Summer TV Catch Up: What I’ve Been Watching

It’s been a lot of “Mad Men” these past few weeks here on the blog, but I’ve been watching plenty of other shows. Some have been part of the great “Catch Up Now That ‘Lost’ Ended and I Actually Have the Time to Watch Them” project: shows such as “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “Party Down,” “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” and “Sons of Anarchy.” But others are simply summer shows airing new episodes. Here are some shortened thoughts on those that get a Weekly Pass in my household. In no particular order…

“My Boys” (TBS, Sundays, 10 pm)

my_boys_s2e1a.jpgNot every show need be epic in its sweep to be entertaining. In the case of “My Boys,” I think less would be even more. No one would ever accuse the show of pushing the boundaries in any conceivable form, but in trying to shoehorn a plot or two per episode, it’s actually playing away from its greatest strength: the easy-going comraderie of its cast. If the show revolved around little more than the gang hanging around the poker table or talks smack at Crowley’s, I’d be a happy camper. The show abandoned the heavy sports-centric POV long ago: maybe it’s time to focus less on these people actually doing things and more on them enjoying each other’s company. When the show does that, I feel like one of the boys as well.

Rubicon (AMC, Sundays, 9 pm)

I’ve talked about “Rubicon” twice on my podcast with Mo Ryan, so I don’t have too much more to add here. But there’s as of yet little to warrant a full recap, especially since it airs right before “Mad Men” which takes up my regular Sunday night writing slot. If I watch “My Boys” for the banter, I watch “Rubicon” for the mood. The characters as they stand now are themselves as much ciphers as the codes which the API attempts to crack. People who watched “The Pacific” love them some James Badge Dale, but as one who didn’t, I’m waiting for his chance to break out and do more than look pensively across the river into New Jersey. I also give the show three more episodes of Miranda Richardson being unconnected to the main plot before I cry foul. Speaking of conspiracy shows…

Persons Unknown (NBC, Saturdays, 8 pm)

In hindsight, having a show easily abbreviated as “PU” probably was a hint that this show wouldn’t be terrific. It started off as “not terrible,” but as with many mystery shows devolved as more light was shed on the overall forces at work in this particular universe. The fact that a cross-eyed investigative reporter can elude an organization nominally in charge of modern society for this long stretches credulity thinner than Paris Hilton after a fasting fortnight. In Janet Cooper, “Persons” has its very own Lana Lang, a character seemingly unspecial in every respect but around whom the entire show revolves for reasons themselves unknown. Ultimately, I’ll watch until the end out of habit and lack of better options, but I’m immensely more entertained by the TWOP boards for this mess than the show itself.

Entourage (HBO, Sundays, 10:30 pm)

ari.jpgIf “Persons Unknown” devolved over the course of the season, then “Entourage” definitely evolved. Unfortunately, it evolved from “holy shit this is terrible” to “huh, this is almost watchable.” It’s an improvement, but nothing to brag about. When Vince’s “wild” behavior after his onset accident involved a haircut and some skydiving, I nearly gave up on the show entirely. But props to “Entourage” to have Vince sink incredibly low incredibly fast, with his friends either too busy or too unwilling to watch their meal ticket unravel. Ari’s finally at the precipice of losing something as well, with audio of his in-work rants now all over the interwebs. However, since this IS “Entourage,” I have no doubt everything will be unicorns and rainbows by season’s end. But hey, the show surprised me with Vince this year: maybe they’ll surprise me again.

(Nah. Also, hi Sasha Grey.)

Burn Notice (USA, Thursdays, 9 pm)

I didn’t watch an episode of this show until this summer, and while that’s probably meant that I have missed some key moments amongst the three main characters, it’s not as if it was hard to catch up immediately at the start of the 4th season. (It helps that the show built in a nice Michael Weston overdub explaining the premise in 30 seconds at the start of each season.) Long-time fans might not like Jesse, but I dig him just fine, as he gives the trio something new to play against. Plus, he’s a ticking time bomb, one that will undoubtedly go off in the final two weeks. My biggest problem with the show: it doesn’t know how to do big narrative arcs. Michael’s actions that got Jesse burned are part of some global conspiracy I don’t pretend to understand nor remotely care about. Had that plot simply gotten Jesse into the group for Blow ‘Em Ups of the Week, that would have worked me. But the season-long conspiracy arc has made the plotting of “Rubicon” seem like that of “Glee” in terms of overall pace. I’m a sucker for mythology and long-form narrative, but only when it serves the story, not merely bookends episodes to make it seem as if forward progression has been made. Just as there’s more than one way to rig a bomb, there’s more than one way to tell a serialized story.

(I have to give bonus points to the show for allowing me to envision Michael narrating mundane activities in my everyday life. “When a spy realizes he’s out of toilet paper, but he’s already done his business, there are several options he could take to remedy the situation before trouble truly brews…”)

Royal Pains (USA, Thursdays, 10 pm)

My problem with this show is the opposite of “Burn Notice”: the ONLY thing I care about on this show is the overall mystery concerning Boris’ illness. While the show managed to throw in Maladies of the Week against the backdrop of Boris’ condition, once Boris decided to stay in Cuba the show itself took a huge nosedive in terms of overall quality and interest. I like me some Henry Winkler, but the impending Boris/Eddie showdown is about as lopsided as a dunk contest between me and Mr. Took His Talents to South Beach. At this point, I’m watching for Reshma Shetty’s Divya while praying for more incurable German face time. To compare and contrast my interest in USA’s Thursday night lineup: I make sure to watch “Burn Notice” as close to actual air time as possible, but I only watch “Royal Pains” when there’s nothing else on TV.

Louie (FX, Tuesdays, 11 pm)

“Louie” has produced the most interesting scene of any show all summer (the poker scene about a certain “f” word) and the funniest scene of any show all summer (the sex scene with the girl turned on my older men). Everything else has been interesting at the least, and downright engaging at its best. It’s hard to call this show a “comedy,” since so much of it comes from awkward, honest analysis of people trying to make it through just everyday life with some semblance of happiness. Sometimes to show veers too much into cringe comedy (I couldn’t take the scenes with his mother at ALL), but for those that complain that most shows on television are ultimately interchangeable, here’s one that stands alone in its unique perspective and production.

Any thoughts on any of these shows? What are YOU watching this summer?

One Comment

  1. Posted August 18, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    TVMcGee,

    I’m also hanging on with PU until the end to see what the deal is, but wasn’t this devolution to be expected from a summer show that wasn’t promoted in the least? It has surpassed my expectations even if it still isn’t the least bit good tv.

    I feel the hate has gone too far on Entourage. Was it ever quality television? It is what it is. You’re right in that the recent eps have proven to be more fulfilling than the first few this season, but will it ever be anything more than a lifestyle show? An insider look at what a couple of dudes want us to think Hollywood is. Vince’s fall from the top has been nice to see.

    -Quiet Pool

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