There’s one soft spot left in the television cycle, and we are in it. In December, most of the shows you’re watching go on hiatus, the streaming services hold back their hottest releases, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir suddenly materializes onscreen like the ghost of Christmases past.

The schedule isn’t completely bare, though. On Sunday nights, “Berlin Station” and “Counterpart,” two of the smarter, more handsomely produced and more entertaining genre dramas on TV, recently started new seasons. If you asked Santa for spies, you’re in luck.

In addition to their December slots, the shows share an appropriately wintry setting: Berlin, the classic border-town home of the espionage thriller, all gray on the outside and vividly debauched behind doors. But they make very different use of the city.

“Berlin Station,” in its third season on Epix, is a fast, sleek, conventionally structured action thriller, and its Berlin is insistently Instagrammable. Scenes take place in front of buildings that are not only identifiable but also sometimes self-captioned, like the Messe Berlin exhibition hall or the Volksbühne theater. (For Season 3, the production moved its base from Berlin to Budapest, but there are still plenty of Berlin locations.)

“Counterpart,” in its second season on Starz, is a slow, intricate, dreamlike show that tells a spy story with a parallel-worlds science-fiction premise. Its Berlin is grayer and more buttoned down, but it is also more romantic, often shot at dusk or in the evening. A recurring location, the setting of an important and still unexplained accident, is a street outside the old Cosima cinema in the Schöneberg district, a 1940s-era backdrop that evokes old-movie glamour and mystery.


Richard Armitage is part of the strong cast playing secret agents in “Berlin Station.”

CreditKatalin Vermes/Epix

Created by the screenwriter Justin Marks, “Counterpart” imagines a situation in which an East German science project went awry in 1987 and created a parallel world connected to our own, like a conjoined twin, through a passage in the basement of a Berlin office building. A show with more of a sci-fi bent might focus on the details of how the worlds have diverged since their identical beginnings, but so far “Counterpart” is content to be suggestive about that. The offshoot world features some striking new architecture on the Berlin skyline but an analog feel, with squawk boxes, bulky old computer monitors and communication devices that look like vintage carousel slide projectors.

There’s an allegorical and political weight to the show’s premise, with two populations that literally had everything in common being pitted against each other because of an accident of history. (The generator of tension in the story is a flu virus that decimated the population of the newer world; a faction there blames the original world, and the show’s action has revolved around a new-world terrorist cell embedded on the other side.)

But the focus of the show is on psychology and questions of identity — the similarities and differences between the two genetically identical versions of every character in the show. (As long as they both happen to be alive, which seems increasingly less likely as the show progresses.)

And beyond its artfully chilly atmosphere and its surprisingly plausible and suspenseful narrative, the main attraction in Season 2 remains J.K. Simmons’s crafty, quiet portrayal of the two spies named Howard Silk, one lethal and pragmatic, the other soulful and pacific. In the early episodes of Season 2 a lockdown of the interworld portal is keeping them apart, but the lack of Howard-on-Howard scenes (a highlight of Season 1) is made up for by the increased presence of Olivia Williams, playing the two Emilys (both spies) married to the Howards. With the original-world Emily woken from her coma, Williams and Simmons get to play two distinct variations on one (cross-matched) couple.

On “Berlin Station,” the focus is more forthrightly on the real-world resonance of the fictional action — in Season 3 the team at the C.I.A.’s Berlin station gets involved in what looks like a Russian attempt to destabilize the government of Estonia, with repeated references to “the Crimean playbook.” The show’s unsung heroes try to prevent war while wondering whether, “under this administration,” America will back down from the fight.

A well-made but not hugely original mix of spycraft, action and sexy office intrigue, “Berlin Station” is elevated by the surprising, and relatively unnoticed, quality of its core cast: The agents are played by a resourceful, distinctive group that includes Leland Orser, Michelle Forbes, Richard Jenkins, Richard Armitage, Keke Palmer and Rhys Ifans.

Ifans is gone in Season 3, taking with him a louche vibe that is sorely missed, but everyone else is back, and Orser’s shifty, nervous energy still carries the show. His character, perpetually passed over as station chief, is thinking about a transfer to Tokyo, but come on — why would a real spy want to be anywhere but Berlin?