BBC America Monday. Sept. 4 (12 a.m., other times)
British actor Sean Bean has played plenty of villains, terrorists and cowards, but he is in full hero mode in Sharpe's Challenge, the latest installment in the BBC America series about the adventures of Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the British army during and after the Napoleonic Wars.
In these colorful costume dramas that don't stint on dirt, gore and damsels in distress and deshabille, Sharpe, who as a mere sergeant managed to save the life of the Duke of Wellington, undertakes a variety of missions with his Irish sidekick, Sgt. Patrick Harper (Peter Hugo-Daily). Here, he is off to India to track down a massacre-prone renegade officer (played with abundant creepiness by Toby Stephens) who has become the power behind a boy rajah in league with the late ruler's favorite concubine (Padma Lakshmi, Mrs. Salman Rushdie to you.) Of course there's a beauteous general's daughter to be saved along the way.
As an up-from-the-ranks leader with plenty of swash and swagger, Sharpe is fatal, in different ways, to sadistic officers — apparently there were lots in the 19th-century army — and the gorgeous babes who inevitably get in the middle of things. There's a bit of voyeurism to the violence, and the women are either helpless or conniving, but if you like stories where “for king and country” is said without irony — except by the Irish guy — then this is the show for you.
— Martha T. Moore
HBO Sunday, Sept. 10 (10 p.m.)
Saving the best for last, this often overlooked great dramatic series goes to school in its fourth season. The cycle of law and disorder in Baltimore — “a great American city,” in the words of politician Thomas Carcetti (Aiden Gillen) — began with drug dealers in high-rise projects, continued with union travails on the port docks and then delved into mayoral politics and a disastrous experiment in drug-law nonenforcement. It extends into middle school in season four, where the incompetence of the legal and education systems is all the more devastating because their failures perpetuate the poverty and despair of the drug trade to the next generation. For every step forward — Carcetti's enlightened public service, the rise of effective police as symbolized by Lt. Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick), the possible escape from the drug cycle of a youth born into “The Game” — there's a cold slap involving one or more kids horribly left behind.
As always, the ensemble acting is uniformly remarkable. And it helps to watch on-demand or digitally recorded so you can rewind and catch the dialogue that's too true to be spoken slowly.
— Kent Gibbons