Family Tree

HBO, May 12, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT |

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COMEDY

Director Christopher Guest indirectly reinvented the sitcom with "mockumentary" movies like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Without those classics, filmed with a modesty and an unfussiness that made them ideally scaled for the home screen, we wouldn't have Parks and Recreation or even Modern Family. So it's a welcome development that Guest should now create (with Jim Piddock) his own series. Welcome—and surprising. Because Family Tree doesn't play at all like Parks or Family. No punch lines, no zingers. It is still a distinctly Guest production: often poky, always charmingly whimsical and, from time to time, so astoundingly funny you seem to have shot into a distant stratosphere of pure comedy. Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) is Tom Chadwick, a glum Londoner without a job or girlfriend. When he inherits a trunk of jumbled mementos from a great aunt, he begins piecing together a family history that will ultimately lead him to America. In the first episodes, though, we're in England, where his sister (Nina Conti), traumatized by a childhood incident at the zoo, talks through a monkey puppet, and much attention is paid to the fact that one ancestor played the back end of a vaudeville horse. The jokes start as saplings, then—whoosh!—look at that tree!

DaVinci's Demons

Starz, Fridays, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

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DRAMA

Look up "Renaissance man" in the dictionary—or in any secret encrypted codex, preserved for centuries in a dusty, booby-trapped trunk—and you'll find "Leonardo DaVinci." You can also find him as the hero of Starz's lushly designed historical fantasy adventure. This Leo, who uses drugs to untether his imagination, is caught up in rival conspiracies by a powerful underground brotherhood and an evil pope. And then there are the Medicis, always unpleasant. To work, this overheated alchemy needs a magnetic Leo, but Tom Riley is miscast—too smart-alecky and brash. And he reminds me of American Idol winner David Cook. Distracting, no?

Rectify

Sundance, Mondays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

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DRAMA

Sundance's first original dramatic series feels damply airless—the tension might be ripped open at any moment by a thunderclap of revelation. Aden Young plays Daniel Holden, a convicted murderer just released from prison (and death row) after new DNA evidence surfaces. Many in his community still suspect he's guilty: Why else would Daniel, then 18, have confessed to the rape and murder of a local girl nearly two decades ago? Young, an Australian actor in his first major TV role, plays Holden as detached, frightened, close to catatonic. You could say he is a shadow of his earlier self, except it's more likely he's a shadow of a shadow. It's a disturbing, impressive performance.

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YOU'VE GOTTA SEE THIS ...

ELEMENTARY

Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller, above, with Lucy Liu) takes on a case that may lead to his nemesis. And Game of Thrones' Natalie Dormer turns up as an ex-lover. CBS, May 9.

WIPEOUT

The extreme stunts competition, an experience that can feel like the gods playing Whac-A-Mole using humans, is back. ABC, May 9.

RIHANNA 777

Documentary about the superstar's infamous 2012 tour, during which she loaded up a Boeing 777 with fans and journalists. FOX, May 6.

FROM MY GIRL TO MOM

After early success in films like My Girl, you walked away from Hollywood as a teen.

I was very much over the adolescent version of show business. It felt so much like a popularity contest that you are constantly losing.

You went to college and had a job in publishing. Why come back to acting?

I was living in New York and seeing a ton of inspiring plays. I realized I had to try this again, but for the right reasons. I had to go for it.

Now you are working with a baby on the way!

I'm definitely going to be a working mom. I love my job, and the idea of even not working for a month gives me anxiety. I know I'll figure it out. Plenty of ladies have done it before.

How are you handling the pregnancy?

It's been a lesson in not worrying. I like to plan, but you can't. This is all out of my control. Nature takes its course!

Launching season 2, Small Town Security has a believable frumpi-ness and a welcome knack for the unexpected. Joan Koplan, grousing and unsmiling, runs JJK Security in Ringgold, Ga. Her top employee is sad-eyed, doggedly loyal Dennis Croft, who happens to be a former woman under-going gender reassignment. The episodes are incidental scraps, but Joan and Dennis have the makings of a rare buddy comedy.

Bravo's latest reality series, Newlyweds: The First Year, takes a straightforward, thoughtful look at four couples struggling to cement their relationships. Wait—this is Bravo? Not TLC? Several of the brides supply nice, unhinged moments—Kimberly, a celebrity stylist, replaces her bridesmaids with groomsmen when the girls fail to lose weight—but the sincerity of the enterprise is in inverse proportion to its fun. What would Lisa Vanderpump make of it?

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