A selective critical checklist of notable TV on a very busy Thursday:
Star Trek: Discovery (streaming on CBS All Access): Not to be confused with the first season currently airing on the CBS broadcast network, the future-shock third season of the flagship Trek spinoff ends with an exciting and emotional flourish. The action is intense aboard Discovery as Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) risks everything and everyone to regain control of the ship from the literally green-with-vengeance Osyraa (Janet Kidder) of the Emerald Chain. The episode's emotional core, however, is back in the Veruben nebula on the irradiated dilithium planet, where Saru (Doug Jones, sans Kelpien makeup) and his colleagues must convince the cloistered and orphaned Su'Kal (Bill Irwin) to venture out in the world to spare the galaxy from the next Burn.
Mr. Mayor (8/7c, NBC): A match made in TV-comedy heaven, Ted Danson teams with 30 Rock masterminds Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, gliding effortlessly from his inspired work on the ethereal The Good Place into the more earthbound role of Neil Bremer, the newly elected mayor of L.A. Neil is a cluelessly benign novice, who entered politics as a lark, and while Mr. Mayor is mostly toothless as satire, it’s full of zany gags and fun performances, including Saturday Night Live veteran Bobby Moynihan as his silliest aide, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's marvelous Vella Lovell as his snarky chief of staff‑and Oscar winner Holly Hunter as his most persistent critic, who warns, "Like underwear bought in a drug store, you're not going to last two months." I give Mr. Mayor a much longer lease on life.
Coyote (streaming on CBS All Access): The Shield's Michael Chiklis is right in his pugnacious element in this grueling six-episode melodrama (all available for binge-watching) situated on the U.S.-Mexico border. He's Ben Clemons, newly and unhappily retired after 32 years as a border guard, a stickler for immigration enforcement until violent circumstances compel him to help a pregnant Mexican teen, on the run from cartel thugs, cross the border to seek asylum. Too bad that by doing so, he puts his own family at risk, and to keep them safe he must start doing the bidding of his sworn enemies.
The Chase (9/8c, ABC): The centerpiece of ABC's new Thursday game night is the one to watch. (It's preceded by a Celebrity Wheel of Fortune at 8/7c, where comedian Leslie Jones, Grey's Anatomy's Chandra Wilson, and skateboard Tony Hawk spin for charity.) The personable Sara Haines hosts the fast-moving Chase, where trivia buffs face the masters of their trade: celebrated Jeopardy! champs Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, and Brad Rutter, who will rotate in the role of "the Chaser." They sit atop a money pyramid, and contestants must outwit and outplay the Chaser to build and keep their cash winnings. I'm hooked.
Followed on ABC by The Hustler (10/9c), where droll Craig Ferguson stingily parcels out trivia questions to a group of five strangers, one of whom is a plant. The real point of the game is for the remaining players — the "Hustler" eliminates two during the course of the game — to figure out who the "Hustler" is. This was a lot more fun on The Mole.
Last Man Standing (9:30/8:30c, Fox): Tim Allen does double duty in what may be the highest-concept episode of the long-running sitcom to date. When Vanessa (Nancy Travis) goes behind husband Mike's (Allen) back to hire a handyman to fix the kitchen disposal, she is amused — and Mike is stunned — when the repairman turns out to be his doppelgänger: Home Improvement's very own Tim Taylor (Allen in the role that made him famous), still grunting and preaching his "More Power" mantra. It's a fun callback to a fondly remembered show, with the unavoidable subtext that those were indeed better times.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (9/8c, NBC): Another throwback, when former ADA Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza) returns to SVU on the other side of the aisle, as a defense attorney, facing Carisi (Peter Scanavino) in a tricky and emotionally heated case that plays on the jury's sympathies over following the rule of law. Adding to the conflict: Carisi's feeling of betrayal by his former SVU colleagues, whom he feels brought Barba in to undermine his authority. Not the happiest way to ring in 2021 (the episode opens on New Year's Eve) on a show that wins the prize for most inconsistent masking during a pandemic.
Inside Thursday TV: Streaming highlights include the Netflix premiere of the acclaimed film Pieces of a Woman, starring The Crown's Vanessa Kirby in the emotionally demanding role of a woman struggling to recover from the loss of her baby… HBO Max imports from Germany the dark comedy Arthur's Law, about a guy whose plot to cash in on his obnoxious wife's life-insurance policy sets off an escalating series of mishaps… Fox's Hell's Kitchen (8/7) moves its 19th season of culinary mayhem to Las Vegas… TBS's Go-Big Show (9/8c) is a showcase for huge stunts, extreme acts and world-record events, all hoping to impress the judges: Snoop Dogg, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Nettles and AEW's Cody Rhodes.