‘Counterpart’ returns for second season
The bleak and stylish science-fiction thriller “Counterpart” (9 p.m. Sunday, Starz, TV-MA) returns for a second season. J.K. Simmons, the master of emotional restraint, stars as Howard Silk. First seen as a low-level functionary in a Berlin spy agency, he is introduced to his office’s real mission, monitoring and controlling a parallel universe created by East German scientists in the late 1980s. On the other side, Silk’s doppelganger, his “Prime,” has very different priorities.
As things stand, the border between the two worlds has been shut, and many from the “wrong” side are trapped. Their incarceration and the presence of rogue terrorists who compromise elements of Silk’s agency offer similarities to current events as well as echoes of many Cold War thrillers.
Add “Counterpart” to the growing list of peak TV series, including “The Americans,” “Deutschland 83” and “The Little Drummer Girl,” filled with nostalgia for a pre-digital era and set in the twilight world of Cold War espionage. Let’s not forget “Berlin Station” (9 p.m. Sunday, Epix, TV-MA). Or the parallel German universe of Amazon Prime’s “The Man in the High Castle.”
Slow-moving and icy in tone, “Counterpart” borrows from the “24” and “Homeland” playbook, keeping the intrigue and betrayals very close to home. Not unlike Netflix’s “Bodyguard,” intimate relationships are the most fraught with intrigue.
It is best appreciated for Simmons’ understatement as well as Olivia Williams’ performance as his wife, Emily, a convalescent only slowly awakening to her true identity. Make that identities.
› I’ll never understand why anybody over 11 wants to visit the Magic Kingdom, but apparently some people spend vast sums to get married there. “Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings: Holiday Magic” (8 p.m. Saturday, Freeform) showcases some of these lavish nuptials, one set to a “Mary Poppins Returns” theme, while another features a Martina McBride performance at Epcot.
› Oprah Winfrey presides over “Q85: A Musical Celebration for Quincy Jones” (8 p.m. Sunday, BET), featuring performances by Stevie Wonder, Brian McKnight, Meghan Trainor, John Legend, Patti Austin, Gloria Estefan, Charlie Wilson, Ledisi, Gladys Knight and Jennifer Hudson.
Jones and his extraordinary career are the subject of the recent Netflix documentary “Quincy,” co-directed by his daughter, Rashida Jones (“Parks & Recreation,” “The Office”).
SATURDAY’S HOLIDAY HIGHLIGHTS
› Misfits save the day in the 1964 Rankin-Bass production “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-G).
› Emma Bunton, Anthony Adams, Paul Hollywood and Sherry Yard preside over two slices of “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition” (8 p.m., ABC, repeat, TV-PG).
› Sparks fly when former teenage sweethearts are forced to organize a holiday dance in the 2018 romance “Homegrown Christmas” (8 p.m., Hallmark).
› A department store elf falls for the big guy in the 2018 romance “Santa’s Boots” (8 p.m., Lifetime).
› Precocious kids use technology to surveil a certain North Pole gift-giver in the 2014 comedy “Santa Hunters” (8 p.m., Nickelodeon, TV-G).
› Jimmy Durante narrates the 1969 RankinBass special “Frosty the Snowman” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-G).
› A woman who offers holiday cheer for hire runs into family complications in the 2018 romance “Rent-an-Elf” (9 p.m., ION).
› The voices of John Goodman and Jonathan Winters animate the 1992 sequel “Frosty Returns” (9:30 p.m., CBS, TV-G).
Contact Kevin McDonough at kevin [email protected]