One of the selling points of “Portlandia” has always been, if you don’t like one sketch, there’s another coming along in a minute. In Season 5, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are going a different route and spending a whole episode with one pair of characters (last week’s premiere focused on feminist bookstore owners Toni and Candace; tonight’s episode is about Lance and Nina — you know, with Brownstein as the mustached dude and Armisen as the needy girlfriend). Change is good, but this setup is probably going to be stretched thin over 10 episodes, though I’d watch 30 minutes of frequent guest star Annie Clark (St. Vincent) facing off against Armisen’s gearhead Studio Guy.
Friday, Jan. 16 (Syfy)
The 1995 Terry Gilliam film is a sci-fi classic, and Syfy’s “12 Monkeys” wisely doesn’t attempt to replicate it, instead creating a new(ish) story within the framework. Aaron Stanford (“Nikita”) plays Cole, a time-traveler from the post-apocalyptic future of 2043, sent back on a mission to stop the Army of the 12 Monkeys terrorist group from unleashing a virus that kills seven billion people. That’s about it for the similarities. This “12 Monkeys” is grittier (read: cheaper) and faster-paced than the movie, and Stanford is even less Bruce Willis-y than Emily Hampshire (as mental patient Goines) is Brad Pitt. The series also doesn’t slow down to explain the ins-and-outs of time travel much, because there are only 13 episodes, and Syfy figures you’re already hip to properly-spelled sci-fi. Combined with the similarly-apocalyptic “Helix” (which also returns tonight), welcome to Fatal Fridays.
Critics love Duplass brothers (Jay and Mark, the latter you’d recognize from The League) movies — not necessarily this critic, but other critics. Their new HBO midlife-crisis dramedy “Togetherness” inhabits the same subdued, intimate world of their films — I’m not invoking the term “Mumblecore” here — with Mark and Melanie Lynskey as an over-it married couple that let his unemployed actor friend (Steve Zissis) and her chronically-single sister (Amanda Peet) move into their home because, hey, does anything really matter anymore? Just pour the wine. “Togetherness” is an odd fit between “Girls” and “Looking” on Sundays, but it’s worth tracking to see if these characters ever escape their respective funks.
Tuesday, Jan. 20 (FX)
Raylan’s (Timothy Olyphant) endgame in the … sigh … final season of “Justified,” home of the best dialogue on TV, is to bring down frenemy Boyd (Walton Goggins) once and for all, using the love of Boyd’s life, Ava (Joelle Carter) — obviously, it’s going to get messy. Raylan and Boyd’s Roadrunner/Coyote dance isn’t the only drama afoot in Harlan, Kentucky, however. Dixie Mafia heads Katherine Hale (Mary Steenbergen) and Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) are plotting a multimillion-dollar robbery — to be carried out by Boyd — and there are some new heavies in town stirring up trouble (guest power-players Garret Dillahunt, Jeff Fahey and Sam Elliot — sans ‘stache!). But with all of this coming down the pike, the biggest surprise of the Season 6 opener, “Fate’s Right Hand,” is a sad, touching performance from previously written-off hillbilly Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman). “Sons of Anarchy”was tough, but “Justified” is the FX loss that’s really going to sting.
Bill Frost writes about television for Salt Lake City Weekly, talks about it on the TV Tan Podcast (Tuesdays on iTunes and Stitcher), and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.