The mysteries of sexual attraction aren't the only enigmatic forces at play in Showtime's intensely intimate new drama The Affair (Sunday, 10/9c), which adopts a provocative he-remembers/she-remembers approach to an extramarital fling during a Long Island summer. By the end of the absorbing first episode (all that Showtime has made available for review in advance of the 10-week season), with the actual affair still in the offing, we're not quite sure who, if anyone, we can believe.
As the story unfolds in parallel flashback, the memories don't quite match up. So who made the first significant eye contact? Who's the provocateur? And perhaps the greatest puzzle is why each is telling this very personal, intimate story to the authorities, in a framing device reminiscent of True Detective. So there are plenty of unanswered questions in the first, hypnotic hour.
Mort Pfefferman's entire life has been an identity crisis. A divorced dad of three grown, though not always grown-up, children, melancholy Mort is truly at ease only when in the heretofore secret guise of his feminine alter ego, Maura. In a flashback from 20 years earlier, Maura laments, "No one's ever seen me except me" — a situation that's about to change as the funky younger Pfeffermans slowly get to know the truth about their trans parent in Amazon's Transparent (get it?), creator Jill Soloway's deeply felt, intensely human comedy. This series (available on Amazon Instant Prime starting Friday) should do for Amazon, reputation-wise, what House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black achieved for Netflix. It's at least their equal, with the feel and tone of...
Julianna Margulies, Alan Cumming
In a sudden, shocking (and heaven be praised, unspoiled) twist, this tremendous fifth season of CBS's The Good Wife has shifted from the dueling-firms spectacle of Alicia-vs-Will to the gut-wrenching reality of Alicia — and everyone else in her universe — grieving Will. Her former lover and boss-turned-rival (a succulent role for Josh Charles, who will be terribly missed) was the victim of a courtroom shooting, which in a savage irony was perpetrated by the vulnerable young client (Hunter Parrish) Will was busily defending. Will died doing what he loved best, you might say with his boots on — although one of his shoes was blown off in the violent melee — and now it's time to mourn.
No one saves face in director Steven Soderbergh's ghoulishly entertaining, opulently produced Behind the Candelabra (Sunday, 9/8c), HBO's grandest, gaudiest and most fascinating movie in quite a long while — probably since last year's Game Change, in which Julianne Moore's uncanny impersonation of Sarah Palin swept the awards the way Michael Douglas is likely to repeat with his equally astonishing transformation into the flamboyant but closeted "Mr. Showmanship" Liberace.
Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles, Christine Baranski
In Sunday's brilliantly entertaining finale to another splendid season of CBS' The Good Wife — we choose to forget that Kalinda's ex ever existed — Denis O'Hare returns as a judge whose sciatica keeps him off the bench, pacing around the courtroom as he presides over a late-night emergency hearing over ballot-box irregularities in the next day's neck-and-neck election for Illinois governor. (Alicia's husband Peter is sweating every single vote.) Like Judge Abernathy, you may find it difficult to stay seated as this episode (9/8c), written by series creators Robert King (who also directed) and Michelle King, takes its many clever twists and turns, specializing in mischievous misdirection and game-changing surprises up to the very last jaw-dropping minute.
Helen Mirren and Al Pacino
When a terrific series is truly on its game, some episodes can feel like absolute perfection. Happened Tuesday with a thrillingly entertaining and pivotal episode of FX's Justified, and the same feeling applies to Sunday's sensational The Good Wife (9/8c, CBS). It has everything: sex, suspense, surprise, humor, emotion — and as usual with this sophisticated standard-bearer for network drama, a dazzling array of guest performances.
Ryan Seacrest, Jenni 'JWoww' Farley
The noise, the crowds, the debauchery. Going out on New Year's Eve isn't everyone's idea of a good time. Fortunately, there's plenty of specials on the small screen to keep the party going (at a reasonable volume, of course) at home. Here's a schedule of what to watch when it comes time to count down to 2013...
There's no comedy series quite like Community, and as is often the case with such an uncompromised original, being this defiantly different comes with a price. And sadly, that price tends to be the sort of cellar-dwelling ratings that would get most shows canceled, if on any other network. Thankfully, NBC can ill afford these days to turn away any show that gets this kind of cult and media buzz, although everyone wishes it were doing better or were programmed in a time period (the old 30 Rock slot currently being wasted on Whitney, maybe?) that might increase its exposure.
Dick Clark's Primetime New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest
Dick Clark's Primetime New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest 2011
Dick Clark reteams with Ryan Seacrest and Fergie to ring in the New Year with hot music acts, including Ke$ha, Taio Cruz, Willow Smith, Train, Jason Derulo, Drake, New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys. Clark and Seacrest are live in Times Square as always, and Jenny McCarthy joins them as a correspondent while Fergie hosts from L.A. The party continues after the prime-time special for two additional shows, one of which includes that famous ball dropping in New York City. — Jennifer Sankowski
Read on for previews of Live From Lincoln Center, Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On, New Year's Eve with Carson Daly, New Year's Eve Live, All American New Year, New Year's Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin and MTV's New Year's Bash 2011.
Tonight's two-hour season finale promises lots of emotional fireworks as the five remaining castaways (Chase, Dan, Fabio, Holly, Sash) are cut down to the three players who will face the jury. But who will they be? Chase, Holly and Sash are in an alliance, which means Fabio needs to win the next two immunity challenges or he's jury bound. As for Dan, he needs to convince one or two of the alliance partners that they would be crazy not to take him to the finals because, frankly, no one is likely to vote for him since he coasted through the game and was never a threat to win anything. Following the season finale, the winner is revealed on the Survivor reunion special as the 20 castaways gather in Los Angeles to discuss the game. — Tim Holland
Read on for previews of Hunger at Home: The Food Crisis in America, Sunday Night Football, Leverage, Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III and BET 30: Moments and Movements.