Idiot Box

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We’re heading into the holiday home stretch, and you know what joys that brings–surly department-store clerks, brick-like fruitcake, hellish airport traffic, and reruns on TV. Apparently, even the entertainment industry feels it deserves a seasonal break, leaving viewers this week to pick through a melange of series repeats, (mostly mediocre) Hollywood movies, and … ice skating.

What is up with all the ice skating? Monday, TBS’ Holiday Festival on Ice (8:05 PM) goes head to head with the Brian Boitano Holiday Spectacular (ESPN, 8 PM). Then on Wednesday, TNT brings us Masters of Figure Skating (8 PM). I understand the seasonal appeal–ice, snow, Christmas. But please, please, please, bring back NBA basketball.

That said, the TV week doesn’t start out too badly. Tapping the surging Star Wars mania, this Sunday’s (non-rerun) Simpsons features guest voice Mark Hamill, who performs a showstopping rendition of “Luke, Be a Jedi Tonight” in a Springfield dinner-theatre production of Guys and Dolls (Fox, 8 PM). Top- notch chick flick Sense and Sensibility is on NBC (8 PM), and TBS serves up a smorgasbord of mindless, testosterone-laden action movies: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (4:45 PM) followed by Marked for Death (7 PM) followed by Lethal Weapon (9 PM).

Monday, check out Everybody Loves Raymond on CBS (9 PM). Granted, you’ll miss out on the week’s ritual humiliation of Ally McBeal on Fox. But both shows are airing reruns, and since Raymond is kicking Ally’s scrawny ass in the ratings, you really should see what the hooplah is about. This episode features Ray’s pathetic attempts to get his wife in the mood for a holiday tumble. The concept isn’t ground-breaking, but the show’s worth watching, if only for the scene with Ray in his Santa boxers and socks, pushing a floor sweeper around the Christmas tree while warbling “In the Ghetto.”

Come Tuesday, it’s gotta be Baba. At 10 PM, ABC proudly presents Barbara Walters’$2 10 Most Fascinating People of 1998. Yes, the queen of celebrity interviews is a pompous has-been whose primary aim is to reduce her interviewees to tears, but there’s a guilty pleasure in seeing just who will succumb to one of those famous crying jags. This time around, potential weepers include homerun sultan Mark McGwire, Spice Girl cum UN Ambassador Geri Halliwell, movie star (and presidential aspirant?) Tom Hanks, comedian Chris Rock, U.S. senator and NASA posterboy John Glenn, insufferable Titanic director James “King of the World” Cameron, Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart (maybe she’ll humiliate herself on this network as well), trash TV god Jerry Springer, and some guy named Bill Gates. As an added teaser, Babs is keeping the identity of the year’s No.1 most fascinating person under wraps until the show’s close–a shameless marketing ploy, but I’m dying to know which wretched figure from Bimbroglio she’s chosen. (My money is on Hillary.)

Fox’s rerun of Behind the Laughs revisits popular sit-coms from TV history (Wed., 8 PM). You don’t need to sit through the whole two hours–particularly when you could be watching figure skating on TNT–but flip over occasionally to see if you can catch John Travolta’s 1975 screen test for the role of Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter. At 9 PM, music fans who really care which CDs topped the Soundscan charts this year may want to turn to a rerun of the 9th Annual Billboard Music Awards on VH1.

Around Thusday, things start to get ugly. Some heartwarming made-for-TV job starring LeAnn Rimes is on ABC (8 PM), dueling versions of A Christmas Carol are on TBS (8:35) and AMC (9 PM), the Coneheads movie is on USA (9 PM)… The one bright spot of the night: At 8 PM, TNT starts its 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story. This movie captures what being a kid during the holidays is about: demented Santas, bickering parents, and the endless agonizing over whether you’ll receive the year’s hot toy. (And, for my money, AGenuineRedRyderCarbineActionTwoHundredShotLightningLoaderRangeModelAirRifle sounds loads more fun than some stinkin’ Furby.) On top of all that, the scene where Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) pounds the crap out of the school bully in a flurry of profanity and tears is one of cinema’s finest moments.

Friday is Christmas, and it is a television wasteland. Head to Blockbuster.

Looking at Saturday’s line-up, it’s clear the networks are betting that, in your post-holiday stupor, you won’t notice the stunning array of box-office bowsers they’re running: Rudy (Fox, 8 PM), Richie Rich (NBC, 8 PM), Medicine Man (TBS, 8: 05), Poison Ivy (UPN, 8 PM), Corrina, Corrina (TNT, 8 PM), Dunston Checks In (Family Channel, 8 PM). If you’ve got teenagers in the house, they may lobby for MTV’s Real World marathon. Don’t do it. Give the kids $20, send them to the movies, and take refuge in the one decent offering available on the small screen, The Hustler on PBS (9 PM).

Of course, with airstrikes on Iraq, U.S. embassies on alert for terrorist attacks, and an impeachment vote looming on the Hill, you may just want to keep the set tuned to CNN. God forbid you miss the next development in this season of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Michelle Cottle