"The Wrong Mans"
(Hulu). Costars and co-creators Mathew Baynton and James Corden (the soon-to-debut new host of CBS' "Late Late Show") are back with a four-episode second season of their excellent, mistaken-identity, odd-couple, comedy-thriller-with-heart. (It's a Christmas story, so apologies for the slightly late notice; but your tree may still be up, and I'm told the holiday's not really over until Epiphany anyway.) Baynton's Sam and Corden's Phil, office mates thrown close together by circumstance, were not blown to pieces by a car bomb at the end of Season 1, as looked likely, and as the first sentence of this paragraph should have made clear, but are living under witness protection in Texas, somewhere back of beyond. Sam, the angry, practical one, thinks incessantly of home; Phil, the foolish, dreamy one ("I'm an enigma -- what you see is what you get") is making the best of his new life, until a crisis back in England changes his mind and the adventure begins. Where the first season brought international intrigue to suburban Britain, the present one is internationally set, with our heroes once again pursued from both sides of the law. As before, the comedy doesn't diminish the suspense.
"No, You Shut Up!" (Fusion, Thursdays). Man-about-comedy Paul F. Tompkins is the host of this news-panel-parody puppet show, now in its third season. Produced by the Jim Henson Company, and created by former "Daily Show" head writer David Javerbaum, it's a sort of cousin to that show filtered through "Captain Kangaroo," with the half-urgent dreaminess of "Comedy Bang! Bang!" stirred in. Despite the title, the puppet-pundits -- pupdits? -- most of them animals but also including "actor, model and hot dog" Hot Dog, lunchbox Joe Lunchpail and Yerd Nerp, a one-eyed alien, are better-tempered than many of their human associates on self-styled real news shows. (Other humans, recently including Paul Scheer, Rhys Darby and Ron Funches, making his predictions for 2015 with fortune-cookie fortunes, appear "as themselves.") Many jokes could play unaltered on Jon Stewart's show (or Stephen Colbert's show that was). But something about the puppets -- and, for that matter Tompkins, who could as easily host a kids' show as this one -- keeps things sweet and whimsical, even when conservative Christian squirrel Star Schlessinger, says of Ebola, "You don't cure plagues with medicine, you pray. Then you blame the Jews, Friars, foreigners, beggars, lepers, the Romany, anyone with psoriasis -- that is a shady disease."
"Downton Abbey" (PBS, Sundays). The fifth season of the 21st century's favorite British class-system soap opera arrives this week. It is 1924, and although the world has changed (as one character after another explicitly observes, like, every five minutes) the ladies and gentlemen of the upstairs and the down are less changed than the world, trapped within their mental prisons as much as they are apparently permanently attached to the estate. (Lady Sybil left, and you know what happened to her. Draws finger across throat, winks like he knows something.) However much the plot drives them forward into the modern, however often we are allowed to see Lord Grantham's harrumphing as maybe just a little bit foolish, we are also being invited to respect it, to distrust the new along with him -- to yearn not for the 1920s, but for the even earlier time that Grantham and his mother, the redoubtable Dowager Countess, keep sacred in their heads, and whose loss they have been ruing now for at least a decade of fictional time.
If insanity, in the dog-eared formulation, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then this big old Jacobethan pile is really a sort of nuthouse; a few characters this year will make the same mistake every episode. (Well, perhaps, that's the point -- we are who we are.) Some new technologies -- radio, birth control -- are suspiciously embraced, new challenges to the property are dealt with, and new thoughts are entertained; visiting Russian refugees, even more sorrowfully addicted to a lost past than the Crawleys, may meanwhile provide a useful object lesson for the family. (Or not -- I'm only halfway through the season.) But, really, you just want to shake these people sometime.