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Summer TV: YAY!

2010/06/10

Ah, we’ve reached that time of the year; the sun is shining; the air is embracing and imbued with life; the sounds of children echo through the neighborhood.  Of course, the question at the top of all of our minds is the same:  what the hell am I supposed to watch now that Lost ended and everything else is in reruns that I’ve already seen.  Sometimes twice even!

Lemme help you with that.

Summer television is always an exciting place to roam, because there are things on that would never see the light of day the other three seasons, when networks actually care about ratings and haven’t just given up.  Let’s take a look-see at what I think you ought to be fixating those eyeballs on, shall we?

First, as I mentioned at too-much length in the Mystery Team review, if you haven’t been watching Community, you best start with the reruns now.  This is your last warning.  I’m not going to lose this one.

Our first category:

Returning Summer Mainstays (that might be a strong use of the word ‘mainstay’)

First up:  Wipeout.  Let’s lay this flat on the table:  I enjoy watching exactly ONE professional sport, and that’s football.  That’s it.  Maybe tennis once every five years, but that doesn’t really qualify it for consideration, so as you can imagine, until somebody launches a watchable semi-pro summer football league, when it came to competitive events, the closest thing I could stomach was pro-wrestling (we’ll get into that problem on a different day).  That all changed three years ago when this beautiful ridiculousness debuted.  When it comes to complete brain-checked-at-the-door, the-entire-family-is-interested-and-I-don’t-have-to-uncomfortably-explain-anything-to-anyone-at-any-age, the only rival this show has is AFV.  And thanks to those gorgeous giant red balls, Wipeout wins the category.  Starts up again for real in two weeks on ABC.

Warehouse 13 – A SyFy Channel original that is loads more captivating than most of their ‘original’ offerings, Warehouse 13 is light combo of X-Files, Bones and maybe a touch of some CSI-like storytelling.  Last year’s season one was surprisingly good, maybe it helped I had no expectations, but the cast is likable and efficient in this story of a secret agency whose purpose is to track down and store all the supernaturally charged historical artifacts both real and fictional in the world with a heavy lean towards literary greats, including tales about Lewis Carroll’s looking-glass that allows an evil Alice to run rampant in the world, a story about Edgar Allen Poe’s quill pen that raises murderous impulses in all who write with it, and a brief scene in which an agent comes too close to Sylvia Plath’s typewriter and is quickly overrun with enough ennui and melancholy to make them cease wishing to move due to the pointlessness.  Clever stuff.  Second Season kicks off on SyFy July 6.

Last Comic Standing – which disappears every couple of years to re-emerge two years later, supposedly re-invented.  Look, I’ve watched every season of this competition – from Jay Mohr, to the horrible Anthony Clark, to Bill Bellamy to new host Craig Robinson.  They don’t ever really fix it.  They remove some aspects (comics used to have to ‘compete’ in odd settings, now it’s just stage work with judges like most talent competitions), they change graphics, they expand and contract initial auditions…doesn’t matter.  Every year, I see professional stand-ups, ones that I know have great road careers and absolutely kill onstage in the auditions over the newbies not make it past the first round pretty much because producers want the most diverse group of characters they can get….too many young white guys spoil the soup.  This year alone, Jimmy Dore, Cathy Ladman and Chris Fairbanks – a guy that for my money is one of the five funniest stand-ups working today, didn’t get past a bunch of rookies.   Fine, it’s half-rigged.  I don’t care – it’s still a great place to catch some up-and-comers and get a good dose of stand-up comedy on a major stage.  Cool.  And this years judges are the most legitimate they’ve ever had – Greg Giraldo and Andy Kindler are legends on the road, and Natasha Leggero is a highly respected up-and-comer in the stand-up community.  That gives it a lot more legitimacy to me, a huge fan of the art.  And maybe I’m also hooked because I was as close to trying out for Season 6 as I’m ever going to get, when I realized the line was way too long in Minneapolis, and I didn’t really want a career that involved me being away from my family seven-eighths of the year.  But I digress.  Currently airing on Mondays on NBC.

The New Stuff

I’ve got two here this year that I’m throwing down with – and they’ve got a similar build.  The back story:  ever since Lost struck gold, we the viewing public have gotten to deal with two to three ‘huge arc/massively multiple primary characters’ offerings a year.  None have made it so far, enough so that I won’t even get involved in watching one unless I see a second-season pickup with some strength behind it so I won’t be disappointed (the only reason I refused to watch past episode two of FlashForward – ratings didn’t look great, and there was no way that story would be wrapped up well in three or less years).  I learned my lesson from having Jericho and even more feloniously, The 4400, ripped out from beneath my feet.  But something interesting happened along the way…

In 2006, The SyFy Channel (at the time named the less ridiculous ‘SciFi’) aired a limited run series called The Lost Room.  It had all the WTF? elements of Lost, but not explored as deeply, with a couple of semi-name brand actors (Peter Krause, Juliana Marguiles) leading the way, and most importantly, an end in sight from the very beginning.  Sure some depth and a significant amount realistic drama development was lost in favor of excitement and moving things along, but it was very watchable and filled the summer nicely without bogging me down with too much thinking….just enough.

Last year, CBS aired Harper’s Island, a big old death roulette of a show centered around about 40 people stranded on a New England island getting picked off one-by-one by what appeared to be a thought-deceased-a-decade-back serial killer.  I had no time to get to know most of the characters; I also didn’t care.  Again, good dumb fun.  And when it was over 13 weeks later, I didn’t feel like I wasted so much time…I think this limited-run idea really goes all the way back to Twin Peaks which was awesome for the first year, because that’s all the story they had to tell.  When they stretched it out, it all fell apart.  Lesson learned.

So to sum up the strengths of the summer limited series:  Semi-long arc with a mystery at the core, a large cast with a couple of C to D list actors in tow, and a simplified (read: suspend your disbelief, peoples) accelerated race to the end from the get-go, with plenty of dropped threads and unresolved red herrings.  Love it.

This year, I’m enjoying two of these, and think you should too:

Happy Town – Sorta-famous actors:  Sam Neill, Amy Acker, Steven Weber, M.C. Gainey and Abraham Benrubi (You know, that big fella that worked the desk on ER the first couple of years!  Remember?) Setting: Small town name ‘Haplin’ – maybe in Minnesota, really didn’t pay attention – still grieving the disappearance of seven or eight citizens a decade or so back to an unseen serial killer named ‘The Magic Man’.  The Hook:  It seems ‘The Magic Man’ has returned.  This one is four weeks in already, but you can catch up on Hulu or the ABC website.  It’s really moving along, and there’s so many side characters that they fall nicely into ‘small town weirdo’ categories previously established by Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure, etc.  Death Toll:  Slowly building, slower than I expected. WTF is going on? factor:  Very high, this thing has people going mad, disappearing and reappearing, and all sorts of odd factoids being dropped constantly.  The wide range of character archetypes is making for some wild variances in my theories.  Watchability:  So far it’s been awesome, and Sam Neill is a blast to watch in his role as an English film aficionado/Magic Man expert.  Wednesdays on ABC

Persons Unknown – This one just started this week, so it’s an ideal time to jump aboard, the pilot is on NBC, Hulu…pretty much wherever you find TV.  Semi-Famous Actors:  Alan Ruck is pretty much the biggest dog in this pen.  The guy that played ‘Cameron’ in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and was on Spin CityAfter that, it’s folks that haven’t done a lot – Lola Glaudini from the first season of Criminal Minds,  Lee Purcell from Due South – that general level. Setting:  Um, not really sure.  That’s more or less what the show is about.  The Hook:  Seven strangers with completely diverse backgrounds and from different areas of the country wake up in a non-descript hotel in the middle of a one-stoplight town.  They are being recorded at all times.  The town is deserted and they cannot leave it, though ‘workers’ (restaurant staff, night bellman) appear to come and go just to service them. Death Toll:  Nobody yet.  WTF is going on? factor:  Very high after one episode, which is impressive.  Watchability:  The pilot episode was so well done that I can’t believe this isn’t on the fall schedule.  It seems to be less breakneck pace than Happy Town, and more methodical (and sinister) in building it’s suspense.  Mondays on NBC

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cliff permalink
    2010/06/11 1:32 am

    Can Happy Town wrap up in five episodes? I wasn’t able to catch it when it first aired and ABC scrapped it almost immediately.

    • 2010/06/11 1:25 pm

      I assume so. It’s never felt like it was going to go much longer than ten. Shortness is key in these things. This, of course, is assuming the actual plot wrapup was contained in that five.

  2. puredieselbc permalink
    2010/06/12 2:36 pm

    Happy Town has only three episodes left at the end of which the Magic Man’s idenity will be revealed to the viewers but NOT the other characters of the show.

    Persons Unknown was originally made for SyFi channel but NBC, it’s sister network, picked it up instead as a summer show. It was created by the guy who wrote “The Usual Suspects”.

    I have been watching both shows and they are both terrific!

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