Worth Watching: Ring in the New Year, a Battle for ‘Discovery,’ Chill With ‘Sabrina,’ Dueling ‘Twilight Zone’ Marathons
A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:
Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021 (8/7c, ABC): Nice knowin’ ya, 2020, but it’s time to move on. And even in a usually bustling Times Square, the countdown to 2021 is going to be a strictly made-for-TV event with no crowds allowed. There are plenty of options for channel surfers, but the dominant broadcast remains ABC’s festivities, with Live‘s Ryan Seacrest marking his 16th year in the role made famous by the late Dick Clark. Lucy Hale and Pose‘s Billy Porter join him in Times Square, where Jennifer Lopez is the main attraction, performing for a limited invited audience just before the midnight ball drop. Porter teams with his Kinky Boots composer Cyndi Lauper for a special duet, with Jimmie Allen and Machine Gun Kelly also performing in New York. On the West Coast, Ciara is back for a fourth year leading the party, with headliners including Brandy, Doja Cat, Ella Mai, Lewis Capaldi, Maluma, Megan Thee Stallion, Miley Cyrus and Saweetie. From New Orleans, “Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia rings in the Central Time Zone new year with Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton.
NBC starts off with the appropriately titled news special Escape from 2020 (8/7c), looking back at the tumultuous year, then revs up for NBC’s New Year’s Eve 2021 with Carson Daly (10/9c), also from a cordoned-off Times Square, where Daly is joined by late-night Peacock host Amber Ruffin and Ellen sidekick/DJ Stephen tWitch Boss. Talent includes Voice stalwarts Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, with performances from across the country featuring Kylie Minogue, Pentatonix, Sting with Shirazee, AJR, Goo Goo Dolls, Bebe Rexha with Doja Cat, Chloe x Halle, CNCO, Jason Derulo and Busta Rhymes with Anderson.Paak.
Fox offers a New Year’s Eve Toast & Roast 2021 (8/7c), hosted by the inescapable Ken Jeong and his former Community co-star Joel McHale from Los Angeles, where they’ll celebrate the year with a salute to those who made 2020 bearable. The latest Masked Singer winner, LeAnn Rimes, leads the performing roster, along with Gloria Estefan and Doctor Elvis, plus iHeartRadio tunes from the likes of John Legend and Green Day. Fox’s Toast is an all-out self-promotional event, with music from new Name That Tune host Jane Krakowski and band leader Randy Jackson, a duet from upcoming Call Me Kat sitcom co-stars Mayim Bialik and Cheyenne Jackson, and a comic New Year’s vlog from Last Man Standing star Tim Allen.
PBS takes the inspirational route with United in Song: Celebrating the Resilience of America (8/7c and 9:30/8:30c, check local listings at pbs.org), a concert with a message of national unity. The high-end talent lineup, filmed at Mount Vernon and the Kennedy Center, includes such classical and pop heavy-hitters as Joshua Bell, Renee Fleming, Audra McDonald, Patti LaBelle, Josh Groban, Denyce Graves and Yo-Yo Ma, with the American Pops Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra.
And on CNN, the tag team of Anderson Cooper and Bravo’s Andy Cohen reunite for the fourth time on CNN’s New Year’s Eve Live (8/7c), cutting up as much as Times Square will allow, with performances and appearances from an eclectic lineup including John Mayer, Snoop Dogg, Patti LaBelle, Jimmy Buffett, Josh Groban and Tiger King‘s Carole Baskin. After the ball drop, Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon take over at 12:30 am/11:30c to welcome the New Year in the Central Time zone, while correspondents weigh in from across the globe.
Star Trek: Discovery (streaming on CBS All Access): Having skipped over some 930 new year’s celebrations in their jump to the future, the Discovery crew are pawns in an intergalactic showdown in the third season’s penultimate episode, directed by Trek veteran Jonathan Frakes. The Emerald Chain’s Elphaba-like green menace, Osyraa (Janet Kidder), is now in control, having taken over the ship to use as leverage in negotiations with the Federation’s wary Fleet Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr). While Saru (Doug Jones), Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Adira (Blu del Barrio) remain stranded in the radiation-rich Verubin Nebula and its dilithium planet, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) goes all Die Hard after crashing back on board Discovery, stealthily working her way through the ship in hopes of saving the day.
The Stand (streaming on CBS All Access): The third chapter of Stephen King‘s sprawling post-apocalyptic fantasy introduces more of Mother Abagail’s (Whoopi Goldberg) inner circle at the Boulder Free Zone, with deaf Nick Andros (Henry Zaga) receiving a calling to be Mother’s “voice,” and professor Glen Bateman (Greg Kinnear) joining the team. Mother’s instructions are simple: “The world is a blank page, and unless we’re all working together, we’re not going to be able to rewrite it.” But that doesn’t take into account bad-apple interlopers like Nadine Cross (Amber Heard), who has been receiving sinister instructions from “Dark Man” Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) for years. And everyone is shaken when an escapee arrives from Flagg’s Sodom-and-Gomorrah-style Vegas with a dire message.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (streaming on Netflix): The teenage witch (Kiernan Shipka) casts her last spell in the fourth and final installment of the supernatural coming-of-age thriller. In a neat meta twist, the series nods to the 1990s sitcom Sabrina with cameos by Beth Broderick and Caroline Rhea as the original Aunts Zelda and Hilda, roles now played by Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis. These last 10 episodes are no joke, though, as the coven bonds together, with an assist from the Fright Club, to save Greendale (and presumably the world) from the Eldritch Terrors.
The TV Marathon Zone: No matter when and how you’re celebrating the new year, there’s always time to take a brief pause and revisit Rod Serling’s classic The Twilight Zone, the influential fantasy/horror anthology that never, ever gets old. Syfy’s annual two-day Zone marathon kicks off at 6 am/5c, and for the third consecutive year, nostalgia channel Decades gets in on the act with its own A Toast to Twilight (7 am/6c), which runs all weekend through Monday at 7 am/6c and includes the less-familiar hourlong episodes from the fourth season. For more marathons to binge on, including an all-day wallow in Law & Order: SVU on USA (starts at 8 am/7c), check out this list.
Happy New Year, everyone!