Ring in the new year with these TV shows

These returning favorites and series debuts have TV lovers anxiously awaiting the new year.

It’s winter in Syracuse, which means all I really want to do is snuggle up on my couch with a giant mug of tea and some great television. Here are three excellent returning shows I’m looking forward to this winter. (Warning: spoilers!)

Downton Abbey, Season 4 - Jan. 5, 2014

A British soap opera with an American quality television ambition, Downton Abbey has captured the hearts of those of us who love to indulge in some seriously over-the-top drama, but hate to admit that we’re hooked on a soap.

According to recently-released PBS special hosted by Susan Sarandon, we will pick up with the Crawleys six months after Matthew’s tragic death, just as Mary is ready to return to the world. With the death of the Crawley heir, it will be up to Mary and her widowed brother-in-law, Tom Branson, to carry on Matthew’s legacy of turning Downton Abbey into a sustainable operation.

This season moves into the 1920s, and times are changing -- especially for the women of Downton. Upstairs, Lady Edith will continue her growth as a working journalist, and Cora will rediscover her sense of American adventure. Downstairs, the ladies on the staff will grapple with their changing roles and agency -- no doubt facing resistance from old-fashioned Mr. Carson, but with a wink of understanding from the lovable Mrs. Hughes.

The fourth season has already aired in the U.K., and premieres here in the U.S. at 9 p.m. on Jan. 5 on PBS.

House of Cards, Season 2 - Feb. 14, 2014

House of Cards season 1 became the first web-only series to win a Primetime Emmy Award. Since then, we’ve seen Netflix’s reboot of Arrested Development, the underwhelming but ambitious Hemlock Grove, and the critically hailed Orange is the New Black. It’s safe to say that House of Cards solidified a new era of quality online television programming.

A second season was ordered from the beginning, but since the end of season 1, I’ve been itching to find out where we’ll find Frank, Claire and Zoe when season 2 begins.

When we last saw Frank, he had accepted the vice presidential nomination just as Claire’s court battle with Gillian was about to begin. Surely we are bound to like them less and less as they continue to build their empire on bodies and bribery. But still, how can we help but root for them? Their lust for power is addictive.

Zoe, Janine and Lucas are hot on Frank’s bloody trail, but what role does Christina have yet to play? It will not suit for anyone to underestimate Peter’s biggest advocate -- in life and death.

The second season premieres Feb. 14. In true Netflix fashion, all 13 episodes will appear at once. Perfect binge-watching fodder for you and your valentine.

Haven’t seen season 1? All 13 episodes are available on Netflix.

Game of Thrones, Season 4 - March 31, 2014

As we hit late spring, the heat will begin to return -- that is, the heat of battle.

Game of Thrones seasons 1-3 are not easy to recap. As a fan of the books, I have a general idea of where we’re headed, but there have been some major left turns on the show, and my compass could be broken. Here are some key storylines I’m looking forward to catching up with:

House Lannister has won a great battle in the war for control of the North. Tywin used Walder Frey’s men to kill Robb Stark and his unborn heir, eliminating the last of the Stark threat -- or so he thinks. Precocious Arya is a growing force to be reckoned with.

Sansa is trapped in a marriage with scheming but sometimes compassionate Tyrion Lannister, which leaves her stranded but also powerful. Will she be freed? What does Petyr Baelish have in mind for her? His slithering scheme to escape will need to find a new home now that Sansa has been dragged into the lion’s den.

What of Tyrion’s own fate? He has been stepped on and pushed around enough. We can certainly look forward to a turn of fate for him in the early part of season 4.

With Jon Snow running from a spurned Ygritte and her band of free men, and Bran headed beyond the wall in search of three-eyed crow, will the Stark children ever be reunited?

And where will Danaerys take her newly freed Yunkai army? We still have a few months to wait on all of these burning questions.

The International Business Times reported recently that season 4 is set to premiere on March 31, 2014. Catch up on seasons 1-3 on HBO On Demand or HBO Go. Seasons 1 and 2 are also available on Google Play.

In addition to these and other returning favorites, there are several intriguing series debuting in 2014.

True Detective - Jan. 12, 2014

Starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, this 8-episode procedural drama on HBO will chronicle the duo’s hunt for a serial killer across three distinct timelines: 1995, 2002 and 2012. Interestingly, the show is scored by T-Bone Burnett, who is presently receiving accolades for his work on the soundtrack of the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.

Believe - 2014

Believe is a collaboration between television auteur J.J. Abrams (Lost) and film thrillmaster Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men) on NBC. This supernatural thriller follows a young girl named Bo, who has supernatural powers, as she travels across the country with ex-death row inmate Tate, fleeing those who seek to harness and abuse her abilities.

John Oliver - 2014

Finally! I’m excited for John Oliver’s as-yet-unnamed Sunday night comedy-satire show on HBO. Oliver’s hosting chops were tested this summer when he commanded The Daily Show desk in Jon Stewart’s absence, as the late-night comedy news veteran took a break to make his directorial debut. Though it took Oliver a few episodes to get in a groove, he filled the host chair well. Surely in a setting all his own, where he is able to set his own tone and manner, we’ll see that British humor shine. Now please excuse me while I go dance to Mystikal’s “Danger.”

Other early 2014 premieres:

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (TLC) - Jan. 16, 9 p.m.
Community (NBC) - Jan. 2, 8 p.m.
The Bachelor
(ABC) - Jan. 5, 8 p.m.
Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family) - Jan. 7, 8 p.m.
Chicago PD (NBC) - Jan. 8, 10 p.m.
Parks and Recreation (NBC) - Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m.
Girls (HBO) - Jan. 12, 10 p.m.
American Idol (Fox) - Jan. 15, 8 p.m.
Sherlock (PBS) - Jan. 19, 10 p.m.

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