>>>> The Imported Drama >>>>The Imported Drama: Downton Abbey 8pm Sundays, PBS I am a Jane Austen fan, and the dynamics of Downton Abbey (one of the most popular television shows in the world, according to The New York Times) take me back to my weekend visits with my grandmother when we’d sip martinis and binge on the BBC mini-series Pride and Prejudice. Downton has a captivating combination of order and random, etiquette and subversion. Season Four made its stateside premier this Sunday (January 5), and Matthew Crawley is dead. While he survived a war and recovered from spinal cord damage, he died in a stupid motorcar accident, just minutes after meeting his newborn son, George. Is this mere soap-tastic plotting or a commentary on life’s cruel randomness? That’s the sort-of genius behind Downton’s blend of high manners and low gotchas. Mary Crawley is in mourning and has been “living among the dead” for the past six months. While her black silk smocks seem weightless, the heaviness of her grief is in her leaden gaze and spiritless manners. Writer and creator Julian Fellowes describes the season’s story arc for Mary, as her journey back to a point where she can entertain the notion of falling in love again, and a string of dashing suitors will make their appearances. Honestly, I wish she could go without a man in her story for once. How thrilling it was to see Old Lady Grantham spur her granddaughter to take on the reins of the Downton Estate—in Matthew’s place, as co-owner with Lord Grantham. Flitting off to London in every other scene, Lady Edith is tangled in yet another love affair—this time with her editor, whose wife is locked away in a mental institution. Thomas Barrow returns as the under-butler, and he is no less lofty or conniving despite his near-ruin in last season’s battered outing. It’s also the early 1920s and the Jazz Age appears with the return of young wild child Rose MacClare who stays with her great aunt Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, while her parents are in India. The big question is: will all of Downton be able to keep up? —Joy-Marie Scott PBS (streams for free on pbs.org/masterpiece shortly after the episode airs, and available to purchase via Amazon Prime Instant Video and iTunes)
>>>> The Cult Comedy >>>>The Cult Comedy: Community 7pm Thursdays, NBC With primetime filled to the brim with painstakingly annoying cheeseball procedurals, Whitney Cummings-produced Broke Girls and pitchy glee clubs, TV viewers hungry for something more could always bank on the fast-paced and nod-filled ensemble sitcom Community. Pithy and almost too smart for its own good, the show is possibly the closest modern-day interpretation of John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (albeit with more anxiety-prone characters). So when Sony Pictures pulled the plug on creator Dan Harmon’s stint as showrunner in May 2012 due to persistently low ratings, fans were immediately incensed. Greendale aficionados, or Human Beings, took to Twitter and Tumblr using the #SixSeasonsAndAMovie hashtag to fight the loss of their comedic Messiah by urging Sony to rehire him. Crotchety Harmon’s disappearance was evident in the boring-as-fuck fourth season (or was it possibly the darkest timeline?), which also saw the end of the line for comedian-turned-senile-racist Chevy Chase. The production company eventually flipped its decision and reinstated Harmon to helm Season Five, which returned January 2 for an hour-long premiere. This means we can get back on track following the antics of these far-from-traditional students. The season premier was a return to form even with Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger as part of Greendale’s staff and the eventual exit of actor-rapper Donald Glover (immediately harpooned with a jab at Zach Braff’s exit from Season Nine of Scrubs). We’ve got our fingers crossed for more animated specials, paintball tournaments and “streets ahead” laughs. —Jessica Elizarraras NBC (Streams on Hulu Plus)
>>>> The Sleeper Hit >>>>The Sleeper Hit: Justified 10pm Tuesdays, FX The late, much-loved crime novelist Elmore Leonard hated most Hollywood adaptations of his work, but Justified was such an exception he signed on as executive producer. Even so, the Kentucky-based crime procedural remains a sleeper. I didn’t even start watching until the third season had passed, and then only based on demure word-of-mouth, not media gushing and Twitter buzz that launch shows like Game of Thrones and Scandal into hits these days.
>>>> The Star-studded Award-bait >>>>
>>>> The Campy Reality Show >>>>The Campy Reality Show: Under the Gunn 8pm, Thursdays, Lifetime Having already inspired the spin-offs Project Runway: All Stars, Project Accessory and Models of the Runway (not to mention dozens of exports like Brazil’s Projeto Fashion, Jamaica’s Mission Catwalk and Germany’s Fashion Hero) the reality competition series Project Runway might seem at risk of overexposure. Yet the show, which premiered on Bravo in 2004, keeps fans hooked with the promise of watching hopeful fashion designers concept and create garments to be critiqued by a panel of comically bitchy judges while absorbing pearls of wisdom from silver-haired fashion guru Tim Gunn. From his sincerity (which plays out in both stern pep talks and tearful goodbyes) to his unique way with words (which ventures far beyond the mantra “make it work”), Gunn is more than just Project Runway’s breakout star—he’s the glue that holds the show together. On January 16, the Emmy Award-winner gets his own reality competition series in Lifetime’s Under the Gunn. While it follows the familiar premise of beat-the-clock challenges and celebrity-judged runway presentations, Under the Gunn focuses on mentoring skills by dividing 15 up-and-coming designers into three teams led by Project Runway alums Mondo Guerra, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Nick Verreos. (One mentor and one designer will be declared winners.) As a quick refresher: Guerra came clean about his HIV+ status on Season Eight, emerged as a creative voice for AIDS awareness and later won the first season of Project Runway: All Stars; former Miss Trinidad and Tobago Universe 2008, Ayoung-Chee survived a sex-tape scandal circa 2009 and won Project Runway’s ninth season along with a Fan Favorite award; and Verreos—whose parents and sister Rita (of Survivor: Fiji fame) live in San Antonio—competed on Season Two and is a regular panelist on the TV Guide Network’s Fashion Wrap. —Bryan Rindfuss