Winning the battle was only half the story — or, in this case, the season. USA Network's Suits returns Thursday (10/9c) to finish out a second year, its momentum from the crackling first half of the season somewhat stalled by the four-month break. Nothing in the first two new episodes quite matches the tension of the summer run, which was dominated by a suspenseful in-house battle for control of the Pearson Hardman (now minus Hardman) law firm.
But in the wake of the failed coup, there are few happy campers, rivals smell blood in the watercooler, and loyalties continue to be tested in USA's edgiest drama. Mike (Patrick J. Adams), the savant who pretends to be a licensed lawyer, is in especially sorry shape, mourning his beloved grandmother by turning into a promiscuous pothead, alienating his primary ally, the ace paralegal Rachel (Meghan Markle). As his own disillusion leads to self-destructive actions with bruising consequences, Mike is further rattled when assigned to Harvey's (Gabriel Macht) latest client, a rich kid involved in a hit-and-run that triggers traumatic memories of Mike's own parents' death.
Who's having fun these days? Newly promoted senior partner Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman in a career-high role), preening as he takes advantage of his new perk of being able to hire his own associate, with the help of a feisty headhunter (Rachael Harris, always a hoot). But when Louis' new "machine" of an overachiever wonders why she never heard of Mike back at Harvard, the risk of exposure once again becomes an issue. "The gift that keeps on giving," boss Jessica (the awesome Gina Torres) laments to Harvey. "How many more headaches is this kid going to give me?"
Let's put it this way. No more headaches, no more show.
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THE FX FACTOR: With the exception of the remarkable Louie and the hysterical animated Archer (which returns at 10/9c), I tend to be a much bigger fan of FX's distinguished drama slate than of its generally crude comedies. I may be willing to make yet another exception, with Legit (10:30/9:30c), a gamy but genuinely affecting new series that feels more like an independent movie unfolding in half-hour chapters. Australian comedian Jim Jefferies is the scruffily nondescript star — like Louis C.K., playing a version of himself and using his own name — and we first encounter Jim in his adopted home of Los Angeles, going on bawdy riffs that mark him as a self-absorbed misanthrope and a disappointment to his mum back home.
In a bid to go "legit," or at least bolster his character, Jim goes on a crusade to improve the fortunes of his divorced best friend's brother, Billy (the terrific DJ Qualls), who's confined to a hospital bed and wheelchair with advanced Muscular Dystrophy. At 32, Billy has an appetite for life (or at least the desire to get some action) that Jim is more than happy to fulfill, even if it kills the guy. The first episode involves a road trip to a Vegas cathouse, where we soon discover (to Jim's slapstick chagrin) that there's more to Billy than meets the eye. There's also more to Jim than his profane shtick would lead us to believe, though he's not above exploiting Billy's disability for his own selfish gain. This is, after all, a dark comedy.
Their relationship deepens as the series continues, and while I'm not sure there's an actual series in this set-up, for now Legit achieves a legitimately engaging balance between the shockingly grotesque and the genuinely heartfelt.
Archer, meanwhile, is all about the funny, and kicks off its fourth season of deranged spy parody with a hilarious twist on The Bourne Identity, as we discover Archer (the voice of H. Jon Benjamin) in a "fugue state" living a very different existence. No spoilers, but your enjoyment of the gag deepens if you're familiar with the rest of Benjamin's resumé. To snap him out of it, the rest of the ISIS team follows Archer on a posh spa weekend, where they stage a fake KGB raid that, as usual, goes outrageously awry.
Archer and Legit are preceded by back-to-back episodes of Charlie Sheen's Anger Management (9/8c). In case you were wondering if this bargain-basement mediocrity had improved, now that it's churning out 90 episodes to air almost without pause over the next two years, it hasn't.
GEEK CHIC: Revenge is passé. The story of nerds is now one of triumph. "Nerds rule the world," declares co-host Curtis Armstrong (with fellow Revenge of the Nerds star Robert "Bobby" Carradine) in the introduction of TBS' new reality competition King of the Nerds (10/9c), which pits 11 contestants — any of whom would be at home in the Big Bang world of Sheldon Cooper or Amy Farrah Fowler — in a game testing geeky skills and strategy.
There is one clever gimmick — the winner gets to sit upon a "Throne of Games" — but the very-long-hour opener is a tedious affair, half of it devoted to the time-honored tradition of the schoolyard pick, as teams are chosen with one odd nerd left out. "There is nothing nerdier than not getting picked," Armstrong crows. And then without much else happening, it becomes about naming one team the loser and then another process of picking two contestants from that team to participate in a "nerd off," which consists of an outdoor chess game involving oversized props. It's all fairly harmless, but instantly forgettable, and mostly made me miss the cheerful bravado of Syfy's Who Wants to Be a Superhero?
THE QUEEN OF TALK: Oprah Winfrey is back in the spotlight, with a thunderously hyped exclusive sit-down with disgraced athlete Lance Armstrong, airing over two nights as a special edition of OWN's Oprah's Next Chapter (9/8c) that could be subtitled "Tell Us Something We Don't All Know." For Armstrong, opening up to TV's Queen Confessor is a step toward image rehab after the doping scandal, and for Winfrey, it's the latest attempt to put her cable operation on the world's radar. In this case literally, as the interview will be streamed live across the world on Oprah.com.
WHAT ELSE IS ON: Auditions continue on Fox's American Idol (8/7c), which didn't expect to be upstaged so early by a stunt like the Oprah interview. ... Still, the networks get a bit of a break with CBS' hit lineup in repeats. On ABC, there's the next-to-last episode of Last Resort (8/7c), in which efforts to unseat the president could give Marcus an opening to surrender the nuke sub; Grey's Anatomy (9/8c) reveals the results of the settlement in the plane-crash lawsuit, while newly widowed Richard fends off the ever-amorous advances of Dr. Catherine Avery; and Scandal (10:02/9:02c) flashes back to the election-rigging powder keg while the White House reacts to President Fitz's awakening. ... NBC's Parks and Recreationmoves to its new time period (8:30/7:30c) as Ann throws a bachelorette party for Leslie while Chris treats Ben and the boys to a game night. ... On The CW, The Vampire Diaries (8/7c) returns from holiday hibernation with a busy agenda: Rebekah is back in Mystic Falls, Bonnie's dad becomes the town's new acting mayor and starts interfering in her witchy business, and Jeremy continues his training as a hunter. Good times.