Weird combo, the morals-driven serial killer and the morals-free lady-killer—good thing they’re on opposite coasts. In Season 4, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is pitted against two monumental threats to his happy-go-stabby Miami lifestyle: Suburban marriage and a veteran 30-year serial killer (John Lithgow, at his creepy best/worst). Watching Dex stay (barely) one step ahead of both is as satisfyingly nerve-rattling as amateur acupuncture. On Californication, Hank Moody’s (David Duchovny) Season 3 transition from poon-hound author to poon-hound college professor has been predictably messy, but also more capital-A Adult fun than anything TV has seen in years. Having watched the Nov. 29 season finale, The Only TV Column That Matters™ can impart that the Hank Party Train is going to derail in a big and—in a series rarity— realistic way. Hint: Remember Mia?
Even more so than the late Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men is brazenly newbie-unfriendly. Anyone finally lured in by the critical hype for the premiere of the current third season (which ends Sunday, Nov. 8) was probably staring blankly at their screen back in August and mumbling, “So, it’s a depressing 1963 JC Penney catalog?” Regulars know it’s an ever-deepening and constantly twisting character study that could—but in some instances could never—take place in any time period. Mad Men is more than just style … but oh, the style!
Sons of Anarchy
Hamlet on Harleys, The Cycle Sopranos—all of the original ’08 descriptors still apply, even though Sons of Anarchy has evolved into its own hella-violent biker-gang mythology that pushes the basic-cable envelope more than any other FX series before it (The Shield almost looks like Reno 911 in retrospect). Season 2 has offered up more juicy play for the series’ women (Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff), but Sons is still Dirty Dude Drama all the way. New villain Adam Arkin is so good, he pulls up even sidekick Henry Rollins’ acting (read: scowling).
Modern Family, Cougar Town
Look, network shows! Anyone still bitching about Arrested Development’s demise (you know who you are) should be glued to Modern Family on Wednesday nights. We already knew that Ed O’Neill was funny and Sofia Vergara was surface-of-the-sun hot (and, surprisingly, O’Neil’s match in the laughs department), but Julie Bowen can act? Likewise, on the wackier/sexier side, Cougar Town proves that Courteney Cox can carry a series—as long as it’s not Dirt. Together, Modern Family and Cougar Town deliver as much quality, laugh-track-free network comedy in one hour as NBC’s Thursday lineup does in two (like America, I’m discounting The Jay Leno Show).
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
Not that the Gang have ever been accused of “dialing it back,” but the working motto of Season 5 seems to be “We dare you to put this on TV, bitches!” Anyone who thinks It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is too over-the-top is missing the point: Extremely politically correct times call for extremely ridiculous counter measures. Thus, wine in a soda can, the Birds of War and … kitten mittens!
The Venture Bros., Titan Maximum
Sundays (Adult Swim)
A cartoon with a deeper backstory than Mad Men? Believe it. Already covered The Venture Bros. here a couple of weeks ago; Titan Maximum (from Seth Green and Team Robot Chicken) is the most wonderfully profane and senselessly violent Adult Swim series since the lamented Drinky Crow. And, it’s better written than either Transformers movie—go, Leon!
Next week: The six worst shows on TV.