Worth Watching: Christmas Eve Classics (‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and More), ‘Discovery’ Feels the Burn, ESPN Looks Back at 2020

It's a Wonderful Life donna reed jimmy stewart
Courtesy of the Everett Collection
It's a Wonderful Life

A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:

It’s a Wonderful Life (8/7c, NBC): ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and as the movie lover nestles onto the couch, no one is stirring while their favorite holiday movie is playing. For many, that means an annual visit with everyman George Bailey (James Stewart) in Frank Capra’s belated 1946 classic — a flop when first released — as he learns how much he is truly valued by all in Bedford Falls, a life-affirming lesson that earns a certain angel his wings.

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24 Hours of A Christmas Story (8/7c, TBS; 9/8c, TNT): Or you could get stuck in the nostalgic time loop of the Turner channels’ yearly marathon of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back showings of the 1983 gem. For 24 hours on the hour, relive Ralphie’s (Peter Billingsley) most memorable childhood Christmas, when a Red Ryder BB gun meant everything and even a doofus like Flick (Scott Schwartz) should have known better than to lick a frozen flagpole.

Christmas in Connecticut (6/5c, Turner Classic Movies): There are plenty of ways to find your bliss on Christmas Eve, but few havens are as reliable as TCM, which obliges with some lesser-known treasures, including the delightful 1945 comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck as a homemaking columnist with no actual domestic skills who’s assigned to host a Christmas dinner for a returning war hero… Followed by 1948’s The Bishop’s Wife (8/7c), starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young — probably better known as the inspiration for the 1996 remake with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington.

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The Greatest Showman (8/7c, ABC): Making its debut on broadcast network TV, the 2017 hit film about impresario P.T. Barnum stars Hugh Jackman in a bombastic circus spectacle that could become a new family tradition. Zac Efron, Michelle Williams and Emmy winner Zendaya (Euphoria) are among the co-stars, with a score from Dear Evan Hansen composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that includes the Oscar-nominated “This Is Me.”

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SportsCenter Presents: 2020 — Heroes, History and Hope (8/7c, ESPN): Such good sports, those folks at ESPN, for leaving out another “H” word-hell — to describe the past year. In a three-hour format, hosts Jeremy Schaap and Lisa Salters take the measure of 2020 in the world of sports, with commentary and essays from network personalities including Mike Greenberg, Tom Junod, Mina Kimes, Holly Rowe, Adam Schefter, Stephen A. Smith and Wright Thompson. Each hour will include a “Moment in Time” segment: remembering the death of Kobe Bryant on Jan. 26, the day all sports stopped because of the pandemic on March 11, and Aug. 26, when the Milwaukee Bucks led a protest in Kenosha, Wis., after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The overview will also profile newsmakers including NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace, acknowledge sports heroes and celebrate those passionate fans who didn’t let the traumas of 2020 dim their passion for sports.

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Star Trek: Discovery (streaming on CBS All Access): Most episodic series go into hibernation during the holiday weeks, but not on streaming. Discovery continues its thrilling third season in the far future with a risky away mission for Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Saru (Doug Jones) and Culber (Wilson Cruz). They head into an irradiated Verubin Nebula in hopes of discovering the source of the Burn some 125 years earlier, but what they find shocks even these seasoned space travelers. Back on the ship, First Officer/Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is in charge, and her first trial by fire is shaping up to be a doozy.

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Inside Thursday TV: The CBS All Access remake of Stephen King‘s The Stand also continues, introducing another of its heroes, troubled musician Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo), whose first challenge is to find his way out of a decimated New York City… Because a new season of the long-running Murdoch Mysteries was delayed by COVID-19, Acorn TV replaces the usual Christmas premiere with the special A Music Lover’s Guide to Murdoch Mysteries, a classical-music concert hosted by series star Yannick Bisson on the show’s period set… Also streaming: the award-winning Swedish drama Love Me on Topic, telling relatable stories about romance, second chances and commitment from a multigenerational perspective.