SYFY LAUNCHES “Nightflyers” (10 p.m. Sunday, TV-MA), a mind-bending space opera set in the year 2093. Based on a novella by George R.R. Martin (“Game of Thrones”), this 10-part series blends psychological horror with speculative science fiction, employing lavish production values to a spellbinding effect.
Gretchen Mol (“Boardwalk Empire”) stars as psychiatrist Dr. Agatha Matheson. With Earth doomed, the Nightflyer spacecraft has traveled to the edge of the solar system to meet up with a ship from a superior alien race in the hopes that their technology may be used to save humanity.
All previous efforts to communicate with the aliens have failed, so expedition leader Karl D’Branin (Eoin Macken) takes the risky strategy of using another alien, Thale (Sam Strike), as a kind of liaison. Unfortunately, Thale is a sullen creature, not unlike an angry adolescent with violent telekinetic powers. He responds only to Dr. Matheson, and even she requires powerful sedatives to keep him in check.
The mysterious nature of the mission and the presence of a dangerous creature has set the crew on edge. And that’s before a series of unfortunate events threatens the spacecraft itself.
A slow-building thriller, “Nightflyers” will appeal to Martin’s many readers and fans. It also evokes elements from several films by director Stanley Kubrick. A spacecraft on a mission to discover a higher intelligence is an obvious nod to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Its themes of isolation and madness are straight out of “The Shining,” and shots of Thale’s fleshy face and angry eyes seem influenced by Vincent D’Onofrio’s character in “Full Metal Jacket.”
A clearly expensive production, “Nightflyers” will air its first five episodes nightly through Thursday, Dec. 6, and resume with episodes six through 10 the following week. Viewers will also be able to watch “Nightflyers” through Syfy On Demand, syfy.com and the Syfy app. Co-producer Netflix will stream the series at a later date.
• Meanwhile, CBS airs “Garth: Live at Notre Dame” (8 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG), marking the very first concert performed at Notre Dame Stadium. A dominant force in country music for decades, Brooks has been certified as the biggest-selling solo artist in American history, having sold more than 10 million copies of seven different albums.
Saturday’s holiday highlights
• Bob Newhart and Will Ferrell star in the 2003 comedy fantasy “Elf” (7 p.m. and 9 p.m., AMC).
• Gwen Stefani, Brett Eldredge, Asher Angel and Meg Donnelly perform at “Disney Parks Presents a 25 Days of Christmas Holiday Party” (8 p.m., Disney, TV-G), also featuring Disney stars Booboo Stewart, Kylee Russell, Sadie Stanley and Sean Giambrone.
• A dating app developer puts her device to work in the 2018 romantic comedy “Mingle All the Way” (8 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).
• A department store mix-up throws two single parents together in the 2018 romantic comedy “A Twist of Christmas” (8 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).
• Tycoons help a young couple in the 1940 holiday fantasy “Beyond Tomorrow” (8 p.m., TCM).
• Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young star in the 1947 fantasy “The Bishop’s Wife” (9:45 p.m., TCM).
• College football action includes Pittsburgh and Clemson facing off in the ACC Championship (8 p.m., ABC), and Northwestern and Ohio State playing for the Big 10 Championship (8 p.m., Fox).
• Claire Foy hosts “Saturday Night Live” (11:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14), featuring musical guest Anderson .Paak.
Sunday’s holiday highlights
• An architect’s plans to restore a hometown landmark hit emotional roadblocks in the 2018 romance “A Majestic Christmas” (8 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).
• Old friends and neighbors tend to a tree they planted as children in the 2018 romance “The Christmas Pact” (8 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).
• A fetching professor submits to online dating in the 2018 romance “Christmas Cupid’s Arrow” (9 p.m., ION).
• A doll comes to the rescue (again) in the 2018 holiday fantasy “Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve” (9 p.m., Freeform, TV-14).
• The 2018 National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony (10 p.m., Ovation and Reelz).
• People raised as Christian evangelicals who have grown disenchanted with their faith share stories and insights on “Deconstructing My Religion” (CBS, check local listings). Following Sunday’s air date, this program may be viewed at cbsnews.com/religion-and-culture and on CBS All Access.
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (7 p.m., CBS): Scientists use DNA technology to identify the incinerated remains of California’s Camp Fire victims; taking a look at the rising use of spy satellites; an opera star recalls his youth as a violent juvenile delinquent.
• The San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers meet in “Sunday Night Football” (8:20 p.m., NBC).
• Elena and Lila reject potential suitors on “My Brilliant Friend” (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
• An intruder threatens Sam on “Ray Donovan” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
• Matt and Sweat keep it positive on “Escape at Dannemora” (10 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
• Emma creates a commotion on “Sally4Ever” (10:30 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
A hypnotized man (Kevin Bacon) has visions of murder in the 1999 thriller “Stir of Echoes” (8:18 p.m. Saturday, Starz Encore).
A key exchange goes smoothly on “The Neighborhood” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... Two hours of “Dateline” (8 p.m. and 9 p.m., NBC) ... A young celebrity’s arrival unsettles a stodgy couple on “Happy Together” (8:30 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) ... Hondo loses an old friend on “S.W.A.T.” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... “48 Hours” (10 p.m., CBS) ... A vintage helping of “Saturday Night Live” (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
“Football Night in America” (7 p.m., NBC) ... Daddy-daughter time on “The Simpsons” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) ... The semifinals of “Dancing With the Stars: Juniors” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) ... Nia disregards her dream on “Supergirl” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Forced dialogue on “Bob’s Burgers” (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
Stewie and Brian woo a rich heiress on “Family Guy” (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Santas and elves share notions on “Shark Tank” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) ... Mel searches for Jada on “Charmed” (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Brittany’s mother returns on “Rel” (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... A diplomatic crisis on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).