When Fox president Kevin Reilly declared pilot season dead at a TV press tour in January, it was just confirmation of a recent trend that will define this year's TV landscape: A traditional network development season that churns out 20-some-episode shows is becoming a thing of the past.
That's especially true this month, when a slew of buzzy shows with shorter runs premiere way outside the typical fall-winter TV cycle. Here's a look at some of our must-watch picks:
Game of Thrones
HBO, premiered April 6
Just like Daenerys' dragons, Game of Thrones gets bigger every year. The HBO juggernaut now in its fourth season nearly broke the Internet during last year's shocking Red Wedding episode. (Jack Gleeson, left, survived.) It's also become one of HBO's most-watched series, second only to The Sopranos. (The April 6 premiere had 6.6 million viewers, by far GoT's highest-rated episode ever.) The fantasy epic based on George R.R. Martin's books promises this season will be its darkest yet, and most expensive: With an HBO budget increase, each Thrones episode will cost around $6 million.
HBO, premiered April 6
This new comedy is the latest from Mike Judge, the expert observer of all things mundane behind Office Space, Beavis and Butt-Head, and King of the Hill. Silicon Valley follows young programmers (Kumail Nanjiani, Freaks and Geeks' Martin Starr, Thomas Middleditch, Zach Woods, T.J. Miller) who start their own company in the California tech hot spot. Judge actually used to work in Silicon Valley, so expect sharp insights into the startup geek culture.
FX, premieres 10 p.m. Tuesday
Add this to the list of sophisticated, adult-minded dramas on FX. The dark comedy, a loose adaptation of the Coen brothers' 1996 movie, debuts its 10-episode first season as a miniseries of sorts; next season it will reboot with a new story. This first iteration stars Billy Bob Thornton (left), Martin Freeman (Sherlock) and a bunch of others you'll instantly recognize (yes, that is Saul from Breaking Bad) as heavily accented residents of a small Minnesota town (though, like the movie, the action occasionally crosses the North Dakota border into Fargo). The show (which Joel and Ethan Coen are executive producing) expertly recreates the movie's setting; it's a study in contrasts between persistent dread and a friendly don't-ya-know vibe. Add in terrific acting, suspenseful writing and inventive set pieces, and Fargo the TV series more than stands on its own.
BBC America, premieres 9 p.m. Saturday
Star Tatiana Maslany's character-hopping performance in this high-energy sci-fi series generated lots of buzz long after Orphan Black's first, modestly rated season ended in June 2013. Because of that, the show is entering a second season more highly anticipated. Maslany's performance is definitely the best thing about this Canadian-set series — it's only the second original show BBC America has ever produced — but it also managed in one season to create a sharply drawn world with intricate plot twists that left us hungry for more.
FX, premieres 10 p.m. May 5
Okay, this doesn't premiere until May, but it's such a big deal we had to include it. Comedian Louis C.K.'s Emmy-winning show is back to reclaim its place as one of the best things on TV after a nearly two-year hiatus. (Because when a genius like Louis C.K. — the show's creator-producer-director-star — says he needs more time to make this season better than the last, you give it to him.) The genre-defying show followed C.K.'s New York City schlub to some surprising places in its third season. The result? A moving meditation on life that somehow managed to be beautiful, melancholy and hilarious. Can't wait to see how he's topped himself.
Michelle Stark, Times Staff Writer