What is “Boardwalk Empire” (8 p.m. Sunday, HBO)? Is it a gangster show? A costume drama? A history lesson? A soap opera? Or an ambitious and sometimes frustrating combination of all of the above? “Empire” returns for its third season, with its identity crisis unsettled.
And how does any show recover from the sudden death of one of its main characters, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), as well as the betrayal of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) by his conscience-stricken wife, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald)?
“Empire” fills the void, or at least distracts us from its dilemmas, by introducing a new character. Bobby Cannavale joins the cast as psychopathic bootlegger Gyp Rosetti, a force for violence that upsets Nucky’s delicate arrangements with the New York underworld.
Not to give too much away here, but Nucky remains married to Margaret as much for “the kids’ sake” as anything. Even though we all know they aren’t his children. And Margaret makes the most of her role as a philanthropist, a venture that allows “Empire” to offer lessons about the lack of sex education during the Roaring ‘20s. Add to that its digressions on Prohibition, race relations and the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding administration, and you have a rich historical brew, but one that entails too many narrative threads. The Harding scandal offers character actor Stephen Root (“Justified”) a great role as an enigmatic go-between whose cryptic utterances often sound like they are out of a Samuel Beckett play.
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Mossad’s former spy chief, a powerhouse NFL agent, pop star Adele.
• The San Francisco 49ers host the Detroit Lions in NFL “Sunday Night Football” (7 p.m., NBC).
• On three helpings of “Revenge” (ABC): A summer rental becomes the center of intrigue (7 p.m.); Daniel’s engagement party turns ugly (8 p.m.); Emily sets out to finish what she started (9 p.m.).
• A raft containing two dead bodies opens a case that sends our cranky hero behind the crumbling walls of the Iron Curtain in “Wallander, Series III: The Dogs of Riga” on “Masterpiece Mystery!” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings).
• A wayward jury faces justice on “The Good Wife” (8 p.m., CBS).