Outside the box: Ones to watch this spring
What are the biggest TV shows of the year?
BBC1, late February
The Great War as seen through the prism of a hectic and overstretched field army hospital.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, and the BBC is marking the occasion with a series of new dramas and documentaries.
Leading the charge is 'The Ark', a six-part, big-budget drama written by Sarah Phelps and set in an army field hospital on the northern French coast.
Suranne Jones, Oona Chaplin and Hermoine Norris play nurses who crossed the Channel in 1914 with as little idea of what lay in store for them as the unfortunate, trench-bound Tommies.
Their work in the 'Ark' is a baptism of fire, as they deal with horrific injuries and seriously injured and mutilated young men using only the most rudimentary medication.
Expect a touch of the charnel house to the series, which will realistically depict the grisly work of nurses and medics, who each episode are confronted with a fresh batch of wounded soldiers of all ranks.
And remember that the Great War was a new kind of war, which meant that even the most experienced army doctors were faced with the consequences of terrible new weapons.
'37 Days', which also starts this month but on BBC2, will examine how the whole mess started. This weighty drama will be shown over three nights and will cover the period between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 to the British declaration of war on Germany on August 4.
As most of you will recall from your schoolbooks, a creaking system of alliances staggered remorselessly into play after the Ferdinand killing in Sarajevo, but '37 Days' will argue that the ensuing war, which claimed at least 40 million lives, could very easily have been avoided.
Sinead Cusack, Ian McDairmid and Tim Piggott-Smith star in a show that should be well worth watching. There'll be lots more on the Great War from the BBC and others later during the year.
Sky Atlantic, February
A gritty drama following the 17-year search for a Louisiana serial killer.
Not long ago, Matthew McConaughey was considered a bit of a has-been, a lazy pretty boy who seemed to appear exclusively in bad romantic comedies.
But in the last couple of years he's transformed himself into one of the leading character actors of his time in films such as 'Mud', 'Magic Mike', 'Dallas Buyers Club' and 'Killer Joe'. This month he'll make a rare TV appearance in an eagerly awaited new crime drama called 'True Detective'.
Written by short story writer Nic Pizzalatto and directed by acclaimed film-maker Cary Fukunaga, 'True Detective' started in the US on HBO a few weeks back, got strong reviews and sounds original.
McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play two dogged Louisiana police detectives who spend 17 years fruitlessly searching for a serial killer. The show's action is spilt between 1995, when Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Harrelson) are called to a grisly crime scene that turns out to be the murderer's first crime, and 2012, when two younger detectives talk to the pair separately about a crime that may be connected.
Reports from America suggest that McConaughey is compelling in the lead role. The show will run over six episodes, and is certainly one to watch out for.
Universal Channel, later this year
Comedy charting a flawed lawyer's chaotic and criminal personal life
Greg Kinnear began his career on TV, hosting the original version of the E! channel's satirical clip show 'The Soup' way back in the early 1990s. Since then he's had lots of success on the big screen in films such as 'As Good as It Gets' and 'Little Miss Sunshine'. He returns to TV in this entertaining new series that's been compared to 'The Good Wife' and boasts an appealingly flawed central character.
'Rake' is based on an Australian show of the same name, and stars Kinnear as Keegan Deane, an LA-based criminal defence attorney whose public competence is matched by private chaos.
He's a compulsive gambler and inveterate womaniser who inadvertently destroys anyone who gets close to him. He drives around greater Los Angeles on an expired licence, and has an ongoing relationship with a prostitute called Mikki, whom he seems to forget he's paying.
Deane even has the bad taste to seek counselling from his ex-wife Maddy (Mirando Otto), who can't quite figure out how this once-brilliant lawyer and committed husband and parent turned into a basket case. In the opening episode she asks him sadly, "Did you ever think 20 years ago this is where you'd be today?"
Deane is a mess but an engaging one, thanks in the main to Kinnear's hangdog performance. He may be a rake but he's an affable one who even manages to have cordial exchanges with the underworld enforcer who turns up every now and then to beat him up for not paying his debts.
The opening episode, which is directed by Sam Raimi, features guest appearances from Peter Stormare as a serial killer who wishes to recant his confession, and Denis O'Hare as a cannibal whose flimsy defence rests on the claim that his victim wished to be eaten. 'Rake' starts here later this year.
House of Cards
Netflix, February 14
The political drama that everyone's talking about.
Netflix has announced that it will be streaming no less than nine original series in 2014, but the one that most people are going to get excited about is 'House of Cards'.
The gripping political drama returns for a second season next week, and all 13 episodes will be released at once on Netflix on Valentine's Day, allowing fans of the show to indulge themselves in multi-episode, all-night orgies. And who can blame them, because Kevin Spacey's portrayal of dodgy Washington insider Francis J Underwood is one of the great television characterisations.
Spacey brings echoes of Richard III and Tennessee Williams to his portrayal of Frank, a Democratic congressman from South Carolina who played a big part in getting the new president elected and is confidently expecting a big cabinet job in thanks. When this doesn't happen, he begins moving his pawns into place as he prepares his grand revenge.
Robin Wright has just won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Frank's elegant but creepy wife Claire, an environmental group's CEO with her own agenda.
In this new season, Frank has schemed, flattered and murdered his way into the Vice President's job, which will expose him and Claire to the bright glare of publicity. He finds new enemies to fulminate against, while his former mistress Zoe Barnes is still investigating Peter Russo's suspicious death, for which she feels at least partly responsible.
And while 'House of Cards' executive producer Rick Cleveland commented before Christmas that he believed this would be the last season of the show, as both Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey prefer acting in films to television, others reckoned they may be persuaded to keep the award-winning programme going. Let's hope so, because it is very good.