Friday, Jan. 25 (Starz)
Season Premiere: In the final chapter of Starz’s green-screen blood ’n’ boobs epic, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) and his army of leather models are running roughshod over Rome, killing and/or screwing and/or yelling at everything in sight. But he’s about to face his fiercest opponent yet: Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells), a ruthless bastard with mountains of military money and a young Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance—or is it David Spade?) at his side. Three seasons and one new Spartacus later, this series (which, despite being essentially a cartoon, put Starz in the original drama game) isn’t any less dumb—but it also isn’t any less fun. Shut off your brain and enjoy the splatter.
Saturday, Jan. 26 (CMT)
Series Debut: Then again, if you shut off your gourd for too long, the lack of oxygen might turn you into a basic-cable executive who greenlights redneck reality shows after their expiration date. Country Music Television got whupped real good by TLC, A&E and pretty much every other network in the hillbilly sweepstakes; now, the channel you’d think would own the genre can’t even play catch-up, as Swamp Pawn (“Swamp folk and pawn shops—that’s gotta be a winner, right?”) isn’t anything you haven’t already seen 168 times this week. Face it, Viacom: CMT ain’t no MTV … which also isn’t MTV anymore.
Sunday, Jan. 27 (TLC)
Special: Even more inexplicably, TLC—for better but mostly worse, a reality-TV trendsetter—is now trying to jump onto the overprivileged-housewives wave, which petered out two years ago, whether Bravo knows it or not. Plastic Wives’ twist is that these still-kinda-women are all married to insanely wealthy Hollywood plastic surgeons (redundant, I know) and consider their dead faces, poofy lips and basketball tits to be glorious advertisements for their hubbies’ work. Therein lies comedy—not to mention a labia in a jar. Yes, really.
Tuesday, Jan. 29 (MTV)
Series Debut: Seems like anything The Only TV Column That Matters™ actually likes and recommends on MTV these days gets instantaneously canceled; recent pick Underemployed was banished to Saturday nights midway through its first season and probably won’t be seen again. Which is why I shouldn’t tell you to watch Nikki & Sara Live, MTV’s new weekly late-night series—believe it or not, the net’s first since The Jon Stewart Show in 1995—starring comics Nikki Glaser and Sara Shaefer, based on their funny-as-hell podcast You Had to Be There. So, don’t (but do).
Wednesday, Jan. 30 (FX)
Series Debut: It’s 1981; Ronald Reagan has just been elected president as America is under siege from the Cold War and an onslaught of terrible, terrible music. In suburban Washington, D.C., long-embedded Russian KGB spies Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are settling into their fake marriage—with real, unaware kids—in diverging ways: He’s now enjoying the American Way of Life and dreaming of a million-dollar U.S. paycheck for defecting; she’s still dedicated to the mission and Mother Russia. To complicate matters (more), an FBI agent (Noah Emmerich) who’s part of a new counterintelligence division charged with finding Spies Like Them, just moved in next door. The Americans powerfully combines the sexy espionage tension of Homeland with the hiding-in-plain-sight vibe of FX’s late, great The Riches, and Russell’s steely performance is easily a lock for future Claire Danes-ish accolades. The only possible knock against the series would be the period music—a chase scene set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”? Come on …