The new year brings the series premieres of a couple of new shows and the return of many other shows, especially those that air on cable networks. In order to avoid spoilers, the discussion of the returning shows is intentionally vague. This list is a selection of premieres that air on or before January 12. I’ll be back with the rest of the month in another post. Get ready to stay inside, stay warm, and watch some TV of varying quality.
Helix (Friday, January 10 on SyFy)
Helix is a thriller created by Cameron Porsandeh about a CDC team that goes to the arctic to investigate a possible outbreak only to find themselves in a life-or-death situation. It stars Billy Campbell (Once and Again, The Killing), Jordan Hayes (House at the End of the Street), and Hiroyuki Sanada (Wolverine, Revenge). In addition to Porsandeh, the executive producers of Helix are Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek franchise), Lynda Obst (Hot in Cleveland, Adventures in Babysitting), and Steven Maeda (Lost, Lie to Me) with Maeda serving as day-to-day showrunner.
The involvement of Moore makes me cautiously optimistic for this series. BSG was great overall but the ending was less than stellar. Moore is focusing most of his attention on the upcoming Outlander adaptation (February on Starz), though, so it’s much more reliant upon the world that Porsandeh created and the direction that Maeda takes the show in.
True Detective (Sunday, January 12 on HBO)
True Detective is an eight-episode anthology series starring Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, The Hunger Games) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud). The series will focus on the hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana over seventeen years. The series was created by Nic Pizzolatto (author of Between Here and the Yellow Sea and Gavelston) and all eight episodes were written by Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga (Jane Eyre). As an anthology series, any subsequent seasons will tell their own self-contained stories.
Pretty much everything about this show is perfect. The anthology style has worked well for American Horror Story. Eight episodes telling a story with a defined beginning, middle, and end is one of the best things that British television does. We need more of this, American television executives. All of that being said, it’s McConaughey who really has me excited for True Detective. Everything McConaughey has been in for the past few years has been great so if he’s in then so am I.
Sherlock Series 3 Premiere (Wednesday, January 1 on BBC in the UK and Sunday, January 19 on PBS in the US)
Sherlock is back! Sherlock is alive! John has a mustache! After almost two years away in order to allow Martin Freeman to be in The Hobbit and for Benedict Cumberbatch to be in every movie ever, Sherlock is returning to our screens. If you haven’t already, make sure to catch the mini-episode, “Many Happy Returns”, before seeing the first episode.
Community Season 5 Premiere (Thursday, January 2 on NBC)
The return of Dan Harmon to the series is a welcome one. He may come off as unpleasant in interviews but Community is his show and it just feels off when he’s not in charge. The departure of Chevy Chase is also a welcome one to me. Pierce was often my least favorite character and the show didn’t need two curmudgeons. Jeff often fulfilled that role on his own. The early departure of Donald is disappointing to me but I’m otherwise ready to give Community a second chance.
@midnight Season 2 Premiere (Monday, January 6 on Comedy Central)
This game show-style review of the day’s pop culture and internet events is a joyous experience. Chris Hardwick (Talking Dead, The Nerdist) hosts a lot of shows for a reason: he’s good at it. Three comedians compete for points that mean absolutely nothing while they play games that are structured to be punchline machines. Hardwick acknowledges when the jokes are good by shouting “Points!” If you’re already watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, try sticking around for @midnight, too.
The Bletchley Circle Series 2 Premiere (Monday, January 6 on ITV in the UK and Premiere Date Unknown on PBS in the US)
The Bletchley Circle follows four women who were code breakers at Bletchley Park during World War II. In 1952, they found that a series of murders fit a pattern and after being unable to convince the police of this, the women set about investigating the murders themselves. Series 1 is available on Netflix Instant Watch and is just three episodes long so it would be pretty easy to catch up before series 2 airs in the US.
Teen Wolf Season 3B Premiere (Monday, January 6 on MTV)
Teen Wolf? The Michael J. Fox movie from the 80s? Really? Really. This updated version of Teen Wolf is a drama instead of a comedy and has developed its own mythology that grows a little more with each season and the writers and actors have developed a great report among the core characters.
Cougar Town Season 5 Premiere (Tuesday, January 7 on TBS)
This comedy has outlived its middle-aged woman dating younger men title and concept to grow into an ensemble-based show with strong comedic chops and a lot of heart. Every main character has a role to play and there are genuine laughs in every episode. It’s all about adult friendships and despite starring Courtney Cox, it’s not Friends. Penny Can!
Pretty Little Liars Season 3B Premiere (Tuesday, January 7 on ABC Family)
I might be in a war of attrition with this show. A teenage girl was killed and the four other girls in her group of friends grew apart. Then they got close again when the mysterious A started to torture them. The mystery of who A is and what happened to their friend Allison has been through more twists and turns than should be possible at this point. The girls have had relationships and breakups and fought with each other as teenage girls on TV often do. The show has been in wheel-spin mode for a long time but there was some progress at the end of the first half of the season and during the Halloween special so I’m going to watch it when it returns.
Psych Season 8 Premiere (Wednesday, January 8 on USA)
This is the final season for Psych. It follows the basic USA Network model of the lead, his buddy, his love interest, and a few other supporting characters in the ensemble. The lead has some kind of special skill that sets him apart from your average person. Despite the fact that its premise could be called generic, Psych has remained enjoyable over its previous seven seasons and the recent musical episode was great. It’s the right time for it to end but I’m glad that we’re getting one last season with Shawn, Gus, and company.
Girls Season 3 Premiere (Sunday, January 12 on HBO)
There are many complaints made about Girls, some of them legitimate, but it’s a show that often does very good things. The characters are often unlikeable but they’re young women in their twenties and as a young woman in my twenties, I can tell you that we often do stupid things. Sometimes I get uncomfortable with how often I can identify with Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath but I can also be reassured when she does something and I can say that I’ve never done something that stupid. The characters have rough edges that are realistic. The show also has some pretty strong writing behind it. The advantage of premium cable is that they don’t have to satisfy the advertisers. There is often more experimentation and while the unfamiliar can be jarring it can lead to fantastic results.
Shameless Season 4 Premiere (Sunday, January 12 on Showtime)
Shameless began as an adaptation of a British show by the same name but it’s grown over the years to suit the strengths of the American performers and location. Despite my proud Anglophile status and love of James McAvoy, I haven’t seen the British original but the Gallaghers of Chicago have grown on me. Emmy Rossum (Mystic River, The Phantom of the Opera) portrays lower class Fiona who manages to care for all of her younger siblings while their father Frank, played by William H. Macy (Fargo, Magnolia), is largely a deadbeat and usually only shows up at home to take money from his family. Fiona’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Jimmy is officially gone this season so this is another show that has an opportunity to develop in a new direction during the upcoming season.