Summer’s Done; Fall’s Begun! The Best TV of Summer 2010; A Look at the First of Fall!

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What an interesting and entertaining summer it’s been for television. New Shows like Covert Affairs and Pretty Little Liars seemed to come out of nowhere to become hits, while reliable standbys like The Closer, Breaking Bad and Mad Men maintained their positions and won big at the Emmys. And for off the charts nasty fun, there was, once again, True Blood.

With the fall season getting underway [The CW and FX have already introduced new shows and the big guys are following over the next couple weeks], it’s definitely time to take a look at the best of this past summer and offer a couple of comments on the few new shows that we’ve seen debut over the last week.

Note that I have not included Mad Men in my summer list because I simply did not have time to include it in my schedule. A separate overview for MM will appear once the new fall season premieres have appeared.

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10. Memphis Beat [TNT] – This cop show is part procedural, part appreciation of Memphis and its music. The lead, Dwight Hendricks [Jason Lee] is a police detective and, in his off-duty hours, an interpreter of the music of Elvis Presley. The show simmers like a good barbecue and is supported by intriguing crimes, great character development and cookin’ music.

9. Warehouse 13 [Syfy] – This odd couple fantasy teams Secret Service Agents Pete Lattimer [Eddie McClintock] and Myka Bering [Joanne Kelly], assigned to Warehouse 13, a repository for artifacts that give their owners supernatural gifts. Under the leadership of Agent Artie Nielsen [Saul Rubinek] and with the tech support of Claudia Donovan [Allison Scagliotti], Lattimer and Bering hunt down these artifacts, neutralize them and bring them [snag ‘em, bag ‘em and tag ‘em] to the warehouse. The series can go anywhere, genre-wise, so it can thrill, chill and laugh. The second season introduced H.G. Wells as a recurring character – that’s how flexible its range can be.

8. Leverage[TNT] – Sometimes the best good guys for the job are actually bad guys. Leverage teams a grifter [Gina Bellman’s Sophie], a hitter [Christian Kane’s Elliott], a hacker [Aldis Hodge’s Hardison] and a thief [Beth Riesgraf’s Parker] under the direction of former insurance investigator/mastermind Nathan Ford [Timothy Hutton]. Their job is to leverage money from those who have acquired it seemingly legally and return it to its rightful owners. Each ep is a mini -heist movie with all that entails – outside interference, mistiming, improvisation. The series can take darker shades [Nate is an alcoholic, for example], but is almost always a rush of pure fun.

7. White Collar [USA] – Ex-con and con man Neal Caffrey [Matt Bomer] is as slick as they come. The only man to catch him, FBI Special Agent Peter Burke [Tim DeKay] is his match for intelligence, imagination and tenacity. Caffrey is paroled into the care of the FVI – under Burke’s supervision – where he helps Burke and his team deal with everything from foreign criminals to arrogant bank robbers. Like Leverage, it sets a bad guy to catch other bad guys – though Caffrey isn’t necessarily a bad guy at heart. White Collar is breezy but, like Leverage, has its dark moments – the death of Caffrey’s one true love – that are lurking below the surface. Overall, though, the series is smart, slick, occasionally twisted fun.

6. Pretty Little Liars [ABC Family] – This full-blown teen soap is actually a smartly constructed mystery with stops along the way for the pretty cast to delve into teen angst [one character is hiding a sexual secret; another, a haltingly developing relationship with her English teacher, and so forth]. The main thrust of the series is the disappearance of Allison, the queen bee of a group of five hot high school students, and how they begin to receive text messages from someone who signs themselves as “A”. When Allison’s body is found – and the texts don’t stop – things begin to get really interesting…

5. The Big C [Showtime] – Schoolteacher Cathy [Laura Linney] learns she has stage four melanoma. She’s done; it’s over. With chemo and radiation, she might extend her life, but she chooses not to go there. Instead, she kinda goes nuts – well, for her, at any rate. She can’t bring herself to tell her husband and son, so when she starts making changes in her life – like kicking her Peter-Pan-syndrome-suffering husband out and keeping her sarcastic, pain-in-the-butt son home from soccer camp – no one knows what to make of her. At work, she tells a fat, obnoxious student [Gabourey Sidibe] she can’t be fat and obnoxious – she can either be fat and jolly or skinny and obnoxious. As someone who has had relatives develop cancer and not found out until after their deaths, this series strikes me as hitting that balance between melancholy and fun. It’s a delicate trick to pull off, but there you go…

4. Burn Notice [USA] – Burnt spy Michael Westen [Jeffrey Donovan] is stuck in Miami – with his manipulative mom [Sharon Gless], on-again-on-again girlfriend and ex-IRA weapons expert [Gabrielle Anwar and a former partner and ex-SEAL [Bruce Campbell]. He’s long since found out who burned him, but now he’s working on why. The show is a clever mix of elements from The Rockford Files, MacGyver and different spy shows and novels – all filtered through creator Matt Nix’s unique sensibilities. The result is a mix of action, drama and humor that is – even after three and a half seasons, fresh and original.

3. Breaking Bad [AMC] – The story of a decent man’s descent into evil as he tries to provide for his family after he learns he has terminal cancer. Created by Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad is the darkest of dark comedies. Watching high school chemistry teacher Walter White [Bryan Cranston] using his scientific knowledge to make crystal meth in order to provide for his family – and how this leads to events that cause him to evolve, in the tiniest of increments, into a truly evil man, is a horrific, hypnotic experience.

2. Covert Affairs – It shouldn’t be a surprise that Covert Affairs is so good. Doug Liman [The Bourne Identity] is one of the executive producers – and it drew Piper Perabo, an actor who worked almost exclusively in film for over a decade, to take on the lead role of Annie Walker. Annie is a young CIA Agent who was brought into operations despite having a month of training before she would be ready – ostensibly because of her language skills, but of course, there’[s more to it than that – involving an ex-lover who apparently went rogue from The Company. Annie’s biggest supporter, at work, is Auggie Anderson [Christopher Gorham], a blind tech wizard who in the field before he was blinded.

The show balances Annie’s work with her private life – she lives in guest house on her married sister’s [Anne Dudek] property and has a niece who loves her as much as she loves her mom. While the various operations Annie is a part of make the show exciting, it’s the depth in the development of her – and the characters she works and lives with – and the details of her life that make the series truly compelling.

True Blood – High drama, offbeat humor, campy melodrama, political commentary – all these elements combine to make True Blood the most exhilarating summer TV experience. The story of Sookie Stackhouse [Anna Paquin], telepathic waitress and beloved of The Vampire Bill [as she laughingly called him in the series premiere] is a complicated one with more supernatural creatures, good and evil, than in any other regular series. The series mixes horror and mystery; plays as an allegory for everything from religious bigotry to racial and sexual politics, and hits it out of the park as a romance – in every meaning of the word from love relationship to high adventure.

At its worst, True Blood is more entertaining than ninety percent of everything on television. At its best, it hits that top half a percent.

Thoughts on the First Three of the New Season

Hellcats [The CW] – in order to buy into Hellcats, you have to accept Aly Michalka as a Goth girl. At her gothiest, though, Michalka looks like a… cheerleader. The situation that compels her to become a cheerleader [the likes of whom she has frequently mocked] calls for her law scholarship to be rescinded – though no fault of her own – and her mother hiding notification of same because she didn’t want to worry her. I love Gail O’Grady, but really? Needless to say, I didn’t make it through the premiere.

If you’re looking for a series with lots of pretty young things, Hellcats will fit the bill. If you’re looking for more, you will not find it here.

Grade: D

Nikita [The CW] – On the other hand, we have Nikita. After two successful movies and a successful TV series, why would anyone want to mess with this tale of a bad girl railroaded into becoming an assassion for a shadowy government agency that’s gone rogue? Because they have a tantalizing new take on the story.

The set up is the bad girl being railroaded by the shadowy government agency, but the bad girl is Alex [Lyndsey Fonseca, Kick-Ass], not Nikita. Nikita [Maggie Q, Dragon Squad, Mission: Impossible III] has gone off the grid and freed herself from the clutches of Division [the best name for a shadowy government agency, eve!]. Now, three years later, she’s ptting a plan into action – a plan that will destroy Division.

Linking Nikita to previous versions of the story are Michael [Shane West], trainer of these baby agents and Birkhoff [Aaron Stanford], Division’s tech wizard. Finishing school elegance and pose are taught by Amanda [Melinda Clarke], and Division’s head is Percy [Xander Berkeley].

Nikita is complex, smart and extremely well plotted. The cast is uniformly excellent [I particularly enjoyed the first brief appearance by Tiffany Hines as Jaden, a kind of mean girl assassin-to-be who is totally into the idea of “smoking someone…”].

Grade: A

Terriers [FX] – If Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett had written The Rockford Files, the result might have been Terriers. The combination of Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James as Hank and Britt – two low-rent detectives who have a habit of getting in over their heads – makes for one of the best, unique and entertaining detectives shows ever.

The writing is superb and the cast [which includes Laura Allen, Kimberly Quinn, Jamie Denbo and Rockmund Dunbar] is as close to perfect as you can get.

For my full review, follow the link:

http://eclipsemagazine.com/television/19954/

Terriers premiered to surprisingly low numbers. Let’s change that. It’s too a good a show to go by the wayside.

Grade: A