Sunday marks the return of three major Showtime series. Our quick overview of what to expect, and what to like ... or not:
Shameless (9 p.m.)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT School's out and summer's in, which almost softens the edges of the Gallagher family's lives. Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is working at Patsy's Pies, while Lip (Jeremy Allen White) returns from college. Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) broke an ankle last season, which provides the perfect opportunity to steal an automated wheelchair. Ian (Cameron Monaghan) has emerged, aggressively, from out of the closet. Debbie (Emma Kenney) helps dad with his new biz. Speaking of which, patriarch Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) also has a new liver, wife and life. But how long before the old ways beckon?
MY SAY What a long, strange trip it's been for "Shameless" -- five seasons, 60 episodes, and everyone is still alive, or at least I think everyone is (it's hard to keep count). And it gets stranger, or -- depending on your definition of justice -- it gets better. Macy is up for a richly deserved Golden Globe Sunday, and don't be too shocked if he wins.
Sunday's fifth-season launch, meanwhile, is pure "Shameless" -- an evisceration of all that's good and decent in the world, and fans will love just about every second. Joan Cusack's Sheila Jackson remains the consummate scene stealer, and the series has even added a new star, or sort of: Frank's poor, new liver. Meanwhile, other core Gallaghers -- Ian, Lip and of course Fiona -- all continue to grow, or regress in their own ways. Plus ca change -- the more things change, the more they stay the same.
House of Lies (10 p.m.)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Management consultant Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) has gone into the desert on some sort of spiritual koan quest, but that doesn't last. Not the spiritual sort, Marty is back in charge, trying to restart his company, deal with difficult clients and difficult prospective ones (Demetri Martin joins up, actually playing both roles). Meanwhile, Marty's associate, Jeannie Van Der Hooven (Kristen Bell, and very pregnant Sunday), has to explore her options after last season's end, with the FBI closing in on Kaan & Associates.
MY SAY It's perhaps not the best idea to watch "Shameless" and "House of Lies" back to back lest your brain fragment into tiny non-assembable pieces (which is what I am currently dealing with). One family-group-dysfunction-grope followed by an unregenerate comedy-cum-who-knows-what? That's strictly your call. But "Lies" very much remains a taste acquired, and Sunday's episode suggests why more viewers haven't. The episode does resolve what happened to Marty after (or was it before?) his desert sojourn in both a clever and baffling way. That's classic "Lies" -- inconsistent with a tone that's jagged and only intermittently funny.
Episodes (10:30 p.m.)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Just when they thought they were out ... come on, you know what happens next: British comedy writers Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) Lincoln had hoped their ill-fated Hollywood career was over with their show, "Pucks," finally canceled, when the call comes in. It has been renewed for six additional episodes! They are furious that they can't stay fired off this lousy show, and the same with their star, Matt LeBlanc, who has another setback Sunday.
MY SAY "Episodes" remains funny -- occasionally, very much so -- after all these years (it's beginning its fourth season), so why has everyone forgotten about it except for Showtime? Maybe not everyone: LeBlanc has received multiple Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, all deserved. But what about Mangan and Greig, whose characters remain perfectly, hilariously, beset by that terrible Hollywood contagion: Self-loathing co-mingled with self-preservation. I, for one, am glad "Pucks" is back, and "Episodes," too.