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TV's second season: returning and new shows

Dale Roe
'Big Love': Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his trio of wives Barbara (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicolette (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) rest their futures on the gaming business.

Didn't we just do this?

Part of me longs for the good old days when a "Bob Newhart Show" had 24 episodes and a network had one season. True, "24" still has 24 episodes, but that's a rarity in a new network order in which a broadcast series might have 13 episodes a season and a popular cable drama might have only eight.

Still, there's something to be said for job security. So here's a look at television's second season: the new shows brought into replace the recently departed; the dramas held from fall because of time slot, casting and other problems; and the cable dramas which often see a year and a half between seasons. It doesn't hold quite the anticipatory thrill of the fall season but, hey — it's new TV.

'Nip/Tuck'

Final season begins at 9 p.m. Wednesday, on FX

McNamara/Troy survived last season's economic woes, but the ties binding Sean and Christian might not be so resilient. Sean surveys his life with his partner and doesn't like what he sees. Meanwhile, the duo take blades to a model, a coma patient and a self-mutilator. And that's just in this graphic and grim series' first two episodes.

'Big Love'

Season 4 begins at 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10, on HBO

Who's in: Oscar winner Sissy Spacek as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist; Bella Thorn ("My Own Worst Enemy," "Dirty Sexy Money") replacing Jolean Wejbe as Tancy Henrickson; Adam Beach as Tommy Flute, the son of Bill's Indian gaming partner.

Who's out: Harry Dean Stanton as Prophet Roman Grant.

"Big Love" hits Season 4 ground running. The fall release of an artsy trailer showing Bill and his wives falling in darkness — reaching out to each other but never able to connect — should have given us some clues what to expect this year. The initial episodes deal with the fallout of Roman's murder, the opening of the Mormon-friendly Indian casino and the struggle between Nicki and J.J. for their daughter, Cara Lynn.

'Chuck'

Season 3 begins at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10, on NBC; moves to regular Monday slot Jan. 11

Who's in: Guest stars Armand Assante, Brandon Routh and Vinnie Jones

Who's out: Nerd Herder Anna Wu

When low-rated "Chuck" was left off NBC's fall schedule, fans began to panic. A rumored late spring 2010 return left them relieved but impatient. An upgraded "Chuck," though, returning this early in the midseason, should leave them giddy. Look for reluctant spy Chuck Bartowski to have new abilities including kung fu and flamenco guitar prowess (courtesy of a new Intersect download) along with a little more self-confidence.

'American Idol'

Season 9 begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, on Fox

Who's in: New judge Ellen DeGeneres; guest judges in the audition rounds including Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Kristin Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris, Joe Jonas, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and Shania Twain

Who's out: Loopy judge Paula Abdul, who announced her departure last fall via Twitter

So Paula's gone and Simon is rumored to be on his way out. Perhaps "Idol" fans should enjoy this season while it lasts (is anyone really going to tune in next year to see Randy, Kara and Ellen?). Maybe the focus will shift back to the contestants, where it belongs.

'Southland'

Season 1 begins at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12 on TNT

Remember "Southland?" It debuted on NBC last spring and was picked up for the fall, then canceled before its remaining episodes could be aired. A strong outcry from fans and critics convinced cable network TNT to pick up the show, broadcasting the original NBC episodes and the unaired remainder of the first season. Ratings will determine whether or not TNT commits to future seasons.

'Human Target'

Premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, on Fox

Mark Valley ("Boston Legal," "Fringe") stars in this one-hour drama based on a DC Comic book character. Valley plays Christopher Chance, a security specialist who puts himself in harm's way to save clients who cannot be protected by conventional means. The pilot didn't have much of a story, but there was a great fight scene on a bullet train and maybe that's enough. Academy Award nominee Jackie Earle Haley is a nice bonus as the shady bad-guy-turned-good Guerrero.

'24'

Season 8 begins at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, on Fox. Two-night premiere continues Monday, Jan. 18

Who's in: Where do we start? A newly reformed CTU brings us a host of new characters, including Freddie Prinze Jr. as agent Cole Ortiz; Katee Sackhoff as his love interest, agent Dana Walsh; and Mykelti Williamson as the new CTU head. Also back is Annie Wersching as a seriously twisted Renee Walker. "Slumdog Millionaire's" game-show host Anil Kapoor plays a Middle Eastern president.

Who's out: Sorry, Tony Almeida fans ... it doesn't look like we'll see Carlos Bernard this year. And although Cherry Jones returns as President Taylor, don't expect to see first gentleman Henry (Colm Feore).

This season, Jack Bauer trades Washington, D.C., for New York City and a terrorism plot for an assassination attempt. Sadly, most of the assassination — at least in the early episodes — is of the character variety, its chief victim being Mary Lynn Rajskub's Chloe O'Brian. Once a brilliant and resourceful tech wiz, a now incompetent and over her head Chloe is reduced to begging to keep her job at the new CTU. And all retired Jack wants to do is to get to the airport so he can move in with his daughter and her family. Maybe it's time we just let him go.

'Life Unexpected'

Premieres at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, on CW

This likable but unlikely new dramedy is, thankfully, much less glitzy and self-conscious than the standard CW fare (I'm looking at you, "Melrose Place" and the canceled "TBL: The Beautiful Life"). It tells the story of Lux, a precocious, street-smart teen who seeks out her birth parents' signatures on a legal emancipation form after bouncing from foster home to foster home (her most recent one is particularly awful). Birth mom and dad are no longer together, but a judge denies emancipation and orders them to share parenting responsibilities. I know — it sounds like the "Seinfeld" within a "Seinfeld" where Jerry's character Jerry gets into an accident and is sentenced to be the victim's butler, but it's charming and quirky anyway.

'The Deep End'

Premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, on ABC

Austinite Mehcad Brooks (son of the American-Statesman's Alberta Phillips), late of "True Blood," pops up toward the end of this law dramedy's pilot episode. He isn't given much to do, but I'm sure his young lawyer character will find his place amid the other young lawyer characters in this breezy series that finds clerking attorneys complaining about being so busy but finding plenty of time to hop into bed with each other, their bosses and clients.

'Caprica'

Premieres at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, on Syfy

The "Battlestar Galactica" prequel features intrigue, political maneuvering, backstabbing, turmoil \u2026 and Cylons! The pilot has been available on DVD for nearly a year so, if you were at all interested, odds are you've already witnessed producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick's slowish, thoughtful science-fiction saga of the Graystone and Adama (yes, that Adama) families. It's not action-packed — yet — but there is plenty of dramatic tension and a rich BSG backstory to mine.

'Lost'

Final season begins at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, on ABC

Who's in: Who knows?

Who's out: Your guess is as good as mine.

What will be the fallout from the detonation of Jughead? Will Jack's attempted reset of history be successful? We know the blast knocked Juliet all the way over to ABC's "V." Show creators Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have been especially tight-lipped about the final "Lost" season. I sat through several Austin Film Festival panels (and a phone interview) with Lindelof and he refused to divulge any spoilers. The pair had vowed that not one second of new season footage would see the light of day until the premiere, but recently backed off enough to allow ABC to run a contest where a lucky few will get to see that show's opening minutes (guaranteed to be mind-blowing — remember the first look inside the hatch? The New Otherton Book Club?) a few days early. Yep, I entered. Stay tuned.

'Past Life'

Premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, on Fox

This grim, drippy pilot didn't just bore me, it made me angry. Working backwards from an awful crime (child abduction and murder), the writers have worked "clues" obtained through the past life flashes of a teenage boy into a buddy cop drama with a female believer and her ex-cop, male skeptic partner. It's a lot of gratuitous mumbo-jumbo nonsense, but don't think that I feel that way because I don't buy into reincarnation — I'm less than convinced in the existence of monsters, out-of-body experiences and alternate universes too, but I find "Fringe" to be well-done and entertaining. "Past Life" is neither.

'Parenthood'

Premieres at 8 p.m. Monday, March 1, on NBC

Who's in: Lauren Graham as problem child Sarah

Who's out: Maura Tierney, who had to leave the Sarah role for breast cancer treatments

The success of a family drama such as "Parenthood" relies on how much you like and care about the characters. This show has good (if somewhat predictable) writing and a stellar cast, including "Gilmore Girl" Graham, who will bring a huge fan base with her. No preview episode with Graham was available but, judging from the scenes with her on NBC.com, no re-writing was done and the actress just re-shot Tierney's scenes word for word. It's a little precious, but not cloying, and at times it made me wish I had a huge, close family of my own (but the holidays took care of that).

'Nurse Jackie'

Season 2 begins at 8 p.m. Monday, March 2, on Showtime

Last season's cliffhanger, with Jackie lying on the floor at the hospital strung out on pills, is annoyingly unaddressed in the season opener: months later, Jackie frolics with her family on the beach. But once she returns to the hospital, things pick up where they left off. Jackie deals with her obsessive (and increasingly creepy) former pharmacist/supplier/boyfriend Eddie and battles his replacement, a computerized pill dispenser. Steve Buscemi returns as "God," who is admitted to All Saints after a blunt object trauma.

'United States of Tara'

Season 2 begins at 8:30 p.m. Monday, March 2, on Showtime

OK, not so united. Tara's other personalities begin to return following a tragedy at one of her neighbor's houses, allowing the amazing Toni Collette to alternately chew up the scenery and then recoil in horror as the reality of her condition becomes apparent. Somebody gets engaged, Tara and Max invest in real estate and the gender roles of their children become unexpectedly scrambled.

'Sons of Tucson'

Premieres at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 14, on Fox

Wow, this sitcom is pretty awful. Three kids whose financier father's been jailed hire a slacker who lives in his car to pretend he's dad. It's as if a bad Jack Black impersonator got together with the world's worst writers, hijacked a time machine to corral the kids from "Malcolm in the Middle" and decided to put on a show. In other words, "Sons" will probably appeal to Fox's Sunday night Seth MacFarlane crowd, so (sigh) it could be a hit.

'The Tudors'

Final season begins at 8 p.m. Sunday, April 11, on Showtime

Who's in: Joely Richardson as Catherine Parr, Henry's sixth wife; Eoin Murtagh as Prince Edward Tudor; Torrance Coombs as Thomas Culpepper; David O'Hara as the Earl of Surrey; Lothaire Bluteau as Ambassador Marillac

Who's out: Well, the whole shebang, after this season. Henry's running out of wives, isn't he?

The final season of the popular Showtime drama finds Henry with his final two wives and, presumably, lying on his deathbed.

'Glee'

Season 1 resumes at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 13, on Fox

OK, it's not a new show and it's not even a midseason replacement. But it is a phenomenon and its four-month hiatus has fans eagerly anticipating the rest of the show's freshman season. A mid-first-half slump led to a dizzying flurry of resolution as Mr. Schuester defeated evil Cheerios coach Sue Sylvester (or did he? She has vowed to return stronger than ever) and declared his love for doe-eyed counselor Emma Pillsbury (or did he? Some claim their kiss was the culmination of a fantasy sequence). In any event, Will's marriage seems to be over, bringing an end to the ridiculous hysterical pregnancy plotline, but the interminable Finn/Quinn/Rachel/Puck quadrangle goes on. Producers promise greater emphasis on the musical numbers.