The spring television season is shaping up to be promising indeed. Upcoming weeks see the returns of first-year shows like "Glee," "FlashForward," and "V," as well as heralded cable programs like "Breaking Bad" and "Nurse Jackie." Reality show fans can satisfy their cravings with new cycles of "Dancing with the Stars" and "Top Chef Masters," as well as the return of "The Hills."
In addition, at least two promising new series already look like they may start appearing on critics' must-watch lists: the FX neo-Western "Justified" and the latest HBO drama from "The Wire" creator David Simon, "Treme."
At the bottom of the page, we have a handy schedule of premiere dates for all spring shows. Before we get to that, let's take a closer look at our most-anticipated shows arriving over the next few months. All times below are Eastern/Pacific unless otherwise noted.
What we're most looking forward to
(HBO, miniseries starting Mar. 14 at 9:00p)
HBO's highly-anticipated (and very expensive) 10-part miniseries about U.S. Marines in the Pacific Theater during WWII comes from some of the same creative team behind 2001's "Band of Brothers," including executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
Why to watch: The multiple-Emmy-winning "Band of Brothers" was a major hit with most critics and viewers. The $150-million budget means that at the very least, it'll look great. Many early reviews are encouraging.
Reasons to worry: Some early reviews are much less encouraging. The Pacific lacks BoB's single, continuous narrative, and is also much more violent (and graphic) than BoB. There was some negative buzz surrounding a few early episodes screened at the semi-annual TCA critic gathering, although those episodes have since been altered.
(FX, new series airs Tuesdays at 10:00p starting Mar. 16)
A renegade U.S. marshal is reassigned to his rural Kentucky hometown, where he must battle his own past as well as a variety of criminals.
Why to watch: The trailers look impressive. The series is based on stories by crime novelist Elmore Leonard, whose blend of gritty realism, impeccable dialogue and comedic tone previously led to such gems as Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight. Star Timothy Olyphant has appeared in critically-lauded programs like "Deadwood" and "Damages," while recurring guest star Walton Goggins comes from the equally heralded "The Shield." The creator is Graham Yost, who was also behind the critically-acclaimed (but short-lived) "Boomtown."
Reasons to worry: It's basically a Western set during the present day, and the last show that offered a modern take on the genre -- "Firefly" -- didn't last long.
(ABC, Thursdays at 8:00p, returns Mar. 18)
The FBI continues to investigate a mysterious global event that gave most of the world's inhabitants a brief glimpse of their futures as this series returns from a three-month hiatus. Note that a special one-hour recap of the series to date airs Tuesday, March 16 at 10:00p.
Why to watch: Producers promise a lot of answers in upcoming episodes, and we may finally find out what caused the flashforward-inducing blackout. With "Lost" ending in a few months, you'll need "FlashForward" to return next season if you want a weekly dose of densely-plotted, time-jumping, conspiracy-driven, quasi-scientific mystery. The series will run weekly without interruptions through the end of May.
Reasons to worry: It's no "Lost." After a somewhat promising debut, the series has lost viewers and generated a fair share of criticism, and behind-the-scenes troubles mean that FF is now on its third showrunner. Also, there's this: Have you actually missed the show while it has been on hiatus?
(AMC, Sundays at 10:00p, returns Mar. 21)
A high school chemistry teacher pays for his cancer treatments by manufacturing crystal meth with the aid of a former student.
Why to watch: The first two seasons of the show were liked (and often loved) by critics, and the series seemed to get even better as it progressed. The writing is strong, and the show unpredictable in the best possible way. Bryan Cranston is a two-time Emmy winner for playing the meth-cooking Walt, while Aaron Paul was also nominated last year for his widely-praised performance as Walt's partner in crime, Jesse. Bob Odenkirk will be on hand to provide a full season of comic relief as lawyer Saul Goodman after starting on the show in the middle of season two. "Breaking Bad" boasts some of the best photography you'll ever see on television. We've seen the first episode of season three (directed by Cranston), and it is fantastic, and points to an interesting season that can go in a number of different directions.
Reasons to worry: The show is extremely dark, and Cranston's Walt is one of the more unlikable "heroes" on TV in recent memory; the writing must remain strong to prevent the show from becoming too hard to watch. Season 3 opens with Walt's wife discovering his secret life, which represents a major change in the storyline.
(Showtime, Mondays at 10:00p, returns Mar. 22)
Edie Falco stars as a drug-addicted nurse, wife, adulterer, and mother in a half-hour show that blends dark comedy with drama.
Why to watch: Falco drew raves for her performance as Jackie in last year's debut season, while Merritt Wever was equally impressive in the more comedic role of nurse trainee Zoey.
Reasons to worry: Haaz Sleiman's popular character (fellow nurse Mohammed “Mo-Mo” De La Cruz) will not return in season two.
(ABC, Tuesdays at 10:00p, returns Mar. 30)
Much like in the 1980s NBC miniseries on which this new series is based, alien visitors have arrived on Earth, claiming to be benevolent. They're not.
Why to watch: To find out why the aliens are here, and to see if the resistance, led by "Lost" vet Elizabeth Mitchell, can fight them off. Each of the eight new episodes will have "two or three reveals," executive producer Scott Rosenbaum told Entertainment Weekly.
Reasons to worry: Like fellow ABC sci-fi newbie "FlashForward," "V" has been hurt by behind-the-scenes troubles and a very long hiatus. The first four episodes that aired last fall weren't all that strong, and "V" lost viewers at a rapid clip.
Top Chef Masters
(Bravo, Wednesdays at 10:00p, returns Apr. 6 at 11:00p)
Returning for a second season, the "Masters" edition of Top Chef pits established, well-known chefs against each other to benefit charity.
Why to watch: The cooking is top-notch. Returning contestants from the first season Wylie Dufresne, Ludo Lefebvre, Rick Moonen and Mark Peel are joined by newcomers like David Burke and Susan Feniger. Cast and crew from "Modern Family" and "The Simpsons" will appear as guest judges.
Reasons to worry: Host Kelly Choi is no Padma Lakshmi. The tamer "Masters" offers much less interpersonal drama and tension compared to the regular "Top Chef."
(HBO, new series airs Sundays at 10:00p starting Apr. 11)
Set in New Orleans three months after Hurricane Katrina, "Treme" follows a group of musicians and other local residents attempting to rebuild their lives.
Why to watch: Where do we start? Co-creator David Simon also co-created one of the most acclaimed television shows in history, HBO's "The Wire," and also worked on the miniseries "Generation Kill" and "The Corner." The other co-creator, Eric Overmyer, wrote with Simon on "The Wire" and "Homicide: Life on the Street." The stellar cast includes "Wire" vets Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce, plus Steve Zahn, Melissa Leo, Khandi Alexander, and John Goodman. Early comments after a screening of the pilot were positive.
Reasons to worry: Simon's past work was so good that expectations might be impossibly high. The densely-plotted series may lack an overarching narrative that helped viewers get into the notoriously complex "The Wire."
(Fox, Tuesdays at 9:00p, returns Apr. 13 at 9:30p)
As the first-year musical-comedy continues after a lengthy break, the members of McKinley High's Glee Club advance to the regional finals.
Why to watch: Two words: Jane Lynch. It's one of the best-reviewed -- and most talked-about -- new series of the 2009-10 season, and has already been reviewed for a second season. One of the new episodes will focus exclusively on songs by Madonna. Upcoming guest stars include Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Lopez, Olivia Newton John, Idina Menzel, and Molly Shannon. And that episode with NPH? Directed by Joss Whedon.
Reasons to worry: The new timeslot means that "Glee" will now air opposite "Lost."
(Starz, Fridays at 10:00p, returns Apr. 23)
A Los Angeles-based catering crew -- staffed mainly by aspiring Hollywood types -- works a different event each week in this single-camera comedy.
Why to watch: It's the best show you've never heard of, and one of the funniest comedies on TV. The show was co-created by Rob Thomas of "Veronica Mars" fame. Returning cast members include Ken Marino ("The State"), Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield), and Martin Starr ("Freaks and Geeks"), and this second season will also star Megan Mullally ("Will & Grace").
Reasons to worry: Starz could be doing a better job promoting the show. Key first-year cast member Jane Lynch has departed for "Glee," although she will guest star in one episode this season. If the show returns for a third season, it will be without star Adam Scott, who is joining the cast of NBC's "Parks and Recreation."
(Starz, new series airs Fridays at 10:30p starting Apr. 23)
An oddball group of attempted suicide survivors gather for regular outpatient meetings. It's a comedy.
Why to watch: It certainly sounds different. The cast includes Krysten Ritter ("Breaking Bad"), Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), model Rachel Hunter, and Eric Schaeffer ("If Lucy Fell"). Actor/writer Schaeffer is also a co-creator and executive producer on the series, along with the Emmy-nominated writer Jill Franklyn ("Seinfeld").
Reasons to worry: The subject matter might be tricky to pull off successfully. We've seen little about the show so far, other than descriptions of its cast and premise.
(IFC, Tuesdays at 10:00p, returns Apr. 27)
It's a short, surreal "cooking" show with inedible foods, puppets and, occasionally, murder and mayhem, hosted by Brooklyn-based artist Thu Tran.
Why to watch: One of the stranger shows on television -- make that the strangest show on television -- "Food Party" can be visually inventive, like a twisted, darker take on "Pee Wee's Playhouse." Los Angeles Times television critic Robert Lloyd named the first season of the show one of his 10 favorite things on TV in 2009. The second season will feature 20 new episodes, some with new videos by Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori.
Reasons to worry: The intentionally amateurish production style rubbed some critics the wrong way. The show can be very gross at times, and is definitely not for everybody.
Friday Night Lights
(NBC, Fridays at 8:00p, returns Apr. 30)
The fourth and penultimate season of the award-winning high school football drama (which has already aired on DirectTV) begins its NBC run at the end of April.
Why to watch: It's one of the most critically-acclaimed shows on television. Although season four introduces a number of new characters, they have been well-received. At least one follower thinks the fourth season is the series' best.
Reasons to worry: For once, there aren't many; the series will return for a fifth and final season next year.
The Good Guys
(Fox, new series airs Mondays at 9:00p starting Wed. May 19 at 8:00p)
A washed-up Dallas detective is paired with an ambitious young cop.
Why to watch: This new hour-long, buddy-cop dramedy was created by Matt Nix, who is also behind the well-received USA show "Burn Notice". The show stars a mustachioed Bradley Whitford ("The West Wing") and Colin Hanks ("Mad Men").
Reasons to worry: Although the show will get a special preview prior to "American Idol" on May 19, its regular run doesn't begin until June 7th. That's not a good sign for a network show.
All new and returning shows this spring
Here is a handy schedule of the premiere dates for all programs debuting or returning over the next few months. All times below are Eastern/Pacific.
|Sun 3/14||7:00p||Minute to Win It||Series Premiere||NBC|
|Food Network's Guy Fieri hosts a new reality competition show, which moves to 8:00p on 3/21|
|Sun 3/14||9:00p||Celebrity Apprentice||9th Season Premiere||NBC|
|Contestants include Rod Blagojevich, Sharon Osbourne, Darryl Strawberry, and Bret Michaels|
|Sun 3/14||9:00p||The Pacific||Miniseries Premiere||HBO|
|Sun 3/14||9:30p||Sons of Tucson||Series Premiere||Fox|
|A new live-action comedy about three kids who hire a drifter (Tyler Labine) to serve as their single father after their real dad is sent to prison|
|Mon 3/15||10:00p||The Price of Beauty||Series Premiere||VH1|
|Pop star Jessica Simpson travels the world looking for beauty tips in her new reality show|
|Tue 3/16||10:00p||Justified||Series Premiere||FX|
|Wed 3/17||10:00p||South Park||14th Season Premiere||Comedy|
|Wed 3/17||10:30p||Ugly Americans||Series Premiere||Comedy|
|An animated horror-comedy set in New York City|
|Thu 3/18||8:00p||FlashForward||Spring Season Premiere||ABC|
|Sun 3/21||10:00p||Breaking Bad||3rd Season Premiere||AMC|
|Sun 3/21||10:00p||Kirstie Alley's Big Life||Series Premiere||A&E|
|The actress stars in her own reality show about weight loss and single motherhood|
|Sun 3/21||10:01p||Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution||Series Premiere||ABC|
|The star chef's new series moves to Fridays at 9:00p starting 3/26|
|Mon 3/22||8:00p||Dancing with the Stars||10th Season Premiere||ABC|
|Contestants include Buzz Aldrin, Evan Lysacek, Shannen Doherty, and Kate Gosselin|
|Mon 3/22||10:00p||Nurse Jackie||2nd Season Premiere||Showtime|
|Mon 3/22||10:30p||The United States of Tara||2nd Season Premiere||Showtime|
|Wed 3/24||10:30p||Fly Girls||Series Premiere||CW|
|A reality show centering on five Virgin America flight attendants|
|Fri 3/26||9:00p||Chandon Pictures||Series Premiere||Sundance|
|A critically acclaimed Australian comedy series about a wannabe filmmaker|
|Mon 3/29||8:00p||10 Things I Hate About You||2nd Season Premiere||ABC Family|
|Mon 3/29||10:00p||Saving Grace||4th Season Premiere||TNT|
|Tue 3/30||10:00p||Law & Order: Criminal Intent||9th Season Premiere||USA|
|Tue 3/30||10:00p||V||Spring Season Premiere||ABC|
|Wed 3/31||10:00p||In Plain Sight||3rd Season Premiere||USA|
|Thu 4/1||8:00p||Bones||Spring Season Premiere||Fox|
|Thu 4/1||9:00p||Fringe||Spring Season Premiere||Fox|
|Fri 4/2||8:00p||Wife Swap||6th Season Premiere||ABC|
|Fri 4/2||10:00p||Merlin||2nd Season Premiere||Syfy|
|Fri 4/2||10:00p||Miami Medical||Series Premiere||CBS|
|Jerry Bruckheimer's latest procedural centers on a group of trauma surgeons in Miami|
|Wed 4/7||10:00p||The Real World/Road Rules Challenge||19th Season Premiere||MTV|
|Wed 4/7||11:00p||Top Chef Masters||2nd Season Premiere||Bravo|
|The show shifts to its regular 10:00p time on 4/14|
|Sun 4/11||9:00p||The Tudors||4th Season Premiere||Showtime|
|Sun 4/11||10:00p||Army Wives||4th Season Premiere||Lifetime|
|Sun 4/11||10:00p||Treme||Series Premiere||HBO|
|Mon 4/12||10:00p||Double Exposure||Series Premiere||Bravo|
|Bravo's latest reality show focuses on fashion photographers Markus Klinko and Indrani|
|Tue 4/13||9:30p||Glee||Spring Season Premiere||Fox|
|The show shifts into its regular 9:00p timeslot on 4/20|
|Tue 4/13||11:00p||9 by Design||Series Premiere||Bravo|
|A hip New York design firm is the subject of this reality series, which normally will air at 10p|
|Sat 4/17||9:00p||Doctor Who||5th Season Premiere||BBC America|
|Fri 4/23||10:00p||Party Down||2nd Season Premiere||Starz|
|Fri 4/23||10:30p||Gravity||Series Premiere||Starz|
|Tue 4/27||10:00p||Food Party||2nd Season Premiere||IFC|
|Tue 4/27||10:00p||The Hills||6th Season Premiere||MTV|
|Tue 4/27||10:30p||The City||2nd Season Premiere||MTV|
|Wed 4/28||10:00p||Happy Town||Series Premiere||ABC|
|ABC is encouraging "Twin Peaks" comparisons to this drama set in a quirky small town that is the site of a puzzling murder|
|Fri 4/30||8:00p||Friday Night Lights||4th Season Premiere||NBC|