One year after the pandemic shut down the world, television finally has a heartbeat.
A pretty strong one, and read on for the proof.
While production resumed late summer, COVID production protocols have remained in place, delaying the return of many established series until later this year or next.
Nevertheless, surprises, pleasures and binges await:
Amazon Prime's adaptation of Colson Whitehead's groundbreaking novel, "The Underground Railroad," arrives in May. "Law & Order's" newest spinoff launches at the beginning of April while Kate Winslet's return to TV after a decade's absence (HBO's "Mare of Easttown") arrives in the middle.
There are big, sprawling docs on big, sprawling topics, like this Sunday's "Q: Into the Storm," while this April the sun also rises on Ken Burns' massive overview of Ernest Hemingway. There are a handful of compelling reality series on the horizon, and a few new sitcoms too. Imports — notably British, as usual — abound.
Expect a little something for everyone, even if a few treasures ("Better Call Saul," "Atlanta,' "Succession") remain out of sight for now. In the meantime, check out these other diversions:
GENIUS: ARETHA (NatGeo, 9 p.m.)
"Aretha" was scheduled to air last May — two years after Aretha Franklin's death — but rolls out Sunday instead, over four consecutive nights, two episodes per night. Cynthia Erivo ("Harriet") plays "'Re" (as she's affectionately known by family and friends), and sings her too. Erivo, by the way, has a spectacular voice. (This will also stream on Hulu the day after.)
THE GLOAMING (Starz, 9)
This eight-parter — set in and around Hobart, Tasmania — is about an "unorthodox" cop, Molly McGee (Emma Booth, "Once Upon a Time"), who leads a local murder investigation.
Q: INTO THE STORM (HBO, 9)
Who was "Q," the mysterious (and anonymous) imageboard presence who dropped occasional predictions about a "coming storm" and former President Donald Trump's return to the White House (and was also implicated in the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol)? This six-parter — two hours on Sunday — wants to find out, and almost certainly does. Filmmaker Cullen Hoback (2013's "Terms and Conditions May Apply'') spent years on a trail that took him from South Africa to the Philippines and Japan.
DEMI LOVATO: DANCING WITH THE DEVIL (YouTube)
On July 24, 2018, Lovato was rushed to the hospital for an opioid overdose. This four-parter is the story behind her relapse, and so much more. She nearly died that day but instead has endured many health issues, including brain damage.
WHITSTABLE PEARL (Acorn)
Dropping on this mostly-all-British streamer, this is the service's big spring series, in large part because it's based on the novel series by Julie Wassmer, renowned in the UK as longtime writer of hit soap series, "Eastenders." About a restaurateur (Kerry Godliman) who sets up a detective agency in the seaside town of Whitstable.
FAST-FORWARD (WNET/13, 10)
Under the heading, Well This is Certainly Different, Rosario Dawson narrates a film about four millennials who age — not literally, but with the help of makeup and something called an "aging empathy suit" — so they can meet their future selves.
SUPERSTORE (NBC/4, 8)
"Superstore" arrived quietly back in 2015 and departs quietly. (Star and lead, America Ferrera, in fact, is already gone — she departed by the end of the 5th season, but she'll show up for the finale.) Nevertheless, those who love "Superstore" really love "Superstore." This is the fond farewell, in an hour, no less.
THE MIGHTY DUCKS: GAME CHANGERS (Disney +)
Of course you remember that lovable kids' hockey team full of lovable losers led by Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) from the early '90s. In case you don't, the ten-parter with Estevez reprising his role arrives Friday. ("Gilmore Girls'" Lauren Graham also stars.)
THE IRREGULARS (Netflix)
The "irregulars" are some teens in Victorian England who help solve the crimes that Sherlock Holmes gets credit for — and if Arthur Conan Doyle knew about this latest Holmesian manifestation he'd likely roll over in his you-know-what. Nevertheless, it does sound like fun, with Henry Lloyd Hughes ("Harry Potter," "Killing Eve") as Holmes.
INVINCIBLE (Amazon Prime)
Animation was not as severely impacted as live action by the pandemic, so — yes — that means lots of animated series arriving this spring. This one is based on the Robert Kirkman comic book series about a teen (voiced by Steven Yeun) and his super-powerful dad (J.K. Simmons).
TINA (HBO, 8)
This documentary begins with a look back to the early '80s when Tina Turner, nee Anna Mae Bullock, told People magazine — in explicit detail — how she was physically beaten and mentally tortured by Ike Turner, her own personal Svengali who even gave her her name (based, we are told here, on comic book hero Sheena Queen of the Jungle). . This is a full-on doc with lots of interviews and clips of one of the most dynamic performers in music history.
RACE TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (NatGeo, 10)
Good title, but a little misleading. In fact, this seven-parter (from among others ``Amazing Race's" Bertram van Munster) goes nowhere near the center, but competitors do begin their own amazing race from remote parts of the globe, as they converge on the $1 million prize.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: THE BLINDING OF ISAAC WOODARD
Isaac Woodard Jr., born 1919 in South Carolina, had been a sergeant in the U.S. Army who had served in the Pacific Theater and was discharged in Atlanta in early 1946. While traveling on a bus home to North Carolina, he was forcibly removed by police and later beaten until he was blind. His blinding galvanized the early Civil Rights movement and President Harry Truman, too. Woodard — who died in 1992 — is buried in Calverton National Cemetery.
THE LAST CRUISE (HBO, 9)
This first-person account is about the nightmare voyage in February 2020 of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with more than 700 passengers infected with COVID. At the time, that represented more than half of all the cases in the world outside of China.
THE UNITED STATES OF AL (CBS/2, 9:30)
The latest from Chuck Lorre ("The Big Bang Theory') is about Riley (Parker Young, "Arrow"), an Afghanistan vet, who returns home to Ohio, and Al (Adhir Kalyan, "Rules of Engagement") who was the interpreter with his unit, who has also moved to the States.
LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME (NBC/4, 10)
This latest spinoff from the mothership answers one lingering question — whatever did happen to Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) who left "L & O: SVU" at the beginning of season 13 without so much as an explanation? In fact, the NYPD detective and former Marine wasn't much for explanations anyway. After a brutal shootout, he had been placed on administrative leave, then told to deal with his problems. He quit instead. Now back, Elliot is tapped to run the NYPD's new organized crime task force. He's got sturdy help, including a pair of other veterans on the force (Tamara Taylor, "Bones" and Dylan McDermott, "The Practice"). The launch starts as a crossover, with "SVU" at 9. (Some scenes will and already have been filmed at Long Island locales.)
NOTORIOUS QUEENS (ALLBLK).
The streamer's big spring premiere — an unscripted series starring, among others, Meghan James of "Bad Girls Club."
TOP CHEF: PORTLAND (Bravo, 8)
The 18th season has a cheftestant from Long Island: Byron Gomez originally from Central Islip, now of Aspen, Colorado.
HYSTERICAL (FX, 9)
A behind-the-scenes look at some famous and semifamous female comedians, including Iliza Shlesinger, Fortune Feimster, Sherri Shepherd, Margaret Cho, Nikki Glaser, Rachel Feinstein and Kathy Griffin.
WEWORK: OR THE MAKING AND BREAKING OF A $47 BILLION UNICORN (Hulu)
Like "Hysterical," this doc on the rise and fall of Adam Neumann, also bowed at SXSW, last spring.
AMERICAN MASTERS: DOC SEVERINSEN (WNET/13, 9).
Severinsen, now 93, had a long recording career while he had that other more famous side gig, as bandleader (and occasional straight man) on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." This covers both careers. Meanwhile, there are two other major "Masters" portraits this spring: Oliver Sacks (April 9) and Amy Tan (May 3).
ATLANTIC CROSSING (WNET/13, 9)
One of "Masterpiece's" big entries of the year, this one's a dramatization of Norway's battle against Nazi occupation in World War II, with Kyle MacLachlan ("Twin Peaks") as FDR. Swedish star Sofia Helin plays Norway's Princess Märtha, who contributed mightily to Norway's resistance and — according to Gore Vidal in his memoir, "Palimpsest," — had an ongoing affair with the 32nd commander in chief.
GANGS OF LONDON (AMC, 10)
While this earlier streamed on AMC+, now everyone else can see this crime drama about gang warfare in London, with Colm Meaney as crime boss Finn Wallace.
MY GRANDPARENTS' WAR (WNET/13, 8)
This multi-partner features the grandparents of British stars like Kristin Scott Thomas and Mark Rylance, and how they fared during World War II. This begins with Helena Bonham Carter's grandparents.
HEMINGWAY (WNET/13, 8)
Six-hour Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary airing over three consecutive nights: Opening night (Monday) covers 1899 to 1929, where the author "moves to Paris to write [and] finds success with his second novel, 'A Farewell to Arms.'"' Tuesday covers 1929-1944, the years in which he achieved literary fame. Finally, Wednesday looks at 1944 up to his death in 1961, when Hemingway publishes 'The Old Man and the Sea' but is overcome by his declining mental condition.
CHAD (TBS, 10:30)
Nasim Pedrad worked for five seasons on "SNL" (2009-2014), but this comedy, which she created, is her real starring break: She plays a 14-year-old Persian-American boy, trying to navigate the fearsome jungle known as "high school."
KUNG FU (CW/11, 8)
The old David Carradine series of the same name is back, in this reboot now starring Olivia Liang (CW's "Legacies") as a martial arts master, cleaning up the Bay Area.
HOME ECONOMICS (ABC/7, 8:30)
Three adult siblings — (Topher Grace, Caitlin McGee, Jimmy Tatro) — have grown up to become rich, middle-class, poor. There's a sitcom somewhere in here.
EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES (HBO, 9)
In 1997, star Swedish author Sven Lindqvist published his personal exploration into the roots of genocide, specifically Europe's history of genocide, with roots in Africa. This four-parter, by Raoul Peck ("I Am Not Your Negro"), commits that brutal history to film, with Lindqvist — who died in 2019 — as guide.
REBEL (ABC/7, 10)
Annie "Rebel" Bello (Katey Sagal) is a self-educated activist who takes on the big guys and is conspicuously modeled after Erin Brockovich — herself a producer on this series. (She famously took on Pacific Gas & Electric and was later subject of the film starring Julia Roberts.) The show is produced by Krista Vernoff, showrunner of "Grey's Anatomy."
THE NEVERS (HBO, 9)
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Joss Whedon created this, but "stepped away" when charges of harassment on other shows (including "Buffy") surfaced. About a group of Victorian women with superpowers. Their first mission: To save this show.
BIG SHOT (Disney+)
The much re-energized David E. Kelley is getting back into comedy (or dramedy) with this series starring John Stamos as a basketball coach at an all-girls school run by a tough dean — that'd be Yvette Nicole Brown.
GODFATHER OF HARLEM (Epix)
Somehow "Godfather" navigated enough COVID-barriers to put together a full second season — something a few other high-profile New York-based (and subscription-based) series like "Billions'' have yet to do. In this season, crime boss Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker) is inspired by Malcolm X.
MARE OF EASTTOWN (HBO, 10)
Kate Winslet is back after a decade or so away from TV, in this 7-parter about a detective who tries to solve a murder in a Pennsylvania town. Guy Pearce — who last starred with her in HBO's "Mildred Pierce (2011) — is here too.
In 1993, three men were murdered in a remote part of Northern California known as the Emerald Triangle — a pot-growing region — and Sasquatch was blamed. Journalist David Holthouse returns to the scene of the crime, to find the truth or Sasquatch him (her?) self and takes three episodes to do it.
CRUEL SUMMER (Freeform, 9)
Freeform's big spring entry is billed as a psychological thriller with a twist — a young woman who goes missing, and whose disappearance is then told from different points of view over three summers. It stars — among many others — Olivia Holt who was in Freeform's teen Marvel series, "Cloak & Dagger."
ROMEO AND JULIET (WNET/13, 9)
Right — the "wherefore art thou" Romeo & Juliet. But two unique elements here: First, it's set in present-day Italy and second, stars Josh O'Connor, who's currently a sensation as Prince Charles in "The Crown." Jessie Buckley of FX's "Fargo" is Juliet.
SHADOW AND BONE (Netflix)
This adaptation of Leigh Bardugo's fantasy YA novel series set in the "Grishaverse" is about a teen orphan girl who is endowed with so-called Grisha talents (the ability to manipulate natural elements). That's helpful when she has to cross the forbidding "Unsea" where the really wild things lurk. All eight episodes drop today.
THE OSCARS (ABC/7, 8)
The 93rd Awards pose what you might call an existential question: How to celebrate movies when the theaters that screen them have been closed? (Easy answer: You celebrate them anyway.) Films usually need to be in theaters for seven days to qualify but this year the rule is lifted — streaming will suffice, at least for some. No host announced yet.
THE HANDMAID'S TALE (Hulu)
This marks the return of the first of TV's prestige dramas, albeit in pandemic-shortened form (10 episodes as opposed to 13 drop on this day.) There is not a whole lot known about this 4th season, other than some broad strokes, most notably this: McKenna Grace ("The Haunting of Hill House") joins as Mrs. Keyes, whom Deadline described as "a sharply intelligent, teenage wife of a much older Commander [with] a rebellious, subversive streak." Also expect to see a deeper look into Nick's (Max Minghella) back story while June (Elisabeth Moss) finds her way out of Gilead.
THE MOSQUITO COAST (Apple TV +)
This seven-part adaptation of Paul Theroux's 1981 novel will star Justin Theroux ("The Leftovers") who happens to be Paul's nephew. Complicated plot but it's basically about a cranky inventor named Allie Fox (Theroux) who heads to the jungles of Belize to start his own civilization.
JUPITER'S LEGACY (Netflix)
Prolific — and esteemed — Scottish comic book writer Mark Millar lands at Netflix on this day, and to an extent, the empire is now on his shoulders because the forthcoming Netflix series based on his work (so-called Millarworld) is meant to fill the hole left by Marvel after Disney reclaimed its prize. This first series (starring Josh Duhamel, Ben Daniels, Leslie Bibb) is essentially a period piece superhero yarn set in the 1930s.
Aidy Bryant's starring turn on a TV series — and one much esteemed by fans — ends as the entire third season drops.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (Amazon Prime)
Perhaps the set piece of the entire spring season on TV, this adaptation of Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel — directed by "Moonlight's" Barry Jenkins — has been in production for nearly four years, with a portion of one of those years lost. Like the book, it's an alternate history re-imagining of the Underground Railroad and quite a re-imagining indeed: This a real railroad that really goes underground, transporting escaped slaves to freedom. Starring South African newcomer Thuso Mbedu as Cora, with "The Good Place's" William Jackson Harper also, ahem, aboard.
FALL RIVER (Epix)
For lovers of true crime, this explores a series of horrifying murders in 1979, in the Massachusetts city, each apparently linked to a Satanic cult. (Subsequent episodes air May 23 and May 30.)
TULSA: THE FIRE AND THE FORGOTTEN (WNET/13, 9)
This centennial examination of the horrific attack on Tulsa's so-called "Black Wall Street" district — the Greenwood section of town — is reported by the Washington Post's DeNeen L. Brown, who interviews community activists and descendants of survivors.