Things get awfully bloody on Friday with the explosive first-season finale of Cinemax's violent noir Banshee (10/9c), in which shootouts and long-simmering feuds leave such a gory trail that it almost puts to shame a new episode of Starz' reliably visceral Spartacus: War of the Damned (9/8c).
"I must admit, you have an admirable knack for survival," understates the lethal gangster Rabbit (Ben Cross) to his prey, Banshee's faux sheriff/born criminal Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), during a grueling showdown triggered by Rabbit's kidnapping of his own unsuspecting grandson. Hood, the hood-turned-hero, defies the intrusions of the nosy FBI and the concerns of his own clueless police force, putting himself in Rabbit's snare to see justice done. Before the season concludes with a succession of gnarly twists setting up year two, the body count is remarkably (perhaps ridiculously) high for such a small Pennsylvania town.
War is also hell for the slave army on Spartacus, trapped on a mountain ridge, freezing and starving while the Romans plot their next move under the steely Crassus. "Why pause short of blood?" howls Spartacus' wild-eyed sidekick Crixus, who'd rather embrace "glorious death" in a full-on battle than risk a Roman sword in the back should his leader's more stealthy gambits fail. While the former gladiators come to blows — such an excitable bunch of brutes they can be — Crassus is dealing with deceptions and rivalries within his own camp, with ego and hubris driving the conflict between his ambitious son Tiberius and the great Caesar, who warns the boy: "Many a giant has tumbled to the afterlife, believing himself too big to fall."
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THE FRIDAY GUIDE: The pursuit of power is also a primary theme of the Showtime documentary The World According to Dick Cheney (9/8c), which one enters at one's own risk. R.J. Cutler's candid interview with the polarizing former vice president isn't intended to win over his critics. "If you want to be loved, go be a movie star," he declares, also stating, "I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my faults." Duly noted. ... Disney star Selena Gomez returns to the whimsical world of Wizards of Waverly Place, doing double duty as exec producer/star as well as playing evil and good doppelganger versions of her magical character in The Wizards Return: Alex vs. Alex (8/7c). ... Another family favorite, Bindi Irwin, is back as Nim, the young preservationist dedicated to saving her island and its wildlife from developers, in Hallmark Channel's Return to Nim's Island (8/7c). ... Blue-collar comic Ron White leads a platoon of stand-ups honoring the Armed Forces Federation in CMT Presents Ron White's Vegas Salute to the Troops (10/9c).
NO MORE Q-TIPS! After last week's harrowing episode of HBO's Girls, in which the neurotic Hannah damaged her ear with a Q-Tip (I'm not sure whose scream was more bloodcurdling: hers or mine) and her unstable ex Adam reverted to barbaric type in a degrading sexual interlude with his bewildered and grossed-out new girlfriend, we're almost afraid to watch the second-season finale (9/8c) of this raw, remarkable dark comedy. Cowritten by Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham and directed by Dunham, the episode picks up with Hannah having fumbled her deadline for the e-book so badly that she now has to write the whole thing in a day. (Any writer will know this sort of nightmare.) There are also potential new humiliations in the Marnie-Charlie and Ray-Shoshonna relationships, and at this point, it's hard to know whether to cover one's eyes or (lately) ears.
MARCH MADNESS: For many, the big news on Sunday — possibly requiring a momentary respite from St. Patrick's Day celebrations — will be the announcement of the pairings of teams in CBS' live broadcast of the NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show (6/5c). While you're busy filling out your brackets, analysis is available afterward with ESPN's two-hour Bracketology (7/6c).
In an emotional bonanza for college hoops fans, ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary film series looks back 30 years to one of the great Cinderella-team comeback stories in Survive and Advance (9/8c), a reflection by surviving team members of the championship North Carolina State Wolfpack (including team captain Dereck Whittenburg), triumphantly led by the legendary Jim Valvano. ... You probably don't need to be a Wildcats fan to enjoy Turner Sports' documentary Bluegrass Kingdom: The Gospel of Kentucky Basketball (8/7c, truTV), celebrating the history and legacy of the University of Kentucky's men's basketball program.
JUST PLAIN MADNESS: "This is sick," Andrea laments upon realizing the depth of the Governor's vendetta against her friends, as the focus of this week's The Walking Dead (9/8c, AMC) turns almost entirely to Woodbury and its residents, several of whom are waking up to the reality that they're following a madman who's worse for humankind than your average zombie. Should they warn Rick and his gang back at the prison? Can they? What transpires is another exercise in classic suspense, exposing enough rifts in the town's hierarchy that it may never be the same.
THE SUNDAY GUIDE: History's ratings blockbuster The Bible (8/7c) moves into the New Testament with the birth of Jesus and his baptism by John. ... On History's Vikings (10/9c), which might as well be called "Plunderers of Anarchy," the savages return from their monastery raid, with slaves and spoils so plentiful the greedy Earl can't deny their request to go on another raid. This time, Ragnar's "shield maiden" wife Lagertha isn't about to be left behind and miss all the fun. ... It's Double U-Turn time on CBS' The Amazing Race (8/7c), as the teams head to Hanoi, Vietnam. ... John Shea returns to CBS' The Good Wife (9/8c) as Cary's distant dad, bringing the firm new business. It's about time young Cary got some good news — unless this isn't.
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