Winter puts new TV shows in the spotlight
As a popular phrase has it, this is the age of “peak TV,” a term incidentally evocative of the mountains of television under which we now are buried — a mountain that just grows bigger with every passing season, midseason, mini-season and micro-season. According to one recent account, 409 original scripted series aired, streamed or came through the cable in 2015. There is nothing I can do about that.
A certified professional with years of specialized training, I have come once again to your rescue, to help you tunnel your way up and out of this higher-than-ever Everest, to get on top of it, to take its measure, and to get out alive. I will be your guide, helpfully indicating as we go the significant flora and fauna: many new shows that seem familiar, some that look alike, a few that might be the start of a brand-new species.
You might want to take notes.
‘Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life’ (Fox, Sundays)
Bro-centric comedy, featuring Jack Cutmore-Scott as the developmentally arrested underachiever we are meant to take for charming and Meaghan Rath as the hang-friendly girl who sees him for what he is and what he could be.
‘Bordertown’ (Fox, Sundays)
Call it “All in Two Families.” Equal opportunity immigration-themed cartoon created by “Family Guy” vet Mark Hentemann, with Lalo Alcaraz and Gustavo Arellano for cultural balance, which is not to say sensitivity.
‘The Shannara Chronicles’ (MTV, Tuesdays)
High-gloss, post-apocalyptic supernatural adventure series, developed by Miles Millar and Alfred Gough (“Into the Badlands”) from Terry Brooks’ novels. Owes something to “Lord of the Rings,” but don’t we all? As the Frodo of the piece, Austin Butler freshens the neo-medieval air with goofball breeziness.
‘Killing Fields’ (Discovery, Tuesdays)
More of that true-crime serial stuff as a Louisiana police detective comes out of retirement to try to close the case that got away, with producers Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana your name-brand guarantors of quality. Sold as being in “real time,” more properly “recent time.” But real time is coming.
‘Shadowhunters’ (ABC Freeform, Tuesdays)
Pretty young people with angelic superpowers keep the world safe from pretty young people with demonic superpowers, as it ever has been since Buffy got her slayer on. From the “Mortal Instruments” series of words written on paper, bound together between covers.
‘Second Chance’ (Fox, Wednesdays)
Literally crusty old disgraced former L.A. County sheriff Philip Baker Hall is thrown off a bridge, scientifically resurrected from the dead as a younger, stronger, hotter Six Billion Dollar Man (Rob Kazinsky) that his FBI agent son Tim DeKay apparently does not recognize. There’s more to it than that.
‘Colony’ (USA, Thursdays)
“Lost” writer Carlton Cuse’s new project finds “Lost” actor Josh Holloway trapped again, this time inside Los Angeles, which has been surrounded by a big wall by … I dunno who … and filled with metaphors. (Pick one you like.) To collaborate or resist is the question Holloway’s former FBI agent must ask himself, as we all must, sooner or later.
‘Billions’ (Showtime, Sundays)
The rich and powerful and their special problems, with Damian Lewis as a hedge-fund Midas and Paul Giamatti as the U.S attorney under whose bonnet he’s a bee. Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman are the women behind and sometimes above them.
‘Angie Tribeca’ (TBS, Sundays)
Although a straight series with Rashida Jones as an L.A. homicide detective could totally work, this confection by Steve and Nancy Carell basically resurrects “Police Squad!,” a 1980s sitcom by the people who made “Airplane!,” of which you’ve heard, surely. And I didn’t call you Shirley.
‘War & Peace’ (A&E/Lifetime/History, Mondays)
That fat Russian novel you’re going to get around to reading right after you get to that seven-volume French one and “Infinite Jest” becomes a miniseries (BBC muscle is behind it). Paul Dano, Lily James, Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson play characters with long names.
‘London Spy’ (BBC America, Thursdays)
Super-slo-mo contempo thriller in which nothing is as it seems, including what seems to be not what it seems. Is it a love story wrapped in a spy story, or a spy story in the guise of a love story? Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling puzzle it out.
‘Mad Dogs’ (Amazon Prime)
Middle-aged dudes Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco, Ben Chaplin and Steve Zahn join old friend Billy Zane for a Belize vacation that goes bad, like “Deliverance” with palm trees, or a Three Stooges movie in which people die. Oh, the testosterone!
‘The X-Files’ (Fox, Sunday; moves to Mondays on Jan. 25)
Technically not a new series, but children have been born and injected with alien DNA and graduated middle school since David Duchovny’s Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Scully — back with their oppositional attractiveness intact — last had a TV show together.
‘Lucifer’ (Fox, Mondays)
“Castle,” supernatural: The Devil (Tom Ellis) has quit Hell for L.A., where he runs a nightclub and drives a convertible — so predictable, Satan — but discovers what he really wants to do is solve crimes alongside homicide detective Lauren German. (“Will they, won’t they?” gets a whole new level.) It’s a comedy, happily.
‘The Magicians’ (Syfy, Mondays)
This downbeat, postgrad “Harry Potter,” based on Lev Grossman’s books, ditches the Victorian filigree and wands and capes and conducts its business in mostly American accents and various shades of modish youthwear; Jason Ralph is the handsome, mopey Chosen One recruited to the academy just as it all goes poof.
‘Grease: Live!’ (Fox, Sundays)
Fox takes a tip from NBC, getting into the Make an Old Musical Current by Definition by Staging It Live on TV game. Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit are the lovers from different worlds whose tryst must surely end in death — or, more likely, a big production number borrowed from the movie.
‘American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson’ (FX, Tuesdays)
For anyone eager to relive this awful bit of American history but with actors and for those too young to remember but prefer the past docudramatized. Cuba Gooding Jr., is the man nobody calls “The Juice” now, with John Travolta as Robert Shapiro by way of Dr. Evil, Sarah Paulson as souped-up Marcia Clark, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian (watch for little Kim, et al.), and so forth and so on.
‘Madoff’ (ABC, Wednesdays)
More crimes of the rich and (latterly) famous, retold as a miniseries, with Richard Dreyfuss as the financial double-dealer and Blythe Danner as his high-living missus. Will art make them more sympathetic or reconfirm their monstrosity? Peter Scolari, Frank Whaley, Charles Grodin and Lewis Black appear in supporting roles, so some good has come out of all this.
‘Vinyl’ (HBO, Sundays)
Love and hope and dirty dreams and still surviving on the street, along with — I’m just guessing — laughter, joy, and loneliness and sex and sex and sex and sex (and drugs) in this 1970s New York music-business epic from Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese and “Boardwalk Empire” writer Terrence Winter. Shadoobie. Bobby Cannavale stars as a record man whose headaches do not yet include the Internet.
Stephen King’s novel becomes a miniseries in which English teacher James Franco — typecasting! — goes back in time to stop the JFK assassination, because Chris Cooper, who has some sort of wormhole in a closet in his diner, has convinced him that this would be good idea. Have they never read Stephen King?
‘Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders’ (CBS, Wednesdays)
Gary Sinise, franchise-hopping from “CSI,” heads a globe-trotting FBI unit assigned to extract luckless Americans from dangerous foreign entanglements, bumping heads or fists with the local constabularies as they go. Stay home, kids, is the subtext.
‘The Real O’Neals’ (ABC, Wednesday; moves to Tuesdays on March 8)
Columnist Dan Savage sparked this comedy, in which teenager Kenny (Noah Galvin) comes out as gay to his picture-book family, occasioning a storm of mutual confession. Human seal of quality Martha Plimpton plays the mom.
‘The Family’ (ABC, Thursday; moves to Sundays thereafter)
Creepy family drama, with Joan Allen as an ambitious politician making hay from the return of a son abducted a decade before, if that’s really what’s happening. (All = not what it seems.) Andrew McCarthy is the wrongly convicted weirdo next door. Or is he?
‘The Path’ (Hulu)
Formerly “The Way.” Created by Jessica Goldberg (a writer for “Parenthood,” whose creator, Jason Katims, produces), a drama that has something to do with a cult that has something to do with relationships. Hugh Dancy is in it (as the leader); Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan are in it (in a relationship). That is all I know for now.