Please note: All times are Eastern Standard. Please check local listings for times in your area.
All together now, from the top . . . In the week after Christmas my true love gave to me 10 college bowls, 9 hours of wrestling, 8 NFL games, 7 figure skaters, 6 soccer players, 5 college hoops match ups, 4 hockey goalies, 3 rounds of pro golf, 2 ABL games, and the Branson, Mo., lumberjack finals.
OK. There are, in fact, 14 bowl games in the coming week, and pro wrestling is more "sports entertainment" than actual sport. Nonetheless, these are heady days for sports fans. Gridiron junkies in particular can kick back in the Barcalounger at 11:00 New Years morn (Cotton Bowl, Fox; Outback Bowl, ESPN) and vanish into a festival of testosterone until the final gun sounds on the Sugar Bowl (ABC, 8:30) some time around midnight.
Sadly, for non-sports addicts, the holiday season continues its grim run. The series repeats continue apace, and the movie selections aren't much more appealing than last week's offerings. Exhibits A and B: NBC's Free Willy 2 (Sun., 7:00)--as if the theme music from the first movie didn't make you want to take harpoon lessons--and TNT's inexplicable back-to-back showings of Sidekicks, the 1993 flop starring Chuck Norris as himself--only taller (Wed., 8:00, 10:15).
Even in the darkest weeks, however, there is a glimmer of relief. UPN, for instance, is showing Miller's Crossing (Sun. 8:00), the Coen brothers' 1990 paean to the gangster flick. Fargo's Oscar success notwithstanding, Miller'sCrossing remains the Coen's best offering. Beautifully acted, beautifully scored, and most beautifully shot, it gives a self-conscious nod to mob-movie romanticism without gutting the myth a la Scorsese's 1990 gangster hit, Goodfellas. (It also provides the best role Gabriel Byrne is ever likely to get: half Richard Burton, half Al Pacino)
Seven o'clock Thursday morning, the Sci-Fi Channel launches its Twilight Zone marathon--21 hours of the eeriest series ever. The show's ridiculous special effects would send Industrial Light & Magic into giggling fits, and much of the acting is barely second rate. But it has some of the best theme music in television history, and Rod Serling's voice can raise the hair on the back of my neck quicker than a scene out of Showgirls. My favorite episode: A burglar is shot dead while fleeing a crime scene and is transported to a wondrous place where every desire is immediately indulged--hot babes as far as the eye can see. After a few days, the burglar grows bored of paradise and confronts the Saint Peter-esque fellow in charge, arguing that Heaven is not really his bag. "Heaven?" the beatific-looking gatekeeper asks with amusement. "What makes you think you're in Heaven?"
What can I say? I was raised Southern Baptist.
As for more modern fare, you're pretty safe with NBC's Thursday line-up--Frasier (9:00), ER (10:00), and, after a long dry spell even Friends (8:00) appears to be on the upswing. Reminiscent of the first couple of seasons, the dialogue is sharp and wicked--although this time around, Joey (Matt LeBlanc) seems to be getting more of the good punchlines than Chandler (Matthew Perry), a shift that's prompted much musing around my house about shifting relationships between actors and writers in an ensemble cast. (Perhaps Matthew Perry is doing penance for his unfortunate experiments on the big screen.) The Monica-Chandler covert romance is as ripe for comic exploitation as the early days of Ross' Rachel fixation, but it doesn't try to bait viewers into watching with the tired "Ooh, maybe next week they'll get together" gimmick so many sit-com writers seem to fancy. Sure, maybe Monica and Chandler's secret love will be revealed this week, or maybe not. What does it matter? They're together. They're happy. They're getting laid. Life is good. I don't watch sit-coms to be frustrated.
(Caution: Some NBC affiliates are screwing around with this week's Thursday programming, replacing the regular line-up with episodes of The Pretender and the failed Wind on Water. Viewer discretion advised.)
Finally, whatever your plans for New Year's Eve, set the VCR to record ABC's NewYear's Rockin' Eve '99 (11:35). Any year now could be Dick Clark's last. And should he happen to bite the big apple while broadcasting live from Times Square, you do not want to miss it.