January 20, 2014 12:00 PM

TRUE DETECTIVE

HBO, Jan. 12, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

We think of experiencing suspense as gripping ourselves in excitement as incident follows incident with the seamlessness of a zipper. But a true state of suspense, as True Detective reminds us with unsettling skill, is dangling in a void with the prospect of a drop. Like death, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. Very little happens in the first three hours of this new anthology crime series – like American Horror Story, it’s expected to change casts and plots every season – yet it’s absolutely riveting. In 1995 a woman’s body is found in rural Louisiana. Naked and topped with a crown of antlers, she has been posed in accordance with what may be a serial killer’s ritual. The case is assigned to detectives Martin Hart and Rust Cohle. Hart (square-jawed Woody Harrelson, who suggests Robert Duvall brewed with hops) is a fairly ordinary cop, a family man who blames his drinking and infidelities on the sordidness of the job. Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), lean as a seminarian and hollow-eyed, has seen enough that he barely functions outside work. He babbles on in strange abstractions about madness and evil: “I can smell the psychosphere.” (Judging from the modern scenes that flash back to the case, he’s joined it.) This might get ponderous if Harrelson and McConaughey weren’t piercingly good. Charting the morally perilous topography of their minds is so fascinating, the killer’s ID can wait. You hold your breath, and you’re not even sure why.

GIRLS

HBO, Jan. 12, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

After an awful season 2, Lena Dunham’s Brooklynocentric comedy celebrating coffee, ambition and sex is fixed. In the first six episodes, at least, there’s nothing involving cotton swabs painfully inserted into eardrums. Hannah (Dunham) is still chasing a career as a writer, still oddly charming in her self-involvement. (As one acquaintance puts it, “Why don’t you place just one crumb of basic human compassion on this fat-free muffin of sociopathic detachment?”) Best line satirizing callow hipness: “Fedoras are worse than genocide.”

INTELLIGENCE

CBS, Mondays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

Josh Holloway, cleaned up to reveal a princely profile that was obscured during all those grubby seasons on Lost, plays an antiterrorist agent embedded with a microchip that turns him into a human supercomputer. His inner eye blinks with so much intelligence, in fact, that giving him an action series seems superfluous. Why can’t he solve crises while eating pasta salad and playing Assassin’s Creed? But Intelligence is nicely done. Holloway has pared his performance down to the manly essentials – surly independence, skeptical humor – and Marg Helgenberger, as his boss, projects managerial resolve while looking like a million bucks.

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