Last year, I wrote an impassioned plea to 'The Kennedy Center Honors': Give Jerry Lewis his due. With its annual ceremony (Tuesday, 8 p.m., CBS), the Kennedy Center claims to honor 'extraordinary American artists whose unique and abundant contributions to our culture have transformed our lives.' The fact that they've snubbed Lewis all these years suggests either ignorance or spite.
Jerry Lewis is, simply, a colossus in American culture. With his partner Dean Martin, he dominated TV and movies in the late 1940s and '50s. He created a persona ' spontaneous, explosive, endlessly inventive ' that influences comedians to this day. (Jim Carrey, for one, owes him royalties.) After his split with Martin, Lewis evolved into a 'total filmmaker,' as The New York Times recently put it. He wrote, directed and starred in a string of films that, according to scholar David Thomson, 'deserve a place in any study of American comedy.'
Nor is Lewis a figure from the distant past. He still acts in TV series. He still keeps vaudeville alive with his annual telethon ($61 million raised this year). He recently wrote a charming, best-selling memoir called Dean and Me. Lewis does all this at age 80, in spite of severe health problems. The man is a trouper.
So what does the Kennedy Center have against Jerry Lewis? Is it the old American penchant for honoring artists who smack of high culture, rather than those whose genius is accessible to everyone? No, that can't be it ' not with Dolly Parton and Andrew Lloyd Webber on this year's list.
Anyone who thinks Parton and Lloyd Webber have contributed more to American culture than Jerry Lewis should be locked in a small room for all eternity, with a soundtrack endlessly playing Jesus Christ Superstar and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Is that where you want to end up, Kennedy Center judges?
Saturday, 9 pm (Sundance Channel)
What if the Christ child had been gay? The acclaimed Canadian film C.R.A.Z.Y begins in 1960 with a Christmas miracle: A boy is born. From the get-go, Zac (Emile Vallee) bears similarities to the Virgin Mary's son. The infant briefly dies before the doctors bring him back ' his first supernatural feat. As he grows up, his devout Catholic mom comes to believe he has the power to heal the sick. This, clearly, is a special child.
Or is he simply special in the way that all children are? With the same power to heal that all of us have, if only we could figure out how to use it? What really needs healing here is Zac's family. His dad is an essentially decent man but brusque and narrow-minded. He has troubled relationships with his five boys ' particularly Zac, who accidentally breaks Dad's rare Patsy Cline record. Things go downhill from there as Zac struggles with his attraction to males.
C.R.A.Z.Y.'s gorgeous fantasy sequences give it a tinge of the otherworldly. But the story exists mostly in our own earthly realm, with its sex, drugs, sibling rivalry and messy matters of the heart.
For all its pain and melancholy, the movie is a wonderful choice for holiday viewing. The miracle of the restored Patsy Cline record rivals the happy ending of A Christmas Carol.
Saturday, 9 pm (History Channel)
I always complain about the overload of sentimental programming around Christmas. While everyone else happily watches It's a Wonderful Life, I'm going nuts from lack of stimulation. Every year, I put 'gritty, hard-hitting TV programming' at the top of my Christmas wish list. And every year Santa puts a lump of sugar in my stocking instead.
But wait...this year the History Channel comes through with an eye-opening documentary on the diamond trade. It digs into the smuggling, corruption and brutality associated with diamonds in several African nations. In Sierra Leone, rebels have chopped off people's hands, arms, feet, lips and ears during a civil war financed partially by illicit diamonds.
Okay, maybe this is too gritty and hard-hitting for the holiday weekend. I wonder what channel It's a Wonderful Life is on?
A Christmas Wedding
Sunday, 4 pm (Lifetime)
As this TV movie begins, Emily (Sarah Paulson) and Ben (Eric Mabius) describe their first meeting. They made eyes at each other while ice-skating, and she crashed into a snowbank. Then he crashed on top of her. 'It was kind of a disaster,' Ben says. 'An adorable disaster,' Emily chimes in.
A Christmas Wedding is nothing if not adorable. Ben and Emily are the cutest couple you'll ever see on basic cable. Conflict comes in the form of Emily's sleazy boss (Dean Cain), who insists that she accompany him on a business trip to Florida the week before her dream wedding on Christmas day.
There are no surprises in A Christmas Wedding, with every complication and resolution arriving right on cue. It's one big clichÃ ' but, I must admit, one big adorable clichÃ.