A good story, well told
Based on the big 2009 bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, The Help winds a tale of black maids and their white mistresses in the starkly racist South of the 1960s. The intense emotional connection between white children and the maids who raised them, and these same children's later disdain, is played out against the backdrop of a burgeoning civil rights movement. There are terrific performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, whose presence Monitor critic Peter Rainer describes as "ennobling without falsifying that nobility with sentimentality."
Footprints in the snow
Christmas in Yellowstone, on PBS Christmas Day, celebrates the season in our nation's most iconic national park. Part of the "Nature" series, this is a reprise of one of the show's most elegant and visually rich documentaries.
Christmas at St. Olaf, on PBS Dec. 20, presents the five college choirs of this Northfield, Minn., college in a soaring musical celebration of the Christ story. The hundreds of voices joined together to mark the 100th anniversary of this annual tradition give the event immense power and joy.
Trip into 2012
Planning a vacation for next year but stumped as to where to go? National Geographic has compiled a list of the best destinations for 2012 (travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/best-trips-2012/). Some options you may have thought of (London, Greece), but other lesser-known options stretch the imagination – Istria, Croatia, and the Virunga Volcanoes in Central Africa. The photos accompanying the Best of the World 2012 will make you want to book that plane ticket sooner rather than later.
Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! – the hilarious, witty, and occasionally even educational Peabody Award-winning NPR radio show – arrives on BBC America Dec. 23 at 8 p.m. This special will look back at the year's top stories from both a British and US perspective, and also includes contests and celebrity guests from both sides of the pond. The show was taped live on Dec. 2 in Chicago.
"American Masters" features an intense look at married couple Charles and Ray Eames (Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter) – a pair who put joy back into the world by helping to shape American design in the 20th century. The show airs on PBS Dec. 19 at 10 p.m.