Penny Dreadful (Sunday, May 1, Showtime), season premiere: Showtime’s supernatural steampunk soap … whew … returns for Season 3 with Ethan (Josh Hartnett), Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) scattered about the globe, leaving a broken Vanessa (Eva Green) back in dreary old London with no one to confide in but an unorthodox therapist (Patti LuPone) and a sexy zoologist (Christian Camargo). For a dark fantasy series filled with vampires, witches and monsters, Penny Dreadful spools out plenty of deep character development and rich drama for players—particularly Vanessa (Green should be up for all of the awards)—who could easily fall flat and camp-ridiculous. It’s also still in a dead heat for the title of Creepiest Period Show on TV with Salem. (Netflix it, if you never want to sleep again.)
Keeping Up With the Kardashians (Sunday, May 1, E!), season premiere: Achievements in human intelligence since 2007, the year Keeping Up With the Kardashians launched its 12-season (!) run: the iPhone; space probes to Mercury and Pluto; the Large Hadron Collider; the discovery of exoplanets; artificial polymer arteries; the detection of water on the moon; the creation of robotic nano-spiders; the introduction of the hydrogen-powered car; the lab-grown human heart; driverless cars; drones; wearable fitness trackers; the commercial 3-D printer; lab-grown hamburger meat (unrelated to the aforementioned heart … ?); major breakthroughs in quantum computing; hashtags … #KardashianLivesDontMatter.
Houdini and Doyle (Monday, May 2, Fox), series debut: Back to the steampunking, would you believe … a 1900s buddy-caper British-Canadian mystery series about Harry Houdini (Michael Weston) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Stephan Mangan)? On primetime network television? Like Sleepy Hollow, Second Chance and Lucifer before it, Fox takes an intriguingly weird setup and turns it into yet another cop procedural, albeit one with a supernatural twist and an impressive budget for suspenders and mustache wax. Mangan and Weston are engagingly lively actors, and Houdini and Doyle’s run will be relatively short at just 10 episodes (the compromise point between British and ’Merican sensibilities), but Fox’s audience typically doesn’t go for shows that seem borrowed from PBS. (See: Cosmos.)
Person of Interest (Tuesday, May 3, CBS), final-season premiere: I’ll admit it: Years ago, I unfairly labeled Person of Interest as just another CBS crime procedural involving vague terrorist threats, high-tech intrigue and gun-waving speeches in dark alleys. But come on—with a dead-dull name like Person of Interest, what else could it be? Turns out it’s an unusually dark and canny (for CBS) treatise on the grey areas of profiling, surveillance and overreaching tech, headlined by the hyper-odd pairing of Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson (as a former CIA agent and a software supergenius, respectively). Ensuing seasons ratcheted up the tension, and the additions of Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi attracted a few more eyeballs, but Person of Interest was ultimately too smart to last; this shortened fifth season will be the series’ end, blowing out two episodes a week through June. Another excellent candidate for Netflixing—just be prepared to go deep.
Maron (Wednesday, May 4, IFC), season premiere: It’s not official, but Season 4 could be the last for Maron as well—IFC moving it from Thursdays to Wednesdays doesn’t exactly instill confidence, either. After settling into an amusingly cranky groove for a couple of seasons, Marc Maron blew up Maron last year, breaking hard from the this-is-kinda-my-daily-life format by getting sober “Marc” hooked on Oxycontin. Now Marc’s disheveled and destitute, having lost his house, cats and podcast. (Drugged, disheveled and destitute are prerequisites only for amateur podcasters, apparently.) Next stop: rehab—or, “a resort for people with no self-control.” If anyone can pull comedy from addiction recovery, it’s Maron, and he can’t fare any worse than Will Arnett did recently with the lazily downcast Flaked … can he? Damn, this might really be the end for Maron.