NO NEED TO USE YOUR DVR SPACE: You’ll want to watch HBO’s Boardwalk Empire in real time.
Even the most curmudgeonly out there have to admit that television is on a roll. Departed favorites like The Wire, The Sopranos, and Deadwood showed us what can be accomplished in the medium; current shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad push the boundaries even farther. Now, when people note that they don't own a TV, they're not bragging — they're apologizing. Below, I help you plan your week in front of the glowbox by looking at intriguing new shows and noteworthy returning sophomores — what you should plan to watch without fail, what you should record and save for whenever, and what you should wait to check out on Netflix. I'm assuming you've already formed your opinion on stalwarts like House and The Office.
Given its network (HBO), setting (Prohibition-era Atlantic City), pedigree (it was created by ex-Sopranos writer Terence Winter, and the first episode is directed by Martin Scorsese, who is also the series's producer), and cast (Steve Buscemi, Gretchen Mol, Michael Pitt, and Michael "Omar Little" Williams), BOARDWALK EMPIRE (September 19 at 9 pm) is about as close to a sure thing as you can get these days. | VERDICT: WATCH IT
HBO also has an oddball comedy bloc that pairs the manic intensity of Danny McBride as former relief pitcher Kenny Powers in EASTBOUND & DOWN (September 26 at 10:30 pm) with the deadpan Jason Schwartzman as a novelist moonlighting as a private detective in BORED TO DEATH (September 26 at 10 pm). Both shows cater to a well-defined niche, and both do their respective "thing" well enough to warrant at least a look. | VERDICT: DVR THEM
Even though AMC's THE WALKING DEAD won't premiere until Halloween (10 pm), I'm ridiculously excited about Frank Darabont's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's graphic novel about a group of survivors trying to hang together after the zombie apocalypse. | VERDICT: WATCH IT
The 9 pm hour features some new contenders. First is THE EVENT on NBC (September 20), which looks like some sort of unholy offspring of Lost and 24, combining the latter's hyper-suspenseful feel with the former's layered mysteries, all of it leading to some kind of massive government conspiracy surrounding the title, uh, event. Unfortunately, the last few network shows that tried a mythology-heavy storytelling style — Flashforward, V, even Heroes — didn't fare so well. | VERDICT: WAIT FOR THE DVD
Over on Fox, there's LONE STAR (also September 20), in which a con man (played by James Wolk) tries to take over an oil company from his father-in-law while maintaining a secret life on the other side of Texas. The show's creator, Kyle Killen, has ambition: he compared Lone Star to Mad Men and Breaking Bad during the Television Critics Association press tour. Early reviews have been good, but Fox's record with artistic boldness is sketchy. | VERDICT: WATCH IT WHILE IT LASTS
If confronted, I will deny it, but I actually kind of enjoyed the first season of Fox's GLEE (September 21 at 8 pm). Which is why I'm concerned about the second season — now that it's an out-of-left-field cultural phenomenon, Glee has to contend with hype and expectations. Disaster potential is high. | VERDICT: WATCH IT, BUT BE PREPARED TO JUMP SHIP AT THE FIRST SIGN OF FALLOUT