There’s no knowing if TV programming executives do this deliberately. But in winter months, when there are fewer hours of daylight and when temperatures plummet, the tone of new television shows seems to take a darker, chillier turn.
Bleak storylines and icy relationships await if you choose to watch some of the most promising midseason offerings, such as HBO’s True Detective, ABC’s The Assets or Syfy’s Helix. Yes, these shows are mesmerizing. But no, they’re not always what you’d call feel-good TV.
So bundle up, everyone. Another winter/midseason lineup of somber, brooding television is upon us.
This tense eight-episode drama takes viewers back to 1985 and the final days of the Cold War, when the technology of spy craft was still decidedly old school. It’s the story of real-life CIA counterintelligence officer Sandy Grimes (played by Jodie Whittaker) and her efforts to find the mole who is compromising identities of CIA assets abroad. It is less gimmicky than FX’s The Americans, which wallows in ’80s nostalgia, but it’s fun to watch how spy games used to be played. Premieres 9 p.m. Thursday on ABC.
Jason Beghe, who has made a career of playing tough-guy cops, stars as Hank Voight, head of the Chicago Police Department’s Intelligence Unit, which he runs like an Old West sheriff cleaning up his city. He’s not a dirty cop, but he won’t hesitate to break rules. The job calls for a ruthless man. The premiere features a drug cartel baddie who beheads his victims. This Chicago Fire spinoff is produced by Law & Order’s Dick Wolf, now doing in Chicago what he did in New York. Premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday on NBC.
This 13-episode thriller is about a team of CDC scientists (led by Billy Campbell) sent to a high-tech research lab in the Arctic to investigate a deadly disease outbreak. When they arrive, they encounter a bizarre contagion that could cause global annihilation, a survivor whose body is mutating in unpredictable ways, a field of frozen research monkeys (so very creepy!) and a conspiracy of silence regarding what the original scientist team was actually doing at the facility. Premieres 9 p.m. Jan. 10 on Syfy.
Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey star as Louisiana homicide detectives in this brilliant but challenging crime drama. One partner is an outgoing family man; the other is a sullen loner. The eight-episode story skips back and forth between 1995, when the duo becomes obsessed with solving the murder of a prostitute, a case with occult overtones, and 2012, when the former partners reflect on the case and the destructive impact it had on their lives. Premieres 8 p.m. Jan. 12 on HBO.
Josh Holloway stars in this sci-fi/spy thriller as an operative with a super-computer microchip in his brain. The implant makes him the first human to be connected directly into the global information grid. Able to hack into any data center and access key intel, he’s the most valuable piece of technology ever created and the U.S.’s secret weapon. Much to the chagrin of his handler (Marg Helgenberger), he’s also impulsive and unpredictable. Premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday on CBS; moves to 8 p.m. Mondays on Jan. 13.
‘Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond’
His name is Fleming, Ian Fleming. This four-part adventure series introduces viewers to the author of the James Bond/007 novels. Evidently, he led quite an adventurous life during World War II. Fleming (played by Dominic Cooper) is a ne’er-do-well playboy who grows up once he’s finally given a chance to shine, recruited by British Naval Intelligence to help in the effort against the Nazis. It’s a kick to see how his real-life adventures inspired his literary alter ego. Premieres 9 p.m. Jan. 29 on BBC America.
This six-hour, three-night miniseries tells the story of the last great gold rush, focusing on seven strangers and their fight for survival and riches in a remote frontier town in the untamed Yukon Territory in 1897. The journey begins when two ambitious New Yorkers embark on a perilous trek across the North American wilderness, arriving in a land of undiscovered wealth, harsh conditions, unpredictable weather and absolute lawlessness. Premieres 8 p.m. Jan. 20 on Discovery Channel.
Greg Kinnear stars in this legal comedy-drama, which is based on a hit Australian series. He plays Keegan Deane, a clever L.A. lawyer with a self-destructive streak. Deane’s biggest weaknesses are booze, women and gambling — but there’s always room for a new addiction. He’s hopelessly in debt, but that doesn’t stop him from “dating” a $500-an-hour prostitute. The only time his messy life adds up is when he’s in the courtroom. Even then, he’s only looking out for himself. Premieres 8 p.m. Jan. 23 on Fox.
This eight-episode high-seas adventure airs on a network that enjoyed huge success with Spartacus, a series that mixed pseudo-history with hard-core violence and soft-core porn. It stands to reason, then, that Black Sails, about notorious pirate captains and their lawless crews, would use the same playbook. So sure, you can expect debauchery in a show like this. But lesbian love scenes? It must float somebody’s boat at the network; the show is already picked up for Season 2. Premieres 8 p.m. Jan. 25 on Starz.
Other midseason premieres
100 Days of Summer: This is a docu-series about a group of young, successful and driven Chicagoans during one steamy summer. Premieres 9:30 p.m. Thursday on Bravo; moves to 9 p.m. Tuesdays on Jan. 7.
Killer Women: Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica fame stars as a tough-as-nails Texas Ranger in a crime drama produced by Modern Family star Sofia Vergara. Premieres 9 p.m. Tuesday on ABC.
Enlisted:Geoff Stults stars in this goofy domestic military comedy, which feels an awful lot like a throwback to the days of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Premieres 8:30 p.m. Jan 10 on Fox.
Bitten: Laura Vandervoort, who played Supergirl in Smallville and an alien on V, stars as a fetching female werewolf, the only such creature in existence. Premieres 9 p.m. Jan. 13 on Syfy.
Chozen:This animated comedy focusing on a gay white rapper fresh out of prison is a strange show, but a solid companion to returning lead-in series Archer. Premieres 9:30 p.m. Jan. 13 on FX.
Under the Gunn: Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn takes the reins as host of his own fashion reality competition series. Premieres 8 p.m. Jan. 16 on Lifetime.
Looking:Three friends in San Francisco explore the fun and sometimes overwhelming options available to a new generation of gay men. Premieres 9:30 p.m. Jan. 19 on HBO.
Broad City:An odd-couple comedy about two best friends navigating their 20s in New York City, this is a solid companion to the returning Workaholics. Premieres 9:30 p.m. Jan. 22 on Comedy Central.
Star Crossed:In a unique integration feasibility study, human teenagers and space aliens called Atrians attend the same suburban high school. Premieres 7 p.m. Feb. 17 on CW.
Mixology:This comedy centers on one night in the lives of 10 single people at the Mix, a high-end bar in Manhattan’s trendy meat-packing district. Premieres 8:30 p.m. Feb. 26 on ABC.
Sirens: Three Chicago EMTs, who can handle any life-threatening emergency but whose personal lives are chaos, are the focus of this comedy. Premieres 9 p.m. March 6 on USA.
Resurrection:The lives of residents in a small Missouri town are turned upside -down when their deceased love ones suddenly start reappearing. Premieres 8 p.m. March 9 on ABC.
Mind Games:Christian Slater and Steve Zahn run an agency using the science behind manipulation, motivation and influence to help clients solve problems. Premieres 9 p.m. March 11 on ABC.
The 100:This sci-fi series is about the survivors aboard a dying space station “Ark” after Earth is destroyed by nuclear armageddon. Premieres 8 pm. March 19 on CW.