Spring TV

‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Community,’ and More: TV Worth Watching This Spring

With the return of Mad Men and Game of Thrones, spring is officially here. Jace Lacob offers a run-down of what’s worth watching over the next few months, and what you can skip altogether.

Jace Lacob examines the spring TV offerings, from the good (Mad Men) to the bad (Magic City).

Jordin Althaus / NBC

WATCH: The Return of <em>Community</em> (NBC)

Six seasons and a movie? The faithful have been rewarded (for now, at least) as NBC returns the inventive and imaginative Community, created by Dan Harmon, to its Thursdays at 8 p.m. time slot (currently being filled by 30 Rock) for the remainder of its third season. The 12 episodes left this season—shot while the show’s future was decidedly uncertain—will feature Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) remarrying her husband (Malcolm Jamal Warner), a Law & Order spoof episode, a Civil War episode, a videogame-based episode, and guest-star turns from Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito to bon vivant John Hodgman. Whether this marks the end of Community’s story—or whether it will earn a reprieve and a forth season—remains to be seen, so Human Beings: tune in. (Returns March 15 at 8 p.m.)

Mitchell Haaseth / NBC

WATCH: <em>Bent</em> (NBC)

There’s something surprisingly comforting about NBC’s off-kilter romantic comedy Bent, which depicts the will-they-won’t-they tension between an uptight recent divorcee (Amanda Peet), redoing her new home, and the laid-back womanizing contractor (David Walton) she hires to fix up her kitchen. While the project had some teething problems in its first go-around, subsequent reshoots and recastings—J.B. Smoove and Friday Night Lights’s Jesse Plemons are now in as part of Pete Riggins’s work crew—have given this oddball comedy some new life. Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) adds some heft to the proceedings as Riggins’s struggling actor dad, and his mom is played—for one episode, anyway—by Marcia Gay Harden. While there’s a simplicity and ease to this uncomplicated and relaxed show, especially felt when marathoning the six episodes, it’s hard to imagine that NBC has much faith in the project, as the network is burning off episodes two at a time over three weeks. Blink and you’ll miss it. (Launches March 21 at 9 p.m.)

AMC

WATCH: <em>Mad Men</em> (AMC)

It’s been nearly 18 months since we last caught up with Don (Jon Hamm), Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Betty (January Jones) and the gang at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and anticipation for the 1960s-set drama is running rampant, along with speculation about just what the new season—the show’s fifth—will contain. Did Don follow through on his marriage proposal to his young secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré), and actually tie the knot? Just how much of a disaster has Betty’s own second marriage become? Where is Sally (Kiernan Shipka) in all of this? And how much time has passed since that fateful trip to Disneyland? AMC and creator Matthew Weiner are keeping details firmly under wraps for now (as are we critics who have seen the brilliant two-hour season premiere), but what’s certain: Season 5 of Mad Men is bound to be as precise and articulate as we've come to expect and every detail of each episode will be held under the microscope of the Twitterati. (Returns March 25 at 10 p.m.)

Paul Schiraldi / HBO

WATCH: <em>Game of Thrones</em> (HBO)

Season 1 of HBO’s sweeping adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series became an instant hit, leaving millions of viewers anxious for another journey to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. What viewers will find with Season 2—based on A Clash of Kings—is more death, more betrayal, and more edge-of-your-seat drama as executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss effortlessly juggle numerous story strands. Watch from the edge of your seat as Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the men of the Night’s Watch explore the north beyond The Wall; Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) adjusts to a life of disguise and fear on the run; Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) ponders her future without her husband and with her three dragons; Rob Stark (Richard Madden) crowns himself the King of the North; and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) arrives in the capital to throw a wrench into the plans of the Queen Regent, Cersei (Lena Headey). If Season 2 of Game of Thrones recaptures some of the thrills and plot twists of the first season, expect another 10 episodes that manage to shock as well as dazzle. (Returns April 1 at 9 p.m.)

Bob D'Amico / ABC

WATCH: <em>Don’t Trust the B--- in Apt. 23</em> (ABC)

The 20-odd minutes of Apt. 23’s pilot episode contained a lot more humor than any of ABC’s disastrous comedy offerings (Work It! Man Up!) combined and then some. The story revolves around a naive Midwesterner (The Good Wife’s Dreama Walker) who moves to Manhattan with dreams of success, only to find herself without a home or a job. Her manipulative roommate from hell (the outstanding Krysten Ritter) offers an unlikely but winning pairing, while former Dawson’s Creek star James Van Der Beek, who plays a fictionalized version of himself, provides an amusing sidekick. While ABC isn’t willing to spell out the show’s title (or just rename it Apartment 23), they may have an edgy single-camera comedy hit here. (Launches April 11 at 9:30 p.m.)

Laurence Cendrowicz / ABC

WATCH: <em>Titanic</em> (ABC)

Downton Abbey obsessives: looking for a fix until Season 3 arrives on our shores in January 2013? With the four-hour miniseries Titanic (not to be confused with the James Cameron film), Downton creator Julian Fellowes turns his eye to the sinking of the RMS Titanic, which occurred 100 years ago in April and served as the inciting incident within the narrative of Downton Abbey. While Patrick Crawley—the heir to the Abbey who allegedly died when the “unsinkable” boat hit an iceberg—is nowhere to be seen in this story, the mini revolves around both the fictional and historical passengers aboard the doomed boat. And like Downton, it blends together the perspectives of both the wealthy ruling class and their servants, seen here from the well-heeled first-class voyagers, the ship’s staff, and the downtrodden passengers in steerage, each experiencing the horror of the ship’s fate in turn. A cast of dozens includes Linus Roache, Geraldine Somerville, Toby Jones, and Maria Doyle Kennedy. Yes, that’s the evil Mrs. Bates to you and me. (Airs April 14 from 8-11 p.m. and concludes April 15 at 9 p.m.)

WATCH: <em>Push Girls</em> (Sundance)

The word “worthy” doesn’t typically come to mind when it comes to docusoaps, a reality subgenre that has spawned the zillion iterations of Real Housewives and Real World, but Sundance has a reality series that manages to be entertaining, provocative, and important in Push Girls, which revolves around the lives of four gorgeous women, each of whom is paralyzed from either the neck or the waist down. What follows is an examination of embracing life in the face of physical adversity and a poignant and sophisticated look at how society wrongly desexualizes the disabled. A sequence screened for critics at the Television Critics Association in January—in which one of the women slides into a swimming pool for the first time in over a decade—left the entire room engulfed in silence. A rare reality show that manages to celebrate, rather than exploit, its subjects, Push Girls is provocative and, yes, worthy television. (Launches April 17 at 10 p.m.)

Jojo Whilden

WATCH: <em>Girls</em> (HBO)

Lena Dunham’s hysterical and extraordinary comedy Girls charts the highs and lows of a group of four young Manhattanites, but these girls are far less flashy than their Sex and the City counterparts. For one, they’re not sipping Cosmos at fabulous bars or indulging in mind-blowing sex; instead, they’re begging for handouts from their parents, drinking opium-pod tea, engaging in truly terrible sex, and going for STD tests. Dunham, who stars as well as writes and directs many of the episodes, is a standout as aspiring writer Hannah Horvath, and captures the rhythm and pulse of a generation of 20-somethings. Funny, depressing, and shocking, Girls is the antidote to the slick stylishness of SATC, presenting a hopelessness that reflects our economic reality and a sense of arrested development embodied by the characters played to perfection by Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet. Not to be missed. (Premieres April 15 at 10:30 p.m.)

WATCH: <em>VEEP</em> (HBO)

The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci turns his attention to the American political system with HBO’s half-hour satirical comedy Veep, in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, Old Christine) stars as Selina Meyer, a former senator turned United States vice president. Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Sufe Bradshaw, and Timothy Simons play the VP’s lackeys, rivals, and friends. (Or all three at once, in some cases.) As such weighty national issues surface such as whether having biodegradable cutlery in the congressional canteen will affect the corn lobbyists, Selina attempts to wield her somewhat-considerable power to become popular and well loved. Will Selina sink or swim, or make a fool of herself in the process? And why didn’t she listen to people who warned her against taking this job? Veep manages to provide both deft satire and cringe-worthy comedy, and Louis-Dreyfus is at the top of her game. (Premieres April 22 at 10 p.m.)

Bob D'Amico / ABC

SKIP: <em>Missing</em> (ABC)

Despite ABC’s efforts to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was Alias (particularly in those early years), Missing just reminds us that series star Ashley Judd is no Sydney Bristow. The setup: years after the car-bombing death of her CIA husband (played, in flashbacks, by Game of Thrones’s Sean Bean), Judd’s Becca Winstone discovers that her now-college age son (Nick Eversman) has been kidnapped while abroad in Italy. But Becca is no mere soccer mom, she’s also a former CIA agent, and she heads off to Europe to use her finely honed skills in an effort to locate her son. Despite the picture-postcard locations (each episode shot in a different European city!), the unusual heroine (Judd as a 43-year-old lethal career killer) and the promise of high-octane action, Missing is ultimately a real snooze, a hollow diversion that relies too heavily on explosions and car chases than on any real substantial drama. (Launches March 15 at 8 p.m.)

Brian Bowen Smith / FOX

SKIP: <em>Touch</em> (Fox)

Despite buzz surrounding Fox’s highly rated sneak peek of the Kiefer Sutherland-led Touch in January, the show is mawkish at best, relying on oversentimentality to tweak the audience’s heartstrings, rather than well-crafted characters or narratives. If you missed the “sneak peek,” here’s the premise: Sutherland (24) plays widower Martin Bohm, whose wife died on 9/11, and who gave up his career as a journalist to care for their son, who may or may not be autistic or who may or may not have special abilities that allow him to see the patterns and connections that bind various individuals together on a global level. Said son, 11-year-old Jake (David Mazouz), is nonverbal but narrates the episodes via an internal monologue and uses his abilities to guide his father to bring people together. While the plots are episodic (don’t expect to see the subplots’ actors turn up week after week), there’s meant to be an overarching narrative involving Sutherland, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s social worker Clea, and Danny Glover’s kook, Arthur Teller, who may or may not have figured out the meaning behind Jake’s “powers.” It’s hard not to see Jack Bauer in Sutherland’s performance at times, particularly when he gets shouty. Oh, and did I mention that Touch comes from Heroes creator Tim Kring? (Launches March 22 at 9 p.m.)

Craig Sjodin / ABC

SKIP: <em>Scandal</em> (ABC)

The latest drama from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, Scandal delves into the high-stakes world of crisis management, revolving around Washington D.C.’s best fixer, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who is based loosely on real-life figure Judy Smith (who is a co-executive producer on the project). All of the standard Rhimesian tropes are here: hyperintelligent characters talking at warp speed, the promise of repeated bed-hopping and looming personal secrets, but there’s something sort of tired and predictable about this professional drama, not least of which is a groaner of a reveal involving Washington’s Olivia and her continued connections to the POTUS (Tony Goldwyn) and his chief of staff (Jeff Perry). The rest of the cast includes Henry Ian Cusick, Katie Lowes, Guillermo Diaz, Darby Stanchfield, and Columbus Short, and Scandal features some slick directing from Sherlock helmer Paul McGuigan, but it doesn’t conceal the show’s flaws. (Launches April 5 at 10 p.m.)

Greg Williams / Starz

SKIP: <em>Magic City</em> (Starz)

Like a postcard of Miami from 1958, every inch of it shouts, “Don’t you wish you could be here?” But the problem is that Starz’s period drama Magic City, from creator Mitch Glazer, delves about as deep as a kiddie pool. There’s an abundance of world-building and elegant (and expensive) set design, but the characters feel entirely stock and it’s hard to care about anyone in the thick swarm of individuals—including Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jerry Lewis, Danny Huston, Steven Strait, and Olga Kurylenko—who live and work at the fictional Miramar Playa hotel and resort. What follows is a blend between Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, but with none of the wit and intelligence of the former and none of the sense of ambition of the latter. Murder and infidelity loom large as does the nudity, but there’s no magic to be found here. (Launches April 6 at 10 p.m.)