Monday, March 18 (A&E)
Series Debut: A modern-day “prequel” to the 1960 classic Psycho? A&E has entertained worse ideas for series, including sequel reality shows following the further adventures of Gene Simmons’ and Criss Angel’s respective hairpieces. Bates Motel tells the story of how a teenage Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) eventually grows up to become a proficient serial killer, with plenty of help—intentional or not—from devoted single mom Norma Louise (Vera Farmiga). Farmiga’s commanding presence alone makes Bates Motel a must-see pilot; if the series can sustain this strange, engaging mother/son relationship over 10 episodes, A&E may finally have a drama to brag about besides Longmire (sorry, The Glades).
Thursday, March 14 (Discovery Health)
Series Debut: Even though Discovery Health dumped boring ol’ science in favor of dumb-it-down reality filler years ago, at least the network has stayed somewhat adjacent to topic: Mystery Diagnosis, Secretly Pregnant, Bizarre ER, etc.—most “health” related. Screw all that: Here’s the same blatantly scripted wacky-family-runs-a-business “reality” series you’ve seen a dozen times before; this business just happens to be a St. Louis funeral home. Hilarity ensues as perfectionist Funeral Boss Bill Harris orders around his four varyingly dim kids, who pull endearing goofs like delivering a stiff to the wrong church and secretly wishing they were on TLC’s more-entertaining Best Funeral Ever, instead.
Friday, March 15 (Cinemax)
Season Finale: Chances are you haven’t been watching Banshee, the bizarre-noir drama loaded with slow-boil tension, Ukranian mobsters, gratuitous sex, Amish-country intrigue and more off-the-charts violence than Spartacus and Sons of Anarchy combined. Too bad—The Only TV Column That Matters™ suggests you get caught on Cinemax or the quasi-legal content delivery system of your choice now. When an ex-con (Antony Starr) arrived in Banshee, Penn., nine episodes ago and assumed the identity of the new town sheriff in order to get close to his former crime partner/girlfriend (Ivana Milicevic) and the diamonds they stole from Ukranian mob kingpin Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross), there was no obvious path the story would follow; the simple “revenge” angle has been twisted into something deeper and more complex than Banshee’s action-thriller exterior would suggest. Tonight’s finale sets up a potentially even-wilder Season 2 (which Cinemax has picked up for 2014), so get on it already.
Sunday, March 17 (HBO)
Season Finale: So … what the hell happened this season? It’s as if Girls creator/writer/director/star/lead nudist Lena Dunham took all of those whirlwind Season 1 Louie comparisons the wrong way, ripping the -medy out of dramedy this year and replacing it with -pression, or worse, -meh. The funniest things Dunham’s Hannah has done all season involve a neon-mesh tank top and the invention of the term “sexit” (a grand exit after sex); beyond those, not a lotta laughs. Same goes for Hannah’s sad-sack crew, the uncomfortably adrift Marnie (Allison Williams), the mostly absent Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and the past-the-point-of-insufferable Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet). Not that Girls isn’t still raw, oddly addictive and, yes, Very Important—just lighten it up a little next year, maybe. And spread the nudity around … so to speak.
Tuesday, March 19 (ABC)
Series Debut: Networks are apparently afraid of obvious titles anymore—this should be called Celebrity Diving, or Diving With the Stars or Tinseltown Water Sports, anything. Splash follows 10 celebs (including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kendra Wilkinson, Chuy from Chelsea Lately and my first predicted fatality, Louie Anderson) as they train with Olympic divers and compete over several weeks (yes, this is going to drag into May) in hopes of ultimately winning … a spot on Celebrity Death Race? Oh, it’s coming …