Worth Watching: Music in the Air (Netflix’s ‘Song Exploder,’ ‘Voice’ Finale, CBS’s ‘Play On,’ Ella Swings), TCM & ‘Big Sky
A selective critical checklist of notable Tuesday TV:
Song Exploder (streaming on Netflix): On an unusually musical December Tuesday, Netflix takes viewers inside the process with a new batch of episodes from the acclaimed series, based on the podcast, featuring musicians sharing the stories behind the creation of their hit songs. Participants in Song Exploder‘s second volume include Dua Lipa (“Love Again”), The Killers (“When You Were Young”), Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor (“Hurt”) and Natalia Lafourcade (“Hasta La Raíz”).
The Voice (9/8c, NBC): The music continues in the all-star two-hour finale of the hit singing competition, which once again threatens to upstage the remaining contestants — Jim Ranger and Ian Flanigan from Team Blake, Desz from Team Kelly, John Holiday from Team Legend and Carter Rubin from Team Gwen — with a lineup worthy of a Grammys telecast. The finalists will perform, and so will the coaches, when Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani team up on their version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” And while the main event will be the ultimate crowning of a new Voice winner, you can be forgiven for tuning in just for the established superstars set to play, including Keith Urban, Nelly, Jason Derulo, JP Saxe, Dan + Shay, Julia Michaels, Lauren Daigle and Lewis Capaldi. So many voices, is there even room for a new one?
Play On: Celebrating the Power of Music to Make Change (8/7c, CBS): Music with a social conscience is the theme of a tuneful special hosted by Eve and executive producer Kevin Bacon, with the benefit’s proceeds going to the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and WhyHunger. The eclectic playlist features performances from three venues: L.A.’s Troubadour (Gary Clark Jr., Ziggy Marley with Andra Day, LL Cool J featuring DJ Z-trip), New York’s Apollo Theater (Bon Jovi, Machine Gun Kelly and a collaboration of Jon Batiste with Sara Bareilles, Emily King, Pedrito Martinez and Steve Jordan) and Nashville’s Bluebird Café (Maren Morris, Sheryl Crow and Yola with The Highwomen).
Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas with Vanessa Williams (8/7c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): Or you could groove on nostalgia in a concert special that recreates Ella Fitzgerald’s classic 1960 holiday album. Vanessa Williams hosts and performs before a socially distanced audience at the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C. The swinging headliners include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Broadway’s Norm Lewis, Carmen Ruby Floyd, Nova Payton, Dave Detweiler and Morgan James delivering a program of timeless standards.
TCM and the National Film Registry (starts at 8/7c, Turner Classic Movies): Every year, the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry selects 25 films to be inducted because of their historical, cultural or aesthetic impact on film history. TCM devotes its evening lineup to five of this year’s chosen films, starting with 1927’s slapstick Battle of the Century, featuring TCM Stars of the Month Laurel and Hardy in a silent classic renowned for a legendary pie fight including some 3000 pies; 1963’s Lilies of the Field (8:30/7:30c), starring Sidney Poitier in his Oscar-winning performance; TCM premieres of 1982’s Illusions (10:15/9:15c) and 1993’s The Joy Luck Club (11/10c); and overnight, the groundbreaking 1943 musical Cabin in the Sky (1:30 am/12:30c) and 1955’s The Man with the Golden Arm (3:15 am/2:15c).
Big Sky (10/9c, ABC): A showdown is looming against a ticking clock in the thriller’s winter finale, as Trooper Legarski (John Carroll Lynch) and hapless Ronald (Brian Geraghty) prepare to relocate the kidnap victims to points unknown just as Cassie (Kylie Bunbury) and Jenny (Katheryn Winnick) close in on their prey. Will Legarski’s unhappy wife Merilee (Brooke Smith) give them a lead? And expect the worst when henpecked Ronald finally stands up to his weirdo clinging mother (Valerie Mahaffey).
Inside Tuesday TV: In the wrenching penultimate episode of FX on Hulu’s A Teacher, Claire (Kate Mara) has paid her debt to society over her affair with a student, but there’s no returning to life as she once knew it. And when Eric (Nick Robinson) turns up again, clearly not over her, she needs to set him straight even as she tries to get her own life in order… With the field of play down to four, ABC’s The Bachelorette (8/7c) gets creative in introducing Tayshia to her suitors’ families since hometown visits are out of the question during a pandemic… ESPN’s 30 for 30 series presents The Infinite Race (8/7c), a profile of Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara community, famed for their prowess at running, preferably barefoot… OWN’s holiday movie Cooking Up Christmas (9/8c) stars Meaghan Holder as an unemployed chef who goes to work as personal live-in cook to a single-dad pro baseball player (Greenleaf‘s Lamman Rucker), and what are the odds that love is on the menu?… PBS’s Frontline (10/9c, check local listings at pbs.org) presents Return from ISIS, the troubling story of an Indiana mother who took her kids to war-ravaged Syria with her husband, an ISIS sniper, and the legal consequences she faced when she escaped the caliphate and returned to the U.S.… HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (10/9c) closes out 2020 with a roundtable panel looking back at the disruptions to sports during the pandemic and the impact on athletes of social-justice movements. Gumbel is joined by correspondents Mary Carillo, Jon Frankel, Andrea Kremer, Soledad O’Brien, Bernard Goldberg and David Scott.