Between network, cable and streaming, the modern television landscape is a vast one. Here are some of the shows, specials and movies coming to TV this week, Dec. 20-26. Details and times are subject to change.
REOPENING NIGHT (2021) 10 p.m. on HBO. In this documentary, the filmmaker Rudy Valdez (“The Sentence”) follows actors, crew members and other employees of the Public Theater as they work to bring Shakespeare back to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic — for this past summer’s production of “Merry Wives,” a Shakespeare adaptation. The film isn’t just about the challenges of bringing back live performances after a long period of dormancy; it also sees the artists working through questions around racial equity as they return to the theater for the first time since 2020.
IN PERFORMANCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE: SPIRIT OF THE SEASON 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Jennifer Garner is the host of this hourlong special, which was filmed at the White House this month. Musicians including Billy Porter, Andrea Bocelli, Camila Cabello, Eric Church, the Jonas Brothers and Norah Jones perform among holiday decorations in several White House rooms.
THE 44TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS 9 p.m. on CBS. This month’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony was something of a return to normalcy, with a star-spangled audience and roster of performers gathering in Washington to celebrate this year’s honorees: Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, Berry Gordy, Justino Díaz and Lorne Michaels. The performers who paid tribute to this group included Chita Rivera, Kelli O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Norah Jones, Ellie Goulding, Brandi Carlile, Brittany Howard, Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder.
THE HUMANS (2021) 5:30 p.m. on Showtime. The playwright Stephen Karam won a Tony Award in 2016 for this one-act comedy-drama about a Thanksgiving dinner where turkey and familial tension are on the menu — and the house is kind of haunted, too. The film adaptation, directed by Karam, casts Beanie Feldstein and Steven Yeun as Brigid and Richard, a young couple who hosts the dinner in a new-to-them (but far from new) Manhattan apartment, where they welcome three generations of Brigid’s family. (The cast also includes Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, June Squibb and Amy Schumer.) In his review for The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that Karam uses “the freedom of film to open up and underscore his already powerful material.”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) 10 p.m. on TCM. How do you take your “Christmas Carol?” Sweet? Bitter? Brooding over ice, with a contemporary twist? Different decades have seen different screen adaptations of the Charles Dickens story, some warm, some dark. This classic 1938 version, directed by Edwin L. Marin and starring Reginald Owen as the killjoy Ebenezer Scrooge, falls on the warmer side of the spectrum. (“Good Dickens, good cinema and good for the soul” is how it was described by the critic and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent in a 1938 review in The Times.) On the other end is FX’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL, airing at 4:20 p.m. and 9:40 p.m. on FXM, an icy adaptation from Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”) that stars Guy Pearce. This mini-series, from 2019, explores Scrooge’s psychology; it co-stars Andy Serkis as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Also on FXM, at 7:50 p.m., is the 1951 version with Alastair Sim, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, which has been held up as being particularly faithful to Dickens’s words.
CHRISTMAS EVE MASS 11:30 p.m. on NBC. A week after turning 85, Pope Francis will lead Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica. This broadcast will air some hours after it’s recorded in Vatican City, to compensate for the time difference.
THE LION KING (2019) 8 p.m. on FX. The African savanna has an uncanny-valley flavor in this hyper-realistic computer-animated adaptation of the Disney and Broadway musical classic “The Lion King.” It is rendered here with photo-realistic fur and lighting, giving its cast of very famous voices — Beyoncé, Donald Glover, Alfre Woodard, Chiwetel Ejiofor and James Earl Jones among them — an opulent digital space to retell the story of a lion’s quest to reclaim a stolen throne. “If a movie could be judged solely on technique, ‘The Lion King’ might qualify as a great one,” A.O. Scott wrote in his review for The Times. “And it kind of wants to be judged that way — for its technical skin rather than its dramatic soul.”
CALL THE MIDWIFE HOLIDAY SPECIAL 2021 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). You’d be hard pressed to find a warmer place to spend Christmas night than Nonnatus House, the fictional London convent where the nuns of “Call the Midwife” practice their craft. This holiday special finds the sisters with their hands full, caring for an influx of expectant women.
INSECURE 10 p.m. on HBO. After five seasons, “Insecure” will air its series finale on Sunday night. This season has seen the two best friends at the show’s center, Issa Dee (Issa Rae) and Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji), recommitting to their friendship (there were some struggles earlier) while Issa’s career begins to move to a new level. The show has been transformative for Rae herself — when the series debuted, she was best known for the web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” It has also had a meaningful impact on how Black people are represented on television. “True representation is the ability to show your vulnerability and be able to say, ‘I don’t have it all together, just like the next white person doesn’t have it all together,’” Rae said in a recent interview with The Times. “I think the show gave Black people permission to also be like, ‘You’re right: We are insecure.’”