January. It’s a new year.
But sometimes it feels like the newest part of the calendar is the most boring, the slowest, the draggiest of the 12 months.
Even the reliable world of pop culture seems stuck in the past. Awards season celebrates the achievements of the previous year. Sundance is all about movies trying to make it in bigger markets but might not end up at a cinema near you.
Television, however, has changed its tune. Long gone are the days of the mid-season replacement/premier as a sign a show was a place filler or a cheap knock-off of a successful show.
Shows that begin in the new year aren’t set up to fail anymore -- they’re some of the best and brightest on network and cable television.
Here are five returning shows to keep a variety of viewers entertained.
FX, Tuesday January 8
Timothy Olyphant was a stone-cold sheriff with an anger management problem on HBO’s Deadwood.
On Justified he continues to expand the role of lawman with the broken-yet-talented Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens.
Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, this drama is full of punch and attitude but also small-town realness. Givens returns to Kentucky and all the drama of law enforcement mixes with all the drama of the life he left behind.
Each season sees a new set of multi-dimensional villains and criminals take hold of small town Harlan. Also the return of some seedy, down-home, small-time baddies that are as much beloved as they are a nuisance to Raylan.
Mix in a little shirtless action and some of the best two-hander scenes with his frenemy and criminal, Boyd Crowder, and you’ve got a fine little show.
Seasons to catch up on: 3
Why you should watch: It’s a smart, funny and interesting take on the cop show. Timothy Olyphant is gorgeous and Walton Goggins’ multi-layered Crowder is captivating as his favorite foil. These two are the real love story of Justified.
HBO, Sunday January 13
Girls burst into our lives last spring and heralded not just a new kind of television about young women and their lives of leisure and meaningless jobs but a new kind of sexist and ageist backlash and criticism.
But that didn’t seem to stop people from watching the show. Girls is something special.
The four female characters aren’t cookie-cutter depictions of just-out-of-college life -- the kind you often see on teen-geared soap operas.
They’re sometimes unlikable, sometimes lovable and sometimes hit a bit too close to home. This comedy is funny and uncomfortable, but also often so realistic even in its wilder moments.
Seasons to catch up on: Only 1.
Why you should watch: Lena Dunham is a clever writer and self-effacing actor, but the rest of the cast also shines. This isn’t a one-woman show and I think the plural, Girls, in the title is fitting of such a winning ensemble.
Oh, and shameless nudity used for both humur and arousal. It’s good.
3. Downton Abbey
PBS, Sunday January 6
There is no bigger drama than restrained English drama. With everyone in this now-1920s-set mini-series wound so tightly the joy is in watching them try to best each other with restraint and then watch them fail and unravel.
Downton Abbey is a show set in a giant house full of secrets. It’s classy and trashy, the combination that makes it perfect viewing for any age group.
Love stories, war stories, political elements and workplace tensions create a heady mix. And with so many characters there’s someone for everyone to root for or despise.
The wealthy upstairs and downstairs residents fall in and out of love, deal with financial woes and the cultural changes that come into their post-war world.
Some want change, some want everything to stay the same and some wish they could go back in time to an era even more conservative.
Seasons to catch up on: 2 and a Christmas Special.
Why you should watch: This is a show never short on tension or lovely costume pieces or sweeping countrysides and fancy dinners and luncheons.
Showtime, Sunday January 13
Shameless, based on the British series of the same name, centers around the Gallagher family, living in rundown house in Chicago.
Their mother has abandoned them, their father, William H. Macy, is a drunken sleazebag.
The children are the ones who run the house, make the money and generally make sure they don’t get killed -- or kill each other. Emmy Rossum stars as the eldest sibling, keeping it all together while it’s constantly falling apart.
Nothing says topical material like poverty and young people striving to live the most basic facets of the American Dream.
Seasons to catch up on: 2.
Why you should watch: Rossum is excellent as the family’s matriarch with a life of her own, as are all the young actors. Complete the set with Macy and Joan Cusack. The stories are wild, but true to the characters.
NBC, Thursday February 7
Well, this isn’t exactly starting up in January but the anticipation is too great to not include it on the list.
After Community was set to premier with the other NBC comedies in October, it was inexplicably relegated to February. So, their holiday themed episodes, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas shows will air sometime in February, March and April.
But who cares! This clever, wacky and extremely beloved (enough so that this sitcom was at Comic-Con) show stands out from the rest of the comedy blocks dominated by family or dating-centred shows.
Community spoofs and pays homage to everything else on television while staying true to the realities of their characters. And it’s a network sitcom that embraces diversity without tokenism. That is a rare gem.
Seasons to catch up on: 3
Why you should watch: The verbal Olympics on this show are rivalled only by the high-concept episodes and the oddly touching relationships between seemingly disparate characters.
Community college has clearly never been this enjoyable.