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Ashley Nicole Black, Quinta Brunson, Robin Thede and Gabrielle Dennis perform on “A Black Lady Sketch Show,’ premiering at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Smart, ambitious, fearless and frequently absurd, “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (10 p.m., HBO, TV-MA) debuts. It features six performers, all black females, playing dozens, if not hundreds, of over-the-top characters, exploring issues from the trite to the tragic, while taking viewers on a strange ride.

Look for many guest stars to join in the action, such as when Angela Bassett leads a focus group for women deeply committed to their nails, eyelashes and clothes. It turns out it’s a nefarious marketing campaign for a narcotic called Foxycodone that keeps the women stupefied as they strive to meet impossible standards.

There’s also a recurring infomercial for a dispenser of insane Afrocentric conspiracy theories that shows off the series’ dry, whip-smart writing. Not unlike the “Key and Peele” series, many sketches start out as social or political satire but conclude with a twist straight out of science fiction. There’s a brief vignette that begins as a dramatic encounter between two recently broken-up lovers at a lesbian bar and ends up as a close encounter of the third kind. A girls’ night out filled with wine, casual games and chatter concludes on an apocalyptic note. There’s also a variation on the old theme that a plain, if not ugly, woman is the most suited to espionage, because in a world addicted to beauty, the non-fabulous are all but invisible.

There are more smart laughs in this half-hour debut than some comedies have in an entire season. Highly recommended.

  • Tonight’s returning series and franchises include the third season of “Dear White People,” streaming today on Netflix.
  • Pirates, dragons, castles and purple Cadillacs are all part of the eye-popping production of “Descendants 3” (7 p.m., Disney, TV-G), the strenuously special-effected storybook fantasy directed by Kenny Ortega. This marks the last sequel in the franchise.
  • Time runs short on the two-hour sixth season finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-14). The seventh season will be the last for this comic book franchise.
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  • ugust’s heat may be at its most intense, but sports action is never far away. “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team” (8 p.m., CMT, TV-PG) profiles women out to make it on the NFL’s premiere sideline squads
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  • “Basketball or Nothing” begins streaming on Netflix. It follows members of a high school team at Chinle High School, located in Arizona’s Navajo Nation. Beset with a lack of jobs and few opportunities to celebrate tribal pride, players learn to channel a traditional warrior spirit on the hardboards.
  • “This Is Football,” begins streaming on Amazon Prime. It celebrates the worldwide appeal of the sport we call soccer.

Other highlights

  • “American Masters” (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG) profiles author Ursula K. Le Guin, known for bringing literary respect to science fiction, once seen as merely a pulp genre.
  • An off-duty Danny encounters a situation on “Blue Bloods” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).
  • “20/20” (9 p.m., ABC, r) recalls the stabbing death of a young woman.
  • “I Was Prey: Shark Week” (9 p.m., Discovery, TV-14) profiles swimmers and bathers who survived close encounters with predators.
  • Dillon seethes, bent on revenge on “Jett” (9 p.m., Cinemax, TV-MA).
  • An angry writer (Jack Nicholson) descends into madness in director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel “The Shining” (9 p.m., Showtime).

Cult choice

Much to the surprise of her put-upon alcoholic husband (Fredric March), a spoiled socialite (Joan Crawford) returns from a European vacation filled with enthusiasm for a new religious movement in the 1940 comedy “Susan and God” (1:30 p.m., TCM, TV-PG), directed by George Cukor. The Broadway play that inspired this film was one of the first productions seen on a primitive television broadcast, way back in 1938.

Series notes

Tropical distractions on “Love Island” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Obstacles galore on “American Ninja Warrior” (7 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) ... Dean Cain hosts “Masters of Illusion” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG) ... Variety galore on “The Big Stage” (7:30 p.m., CW, TV-PG).

A gun’s legacy affects many on “Hawaii Five-0” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... Backyard barbecues on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) ... Gwynn is taken hostage on “The Outpost” (8 p.m., CW, r, TV-14) ... “Dateline” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

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