Now that New Year's has come and gone, we can finally say goodbye to television's holiday hiatus and start watching some new stuff again. Sure, sitting on the couch madly operating your TV and DVR like Vishnu at the center of the world won't exactly help you lose the holiday weight you've resolved to lose, but who cares. Be honest, you weren't really going to lose it anyway. So, might as well sit back and enjoy your new bloated self as you take in some new and returning shows. In the interest of making your lethargy even easier, we've put together this quick guide highlighting the best of what will be on.
Tonight is the glorious premiere of Buckwild, MTV's latest look at a gnarly subculture of America's party scene. Now that the Jersey Shore kids have been crated up and put in storage (here's footage of that happening), MTV is moving over to Appalachia. It's West Virginia to be precise, where they've found a group of kids who like to go muddin' on ATVs, drink moonshine, hook up, and make swimming pools out of dump trucks. It actually looks like a fun, kinda pleasant group of kids. Sure we'll likely soon be horrified by some form of monster behavior, but for now we're hoping for a strangely sweet antidote to Jersey Shore — a show about a group of reg'lar kids who like to have fun in ways other than shrieking at nightclubs. (10 p.m.)
After a Christmas Special last month, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's brainy, occasionally brilliant send-up of bourgeois bohemianism Portlandia returns to IFC in earnest for its third season. We've seen the first three episodes, and so far the show is back to its charming old tricks, delicately mocking the social stresses of the dreaded birthday dinner party, the constant moaning about how MTV isn't what it used to be, and, most pertinent to us, the oversensitivity of TV spoilerphobia. (Careful watching that clip above — it spoils a lot of shows.) Armisen and Brownstein are adept as ever at softly needling their way right into the core of a particular tic or foible, making this season hum with just the right mix of acuity and absurdity. (10 p.m.)
Oh lord, prepare yourself. The internet and your office breakroom (not necessarily two different places) are about to explode with chatter about the third season of the ITV/PBS costume sensation Downton Abbey, which returns to U.S. after already, excruciatingly airing in the U.K. this past fall. We decided to wait for the formal broadcast this year, rather than download illegally, and so are probably just as eager to see this as any of those Anglophile jerks you work with. What will the arrival of Shirley MacLaine mean for all the stuffy Brits? What's this whispered-about Big Event that we studiously avoided learning more about on Twitter and elsewhere? We'll soon begin to learn the answers, and you'll have to excuse us if we can't talk about anything else for the next few weeks. Downton time comes but once a year, so please bear with us. (9 p.m.)
NBC makes a blatant stab at creating its own Revenge with the Meagan Good-starring thriller-soap Deception. The pilot episode of the series — about a police detective who returns to the home of the wealthy family that employed her mother and essentially raised her to solve the murder of her former best friend — is currently on demand and on Hulu. We checked it out and you know what? It's really not half-bad. In fact, in some ways it's way more interesting than the entire second season of Revenge has been so far. Deception may ultimately get lost in the woods the way its inspiration has, but for now the writing is sharp enough and the performances from a fine cast — among them Good, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, and Ella Rae Peck as the family's troubled youngest child — are juicy without devolving into senseless camp. (Gotta be careful of that, Madeleine Stowe.) We're willing to give the show a shot, and suggest you do the same. (10 p.m.)
Uh oh. This is the night that Fox's much-dreaded celebrity high-diving special Stars In Danger: The High Dive airs, so we'll soon see the demise of the sisters Richards from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Alexandra Paul and David Chokachi from Baywatch, and several other V-listers who have agreed to repeatedly hurl themselves into a swimming pool from what amounts to a three-story building. It ought to be a grim one-time wonderment. (8 p.m.) If that kind of foolishness is not to your liking, maybe you could turn to MTV instead to watch the premiere of Washington Heights. Set in the largely Dominican community in northern Manhattan, this new reality show looks like a Laguna Beach for the inner city set. This is a demographic that doesn't often get its own glossy reality shows, so we're curious enough to give it a watch. Very likely we'll see that these kids, with all their relationship drama and big ambitions, aren't much different from the drawling Laguna beach bums. (10 p.m.)
NBC sitcom staples 30 Rock and The Office return tonight, while the network's next big hope 1600 Penn makes its formal premiere. We say "formal" because the first episode, like Deception's, has been available online and on demand for some time now (and gotten a full-episode sneak after The Voice). But this is when it starts for real. Hailed often as NBC's version of Modern Family — meaning, a genial family sitcom that's light on the cynicism and high on the zaniness — 1600 Penn centers on the goofy, well-intentioned, ne'er-do-well son (Josh Gad) of a popular president (Bill Pullman) who returns to the White House after screwing up in college, only to bumble even worse once he gets there. Jenna Elfman plays the president's second wife, while Martha MacIsaac (Michael Cera's girlfriend from Superbad) is the secretly pregnant goody two-shoes First Daughter. Based on the three episodes we've seen, Elfman is the most lively presence, nimble with timing and frantic fluster. Your impression of Gad will likely be influenced by your opinion of him in general; some loved him in Book of Mormon, others did not. (Same goes for Love and Other Drugs perhaps, though did anyone really like anything about that movie?) The whole cast seems eager to the task, but here's hoping that as the season goes on things gets a little sharper. We're not looking for Veep-level acridness and bile, exactly, but a little more edge might balance out a bit of the goofiness. (9:30 p.m.) Spike also debuts a new season of the long-ago curiosity and cult favorite Joe Schmo, which stages a reality show that only one poor sap doesn't know is fake. The first two seasons were strange, awkward delights (including when a season two contestant figured out the trick), but it's been a while. We'll have to see if they can pull it off again now that everyone the nation over is so wise to reality TV conventions. (10 p.m.)
This is for the rare few that have Cinemax and the even-rarer who don't watch Cinemax just for the soft-core. Having just wrapped up the gripping and knotty BBC co-production thriller Hunted, the burgeoning action-drama network is set to debut Banshee, an American series "set in a small town in Pennsylvania Amish country and features an enigmatic ex-con/martial arts expert posing as a murdered sheriff who imposes his own brand of justice while also cooking up plans that serve his own interests." The show is executive produced by True Blood schlockmeister Alan Ball, which we're not quite sure is a good thing. But after Hunted's surprising amounts of class and intrigue, and Strike Back's reliable guns-'n'-tits boisterousness, we're more than willing to give another Cinemax show a chance. (10 p.m.)
HBO and Showtime debut some of their winter programming on this particular Sunday. HBO is giving us second seasons of the much-discussed Girls and the criminally under-appreciated Enlightened. Though all the chatter about Girls has probably exhausted many of you, and perhaps alienated some others who were thinking about giving it a chance, we suggest you ignore all that and just focus on the actual show. We think it's well worth it. Enlightened, meanwhile, is truly some of television's highest art. We shamefully admit to being late converts, and are maybe a little more zealous in our evangelism because of it. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking, vaguely spiritual (in a secular humanist, zen kind of a way) series that features some of TV's best acting from Laura Dern, her mother Diane Ladd, show writer Mike White, and Luke Wilson. Plus this season we have Molly Shannon! You must give this show a(nother) look. As for Showtime, they're bringing back the gunky but surprisingly likable Shameless as well as the comedies Californication and House of Lies, two scuzzy shows that we've never cared for but certainly seem to have found their audiences. So you can go dirty on Showtime or smart and soulful on HBO. The choice is yours. (Girls: 9 p.m.; Enlightened: 9:30 p.m.; Shameless: 9 p.m.; House of Lies: 10 p.m.; Californication: 10:30 p.m.)
Teen girls (and boys, in some cases) who watched their moms swoon over Sex and the City (yes, moms -- not just cool young aunts at this point, it's 2013!) will get their own chance to fall in love with Carrie Bradshaw with The CW's loosely related prequel The Carrie Diaries. Meaning, we're getting Carrie in high school in New Jersey, figuring out that whole lame scene while also exploring her "first true love," New York City. So it's basically Jane by Design, just with a stronger brand name association. Carrie has a suburban love interest in the suave cool-guy Austin Butler (IRL boyfriend of Vanessa Hudgens, obvi) while she meets gays and goes to magazine parties in the city. The trailer makes the show look rather dreadful in an exciting way, but you probably need to have a pretty specific kind of masochistic taste to enjoy this kind of thing. Viewer beware. Fellow weirdos, we'll meet you in Manhattan. (8 p.m.)
Fox's original singing competition juggernaut American Idol returns for its one billionth season, this time one J.Lo butt and one Steven Tyler bag of witch bones lighter. Yes, those two judges have been replaced by Mariah Carey, Nikki Minaj, and Keith Urban, while ol' reliable hoot-dawg Randy Jackson remains. This is the twelfth season of this still-reasonably-big show, coming off crowning its most successful contestant in a few seasons, Phillip Phillips. (With a big Olympics push, his song "Home" has been something of a sensation.) What's in store for this go-around? Well, hopefully some Carey-on-Minaj fighting, a few cute boys to get the tweens screaming, and some screaming ladies to make the competition interesting. You know, standard Idol stuff. Try as we might, and we've tried, we just can't seem to quit this dang show. (8 p.m., Wednesday & Thursday)
Kevin Bacon slinks onto our television sets after a career in the movies, playing a dogged FBI guy tracking down a serial killer and his army of copycat fans in The Following, a grim Fox thriller from Dawson's Creek goo-monger (OK, he also wrote Scream) Kevin Williamson. In Bacon, James Purefoy, Annie Parisse, and Natalie Zea, the show boasts a fine cast, so let's hope the writing matches their talent and elevates the series past the yet-another-TV-show-about-serial-killers feel it has in previews. (9 p.m.)
Keri Russell makes a return to television after some years wandering around the movies in FX's The Americans, playing a deep-cover Soviet spy posing as a happily married woman (her husband is also an undercover spook) in early '80s New Jersey. So, this could be Homeland, it could be The Riches, it could be Undercovers, or it could be something else entirely. It's a great premise, the trick will be to see if they can pull steady episodic television out of it. What were late-Cold War spies really doing, anyway? If the show has the right amount of grit and danger to it, we'll be happy. If it's just about near-misses as a bunch of people lie to one another coupled with corny domestic drama, we'll just go watch season one of Homeland again. (10 p.m.)
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