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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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Queens of spleen
Nasty mother-daughter teams compete in the pageant series Crowned
No brains— just sheer, ugly ambition.
No brains— just sheer, ugly ambition.

I love beauty pageants for taking themselves so seriously. The straighter they play it, the more unintentionally funny they are. With a name like Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants (Wednesday, 8 p.m., CW), I was afraid that this mother-daughter reality series would wink at pageant camp. But folks, I'm thrilled to report that both the CW and the contestants are completely committed to hair helmets, tears, plastered-on smiles, earnest Q&A's and gender politics out of the 1950s. Let the derisive laughter begin.

The series makes a point of valuing intelligence. "We want to see what's inside you," host Shanna Moakler tells the mother-daughter teams. Imagine the viewer's surprise, then, when the contestants prove to have nothing inside them - nothing resembling a brain or a heart, anyway. Instead, they have sheer, ugly ambition. They're all grasping for the $100,000 prize, as well as public confirmation of their beauty and charm.

Now, mind you, they all think they're smart. "Our brains are our secret weapons," says a mother.

"My mom's special because she's so well educated," says a daughter.

You begin to have your doubts, though, when the contestants choose their team names. One duo pick "Skin Deep" to suggest that their beauty goes beyond the surface, not realizing that the phrase communicates exactly the opposite. "They got it wrong," one of the judges whispers.

Then there's the "well-educated" mother, who picks the name "Silent But Deadly." She's puzzled when the judges recoil in horror. "It didn't dawn on me that people were going to associate it with passing gas," she says.

Can you just imagine how smelly Crowned will get before the grand finale?

Saturday, 7 pm (ABC Family)

I'd just about given up on holiday TV movies, but here, finally, is one that works. Angela (Christina Milian) feels stuck with her boisterous ethnic family in Brooklyn. They invade her apartment and spray negative energy in every direction. They remind me of my own family, minus the clinical insanity.

The chemistry among this group (including Lorraine Bracco, dropping her elegant reserve from The Sopranos) is so potent that I worried when a mystical snow globe appeared on Angela's doorstep. This, I thought, is where the movie will go bad. Angela will be transported inside the snow globe and have the perfect Christmas she's always dreamed of. Cue predictable TV-movie ending.

She is transported, but "the perfect Christmas" becomes an object of satire. The WASPy snow-globe people live in an eternal Norman Rockwell world, with fluffy snow, fluffy sweaters and fluffy brains. Angela is charmed at first but grows weary of the bland cheerfulness. Soon she's yearning for noisy old Brooklyn. "Yeah, my family's going to screw up Christmas," she says. "But it's mine, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

I respect her decision. But myself, I'm going out to buy one of those mystical snow globes. With my own family about to invade for the holidays, bland cheerfulness doesn't sound all that bad.

Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale
Sunday, 8 pm (HBO)

Extras gives Entourage a run for its money as the most wicked inside-showbiz satire. And it gives Curb Your Enthusiasm a run for its money as a deadpan ode to humiliation.

The series began with Andy (Ricky Gervais) as a lowly extra in British film and TV, scrambling for just-barely-acting roles with his friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen). But, as often happens in show business, his fortunes have changed quickly. In the feature-length series finale, Andy is a star on a popular British sitcom. So what if it's an idiotic sitcom? And so what if his character is a one-note buffoon who appeals to the lowest common denominator? He's achieved fame and fortune, hasn't he?

Here's where the tragedy begins. Or is it farce? Andy becomes so puffed up with self-importance that he jumps off the gravy train. He abruptly quits the sitcom, convinced he's meant for better things - Hollywood films, directing, leading-man roles. He will have not only fame and fortune, but integrity and respect.

Andy dumps his goofy-but-loyal agent (Stephen Merchant) for a shark who can take him to the next level. But, as often happens in show business, his fortunes change quickly. Andy blows an audition for a leading-man role. He blows an interview with a big-time journalist. The media say snarky things about him, then stop talking about him altogether. So much for integrity. Suddenly, a cameo as an evil alien slug on Doctor Who doesn't look so bad. The alternative is grasping for a clerk's job at the Carphone Warehouse, like Maggie and his former agent.

Andy's fall is hilarious, but also painful. The only way we can watch it is to tell ourselves that we wouldn't act the same way in his situation.

Would we?

Clash of the Choirs
Monday-Thursday, 7 pm (NBC)

That's a pretty exciting title - kind of like Showdown at the Craft Fair.

The concept is loaded with thrills and chills. Five of our biggest vocal stars - well, make that Michael Bolton, Patti LaBelle, Nick Lachey, Kelly Rowland and Blake Shelton - return to their hometowns to whip a local choir into fighting trim. The choirs will "clash" in four nights of rocking, socking harmonizing action. When the dust clears, only one choir will be left standing, owner of bragging rights to "The Most In-Tune Reality Show Choir in the Land."

What happens when a polyphonic version of "Frosty the Snowman" runs smack into "Silver Bells" as a three-part round? Fasten your seatbelts, America, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

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