with Yvonne Lai
Looking past the vampires and zombies that have invaded popular culture, 2011 proved to be a rich and diverse year for new television dramas - historical, fantasy, science-fiction, crime, comedy, realism; you name the genre, we've seen it excel on the small screen. Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Falling Skies, Boardwalk Empire, The Big C, The Killing and Sherlock are just some of the premiering series that have had us looking forward to more in the new year.
As luck would have it, we don't have to wait long. Treme (HBO Signature, Thursdays at 10pm), set in a post-Katrina New Orleans, is back this week for a sophomore season. Creators David Simon, one of the most skilful storytellers working in television, and Eric Overmyer stay true to the aim - the second season promises to remain an unhurried and nuanced exploration of a city struggling to find its footing after a catastrophe, and in the process rediscovering its deep and tangled roots. And, joy, local music is as central to the story as ever.
The season opens about a year after the hurricane - a sort of 'where are they now?' catch-up with the dozen or so main characters. A few of them have left town, including musician Annie Talarico, who is on tour with a bluegrass band after having left her scruffily cute but drug-addicted boyfriend, and cook Janette Desautel, who is now working in New York for a famous but volatile chef at his highfalutin outfit.
Food writer and travel-show host Anthony Bourdain racks up one of his first screenwriting credits as the co-scripter of this episode. His own experience of New York fine dining comes through in the chef's manic mannerisms and dynamics among cooks in the regimented space of a kitchen.
Back in New Orleans, tension hangs over Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo; The Fighter) and her daughter, Sofia, seven months after the death of husband and father Creighton. Neither seems able to speak about the suicidal nature of his death and Sofia's disdain for her mother is palpable.
Ladonna continues her efforts to keep her Treme bar open, but she is under increasing pressure from her family to close it and move to Baton Rouge, to be with them. Yep, things are taking a long time to look up, but the characters' perseverance feels all the more admirable for the realistically slow pace.
A developer by the name of Nelson Hidalgo blows into town and brings with him a gust of fresh air, with his breezy can-do attitude and ample resources. His reasons for helping to rebuild the town, however, remain unclear. Hidalgo is the newcomer to watch this season.
Fans of The Good Wife (Diva, Thursdays at midnight) will surely be breathing a collective sigh of relief ahead of the premiere of the third season. We'll finally discover where Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies; ER) and her boss, Will Gardner, stand after a hot and heavy evening in a hotel room. Of course, it probably won't be happily ever after for the star-crossed lovers, as the duties of work and family call. We look forward to the obstacle course creators Michelle and Robert King will throw in their way this season.
On the work front, in the opening episode, Florrick defends a Muslim student accused of murdering a Jewish classmate.
Finally, I Married a Mobster (above; Discovery, Fridays at 7pm) adds to the drama with tales (cautionary and otherwise) from women who married into 'the life'. From a love-struck young woman's belief that her husband's 'printing company' is paying for their lavish lifestyle to a doting wife who survives gang war and the loss of a child, the series features real-life accounts of families living on the wrong side of the law.
The series is a bit like a car crash - you know it will be grotesque, but you can't help looking.