Two female-driven premium cable comedies return Sunday as new seasons of HBO's "Veep" (10 p.m.) and Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" (9 p.m.) debut.
Which is the better viewing choice? It sort of depends on a viewer's taste and dedication.
Entering its fifth season, "Nurse Jackie" is no longer written by series creators Linda Wallem and Liz Brixus, who departed to be replaced by former "Dexter" showrunner Clyde Phillips. He has chosen to hit a reset button in the season premiere, reversing some aspects of season four's plot momentum.
Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) is on the cusp of divorce from husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa), and she's back working at her old job, rehired by Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), who has also resumed her former administrator job after a season back on the floor as a nurse.
Another reset: Nurse Zoey Barkow (Merritt Wever) announces she's going to move out of Jackie's house, which she moved into not that long ago. It feels like the show is taking a lot of backward steps at once. At this rate, why not just make season four a dream?
One unwelcome step forward involves a series regular who announces, on the spur of the moment, that she's quit her job and is leaving New York.
Two new characters join the show: a trauma doc with war experience (Morris Chestnut) and a self-involved neophyte doctor (Betty Gilpin) who uses Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli).
The big question is whether Mr. Phillips, who wrote Sunday's premiere, will also derail Jackie's newfound sobriety. In this case it may be more of a tension-building threat than an actual plan to undo everything the series built to in its first three seasons.
Through the first five episodes of the fifth season, "Nurse Jackie" improves as it goes. The series continues to be a character-driven, realistic dramedy, although it foreshadows some storylines in a way that's overly prolonged and too on-the-nose. Overall, it's a mixed bag as "Nurse Jackie" settles into what will surely be its latter years without its creators at the helm.
If "Nurse Jackie" feels a bit out of sorts under its new stewardship, HBO's "Veep" returns as the same show it was in season one. U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is just as vain, selfish and prone to political gaffes as she was last year. Sunday's season premiere is set during the midterm elections as Selina's efforts to stump on behalf of Democratic candidates turn out to be ineffective. The Democrats lose the House.
"Everybody hates us," Selina says. "I'm beginning to hate us."
Her biggest worry in season two may be a new obstacle between Selina and the president. Last year's roadblock, Jonah (Timothy C. Simons), remains, but he's such a buffoon that he's not a serious threat. However, the president's new senior strategist, Kent Davison (Gary Cole), is smarter, and he knows Selina, which can't bode well.
"Kent will get between me and POTUS like some kind of thick rubber condom," Selina says. "I have got to have unprotected access to the Oval Office."
Executive producers Armando Iannucci, Christopher Godsick and Frank Rich are less interested in creating a believable political environment than they are in building wild situations for laughs. Much of the time it works, as long as you're a fan of crude, profanity-filled comedy that embraces the most cynical view of politics imaginable.
At a pig roast in rural North Carolina, Selina tells her staff, "I don't want to get stuck talking pig [poop] with people who use hay as furniture." Later Jonah reports back to the White House, "She's pressing the flesh very well and these people have a lot of flesh."
The best dialogue that exemplifies the enmity producers have toward their lead character and her office comes from the sister of Amy (Anna Chlumsky), Selina's chief of staff, who declares, "Oh my god, you work for the vice president. It's not like it's Google."
"Veep" offers uncomfortable comedy at its most sardonic.
The 1980s seem to be making a comeback. Not only is FX's "The Americans" set in that decade, that era is also the subject of a new six-hour, three-night National Geographic Channel documentary miniseries, "The '80s: The Decade That Made Us" (8 p.m. Sunday, 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday).
Narrated by actor Rob Lowe, "The '80s" promises it will be "the defining biography of a decade." The program includes interviews with public figures who were prominent during that time including Jane Fonda, the late Larry Hagman, Calvin Klein, Jesse Jackson, Michael J. Fox and Nina Blackwood.
Next weekend, Encore will offer "The Big '80s Weekend," a showcase of '80s-era films airing at 8 p.m. April 19-21 with showings of "National Lampoon's Vacation" (8 p.m. April 19), "Valley Girl" (9:40 p.m. April 19), "She's Having a Baby" (4:30 p.m. April 20), "Spaceballs" (6:20 p.m. April 20), "Gremlins" (8 p.m. April 20) and other flicks.
Keep or Cancel? poll
Voting is now underway online in the Post-Gazette's annual Keep or Cancel? poll. You can play TV programmer and vote for the prime-time shows to renew and those you would deep-six if you were a network programming chief.
Vote today at http://old.post-gazette.com/tv/poll/default.asp. Voting closes on April 21.
Tuned In online
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Mad Men," "Boardwalk Empire" and "CSI: NY." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Ready for Love," "Farm Kings," "The Americans," "Suburgatory" and "Spartacus." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about "Mad Men," "Hannibal" and "Da Vinci's Demons." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news. First Published April 12, 2013 4:00 AM