HBO in the Spring: Shrinks, Detectives and Eccentrics

In the so-charming-it-hurts I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd’s character, Peter, likes to spend Sunday nights at home with his lovely fiancée, watching HBO. Peter is such a champion of network that at one point he even utters the famous catchphrase—“It’s not TV, it’s HBO”—to help explain what he loves about this chosen date-night activity. On first glance, the concept feels slightly dated—isn’t loving HBO very 2005?—but after getting a glimpse at the network’s upcoming slate of programs, it actually seems prescient. Spring is shaping up to be quite a season for HBO! So if you canceled it after the season finale of Big Love this past weekend, you should probably call the cable company back.

Things start off this Sunday with the two-hour series premiere of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Based on the best selling books by Alexander McCall Smith, Ladies’ stars R&B singer Jill Scott as a recently divorced Botswanan woman who opens her own detective agency. (The title, in this case, is very literal.) Ladies’ appears to be the type of series that we see so little of on HBO—a light-hearted procedural that won’t be caked in Shakespearean tragedy; that the pilot was co-written by Love, Actually’s Richard Curtis and the late Anthony Minghella should tell you all you need to know about Ladies’ tone. Additionally, cinephiles should take note: Mr. Minghella directed Sunday’s pilot before passing away last spring, and it represents the last chance anyone will have to see new work from the Oscar-winner.

The following Sunday brings the return of In Treatment. We’ll admit we never got on board with season one—the five-night-per-week commitment was too steep—but we’ll try again in season two. This time around, the series locale has shifted to Brooklyn, affording Golden Globe winner Gabriel Byrne the chance to analyze a whole batch of new patients, including Hope Davis, John Mahoney and Milk’s Alison Pill. HBO has wisely decided to focus the half-hour drama down into two nights instead five, a scheduling maneuver that increases the chance of us watching by ten-fold. The early reviews have been solid, with special attention being paid to Mr. Mahoney, playing a corporate CEO replete with secrets (talk about good timing). However, we’re most interested in Ms. Pill’s episodes, where the talented actress stars as a 20-something recently diagnosed with cancer. Spoiler alert: Those sessions are going to be sad!

As if all that weren’t enough, on April 18 the much-discussed adaptation of the Maysles brothers documentary Grey Gardens comes to HBO with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore starring as Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, respectively. The preview alternates between high camp and soul-crushing sadness, and we aren’t actually sure what to make of Ms. Barrymore’s accent, which at once seems both over-the-top and dead perfect. Still, the chance to see Ms. Lange perform is probably worth the DVR space alone.

Of course, this is all a prelude to the summer, when Entourage and True Blood return with new seasons. This year they’ll be joined on the HBO roster by Hung, a new series from Sideways director Alexander Payne. Hung stars Anne Heche, Jane Adams and Thomas Jane, playing a high-school gym teacher with a really big … well, think about the ending of Boogie Nights and you can probably figure out where this series is going. As they say, “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.”

HBO in the Spring: Shrinks, Detectives and Eccentrics