HBO debuts the five-part miniseries “Chernobyl” (9 p.m., TV-MA). A U.K. production, it recalls the 1986 disaster at a nuclear plant in the Ukraine, a meltdown that threatened to rain radioactive waste over most of Europe.
This claustrophobic and relentlessly intense drama depicts the workers caught between clear, deadly evidence of a melted reactor core and their managers and Soviet officials, who insist that everything is under control.
Look for Jared Harris (“The Crown”) as a nuclear physicist who grows to rue his role in the cover-up. Emily Watson stars as another scientist who tries to break through the fog of “politically correct” spin so emergency workers can contain the disaster, even at the cost of their lives.
The atmosphere here evokes other films that fall into a genre I call “totalitarian doom.” The 1981 U-boat drama “Das Boot” comes to mind, as does “Downfall,” from 2004, the harrowing tale set in Hitler’s bunker.
Aside from its depiction of nuclear disaster, “Chernobyl” does a great job of capturing the drab state of affairs in the final days of the Soviet Union. This is the world of Elizabeth and Philip’s re-exile as imagined in the series finale of “The Americans.”
As much as this is about the Soviet endgame, it resonates in our own era. There are dangerous consequences when powerful people put ideology before science and career-saving equivocation over the evidence before their very eyes.
• One of the joys of the streaming age is the freedom of storytellers to depart from the half-hour and hourlong formats dictated by an advertising-based network schedule. Netflix has many scripted and nonfiction series that clock in well under 20 minutes. Their new comedies “Bonding” and “Special” come to mind.
”State of the Union” (10 p.m., Sundance, TV-MA) launches tonight. It features brief episodes, just over 10 minutes long, starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd as a married couple meeting to discuss events that contributed to their messy breakup.
Self-consciously clever, “State” has O’Dowd’s character rambling on about bathroom habits and Immanuel Kant in a manner that must have seemed brilliant on the page, but sounds hollow and contrived when delivered.
”State” begins to drag at the five-minute mark.
• Acorn launches the documentary series “Rome: Empire Without Limit,” a four-part survey of the empire’s rise and fall, hosted by historian Mary Beard. Beard also hosts the hourlong profile “Caligula,” about one of the most notorious of Rome’s mad, bad emperors.
Tonight’s season finales
• Bell mulls a big payday on “The Resident” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
• Adam and Andi stage an intervention on “Man With a Plan” (8:30 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
Tonight’s other highlights
• Fans submit songs for the top 13 to perform on “The Voice” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
• “The Bachelorette” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) glances back and stages a reunion.
• A Marine needs a good lawyer on “The Code” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
• A crisis at a chocolate factory gets sticky on “9-1-1” (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
• A prison guard stands accused on “Bull” (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
• A suspect seeks custody in a foreign embassy on “The Enemy Within” (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
• Hints of planted evidence on “The Fix” (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
• The “Independent Lens” (10 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) documentary “Out of State” chronicles the lives of native Hawaiians exiled to prisons in the Arizona desert.
• Lister shares her feelings with her aunt on “Gentleman Jack” (10 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
• The 2017 documentary “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion and Disco” (9 p.m., Starz, TV-MA) profiles a prolific fashion illustrator and recalls his creative heyday in New York and Paris between 1968 and 1973.
“Disco” also features period glances at Jessica Lange, Grace Jones, Bob Colacello, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, among others.
Rivals in science on “The Big Bang Theory” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) ... Divisions arise on “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Oliver faces a test on “Arrow” (9 p.m., CW, TV-14).
Martin Short appears on “Conan” (11 p.m., TBS) ... Jimmy Fallon welcomes Will Smith, Laurie Metcalf and Phil Hanley on “The Tonight Show” (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Keri Russell, Ana Gasteyer and Alex Brightman visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (12:35 a.m., NBC) ... Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (12:35 a.m., CBS).