Spring TV Preview

HBO launches Game of Thrones, Doctor Who returns, and Kate Winslet as Mildred Pierce—Jace Lacob takes a look at what’s worth watching on TV this spring.

Andrew Schwartz / HBO

Andrew Schwartz / HBO

Mildred Pierce (HBO)

James M. Cain's 1941 novel gets a new adaptation, courtesy of filmmaker Todd Haynes ( Far From Heaven) and HBO, which is airing the gripping five-part miniseries over three consecutive Sunday evenings. Kate Winslet plays the prideful title character over the course of 10 years, from her beginnings as a divorcee during the Great Depression to her career as a restaurateur, as she attempts to improve her own life and that of her supercilious daughter Veda (played by Morgan Turner and, later, by Evan Rachel Wood). Mildred is also looking for independence, including sexual liberation, but she discovers that she's trapped by society's expectations. The sumptuous and heartbreaking miniseries—which is a more faithful adaptation than the 1945 Joan Crawford film (there's no salacious murder plot here as in the film)—also stars Guy Pearce, Melissa Leo, James LeGros, Hope Davis, Mare Winningham, and Brian F. O'Bryne. (Launches March 27 at 9 p.m.)

Ken Reagan / Showtime

Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

Season 3 of Showtime's dark comedy picks up right where last season left off, as Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) is confronted by her husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and best friend O'Hara (Eve Best) about her addictions. Despite the fact that Jackie's lies are finally catching up to her, she can't admit that she has a problem abusing prescription painkillers. Jackie can't keep her personal and professional lives from colliding as Kevin shows up at the E.R. and nearly runs into Jackie's lover (and his friend) Eddie (Paul Schulze). Meanwhile, no one's jobs are safe after Akalitus (Anna Deveare Smith) alerts the staff that several nearby hospitals have closed down. Both hysterical and sobering, Nurse Jackie is a whip-smart and emotionally deft workplace comedy about the walls we build around ourselves and those people we let in.  (Returns March 28 at 10 p.m.)

Jordin Althaus / Showtime

United States of Tara (Showtime)

Season 3 of United States of Tara finds the titular character (Toni Collette) once more balancing the demands of family and her multiple personalities (a.k.a. "alters"). But Tara is also struggling to come to terms with what she herself wants out of life, which leads her to attempt to complete her degree and enroll in some college classes, including a psychology course where she meets a charismatic professor, played by British comedian Eddie Izzard ( The Riches). While Tara's daughter Kate (Brie Larson) flounders without a direction, Tara's husband Max (John Corbett) is extremely concerned that the additional stresses of Tara's newfound goal could cause her to unexpectedly transition into an alter, or even worse. Elsewhere, look for Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) and boyfriend Lionel (Michael Willett) to grow closer, while Tara's pregnant sister Charmaine (Rosemary DeWitt) can't seem to commit to Neil (Patton Oswalt). (Returns March 28 at 10:30 p.m.)

Donna Svennevik / ABC

Body of Proof (ABC)

Desperate Housewives' Dana Delany returns to ABC with a crime drama that's about second chances. Delany plays Dr. Megan Hunt, a brilliant neurosurgeon whose promising medical career was ended after a traumatic car accident left her with paresthesia in her hands. The sudden onset of her condition—numbness in her hands—left a patient dead on her operating table and ended her career. Five years later, Megan is now a medical examiner, using the skills from her former line of work to help solve the cause behind victims' deaths, seeing the corpses as both crime scenes and puzzles to be solved. But can Megan solve the damage in her own life and repair the fractured relationship with her daughter? Body of Proof, which also stars Jeri Ryan, Geoffrey Arend, Nicholas Bishop, Sonja Sohn, John Caroll Lynch, and Windell Middlebrooks, offers ABC another chance to land an accessible crime procedural to complement its successful Castle. (Launches March 29 at 10 p.m.)

Starz

Camelot (Starz)

Overseen by Chris Chibnall ( Torchwood), this 10-episode international co-production reimagines the story of Camelot and King Arthur that's vastly different from the adaptations that have preceded it. Dark and atmospheric, Camelot revolves around the prescient wizard Merlin (Joseph Fiennes), who installs the rightful heir to England among common folk when he's a baby, taking him from his mother's arms as payment for a spell he performed at King Uther's command. When Uther dies at the hands of his treacherous daughter Morgan (Eva Green), Merlin sets out to restore Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower), now a hotheaded youth, to the throne. But vicious warlords and dangerous magic make Arthur's battle for control not easily won as brother is pitted against sister, with the fate of their kingdom at stake. The blood-and-sex-fueled show, which will attract fans of Starz's Spartacus, also stars Tamsin Egerton, Claire Forlani, Peter Mooney, and Philip Winchester, and features Rome's James Purefoy. (Launches April 1 at 10 p.m.)

Mark Seliger / Showtime

The Borgias (Showtime)

From writer/director Neil Jordan ( The Crying Game) comes the story of Italy's notorious Borgia crime family. Starring Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, this racy period drama revolves around the Borgias, the cunning and cruel members of the ruling oligarchy of Renaissance-era Italy. As Rodrigo does everything in his power to ascend to the papacy, his alleged purity and the family's role as patrons of the arts and discovery are at brutal odds with the sinful deeds committed by both him and his power-mad family, including rape, incest, bribery, and murder. In addition to Irons, the cast includes Colm Feore, Derek Jacobi, Francois Arnuad, Holliday Grainger, Joanne Whalley, and David Oakes. (Launches April 3 at 9 p.m. with a special two-hour premiere)

REELZCHANNEL

The Kennedys (REELZ)

Written by Joel Surnow and directed by Jon Cassar (both of Fox's 24), this controversial miniseries made headlines this year when it was dropped by the History Channel, where it had been developed and produced as a eight-hour project. After numerous networks passed at the opportunity to buy the biopic, The Kennedys landed at this heretofore unheard of cable channel. Starring Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Tom Wilkinson, and Barry Pepper, The Kennedys attempts to capture what happened behind closed doors as the New England clan emerged as one of America's foremost political dynasties, charting the scandals, affairs, and losses of this wealthy family as they played a pivotal role in the politics of the 20th century. From the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion to the assassinations of both Robert and John Kennedy, this miniseries—the scripts for which are said to have been heavily rewritten after encountering outrage from Kennedy advisers and the family itself—seeks to depict the twists and turns of some of last century's most unforgettable moments and the family at their center. (Launches April 3 at 8 p.m. with a special two-hour premiere)

Frank Ockenfels / AMC

The Killing (AMC)

AMC's seductive new mystery takes its cues from both Damages and Twin Peaks, offering a sprawling narrative, multiple suspects, and a whole lot of trouble. Based on the hit Danish series Forbrydelsen, The Killing follows Seattle detective Sarah Linden ( Big Love's Mireille Enos) as she prepares to move to California with her fiancé, only to get caught up in the disappearance and murder of a teenage girl on her last day at the police department. The focus of the show, adapted and executive produced by Veena Sud ( Cold Case), veers among Linden and her temporary partner Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), a local politician (Billy Campbell) and his staff, and the dead girl's family (including Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes, in a gut-wrenching performance). Intelligent and gripping, The Killing is a breathtaking exploration of the dark impulses of the human heart and how murder drags a host of long-buried secrets into the light. (Launches April 3 at 9 p.m. with a special two-hour premiere)

Justin Stephens / Bravo

Top Chef Masters (Bravo)

The cutthroat spinoff of Top Chef returns with a new format and some further changes when it kicks off its third season. Gone are the heats from the first two seasons, as now the 12 master chefs will compete head-to-head each week (a la Top Chef) to see who will be eliminated. On the line: $5,000 for each Quickfire and $10,000 for each Elimination Challenge, with the cash going to the charity of their choice. Aussie celebrity chef Curtis Stone (currently on NBC's America's Next Great Restaurant) replaces Kelly Choi as host; he'll be joined by returning judge James Oseland and new judge, legendary food writer (and former Gourmet editor-in-chief) Ruth Reichl. All this plus an appearance from Mad Men's Christina Hendricks as a guest judge? Make your reservation now. (Returns April 6 at 11 p.m. before moving into its regular timeslot at 10 p.m. on April 13)

Ed Miller / Showtime

Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Showtime)

High-class call girl Belle (Billie Piper), a.k.a. Hannah, gets a last shot at happiness, as British import Secret Diary of a Call Girl launches its fourth and final season. With Belle open to embarking on a romance with best friend Ben (Iddo Goldberg) at the end of last season, everything should be coming up roses for this career girl, but she's drawn back into the game when her former boss Stephanie (Cherie Lunghi) goes to prison and Belle has to step into her shoes as a madam. Look for Belle/Hannah to have to deal with running an escort service and being a guardian to Stephanie's daughter Poppy (Lily James), even as she's caught up with a vice detective (Paul Nicholls) who might be dangerous in more ways than one. (Returns April 7 at 10:30 p.m.)

BBC / Masterpiece

Upstairs, Downstairs (PBS)

Time continues to march on at 165 Eaton Place, home to the family and servants of Masterpiece's classic series Upstairs, Downstairs. After more than 30 years since the original series ended, the doors of that fabled address are flung open once more for this three-episode miniseries that picks up six years after the Bellamy family of the original series moved out of Eaton Place. Set in 1936, this new BBC production follows the latest owners (Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard) as they move into the landmark home and set up house. Original series creators Dame Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh also star, with the latter reprising her role as Rose Buck, now serving as housekeeper to the Hollands, and Atkins playing the eccentric Lady Maud Holland. Look for scandals above and below stairs as the winds of war approach England and battle lines are drawn, and for an exploration of fascism in Britain and the sacrifices of family.  (Launches April 10 at 9 p.m.)

Bill Records / NBC / DirecTV

Friday Night Lights (NBC)

While DirecTV subscribers (and television critics) have already gotten the chance to see the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights this year, those without access to satellite television or screeners finally have the opportunity to see the alternately poignant and uplifting conclusion to this remarkable drama. Tying up five seasons' worth of storylines, Friday Night Lights offers closure to both the current cast members and those who left Dillon behind earlier in the show's run. Issues of marital compromise sit side by side with a nuanced and groundbreaking depiction of life in a small town as Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) attempts to get the ragtag East Dillon Lions to the state championship. Can the team come together in spite of the numerous obstacles thrown in their way? And can Eric and his steadfast wife Tami (Connie Britton) put aside their differences this year to keep their marriage together? Have the tissues nearby as this final season will make even the most hardhearted viewer sob appreciatively.  (Returns April 15 at 8 p.m.)

Helen Sloan / HBO

Game of Thrones (HBO)

George R.R. Martin's bestselling novel series A Song of Ice and Fire is brought to vivid life by executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss. Set in the mythical world of Westeros, Game of Thrones recounts the uneasy peace of the Seven Kingdoms, united after many years of war. But old hostilities and ageless ambition lead to acts of treachery that threaten to bring down kingdoms' alliance, and several factions vie for control of the throne and Westeros itself. A hugely ambitious effort by the pay cabler to translate the books' sprawling cast and shifting perspective has resulted in a sweeping narrative that's at once huge in scale and yet hauntingly intimate as an epic battle gets under way. But as the eternal game of thrones unfolds once more, an ancient evil resurfaces and the last members of a vanquished royal line plot their return to power. This epic series stars Sean Bean, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Harry Lloyd, Kit Harington, Mark Addy, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, and many others. Not one to be missed.

BBC

Doctor Who (BBC America)

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) return in April with the first half of the sixth season of the relaunched Doctor Who (or Season 32 for those of you keeping track). Amy's husband, Rory (Arthur Darvill), will also stick around for the sixth season, which is airing, for the first time, the same day as the U.K. broadcasts. While details are being kept under wraps, Season 6 will launch with a two-part episode—written by head writer/executive producer Steven Moffat—that finds the trio on an adventure that takes them from the Utah desert to the Oval Office in 1969. Filmed on location in Utah, it's the first of what promises to be many intense adventures facing the Time Lord and his companions this season. Also on tap: a guest appearance by Mark Sheppard ( Battlestar Galactica) and the return of Alex Kingston's enigmatic River Song. Seven episodes of Doctor Who are slated to run this spring, with the remainder of the 13-episode season kicking off in the fall. (Launches April 23 at 9 p.m.)

Paul Schiraldi / HBO

Treme (HBO)

The Wire's David Simon and Eric Overmyer return to post-Katrina New Orleans with their wistful tone poem to the one-of-a-kind city as Treme begins its second season. More than a year after Katrina, New Orleans has been largely forgotten by the American public and crime has returned. As the city continues to dig itself out and rebuild, the city's residents try to get on with their lives: Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) grapples with the fallout from her husband's suicide; Albert (Clarke Peters) is forced to subsist on his insurance check; Terry Colson (David Morse) attempts to keep the peace amid a neverending crime wave; Annie (Lucia Micarelli) and Davis (Steve Zahn) continue to explore their attraction; and, in New York, both Delmond (Rob Brown) and Janette (Kim Dickens) struggle to hold on to their identities so far from home. Meanwhile, Jon Seda joins the cast this season as a Texan entrepreneur who sees opportunity in New Orleans. Beautiful and lyrical, Treme is a story about the human condition told in a place of destruction and rebirth, where New Orleans itself is the most tragic character. (Returns April 24 at 10 p.m.)