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Sunday, November 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
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Season's 'greetings'
Stephen Colbert hosts an ironic Christmas special
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Colbert in one of the weirdest TV shows of all time.
Colbert in one of the weirdest TV shows of all time.

Stephen Colbert shines as an egotistical host on his mock right-wing news program The Colbert Report. Colbert satirizes the Fox News worldview while pretending to embody it. He makes war-loving, tax-hating, God-slinging, gay-baiting conservatism look absurd - even more absurd than it does on The O'Reilly Factor. The Colbert Report is undoubtedly a work of genius.

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! (Sunday, 9 p.m., Comedy Central) is a work of...well, to be honest, I'm not exactly sure what it is. I can say with confidence that it's one of the weirdest TV shows of all time. Still in character, and outfitted in a cable-knit sweater, Colbert hosts a faux-cheesy Christmas special featuring "sincere" songs, "surprising" celebrity appearances and "wise" words for the holiday. The "plot" finds Colbert trapped by a bear in his mountain cabin, and thus unable to make it to the studio for his Christmas special.

My initial impression of A Colbert Christmas was that Colbert had jumped the shark. The celebrity set pieces seemed less amusingly surreal than certifiably insane. There's Willie Nelson as a miniature Nativity-set wise man who brings marijuana to the baby Jesus; Feist as an angelic operator who puts Colbert's call to God on hold; and Elvis Costello as a victim of the aforementioned bear.

But damned if Colbert didn't finally yank me onto his nutty wavelength. Jon Stewart nails a semi-apologetic song that explains the not-quite-jolly holiday of Hanukkah to the puzzled host. The bear, now with Costello's voice, unexpectedly touches your heart with a performance of "Peace, Love and Understanding." Colbert's last song also catches you off guard by taking the quotation marks out of "wise." He concludes that, in a troubled world, there are worse things to believe in than Christmas. It's a qualified affirmation, but an affirmation nonetheless. Beneath the irony, we're shocked to find, lies a heart.

Writing this review has helped me figure out what A Colbert Christmas is: a work of genius.

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving
Saturday, 8 pm (Hallmark Channel)

Ah, old-fashioned America. Women couldn't vote, black people couldn't associate with whites, and workers couldn't convince robber barons to pay them a decent wage. Oh, wait, this TV movie is about old-fashioned America Hallmark-style. All poor families are happy, any obstacle can be overcome with pluck, and no one uses contractions, somehow suggesting an essential decency.

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving is about a family that falls on hard times following the father's death. The cold, wealthy, disapproving grandmother (Jacquelyn Bisset) comes to visit and is soon thawed by their can-do spirit. "My father said everything is a lesson from which we ultimately profit," the daughter tells her proudly.

I'm not sure I profited from the lessons of An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving. It just made me feel vaguely guilty for using contractions.

24: Redemption
Sunday, 7 pm (Fox)

24's season seven begins in January with another 24-hour adventure in real time. But first comes 24: Redemption, a TV movie that continues the season six storyline. Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is on the run, fleeing a subpoena. The U.S. Senate wants answers about prisoners in Bauer's custody who were illegally detained and tortured; Bauer has no intention of testifying. So he holes up in Africa to help children at a friend's orphanage. But an evil rebel army has designs on those children, kidnapping them to use as cannon fodder in a coup against the country's democratic government. A new American president must decide whether to fight them with U.S. forces or slink away.

The cast is divided between good guys and bad guys, and the good guys don't slink away. Bauer risks his life and his freedom to save the children - a noble move. It's too bad nobility is so dull onscreen. We might as well be watching The Perils of Pauline as Bauer foils one goon after another to get a bleeding child to the hospital. "If we don't get him there soon, he'll go into shock!" he cries in a speeding truck. The story lacks tension and momentum, and even a grisly torture scene can't get us onto the edge of our seats.

I think we have a long 24 hours ahead of us.

The Real Housewives of Orange County
Tuesday, 9 pm (Bravo)

They're back: Orange County's too-tanned, raccoon-eyed, puffy-lipped, balloon-chested, cap-toothed, gold-digging, aggressively shallow ladies-who-lunch. The season premiere is packed with incident, including trips to the plastic surgeon and the yacht store. Jeana's teenage daughter returns from UC-Berkeley full of scorn for her non-Republican classmates: "They eat out of trashcans," she sniffs.

Meanwhile, busty new Housewife Gretchen attaches herself to a gray-haired sugar daddy who buys her a $65,000 diamond ring. "Oh my golly gaw-gaw,"she says, which turns out to be the hour's most coherent sentence.

Compared to these well-off creeps, I'd take people who eat out of trashcans any day.

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