all-star" winner will be crowned on The CW's America's Next Top Model (9/8c), but not until a final runway challenge that involves modeling under water. ... Because once apparently is not enough: The remaining five contestants will each sing twice on a 90-minute installment of Fox's The X Factor (8/7c).
So what else is on? ... TLC's infamous Toddlers & Tiaras (10/9c) returns with a "Glitzmas Pageant" in New Jersey, where a 3-year-old wannabe Rockette, Laila, faces Riley, 5, and Bob, 6, two pint-sized drag queens in training. Suddenly I'm pining for the dignity of a Kardashian wedding. ... Presumably aiming at an entire different demographic is the third-season premiere of Discovery's popular Sons of Guns (9/8c), which follows the exploits of the Baton Rouge gunsmiths of Red Jacket Firearms. In the opener, Will Hayden & Co. arms a sheriff's Gulf Coast patrol boat with a Mark19 grenade launcher and an M240 Bravo machine gun. Very Apocalypse Now chic.
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