The typical January relaunch of the television season takes on new significance this year, for two reasons: first, the fall season was an utter disaster; and second, several shows are returning after a longer than usual time away. Four prominent series airing their season premieres this month aired no new episodes in 2008 due to disruption caused by the Writers Guild strike. Here's a partial list of shows that are coming back in January. I guess I should mention that Hole in the Wall is also returning.
Nip/Tuck (returns January 6): Where we've been: Part-time actor Sean was stabbed by his bonkers ex-agent Colleen (Sharon Gless). Where we're heading: They're calling this Part Two of Season Five rather than a brand new season, even though we haven't had a new episode since February. Assuming Sean lives, we're sure to get more crazy patients and girlfriends, and more plot lines that you can't quite believe made it onto commercial television.
Scrubs (January 6): Where we've been: J.D. showed some signs of growing up at last, and Dr. Kelso was eased into retirement. Oh yeah: And we used to watch this show on NBC. Where we're heading: ABC picked up Scrubs for one more season--though there are even some doubts about that now, as the series will introduce several new interns who might serve as a new focus if ABC decides to keep it going. Courteney Cox will guest star for several episodes as the new chief of medicine.
Damages (January 7): Where we've been: Ellen (Rose Byrne) realized that mentor Patty (Glenn Close) had wanted her killed, leading Ellen to agree to work against Patty undercover. Where we're heading: Damages may be the latest show that had only fair ratings during its debut season and may have lost critical momentum due to the writers' strike (it's been gone since October 2007). But if it doesn't attract more viewers, it won't be for lack of acting chops. Two Oscar winners are now part of the cast: Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt. Throw in Timothy Olyphant, Ted Danson, and Emmy winner Zeljko Ivanek, and this series has a better cast than all but a handful of recent films, let alone series.
24 (January 11): Where we've been: Since this show has been gone since May 2007 (except for the 24: Redemption movie), you may not remember, or have tried hard to forget, that Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) discovered that everyone in his family really sucked. And Chloe got pregnant, which threatens to make 24 even more of a sitcom than it has already become. Where we're heading: The biggest change in the show's history involves the end of the utterly useless CTU, as the focus now shifts to Washington. There are the usual complement of new cast members, and the surprising return of one old cast member, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), who has apparently made a full recovery from having been killed two seasons ago.
American Idol (January 13): Where we left off: David Cook survived some really bad hair and a few million teen girls crazy about that other David to win Season Seven. Where we're heading: The biggest changes are a fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi, who will hopefully provide some coherence, or at the very least some new cliches. The system by which semifinalists are reduced to a final twelve has been revamped, and we have been promised less emphasis on bad auditioners.
Battlestar Galactica (January 16): Where we left off: They finally made it to Earth, where it looks like those humans made a real mess of things. The four secret Cylons came forward. Where we're heading: As they told us all last spring, "one will be revealed," and speculation over who the last Cylon is has if anything become even more heated. The shared fate of humankind and Cylonkind figures to be the key lesson we draw, along with gratitude that the story will be continuing, kinda, with the Caprica prequel.
Big Love (January 18): Where we've been: Remember, way back in the summer of 2007 when we last got a new episode? The Henricksons' status as polygamists is no longer a neighborhood secret, and Roman Grant has more enemies than he realizes. Where we're heading: Bill has more problems with his oldest children, the badly confused Ben and the edging-towards-open-rebellion Sarah. And I suppose Margene, revealed to be pregnant over two years ago, might have her baby at some point.
Flight of the Conchords (January 18): Where we left off: It's not really that kind of program. Where we're heading: There has been a little concern over whether Bret and Jemaine can come up with as many memorable songs as we heard in the first season, given that they had a whole career to write the first group of tunes but a little more than a year to write the second group.
The L Word (January 18): Where we left off: Jenny (Mia Kirshner) had a bad day, as a movie was stolen out from under her, and her closest friend Shane was getting it on with her new girlfriend, Niki. Where we're heading: And things get even worse for Jenny, as she is murdered to kick off the final season (it's not a spoiler if even Showtime is talking about it). Kate French joins the main cast as the still-closeted Niki, and Marlee Matlin (thank God) is out. Last but not least, Max is working on a beard.
Lost (January 21): Where we've been: The Oceanic Six left the island, which was then disappeared by Ben. The flash forwards reveal Locke (not one of the Six) to be dead, unmourned, and known as Jeremy Bentham. Where we're heading: They have to go back! How all of the Oceanic Six are persuaded to do that will be a major plot point. And we will find out what happened to the island and its remaining inhabitants. How does one "move" an island with a big wheel, anyway?