What’s Coming Up On Cable This Fall

The positive thing about cable networks is that they don’t believe in one “TV season;” shows can premiere at pretty much any time of year. But that presents a problem: we know that most new and returning shows on the Big Four Plus The CW arrive next week or in the days just before and after, but figuring out when cable series are premiering takes a little digging.

So we’re here to help, with this guide to premieres of series on cable channels in the coming weeks. The first five shows listed here in order of their premiere dates are brand new:

Homeland (Showtime, October 2):  24 was often accused of making the war on terror look like a simple matter of just torturing the bad guys, but this series from onetime 24 producer Howard Gordon tells a more complicated story: a CIA analyst (Claire Danes) comes to suspect that a prisoner of war returning from Iraq (Damian Lewis – shrewd casting of the most prominent figure from Band of Brothers) may be a traitor. Danes fits in with the Showtime trend of programs starring actresses who haven’t always been well served by Hollywood, but there aren’t going to be many laughs here.

American Horror Story (FX, October 5): If you watched Louie this summer, you couldn’t possibly have missed the omnipresent ads for this. The product of Glee producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, it concerns a couple (Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton), their teenage daughter, and the weird happenings in the strange old house they just bought. With Nip/Tuck, we saw just what Murphy is capable of without the restraints of Fox, so expect plenty of sex and violence, and for various plots to be running off the rails by the end of October.

Enlightened (HBO, October 10): HBO hasn’t had much success with its non-Sunday shows – something about weeknights must signal “not as good” to audiences – but there’s decent early buzz for this one, which stars Laura Dern as a former executive who goes crazy after a downsizing, heads off to rehab, and returns with a new personality that others can’t figure out. Luke Wilson and Diane Ladd (Dern’s mother) also star; two-time unsuccessful Amazing Race contestant Mike White is the executive producer.

Boss (Starz, October 21): At first glance, it’s difficult to imagine Kelsey Grammer starring as the ruthless mayor of Chicago, especially after America has heard his ex-wife discussing how she used to shave his back, among other bodily zones. Grammer portrays Tom Kane, who must continue to wield power against ambitious rivals even as he secretly battles a degenerative disease. We can hope this will be better than it sounds, but the track record of Starz isn’t a plus, and buying Frasier Crane as a tough guy, even an aging one, could be impossible.

Hell on Wheels (AMC, November 6): AMC goes back to the past, but Mad Men this ain’t: set in the post-Civil War days, it follows a former Confederate soldier (Anson Mount) who helps to build the transcontinental railroad at the same time he searches for the Union soldiers who murdered his wife. Mount doesn’t seem much like a series lead, and reaction from those who have seen the pilot was surprisingly downbeat, considering this is AMC. It would be something if the bad guys here were also the same ones who killed Rosie Larsen. Two birds with one stone!

Cable series returning this fall, in order of their season premieres (shows whose premiere dates have not yet been announced, like the Texas version of Top Chef and Project Runway All Stars, are not listed):

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, September 15): This is now one of the longest-running comedies on television, a stirring tribute to the bad taste of the American people. This year’s very special health crisis storyline: Mac (Rob McElhenney) has gotten fat.

Boardwalk Empire (HBO, September 25): The year is 1921, and Prohibition is still in force everywhere except (apparently) Atlantic City. Let’s hope they can come up with a way to keep giving us the occasional scene with Al Capone, and that the pregnancy of Paz de la Huerta’s character keeps her offscreen for as long as possible.

Dexter (Showtime, October 2): Edward James Olmos is the big guest star of Season 6, but will he be the “big bad?” And how many bodies can turn up around Miami without someone seriously questioning the competence of this homicide unit?

Hung (HBO, October 2): There’s a new gigolo in town, and he’s a good deal younger than Ray (Thomas Jane). Is a second, er, downsizing ahead for our hero? I think Hung is actually more effective when it takes Ray’s middle-aged woes seriously compared to when it’s just a sex comedy, but it remains one of the more underrated pleasures on cable.

The League (FX, October 6): The producers had an alternate storyline set up for the third season in case the NFL lockout was not settled, which would have made a show about fantasy football geeks problematic. But since the games have begun, look forward to more amusement with this bizarre little subculture.

Bored to Death (HBO, October 10): The show that gave us Ted Danson (surprising) and Zach Galifianakis (not so much) as marijuana fiends is back for a third season. This series is much more interesting than any show about an unsuccessful writer ought to be.

Psych (USA, October 12): There’s not much to say about this that you couldn’t say about all of USA’s not-too-dramatic dramas, but it’s a well-done example of the form. And since I’ve made a visit to Santa Barbara since the last season aired, I can now watch with new interest.

Work of Art (Bravo, October 12): Bravo gave this show a second season despite so-so ratings, probably because the folks who watch it aren’t easy to reach on television any other way. Expect more of the antics we tend to associate with the stable, modest sorts behind the contemporary art scene.

The Walking Dead (AMC, October 16): Blood-drenched corpses litter the landscape – and that’s just among the staff of the show! The first brief season set an intriguing tone and drew enormous ratings, but fans will be on the lookout for issues stemming from AMC’s curious decision to run off showrunner Frank Darabont, and cut financial corners with its most popular show.