Now in its second season, “Portlandia” (9 p.m., IFC) has become the “30 Rock” of cable. And that’s good or bad, depending on how you look at it. Like “30 Rock,” “Portlandia” stars an “SNL” regular and is produced by Lorne Michaels. It also gets more “buzz” than ratings. And its cult appeal attracts a large number of famous guest stars.
Both shows place a high premium on silly gags that rely on arcane pop culture references. And at their best, both series are remarkably smart, funny and refreshingly free of the anger that permeates so much stand-up-driven comedy.
Co-creators Fred Armisen (“SNL”) and Carrie Brownstein began as musicians (Brownstein is currently a member of Wild Flag) and still approach entertainment as improvisation, acting as a merry band of pranksters who goof on the foibles of the terminally hip. They star in every short sketch, in a peculiar array of odd types who are variations on each performer’s persona. It’s rarely clear if the characters are romantically linked, related or just pals. And that adds to the contemptuously casual “Portlandia” vibe.
Among the favorites returning from last season are perky crafters who think everything can be improved if you just “put a bird on it,” and Toni and Candace, the humorless owners of the feminist bookstore whose vehement insistence on tolerance does not extend beyond themselves.
Season two introduces some new, instantly memorable couples, including Doug and Claire, two people addicted to “Battlestar Galactica” in the very worst way. There’s also at least three generations of helicopter parents as well as Spyke and Iris, self-described “punks” who decide to tie the knot after nine years together, but not before torturing a cheerful wedding planner. Tonight, look for “SNL” regular Andy Samberg as a bartender “mixologist” who lures Fred and Carrie to Los Angeles.
l Equally silly, if more conventionally plotted, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” (9:30 p.m., IFC) also returns for a second season. David Cross stars as the delusional title character, in way over his head as the president of a soft drink company’s London division. Todd combines an ignorance of general knowledge (he thinks the Houses of Parliament are an apartment complex) with a lack of perspective (he believes he can pass himself off as British) and a penchant for serial lying that land him in one ridiculous situation after another.
Like “Portlandia,” “Todd Margaret” attracts a wealth of guest stars, including Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), Cross’ fiancee, Amber Tamblyn (“House”), and her dad, Russ Tamblyn (“West Side Story”).
Tonight’s other highlights
• Michael becomes a patient on “A Gifted Man” (7 p.m., CBS).
• A wee Irish trickster infiltrates the hip-hop scene in the 2000 sequel “Leprechaun in the Hood” (7 p.m., BET), starring Ice-T and Coolio.
• Scheduled on “Need to Know” (7:30 p.m., PBS): Unemployment figures and the New Hampshire primary.
• A mysterious fire forges connections on “Grimm” (8 p.m., NBC).
• A vital rig gets stuck in the river on “Gold Rush” (8 p.m., Discovery).
• Erin feels responsible for an informant’s death on “Blue Bloods” (9 p.m., CBS).