Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer Cable Roundup

It certainly has been The Summer of Cable, has it not? Or at least A Summer of Cable, as the broadcast networks really have nothing to speak of on the air... I mean, really, the only network TV I feel that I watched this summer was So You Think You Can Dance and I'm really worried that it starts again in a week! Too soon!

An opinion summary, by night (besides my Mon-Fri addiction to Rachel Maddow, of course)!


The Closer - A decent enough summer season that got off to a rough start (no mention of Brenda's wedding or honeymoon? So weird!) and had the whole "sick/dying cat" plotline replaced with a far more tolerable "my naughty niece is in town and getting involved in my murder investigations" plotline. Mary McDonnell guest starred twice, the second time she really got to do some new character stuff instead of just doing a Laura Roslin impersonation (and the final showdown in that episode, about the continuing fallout post-Rampart in the LAPD and community relations was a very good Closer moment).

WEEDS - The season started lazily to the point that I asked (and continue to ask) "why am I still watching this show?" It is a shadow of its former self. Nancy is thoroughly unlikable, to the point that I, honestly, am constantly hoping she gets killed so I can stop seeing Mary Louise Parker phone it in every week. This show used to be so damn subversive. Elizabeth Perkins as Celia Hodes was the highlight this season, after spending last year being a put-upon depressive hag she finally got a backbone and is starting to (in a very different way) be that entertaining protagonist/antagonist she used to be. Last week, when she first donned the Nancy wig and garb and latte was, actually, a hoot. For me. Because Perkins so blithely played up all the MLPisms as well as got to ask Nancy how she could drink all those lattes and not have to constantly pee. Bottom line: this show has not been remotely the same since leaving Agrestic. Irrevocable. I'd say "I'm not going to watch next season" but, like Entourage, so long as I'm subscribing the the pay cabler it's airing on, it's gonna be recorded, and I'm gonna watch it.

Nurse Jackie - The critics loved this. I was at first very thrown by the lack of funny. Then about halfway through the season I actually laughed at a joke in the show. It was one of few times. I just wish Showtime would stop labeling NJ as a comedy... it's not. And just having the comedy label alters my weekly expectations. This is a great exercise of a show... can you like the lead character despite the fact that she's a strident bitch who is addicted to prescription drugs and is sleeping around on her husband? The answer? If played by Edie Falco... yes. However, the end of the season left me scratching my head. Instead of building to a fantastic cliffhanger leaving us on the edge of our seats for 10 months or howver long it is until the show returns... there was a rat crawling around in the lighting.


I, um, did not watch anything scripted on Tuesday this summer... and just as well because I have a weekly get-together that often runs until 11pm. Yes, yes, this means I didn't watch Warehouse 13. Somehow... I'm not feeling too out of the loop. Prove me wrong, people. I did, however, watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I'd never watched a Real Housewives season before and have no interest in the other casts, but friends told me about NJ and, as a previous resident of the Garden State, I felt it my duty to watch what happened. And I loved what happened. Even if I still have no idea what Teresa said while flipping that table.


Top Chef Masters - I didn't love TCM in the first six episodes. Unlike the mothership series, we didn't really get to invest in the master chefs until the championship rounds, at which point the show had me completely hooked and I'm glad I stuck with it. If there's a second edition, though, my suggestions would be to lose robotic Kelly Choi (she proved just how much Padma does for Top Chef) and feature 12 master chefs, losing one each week like the regular series does and like the series did once it got to the championship rounds and we were able to bond with the various masters. Oh, and of the three regular critics, only keep Gael Greene. I couldn't stomach Rayner and I could barely look at Oseland...

Top Chef - Only two weeks into the competition, I'm relishing it. A colorful assortment of personalities and many with astounding, Top Chef-ready abilities (two James Beard nominees, the girl who works for Eric Ripert, and the guy who has a Michelin star... way to stack the deck, Top Chef!) I, at first, feared the "high stakes quickfire challenge" thing (that I hope isn't used EVERY week) was a bit shark jumping... but, y'know, they're having fun with the Vegas backdrop. Let them.


Burn Notice - Basic cable's crown jewel. The ratings were almost as entertaining to watch as the show itself and, like the show itself, the ratings improved (certainly compared to its lead-out) as the summer season came to an end. Who'd have thunk two years ago that this show would be outrating The Closer by wide margins in the demo and hitting pretty close to it on a weekly basis (and sometimes surpassing it) in viewership?

Royal Pains - I stuck with the show and, season just having reached its end last week, still am ambivalent about it. Mark Feuerstein has to be one of the most boring actors to watch, so it's amazing that when his Hank is onscreen with love interest Jill... I'm more interested in him. Jill Flint. Blandsville! They tried to spice up the relationship (which, IMHO, progressed far too much and too quickly) by throwing Bruno Campos into the mix... but he'll always be the eunuch Carver from Nip/Tuck (together with showkiller Kat Toder) to me. Paulo Costanzo's Evan, in small doses, is fun. But the show often gives him too much quirk and too much screentime. I'd rather they focus on Reshma Shetty's Divya. Hell, just do the whole show about Divya. I'm curious about the cliffhanger the writers presented us... as the show doesn't return until Summer 2010, will we be picking back up 9 months later?

The Fashion Show - A creative disaster for Bravo that, in the end, did nothing much for "fashion" in the way Project Runway did. Isaac Mizrahi? Buh bye, darling. And where is Kelly Rowland's fashion expertise coming from? Her attendance record at fashion shows? The show had far too many group challenges to start off with, and far too few talented designers. Anna, as a non-bitch, was obviously going to win the viewer vote at the end (I was surprised that, suddenly, the show turned into a viewers vote for the winner show). Daniella was talented and I think the show introduced her to the right people she'll need to give her career a kick start.

Project Runway - Like Top Chef, we are two weeks into this new cycle. Unlike Top Chef, I'm unhappy with where its gone so far. Not that they made stellar clothing, but kicking Ari and then Malvin (who oddly reminded me of Fashion Show's Jean-Paul) off in favor of Mitchell... who apparently can't sew? What!? Project Runway has usually embraced its oddballs at the beginning of the season, waiting to see if they will wow the judges when really lectured and put to the test. At least that's how Bravo handled it. Lifetime, on the other hand, has added the mildly diverting half-hour follow-up series Models of the Runway, which actually gives the models a voice... which is, of course, shocking, shallow, catty, and a wonderful way to kill 22 minutes (and brain cells?) each week.


Psych - Love me some Sean and Gun antics, but have the antics gotten to be too much? The cases thus far this season seem to be very far in the rearview mirror to leave room for more of the quirky comedy. Not that it's a huge problem. I always get many laughs out of the antics and it's a great way to start the weekend (or, um, spend a lazy, warm Saturday afternoon... seriously, LA, turn the heat down...)


True Blood - No discussion of Summer 2009 TV would be complete without a discussion of True Blood, no? Let's talk ratings, first. I was shocked last year when the marketing for the show came out and friends at HBO commented "We wish the show was as good as the marketing." Well, guess what. The show is now cementing its place as the best piece of escapist, summer frivolity in recent memory. It's silly! It's horror! It's emotional! It's creepy! It's romantic! And the ratings are showing, as they grow every week, that a thoroughly serialized show doesn'y have to start big to become a massive success. What did this show premiere to its first season? 1.44 million? How many viewers did it have on August 23rd? 5.3 million? Yeah. Great news for HBO, certainly, which desperately needed a ratings and buzz magnet. And the DVD sales of the first season have been through the roof. I was disappointed in this Sunday's penultimate episode of the season. It felt like it was setting the stage for a great finale... but little else. And I want more out of this show, which thus far this season has given us SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT. Ugh, I can't believe we have to wait two weeks until the finale. Torture!

Hung - Oh, my. Even more than Nurse Jackie, this series is a reason for HBO and Showtime to invent a new word for some of their half-hour offerings (seriously, what's so wrong with calling it a drama? Why does it have to be labeled a "comedy"?) There is nothing fun or funny about this show. And it's a show that should be fun and funny. I mean, it's a show on a pay cabler that can get away with curse words and nudity about a male prostitute. COME ON! The writers should have looked at the first season of Weeds for inspiration. The shows seem very similar in premise... down on their luck single parents starting an illicit means of making money to support their lives and children. The Lenore character is crazy and fun, and Natalie Zea's run was good (mostly because I adore her... but the character has this weird, perverse fantasy to her and that was GOOD because it was DIFFERENT) but all of the regulars are sad to watch. And listen to. Especially the overused voiceovers.

Entourage - My opinion on this season of Entourage is, as I mentioned with WEEDS, that I would stop watching if I stopped subscribing to HBO and I wouldn't care. But as long as it's there, I'm watching. Which is stupid. The season has been atrocious. Skipping past Vince's darkest hour at the end last season (that Ari Gold, of course, managed to solve), we find him back on top of the world. And he's going to be in a new movie! Only... it gets delayed by 12 weeks SO VINCE HAS NOTHING TO DO. HE HAS NO PLOT. WTFWTFWTFWTF!? Meanwhile E is sleeping with a 13 year old girl (who is apparently just a very anorexic 24...) and pinning for Sloane (really?) while being handed a dream job at a big management company that he, for whatever reason, has to think about taking. Drama has a lot of time on his hands for someone who stars in a TV drama, and time enough to have the stupidest tiff ever with a studio executive (not even a president-level executive). Gary Cole is being amusing thank god, and Autumn Reeser showed up once or twice. Basically, if the show took place at the Miller Gold Agency, I would still be enamored of the show. But as it does not... I am not. The "Fab Four" are b-o-r-i-n-g. And every week they manage to top the previous week's level of tedium.

Mad Men - Speaking of tedium... LOL. I really do get sucked into the world of Mad Men. But the three episodes thus far this season have been meditative, slow-moving character pieces to the point that I am dying for something to actually HAPPEN. I love the characters, I love the world, I love the tension added in the office from the British Invasion, I love the depiction of the class struggle, I love pretty much everything to do with Peggy at the office (but that college boy dalliance, her Don Draper in training moment from the second episode... not so much). Seriously, Peggy has gotten some great lines this season. And, of course, Joan. Joan Joan Joan. Everything is just starting to feel far too quiet and go too slowly.

America's Best Dance Crew - Three weeks in and I haven't been consistently wowed by any crew the last in ABDC3 Beat Freakz and Quest Crew always amazed. I've thoroughly enjoyed numbers by Vogue Evolution (but leave the apparent behind the scenes drama behind the scenes!), We Are Heroes, Massive Monkees (but B-Boys always throw impressive tricks in) and Rhythm City. Was surprised Beat Ya Feet Kings didn't go home the first week because of the sloppy performance, but they had a good story to tell. Really, though, still waiting to be wowed.

So... that's my cable summer. Agree? Disagree? Think I should've been watching something that I'm not (I know, I know, I should be watching Leverage... I just don't for some reason)?

Coming soon... more screener reviews and my (depressingly daunting) Fall 2009 viewing schedule (that will certainly come first... perhaps even tonight as I get my affairs in order, and will give away some of my as-yet-unwritten reviews).


Spot said...

Don't have many shows in common with you (BN, Royal Pains, Psych, Mad Men is about it) but I almost completely agree with your assessments on those! Still can't really figure out how I feel about Royal Pains, and really wishing Mad Men would get cooking.

Spot said...

Oh, and I wouldn't worry too much about missing Warehouse 13... I liked it a little better than Royal Pains but felt generally the same way about it. Not bad enough to give up on, not good enough to fall for.