Elf (Saturday, 7 p.m., CBS) has been popping up on TV every Christmas. Does the movie deserve classic status, up there with Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life? It certainly takes a Capra-style approach, with a holy innocent from the sticks (à la Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) humanizing a jaded city.
Buddy (Will Ferrell) is a human raised among Santa's elves at the North Pole. When he learns that his real father is in New York City, he makes a beeline for the Empire State Building in his pointy cap and fur-lined green jacket. Buddy is, by his own description, a "cotton-headed ninny-muggins," and his childlike response to New York City's wonders (revolving doors! free gum stuck to the railings!) is expertly played for laughs. Ferrell is surrounded by a brilliant cast of cynics (James Caan as his father, Zooey Deschanel as his love interest), and the filmmaking itself has a healthy dose of cynicism, too. The movie is ironic, not sentimental, about Buddy's elfin enthusiasm.
At least until the last reel. After getting the tone just right for an hour, Elf melts into mush with a plot point about Santa's sleigh stranded in Central Park. As in any dopey made-for-TV holiday movie, Buddy has to save Christmas by getting New Yorkers to believe in Santa. Belief, you see, is what powers his sleigh.
Here's where Elf surrenders its classic status. What cotton-headed ninny-muggins thought up this ending?
The Year in Animals
Saturday, 8 pm (Animal Planet)
Kittens were cute, golden retrievers had cold noses, and gerbils shredded all the newspaper in their cages. That's all I'll reveal here - you'll just have to tune in to Animal Planet's year-end wrap-up to find out what else went down in an action-packed '07.
The Family Holiday
Saturday, 8 pm (Lifetime)
I'm willing to risk public humiliation by saying that Dave Coulier was a brilliant sidekick in Full House. Coulier is a born clown with fine comic timing. Both he and Full House get a bad rap from adults who think "family-oriented" has to mean "lame."
Unfortunately, "family-oriented" does mean lame in the case of The Family Holiday. Coulier plays a scam artist who will inherit $20 million if he can prove he has a wife and kids. On cue, two cloying orphans cross his path, having just escaped from an evil adoption agency.
Coulier almost saves the creaky script. The problem is that he's better cast as a second banana than a leading man. Somebody get this man into a new sitcom immediately - as a co-star, please.
In God's Name
Sunday, 8 pm (CBS)
This special brings together 12 of the world's most influential spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, the pope, Bishop Mark Hanson of the Lutheran World Federation, chief Israeli Rabbi Yona Metzger, Shi'ite Muslim leader Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah and Sunni Muslim leader Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi. They speak out against violence and hatred, proclaiming their hopes for peace, unity and tolerance.
Sadly, the special ends with the Sunni taking a potshot at the Shi'ite, who knocks the yarmulke off the rabbi, who rips the pope's robe. That gets the Dalai Lama mad, and, man, you never, ever want to do that.
My Big Breasts and Me
Sunday, 9 pm (BBC America)
We see that men love big breasts and that many women want to have them. But what if a woman has them and hates them? This documentary focuses on three British women who question the idea that bigger is better. "I can't stand up straight anymore," says one. "It's almost like a disability."
Along with physical problems come mental ones. Psychologists affirm that well-endowed women often have low self-esteem from being ogled and teased. They point to movies and TV shows where big breasts are an occasion for leering and snickering. "Forget about those five Nobel Prizes you won," one psychologist says. "Your big breasts are going to be the most important thing about you."
The documentary gets an A for delving into a little-discussed issue. But the execution leaves something to be desired. My Big Breasts and Me can't help engaging in some of the aforementioned mockery. The broadly comic soundtrack comes straight out of Benny Hill. The narration is full of snarky puns: "Are the odds stacked against them?" "Keeping abreast of the latest fashions isn't easy."
Could the filmmakers just not help themselves? These touches mar an otherwise laudable production and force me to lower my grade to a D (cup).
Tuesday, 8 am (GSN)
On Christmas, family members will gather around the tree, getting increasingly annoyed with each other as the day progresses. To mark the occasion, GSN offers an 11-hour marathon of Family Feud.
You can't say the network lacks a sense of humor.
Kennedy Center Honors
Wednesday, 8 pm (CBS)
Every year, the Kennedy Center honors five artists for their lifetime contributions to American culture. And every year, I complain about the fact that Jerry Lewis has been passed over in favor of less-deserving candidates.
This year, however, I have to admit that Martin Scorsese clearly deserves the honor. Steve Martin isn't too shabby either. Now that you mention it, I've got no beef with Diana Ross, Brian Wilson and Leon Fleisher, all of whom have significantly enriched our lives.
Damn you, Kennedy Center - is this all an elaborate plot to spite me?