Tom Gliatto and Emily Strohm
April 07, 2014 12:00 PM

GAME OF THRONES

HBO, April 6, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

FANTASY

It might seem to stretch credibility to say Game of Thrones is back, bigger and better than ever – as Breaking Bad taught us, even giant Ozymandias at some point peaks and shrinks down to the size of two lobby pillars – but it’s true. The first three episodes of season 4 grab the wide-flung stories of this epic and assemble them into a crackling narrative. And that’s new: Game has sometimes had a cobblestone bumpiness that throws this or that character into the bushes. But this season is a superhighway. It moves. After last season’s devastating “Red Wedding,” extra care is necessary to avoid spoilers. So let’s just say you should be prepared for anything – red brunch, red sales conference – and that awful King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is marrying Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). Compliant but crafty, she knows what side her bread is buttered on – especially when the knife belongs to Joffrey, who makes me think of a teen Disney star driven mad by total power. Survival defined by stark contrast is Game’s cold, central theme. Kill or be killed, win the throne or serve as vassal, sleep under your own roof or perish in the forest: No show has a darker heart. The Lord of the Rings, with its empathy for decent little folk, is sentimental by comparison, a war of Satan and Elmo. Game of Thrones is an awesome thing.

FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES

CBS, March 31, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

Watching the pilot for an ensemble sitcom can be like trying to focus on floaters as they travel across the eye—if even a few good performances lock into your line of vision, you perk up. In this new comedy about friends in various stages of relationship envy and regret, there are two: 1) James Van Der Beek, who has learned how to be both stubbled and subtle, as a guy handsome enough to be the next Bachelor – only, one suspects, with no more finesse than Juan Pablo Galavis. 2) Zoe Lister-Jones as an acerbic career woman desperate for a date. A cliché, but Lister-Jones wears her sarcasm close, close to the skin, as if it were Spanx.

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