The road of great expectations invariably contains its share of potholes. So it is with SundanceTV's The Red Road (Thursday, 9/8c), a lugubrious six-episode drama that's as overwrought as it is underwhelming, representing a rare misfire for the channel that brought us such outstanding originals as Top of the Lake and Rectify last year.
The story maps out a predictably glum downward spiral for a rural New Jersey lawman (Martin Henderson) who, to protect his family including a rebel daughter (Allie Gonino) and a mentally unstable wife (Julianne Nicholson in a thankless role), is forced to do the bidding of a brutish Native-American ex-con (Jason Momoa, smugly sinister). Red Road's context of cultural, environmental and political conflicts is much more intriguing than anything that happens in the foreground, where the too-familiar story telegraphs its tragic twists with solemn self-importance. Anyone anticipating the next Breaking Bad will have to keep waiting. This is an awfully dull detour.
Want more TV news and reviews? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!
SHIELDS UP! Spears, too. The second season of History's brute-force drama Vikings (10/9c) arrives battle ready — a good thing, considering the brutal Thursday night competition on network and cable. As we re-enter the late eighth century in a tribal Scandanavia, it's brother vs. brother as the new Earl Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) faces his envious, now traitorous, sibling Rollo (Clive Standen) on a field of carnage. "I shall anoint him with blood!" crows Rollo as axes swing, claiming more than a few casualties before it's time to negotiate and sort through the wreckage.
"I am weary and I am bloodsick," laments the visionary Ragnar, who keeps trying to inspire his fellow Vikings to think outside the box of their gory petty conflicts and look westward toward new lands to conquer. But the leader also is besieged on the domestic home front, where his infidelities abroad with a fetching princess spark a revolution from his jealous wife and beloved son. Vikings has a primitive grandeur, with generous helpings of sex and savagery. Missing Spartacus this winter? Give these warriors a look.
HIGH DRAMA: Attention all Pope-ists (as in Olivia): Your patience has paid off, and for the first time since mid-December, a new episode of ABC's Scandal is on (10/9c), picking up in the aftermath of self-righteous VP Sally Langston's messy (as in bloody) situation with her cheating, closeted gay hubby. ... That cliffhanger was so much more memorable than the cornball antics at April's wedding, with the fallout occupying this week's Grey's Anatomy (9/8c, ABC). If it gives us resolution in the Callie-Arizona storyline, as we're promised, than maybe it was worth it.
A familiar name from the Sherlock Holmes canon appears on CBS's Elementary (10/9c), when Holmes' Scotland Yard nemesis Gareth Lestrade (Sean Pertwee) arrives in New York to look into a bombing. ... Michelle Forbes (The Killing) can liven up even the most struggling show. And here she is on Fox's Rake (9/8c) as a new client, bringing new meaning to jury tampering when she's accused of bedding a juror who's sitting on her daughter's trial. ... Tearjerker alert on NBC's Parenthood (10/9c), as Julia turns to her sibs for emotional support during this painful separation from Joel, who we hope gets over it soon. Expect more sparks to fly when Crosby and Jasmine's family moves in with his parents. For what we hope is comic relief, undergrad Drew turns to big sis Amber for advice on the opposite sex, which ought to get her mind off of Ryan at least temporarily.
COMEDY TONIGHT: IFC's blissfully quirky Portlandia (10/9c) opens a fourth season of smartly absurdist shenanigans from Fred Armisen (now moonlighting as Seth Meyers' Late Night bandleader) and Carrie Brownstein, with Kirsten Dunst dropping by in the opening sketch as a house-sitter haunted by a pair of nagging ghosts who can't seem to agree on anything. ... On the night's biggest hit, CBS's The Big Bang Theory (8/7c), Howard gets the opportunity to go back up into space, and Bernadette doesn't know whether to cheer him on or ground him. ... Suburgatory's Cheryl Hines guests on CBS's The Crazy Ones (9:30/8:30c) as a client whose son's Bar Mitzvah provides the setting for playboy Zach (James Wolk) to reunite with the love of his life — who knew he had one? ... More romantic tomfoolery on NBC's sitcoms, as Jeff gives Professor Duncan (John Oliver) tips on how to score with Britta on Community (8/7c), while Leslie and Ben mark their one-year anniversary on Parks and Recreation (8:30/7:30c), the latest occasion for soul-searching gift-giving in Pawnee.