The Buzz

7 returning TV hits to watch

Categories: Television

GirlsSeason 2 of Girls, starring (from left) Lena Dunham, Zosia Mamet, Jemima Kirke and Allison Williams, begins Jan. 13, 2013 (HBO Canada)

For TV viewers, the new year brings a fresh wave of personal crises, romantic intrigue and ambitious scheming — whether they be set against a zombie apolocalypse in Georgia, the New York of privileged millennials or a sprawling English country estate after the First World War.

Plummeting temperature outdoors make it a perfect time to settle in on the couch and dig into a new batch of returning hits. Here's a few to catch up on.

1. Downton Abbey

Who'd have thought that a long-form, costumed British melodrama following an aristocratic family and its servants would enthrall millions of viewers worldwide? The acclaimed phenomenon returns in January with Oscar-winning creator Julian Fellowes delivering another addictive season about the Crawley family and the intricacies of life in the majestic, titular Yorkshire manor. For the uninitiated, Canadian broadcaster Vision is offering a prime catch-up opportunity by airing seasons one, two and three back-to-back, beginning Jan. 2.

Anticipated moment: this season will see the show's dowager countess, the incomparable Maggie Smith (Lady Violet), cross paths with the irrepressible and brassy Shirley MacLaine (heiress Martha Levinson).

Season three premiere: Jan. 6, 2013 on PBS; April 10 on Vision.

2. Mr. D

Comedian Gerry Dee is heading back to the prestigious halls of Xavier Academy in the sitcom Mr. D. By loosely tapping into Dee's own past as a private school teacher, the show has drawn a following for its laughable (and sometimes quite honest) portrayal of a supremely under-qualified teacher faking his way through the school year.

Anticipated moment: Though the staff room is already populated with a host of comedy world regulars (Naomi Snieckus, Mark Little and Darrin Rose), the show gets a hit of star power when Russell Peters turns up for a guest spot in the season opener.

Season two premiere: Jan. 7, 2013 on CBC.

3. Girls

Controversial, 26-year-old writer-director-actor Lena Dunham will test her staying power when her comedy series Girls — raw and cringe-worthy, while also strangely mesmerizing — returns for a sophomore season, following a quartet of 20-something women figuring out their place in the world.

Anticipated moment: Pretty much anything featuring the scene-stealing Zosia Mamet (Shoshanna).

Season two premiere: Jan. 13, 2013 on HBO Canada.

4. Smash

One of the most hotly anticipated network shows of 2012, Smash started off with a bang, boasting an impressive team of theatre world collaborators (playwright Theresa Rebeck, Tony-winning composers Marc Shaiman and Neil Meron and actors Megan Hilty, Brian d'Arcy James and Christian Borle, for starters) and a high-profile cast and producers (including screen veteran Anjelica Huston, former American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee and exec Steven Spielberg).

The big-budget NBC production was weighed down by a host of factors: several uninteresting story arcs, a few head-scratching song-and-dance montages (remember that Bollywood dream sequence?) and the distractingly dreary sweaters and scarves worn by Debra Messing's lyricist character. Still, a strong contingent is rooting for the show, which has undergone a significant overhaul for season two. Will a new show-runner (Gossip Girl's Joshua Safran), intriguing newcomers (Jennifer Hudson), even more original music and bigger plot lines give Smash the fresh injection it needs?

Anticipated moment: Will viewers be treated to a diva-worthy sing-off between Idol alums McPhee and Hudson?

Season two premiere: Feb. 5, 2013 on NBC.

5. The Walking Dead

Though it was just a mid-season break, AMC left its runaway hit The Walking Dead at a nail-biting cliff-hanger last fall. After killing off cast mainstays left, right and centre, the show's screenwriters left their motley crew of post-apocalyptic survivors scattered and facing a threat potentially more dangerous than waves of oncoming zombies: a maniacal, power-hungry zealot with a town of bloodthirsty folks behind him.

Anticipated moment: Just what kind of brotherly bonding will reunited siblings Merle and Daryl get up to — if they escape the horde of townsfolk screaming for their hides?

Season three return: Feb. 10, 2013 on AMC.

6. Game of Thrones

The epic cable fantasy saga Game of Thrones is getting even bigger for its third season, with producers recently announcing longer episodes — a few minutes added to each instalment amounting to almost an entire additional episode by season's end. Here's hoping it means a fresh wave of Wildings and Whitewalkers from beyond the Wall, some more of those fiery dragon scenes, another epic battle and the wonderful Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister.

Anticipated moment: Daenerys, growing dragons in tow, finally taking charge of her own fate.

Season three premiere: March 31, 2013 on HBO Canada.

7. Mad Men

Though there isn't even an exact premiere date set, we're breathlessly awaiting what will most likely be the penultimate season of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner's impeccably detailed, hugely influential and utterly engrossing mid-century American portrait. After a shocking death and some long-awaited changes in last season's second-to-last episode, the finale appeared to set the groundwork for Mad Men's antihero Don Draper (Jon Hamm) to return to where we first discovered him: balancing a dual life on the personal front with his professional genius. Still, as proven before, one can never tell what's up Weiner's sleeve.

Anticipated moment: The inevitable marital breakdown between Don and Megan Draper (our delightful Canadian Jessica Paré).

Season six premiere: expected spring 2013 on AMC.

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