How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) — Sitcom pilots are notoriously difficult to judge, so it’s always difficult to know whether a show will find itself based on the first episode. I like the characters in “How to Live with Your Parents,” which debuted last night after “Modern Family.” Sarah Chalke — less loopy than her “Scrubs” character — plays the neurotic straight man to her sex-crazed parents (Brad Garrett and Elizabeth Perkins). Chalke’s a recently divorced single mother attempting to rebuild her life under her parents’ roof, while her irresponsible ex-husband plays the goofy hanger-on. It was not a particularly memorable pilot, but the premise is broad enough that the show could go in any number of ways. The overnight ratings were excellent (it was the highest rated sitcom debut of the 2012-13 season), so it’s likely that “How to Live with Your Parents” will get some time to develop and hopefully find a groove (they might start by recasting the kid, who was not very good). I hope it does well because Chalke is a gifted comedic actress who I will watch in damn near anything, including “Mad Love,” the terrible CBS sitcom from two years ago. For now, it’s too early to say.
Top of the Lake — Joanna, Josh, and I have been promoting the hell out of this new Sundance series from Jane Campion (The Piano) on the Station Agents over the last two weeks. Josh provided the most accurate description of the series I’ve heard: It’s a Winter’s Bone meets “Twin Peaks” version of “The Killing.” The seven-hour New Zealand miniseries stars Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) as a forlorn detective returning to her home town and investigating a case centering around the missing, pregnant daughter of a drug lord (Peter Mullan). The local police, who are in the back pocket of the drug lord, are hostile toward her, and she’s also dealing with some traumatic baggage resurrected by her return home. It’s a good mystery — the investigation takes us through several suspects, none of whom have been completely ruled out yet — but the biggest draw is the moody weirdness of the town, where a new-age guru (Holly Hunter) has also set up camp with several scorned women processing their losses. It’s an absorbing drama, the kind of show that seeps under your skin and nags, and Moss turns in a quietly raw powerful performance.
Orphan Black — The Canadian import debuted on BBC America this past weekend after “Doctor Who,” and Joanna nailed a description of this show: It’s like a super-low budget “Alias” centered on an unlikeable protagonist. The show follows a streetwise hustler, Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), who witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks just like her. She assumes the dead woman’s identity, only to discover that the dead woman is a police officer facing her own difficulties surrounding an internal affairs investigation into her shooting of a suspect. There’s definitely a sci-fi component, because — as it turns out — Sarah and suicide victim are not the only two people who look the same. The first episode was riveting and surprisingly sexually charged, and sets up a compelling mystery that I very much look forward to following throughout the season.
Vikings — In the way that people used to describe “Sons of Anarchy” as a broader, less complicated version of “The Sopranos” (on motorcycles), it’s fair to say that “The Vikings” is the poor man’s “Game of Thrones.” But like “Sons of Anarchy,” it’s still a solid drama that skates by on the uber violence and another battle for the throne. However, unlike “Game of Thrones,” there are not seven Houses vying over leadership; it’s power struggle between just two men. Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his band of Viking rebels — who have discovered a means with which to sail west where he discovers England — bring back treasure, which Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) promptly takes away, setting up a violent clash between the two figures, which involves their wives and other family members. If you like televised violence, at least 30 to 40 people fall victims to an axe to the neck in every episode. There’s also several thematic and narrative similarities between power struggle between Jax and Clay in “Sons of Anarchy” and Ragnar and Earl Haraldson in “Vikings,” not least of which is the fact that Ragnar looks just like the Viking version of Charlie Hunnam’s character.
Black Mirror — The British drama — which is not available in the United States through any conventional means (wink, wink) — just wrapped its second season of three one-hour episodes in Britain. It’s something akin to a darkly, darkly comic equivalent of “The Twilight Zone,” in that each episode is a new story with different characters, all playing on a similar theme: Our contemporary unease about our modern world. It is insane, and the first episode was one of the most mind-f*cking episodes of television I’ve ever witnessed (which explains why it won the Best TV movie/mini-series award at the International Emmys). I cannot believe that an American cable network hasn’t jumped on this show yet, oh wait: Yes, I can. It’s probably because the first episode concerns a prime ministor of England who is faced with a dilemma. The beloved princess (basically, a Kate Middleton-like character) has been kidnapped by a terrorist, and she will be killed unless the prime minister f*cks a pig on live television.
No, I am not kidding. There are no outs, either. He must either have sex with the pig or the princess will die. Period. What does he do? Be despised by the British public for letting the princess die, or be that prime minister that f*cked a pig in front of the world? The situation is not played for laughs, either: It’s deadly serious. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that the opportunity to watch the series ever avails itself to you, DO IT. The third episode of the first season has, in fact, already been optioned by Robert Downey, Jr. as a possible film.