Tuining in: on TV this week
Finding John Christmas (CBS, 9-11 p.m.): As the Christmas season begins, so do the cheesy Christmas heart-warmers. At least their messages are nonviolent and sometimes poignant. If only they were also creative. Take this film - a story about a fireman whose guilt about surviving a tragedy has led him to despair. When he returns to the mother and sister he once abandoned to repay old debts, his life is redeemed by an angelic figure (Peter Falk). With a little more atmosphere, a little more mystery, it might have been a real charmer instead of only middling family fare.
Stealing Christmas (USA, 8-10 p.m.): Lea Thompson is appealing as ever in this pedestrian town-saves-thief Christmas story. Tony Danza plays the thief with some genuine pathos. Sentimental family fare as it is, its slight edge makes it more engaging than the genre usually allows.
Horatio Hornblower (A&E, 8-10 p.m., continues Dec. 3, 8-10 p.m.): Ahoy, me hearties, a trend afloat! "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" weighs anchor at the local multiplex, Caroline Alexander's "The Bounty" harbors at the local book nook, and now "Horatio Hornblower" - starring a more mature and definitely more commanding Captain of the HMS Hotspur, Ioan Gruffudd - returns to the small screen. This is fine family adventure - lots of swashbuckling and explosions and a sad romance subplot.
Line of Fire (ABC, 10-11 p.m.): This grownup FBI adventure series borrows from "24," "Without a Trace," and playwright David Mamet's elegant mob-boss style dialogue to make what promises to be a fully engrossing new series. It's always hard to tell from just the pilot episode, but even with a cast populated too heavily by lovely women and gorgeous guys, we're still bound to learn a little more than usual about the mind-sets of bad guys and the way the FBI works. Look for the wonderfully versatile David Paymer in the role of the mob boss.