April can no longer be considered the cruelist month because it marks the return of "Game of Thrones."
Of the 52 weeks in a calendar year, only 10 are marked by new episodes of HBO's astonishingly ambitious and consistently amazing adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy epic, but oh, what glory those 10 weeks can hold. Television so vivid with character, mood, setting and mythology that its growing number of fans view it with near religious fervor.
Return, then, for Season 4 to Westeros, a vaguely medieval land seeded still with magic and savagery and so geographically diverse it requires several continents as cinematic stand-ins. There seven noble houses battle and scratch for power and survival, against one another and occasionally among themselves.
Here there be dragons and sadistic boy kings, undead White Walkers and a Wilding army from beyond the pale but also a queen with an army of liberated slaves, a dwarf prince now noble where he was once debauched, and a crippled child capable perhaps of saving all. For winter is coming and the armies that still vie for the Iron Throne are united in the peril of things beyond imagining.
As was true in Season 3, the rich and morally bankrupt Lannisters still control King's Landing, with the sadistic boy-king Joffrey ensconced in the Iron Throne. Having disposed of their most imminent threat — Rob Stark — at the infamous Red Wedding, the Lannisters are as happy as Lannisters get — Jaimie has returned, albeit minus a hand, and Joffrey is soon to wed, creating a seemingly unstoppable alliance with the even wealthier Tyrells. But their loathsome self-congratulations are based at least in part on ignorance. The Starks are nowhere near as extinct as Joffrey and his Machivellian grandfather Tywin seem to think, the Wilding army sides with no king but their own, while the dragons and army of Daenerys Tagaryen grow larger by the day.
It's the best thing to happen to the fantasy epic since "Lord of the Rings" and quite possibly the greatest television show ever made. And if you have never seen it, there's still time. In preparation for the season premiere, HBO is launching a 60-hour marathon. Beginning Friday morning at 9 a.m. Pacific, HBO2 will air all 30 episodes of the series. Twice. HBO, Sundays, 9 p.m.
With this old-fashioned historical action drama about our nation's first spy ring AMC does a tonal about-face, trading in its trademark post-modernist celebration of moral ambiguity for a true blue All American hero or two. Mild-mannered cabbage farmer Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) may secretly sympathize with the Tory cause, but more than year into the American revolution, he's kept his head down and his mouth shut, even as the British Army sets up a garrison in his hometown of Setauket, Long Island. With a wife and baby son to protect and a father trading loudly loyal to the king, Abe assumes the war is almost over anyway, now that Gen. Washington has been driven from New York.
Not so, of course. And soon Abe is recruited by a childhood friend seeing information about the British position in Setauket. And so the first American spy ring is born and with it a new kind of hero.
Less historically detailed than, say, "John Adams" and more educationally subdued than any "History" production, "Turn" has nonetheless the regrettable whiff of both the lecture hall and the bully pulpit. The good guys are very good, and the bad guys (British accents, dressed in red) are horrid. Still, Bell's Abe is a empathetic Everyman, with a feisty proto-feminist counterpart, the stakes are undeniably high and even if we know how this one turns out, its Colonial espionage is undeniably cool. AMC, Sundays, 9 p.m.
"Your Inner Fish"
As he did in his book by the same name, paleontologist Neil Shubin explores and explains human anatomy by examining its widely diverse progenitors. The three-part series, which also includes "Your Inner Reptile" and "Your Inner Monkey," uses all the modern marvels a green screen can muster to bring life to the more traditional hallmarks of science television. Finally, we can see what those first land-seeking amphibians that eventually gave birth to us really looked like. (Not pretty.) PBS, Wednesday, 9 p.m.
If you have never watched this truly fabulous sci fi drama that debuted on BBC America last year, you simply must. It returns in two weeks, which gives you just enough time to catch up. After a bit of a rocky start, this sly, twisty and consistently engaging story features a simply astonishing series of performances by Tatiana Maslany, who plays a half dozen women as they discover one another and that they are clones beset by danger on at least two fronts. Worth watching for the master class in acting alone, "Orphan Black" is an action thriller unafraid to address the big questions, including what exactly makes a person a person.
Watch it now because once Season 2 returns, members of the clone club won't have time to answer your questions. Netflix, any time.