Top Picks: The return of Bob Seger, New York City Ballet's Nutcracker, and more

A Reelz miniseries ponders if a woman ever became Pope, the band Crooked Still wins over listeners with a rich folk sound, James Lee Burke's new novel mixes violence and wonder, and more top picks.

Blaine Truitt Covert
New York City Ballet's 'The Nutcracker'
Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture – A Career Retrospective
James Lee Burke's 'Feast Day of Fools'

MAD Mag cartoonist

Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture – A Career Retrospective (Fantagraphics) is a wonderful tribute to the prolific artist known mostly for his MAD Magazine covers and cartoons.

The oversize book's full-color illustrations include MAD art as well as Davis's movie poster, TV Guide cover, Time cover, advertising, humor, comic book, and caricature art.

An amazing lifetime of work.

Seger Sighting

A rock icon is back among us. In addition to a triumphant US tour, a new greatest hits CD package, Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets, has arrived in record stores and on digital download sites. All of Seger's classic rock anthems are included in remastered glory: "Night Moves," "Mainstreet," "Old Time Rock and Roll," "Against the Wind," "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," and just in time for the holidays, "Little Drummer Boy" – 26 tracks in all. And every hit is belted out in that voice, the one that brought you "Like a Rock."

Burke and the Borderlands

Brutal crimes abound in the Texas border town presided over by Sheriff Hackberry Holland, who returns in Feast Day of Fools, a dark novel by James Lee Burke. Best known for his Cajun detective series, Burke handles the bloody borderlands with equal aplomb, melding natural wonder with ample violence. Burke's tale bogs down on occasion, overstuffed with plot threads. Still, it's hard to quibble about a writer of such intensity.

Tall tale or truth

Pope Joan, a two-part miniseries on Reelz Dec. 18 and 19, dramatizes the international bestselling novel by Donna Woolfolk Cross. The tale takes seriously the long-posited but never proven theory that deep in the Middle Ages, a woman – living as a man – rose to the position of pope. Graphic and violent, this melodrama nonetheless addresses provocative questions about women, autonomy, and religious freedoms.

Boston Bluegrass

Boston-based quintet Crooked Still has been plying the folk circuit for a decade, and lead vocalist Aoife O'Donovan's silky voice has been getting noticed of late. But their sound is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. From the first notes of "It'll End Too Soon," on their new EP Friends of Fall, the pure acoustic sound of banjo and cello, fiddle, bass, and guitar will take you on a journey through Appalachia to Ireland's green shores, with covers of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel thrown in.

Nutcracker live

New York City Ballet's holiday classic George Balanchine's The Nutcracker airs live from Lincoln Center on Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. Set to Tchaikovsky's delightful score, the evening features the entire roster of dancers and musicians, rounded out with students from the company's school.

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