Tuned In: 'Breaking Bad' is just one of several midseason treats

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On TV, the next month may feel more like fall than spring.

Due to last winter's writers' strike, networks are only now debuting some of their most promising series for the 2008-09 TV season. It's also a time for returning critical favorites, including "Breaking Bad" and "The Tudors."

Here are some of the programs you can expect to see:

"Breaking Bad" (10 p.m. Sunday, AMC): There's no question about the quality of this relentlessly suspenseful drama about former high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who turns to drug dealing to raise money for his family after he receives a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Whether viewers can stand the nerve jangling they're in for as season two begins will be decided on an individual basis. The first three episodes form a bold trilogy as Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) face down psycho drug dealer Tuco (Raymond Cruz).

A violent thriller with brief respites of dark humor, "Breaking Bad" is exceptional TV entertainment, but it sure can be uncomfortable to watch.

"Castle" (10 p.m. Monday, ABC): Despite an unexceptional plot -- rakish mystery novelist helps solve crimes -- winning star Nathan Fillion elevates this otherwise bland crime drama. Review in Sunday's TV Week.

"Chopping Block" (8 p.m. Wednesday, NBC): Another reality competition hosted by another surly Brit (Marco Pierre White), this show pits two teams against one another in operating New York restaurants on opposite sides of the same street.

"Kings" (two-hour premiere 8 p.m. March 15, NBC): Possibly the best of all the new midseason shows, this ambitious re-telling of the Bible's story of David has plenty of appeal for fans of character dramas. Review in TV Week on March 15.

"Party Down" (10:30 p.m. March 20, Starz): Following the season premiere of "Head Case" at 10 p.m., new comedy "Party Down" follows the lives of cater waiters in Los Angeles. It's executive produced by Rob Thomas, creator of "Veronica Mars."

"Better Off Ted" (8:30 p.m. Thursdays starting March 18, ABC): If the promos for this show remind you of the late, great "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," there's a good reason: Both shows are from producer Victor Fresco. This time, the show centers on Ted (Jay Harrington), a cog in the giant corporation Veridian Dynamics.

"Roommates" (9 p.m. March 23, ABC Family): Friends living together in New York after college. Hmm, where have I heard that scenario before? ...

"Sophie" (9:30 p.m. March 23, ABC Family): Pregnant talent agency owner Sophie Parker (Natalie Brown) has a very bad day when her boyfriend ditches her and opens a rival business.

"In the Motherhood" (8 p.m. March 26, ABC): The network will rest "Ugly Betty" (it's not canceled) to try sitcoms in its place, including "Samantha Who?" at 8:30. "Motherhood" is based on a Web series, and the TV version stars Megan Mullally ("Will & Grace") and Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") as moms trying to juggle jobs, parenting and love.

"No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" (8 p.m. March 29, HBO): The book series by Alexander McCall Smith comes to TV starring singer Jill Scott as Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of the only female-owned detective agency in the African country of Botswana. Series begins with a two-hour premiere.

"Greek" (8 p.m. March 30, ABC Family): The college-set series about frat boys and sorority sisters returns for a new batch of episodes with singer-actor Jesse McCartney as a guest star.

"Cupid" (10 p.m. March 31, ABC): This show lasted just a single season on ABC in 1998, but the network is trying again, bringing back executive producer Rob Thomas (yes, he's debuting "Cupid" and "Party Down") and a new cast to tell the stories of Trevor (Bobby Cannavale), who may or may not be the god of love. Trevor tries to get couples together to earn his way back to Mount Olympus. His psychiatrist, Claire (Sarah Paulson), thinks love is about mutual respect.

"The Tudors" (9 p.m. April 5, Showtime): King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) marries two more wives during the course of the show's third season.

"Surviving Suburbia" (9:30 p.m. April 6, ABC): Originally created for The CW's outsourced Sunday night schedule last fall, Bob Saget ("Full House") and Cynthia Stevenson ("Men in Trees") star in this comedy about a suburban couple and their assorted struggles.

"Rescue Me" (10 p.m. April 7, FX): Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) and the gang are back for a new season with guest star Michael J. Fox as a love interest for Gavin's estranged wife.

"The Unusuals" (10 p.m. April 8, ABC): A mix of drama and comedy surround a group of offbeat New York cops.

"Harper's Island" (10 p.m. April 9, CBS): A 13-episode, close-ended story about a group of 13 friends and family members who travel to an island off the coast of Washington for a destination wedding. Each week, one of them dies. Christopher Gorham ("Ugly Betty") stars as the groom.

"Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire" (10 p.m. April 9, Comedy Central): Sean Maguire ("The Class") stars in a six-episode scripted fantasy adventure comedy as a thin-skinned, underconfident freedom fighter.

"Southland" (10 p.m. April 9, NBC): John Wells ("ER") executive produces a Los Angeles-set cop drama that stars Benjamin McKenzie ("The O.C."), Tom Everett Scott ("Saved"), Regina King ("Legally Blonde 2") and Shawn Hatosy ("Factory Girl").

"Parks and Recreation" (8:30 p.m. April 9, NBC): Amy Poehler ("Saturday Night Live") stars as a low-level government bureaucrat in a new mockumentary comedy from the producers of "The Office."

"Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" (10 p.m. April 12, Showtime):Talented mimic Ullman returns with more mini-sketches starring American characters, including Laura Bush.

"Sit Down, Shut Up" (8:30 p.m. April 19, Fox): "Arrested Development" creator Mitch Hurwitz unveils this animated comedy about the dysfunctional faculty and staff at a small Florida high school.

"Glee" (9 p.m. May 19, Fox): In an unusual move, Fox will air the premiere of this promising musical comedy-drama about a high school glee club after the "American Idol" season finale but will hold subsequent episodes for fall.

Channel surfing

Lifetime renewed sitcom "Rita Rocks" for a second season. ... Comedy Central's "Sarah Silverman Program" has been renewed for a third season. ... Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson hosts "Saturday Night Live" this weekend with musical guest Ray LaMontagne. Tracy Morgan hosts March 14 with musical guest Kelly Clarkson. ... ABC has canceled "Life on Mars" but did so early enough to allow the show's writers to craft an ending that gives the story closure. ... The "High School Musical" franchise returns to Disney Channel for a fourth film to air in 2010. This one will feature "a classic love triangle set against the cross-town school rivalry between the East High Wildcats and West High Knights." ... Cornerstone TeleVision's WPCB will air a two-hour special about the global food crisis live at 1 p.m. Wednesday with a repeat at 7 p.m.

Tuned In online

This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "Flashpoint," "Hotel Babylon" and sound problems on a local station. Read it at post-gazette.com/tv.

In Tuned In Podcast, entertainment editor Sharon Eberson and I discuss this week's "24" episodes, the debut of Jimmy Fallon as host of "Late Night" and the season finale of Bravo's "Top Chef." Listen or subscribe at post-gazette.com/podcast.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112.


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