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John Doyle: Seven hot shows arriving during March TV madness

Here we are in the month of March and living large. The term "March Madness" doesn't do it justice. The drama and comedy flows like Guinness on March 17.

And in the matter of drama and comedy, today is Super Tuesday. Things are in such a state of madness that CNN is now providing more comedy and drama than all the U.S. networks combined. As some of you will know, the cacophony of craziness that was last week's Republican debate was captured perfectly when CNN's closed-captioning function couldn't take it any more and this appeared on the screen: "Unintelligible yelling."

As I write this, a Hillary Clinton campaign ad is airing on CNN. It features Clinton hugging people with a fixed smile on her face. It has been followed by an ad for Mucinex, which is, apparently, a "powerful expectorant," and that's most appropriate.

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There is an avalanche of new TV coming in March, much of it good and compelling. One new special is The Seven New Signs of the Apocalypse (History, March 12). It's this: "Every day our planet faces catastrophic events that threaten our very existence, whether from natural or man-made forces, rising from the earth or menacing from space. The Seven New Signs of the Apocalypse explores the most likely apocalyptic scenarios our world faces today and the history, both scientific and biblical, behind them." Well. Phew. But all you have to do is watch CNN for way more than seven new signs of the apocalypse.

But I digress. Herewith, a list of seven hot shows arriving this month on networks, Netflix, cable and assorted platforms.

House of Cards, Season 4 (Netflix, starts Friday, March 4). It's Underwood-versus-Underwood, since Claire walked out on Frank in the season finale of Season 3. I can tell you this – it is a far more inflamed drama. Gone is the coolly ironic distancing of the first season. Kevin Spacey turns up the rage as Frank battles his toughest competitor, his ex-wife. And Robin Wright turns down the ice-queen demeanour and is now more feverishly engaged. Also she's dealing with a new character in cold-blooded political strategist Leann Harvey, played with cool aplomb by Neve Campbell.

Angie Tribeca (Comedy Network, starts Tuesday, March 1 at 10:30 p.m. ET). This comes from the comedy school defined by Police Squad! and Airplane! Non-stop punning and sly humour that varies from the cleverly outrageous to the groan-inducing. Essentially, it's a send-up of cop shows, especially network procedurals. And no cliché of the genre is safe from spoofery. A witness tells main character Detective Angie Tribeca (Rashida Jones), "I hope you catch the animal who did this!" And Tribeca replies, "Thank you, ma'am, but we think it was a human who did it." It has a strong cast, with Jere Burns, last seen nailing it on Justified, as the ridiculous cop-boss Lieutenant Chet Atkins. Yes, "Chet Atkins."

Happy Valley, Season 2 (Netflix, starts March 16). The second season of the much-acclaimed Brit drama is less neatly plotted and stronger. Again the highlight is sublime acting by Sarah Lancashire, playing the indomitable police sergeant Catherine Cawood. She's in charge in a bleak but pretty town in West Yorkshire and, as we know from the first season, much of the emotional and criminal horror that unfolds is stunningly believable.

Cuckoo (Netflix, starts March 7). This BBC series from 2012 is a droll satire of suburban England. Rachel (Tamla Kari) returns from a year abroad and announces to her horrified parents that she has married an American who goes by the name Cuckoo (Adam Samberg). He's a hippie whose drug-addled brain is the perfect foil for Dad (Greg Davies), who is a bit of a nutter himself. Mom is played by the eternally luminous Helen Baxendale.

The Characters (Netflix, starts March 11). This Netflix original is a sketch comedy of varying quality and maturity. But that assessment is based on limited advance viewing. Eight young comedians were given free rein to do a 30-minute episode about whatever they wanted.

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Empire (returns to Fox March 30, shomi March 31). The juiciest soap on TV comes back and, in an interesting twist, in Canada will air only on the streaming service shomi. We'll find out on the hip-hop drama if Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday), left unconscious at the bottom of the stairs after being pushed down, is alive. And, maybe, who pushed her. And FYI – the first 10 episodes of season two are on shomi starting Tuesday, March 1.

The Path (Showcase, starts March 31). This one's exceptionally good. A dark, sullen drama set inside a cult movement, it is part mystery, part perverse romance, and shot-through with disturbing flashes of quasi-religious fervour. Aaron Paul, forever known as Jesse on Breaking Bad, is in the lead role, and both Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy are there too. On the evidence of the first hours, Monaghan is superb as a despairing woman manipulated by several ghastly men.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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