Highlights 12/27 to 1/2

The Drakensberg Mountains are Southern Africa’s Alps and the subject of this week’s Nature at 7 p.m. Sunday. Each spring, rains destroy grasslands at the base of the mountains, forcing animals to climb straight up sheer cliffs of volcanic rock, through gauntlets of storms and snow, to reach the grassy plateau.

In episode two of Masterpiece Classic, Cranford is beset by a crime wave—Dr. Harrison’s housekeeper discovers a leg of mutton has been stolen the same night as storeowner Mr. Johnson is mugged Sunday at 8 p.m.

During a career that spanned three decades, he created nearly 150 works of art, including a number of major public monuments to heroes of the Civil War. See his artistic prowess on Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Master of American Sculpture at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women” firmly established her reputation as a morally upstanding New England spinster. Yet under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, she led a literary double life and penned numerous scandalous works. Learn more at 8 p.m. Monday on American Masters.

PBS presents a preview of the new Ken Burns film The National Parks: America’s Best at 9:30 p.m. on both Monday and Friday. The six-part documentary series argues that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone.

Monday at 10 p.m. on Independent Lens, meet a determined group of theoretical scientists and fine artists who have abandoned careers and scoffed at graduate degrees to forge new lives as modern-day paper folders.

On the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” Nova reveals answers to the riddles that Darwin couldn’t explain, along with breakthroughs in a brand-new science –nicknamed “evo devo” at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Filmed over four years, this Independent Lens episode follows the wildly diverse personal stories of Father Paul O’Brien and his unruly flock as they struggle to hold onto faith in the face of desperate circumstances 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Journey to Sin City’s all-you-can-eat buffets and find a kaleidoscope of characters–from servers who bus endless plates to local farmers who buy up buffet leftovers to feed their pigs. In a city where it’s Thanksgiving every day, the simple act of eating a meal yields a bounty of insights into America’s feeding frenzy on Buffet at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Researcher and author Rachel Simmons examines the challenges facing young women as they surf the waves of 21st century adolescence on Girl’s Life Wednesday at 7 p.m.

P.O.V. gives an intimate portrait of legendary rocker, poet and artist Patti Smith. Following Smith’s personal reflections over a decade, the film is an impressionistic journal of a multi-faceted artist that underscores her unique place in American culture 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Canadian indie rock marvel Arcade Fire brings its powerful artistic melodrama to the Austin City Limits stage in celebration of its acclaimed second album, The Neon Bible at 10 p.m. Wednesday and 9 p.m. Friday.

The New York Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve gala, Live From Lincoln Center, celebrates all-American music from Gershwin, Copland and Broadway, as well as selections from various Broadway musicals Thursday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Great Performances returns for its 26th annual New Year’s Day celebration. Stage and screen legend Julie Andrews returns as host to welcome the New Year, with Georges Pretre leading the Vienna Philharmonic in a festive selection of Strauss Family favorites 8 p.m. Friday.

Gnarls Barkley brings its eccentric hip-hop and R&B sounds to Austin City Limits in support of its latest, The Odd Couple. Thievery Corporation follows with psychedelic worldbeat electronica from its new album, Radio Retaliation 7 p.m. Saturday.