A week's worth of notable TV has been crammed into one very busy night. Let's take it from the top.
Which means, for me, the return of FX's most satisfying drama, Justified (10/9c), for a fourth season of wryly amusing but often shockingly brutal backwoods mayhem. Too cool to trumpet its greatness, this low-key winner, which channels the style and wit of the great Elmore Leonard, quickly reminds us what a bad idea it is to taunt U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) with "Mine's bigger than yours." (They're talking guns, and Raylan is in no mood to mess around, given that his moonlighting gig to snare a reward from a bounty hunter is strictly forbidden by the home office.)
"Your days are more interesting than most," Raylan's bartending squeeze tells him toward the end of next week's episode. And so far, that's true enough, as our hero puzzles the significance of a long-buried secret that implicates his jailbird dad Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), who not so long ago shot a trooper he thought was his own son. (Said secret seems to have something to do with the hapless skydiver who went splat on a suburban street 30 years ago, the season's opening scene.) Meanwhile, a newly arrived snake-handling revival preacher (Joe Mazzello, once upon a time the kid from Jurassic Park, who matriculated through HBO's The Pacific) is rattling Harlan County's criminal underworld, most notably Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who's none too pleased to be told, "People gettin' off drugs, gettin' hooked on Jesus." I have faith this intrigue is heading somewhere good.
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RAISING A GLASS: Three cheers, and a toast with a bottomless goblet, to one of TV's most deliriously entertaining ensembles, as Cougar Town survives ABC's ill treatment and premature cancellation by turning up for a fourth season of wine-soaked merriment on TBS (10/9c), whose "very funny" brand would seem to be a good fit. "Serious as a brain freeze," as one of the cul-de-sac's blithe spirits puts it, Cougar Town is as unrepentantly shallow and silly as ever.
Page 2 of 5 - Married life hasn't done much to improve self-centered Jules (Courteney Cox), the neediest of this soused gang of cut-ups. "I'm great at being fake!" she exults to her shrink (Nicole Sullivan) as Jules flirts with newlywed depression over something Grayson (Josh Hopkins) did - in a dream. Poor Grayson. He'll learn the rules someday. As son Travis muses, "Amazing that I'm even kind of normal." Let us be the judge of that. Better yet, let the rest of the crew be the judge of that. In a later episode, snarky neighbor Ellie (Christa Miller) wonders, "Do you ever get the feeling that something really stupid is about to happen?" On Cougar Town, the answer, happily, is always yes.
NEVER TOO LATE: He's put in the time, his show is infinitely better, sharper and smarter than when it premiered 10 years ago this month, and he's still basking in the afterglow of his recent triumph in Brooklyn (at the height of Hurricane Sandy week) when his idol David Letterman graced his stage. This is Jimmy Kimmel's moment, and ABC is acknowledging the milestone and his momentum by moving Jimmy Kimmel Live forward a half-hour to 11:35/10:35c. (Sorry, Nightline. You've never been the same since Ted Koppel left, anyway.) Which means the upstart is going head-to-head with Letterman and Leno - and Colbert for that matter - and while he's not expected to win, he'll likely boost ABC's young demographics in the time period. (News junkies are advised to see who's on PBS' Charlie Rose.) Kimmel's first scheduled guests in the new time period: Jennifer Aniston and No Doubt.
NATURE AND HISTORY: A treat for armchair travelers, as Discovery and BBC team with the producers of the dazzling Life series for a seven-week exploration of the wonders of Africa (10/9c). You'll know you're not on a theme-park Lion Country Safari anymore by the time the opening set piece unfolds in the Kalahari desert, pitting two giraffes in a head-butting battle for supremacy over life-sustaining trees. This startling encounter took the patient filmmakers four weeks to capture. The series was four years in the making. Surely it's worth a few hours of your time.
Page 3 of 5 - Part dramatic reenactment, part classic documentary, PBS' The Abolitionists (check tvguide.com listings) is a welcome supplement to the soon-to-be-Oscar-nominated Lincoln. The three-part American Experience film, continuing over the next two Wednesdays, profiles five pioneering anti-slavery activists (including Frederick Douglass, played by Law & Order veteran Richard Brooks, and Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe) whose courageous efforts to dismantle the "empire of sin" built on the institution of slavery eventually forced Lincoln to take action.
LAUGHING MATTERS: Lots of guest stars on the Fox and NBC comedy roster. On Fox: Back to the Future's Christopher Lloyd shows up on Raising Hope (8/7c) as a banker who holds the key to clearing Jimmy's poor credit history; Jane Seymour is BJ's mother on Ben and Kate (8:30/7:30c); and a couples' weekend goes sour on New Girl (9/8c) as Jess invites Nick to bring Angie (Olivia Munn) along with her and Sam (David Walton). On NBC: Bob Costas plays himself on Go On (9/8c), inviting Ryan (Matthew Perry) to appear on his new TV show, while White Collar's Matt Bomer, recently cast in Ryan Murphy's The Normal Heart adaptation for HBO, guests on Murphy's The New Normal (9:30/8:30c) as Bryan's ex-boyfriend. ... You won't find a more caustic gathering of sharp-tongued stand-ups than on Comedy Central's The Burn With Jeff Ross, starting a second season (10:30/9:30c) with Ross' fellow roast masters Anthony Jeselnik and Lisa Lampanelli in the house.
Page 4 of 5 - WHAT ELSE IS ON: CBS' top-rated NCIS returns from holiday hiatus (8/7c) with a surprise visit from Ziva's father (Michael Nouri). Is he there for family, or on Mossad business? ... Sheriff Lamb (Dennis Quaid) is kidnapped on CBS' Vegas (10/9c), while Savino (Michael Chiklis) runs afoul of a rival mob. What are the odds that both survive? ... Is the title of NBC's Parenthood about to have special meaning for young Drew (Miles Heizer)? And if so, could he be the catalyst for bringing Sarah (Lauren Graham) and Mark (Jason Ritter) back together? ... Among the most redundant phrases in all of TV terminology is "fake reality," but Spike's The Joe Schmo Show (10/9c), back after a 10-year absence, takes it to a new level. The series is actually an extended comedy prank in which a patsy is led to believe he's taking part in a reality-competition series, but all of the other contestants are actors in on the joke - this time including an actual actor, Lorenzo Lamas, playing himself. (Which may be the best joke of all.) ... And you thought Betty White was overexposed. As NBC's hidden-camera groaner Betty White's Off Their Rockers returns for a new season (8/7c) with back-to-back episodes, she learns about Gangnum Style from Psy and gives Kim Kardashian fashion tips. ... I'd be fibbing if I said I had kept up with the melodramatic high jinks on ABC Family's guilty pleasures Pretty Little Liars (8/7c) and The Lying Game (9/8c). Both are back with new episodes and no doubt plenty of secrets - and lies.
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