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john doyle: television

There's no accounting for taste, which is a good thing.

At this time of the year, some people want a survey of the year in politics on television. Winners and losers. Who screwed up. Others want to know about the holidays. Still others desire an old-fashioned feel-good story. It helps with the stress of work, shopping and worrying about what to wear to the office party. And of course there are those people who want to ignore the shindig, ignore all religious symbols and significance, and work on the assumption that the holidays are really about Boxing Week sales. Fair dues to all of these types. Herewith, an eclectic list of year-end and holiday specials.

The National (Thursday, CBC, 10 p.m.) includes the first instalment of a three-part, year-end At Issue panel, an annual ritual in which Pastor Mansbridge commands distinguished pundits to sum up the year. That essentially means a right-wing gab-fest, plus Chantal Hébert giving the Quebec perspective. Tonight's sizzling topic is the question, "What was the best political play of 2011?" Go ahead, do your own punditry while you watch.

Want Canadian pop stars of the male and bland variety?

A Michael Bublé Christmas got a sneak-peek airing recently and airs again this weekend (Sunday, CTV, 8 p.m.). Bublé hosts his first holiday Christmas show and inevitably sings songs from his new Christmas album – White Christmas, Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and Jingle Bells. Can you stand it? Also turning up are Justin Bieber, Kellie Pickler, Thalia, Oscar the Grouch, The Puppini Sisters and Naturally 7. Bublé will smirk, you know. That's the worst part. You just know he will.

Much Music presents Justin Bieber: Home For The Holidays (MuchMusic, Thursday, Dec. 22, 6 p.m., and CTV, 7:30 p.m.), which features "a special acoustic set," we are told. "Justin says that the holidays are a very special time for him and he is looking forward to returning to home and ringing in the holidays with his friends and family." Keep that in mind, won't you?

Feel like a nice, not-slick holiday TV movie?

Stolen Miracle (CTV, Tuesday, 8 p.m.) is based on a real incident in Ontario a few years ago. It begins with Christmas tensions in various families and develops into a thriller about an abducted baby. A harried police officer, Sergeant McKinley (Leslie Hope), is trying to have a calm, work-free Christmas. Meanwhile, a pregnant woman, Karen (Marnie McPhail), enters hospital and gives birth to a boy. At the same time, a mentally disturbed woman named Mary (Nola Augustson) is carrying on a charade of being pregnant, with her ex-con boyfriend reluctantly playing along. Mary turns up at the hospital and simply walks out with Karen's baby. A frantic search takes place on Christmas Eve. Stolen Miracle is clearly aimed at female viewers and well crafted – it's a low-key and very likeable drama.

You want a helpful documentary, not a feel-good story?

The Legends of Santa (ichannel, Friday, 9 p.m., repeats Tuesday, 10 p.m.) is an intriguing doc that attempts to track the evolution of the "jolly, bearded fat man in a red suit" from its origins and determine what on Earth that has to do with celebrating the birth of the Christian saviour. Prepare to be educated.

Is Dr. Who your thing at Christmas time?

The 2011 Doctor Who Christmas Special, called The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe, will make its Canadian debut on Christmas Day (Space, 9 p.m.). It's set during the Second World War and the doctor delivers nice gifts, I'll wager.

On the off-chance that Daniel O'Donnell is your thing, look out: Christmas with Daniel (Vision, Friday, 10 p.m.) is all about O'Donnell's memories of Christmas in Ireland. There are songs and, be prepared, there are poems – A Christmas Childhood, narrated by Daniel and My Lovely Island Home, narrated by Julia O'Donnell, Daniel's mom. Only the Irish would throw in a few poems.

Want to say, "I don't believe it!" at regular intervals?

One Foot in the Grave Christmas special (Thursday, Vision, 8 p.m.) is a slightly insane episode of the great British classic sitcom about curmudgeon Victor Meldew (Richard Wilson) and his long-suffering wife, Margaret (Annette Crosbie). In this outing, Victor and Margaret return from holiday to discover a man living in their garden shed. Victor takes a job as a gardener, and a certain person thinks aliens are taking her to Jupiter every night. Priceless.

Also airing tonight

The Year with Katie Couric (ABC, CHCH, 9 p.m.) is another glance back at the year in news and scandals. This one goes on for two hours. Couric looks at "everyday heroes who inspired a nation" and "public figures who fell from grace." Also, Couric promises "a uniquely humorous take on the past year's top stories." Indeed. Meet the new Barbara Walters, perhaps. With added humour.

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