April marks the debut of the miniseries “Fargo” but also the return of some other noteworthy cable series. Leading this group is “Mad Men,” which on Sunday starts its seventh and final season – or at least the first half of it.
Here’s a primer on the returning series. Just don’t expect any details on “Mad Men.” AMC and show creator Matthew Weiner guard those as zealously as Don Draper and colleagues do their pitches for car accounts.
“Mad Men,” 10 p.m. Sunday, AMC: Season 6 ended with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) unraveling the elaborate ruse he calls his life after picking at its threads all season.
In the final scene, Don showed intuitive daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and her two younger brothers the brothel where he grew up. Sally knew nothing of her father’s real past as Dick Whitman. But she knew he was a liar in general, specifically about his affair with a neighbor (Linda Cardellini). Before the big reveal, Sally was ignoring her father and acting out otherwise, prompting Don to want to come clean.
The brothel was in a faded Victorian that resembled the house in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” another story about a guy with mother issues who does not know what to make of the other women in his life.
That ending made way for a Season 7 that finally would force Don to remove all artifice, and by extension provide relief for him and for loyal viewers who have watched him toe the edge for several seasons. But then AMC split the final season into two, seven-episode runs – one starting Sunday, the other in 2015.
Momentum seems lost. But splitting the season might allow Hamm, a six-time Emmy loser who really deserves to win, to enter a 2015 Emmy category that will not include “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston or “True Detective’s” Matthew McConaughey.
“Nurse Jackie,” 9 p.m. Sunday, Showtime. Jackie (Edie Falco) relapsed at the end of last season after a year clean. As Season 6 starts, the once-surly nurse is all smiles, convinced she can function at a high level – she’s even swimming regularly at a gym – while also popping pills. (The gym attendant is her drug dealer, slipping stashes between towels.)
In pairing this show with “Californication” on its Sunday-night schedule, Showtime offers an hourlong block of substance abusers. The difference is that hard-partying “Californication” protagonist Hank (David Duchovny) is not looking for any wagons to jump on. But Jackie has acknowledged her abuse as more than a temporary indiscretion. That takes guts, and makes things real.
Falco’s acting at each stage of Jackie’s struggle has been on point. Same with the relapse. Falco lets us know at Season 6’s start that Jackie possesses at least some awareness that her current, drug-induced happy place is a fool’s paradise.
“Californication,” 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Showtime: Aging bad boy Hank (Duchovny) is back for a seventh and final season. The show has been so repetitive – Hank reunites with the luminous Karen (Natascha McElhone), screws up, goes off on some vision quest with a Dionysian rock star or author, does it all again – that it seems like the 20th season.
Nor is “Californication” a show you miss between seasons. Yet it’s hard not to like if you happen upon it. Duchovny plays the debauched yet bright Hank as self-aware, or at least aware enough to comment thoughtfully on his debauchery while still committing it. Foul-mouthed sprites Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon always entertain as Hank’s agent, Charlie, and Charlie’s on-again, off-again wife.
Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”) guest-stars this season as a TV producer/showrunner (Christo- phuh finally made it in Hollywood!) who hires Hank as a staff writer. Imperioli looks everyone in the eye and plays his character seriously. In doing so, he breaks from the comically heightened style of Duchovny, Handler and Adlon. The effect is invigorating.
“Orphan Black,” 9 p.m. April 19, BBC America: Last year, this small BBC America sci-fi show bore a big talent in young Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany.
She showed extraordinary range in playing seven clones, distinguishing them with accents, bearing and pure talent. Tightly wound soccer mom Alison, for instance, shares little with scientist Cosima beside DNA and being played by Maslany.
Season 2 will start with British grifter Sarah – the main clone, who thought of herself as a person before meeting doppelgangers in Season 1 – trying to find her missing daughter. Shadowing her and all the clones are two factions – the chilly yet mad scientists from an outfit called the Dyad Institute and the highly religious, fully bonkers Prolethians, who see the clones as abominations and want them eliminated.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.