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Is April the New September?
March 23, 2011  | By Ed Martin
mildred-pierce-hbo.jpgThe 2010-11 television season has been a disappointing one, with the broadcasters failing to deliver a single new hit and the cable networks creatively underperforming, as well.

The bright spots have been few and far between: FX's smart but sadly short-lived detective series Terriers; HBO's interesting but somewhat over-praised Prohibition-era mob drama Boardwalk Empire; AMC's gripping horror smash The Walking Dead; PBS's grandly entertaining period piece Downton Abbey; Starz's savage stunner Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, and Syfy's addictive Face Off (a formulaic but fun reality competition series that belongs alongside genre standouts Project Runway and Top Chef).

In terms of raw numbers, the only new broadcast success has been NBC's legal drama Harry's Law, though most of its viewers are beyond the 18-49 age demographic over whom networks and advertisers salivate. Thank goodness CBS's irresistible The Good Wife and ABC's priceless Modern Family and recently revitalized Grey's Anatomy continue to prove that broadcast can deliver the same smart, sophisticated and sometimes sizzling grown-up fare that basic cable does so well.

The official season may have been an only sporadically satisfying slog so far, but suddenly, with just two months to go until expectations slide and the summer season begins, a host of uncommonly ambitious programs are about to make spring the new fall, or, as far as the television business goes, April the new September.


The best of the bunch is AMC's searing, gut-wrenching new crime drama The Killing (premiering April 3; photo at right). Just like Modern Family, a situation comedy about a family that is so fantastically fresh it seems to be the first of its kind, rather than the thousandth addition to its genre, The Killing soars way above the dozens of procedural crime dramas that have crowded network schedules in recent years. It's a season-long story about the devastating investigation into the brutal murder of a teenage girl and how her death impacts everyone involved. Mireille Enos, as the lead detective on the case, and Michelle Forbes, as the victim's grief-ravaged mother, deliver two of the best performances that will be seen on any screen this year.

Also worth getting excited about: Starz's Camelot (April 1), a surprisingly absorbing re-imagining of the incessantly retold tale of Britain's legendary young king Arthur and the crafty sorcerer Merlin that manages to be both intimate and epic in its storytelling; HBO's Mildred Pierce (premiering Sunday, March 27), a miniseries adaptation of the James M. Cain novel (also a 1945 movie melodrama) featuring a captivating performance by Academy Award-winner (and six-time Oscar nominee) Kate Winslet [pictured at top with Evan Rachel Wood]; Showtime's violent and sexy historical drama The Borgias (April 3), about the ruthless and powerful family that was at the forefront of the Italian Renaissance, starring Academy Award-winner Jeremy Irons, and a tantalizing treat from PBS, Upstairs Downstairs (April 10), a multi-part sequel to the cherished early '70s saga, again starring Jean Marsh.

Another spring stand-out is HBO's Cinema Verite (April 23; photo below with James Gandolfini, Diane Lane and Tim Robbins). This scripted drama chronicles the making of the first true observational reality series, PBS's 1973 phenomenon An American Family. If HBO or PBS could acquire the original series, its rebroadcast would likely be one of the television events of this decade.


The spring season will also bring NBC's telecast of the final season of Friday Night Lights (April 15), a deeply satisfying conclusion to one of the best drama series in television history, and the boldly timed launch (smack in the middle of the American Idol frenzy) of NBC's ambitious new singing-competition series The Voice (April 26).

Returning gems include Showtime's highly addictive Nurse Jackie (Monday, March 28), which picks up right where last season's shocking cliffhanger left off, and the same network's always fascinating United States of Tara (also Monday), plus the sixth season of BBC America's superb science-fiction spectacle Doctor Who (April 23).

Continuing, too, are new episodes of two of basic cable's finest, both on FX -- the crime drama Justified, which remains as compelling as ever, and the wildly funny, unapologetically adult spy caper Archer, a clever cartoon that goes to a place this week and next where no animated series has gone before: Handsome, vainglorious, seemingly unstoppable secret agent Sterling Archer learns that he has breast cancer. In a remarkable display of smart writing, these episodes manage not to offend, even as they maintain the series' signature giddy rude humor.

Lastly, ABC's Dancing with the Stars is making its welcome return (all 11 competitors perform again Monday, before Tuesday's first elimination). In tandem with Fox's nicely refreshed (if a little too sweet) American Idol, that will give us four nights a week of high profile live primetime entertainment programming until the end of the May sweeps period. That should do much to bring this sleepy season around.




Aaron said:

Please don't forget about Treme, which returns to HBO on April 24.

Comment posted on March 24, 2011 2:45 AM

Greg Kibitz said:

I'm glad you mentioned Justified and The Good Wife. But what about Southland. IMO, that was pretty good, and almost fresh and new, and I was glad to have it back after NBC dumped it a couple years ago.

As you have failed to mention it, I think really you need to start watching Shameless on Showtime. I;ve seen some of the Britich version and the US remake is far far better. Way less camp and far more "real". Week after week I wonder where they will go next.

Though I am not a real fan of the Superhero X-man Genre (hated Heros), I quite like No Ordinary Family. Yes, stupid show but a really Good cast that just keeps getting better and quite fun to watch.

Not sure about the ratings (and thus their possible logevity) but I'm also a huge fan of three other new, and, IMO, very high quality Broadcast network shows: Parenthood, Detroit 1-8-7 and Blue Bloods.

Yes, Modern Family is "more entertaining" than Parenthood, but Modern Family doesn;t take anything at all seriously whereas Parenthood most assuredly does and IMO, that is surely better for us all (not that I will ever stop watching Modern Family).

Bluebloods is good in that it also deals with a larege families complex dynamics and it has crimes and cops and bad guys and investigations and raw things too with lots of conflicted storylines.

In Detroit 187 Imperoli really shines and all the Actors and characters are really cool and their season finale was quite spectacular. And the music alone keeps me tuning in. I like that it's very gritty and urban and has a bit of the feel of what HBO brought us in The Wire. But I also really liked Life on Mars (and Swingtown and American Dreams) which went no where as far as ratings are concerned. So who am I to say.

My biggest hate for 2010-2011 is that many of my favorite shows (as in most of the above) compete in the same 10pm time slots, sometimes 3 different shows all at once. Even worse: on those nights the 9pm slot is often got nada on any channel. The smart broadcaster would push theirs back an hour. But no! That might interfere with some reality crap! Sadly, the highest ratings often go to the worst shows, and we all know broadcast only cares about ratings!

FYI: I'm also dying to see all the new premium cable and basic cable series soon to start next month. Some you mentioned, many you did not, too many to list. I did not know about The Killing. Gotta thank you for that one and gotta check it out too.

Comment posted on March 24, 2011 4:41 AM

Barry said:

Friday Night Lights was awesome. Loved every minute of it on DirecTV.

Sad to see it end.

Comment posted on March 24, 2011 9:41 AM

km said:

Am I the only one that finds Raising Hope to be incredibly funny?

Comment posted on March 24, 2011 7:44 PM
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