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The Summer TV Roundup

August 5, 2011

The dog days of summer are officially upon us, and as we wait for a new batch of “decent” television in late September — and with temps too hot to really often get outside and enjoy too terribly much — summer TV pickings are indeed slim. Let’s be honest, there’s rarely anything on television in these months to get too terribly excited about (most of it’s just…passable enough to entertain one’s self), but for those hard up for something new to watch when you’re not combing through the Netflix queue, there are some options. I’m not saying all of these are good options. But they’re options. Here, then, might be a few things that tide you over — for good or ill — until the new seasons begin. (Spoiler alert: you’re probably not going to get any smarter.)

Oh, Marty Funkhouser. You complete me.

-Anything on HBO. The increasingly campy True Blood is back in full swing, goofy though it may be with the introduction of witchy necromancing and drastic character swings for both the villainous Eric Northman and newly-appointed vampire king Bill Compton, but a possibly homicidal baby and were-panthers are keeping things interesting. Larry David has returned with another long-awaited season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and is back in rare form (a recent episode on “social assassination” was one for the Curb Hall of Fame) and Entourageis limping into its final season with forced pathos, though if you’ve watched so far there’s no way you’re not going to finish the ride with Vinnie, E, Drama and Turtle, so just suck it up and get through it.

-Take the Money and Run. Mark Burnett’s latest ABC reality premiere has an interesting premise: two people get one hour to hide a briefcase containing $100,000 before being locked up for forty-eight hours while detectives hunt the loot and professional interrogators try to glean information to the whereabouts of the cash. If the detectives can’t find it, the money goes to the couple; if they do, it’s theirs. While there needs to be some explanation of the rules (you’ll find yourself wondering exactly what protocol must be followed, though it’s never accurately explained), it seems to be a light enough diversion. 

-Vegas Strip. Those of you who are former COPS addicts may enjoy TruTV’s Sunday night “crime reality drama” featuring the goings-on between law enforcement and alternately douchey/nefarious bad seeds along the Las Vegas Strip. Offensible dalliances range from the humorous (a man steals a Jack Sparrow imitator’s sword and uses it to lift unsuspecting ladies’ skirts) to the quite serious (shady drug dealings in off-strip enclaves), but it’s surprising to find out just how many people are let go on the Strip with just a “warning.” Make no mistake, the cops are playing to the camera, but for Vegas-philes, it’s at least eye candy.

-Expedition: Impossible. Call it “The Amazing Race lite “as teams of three traverse the terrain of Morocco in a series of not-very-difficult challenges to compete for $25,000 split three ways. If you’re thinking that doesn’t seem like much of a payoff, don’t worry. The show’s not either. It’s basically an hour of “hiking documentary” each week. Exciting!

-Breaking Bad. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m not watching this, but I know I should. And from what I read, you should be too. If you are, I don’t need to tell you it’s good, and if you’re not, I should probably advise you (and myself) to get on board at some point. I know our TBTS compatriot Lloyd is currently working his way through this, and I’m sure he’d agree that you should join him. It’s likely better than everything on this list combined. 

-Jersey Shore. I won’t be judged by you for semi-enjoying this, though I deserve to be; by season five, in which the faux-Italian clan travels to Italy, these idiots are like family members — albeit those family members who threaten to ruin Thanksgiving. Snooki and the Situation have made their living on acting embarrassingly for  the cameras, and this season teases Snooki totalling an Italian police car and meathead Ronnie going all punching-bag on the Sitch’s face, but believe it or not, there’s a twisted sense of love and genuine care between the housemates that usually seems to come around after any fracas. I’m not proud of the fact that I watch it, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t at least entertain.

-The Next Food Network Star. If it seems like we’re loaded up on reality programming, it’s because the summer is a festival of one-off reality shows (most nets save the good stuff for the summer). But the Food Network’s competition to see who’ll garner a spot as a new network showrunner is interesting because it seems completely on the level, and there are real stakes involved. Superchef Bobby Flay and the Food Network execs judge a group of contestants as they test their mettle on camera and in the kitchen in a franchise which has produced the likes of Guy Fieri and other Food Network names, and the proceedings are taken very seriously with careful consideration given to camera presence, consistency of theme and future potential. Here’s one show that actually means something. To the Food Network, anyway.

-Degrassi. I realize there’s no way I’m going to get you to watch this, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the multi-award-winning Canadian high school melodrama is among the most tightly and astutely written dramas I’ve ever watched. It just happens to deal with teenagers instead of doctors, cops or mobsters. The current season features cocaine abuse, gang violence, transgenderism, stalking and undisclosed medical problems, and watching Degrassi’s like eating M&Ms — enjoy one and soon you’re through the whole bag. Do yourself a favor and DVR one of the many marathons offered. What else are you going to do? Stand outside and sweat? It’s always cooler in Toronto than it is here. Just give it a try. It’s summer, and this is all we have, people.

  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 5, 2011 1:27 pm

    Louis on FX is another show you should all be watching. Louis C.K. is a funny, funny man.

    • August 5, 2011 3:28 pm

      Oh yeah, you’re right. I should’ve included that. I only recently got on board the show, but I’ve been a fan from way back. Remember seeing him live in ’04 or ’05 or so and when he used to be a regular stand-up on Conan’s early days. Good call. And you’re right. He’s aces.

  2. Lloyd permalink
    August 9, 2011 9:48 pm

    After speeding through 3+ seasons in about a month, I’m now of the opinion that Breaking Bad kills just about everything else on TV in terms of character depth and dramatic storytelling rooted in truth, not gimmicks. Not sure what yet, but I’ll be writing something soon about how it speaks to me.


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