New Shows for 2011 (That Might Not Suck)

Episodes looks perfect for Matt LeBlanc.
Episodes looks perfect for Matt LeBlanc.

This is always a rough time of year for TV viewers -- most series are in holiday repeats, leaving you to fend for yourself with Netflix or actually having a conversation with someone -- but it's about to get better. In addition to the slew of returning shows we'll get over the next couple weeks, there are also some new series rolling out that might not be that bad, either. I say "might not be that bad" because it's impossible to know if a show will be any good when all you've got to go on is a trailer and some hype, but still, these look like they'll be worth checking out. (All times Central.)

1. Episodes, Showtime. Premieres Sunday, January 9, at 9 p.m. Plot: Think of it as The Comeback with one more layer of meta-reality (or one fewer, depending on your view). Matt LeBlanc stars as himself, and the premise finds him trying to rehabilitate his image and career in the empty years after Friends by signing on to star in an Americanized version of a hit BBC sitcom. He naturally butts heads with the show's creators, who aren't wild about the network's decision to bring in LeBlanc and tamper with their artistic vision. Potential (1-10): 7. LeBlanc is far funnier and smarter than people give him credit for being, and this project (co-created by Friends creator David Crane) looks perfect for him. It allows him to play his age, joke about his past, and maybe find the resurgence his on-screen persona is pursuing. Plus it's nice to see Showtime making a comedy that's actually funny (looking at you, The Big C).

2. Lights Out, FX. Premieres Tuesday, January 11, at 9 p.m. Plot: Former heavyweight champ Patrick "Lights" Leary (Holt McCallany) loses the belt and walks away from the ring, but he's still got a family to support, which means legally questionable pursuits and a return to fighting are bound to be in the cards. Potential (1-10): 7-8. FX has been cranking out some great dramas in recent years, and Lights Out has the potential to be their next one. It plays right into their wheelhouse of "dangerous man struggles to reconcile desire with responsibility," which applies to Justified, Sons of Anarchy, etc. Executive producer and writer Warren Leight worked on In Treatment, so the psychological warfare should be on display from the get-go. And hey, Wire Alumni Alert: Clark Johnson co-directed the pilot, and the series co-stars Pablo Schreiber and Reg E. Cathey.

3. Onion SportsDome and Onion News Network, Comedy Central and IFC. Premieres Tuesday, January 11, at 9:30 p.m., and Friday, January 21, at 9 p.m. Plot: After distracting you at work for years with articles and videos, the team at The Onion is expanding the media onslaught to TV with a pair of satirical series, one a mockery of modern sports journalism and the other a continuation of the relentless skewering of mainstream news begun in their online property. Potential (1-10): 8. Is there anyone better at this than Onion? Their faux-news clips are so polished, so perfectly pitched, that they blow away the competition. There's no breaking, no winking, just dead-on humor. They've been perfecting their game online, so there's no reason to think they'll falter now. If the ratings aren't there, though, it could be a short ride.

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4. Portlandia, IFC. Premieres Friday, January 21, at 9:30 p.m. Plot: Simple but effective: sketch comedy taking aim at the far-left excesses of Portland, Oregon. Starring Fred Armisen and Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein, the first season will run six episodes. Potential (1-10): 7. Armisen's got the sketch chops, and he and Brownstein have been doing comedy together as Thunderant for a few years now. Plus, Portland's great, but also plenty ripe for satire. In the words of the awesome music video created to promote the show, "Portland is a city where young people go to retire."

5. The Chicago Code, Fox. Premieres Monday, February 7, at 8 p.m. Plot: Cops in Chicago. Created by The Shield's Shawn Ryan. Specific stories will obviously unfold once the show airs, but that's pretty much all you need to know for now. Potential (1-10): 5-6. Ryan is no stranger to hard-hitting police dramas, thanks to The Shield, but Fox isn't going to let him get away with as much as FX did, both in terms of content and ratings. Plus, Fox is always willing to quickly drop the ax on series despite their storytelling potential. It'd be great to get a solid cop show on network air -- NBC's Southland, which has since moved to TNT, was probably the last to try and raise the bar -- so here's hoping this one lives up to its creator's potential.

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