HBO, Sept. 19, 9 p.m. ET/PT
This not-to-be-missed series, with director Martin Scorsese and Sopranos writer Terence Winter among its executive producers, is a mob epic set in 1920s Atlantic City during Prohibition. The town, like the ocean, stays quite wet. This is thanks to the criminal cunning and Protestant work ethic of county treasurer and city boss Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi), who endlessly wheels and deals with gangsters in Chicago and New York City. The show is gorgeously produced and spectacularly violent-imagine a mashup of GoodFellas with Ragtime-but its success depends chiefly on Buscemi. The actor, who has the look of a man who's worried he won't find his car before it gets towed, plays the part with biting humor and the shrugging haplessness of a silent-film clown. But there's no doubt Nucky means business-always. A brilliant, brutally funny performance.
Sons of Anarchy
FX, Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT
I probably couldn't give my heart wholly to this blood-spitting, bone-crunching drama about a motorcycle gang unless they rode tricycles. Grit gets me down. But it's a good show, powerfully acted-especially by Katey Sagal as tough mama Gemma-and true to its convictions. The new season starts with Gemma's boy Jax (Charlie Hunnam) barely able to mind the road: He's devastated by the kidnapping of his infant son. These people can be sentimental. Just don't expect nice. No no no.
NBC, Sept. 15, 10 p.m. ET/PT
Jimmy Smits plays Cyrus Garza, a conservative Supreme Court justice who has a change of heart and walks off the bench to become a crusading private attorney, cherry-picking cases he wants to defend across the country. This is as plausible as Antonin Scalia signing up for Dancing with the Stars. Smits is breezily bold, but the show feels fussy-flushed out with "interesting" detail and characters. Not only does Garza have a vice (gambling) but his team includes an investigator who flaunts her confident sexiness as if she were a Pussycat Doll.