All Systems Go
Monday, Dec. 15 (Syfy)
Miniseries Debut: Syfy has made the case that it's serious about getting back into actual sci-fi this year, and the three-night event Ascension is a helluva convincing capper. Ascension is a top-secret U.S. starship launched in 1963 at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, who believed that since mankind seemed bent on blowing itself up here, might as well send 600 men, women and children on a 100-year space mission to find a new, habitable planet. While they live and repopulate in a sealed, old-school-Star-Trek-meets-Mad-Men environment, back on 2014 Earth, the Ascension project is simply a 51-year-old "conspiracy theory" few people believe and the government won't acknowledge. When orderly-if-dull life aboard the ship is disrupted by a murder—the first ever—the plot accelerates from zero to WTF? rapidly, with the first two-hour installment ending in a mind-blowing twist. The aesthetic is gorgeous, the cast is solid (especially Tricia Helfer, back in full-tilt Battlestar Galactica villainess mode as the ship's "first lady"), and Ascension's story is genuinely new and unpredictable. Welcome back, sci-fi Syfy. [Continues Tuesday, Dec. 16 and Wednesday, Dec. 17.]
Friday, Dec. 12 (Netflix)
Series Debut: Networks are jumping on the sweeping, quasi-historical period-piece bandwagon: HBO set it off with Game of Thrones, History has Vikings, Starz has Outlander and Black Sails, AMC has Turn and Hell on Wheels, The CW (still?) has Reign, and now Netflix is dropping the 10-episode Marco Polo. Showtime, who was ahead of the curve with The Tudors years ago (and, currently, Penny Dreadful), could launch a dark, sexy H.M.S. Pinafore any day now. Netflix's version of Marco Polo—it's difficult to just say once, ain't it?—focuses on the early (read: young and hot) years of the infamous adventurer and, while the source material is vast and the series' budget is vaster ($90 million!), CW-lite star Lorenzo Richelmy can't carry this behemoth, which seems to have been scripted via a dartboard and several boxes of wine. As couch-bound winter-binge eye candy, however, it's oddly perfect. Netflix FTW.
Nick Offerman: American Ham
Friday, Dec. 12 (Netflix)
Stand-Up Special: Meanwhile, in a far narrower niche, Parks & Recreation star Nick Offerman—you know, Ron Swanson—debuts his one-man show American Ham on the streaming service, which offers far more creative space than those prefab Comedy Central specials (check out the wonderfully weird Chelsea Peretti: One of the Greats, which premiered on Netflix in November). Offerman is, and simultaneously is certainly not, Swanson: American Ham's "10 Tips for a Prosperous Life" mostly involve proper oral-sex techniques, overshares you'd never hear from Ron, but the rest is the kind of man-up-or-shut-up material you'd expect—and even some musical numbers, though he's no Duke Silver. American Ham comes off more like a demo than a finished product (even though it screened at Sundance 2014), but Offerman drives it home through sheer force of personality—and, really, it's not the worst comedy special from a Parks & Rec star.
Best Christmas Party Ever
Saturday, Dec. 13 (Hallmark)
Movie: Uptight Jennie (Torrey DeVitto, Pretty Little Liars) thinks she'll be inheriting NYC's hottest party-planning business after the holidays—but then the boss' fun, hunky nephew (Steve Lund, Bitten) shows up to claim the gig. Will she learn to loosen up, fall in love, know her place and set aside those silly career aspirations? Yes—and just in time for the big Christmas party, which she organized. Oh, Christmas in Vancouver, er, New York City.