Some selective highlights and mini-reviews to get you through the long holiday weekend:
Last week, she was a hapless office assistant on Up All Night. Tonight, in the same time period on a different network, she's an insufferable sibling who makes Thanksgiving a chore, as Saturday Night Live vet Molly Shannon shows off her range, playing Frankie's demanding sister Janet on ABC's The Middle (8/7c). A holiday visit to Frankie's mom and dad (Marsha Mason and Jerry Van Dyke) becomes a recipe for disaster: "Stir in one broken toy, one passive-aggressive sister and let stew overnight ... Take unresolved issues and soak in alcohol." Frankie insists that "Everybody in one house is what makes holidays special," but anyone who's ever spent the festivities sleeping on an air mattress will relate to this first-rate episode.
Meanwhile, Tessa (Jane Levy) is experiencing separation anxiety from her home turf in Manhattan as she dreads her first Thanksgiving in the suburbs on ABC's garish Suburgatory (8:30/7:30c). ... And on Modern Family (9/8c), a game of punkin chunkin settles a few scores in a holiday episode that reunites Book of Mormon Tony nominee Josh Gad with Ty Burrell, who co-starred in the short-lived 2007 sitcom Back to You (from Family creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd).
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Here's something you probably don't want to hear while you're preparing the Thanksgiving fixings: "Let's discuss the brain eating." Yes, it's time for another episode of FX's increasingly vile American Horror Story (10/9c), which this week doesn't even give us the benefit of Jessica Lange for comic relief. In this episode, the identity of the ghoul lurking inside the rubber suit is revealed, if you care. Trust me, it doesn't amount to much more than a latex shrug. More vulgar and witless by the week, and thoroughly disgusting (without being remotely suspenseful) as it replays the graphic deaths of the previous gay homeowners, this episode finds a gaslighted Vivian (poor Connie Britton) fearing she's losing her mind — a condition many viewers may identify with as they wonder why they're still watching this sick joke of a hot mess.
Music as a universal language that can change lives and inspire dreams is the uplifting theme behind the captivating HBO documentary The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical (HBO2, 8/7c), in which a group of children from the Indian city's slums are selected to perform selections from the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic The Sound of Music with the Bombay Chamber Orchestra. The performance takes place in a grand concert hall that the kids' parents would ordinarily never be allowed entry in this caste-conscious society. The iconic music becomes an incongruous soundtrack following the kids from rehearsal to their primitive homes. A standout among the group is the charismatic 11-year-old Ashish, who earns a solo in the title number but has to keep battling his own self-consciousness, chanting the words "I have confidence in me" from another of the score's famous songs. Despite jealousy from his friends, Ashish maintains an infectiously positive attitude that extends to his tentative friendship with Kimberly, a girl in another choir from a much higher social status. Like the kids, you'll wish their magic night in the spotlight never had to end.
So what else is on? ... After a double elimination on Fox's The X Factor (8/7c), the network revives Mobbed (9/8c) in a new special, as a father plans an elaborate flash-mob surprise for a family member. ... NBC's The Biggest Loser presents a new two-hour "Where Are They Now?" special (9/8c), for the first time including a feast of bloopers from the trainers, contestants and host Alison Sweeney.
After a day of parades and football, the most unorthodox prime-time holiday special is without doubt ABC's A Very Gaga Thanksgiving (9:30/8:30c), a new showcase for pop icon Lady Gaga, who talks with Katie Couric at her alma mater of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Manhattan and performs eight songs (including a new version of "White Christmas") in front of a select audience of friends and family.
More traditionally, new and vintage animated specials — including two featuring the Peanuts gang — vie for the family audience. On Fox, Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (8/7c) brings the hit movie franchise to the small screen, as Sid the Sloth destroys Santa's Workshop on Christmas Eve. This is followed by the new Peanuts special Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown (8:30/7:30c), in which Linus contemplates shedding his security blanket (fat chance). ABC repeats the 1973 standard A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (8/7c), paired with This Is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers to fill out the hour.
So what else is on? ... NBC looks back at the long history of the holiday's most famous parade in the prime-time retrospective The 85th Anniversary of The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (10/9c), hosted by Today's Matt Lauer, who has presided over the event for NBC for the last 13 years. ... CMT Crossroads (CMT, 10/9c) brings together Sting and Vince Gill in a concert from New York's Hammerstein Ballroom to collaborate on songs from their respective hit catalogues as well the Everly Brothers' "Let It Be Me."
One of the summer's most pleasant surprises, MTV's hilariously raunchy yet poignantly heartfelt teen rom-com Awkward, replays its entire first season of 12 episodes in a daylong marathon starting at 11 am/10c. Ashley Rickards is sensational as Jenna, the outsider and pariah whose crush on BMOC Matty (Beau Mirchoff) takes many unexpected turns up to the euphoric finale, where she actually has to make a choice between the school stud and the nice guy Jake (Brett Davern), who's been carrying a torch for her all year. This winning comedy achieves heights the CW and ABC Family can only dream of.
So what else is on? ... Because it's not quite time for Frosty yet, CBS offers two new animated specials: hoops&yoyo Ruin Christmas (8/7c), in which the pink kitty and green bunny stow away on Santa's sleigh and disrupt the time-space continuum that allows for the global distribution of presents (oops!); and The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf's Story (8:30/7:30c), based on the children's best-seller about Santa's helpers who determine who makes the naughty and nice lists. ... Hallmark Channel airs its own animated special, Jingle All the Way (8/7c), which seems more like a program-length commercial for Hallmark's Jingle the Husky Pup toy. ... National Geographic WILD lives up to its title with Shark Attack Experiment LIVE (9/8c), a two-hour special in which experts test the most enduring myths about sharks by swimming among them as we watch. This follows a daylong marathon of shark documentaries for those who want to get their "Jaws" on.
The venerable Hallmark Hall of Fame TV-movie franchise moves to a new network, ABC, with Mitch Albom's Have a Little Faith (9/8c), starring Bradley Whitford as columnist/author Albom, who describes this heartwarmer as "a story about believing in something, and the two very different men who taught me how." In the tradition of his best-selling Tuesdays With Morrie, Albom travels frequently from his home base of Detroit to his childhood home in New Jersey, where he gets to know the aging rabbi Albert Lewis (a beatifically perky Martin Landau) who has asked Mitch to write his eulogy when the day comes. These periodic life lessons are played out against the redemptive story of inner-city preacher Henry Covington (a rousing Laurence Fishburne), who found religion after a life of crime and addiction and now operates a church that caters to the homeless but is in desperate need of a roof and electricity. Using Rabbi Albert's "What's Your Glory?" pamphlet as a guide, Albom finds purpose in helping Rev. Covington achieve his mission. This story pretty much defines the idea of thanksgiving.
If you've been missing AMC's Mad Men — and the wait isn't over yet, as we're not expecting the long-delayed fifth season to premiere until spring — the network is filling the void by replaying the series in its entirety from the beginning, starting early this Sunday morning (6 am/5c) with the first three episodes of the groundbreaking first season.
And the wait is about to begin for another AMC breakthrough, the harrowing zombie thriller The Walking Dead, which airs its gut-wrenching midseason finale following a six-episode marathon of the entire season to date, starting at 2:30/1:30c. (The show will return to finish out the season in February.) In the fall finale (9/8c), the natives are getting restless (as are the show's fans) as life goes on at Hershel's farm, where the debate continues about whether to stay or go, with tempers and nerves fraying. Hershel wants them gone, and soon, but with a baby on the way and little Sophia still missing, and a barn full of "walkers" nearby, the line between mercy and survival and what it means to be human continues to blur. The tension builds to a powerful climax that takes us about as far into the realm of genuine horror as we're willing to go — with much more impact than FX's ludicrous American Horror Story.
The twists just keep resonating on the fall's best new series, Showtime's psychological thriller Homeland (10/9c), which this week sheds more light on what happened to Sgt. Brody in captivity that might explain his ambivalent, ambiguous ties to terrorist Abu Nazir. Meanwhile, while dealing with the interagency fallout from the collateral damage in the mosque, Carrie continues to pursue the Imam for leads. As her boss says, with exasperated admiration, "There is no bridge you won't burn, no earth you won't scorch." Might the same someday be said about Brody? This show just doesn't let up.
So what else is on? ... Cedric the Entertainer hosts the 2011 Soul Train Awards (BET, 9/8c), taped earlier this month in Atlanta, with highlights including a Gladys Knight salute from Natalie Cole, a tribute to the late Heavy D from Cee Lo Green, Goodie Mob and Big Daddy Kane, and a performance from Earth, Wind and Fire. ... No sooner has Rob Kardashian hung up his dance shoes on Dancing With the Stars than the most relentless family in reality TV strikes again, as Kourtney & Kim Take New York (10/9c) begins a new season of self-exploiting shenanigans, this time reflecting the blink-and-you-missed-it marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries. ... On ABC's surprise hit Once Upon a Time (8/7c), in an episode written by fantasy fave Jane Espenson (Buffy, Battlestar Galactica and many others), little Henry explores a sinkhole to see if it can help link Storybrooke back to the more enjoyable fairy-tale world, while Jiminy Cricket seeks self-fulfillment above ground. Maybe if he wished upon a star?