Must-See TV?

Just because your regular appointment television is on hiatus doesn’t mean there aren’t new things to see

Did you think that with the regular TV season drawing to a close, your eyeballs would get a well-deserved rest? Think again. In their increasing attempt to turn television into a year-round endeavor, the networks have packed the ostensible off-season with more programming than you can shake barbecue tongs at. There are enough shows—good, bad and trashy—to keep you planted on the couch until all your regular favorites come back after Labor Day. Here are some to keep on your radar.

Reality Ridicule

Summer and reality television … they go together like picnic blankets and ants. On deck for this summer is a second season of Jersey Shore, more Real Housewives of Atlanta and even Wipeout, which basically revolves around couples running through the obstacle course from hell. In honor of these neo-classics, here are the five most ridiculous examples of summer reality programming (trust us, it was hard to choose).

  1. Dating in the Dark, ABC, 2009: Three men and three women move into a dark house. Dating ensues. Dignity does not.
  2. Celebrity Circus, NBC, 2008: Because you always wanted to see G-list celebrities swing from a trapeze on a show hosted by Joey Fatone.
  3. The Singing Office, NBC, 2008: Hey, it’s Joey Fatone again! The patron saint of bad summer reality hosted this mess about looking for singing talent inside regular offices.
  4. Boy Meets Boy, Bravo, 2003:
    A gay man must choose a partner from a house filled with 15 men. The twist? Some are straight.
  5. Seriously, Dude, I’m Gay, Fox: This show—about two straight men pretending to be gay—was so insulting that Fox canceled it before it had a chance to air.

If you’re having withdrawal symptoms because Lost is gone for good, then perhaps you’ll like a mystery show with the tag line “By the end of the summer, answers will be known.” The miniseries Persons Unknown (NBC, June 7) comes from writer Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects (but not for Valkryie), and is sure to provide plenty of paranoid thrills. To wit: The series follows a group of strangers who get kidnapped, stranded in an abandoned town and aren’t allowed to leave. And did we mention that there are cameras following their every move? Think of this as The Truman Show filtered through the mind of David Lynch. But let’s just hope this one is more like Lost and less like FlashForward.

The amount of joy you get out of The Good Guys (Fox, June 7) depends on your tolerance for mustache jokes. If it’s high, you’ll probably fall in love with this clunky throwback to the ridiculous cop shows from the ’80s. Bradley Whitford (wonderfully ’stached) and straight-arrow Colin Hanks co-star as two mismatched Dallas police officers who are assigned to the most menial of crimes (or “Code 58s,” as they’re known—which was also the original name of the series). Fox aired the pilot last month, and while it was tonally inconsistent—too jokey and then not jokey enough—any show that features Whitford, a 1978 Pontiac Trans-Am and AC/DC is probably a good bet for the summer.

Not in the mood for the ’stache, but still want to see cops battle robbers? There’s always Memphis Beat (TNT, June 22), which stars a mustache-less Jason Lee (ironic considering he spent the better part of four seasons of My Name is Earl rocking one). Beat feels like any good generic cop show should, but the fact that it comes from executive producer George Clooney and co-stars Alfre Woodard and DJ Qualls should make it more tolerable. And wait, there’s one more cop show! Rookie Blue (ABC, June 24) is a Canadian procedural about five rookie police officers who join the force. Think Grey’s Anatomy plus Southland plus sex minus mustaches.

Enough with the cop shows. How about some trashy teen fun? Based on Sara Shepard’s series of best-selling books, Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family, June 8) is like an assembly-line-manufactured combination of Desperate Housewives, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Veronica Mars and Gossip Girl. And if you’re like us, that’s kinda music to your ears. Four girls spend a year lying about the disappearance of their friend, only to find someone who may or may not be her sending them threatening texts about secrets and lies. Throw in some indie rock on the soundtrack, and you’ve got a winner.

Following in the footsteps of its highly popular series Burn Notice, USA premieres Covert Affairs (USA, July 13), a spy thriller co-starring Julia Roberts look-alike Piper Perabo as the C.I.A.’s newest recruit. It’s Alias, but blond. The fun here—besides the death-defying stunts—is the supporting cast, which features Peter Gallagher, 24 vet Gregory Itzin (the awful President Logan) and ER’s Eriq LaSalle. You might remember Scoundrels (ABC, June 20) as the show that actor Neal McDonough was fired from because he refused to participate in sex scenes with co-star Virginia Madsen on religious grounds. Or maybe you just know it from those incessant promos that have been running on ABC for weeks. Whatever the case, McDonough’s replacement, JAG star David James Elliott, and Madsen star as a husband and wife who just happen to lead a family of small-time thieves. If this brings us one step closer to Madsen winding up on Desperate Housewives, we’ll take it.

Speaking of Wisteria Lane, The Gates (ABC, June 20) is like Desperate Housewives with vampires. Because if Twilight has taught us anything, it’s that people just love vampires.

Anna Paquin and Alexander Skarsgård sizzle on True Blood.

Our most anticipated show of the summer? Try The Big C. (Showtime, Aug. 16) This dramedy stars Laura Linney as a suburban housewife who tries to overcome cancer with a sense of humor. Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) directs the pilot, and Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) co-stars, so we’re sold. That Oliver Platt also appears is just gravy.

And if all those new shows aren’t appealing, old favorites like Entourage (now with more fame!), True Blood (now with more sex!), Weeds (now with more melodrama!) and Mad Men (now with more workplace day drinking!) return as well. Happy watching!

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