Sunday, Jan. 12 (HBO)
Series Debut: Show creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto has set up True Detective as an anthology series that would introduce a new setting and cast every season—so he’s probably screwed himself by producing such an incredible first run, with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turning in their most intense performances to date. The pair play disparate detectives (Harrelson’s Martin Hart is a linear-thinking traditionalist; McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is hyper-smart profiler with a penchant for unsettling spiels about the futility of existence) investigating an occult-style murder in 1995 Louisiana. The twist is, the two are telling the story from their own viewpoints in 2012, being interviewed by police about a similar recent killing. Even with the time-shifts, True Detective is seamless and riveting, more of an extended indie film than a crime series. If you see only one TV show this year, 1. Why are you on this page, snobby? And, 2. Make it True Detective.
Friday, Jan. 10 (Cinemax)
Season Premiere: If you haven’t yet seen the first season of Banshee, do so—it’s a 10-episode rush of gonzo-pulp mayhem that defies reason and yet somehow still works, like a visceral mashup of Justified, Twin Peaks, Fight Club and some sexy number you’d see much later in the night on Cinemax. You’d just sprain something if you jumped in on Season 2 tonight. Go ahead; The Only TV Column That Matters™ will be here, waiting.
Sunday, Jan. 12 (Showtime)
Season Premiere: Fiona’s (Emmy Rossum) job may finally have the family “creeping up on the poverty line,” but all is not yet well in Gallagher world: Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is finding college tougher than he thought; Carl (Ethan Cutkowsky) and Debbie (Emma Kenney) have become hormonal-teen assholes; Ian (Cameron Monaghan) is still missing; and, even worse, Frank (William H. Macy) has been found and returned—and he’s learned a few … new ways … to get alcohol into his body now that he can’t drink. Four seasons in, Shameless has yet to run out of ways to simultaneously delight and disgust. Once more: Forget Modern Family—this is America’s family.
Monday, Jan. 13 (Syfy)
Series Debut: Welcome back to Gorgeous Supernatural Creatures Just Trying to Fit In Mondays, with returning series Lost Girl and Being Human, and new Syfy entry Bitten—for those keeping score, that’s a succubus, a vampire, a ghost and now three werewolves. Bitten stars Laura Vandervoort (Smallville) as a werewolf who’s split acrimoniously from her beardy-man pack to live the “normal” life of an urbanite who has to strip down and wolf-out in the woods on occasion. Like Lost Girl and Being Human, Bitten looks like it was shot for $1,000 over the weekend in Vancouver, but doesn’t achieve the deft humor/drama mix of either—so it piles on the sex scenes. Prediction: Hit.
Monday, Jan. 13 (FX)
Season Premiere, Series Debut: As we—and they—learn in the first episode of Season 5, Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and the International Secret Intelligence Service have been causing global havoc for years without the sanction of the U.S. government, thus setting up a season-long arc with the on-the-lam spy gang attempting to unload a ton of cocaine before Pam (Amber Nash) ingests it all, because, you know, Archer. Moving the show to Mondays seems like an equally suicidal mission, but at least FX finally has a semi-worthy animated companion in Chozen, the story of a gay, white, ex-con rapper on a mission, from the minds behind Archer and Eastbound & Down. It’s half-baked, but Chozen is at least good enough to beat off the competition … phrasing.