updated 01/07/2013 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 01/13/2013 AT 8:45 AM ET
Don’t worry, America. The networks didn’t forget you over the holidays – they were just waiting for the new year to stuff their presents down the chimney.
This year, midseason starts with an extremely bustling January that brings back established hits, including American Idol and Justified, and introduces new series such as The Carrie Diaries.
Here’s a quick rundown of which ones to watch – and which ones to skip. No re-gifting!
DOWNTON ABBEY (PBS Masterpiece): Yes
The snob appeal of British actors wearing expensive clothes in rooms larger than a South Beach condo is undeniably one reason for the popularity of this manor-house soap opera. But the period setting also allows us to draw in much more closely to these aristocrats and their servants. No one has the modern convenience of text-messaging: If bad news arrives at dinner, everyone is forced to remain seated and digest the calamity along with the port and cheeses. And the news in this superb third season is often very, very bad. (Smith, by the way, has a remarkable scene as old matriarch Viola; grief-stricken, she enters the house, and every cautious step is that of a woman who has seen many people, young and old, precede her into the grave.)
THE CARRIE DIARIES (CW): No
A great concept – baby Sex and the City – generated a lot of buzz when the network announced this comedy-drama about Carrie Bradshaw as a teenager in 1984. But young Carrie (AnnaSophia Robb) is merely a nice suburban girl who inherits a funky wardrobe from her dead mother. You can say a lot of things about ’80s style, but it wasn’t maudlin, and it wasn’t a hand-me-down.
JUSTIFIED (FX): Yes
A casting miracle: Put a wide-brimmed Western hat on handsome Timothy Olyphant’s head, hang a holster around his lean hips – and dang if you don’t have an iconic character, just like that. U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens pursues criminals who seem to become more eccentrically loathsome with each season, but Olyphant s cool, unmannered performance is still what makes it all work.
1600 PENN (NBC): No, no, no
A sitcom about a First Family that doesn’t know what to do about its excruciatingly immature First Son, Skip (Josh Gad). He runs, whirls, dances and skips around the White House causing mischief and somehow also solving problems. Don’t you love him? I kept wishing he would gambol too close to the edge of the fiscal cliff.
SCANDAL (ABC): Yes
With great regret, I have taken my Revenge obsession and transferred it to this galloping Thursday-night melodrama from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes. Kerry Washington (Django Unchained) is a political fixer who has a thing for the president (Tony Goldwyn). In an ideal world, they would be married and hosting the Kennedy Center Honors and appearing together on The View. Instead, poor Kerry must brave one crisis after another. It’s all nonsense … and totally addictive.
DECEPTION (NBC): No
Like Scandal, like Revenge, but inert and without conviction. You could stage a more compelling drama by making your pancakes pretend to talk to the sausages.
GIRLS (HBO): Sure
This season is not as radically fresh as season 1, but it gets better – and then turns brilliant – as it goes. I think I want to be Zosia Mamet, who plays Shoshanna Shapiro.
AMERICAN IDOL (FOX): Uh-huh
The new season introduces a revamped panel, adding Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban along with the Dawg. You’ll tune in for the hair and makeup, and maybe stay for the singing.
THE FOLLOWING (FOX): Yes, but with an advisory
An intense and unnerving new crime drama about an ingenious serial killer (James Purefoy) who doesn’t do his own murders. Not for young viewers or Skip.
BUCKWILD (MTV): Seriously?
Moonshine distillation of Jersey Shore with a hint of Here Come Honey Boo Boo and the kick of neither.