Guilty pleasures

This is usually a quiet week in TV-land, with holiday specials, football games and classic movies rolling out so that folks who work on series can get some downtime, too. But come the first week in January, continuing series return with a vengeance, and we say, Bring it on.

Of course, virtually everyone is primed for Season 3 of PBS’ “Downton Abbey” (beginning 9 p.m. Jan. 6, Thirteen-WNET), which doesn’t disappoint. As the series returns, the family, upstairs and down, is primed for the wedding of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and her stalwart fiancé (and Downton heir), cousin Matthew (Dan Stevens). It’s an event that introduces viewers to her rich American grandmother (Shirley Maclaine), a woman with no shortage of opinions. (Is there any other kind at Downton?) Viewers, however, will have little time to savor the nuptials. Disappointment is afoot, followed all too closely by tragedy. No spoiler alerts here, but brace yourselves, Dowtonians, and get out the hankies: A major character dies, and it is one of the most moving things I’ve seen on the tube in quite a while.

If you’ve missed the series, well, get cracking:  Seasons 1 and 2 are on DVD. You have a lot to catch up on but the time will fly.  This rich character study of an aristocratic family struggling to make sense of a changing England in the early 20th century is as addictive as potato chips.

Farther down the food chain is some American fare, perhaps not as classy but still mighty tasty. “Vegas” (10 p.m. Tuesdays, CBS) has it all – mobsters, showgirls, cowboy lawmen and an irresistible 1960s setting, complete with period soundtrack. Plus, a Romeo and Juliet subplot involving a mob princess and one of the lawmen and steely performances by Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis as the sheriff and his chief nemesis.

“Nashville” (10 p.m. Wednesdays, returning Jan. 9, ABC) has throbbing vocals and throbbing loins. Connie Britton and Hayden Panettierre head an excellent cast in a story of damaged hearts in the country music biz. I particularly like the subplot involving Panetierre’s bad-girl superstar Juliette and her noble quarterback fiancé, obviously modeled on Tim Tebow. Hey, how many times do you get to see a woman propose to a man?

Fill out your guilty pleasure card with “Scandal” (10 p.m. Thursdays, returning Jan. 10, ABC). Everyone is over the top here in this story of a Washington D.C. fixer (a high-voltage Kerry Washington), who’s the secret mistress of the president (Tony Goldwyn at his most morally ambiguous). Said prez has just been shot. Will he survive? Will the fixer have to cozy up to the power-mad acting prez (Kate Burton)? Is it possible that there’s really this much sex in Washington? No wonder nothing ever gets done.

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