Portlandia (Thursday, Feb. 27, IFC), season premiere: The biggest changes for Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s Portlandia in Season 4? It’s now on Thursdays (dunno why—comedy void?), and the guest-star lineup is ridicu-lectic (Olivia Wilde, Kirsten Dunst, Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, Grimm’s Silas Weir Mitchell, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer, Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, the Portland Trailblazers and even sex columnist Dan Savage from Portland’s mortal enemy, Seattle, to name a few). While Netflix is a fine place to start, The Only TV Column That Matters
Vikings (Thursday, Feb. 27, History), season premiere: Speaking of the writings of 7-year-olds … I kid; lighten up. Vikings was one of 2013’s more out-of-left-field hits, a period drama that somehow combined the sensibilities of Game of Thrones and Sons of Anarchy without being anywhere near as smart as either, and a cast (including Travis Fimmel, Gabriel Byrne and Donal Logue) working their asses off to sell it. Oh, and it’s probably the least-disputable “history” series on the History Channel, because, as a showrunner has said, “Hey, no one knows what happened in the Dark Ages.” (Argue with that, college brainiacs.) Game of Thrones returns April 6; Vikings will do for now.
Hollywood Game Night (Thursday, Feb. 27, NBC), spring premiere: Since NBC only has two comedies left (the new About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher don’t count, as you’ve just asked yourself, “What the hell are About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher?”), this is what you get after Community and Parks and Recreation: Hollywood Game Night, because selling the slot before Parenthood to Shark Rocket vacuum infomercials would just look like giving up. On Hollywood Game Night, honest-to-god, possibly blackmailed celebrities play party games to win money for charities and unattractive civilian contestants. For an hour. On primetime American television. Why are we rooting for NBC again?
Hannibal (Friday, Feb. 28, NBC), season premiere: Oh yeah—because of a handful of ballsy calls like Hannibal. Along with The Blacklist, Hannibal (a prequel to Silence of the Lambs) is one of the few recent NBC series that lives up to the network’s oft-referenced plan to make “cable-quality” dramas. (Dracula, which used to reside here on Fridays, was another, but that didn’t quite work out.) If creator/producer Bryan Fuller’s gorgeously—and gorily—filmed twist on the Quirky Outsider Assists Cops procedural were on cable, the performances of Mads Mikkelsen (as Dr. Hannibal Lecter) and Hugh Dancy (as FBI profiler Will Graham) would get more notice. Moving Hannibal to Fridays might also do the trick: What else is on?
Bates Motel, Those Who Kill (Monday, March 3, A&E), season premiere and series debut: Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) has a sassy new hairdo, a successful (for now) motel, and son who’s at the midpoint between petulant teenager and blackout serial killer—welcome to Season 2! Norman (Freddie Highmore) has taken the murder of his sexy teacher hard, whether he did it or not, and there’s plenty more going down in White Pines Bay: His crush Bradley (Nicola Peltz) has gone off the deep end over her father’s death; his brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) is up to his neck in the local weed trade; and Norma just wants to stop the damned highway overpass project from putting her out of business. (Murder, drugs, love triangles, commercial zoning disputes—Bates Motel has it all.) Stick around for Chloe Sevigny’s Those Who Kill afterward—it’s not great, but it’s important to support the handful of original dramas surrounded by A&E’s ocean of crap reality shows.
DVD ROUNDUP FOR MARCH 4!
Big Bad Wolf
An abusive stepfather (Charlie O’Connell) hunts down his three teen stepdaughters, who’ve run away with the drug money he was going to use to retire in Mexico with his mistress. Yes, it is a dark take on The Three Little Pigs—how’d you guess? (Kino)
Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor
The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) rush to save the universe, avert a new Time War and get all timey-wimey-weepy in the holiday-ish 800th (!) episode that introduces the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi). (Warner Bros.)
A south-of-the-border bachelor party goes bad when a local drug kingpin (Armand Assante!) takes the bros hostage in order to collect a debt—imagine Very Bad Things with more strippers and tequila. Based on a true story, far as you know. (Maverick)
A wrongly-imprisoned man (Josh Brolin) spends 20 years plotting his revenge against The Stranger; ultra-violence (yay!), incest (ew!) and a wholly unsatisfying remake of the 2003 Korean cult classic ensue. A Spike Lee Film, not Joint. (Sony)
The Venture Bros.: Season 5
The fifth season of The Greatest Animated Series of All Time consists of only eight episodes, but with “A Very Venture Halloween” and “The Shallow Gravy Story” as bonus features, things kind of even out. All this, and “Spanakopita!” (Warner Bros.)
More New DVD Releases (March 4)
12 Years a Slave, The Best of Men, Blast Vegas, Blood Rush, Breaking Amish: Season 1, Children of Sorrow, Cold Comes the Night, The Facility, The Grandmaster, Hours, Hysterical Psycho, The Knot, The Last Days of Mars, Rabid Love, Wicked Blood