Tube Talk: New year brings new episodes

January 4, 2012

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

After a couple weeks of year-end repeats, most TV viewers are more than ready for the return of first-run episodes.

In coming weeks, FOX rolls out several new series. Kiefer Sutherland’s new series Touch previews Jan. 25, while Bones’ spin-off The Finder premieres Jan. 12, followed by an animated version on Napoleon Dynamite (with Jon Heder voicing his character from the original movie) Jan. 15, and the long-anticipated Alcatraz, starring Sam Neill and Lost’s Jorge Garcia, Jan. 16.

Syfy, HBO, MTV and Lifetime all have new shows launching this month as well. The one new show I’d advise viewers to avoid is ABC’s less-than-funny comedy, Work It, which saddles a decent cast with an unbelievable concept: The only way two guys could find jobs is by posing (badly) as women. (Couldn’t they file a gender bias lawsuit instead?) Just remember, I suffered through the entire pilot episode so you won’t have to.

Something I’ve been looking forward to for the better part of the year is the return of PBS’ Emmy-winning Downton Abbey. What aired last year as a mini-series on Masterpiece Classic is back starting Jan. 8 for a seven-episode second season.

The mini-series ended with the dawn of World War I, and the new season follows the titled Crawley family — and their servants — through wartime turmoil. The incomparable Maggie Smith is back as the blunt-spoken Dowager Countess, with Hugh Bonneville as her son, the Earl of Grantham, and Elizabeth McGovern as his American-born wife, the Countess of Grantham. Brendan Coyle returns as the Earl’s loyal valet Mr. Bates, whose budding romance with housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) may be threatened by the arrival of one Mrs. Bates.

The first-rate cast and beautiful location shots alone would make Downton Abbey worth watching, but it’s the engaging story and well-rounded characters that really draw you in.

On the other end of the good-TV spectrum lies NBC’s 30 Rock, a comedy with equally interesting characters (who are compelling in very different ways than those of Downton Abbey) that also happens to be returning this month. The season debut was pushed back to mid-season to accommodate the real-life pregnancy of series star/writer/executive producer, Tina Fey. The catch? It will be up against CBS’s ratings behemoth, The Big Bang Theory.

Both are great comedies, but since Big Bang doesn’t need help in the ratings, I’ll watch 30 Rock and record Big Bang just as I watched the ratings-challenged Community live and Big Bang later the same night.

The only downside of 30 Rock’s return is that Community — which is arguably one of the most consistently brilliant comedies of the past decade — has been sidelined for the foreseeable future while the lukewarm freshman comedy, Whitney, is sandwiched into NBC’s otherwise strong Thursday night comedy block with 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and The Office. The fastest way NBC could bolster their lineup would be to replace Whitney with Community, pronto.

Even if British period dramas and offbeat comedies aren’t your thing, there will be plenty of new episodes airing this month for you to enjoy, with more shows rolling out in Feburary.

Programming notes

Downton Abbey premieres at 8 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 8, on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic, on WHA-21 (Madison) and WTTW-11 (Chicago).

30 Rock premieres at 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 12, on NBC.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the Jan. 4-10, 2012, issue

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