The midseason shuffle: 10 shows to watch


Contra Costa Times

OK, so maybe giving a starring role to a monkey ( Animal Practice) wasn’t such a good idea, after all. And, in hindsight, The Mob Doctor and Partners were disasters just waiting to happen.

Yes, the fall featured its share of TV blunders. But we’ve now reached the season’s midpoint, and it’s time to hit the restart button. A wave of new shows is headed our way, and several old favorites are making welcome returns.

Here are 10 midseason developments to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months:

•  A ‘Downton Abbey’ wedding: The much-anticipated arrival of Shirley MacLaine isn’t the only big news going into Season 3 of the deliciously addictive period drama. After plenty of on-again, off-again anxiety, the show’s primary lovebirds, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens), are preparing to walk down the aisle. But will the big celebration come off without a hitch? We’ll believe it when we see it. (9 p.m. Sunday, PBS)

•  Judging the judges: Can Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj avoid turning American Idol into a vicious cage match? Will Usher and Shakira enjoy the ride as they take their chairs for a spin on The Voice? It will be interesting to see how famous new judges fit into TV’s biggest talent shows. Idol could be in a precarious position as it deals with reports of bitter feuds between Carey and Minaj (who will be joined by Keith Urban). Then again, it just might the ratings boost the show needs in its 12th season. ( Idol, 8 p.m. Jan. 16, Fox; The Voice,8 p.m. March 25, NBC)

•  Sizzling Bacon: One of winter’s biggest gambles is Fox’s The Following, a psychological thriller starring Kevin Bacon that looks more like a cable drama than a broadcast network show. Bacon plays a former FBI agent on the trail of an escaped serial killer/cult leader, and the pilot episode has critics raving. But there’s a catch: The Following is excessively dark and gory for a network series, prompting concern that it may not attract the kind of mass audience Fox craves. (9 p.m. Jan. 21, Fox)

•  Fond farewell to J.R.: When Season 2 of the Dallas reboot launches, fans will see Larry Hagman’s final performances as conniving oil tycoon J.R. Ewing. Hagman shot several episodes before he died in November at the age of 81. The show plans to pay tribute to him — and to one of television’s most iconic characters — when it lays J.R. to rest in an onscreen funeral in March. (9 p.m. Jan. 28, TNT)

•  Carrie that weight: The producers of The Carrie Diaries face a daunting challenge: How do you make a compelling contemporary teen drama without messing with our memories of a beloved character? The Sex and the City prequel focuses on a 16-year-old Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb), who, after her mother dies, ditches suburban life in Connecticut for the glamor of Manhattan. This Carrie isn’t of legal drinking age, so hold the cosmos. (8 p.m. Jan. 14, The CW)

•  Last laugh for ‘30 Rock’: Three shows are bowing out this month, including Fringe, Private Practice, and, most notably, 30 Rock. Though it won three straight Emmys (2007-09) as TV’s best comedy, it’s been easy to take Tina Fey’s madcap sitcom for granted. But in its highly enjoyable seventh and final season, it has been at the top of its game. (Returns 8 p.m. Thursday, final episode Jan. 31, NBC.)

•  But can it be a smash?: The ambitious musical drama Smash burst into prime time last winter with a great pilot and even greater expectations. But it became a creative mess — one that viewers loved to hate. Now comes a major reboot, complete with a new executive producer, new faces (hello, Jennifer Hudson), and new, supposedly “cooler” music. Best of all, the supporting characters that annoyed us most are gone: Good riddance, Ellis. (9 p.m. Feb. 5, NBC)

•  Felicity becomes a spy: Several familiar stars will pop up in new roles, including Anthony Edwards, Jenna Elfman, Sarah Chalke and Brad Garrett. But we’re mainly excited to see Keri Russell in The Americans, a Cold War-era saga about two KGB agents (Russell and Matthew Rhys) posing as an American couple in suburban Washington, D.C. (10 p.m. Jan. 30, FX)

•  Fresh start for ‘Cougar Town’: Over three seasons, Courteney Cox’s hilariously offbeat sitcom survived a dumb name and shabby treatment by its network. But can it survive basic cable? After ABC axed the show, TBS swooped in for a rescue. Now the cul-de-sac crew attempts to become one of those rare shows that can thrive in a new setting. (10 p.m. Tuesday, TBS)

•  Southern-fried controversy: MTV’s Buckwild, a reality series about nine young adult pals in West Virginia, is the latest example of TV’s newfound love for country folk (See: Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, etc.). Labeled the Redneck Jersey Shore, it’s been condemned by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and MTV is no doubt thankful for the free publicity. (Second episode 10 p.m. Thursday, MTV.)

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