Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
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Happy new year! And a new year of TV means premieres, specials, returns of favorites, and risky business. Here are 10 TV events to look forward to. Bookmark this list and watch for their start-dates.

1. Game of Thrones (HBO) Of all the new TV projects, this is the one I’m most eager to see, most hoping will be executed with the grand wit it deserves. George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy gets the HBO treatment, which means his dense tale of warring kingdoms, sexy and supernatural hijinks, and neck-snapping plot twists can sprawl with the grandeur it requires. It premieres in April.

2. Fringe (Fox) The return of Fringe on Jan. 21 will find the series in full-power mode, with an episode that will probably feature the Observers prominently, as well as continuing drama over how the relationship between Peter and Olivia will continue now that Olivia has returned from the other side. Oh, and the fate of our universe remains perilous as well, of course.

3. Justified (FX) Timothy Olyphant returns on Feb. 9 as Marshal Raylan Givens in a second season of big-hat, laconic action. The first episode of the season, “The Moonshine War,” is a nod to the title of an Elmore Leonard novel, and Leonard co-authored the story with producer Graham Yost, so you know it’s going to be a lot of hardboiled fun.

4. The Kennedys (History Channel) This miniseries has been controversial from the moment it was announced. Any history of the Kennedy family always stirs partisan passion pro and con, but when you add the fact that one of its executive producers is Joel Surnow (24), an outspoken Hollywood conservative — hoo boy, have defenders of the Kennedy liberal legacy already made their qualms known about this production… without, of course, having seen so much as two seconds of it. Which makes the project all the more intriguing.

5. Lights Out (FX) I’m a sucker for boxing drama, so this new series, premiering Jan. 11, about a one-time contender who’s almost settled into middle age sounded interesting. Then I saw the knock-out pilot episode and I’m ready to root for Holt McCallany as Patrick “Light” Leary, the married father of three who struggles to get ready for a return match that could save his reputation and his sagging economic fortunes. Add Stacey Keach — who starred in one of the best boxing movies ever, Fat City — as Lights’ father, and you’ve got a promising series.

6. Body of Proof (ABC) It takes a lot to make me interested by another crime-solving medical show, but seeing Dana Delany power through the pilot episode of this new series, premiering in March, definitely puts it on this list. Delany plays a bristlingly smart, sour-humored neurosurgeon-turned-medical examiner with crisp authority — I’m glad she’s getting a starring role after years of fine ensemble acting.

7. Roger Ebert at the Movies The re-launch of Ebert’s movie-review show is set for January, which is good news. The fact that it’s lost one of its two hosts before it goes on the air is curious but intriguing. Christy Lemire and Elvis Mitchell had been announced as co-hosts, but Mitchell is out of the mix. His replacement is the sharp Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. And any show that will also feature Ebert’s opinions, plus classic-movie commentary by Kim Morgan, is one that will interest anyone with an interest in movies and movie criticism.

8. Mildred Pierce (HBO) Kate Winslet will star in this miniseries based on the James M. Cain novel, and which stands in the long shadow of the 1945 Joan Crawford film directed by Michael Curtiz. This new production, directed by Todd Haynes, has a head-spinning cast that includes Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood as Mildred’s willful daughter Veda, and Melissa Leo. I recently read the novel for the first time, and its Great Depression setting and tense atmosphere lends itself perfectly to the tenor of our own time.

9. James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosting the Oscars When these two young stars begin the entertainment world’s biggest trophy hand-out on Feb. 27, there’ll be a lot of anticipation in the air. Whereas most Oscar hosts have traditionally tried for killer laughs, Franco and Hathaway, while by no means people incapable of Funny, cannot help but bring a new atmosphere to the proceedings — perhaps a fresh, invigorating tone.

10. Luck (HBO) This is the wildest of wild cards. Take two brilliant, headstrong creators, Michael Mann and David Milch, one headstrong star, Dustin Hoffman, add Michael Gambon in his first American TV series role, and put them in a racetrack setting (a milieu Milch knows very well first-hand), and you’ve got the potential for either a show with a setting and tone unlike anything else on TV, or a botched wreck that may need putting out of its misery. Either way, it’ll be a helluva lot of fun to watch.

What 2011 TV events are you looking forward to? The post-Super Bowl episode of Glee? The return of Parks and Recreation? Let me know below, please; thanks.

Twitter: @kentucker

Episode Recaps

Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and John Noble star in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi drama
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