PASADENA, Calif. -- Just a few years into its original scripted drama effort and Cinemax is making real strides. "Strike Back" has a loyal following, fall's "Hunted" received decent reviews, and the pay cable channel's latest, "Banshee" (10 p.m. Friday), gets off to a strong start, introducing the fully realized world of Banshee, Pa.
From producers whose past work includes "True Blood" and "House," "Banshee" begins when an ex-con (Antony Starr, who looks like a cross between Scott Speedman and the late Andy Whitfield) is paroled and assumes the identity of Lucas Hood, the new sheriff of Banshee, whom no one in town has yet seen. This is the show's most egregious stretch -- the town leaders hired a sheriff without flying him in for an interview or at least interviewing him via Skype? What follows entertains enough that it's a forgivable lapse in credibility.
Hood is in Banshee to see his former partner in crime, Carrie (Ivana Milicevic), who is now married to the town district attorney. Hood befriends a bartender (Frankie Faison, "The Wire"), meets the town crime boss, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), and has a series of conversations with a wise-cracking cross-dresser who knows about Hood's criminal past. And that's an abbreviated list of the characters who populate "Banshee."
The show will also introduce an Amish community, Ukrainian gangsters and neo-Nazi skinheads.
As with "Strike Back," "Banhsee" isn't afraid of violence, gore or nudity, although it seems less prominent. What really distinguishes Cinemax's latest effort is how all the pieces of the town fit together. The show often lapses into flashbacks of Hood and Carrie in their criminal past -- and there's a Big Bad named Rabbit Ben Cross) who's out to get them for double-crossing him -- but it's the characters of Banshee and their labyrinth of relationships that make the show an engrossing, entertaining portrait of a fictional small town.
Getting 'Justified' on FX
Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is back on the beat in the fourth season of "Justified," which began Tuesday night on the network.
Ratings were strong, with the show marking its second most-watched episode ever in total viewers (behind only the series premiere).
Unlike past seasons where an outside force came into Harlan County, Kentucky, to be Raylan's primary adversary, this year's story is more of a mystery that ties into Raylan's past and his father.
"Justified" executive producer Graham Yost said the show's writers stumbled upon a real-life story involving a dead parachutist whose body was found carrying thousands in cash and cocaine that producers used as a jumping-off point for their own plot.
"We thought that would be a fun thing to try this year rather than doing just another big bad," Mr. Yost said.
Early episodes will be more stand-alone, but by the fifth episode the story will be all about the mystery, which gets solved in the ninth episode.
"But then there are problems that come from the solving of it, and that plays out for the rest of the season," Mr. Yost said.
Co-star Walton Goggins, who plays Boyd Crowder, said he was surprised by a line of dialogue he speaks to Raylan this season: "I don't like you." But Mr. Olyphant was not surprised by this.
"I never thought they were friends," Mr. Olyphant said, "in that we never shot a scene where one said, 'Dude, let's have drinks.' I'd never seen that scene, so I just assumed they're not friends."
The characters will be separated for the first few episodes, but they will get scenes together deeper into the season.
Comic Patton Oswalt joins the cast this season in a recurring role as a cop wannabe, but past series regular Natalie Zea, who plays the mother of Raylan's unborn child, is now a series regular over on Fox's "The Following."
Mr. Yost said Ms. Zea will be allowed to film a few episodes for "Justified," so expect her character to return. Her absence for most of the season gives the writers the chance to make Raylan more of a ladies' man.
A new season of "Arrested Development" will debut on Netflix in May, and Pittsburgh-set "Hemlock Grove," which was filmed in Toronto, debuts April 19. ... Justin Bieber will be both host and musical guest on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" on Feb. 9. ... The first episode of ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to air at 11:35 p.m. this week beat CBS's "Late Show With David Letterman" in total viewers and was neck-in-neck with NBC's "Tonight Show With Jay Leno." ... FX will air 45 new episodes a year of "Anger Management" (9 p.m. Thursday starting Jan. 17) for the next two years. ... NBC has renewed daytime soap "Days of Our Lives" through September 2014. ... "Cougar Town" debuted Tuesday on TBS to so-so ratings, drawing 2.2 million viewers. "Sullivan & Son" last summer drew 2.5 million viewers and TBS's "Men at Work" had an audience of 2.6 million viewers.
On the web
Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.
A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or email@example.com.