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Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Finale

What's your favorite Christmas carol?

During the formative Little Barky years, mine was "Silent Night." My parents urged me to sing it at parties. I feigned being angelic.

In later years, "Ave Maria" took over. That's because the annual Perry Como Christmas special always ended on this note.

But now it's "O Holy Night," a very challenging song that has been performed many times many ways over the years. A big finish is mandatory. And I think the below two videos deliver.

Patti LaBelle performs the first version, much of it a cappella. You can feel the feeling behind it.

Josh Groban soars through the second version, with accompanying scenes from the 2006 movie The Nativity Story. Beautifully done.

Hope you enjoyed some or all of this season's "Countdown." Have a great Christmas, everybody! You deserve it.

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 9

The ubiquitous Michael Buble has been all over the place this Christmas.

But if you only experience him once, experience him this way in his new CD, "There's No Place Like Hum for the Holidays."

NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon showcased the man himself humming merrily through seasonal standards. Dave Matthews also drops in for a very special duet on "The Little Drummer Boy." Ho hum? No. Ho ho ho hum. Enjoy.

Crix top picks on HitFix

The deeply disturbed men of AMC's Breaking Bad, FX's Louie.

HitFix.com's first of what's intended to be an annual poll of TV critics put AMC's Breaking Bad at the top of the Top 10 list.

Seven of the anointed were cable TV series while PBS had twice as many entries as the lone commercial broadcast network qualifier, NBC's Parks and Recreation.

Your friendly content provider was among 44 TV reviewers asked to participate. I had Breaking Bad in second place, behind FX's Louie. All programs were eligible, including specials and movies.

Here's the Top 10 list as voted on by all 44 critics:

1. Breaking Bad (AMC)
2. Homeland (Showtime)
3. Mad Men (AMC)
4. Louie (FX)
5. Game of Thrones (HBO)
6. Girls (HBO)
7. The Walking Dead (AMC)
8. Parks and Recreation (NBC)
9. Downton Abbey (PBS)
10. Sherlock (PBS)

Here's my Top 10 list:

1. Louie
2. Breaking Bad
3. Mad Men
4. Homeland
5. The Dust Bowl (PBS)
6. Downton Abbey (PBS)
7. Treme (HBO)
8. Girls (HBO)
9. Justified (FX)
10. The Middle (ABC)

Of the four TV attractions that made my Top 10 but not the consensus, Justified finished just out of the money in the 11th spot. Treme was 20th, The Middle 23rd and The Dust Bowl 40th. Although I really don't think a lot of writers read the fine print indicating that all TV shows were eligible, not just series. Dust Bowl, the latest Ken Burns documentary film, ran for four hours on two nights. It received an aggregate score of 83 out of 100 on metacritic.com, to which I also contribute.

The complete HitFix.com list of all shows receiving votes -- and where they finished -- is right here. Here's how some other notables ranked:

13. Modern Family (ABC)
15. 30 Rock (NBC)
19. Sons of Anarchy (FX)
22. The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
29. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
49. American Horror Story (FX)
51. Dallas (TNT)
57. Dexter (Showtime)

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 8

The 1986 Dallas Cowboys had a very un-merry time of it, finishing 7-9 after a 6-2 start en route to the team's first losing season since 1965.

But they did hang together long enough to put together this oddly charming "Christmas In Dallas" music video, featuring the likes of Danny White, Herschel Walker, Bill Bates, Eugene "The Hitting Machine" Lockhart and a dozen or so other teammates. See how many others you can identify.

No one's lip syncing, a decidedly mixed blessing in some instances. But some of the players seemed to really throw themselves into this thing. Perhaps Tom Landry, in his waning years as the only coach the team had ever known, threatened fines or roster cuts if they didn't?

The overall effect is both cheesy and perhaps a bit heartening, depending on your fondness for the participating players. It's been a quarter-century since they put this thing together. And for better or worse, they don't make them like this anymore. Instead we get owner Jerry Jones and his hip-hop artistry on behalf of Papa John's pizza. No matter how much time passes, that one'll never generate any misty, water-colored memories.

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 7

"Why, it's so easy a child can do it."

Do what? Why, turn your home into a "Window Wonderland" via the "magic" of Glass Wax.

Yes, take it from pitchman George Fenneman, who used to be Groucho Marx's second banana on his old comedy quiz show, You Bet Your Life.

In the below spot, Fenneman pockets a little extra Christmas cash by touting the unbeatable combination of holiday stencils and Glass Wax. Must've sold a million of 'em.

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 6

Louis Armstrong's chuckling narration of "The Night Before Christmas" is still the best there's ever been. Here it's accompanied by old timey animation from HBO's terrific 2004 half-hour special 'Twas the Night.

The director is Amy Schatz. And if you ever see it, you will even say it glows. Aw, Uncle Barky, ya big lug.

HBO's Picture Paris serves a main course of Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Julia Louis-Dreyfus goes Parisian in new short film. HBO photo

The most gainful post-Seinfeld career is still being enjoyed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who had a nice run in CBS' The New Adventures of Old Christine and now is rolling along with her Emmy-winning role in HBO's Veep.

The half-hour HBO film Picture Paris (premiering Monday, Dec. 17th at 8 p.m. central) allows Louis-Dreyfus to tap her inner Woody Allen in tandem with husband Brad Hall, who wrote and directed it. Mais oui, there's also a little American Horror Story in play here. You'll have to be patient.

Season 2 of Veep is coming early next year on a yet to be announced date. So Picture Paris is a little place-holder in which a mostly makeup-less Louis-Dreyfus plays an impending empty nester named Ellen Larson.

Son Zack (Matthew Fahey) is heading off to college, freeing Ellen and husband, Randy (D.W. Moffet), to take a long-planned trip to Paris. The possibilities at hand are romanticized in ongoing French narration by Eric Elmosnino, with subtitles provided. An eager Ellen is in 24-hour French mode, including cooking and language lessons. C'est not so manifique.

The film is described as "quirky" in HBO publicity materials. For a good while it also seems almost numbingly predictable, albeit with nice Parisian scenery also in play. But then comes a major twist of an ending. Sacre bleu!. Did. Not. See. That. Coming.

Louis-Dreyfus is winning in the central role, and there's also some nice work by Gregory Fittoussi as a debonair waiter named Marcel. We'll leave it at that, with the proviso that Picture Paris in the end will be an acquired taste.


Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 5

Young and old alike: Put your pedals to the metal and see if you can possibly keep pace with this super-peppy 2010 Brave Combo rendition of "Jingle Bells."

NBC's 1600 Penn leaves a ring around the Oval Office

Guess which one is the square peg in the Oval Office. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Dec. 17th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Bill Pullman, Jenna Elfman, Josh Gad, Martha MacIsaac, Amara Miller, Benjamin Stockman, Andre Holland
Produced by: Josh Gad, Jason Winer, Jon Lovett, Mike Royce

The network of The West Wing has a lot more screws loose in this particular White House.

Unfortunately, the very broad comedy is sledge-hammered home in 1600 Penn, which is getting the plush sneak preview treatment Monday night following the fall season's last performance edition of The Voice. Providing it survives the trek, 1600 Penn will re-emerge on Jan. 10th in a Thursday 8:30 p.m. (central) slot.

NBC sent the first three episodes for review. Monday's opener is so off-putting that the marginally improved second and third half-hours may be beside the point.

Bill Pullman (previously the president in Independence Day) and Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg) are the name brand stars as President Dale Gilchrist and First Lady Emily Nash Gilchrist, whom he married after the mother of his four kids died. But 1600 Penn basically is a forum for misfit, rotund First Son "Skip" Gilchrist (Josh Gad from Book of Mormon), who shrilly cavorts like a young Chris Farley in heat.

The overall intent is to make child the father to the man, who just happens to be the leader of the free world. But gad, Gad, take it down at least 10 notches and then succumb to a long, warm bath without any rubber duckies. Once upon a time, Robin Williams may have over-acted as Mork from Ork. He was a corpse compared to this guy.

Skip, in his seventh year of college, is first seen with a collection of very nerdy buds outside a frat house. They attempt to pull a prank that of course misfires, leaving poor President Gilchrist again at the mercy of the press corps he despises. Even so, Dad decides it's time for Skip to return home and instead wreak havoc in the White House. Which he does -- before everything works out in the end. Or as NBC publicity materials put it, "Despite his many well-intentioned yet misguided efforts, Skip is the glue that holds this family together."

NBC, also the network of The Biggest Loser, makes a running joke of this big loser's compulsive over-eating of junk food concoctions. This seems more than a little counter-productive, although Gad as Skip conceivably could put together a little post-1600 Penn disclaimer in which he tells viewers, "Don't be like me. Eat a carrot once in a while."

Meanwhile, Pullman looks bloated and even constipated as the Prez. The character is supposed to be gruff and lacking in parental skills. But maybe all he needs is a long, long sit-down in the presidential Men's room. One can't blame Pullman for looking constantly uncomfortable, though. A truth serum-induced thought bubble over his head might well read, "So my career has come to this?"

Elfman still looks great, and is better served in some of her scenes with the kids she's trying to win over. Besides Skip, she has a newly pregnant stepdaughter named Becca (a gradually appealing Martha MacIsaac) and twins Marigold and Xander (Amara Miller, Benjamin Stockham).

In what seems to be a rather transparently clumsy effort to be inclusive, virtually every one of the Gilchrists' aides is a minority. But only White House press secretary Marshall Malloy (Andre Holland) is a regular member of the cast.

The President is not affiliated with any political party in these first three episodes. And other than being intent on taking out terrorists, his political positions likewise are a mystery. Sorry, MSNBC and Fox News Channel. There's nothing to get outraged about, unless you want to rail against substandard comedy.

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist nonetheless are along for the ride with cameos in Episode 2. And the inevitable Jay Leno pops up at the close of Monday's premiere. We're supposed to believe that a young person not only is watching The Tonight Show but also laughing at Leno's monologue. Then again, we're only talking Skip here.

It all gets at least a bit better in the two episodes beyond the opener. Gad even appears to be modulating himself a little during the course of constantly screwing up while also saving the day.

Still, nothing here works well enough to merit a loyal following. 1600 Penn at best is a comedy that plunges off its own "fiscal cliff." In that respect, Washington's fractious Democrats and Republicans likely could unite to unanimously pass a bill in which they hereby declare, "Watch us on C-SPAN instead."

GRADE: C-minus

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 4

This one's a little longer than most -- about 6 minutes. But it has a very nice payoff.

Comedy Central's 2012 Night of Too Many Stars telethon to raise funds for autism research included an auction for a family Christmas photo with Al Pacino. Yes, the real Al Pacino.

Louis CK opened the bidding, joked around and eventually made merry merry with the man himself. As you can see:

Globes TV nominations get Girls/Girl crazy

Jeff Daniels of The Newroom; Lena Dunham of Girls. HBO photos

A pair of HBO newcomers, The Newsroom and Girls, made big showings Thursday in the 70th annual Golden Globes nominations.

ABC's freshman drama Nashville also broke through with two acting nominations while NBC's Smash got a surprise nod as one of the five nominees in the "Best Television Series -- Comedy or Musical" category. Girls was the only other first-year series to make that list while Newsroom is the lone newcomer in the best drama series category.

The Globes got very girly overall, with Girls' two nominations matching the total for Fox's New Girl while both fell one short of the HBO movie The Girl, which got three.

Cable as usual dominated the nominees list, with 36 of the available 55 spots in 11 TV categories. But 14 of these were in the three "Miniseries or Made-for-TV Movie" slots, where the only broadcast network nominee is Bernard Cumberbatch for his title role performance in PBS' Sherlock.

PBS also notched three nominations for its Season 2 of Downton Abbey.

HBO had the most overall TV nominations with 17 while Season 2 of Homeland led arch rival Showtime's list of seven nominees after winning the last time as best drama series.

AMC tallied just three nominations, with Breaking Bad making the cut as best drama series but Mad Men falling out of favor and receiving only a lone acting nod for series star Jon Hamm.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who will co-host host the Sunday, Jan. 13th prime-time ceremony on NBC, were each nominated as best actress in a television series -- comedy or musical. But their respective shows -- 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation -- are not among the five best series nominees. In fact, of the 10 actors and actresses nominated for their comedy performances, only two of them (Lena Dunham of Girls and Jim Parsons of CBS' The Big Bang Theory) had their series nominated as well.

The secretive and smallish Hollywood Foreign Press Association annually makes the Golden Globes nominations in both television and feature films. For a complete nominee list, go here.

TNT unveils the first of Hagman's last hurrahs in Episodes 1 & 2 of Dallas' second season

Like father, like son. J.R. and John Ross in Season 2. TNT photo
Boy, they're gonna miss him. The show. The cast. The crew. The viewers.

Courtesy of TNT, the first two episodes of Dallas' Season 2 arrived Wednesday evening. A brief cover letter from co-executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael Robin acknowledged the "mixed emotions" in play.

"Larry Hagman was a giant in television history," they said. "He was an exuberant personality who loved portraying the globally recognized character of J.R. Ewing. Larry leaves a legacy of entertainment, generosity and grace. We are forever grateful to have worked with this legendary man."

The 15-episode second season launches with back-to-back hours on Monday, Jan. 28th. Hagman, who passed away on Nov. 23rd, reportedly appears in the first six. A funeral for his indelible J.R. is planned for the March 11th episode.

We're not going to give away any of the plot machinations from the first two hours. But be assured that Hagman is very much a presence, particularly in Episode 2.

In Season 2's opening hour, J.R. is first seen as an uninvited guest in the posh offices of his nefarious son, John Ross (Josh Henderson). He's got his feet up on the kid's desk. You know, like he owns the place.

"Don't worry about it. You know how slippery snakes can be," John Ross tells an apologetic secretary.

"Now that ain't a way to talk about your father," J.R. replies congenially.

Hagman is relatively light in Episode 1, with just two scenes of limited duration. But he's very much a part of the second hour, subtitled "Venomous Creatures."

In what's sure to resonate as a classic and perfectly played J.R. moment. he moves in behind his son while the two of them watch Bobby Ewing's (Patrick Duffy) adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) kiss John Ross's ex-girlfriend, Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster).

"Makes you wanna punch somethin', doesn't it?" J.R. says.

"I don't feel anything," John Ross retorts before Hagman hammers home the essence of J.R. in a mini-sermon for the ages.

"It's OK if you do," he counsels. "You're young. Use it. Love. Hate. Jealousy. Mix 'em up and they make a mean martini. And when we take over Ewing Energies, you'll slake your thirst -- with a twist."

He then pats his boy on the back and flexes that inimitable J.R. smile before the opening credits kick in. The guy's got it down.

J.R. also has a soft-hearted scene with ex-wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) after helping to bail her out of some serious trouble. She's grateful and he's philosophical: "Darlin', if I can still throw my weight around this town after all the crap I've pulled, then you'll bounce back just fine."

This prompts her to bestow a little peck on the cheek with the playful proviso, "That's all you're getting." But she does invite him for "some tea," and J.R. is mighty pleased to do so.

Dallas has always been primarily about double-dealing and doubling down. And there's plenty of that in these first two episodes. But the cast and producers would be the first to admit that this is all basically just window-dressing.

We all know that Hagman is taking his curtain calls in the name of one of television's all-time classic characters. And so every scene he's in is both a treat and something of a heartbreak. The show will go on -- or at least try to -- without him. But as these first two episodes again show, that will be a very tall order.

NOTED IN PASSING -- John Ross gives a little shout-out to the local daily in an early Episode 1 scene that finds him blackmailing a trucking company owner after a bedroom romp with his soon-to-married kiddo.

"I have breakfast with the society writer of The Dallas Morning News," John Ross informs him the next morning. "Told him I'd have a scoop on your daughter."

Hmm, longtime rich-and-famous chronicler Alan Peppard wouldn't be party to such a scheme. Or would he? We'll never know, because daddy of course caves in.

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 3

Hey kids, whaddya want for Christmas?

How about a "Roy Rogers Quick Shooter Hat" that probably broke before New Year's Day?

The usually straight shootin' King of the Cowboys assured kids that a miniature pop-up gun in a white cowboy hat is "your secret weapon, even when they think you're unarmed."

Maybe it's not all that outlandish for those who recall the short-lived 1959 CBS western series Hotel De Pardee.

It starred Earl Holliman (of future Police Woman fame) as a prison parolee named Sundance. He was hesitant to use any weapons after being imprisoned for 17 years for accidentally killing a man. So as the new law in town, he blinded troublemakers with sunlight reflected off polished silver discs attached to the hatband of his Stetson. Not sure what he did on cloudy days.

Anyway, the pop-up gun likewise would have been a one-trick pony after word got around. Still, Rogers happily pitched it in his Sunday best western outfit, fringe and all.

Here's how it went down:

All my son wants for Christmas is . . . well, let's hope not

We get all kinds of offers and solicitations here at unclebarky.com. But this one kind of jumped out.

Still, the Comedy Central shop's generous offer of a free "Tight Butthole" foam hand with one of the above t shirt purchases can't quite top the all-time worst toy ever concocted for Christmas giving. I think you'll agree after seeing the accompanying video. Even if the damned thing in pristine condition likely would now sell for at least $200 at Comic-Con.

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 2

Hark, it's Bing and Frank in a 1957 ABC Christmas special that originally aired in black and white on ABC. It also was filmed in color, though, for theater showings that never occurred.

Many Christmases later, the richly appointed color version was discovered and included in a 2010 DVD collection titled Bing Crosby: Volume Two -- The Christmas Specials.

In the below video, Sinatra joins Crosby for his anthem, White Christmas. They then settle in for what looks to be a sumptuously prepared two-man meal at a mockup of Frank's place.

It's all very nicely done with no messing around. Bing may be more famous for his odd couple version of The Little Drummer Boy with David Bowie. But this one's a keeper, too.

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas: Episode 1

Unclebarky.com shifts into Christmas cheer gear again as Dec. 25th closes in.

As with last year's "Countdown," we hope to bring you videos you perhaps haven't seen before. Or at the very least are happy to see again.

Day 1 brings this nifty little "Santa Baby" number from the anchor team for San Antonio's 6:30 p.m. WOAI-TV newscasts. It initially ran last Christmas. And in D-FW, it may not be a bad idea for some station to mimic it. WFAA8 increasingly is bullish on comedy news, but any of the local morning teams could make this work for them. Time's growing short, though.

Have yourself a merry little 12 Disasters of Christmas

Only Jacey can stop the end of the world in 12 Disasters of Christmas. With help from her father, Joseph, of course. Syfy photo

There's nothing particularly wrong with a cloying, gooey made-for-TV Christmas movie.

'Tis the season after all.

After a while, though, tolerance levels can be exceeded by the likes of ABC's Christmas with Holly, ABC Family's The Mistle-tones, Lifetime's Finding Mrs. Claus and Hallmark's Matchmaker Santa. To name just a very few of the new ones this season.

So if you're in the mood for a palate-cleanser in reverse, you could do worse than -- drumbeat optional -- Syfy's 12 Disasters of Christmas. Loopily entertaining and biblically proportioned, it premieres on Saturday, Dec. 8th at 8 p.m. (central).

Don't expect any holly jolly. In the early minutes of 12 Disasters, good ol' grandma is impaled by a giant lethal "ice spear" from above before an inflatable Santa Claus and Frosty are also taken out. But before her demise, granny gives granddaughter Jacey (Magda Aponowicz) one of five golden rings she'll needed to avert the end of the world.

Jacey's bearded dad is Joseph (Ed Quinn looking like a young James Brolin) and her mother is Mary (Holly Elissa). Throw in an asthmatic kid brother named Peter (Ryan Grantham) and it's modern day New Testament time in a little town called Calvary.

12 Days also includes a weak-kneed betraying mayor named Jude (Andrew Airlie) and Kane the nefarious, family business-killing "warehouse store" magnate (an all-sneer performance by Roark Critchlow).

A basically no-name cast fits right in with the mostly cheesy special effects. But there's a little pulling power, too, with Joseph and Jacey in a desperate search for the remaining hidden rings after finally buying into the apocalyptic visions of an old coot named Grant (Donnelly Rhodes).

"So you're saying two turtles doves and 12 drummers drumming is the end of the world?" Joseph asks with a straight face that must have required multiple takes even on a limited budget.

"That's exactly right," he's told. And it's all according to an ancient Mayan doomsday prophecy scheduled to come true on 12-21-12.

The movie also will treat viewers with visions of a Santa and his sleigh going airborne via a giant funnel cloud. And you won't want to miss one of the main characters getting electrocuted and then vaporized by a string of outdoor Christmas lights. There's no plague of fruit cakes, though.

12 Days probably won't be sponsored by Hallmark cards or Kay Jewelers. It doesn't like seem like a very good fit for either of those two. But a commercial for a Time-Life collection of heavy metal hits might be right in sync.

Not to spoil too much, but we're en route to a happy holiday ending after various characters get their eggs nogged. Viewers who have had their fills of prototypical Christmas movie cheer might want to get into the proper Syfy spirit by priming themselves with their favorite spirits.

That way, the holiday red water running from the kitchen faucet might go down a little easier.