We're two weeks into the New Year, and I'm assuming pretty much all your resolutions have, shall we say, been put on hold. Unless, of course, your list including the item at the top of mine – watch more TV. In which case, this week is a great week for you considering that the schedule features a little Idol worship, a Shameless show and some real Fringe TV.
Bones, Fox, Mondays, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
This show is like your college roommate. You might lose track of both from time to time but whenever you get together, it's always a good – and familiar – experience. This time out, the ever-engaging David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel get to play things goofier than usual as their alter-egos, Buck and Wanda Moosejaw, who go undercover at a dance competition. There are no real surprises in this light-hearted episode that marks Bones' winter return, but there are no surprises in watching a Rockford Files rerun either and yet both are still comfortable and deep meaning-free ways to spend an hour of your life.
Deception, NBC, Mondays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
Cable news commentators have spent a lot of time lately debating what to do with the rich people in this country. Do we praise them? Do we tax them? Well, judging by network TV, the answer is spy on them. ABC's Revenge has had success with that formula, so this new NBC series is taking a similar approach. When a young socialite is found dead, a blue-collar detective (Megan Good) who used to be one of her best friends goes undercover inside the dead woman's family to solve the case. Episode One seemed pretty routine, but there is always potential in the notion of exposing secrets of the rich and powerful. Just ask all the cable news talking heads.
Cougar Town, TBS, Tuesdays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
I've never really thought of this series, which was canceled by ABC last year but has returned with new episodes on cable, as a comedy so much as I've considered it science fiction. In the early days, we were supposed to believe Courteney Cox was a divorcee who couldn't get dates. And as the show progressed into an ensemble comedy, the characters came across as real friends who could all fire off three clever quips a minute. Even more unbelievable? These people drink enough wine to fill an Italian restaurant and yet nobody ever has a hangover. Despite this constant stretching of reality, though, watching Cougar Town is worth the effort because it's like spending 30 minutes with the friends you wish you had.
American Idol, Fox, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
When is the return of TV's most popular reality shows not the return of one of TV's most popular reality shows? When it's the season debut of American Idol, back for its 12th season. And while the name remains the same, the series looks different yet again because it has exchanged its last set of celebrity judges – Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez – for two even more outrageous famous people – singers Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj — and country singer/Mr. Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban. In theory, the series does cling to its original premise of finding America's Next Great Pop Singer but I can guarantee that all your eyes and ears will fixate (at least in these first Audition Weeks) on exactly how crazy Carey and Minaj act rather than which newcomer has the best voice.
Fringe, Fox, Fridays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
Well, it's your last chance. If you haven't tried the trippiest show on television by now, you'll be out of luck after this week because the mind-bending experience otherwise known as Fringe is finishing up. After five seasons of a federal agent (Anna Torv), a mad scientist (John Noble) and his son (Joshua Jackson) investigate everything from giant porcupine monsters to alternate universes to taciturn bald men from the future (I did say "mind-bending," right?), the series is going away for good. Seldom have I ever seen a show with as many completely unexpected surprises, and there's no reason to think that the finale will be anything less dizzying than spinning yourself on a merry-go-round for an hour. I realize it's probably a bit too late to join the party at this point but for anyone with a taste for TV that doesn't just break rules but actually creates new ones, this is a farewell worth watching.
Shameless, Showtime, Sundays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
You know that old saying about how you can pick your friends but you can't pick your family? Shameless is the logical extension of that unfortunate philosophy. On the face of it, nobody would want to be stuck with the series' Gallagher family. Headed by single dad Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), who indulges in vices the way most middle-aged fathers indulge in golf, this is a group that takes part in all variety of illicit affairs and occupations. Still, even as the show enters its third season, there's something about the way the Gallaghers ultimately look out for each other that makes you wish you could go to one of their family reunions. Because if nothing else, it would be one heck of a great party.
Girls, HBO, Sundays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
Here's a question: why is it that in real life, being neurotic isn't particularly enjoyable yet on screen, it comes across as wonderfully quirky? Woody Allen has built his entire career on this principal, as has cable TV's latest wunderkind, Lena Dunham. The writer/director/actor has hit it big with this popular series about a group of young New York women, largely because the characters she's created are as relatable as they are neurotic. They aren't fun people, and watching them worry about kicking their careers and love lives into gear makes me very happy I'm not in my 20s. Still, from their unglamorous appearance to their self-deprecating dialogue, they feel like people you know rather than just people in a show you watch.
Enlightened, HBO, Sundays, 9:30 p.m./8:30 p.m. CT
There's some degree of irony in the name of this series because, despite the title, few people were enlightened enough to watch it during its first season. Its premise is as low key as its ratings – corporate drone Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) suffers a mental meltdown, tries to go Buddhist in order to recover and ends up back in the same company that drove her nuts in the first place. Still, in a TV comedy world that too often passes off snarkiness for comedy, it's….well…enlightening to find a show that has a kind yet quirky heart.
House Of Lies, Showtime, Sundays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
Well, when a show has the word Lies in it, you pretty much have to expect that it will have some sneaky things going on. True to form, this second-season comedy is filled with nothing but slick talking scammers whom most of us would not want to spend 10 minutes with. And yet….the tale of a management consultant (Don Cheadle) and his team who have no boundaries with clients or each other bubbles with a cool, irresistible energy that makes their dirty dealings seem entertaining if not entirely admirable.
Californication, Showtime, Sundays, 10:30 p.m./9:30 p.m. CT
If I could get personal here for just a moment, I would like to say that I've had plenty of experience as a failed writer over the years. And not once have I ever had as much fun with it as David Duchovny has had as fading novelist Hank Moody in this series, now in its sixth season. He's constantly going to wild parties, having women throw themselves at him and even coming up with the occasional book or script. The dark, relentless debauchery can get a bit wearying after a while, but thanks to Duchovny's constant charisma, trouble and failure have seldom seemed so desirable.