House of Cards (Friday, Feb. 27, Netflix), season premiere: It’s always been crazy-good, but is House of Cards now more crazy than good? The rise to the top by now-President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) has seen him plowing through one deliciously ridiculous politico-soap-opera scandal after another, as well as a slew of unsatisfying toothless opponents. At the outset of Season 3, it seems his only equal in the Beltway is his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), who has ambitions of her own beyond simply being First Lady. House of Cards is still entertaining as hell—like The West Wing with the idealism extracted and replaced with Itchy and Scratchy bloodlust—but it’s time to dial back those Prestige Television expectations.
Sex Box (Friday, Feb. 27, WE), series debut: When cane-wagging “watchdog” groups are outraged, I’m interested—thanks for drawing my attention to Sex Box, Parents Television Council. Not that there’s much to be worked up about here: In Sex Box, couples enter an opaque, soundproof box on a stage in front of a studio audience, knock one out, then emerge to discuss their “feelings” with “celebrity” relationship experts, none of whom you’ve ever heard of. There’s more visible sex happening on network TV every night, and yet the PTC is going after what would/should have been a blip on a cable channel that few even know exists. Like everything else on WE, Sex Box is terrible, but worth your ratings point to give the finger to the PTC.
Battle Creek (Sunday, March 1, CBS), series debut: Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul’s Vince Gilligan created Battle Creek more than 10 years ago, and it’s finally made its way to broadcast TV. Dean Winters (Law and Order: SVU, Rescue Me) and Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Las Vegas) star as mismatched law-enforcement partners in the titular bankrupt Michigan city; grizzled local detective Russ Agnew (Winters) is suspicious of clean-cut FBI newcomer Milt Chamberlain (Duhamel), but is forced to work with him because he has access to shiny federal resources that the broke Battle Creek cop shop doesn’t. They proceed to butt heads and match wits on odd cases (first up: a maple syrup cartel—yes, really) so far outside the usual CBS procedural parameters that you have to wonder why Battle Creek didn’t end up on Fox. (This series is probably what Backstrom was shooting for and missed by miles.) Even with Gilligan’s Breaking Bad-isms toned down, Battle Creek is a fun ride. Get onboard before CBS figures that out.
Secrets and Lies (Sunday, March 1, ABC), series debut: This cat-and-mouse mystery pits a possibly innocent family man (Ryan Phillippe) against a determined homicide detective (Juliette Lewis) in what looks like a direct-to-Blockbuster Video potboiler from the ’90s (and even then, Secrets and Lies would be a lousy title). Phillippe and Lewis act as hard as they can against each other, but this is just midseason filler worth no DVR (or VHS) space.
The Last Man on Earth (Sunday, March 1 , Fox), series debut: It’s been a looong while since Fox made a truly weird live-action comedy, and they’re making up for lost time with The Last Man on Earth, starring ex-Saturday Night Live player Will Forte as Phil Miller, who appears to be the lone human left (at least in North America) after a virus sweeps the planet in 2020. Other than growing an impressive hipster beard and inventing mankind’s final crowning achievement, the Margarita Pool (complete with salt rim), Phil’s resigned to keeping himself entertained by playing explosive car-bowling, mocking Tom Hanks in Castaway and wallowing in loneliness in his hometown of Tucson. While the first episode is a one-man show, which Forte carries well, more characters do eventually show up to provide some “only other people make us a better person” perspective and future episode fodder—though only four have been produced so far. Which is fitting, since The Last Man on Earth plays more like a comedic indie flick than a 13-episode TV series. Try it out; it won’t be a long commitment.