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TELEVISION

Joan Rivers rips into 2012's celebrity style in Fashion Police
Wear and tear

Rivers presides over one of TV's most transgressive shows.
Rivers presides over one of TV's most transgressive shows.
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Joan Rivers weighs in with a year-end fashion roundup on Fashion Police (Friday, 9 p.m., E!). Along with Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne and George Kotsiopoulos, Rivers will call out the best and worst of celebrity frocks, naming the "Fash-Hole" who's committed the most egregious crimes against couture.

The word "Fash-Hole" only begins to suggest Rivers' raunchy approach to this subject. Now pushing 80, she can still elicit gasps with her foul-mouthed jokes. But her genius - and no, that's not too strong a word for this pioneering female comedian - is that she can also elicit laughs while making you deeply uncomfortable. It would require a Ph.D. dissertation to explain exactly how she pulls this off, but I think it involves the fact that she's as hard on herself as she is on her victims. Plus, Rivers is just plain witty - much more so than most of the mean-spirited women comics who've followed in her wake.

Goaded by Joan, the panelists help make Fashion Police one of the most transgressive shows on TV. "We're all going to hell," Rancic told her colleagues on one broadcast, following a particularly nasty bit. "You know that."

They probably are going to hell. And I, for one, can't wait to hear what they think of the clothes down there.

Sugar Dome
Sunday, 7 pm (Food Network)

In this reality competition, cake designers and sugar artists team with professional from other fields (animatronics experts, sand sculptors) to create dessert-oriented food art. I like the idea, but not the execution, as the producers themselves seem to be on a crazy sugar high. Lights flash incessantly; deafening music drowns out the contestants; sound effects bleep and boom; the host yells; a robotic voice issues commands; and the hyperactive camera creates whiplash effects. Might I suggest that Sugar Dome's concept people making pretty-looking sweets deserved a simpler treatment?

For me, the program has done what countless diets have failed to do put me off sugar.

American Masters
Monday, 8:30 pm (PBS)

"Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of American Dance" chronicles an artistic revolution. Before Robert Joffrey and partner Gerald Arpino came on the scene in the 1950s, American classical ballet companies reflected European and Russian traditions. The Joffrey Ballet was a truly indigenous company, with American themes and music. The choreography opened classical ballet to modern-dance influences, and it also responded to current events. Thus, the troupe premiered antiwar and psychedelic-rock ballets in the 1960s, blowing audiences' minds.

Along with the dazzling dance footage, the documentary offers decades' worth of colorful anecdotes. On a tour of Afghanistan in a freezing auditorium, the audience applauded silently while wearing mittens. In the 1990s, Prince became enamored of the Joffrey and offered the use of his songs royalty-free. That led to both financial solvency and temporary artistic bankruptcy.

"Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of American Dance" is an enjoyable program that will have you applauding, with or without mittens.

Great Performances
Tuesday, 8:30 pm (PBS)

"Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy" explores the curious fact that the American musical tradition was created almost exclusively by Jews. Songwriters like Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein borrowed melodies from Jewish prayers to fashion stories about outsiders overcoming obstacles - a subject they knew a little bit about. In the process, according to commentator Ben Sidran, "they created a way for all of us to explore the ideas that have been part of what we call the American Dream."

The documentary is packed with enlightening interviews, rare clips and, of course, the lovely melodies that form the Great American Songbook. We learn about the essential role of Jewish summer camps and discover Hebraic strains even in such secular songs as "God Bless America."

Bernstein's daughter comes up with the best theory of why Jews flocked to Broadway: "They were misfits, and they all found themselves in musical theater because it was a place where, with their unusual brains, they could collaborate and coexist in an environment that allowed for that flexibility."

Impractical Jokers
Thursday, 9 pm (truTV)

I reluctantly gave this prank show a thumbs up when it premiered last year, despite its lowbrow concept. I wanted to be the mature TV critic and look down my nose at it, but I was laughing too hard.

The idea is that four friends compete to embarrass each other in public situations. For example, one of them is installed as a receptionist at a business, and the others give him instructions (through an earpiece) on acting weird around the people who come through the door.

There's a fair amount of cruelty involved, but the friends direct it at themselves, not at innocent bystanders. And they have so much fun humiliating each other - and being humiliated - that it's hard not to have fun watching them.

Look at me, trying to sound like the mature TV critic with my justifications for Impractical Jokers. The bottom line is: The show is indefensible, and irresistible.

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