While networks have all but abandoned the miniseries, viewers still love them. The tearful conclusion of “Downton Abbey” was among the most watched programs in PBS history. The History Channel set ratings records with its “Hatfields & McCoys” miniseries. Multipart HBO series, from “Mildred Pierce” to “Parade’s End,” continue to attract Emmy notice while captivating audiences in search of literary adaptations.
The History Channel returns to the miniseries genre with gusto with “Vikings” (9 p.m. Sunday). A lavish and ambitious production, “Vikings” follows the journeys of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a Norseman with a mind of his own who rebels against corrupt chieftain Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne). The prevailing wisdom held that Viking raiding parties could only venture east — toward the Baltic coast. The intrepid Ragnar joins forces with a mystical jester, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), to devise a long boat and a crude navigational instrument capable of sailing west and plundering the riches of then-unknown kingdoms, namely England and Ireland.
Behind every would-be chieftain stands a good woman. Katheryn Winnick (“Bones”) stars as Ragnar’s wife, Lagertha, the lusty local shield maiden who is more than a match for any man, including her hirsute husband.
Mingling the magical and factual on an epic scale, “Vikings” at times resembles a pared-down, less baffling version of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Any drama set in this mythic Nordic past is going to tiptoe right up to the border that separates the serious from silly Wagnerian overkill. This is a hairy show. Sometimes it looks like members of Metallica have teamed up with roadies for the Allman Brothers Band to form an eighth-century motorcycle gang.
Sunday's other highlights
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): tainted injections and China’s overheated real estate market.
• Mary Margaret vows to keep an enchanted dagger well hidden on “Once Upon a Time” (7 p.m., ABC).
• Carol Kane (“Taxi”) guest-stars as a woman Adam meets at Alcoholics Anonymous on “Girls” (8 p.m., HBO).
• Amy braces for the repercussions from her expose on “Enlightened” (8:30 p.m., HBO).