This handy guide answers the question that I’ve been asked more than any other this TV season: When is Game of Thrones, HBO’s swords-and-treachery epic, coming back? As you’ll see (below), it happens to be the same night that The Killing, AMC’s murder maze, returns for its second season. And there’s more new programming than you can shake a remote at.
So, yes, it’s going to be a busy spring. Good news indeed for TV viewers. There’s star power (Dustin Hoffman, Ashley Judd) and casting quirks (Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin; Dawson’s Creek’s James Van Der Beek as a comic version of himself). Enough palaver. Let’s plunge right in.
Luck (HBO, Sundays at 9 p.m., started Jan. 29). Fittingly, this luminous series about a California horse-racing track has an impressive pedigree — executive producers Michael Mann (Miami Vice) and David Milch (Deadwood). It’s a look at the often-seedy sport of kings, from the owners’ boxes to the $2 betting window. The thoroughbred cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte, Jill Hennessy, Jason Gedrick and many more. And they’re off.
Smash (NBC, Mondays at 9 p.m., starting Feb. 6). Ready for some razzmatazz? NBC is betting its season that you are, with this big-budget series from executive producers Steven Spielberg, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan about the mounting of a big-budget Broadway musical. Art, beauty, talent, ego, nerves, commerce, duplicity all come into play as two actresses (Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty) compete to be the Great White Way’s next big star. Debra Messing, Jack Davenport and Anjelica Huston are also featured in this song-and-dance extravaganza.
The River (ABC, Tuesdays at 9 p.m., starting Feb. 7). The titular body of water is the Amazon. Somewhere along its length, popular TV nature host Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) went missing with his crew. Now his wife (Leslie Hope) and estranged son (Joe Anderson) have mounted a rescue mission. But their boat and its documentary filmmakers encounter a force that grows more malevolent the deeper they go into the jungle.
Game Change (HBO movie, at 9 p.m. March 10). Julianne Moore stars as Sarah Palin in this fact-based film about the 2008 electoral campaign. (What, no Tina Fey?) Ed Harris plays Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who is persuaded by his adviser (Woody Harrelson) that he needs to make a bold, unconventional choice for his running mate. Palin, an obscure governor from Alaska, proves to be that and a whole lot more.
Missing (ABC, Thursdays at 8 p.m., starting March 15). Becca Winstone (Ashley Judd) is just a small-town florist who likes to go for a jog in the morning before her shop opens. That is, until her son (Nick Eversman) vanishes while spending a semester studying abroad in Rome. Mom goes to reclaim him — with a vengeance. Soon, every bad guy in Europe is muttering to himself, “Of all the kids in the world, why did I have to mess with this one?” Because the angry and surprisingly well-trained parent is out there taking the continent apart, fountain by fountain. Nice scenery, before Ashley turns it into rubble.
Game of Thrones (HBO, Sundays at 9 p.m., returning April 1). Odds bodkins, it’s back at last: the rich knights-and-knaves fantasy that gripped so many viewers last spring. Producers have promised that this season will bring both more bloodshed and more romance. If I had the black heart of a Lannister, I might venture plot spoilers from A Clash of Kings, the second book in George R.R. Martin’s fiction saga, A Song of Ice and Fire. But all I can say with any certitude is that we will visit a new kingdom and that Daenerys’ dragons will grow apace.
Mad Men (AMC, Sundays at 9 p.m., returning March 25). Would you believe me if I told you it’s been more than 16 months since we heard from Don Draper and his advertising cronies? In the season-four finale, Don (Jon Hamm) had proposed to Meagan (Jessica Paré) and Joan (Christina Hendricks) was pregnant. But that doesn’t mean the story will pick up from there. Besides being crazy secretive about its plot lines, Mad Men has an infuriating habit of jumping off in unexpected directions. So don’t expect a wedding. Or a baby. But do expect a two-hour premiere that will bring Season Five to an immediate boil.
The Killing (AMC, Sundays at 9 p.m., after returning with a special two-hour season premiere at 8 p.m. April 1). The evocative and very rainy Seattle murder mystery resumes. The cast is intact: Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton as the blue-collar parents of murdered teen Rosie Larsen; Mireille Enos and shady Joel Kinnaman as the homicide detectives investigating the crime, and Billy Campbell as the too-good-to-be-true local politician. Many fans drawn in by the moodiness and intricacy of the series ultimately expressed frustration at the pace and lack of resolution. All involved with The Killing swear they have heard you loud and clear. Season two: bang-bang plotting and the culprit revealed at last.
Scandal (ABC, Thursdays at 10 p.m., starting April 5). Is Shonda Rhimes the best show runner on television? Fans of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice would probably say so. Now Rhimes unveils a new drama about a high-powered crisis-management firm in Washington, D.C. Kerry Williams stars as the former White House consultant who stepped away to start her own practice. She and her staff are brilliant at solving their clients’ very public problems, not so good at managing their own messy personal lives. Henry Ian Cusick, Darby Stanchfield, Tony Goldwyn, and Guillermo Diaz costar.
Magic City (Starz, Fridays at 10 p.m., starting April 6). You should have seen Miami Beach back in the old days, in all its pastel glory. Now you can. Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Grey’s Anatomy) runs the Miramar Playa Hotel, the swankiest joint on the beach, just as the ‘60s are dawning. But Ike has had to borrow heavily from mobster Ben “the Butcher” Diamond (Danny Huston), and he finds himself being squeezed from all sides. Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, Judi Silver, Kelly Lynch and Christian Cook costar.
Don’t Trust the B———in Apartment 23 (ABC, Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m., starting April 11). It’s a familiar sitcom cautionary tale: A naive Midwestern girl (Dreama Walker) moves to New York and is quickly fleeced for everything she’s worth. Out of desperation, she finds herself living with the most heartlessly cynical roommate in the city (Krysten Ritter). Now, here’s the weird part: The evil roomie’s best friend is James Van Der Beek. Playing himself. Yeah, the guy who put the Dawson in Dawson’s Creek. On this show, he’s a former teen idol who can’t find work. It’s a gag that works, but you have to wonder how they talked Van Der Beek into taking the role.