SUNDAY DECEMBER 21
Take Gossip Girl, remove headbands, move to Britain — then give it more heart, soul, divisive comedy, shocking twists, and even a few episodes written by (gasp!) actual teenagers, and you’ve got Skins. If you’re a fan, you already know the season finale airs Sunday. If not, move it to the top of your Netflix queue. It’ll have you saying “brilliant” in no time. (10 p.m.)
60 Minutes has us reaching for the beta-blockers with a chilling examination of airport security checkpoints (a.k.a. “security theater”). Plus, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $40 billion state budget gap. (CBS, 7 p.m.)
CNBC yanks down the twinkle lights and give us the cold, hard, Scrooge-alicious facts in CNBC Reports 2008: A Year on the Brink. Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and bailouts, oh my! (8 p.m.)
MONDAY DECEMBER 22
Playwright David Hare adapted his three-character piece My Zinc Bed for the small screen. He says it’s “a study about the arguments about alcoholism,” but leaves out the most amazing details: Jonathan Pryce, forbidden love, and Uma Thurman’s “British” accent! (HBO, 8 p.m.)
FOX’s Prison Break sees its fourth season finale. Haven’t they escaped yet? (9 p.m.)
Let the year-end retrospectives continue! NBC offers Today Looks Back 2008: A Holiday Special. Matt Lauer, Meredith Viera, Al Roker, and Ann Curry move to primetime to recap the year’s top five (so focused!) “news stories, moments and people.” (8 p.m.)
And PBS looks back at Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter’s 25-year commitment to Habitat for Humanity in The Life a House Built (9 p.m.). Immediately following is the 27th annual Christmas at Luther concert, featuring more than 600 musicians and six choirs. What else is there to do in Decorah, Iowa? (10 p.m.)
OMG, you guys are so never going to believe the season four finale of The Hills! Lauren and Heidi talk. Spencer faces off with Heidi’s mom! (Why is she so concerned about their completely illegal “marriage”?). Then the Pussycat Dolls “perform” live at The Hills Finale Live From NYC. (MTV, “pre-show” at 8 p.m.; season finale, 10 p.m.; I cry into my pillow about the state of humanity, 2 a.m.)
Dustin Hoffman, who voices gentle rat Roscuro in The Tale of Despereaux, pops up on The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS, 11:30 p.m.) And Tom Cruise just won’t go away: he’ll chat up Jimmy Kimmel. Is it too much to hope for an “I’m Fucking Matt Damon” sequel -- starring Katie? (ABC, 12:05 a.m.)
TUESDAY DECEMBER 23
The PR wizards behind ABC’s The List have made product placement palatable. “The ten biggest movies at the box office? The Top 40 Countdown? Throw them away this holiday season and get ready for the show business lists everyone will be talking about!” (10 p.m.)
The first season finale of the IFC Media Project focuses on “The Future of News,” with a media stunt that “dares to predict a Utopian newspaper of tomorrow.” Plus, Arianna Huffington will discuss the present and future of online journalism. Flying laptops? (8 p.m.)
Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling were all discovered as kids by casting director Matt Casella. So why not give him his own show? ABC’s one-hour special, Rediscovered, looks back at the “original casting tapes of five aspiring child stars” who will perform onstage in front of a live audience for the chance to win $50,000. Plus: Donny and Marie, and “never-before-seen” audition footage of BritBrit, Gosling, and more. (9 p.m.)
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 24
Please let Jennifer Aniston tell The View ladies that she hates Angelina. It’s all we want for Christmas! (ABC, 11 a.m.)
Spend Christmas Eve with Elvis. Sundance’s Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… brings the mellow with guest James Taylor. Watch Costello cajole Taylor into an impromptu duet on George Jones’ “She Thinks I Still Care.” You will. (9 p.m.)
And TBS runs its annual A Christmas Story 24-hour marathon, beginning Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. Over-rated, genius, or best decorating idea ever?
THURSDAY DECEMBER 25
Merry Christmas: This great link lists every 2008 Christmas special known to man.
Vh1 gets up early for presents: the five-hour I Love Toys marathon kicks off at 6 a.m., and counts down the 100 most famous (or infamous) toys from your childhood. If you fought the evil forces of the Decepticons before Shia LaBeouf was even born, this one’s for you.
Does Bret Michaels have nowhere to be on Christmas? He’ll dish with Chelsea Handler on E!’s Chelsea Lately.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 26
Bravo brings the heat to the kitchen with a Top Chef: New York marathon from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- and to the burning, beating hearts of The Real Housewives of Orange County, with season three and four marathons jogging along from 3 p.m. till bedtime.
And it’s the first season finale of The History Channel’s Shadow Force, zooming in on “unconventional military operations” and an elite team of Special Forces soldiers who “do what governments and aid agencies cannot.” Tonight: battling death squads and protecting a refugee camp in the Congo. (9 p.m.)
SATURDAY DECEMBER 27
Just crazy enough to watch: The Fox Reality Channel (as opposed to Fox News?) brings the series premiere of Smile…You’re Under Arrest!, in which improv actors, comedy writers and law enforcement officers create “elaborate comedy stings to bring real runaway fugitives to justice.” (7 p.m.)
Vh1 “Rock Docs” presents Neil Young, a 2006 documentary and concert film by none other than Jonathan Demme. The film features the world premiere of Young’s Prairie Wind concert, the entire performance of said album, as well as interviews with the performer, his band, Emmylou Harris and wife Pegi Young. Intimate, crabby, delicious. (9 p.m.)
Nicole Ankowski writes about television, pop culture, and—on occasion—more frivolous matters. She lives in Brooklyn.