December can be such a refreshing month for television, especially the warmhearted Christmas specials that make the holiday about giving, not mall-emptying materialism. This year, for example, NBC aired a new Muppet special where they helped Santa Claus make children's wishes come true. There's a reason why "A Charlie Brown Christmas" never gets old, and "Miracle on 34th Street" remains timeless in its black-and-white glory: They champion the good, and the holy, and the pure innocence of Christmas.
And it's worlds apart in tone from today's usual TV fare. Switch the channel, and you'll find a young man coming back to life in the middle of his own autopsy.
That grotesque scene unraveled in December on the new CBS series "Eleventh Hour," which featured two college-aged men who are assumed dead, but find themselves revived in the autopsy room. The one who's not sliced wide open starts yelling at the medical examiner as his friend's heart beats away. No matter. Both soon die "again." The plot is too strange (and lame) to explain.
These two extremes on television are good examples of the best and worst of entertainment in 2008. Here are some other offerings.
Best: The movie "Juno" had all the irony and quippiness of your average art-house film about high-schoolers. But beneath that jokey exterior were real flesh-and-blood characters who struggled with an unanticipated teenage pregnancy by making the mature (if painful) decision to carry the child to term -- and then give the child to a woman who yearns deeply for a child to adopt. It was warm, funny, uplifting and realistic -- and it was a surprising hit and Oscar nominee.
Worst: The Fox show "Moment of Truth," which offered contestants half-million-dollar prizes if they would submit themselves to a lie detector as the host asked embarrassing questions certain to break up marriages and ruin families. Take contestant Lauren Cleri, who admitted in front of 8.6 million TV watchers (and her husband Frank) to committing adultery. She later lost the $100,000 she had won by answering yes to the question, "Do you believe that you're a good person?" At least she knew she was lying. Fox exploited the whole sordid wreckage for ratings points. Calling something "a new low for reality TV" might seem impossible, but this Fox spectacle fit the bill.