Tuesday, March 22, 2011

19 TV Shows Worth Watching

19 TV Shows Worth Watching

Fall is always crazy in the TV realm, but the middle of the current season has been just as bananas.

As soon as 2011 rolled around, the networks unleashed a bumper crop of new and returning shows, and only in the past couple of weeks did the relentless pace of premieres and returns simmer down to a manageable level.

We can't get complacent, however, because in the next few weeks, cable and broadcast networks will release yet another barrage of notable new shows, from 'Game of Thrones' to 'The Killing' to 'The Borgias.'

To make sure you don't miss anything, here's a handy list of 19 notable March and April programs. I've put a * next to new programs I've seen at least one episode of. Look for full reviews of most of these programs on TV Squad in coming weeks.

'The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway,' 10PM ET Saturday, March 19, HBO
Thirty years ago, HBO filmed a cult stage show that was drawing crowds in Los Angeles; it featured an impish man-child in a slightly-too-small suit and his odd but endearing friends. Movies and 'Pee-wee's Playhouse' followed, and then there was that long period of inactivity in the wake of actor Paul Reubens' legal troubles. But three decades after Pee-wee began charming audiences with his antic goofiness, he made a comeback with a Broadway show that packed houses last fall, and once again, HBO was there to record the fun.

'Big Love' series finale, 9PM ET Sunday, March 20, HBO
As the polygamy saga heads toward its final hour, things are looking pretty dire for Bill Henrickson and his three wives. Follow Ryan Vaughan's recaps for the latest on Bill's increasingly desperate moves, and look for Ryan's post on 'Love's' last outing Monday morning.

'Marcel's Quantum Kitchen,' 10PM ET, Tuesday, March 22, Syfy
Marcel Vigneron, one of 'Top Chef's' most memorable candidates, stars in a Syfy reality show that chronicles his catering adventures. Will the adventurous chef be able to execute his complicated "molecular gastronomy" on time and on budget for demanding clients? Or will he go down in flames (or, perhaps more appropriately, in a burst of liquid nitrogen)?

* 'Mildred Pierce,' 9PM ET Sunday, March 27, HBO
Kate Winslet makes anything she's in worth watching, and there are also some terrific performances from the supporting cast in this handsome five-part miniseries. But this Todd Haynes project suffers from some pacing and characterization problems, and Haynes' directing style can annoy at times. But in a performance that is the polar opposite of Joan Crawford's icy, iconic take on the character, the empathic Winslet manages to give the heroine of James M. Cain's classic melodrama a real, beating heart.

'Nurse Jackie,' 10PM ET Monday, March 28, Showtime
When the previous season ended, it appeared that Jackie Payton (Edie Falco) had pushed the patience of her husband, Kevin (Dominic Fumusa), too far, and even her tolerant best friend Dr. O'Hara (Eve Best) had staged an intervention with the drug-addicted nurse. But the show's second-season premiere essentially hit the reset button on the first-season finale, and I'm concerned that that will happen again when season 3 begins. Still, there are things to recommend 'Nurse Jackie,' most notably its excellent cast, and I remain interested enough to check out the first few episodes of the show.

'United States of Tara,' 10:30PM ET Monday, March 28, Showtime
The second season of this multiple-personality comedy-drama was quite strong, but who knows if the show will be able to keep up the quality level now that a new team of showrunners has taken over for season 3. In any event, 'Tara' has lined up Eddie Izzard to guest star as Dr. Jack Hattaras, a psychology teacher Tara meets when she re-enrolls in college.

* 'Body of Proof,' 10PM ET Tuesday, March 29, ABC
This medical drama stars Dana Delany as a world-famous neurosurgeon who must change careers after a devastating accident. When I watched the pilot a few months ago, Delany appeared to be the only real draw in this otherwise predictable cranky-doc show, but I'll see if my feelings change upon re-watching the pilot and screening another episode ABC has posted for critics' review.

'Chaos,' 8PM ET Friday, April 1, CBS
Freddy Rodriguez, Eric Close, James Murray and Tim Blake Nelson star in this mid-season entry as a rag-tag band of CIA agents who use their wits and ingenuity on covert operations. So, hmm, CBS is airing this "comedic drama" on Fridays very late in the season. Something tells me expectations for 'Chaos' are not sky-high, and, let's be honest, does the TV scene really need one more spy show? Guess we'll find out.

* 'Camelot,' 10PM ET Friday, April 1, Starz
Ye Olde Fantasy was mostly absent from television in recent years, aside from the occasional groan-inducing wizard movie on Syfy, but this month we've got a couple credible entries in the sword-and-sorcery sweepstakes: 'Camelot,' which stars Joseph Fiennes as Merlin and Jamie Campbell Bower as a reckless young Arthur, and HBO's 'Game of Thrones' (throw in 'The Borgias,' and it's a bumper crop of shows that feature capes, daggers and intrigues in dark palace hallways). This take on the Arthurian legend features an unpretentious approach, a lively pace and an excellent cast. Among the standouts are a scene-stealing James Purefoy of 'Rome' as King Lot and an impressive Bower ('Twilight') as the nervous, impetuous Arthur.

* 'The Borgias,' 9PM ET Sunday, April 3, Showtime
The crafty Jeremy Irons stars as Rodrigo Borgia, the head of the formidable and wealthy title family. Much of the creative team responsible for the disappointing period drama 'The Tudors' are behind this new venture, but there are a few important differences: The charismatic Irons is a far, far better actor than 'The Tudors' sleep-inducing star, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and 'Borgias' producer/director Neil Jordan ('The Crying Game') has given this series about corrupt clergy and nobles in Rome some urgency and visual pop. This is soapy, middlebrow "history" with the usual number of ripped bodices and clunky lines, but seeing Irons and excellent co-stars Colm Feore and Derek Jacobi tear into their roles as avaricious cardinals is good, unclean fun.

'The Killing,' 9PM ET Sunday, April 3, AMC
The cable network's latest drama is based on a hit Danish series, 'Forbrydelsen,' which examined one crime: The death of a young girl. Mireille Enos ('Big Love') stars as the detective investigating the case and Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes star as the victim's mother and father.

'The Kennedys,' 8PM ET Sunday, April 3, Reelz
This controversial miniseries was commissioned by History, but that network cut it loose when historians cited problems with the project's script. Reelz eventually gave a home to the eight-part miniseries, which stars Greg Kinnear and J.F.K. and Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Kennedy.

'Upstairs, Downstairs,' Sunday April 10, PBS (check local listings)
Housemaid Rose Buck (co-creator Jean Marsh) and Eileen Atkins, another creator of 'Upstairs, Downstairs,' are among the actors who star in this brand-new season of the period drama, which examines the lives of servants and their employers in the early 20th Century. This time around, in 1936, a diplomat and his wife move into 165 Eaton Place, the setting for the previous seasons of the soapy drama. The return of 'Upstairs' will have to be pretty terrific to eclipse the recent (and wonderful) 'Downton Abbey,' which covered similar territory.

'Friday Night Lights,' 8PM ET Friday, April 15, NBC
The most hardcore fans of this drama may have seen 'FNL''s farewell season before it begins airing on NBC: The final episodes already aired on DirecTV, and the season 5 DVD set comes out April 5. If you haven't checked out the show's last season, however, now's the time to get out your hankies for this treasured drama's swan song.

'Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe,' 9PM ET Sunday, April 17, USA
All we really need to know is right there in the title: It's a 'Burn Notice' movie starring Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe. Sold. If you need to know more, here's the premise of the USA TV movie: In 2005, before he retired from the military and became Michael Westen's trusted sidekick, Lt. Commander Sam Axe went on a secret mission in Colombia to advise a local militia, and complications ensued, naturally. The film was shot on location in Bogota, Colombia, and directed by 'Burn Notice' star Jeffrey Donovan.

'Game of Thrones,' 9PM ET Sunday, April 17, HBO
A complex web of duty and treachery links several great houses in the kingdom of Westeros, where change -- and a winter that will last for years -- are coming. HBO's saga of love, war and honor, an adaptation of the novel by George R.R. Martin, is one of the most hotly anticipated premieres of the year, and stars Sean Bean, Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage, among others.

'Cougar Town,' 9:30PM ET Monday, April 18, ABC
Break out your best wine glasses: After a long break, this winning ensemble comedy finally returns to the TV schedule. It airs first on a special night, after 'Dancing with the Stars,' then returns to its normal 9:30PM ET Wednesday slot a couple of days later.

'Doctor Who,' 9PM ET Saturday, April 23, BBC America
When the Doctor (Matt Smith) returns, he and his companion, Amy Pond, and her husband, Rory (Arthur Darvill), will embark on a two-part adventure that brings them to America (the sci-fi series shot scenes in the U.S. for the first time last fall). Like many other American nerds, I can't wait to see the Doctor on these shores.

'Treme,' 10PM ET Sunday, April 24, HBO
When David Simon and Eric Overmyer's drama about New Orleans returns, it'll have an Oscar winner in the cast. Melissa Leo, who plays a dogged lawyer on the show, was recently honored for her role in 'The Fighter.'

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