Proof that something can be “outrageous” and boring at the same time, “The New Pope” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-MA) returns for a second season. For the uninitiated, the first season, called “The Young Pope,” starred Jude Law as an American pontiff, first seen as a breath of fresh air who became, pretty quickly, a nasty piece of work.
As the second season begins, Law’s pope is in a coma and the Vatican stands at a crossroads. The internal politics of the curia might make for entertaining drama, but actual scenes of conversation and action are continually punctuated by big set pieces showing off the fabulous scenery and dressing up nuns and other clerics as participants in Busby Berkeley numbers that never really break into song or dance. “Pope” has all of the downsides of a big musical, with none of the songs. It’s a pretentious music video that never ends.
For those who can endure the vast, time-wasting deserts of inactivity and bombast, there’s John Malkovich as the new “New Pope.” He has legions of fans who will watch him in anything. Even this.
- “Frontline” (8 p.m., PBS) devotes two nights to “America’s Great Divide,” a survey of the decline from the “Hope” that surrounded Barack Obama’s 2004 speech, his 2008 campaign and following inauguration and the bitter political divides that followed.
Faithful “Frontline” followers will find a lot of familiar material here. No American series does a better job of assembling news footage, interviews and talking-head overviews to make sense of recent events. But sometimes the focus on news as history and history as news is a problem in itself. In defining the “Divide” as something that has emerged only since 2008, “Frontline” falls into the TV tabloid news fallacy that “things are bad, and they’ve never been worse.”
Speaking of media and history, “Battle of Little Big Horn” (7 p.m., Smithsonian) revisits the 1876 catastrophe, not as a military history, but as the birth of newspaper tabloid wars, describing newspapers competing to outdo each other, often with lurid stories, entirely fabricated hundreds of miles from the scene.
- Three birdwatchers (Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson) compete to see who can spot the most species in the gentle 2011 comedy “The Big Year” (7 p.m., Cinemax).
- A fellow passenger has a cosmic link to a violent crime on “Manifest” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).