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HBO

Who Watches: People who like excellent, thoughtful drama with a totally R-rated level of sex and violence and swearwords.

Apocalypse or Golden Age? All signs point to Golden Age.

Hours Watched: 12


Boardwalk Empire

MAINSTAY

Air time: 9 pm, Sundays

Watch if: You love the Jazz Age as much as you love The Godfather.

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Series creator Terrence Winter, along with a healthy assist from Martin Scorsese and other heavyweights, spent the first two seasons of Boardwalk Empire crafting an intricate, testy, violent drama around the aspirations of political boss Enoch Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and his one-time protege Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) that mirrored the larger, equally intricate political drama of Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Then, at the end of last season, Winter blew a major plot thread away in a crazy twist.

So, uh ... all right, candidate for best show on TV? What now? The third season opens a year-and-a-half in the future, with many of the secondary characters in vastly different places than we left them, but with Thompson back at the top of the liquor and vice game in Atlantic City.


Treme

HANGING IN THERE

Air time: 10 pm, Sundays

Watch if: You love jazz more than you love plot progression.

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It would have been difficult — and probably impossible — for David Simon to outdo his masterwork, The Wire. And whatever show he made next was bound to draw comparisons. Dude obviously couldn’t do a police procedural. Couldn’t talk about newspapers or unions or teachers or the projects or suffocated Russian prostitutes. He’d already done all that. So what does Simon do? Maybe the most brilliant thing anyone has ever done: created a TV show about New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that has no discernable heroes or villains or plot to speak of, just authentic-as-hell, broken-up, washed-away New Orleans and its poor-ass people. Nothing much happens in Simon’s vision of the Crescent City and there’s a musical interlude every 10 minutes.

This is why David Simon is the smartest man in television: Who’s going to critique an ambling love note to a city all of America left to die in 2005?


The Girl (movie)

NEW

Premieres: Saturday, Oct. 20

Watch if: You like your creeps psychological.

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So we all have this, like, sense — this precognitive tickle in the back of our minds — that Alfred Hitchcock was a creepy dude. Right? Hitchcock is no Eli Roth, who invented torture porn, but is a basically normal dude otherwise. No, even generations who have lived since he died have this tingling cultural sense that Hitchcock was every bit as menacing as the movies he made.

HBO, to its credit, has decided to pull back the curtain and reveal that — yep, dude’s a maniac. The Girl follows Hitchcock as he fawns over, clings to and ultimately terrorizes the actress Tippi Hedren throughout production of The Birds. The film would become his masterpiece and would launch her career, but what happens between them goes way beyond obsession to craft (on his part) and paying one’s dues (on hers). Sienna Miller is gorgeous and unblinking as Hedren. Toby Jones — who is excellent at playing creeps, munchkins and creepy munchkins — makes a devastating Hitchcock.



SHOWTIME

Who Watches: People who place slightly higher premium on sex and violence and swear words.

Apocalypse or Golden Age? Pretty golden. The shows that aren’t utterly brilliant at least know how to entertain.


Homeland

MAINSTAY

Air time: 10 pm, Sundays

Watch if: You like shades of gray.

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This series is such a glorious, surprising gem of a thing it’s hard to even put into words. Buzz was good for this thing out of the gates — I am a massive admirer of Damian Lewis and the whole world is made up of massive admirers of Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin. Did I expect schlock?

No, but ... I don’t know. I didn’t expect something this good. (I’ve been hurt before.)

The rough sketch is that it’s The Manchurian Candidate with terrorists. After eight years of detainment and torture, a Marine (Lewis) is found and returned home to a hero’s welcome. The guy is good looking and well spoken. Everything the war effort needs. One problem: a CIA analyst (Danes) thinks he’s a terrorist sleeper agent. Another problem: Danes’ character is actually crazy — needs anti-psychotics crazy. So what are we to think? Are the signs Danes sees really signs? Or is she nuts? And are we nuts — like, we as a nation, with all our body scanners and waterboarding — for seeing what she sees and condoning what she does?

In Season Two we think we know the score, but then, we’ve thought that before. Homeland, it seems, is not done toying with us.


Dexter

MAINSTAY

Air time: 9 pm, Sundays

Watch if: You like blood, viscera, voice-over narration.

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Well past its sell-by date, this show about a morality-governed serial killer is constantly, perpetually in danger of jumping the shark. The fifth season was a total low point. I can’t even remember what happened it was so disappointing. Season 6, though, did what Dexter always did best — it used Dexter’s inhumanity to turn a lens on humanity itself. He exists outside the human experience, in a way, or at least the emotional sphere of the human experience, and so he’s a perfect character to look at our most closely held values.

In Season 7, Dexter’s sister, Deb, will know that he’s killed at least one person, and as she begins to piece things together, she realizes there have been many more. Best-case scenario is that the show becomes about how someone deals with evil when they find it in someone they love. Worst-case scenario, it’s a big dumb runaround with a lot of killing and suspense with no greater reason for being than to set up the eighth and final season.

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