‘Station Eleven,’ Return of ‘MacGruber,’ Christmas in the ‘Grey’-verse, Remembering Prince Philip

Even by Peak TV standards, this mid-December Thursday is remarkably overstuffed, especially in the ever-bustling streaming world. HBO Max launches an ambitious adaptation of the best-selling near-future fantasy Station Eleven. Peacock revives Saturday Night Live’s ridiculous action-hero parody MacGruber—and is also the home of a live-streamed Miss America competition on its 100th anniversary. Grey’s Anatomy and spinoff Station 19 ring out 2021 with holiday episodes. The British royal family remembers the late Prince Philip in a new discovery+ documentary.

Station Eleven on HBO Max
HBO MAX

Station Eleven

Series Premiere

Maybe this isn’t the best timing for a post-pandemic series to bow in a week when the U.S. crossed the 800,000-death COVID-19 milestone. Still, this intriguing and occasionally transcendent adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel suggests that hope, and art, survive in the wake of a devastating fictional flu. The sprawling story, spanning 20 years and multiple timelines, opens with a production of King Lear on the wintry night the world begins to end, but Hamlet is the main event 20 years later as we’re introduced to the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag performance troupe bringing culture to outposts of survivors, even as existential threats challenge their mission. (See the full review.)

MacGruber Kristen Wiig
John Golden Britt/Peacock

MacGruber

Series Premiere

It doesn’t get much sillier than this. The Saturday Night Live running gag that became a 2010 cult movie is now an eight-part comedy series, reviving Will Forte’s berserk macho-madman hybrid of Rambo and MacGyver. Reunited with ex-wife Vicki St. Elmo (fellow Saturday Night Live veteran Kristen Wiig) and Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillipe), the volatile MacGruber is given a Dirty Dozen-style release from prison after 10 years to embark on a “suicide mission” that leads to a showdown with Brigadier Commander Enos Queeth (Billy Zane), a nemesis from his past. Laurence Fishburne and Sam Elliott are among the ridiculously overqualified cast trying to keep a straight face amid the overheated and raunchy mayhem.

ABC

Grey’s Anatomy

The broadcast highlight on a night of mostly repeats is the holiday-themed midseason finale of the long-running medical drama. Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) is still distracted by her Parkinson’s project in Minnesota, but back in Seattle, Link (Chris Carmack) is hoping for a family Christmas with Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) and little Scout, seemingly blind to the fact that his BFF Jo (Camilla Luddington) now views him in a new romantic light. On first-responder spinoff Station 19 (8/7c), the crew comes to grips with loss in their first Christmas since firehouse bro Dean’s (Okieriete Onaodowan) death in a gas explosion. Life, and love, go on, but it’s complicated.

Sarah Jessica Parker in And Just Like That
Craig Blankenhorn / HBO Max

And Just Like That …

Now that the shock waves from that “big” tragic twist have settled, and Peleton has had its say, Carrie’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) world is further rocked when she learns of an unexpected bequest that makes her wonder what else she didn’t know about her husband. Thankfully, the mood lightens when the gang checks out Che’s (Sara Ramirez) raucous stand-up act, and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is particularly enchanted. Hmm, wonder where this is headed …

GETTY

Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers

Documentary Premiere

A very personal tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh was filmed throughout his centennial year, before and after his death in April, intended to celebrate his centennial but now serving as a documentary portrait told by those who knew him best. The special includes recollections from the Queen and Duke’s children, grandchildren, other members of the royal family and closest staff, enhanced by footage from the Queen’s private film collection.

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for ViacomCBS)

MTV Unplugged

Special

Their farewell concert at Radio City Music Hall was a success on CBS, and this quieter acoustic rendering of songs from Love for Sale, the latest (and probably last) collaboration of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, may introduce these standards to a new generation. Watching Bennett perform at 95, his Alzheimer’s temporarily fading as he grooves to the music, is something to behold.

More seasonal holiday treats:

  • Christmas by Chance (8/7c, Lifetime): A gift-shop owner helps a rich entrepreneur plan the perfect proposal for his girlfriend, but guess who falls in love instead?
  • A Christmas Wish (streaming on BET+): A single mother prays for a miracle to help her and her daughter find some joy in the season.
  • A California Christmas: City Lights (streaming on Netflix): A sequel to last year’s A California Christmas stars real-life couple Lauren and Josh Swickard as Callie and Joseph, who are perfectly content to run their dairy farm and winery until family and business duties beckon Joseph back to the big city.
  • Days of Our Lives: A Very Salem Christmas (streaming on Peacock): The daytime soap spins off its first holiday movie, in which Will Horton (Chandler Massey) races to finish a screenplay before a Christmas Eve deadline, using holiday-movie feel-good tropes featuring family and friends from Salem—including troublemaker Sami Brady (Alison Sweeney).

On the Stream:

  • Firebite (streaming on AMC+): A gritty vampire thriller set in the Australian outback pits two Indigenous monster hunters against a Vampire King and his minions who lurk in abandoned mining tunnels. Creepy and visceral.
  • South Park: Post Covid: The Return of Covid (streaming on Paramount+): In the second exclusive-to-streaming episode of the bawdy animated series, Stan, Kyle and Cartman plot to turn back time so they can stop Covid from ever happening and thus save Kenny.
  • Finding Magic Mike (streaming on HBO Max): They may have let themselves go, but 10 ordinary guys participate in a “Magic Mike Live” bootcamp where they’ll tap into their inner (and eventually outer) male stripper in a contest to see who’ll be christened the new Magic Mike.
  • Miss America (8 pm/ET, live-streaming on Peacock): There she is—and you’ll have to live-stream to witness the crowning of the 100th Miss America from Connecticut’s Mohegun Sun Arena. Also moving to streaming: the fourth season of The Real Housewives of Miami.
  • Dead Asleep (streaming on Hulu): A true-crime documentary explores the controversial subject of “violent parasomnia (sleepwalking)” in its investigation into whether Randy Herman Jr. actually committed a brutal murder in his sleep.
  • Close to Me (streaming on Sundance Now and AMC+): Gladiator’s Connie Nielsen stars in a six-part thriller as Jo, who loses her memory of the last year after a fall, and during her recovery, flashbacks lead her to suspect it wasn’t an accident and that her husband (The Leftovers’ Christopher Eccleston) is harboring secrets. Also on AMC+: the season finale of the grisly crime thriller Ragdoll.

Inside Thursday TV:

  • California Dreaming (7/6c, Nickelodeon): American Idol’s Simon Fuller and Grammy-winning songwriter-producer Ryan Tedder conceived this scripted musical special about young talent auditioning for spots in a renowned performing-arts boarding school.
  • Dogs of the Year (8/7c, The CW): Entertainment Tonight’s Kevin Frazier and Keltie Knight highlight the year’s most heartwarming dog tales of canines who go above and beyond.
  • L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth (8/7c, NBC): More inspiration in a salute to female non-profit leaders who are flown to the City of Lights for a Parisian honors ceremony alongside celebrity ambassadors including Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Andie MacDowell, Eva Longoria and Camila Cabello.
  • Music Box: Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss (8/7c, HBO): Just renewed for a second season, the music-driven documentary anthology examines the too-short life and career of Chicago rapper Juice WRLD, whose rapid rise was clouded by mental-health issues and prescription drug dependency.