Complete Guide to 2011 Summer TV Premieres

There was a time, not so very long ago, when summer TV was nothing but a wasteland of stale reruns that basically forced you to find something else to do with your leisure time for three months. But no more! Now, thanks largely to cable, summer TV is a wasteland of programming deemed too mediocre to compete in the big leagues of fall and the somewhat-lesser leagues of spring.

I kid! I kid! There’s actually some pretty good stuff on in the summertime, even if a lot of it is the equivalent of beach reading: light and pretty with an emphasis on fluffy fun. And maybe that’s just as it should be. I can’t say I’m generally much in the mood for dark, gritty, intellectual dramas when the sun’s shining brightly overhead and the mercury’s edging towards triple digits. (Perhaps that’s to blame for my increasing disenchantment with The Killing? Or maybe it’s that the show has actually managed to get duller as it’s gotten closer to its denouement.)

And, yes, there are usually a few shows that get burned off in the summer because some network belatedly realized they’d Made a Huge Mistake. But there are also a few genuine treasures to look forward to in between all those cookouts and lazy afternoons by the pool. We therefore present you with a round-up of the upcoming scripted television premieres and returns, for your DVR-programming convenience.

Wednesday, June 1

In case you were worried the male experience was being underserved by the predominantly-male writing staffs that dominate the television landscape, this show about three men struggling through their mid-life crises in three separate, yet equally juvenile ways is back for a six-episode half-season.

Riding the wave of shows about men who act like children and the cardboard women who decorate the scenery around them, TNT brings us this show about a couple of trickster lawyers (did we learn nothing from The Defenders?), played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar (doomed to languish on the worst of TNT’s offerings) and Breckin Meyer, and their boss, the never not creepy Malcolm McDowell. Think of it as the prequel to Men of a Certain Age.

Thursday, June 2

When a comedy’s premiere date gets pushed back so many times that it ends up getting burned off over the summer, you just know it has be great, right? How bad does a show have to be to be considered worse than Outsourced and Perfect Couples anyway? Pretty damn bad, I’m guessing.

Rob Corddry’s biting hospital-drama satire is back for its delightfully wicked third season, with an impressive pedigree of comedy talent that includes Rob Huebel, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally and Henry Winkler.

Sunday, June 5

The Glades (A&E)
You either love Matt Passmore as a cocky Chicago homicide detective transplanted to Florida or you hate him. But if you’re missing your weekly dose of The Mentalist/Castle/Bones, this procedural, which was A&E’s most-watched drama series ever in its first season, helps pass the time until your regular favorite crime-busters are back on the air.

I really have nothing to say about this reboot of the 1985 Michael J. Fox movie. Nothing. At all.

Tuesday, June 7

There’s almost nothing prettier on television than the sight of White Collar’s Matt Bomer in a suit. The bromantic chemistry between Bomer and co-star Tim DeKay is also enjoyable, and Willie Garson’s Mozzie always manages to liven things up, making this show about a con-man helping the FBI a diverting summer offer.

As far as I’m concerned, this show is just Alias all over again, with none of the Rimbaldi nonsense and 50% less excitement and charm. (Seriously, I never realized how much Piper Perabo was a dead ringer for Jennifer Garner before this show debuted.) The likeable supporting cast, which includes Christopher Gorham, Kari Matchett, Anne Dudek and Peter Gallagher, manages to elevate the unoriginal material somewhat, however.

Sunday, June 12

Anyone besides me remember that show The Profiler? So ahead of its time. Anyway, Ally Walker is back in this series about an LAPD homicide detective and single mother. If it weren’t on Lifetime I might even watch it.

Tuesday, June 14

If this teen mystery drama based on the popular book series by Sara Shepard is your cup of tea, you’ll be happy to know it’s back for a second season.

And this spooky drama based on the books by Celia Thompson about a teenage girl with supernatural powers sounds like the perfect accompaniment to Pretty Little Liars.

Wow, is this unexceptional cop show a complete waste of Jason Lee’s infectious charms. Even the amazing Alfre Woodard can’t make this mess worth watching. Let’s just hope they’ve given up on all the embarrassingly bad lip-synching they forced Lee to do last season.

It’s actually incredibly considerate of TNT to schedule all their worst shows into blocks so I know which nights not to bother tuning in. So thanks, TNT. Sincerely.

Wednesday, June 15

Think of this series, which stars Betty White, Jane Leeves, Valerie Bertinelli and Wendie Malick, as The Golden Girls for a a new millennium. Or the female counterpart to Men of a Certain Age, except that Hot in Cleveland is actually funny on occasion, despite the often tired dialogue.

It’s difficult to imagine a TV show that sounds more painful than this one about a woman (played by Fran Drescher) re-entering the dating world while still living with her gay ex-husband (John Michael Higgins). Now allow me to tell you that it’s based on the real-life experiences of Drescher and her ex-husband, producer Peter Marc Jacobson. I think the word you’re looking for is yikes.

Saturday, June 18

BBC America seems to have dedicated itself to ensuring that us Americans have enough Jamie Bamber in our lives. In addition to their rebroadcasts of Law & Order: UK and repeats of Battlestar Galactica, they’re giving us this sci-fi drama, about a group of people forced to flee an uninhabitable Earth and colonize another planet. Oh, and it also stars Ugly Betty’s Eric Mabius. Yes, please.

This unvarnished and comedic look at a quartet of awkward British teens presents a sharp contrast to the glam portrayal of high school offered by the decidedly sexier Brit series Skins. I’ll take the funny one any day.

The second half of BBC America’s comedy block features Little Britain’s Matt Lucas (most recently seen on the big screen in Bridesmaids) and David Walliams playing dozens of characters in this mockumentary about an English airport.

Sunday, June 19

If Lifetime thinks adding Paula Abdul to the cast of this comedy-drama about an undead wannabe model (no, seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up) will entice me to tune in, they are tragically mistaken.

Noah Wyle leads a ragtag band of rebels fighting against an alien invasion in what’s probably the summer’s most ambitious series. Hey, it’s got to be better than that V remake, right?

Tuesday, June 21

I guess we were probably overdue for another M*A*S*H imitation, and this Canadian series about a medical unit at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan aims to fill the gap.

Thursday, June 23

ABC is giving us a double-helping of Canadian co-productions this summer as this series about young cops in L.A. returns for its second season.

Pretty and fluffy perfectly sums up this fun spy drama, which is back for its fourth season. If the sight of handsome star Jeffrey Donovan’s stylish shades and the always hilarious Bruce Campbell’s Hawaiian shirts don’t put you in the mood for summer, nothing will.

Yes, it’s another show about a couple of hot-shot lawyers, but given USA’s extremely decent track record, I’m willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt, despite the ridiculous premise (one of the lawyers never went to law school).

Of all the new summer offerings, this is the one I’ve got the highest hopes for. Sure, this series (based on a hit Australian show) about a man (Elijah Wood) who sees his neighbor’s dog as an obnoxious human in a dog suit (Aussie Jason Gann, reprising his role from the original) sounds deeply weird, but that could just be what makes it great. Or really, really annoying.

When practically every comedian and comedy writer working today raves about a show, you have to assume it’s worth watching. Find out for yourself when this vehicle for comedian Louis C.K. returns for its second season.

Sunday, June 26

This delightfully snappy series about a five-man band of altruistic grifters is, hands down, my favorite of all the returning summer series. If Aldis Hodge’s adorable hacker, Christian Kane’s noble thug and Beth Riesgraf’s wacky thief don’t charm your socks off, I can only assume you just don’t like to have fun (or possibly you’re wearing flip-flops).

I know lots of people love True Blood, but as far as I’m concerned, the only thing worse than the writing on this atrocious vampire show (based on the equally atrocious books by Charlaine Harris) are the Louisiana accents. Regardless, consider this your notice (or warning) that it’s back for a fourth season.

Monday, June 27

WEEDS (Showtime)
Hey, look, one our worst moms on television is back for a seventh season! And apparently she’s coming off a well-deserved stint in jail. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she hasn’t learned her lesson, though.

THE BIG C (Showtime)
I hear this series starring Laura Linney is really quite good, but I’m still not going to watch a show about cancer. Sorry.

Wednesday, June 29

This series about a concierge doctor (Mark Feurerstein) treating the rich and privileged in the Hamptons practically screams summer. And that’s about all it’s got going for it, unfortunately.

Rescue Me’s Callie Thorne stars in this series about a therapist who works with pro athletes and celebrities, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the 1991 Scott Bakula movie.

Friday, July 8

Look, I can’t deny that that the trailers for this look pretty awesome. But if this American continuation is anything like the British sci-fi drama’s previous offerings, what starts out as a jolly good time is destined to degenerate into a disappointing mess by the end. Nevertheless, we’ll be glued to our seats, hopeful that the influence of some of our favorite American writers (Doris Egan, Jane Espenson and John Shiban) will inspire Russell T Davies to finally give us a Torchwood that delivers on all that potential.

Sunday, July 10

In the “That’s Still On?” Department, Larry David’s uncomfortable comedy is back for another season. Okey dokey.

Monday, July 11

I really wish cable networks would stop chopping up their seasons. Case in point: it feels like it’s been a hundred years since the first half of Eureka’s fourth season aired. It’s hard enough to get invested in this pleasant but annoyingly formulaic show without trying to keep track of a storyline involving altered timelines over a ridiculously long hiatus.

It’s Kyra Sedgwick’s last season on this cop drama that basically ushered in the renaissance of summer cable programming we’re enjoying right now. I won’t miss her terrible attempt at Georgia accent, but I will miss the smart story lines and amusing ensemble cast. Fortunately, we’ve got the forthcoming spin-off starring Mary McDonnell to look forward to after Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson has interrogated her last suspect.

I suspect most of my affection for this goofy steampunk-influenced series is due to the high likeability quotient of star Eddie McClintock. It also might have something to do with the way it switches gender tropes around by making McClintock’s Secret Service agent the intuitive one and his female partner the one with the superior physical skills. I’m not thrilled about the prospect of Pete getting a new partner in the form of Aaron Ashmore, though, so let’s hope they get Myka back where she belongs quickly.

This sci-fi drama about a team of people with supernatural abilities solving cases for the CIA and the FBI sounds a bit more promising when you know that David Strathairn plays the team’s leader.

Hooray! Everyone’s favorite lesbian crime-solving duo are back for a second season. Wait, what do you mean they aren’t lesbians? Do they know that? Because all my lesbian friends assure me that this is the best lesbian show on TV.

Wednesday, July 13

Denis Leary’s gritty drama about New York firemen returns for its seventh and final season. Is it wrong of me to hope that Leary’s next project is something with a few more laughs?

Do not look for the fourth season of this dark legal drama on FX, because it’s following in the footsteps of Friday Night Lights and moving to DirecTV’s 101 Network. Which means if you don’t have DirecTV you’ll have to wait for the DVDs to find out how Patty Hewes plans to manipulate the impressive new roster of guest stars, including John Goodman, Judd Hirsch, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunn, Bailey Chase and Derek Webster.

Friday, July 15

HAVEN (Syfy)
An FBI agent continues to investigate the strange happenings in a mysterious Maine town in the second season of this utterly forgettable series based on Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid. How forgettable is it? I’ve already forgotten about it.

Sunday, July 17

This critically-acclaimed drama starring Bryan Cranston as a meth-cooking chemistry teacher is finally back for its fourth season after an extended hiatus, and if you haven’t seen the first three seasons, AMC is making it extra-easy for you to catch up by rerunning them starting July 5. So you have no excuse.

Tuesday, July 19

WEB THERAPY (Showtime)
For some reason the phrases “part-improvised” and “Lisa Kudrow” used in conjunction give me the vapors, but your mileage may vary. If nothing else, the list of guest stars—which includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bob Balaban, Rashida Jones, Selma Blair, Jane Lynch, Molly Shannon and Courteney Cox—certainly sounds enticing.

Sunday, July 24

And here’s our second entry in the Department of “That’s Still On?” Don’t worry, though, it’s the last season of this blithely sexist show. Finally.



I could waste your time describing the premise of Better With You (comparisons of distinctly dissimilar marriages within a family, yadda yadda), or with complaining about how the show wastes good actors like Kurt Fuller, Debra Jo Rupp, and Joanna Garcia-Swisher, but there’s really only one thing you need to know about ABC’s most recent addition to their comedy stable.

They use a laugh track. In 2010.

No, seriously.

They use a laugh track. I feel like I should be able to drop a microphone and walk away after saying that.

I have to assume that’s to tell the audience when to laugh, as we couldn’t quite be sure otherwise.

It’s the new Golden Era of televised comedy, folks. With the faux-documentary approaches of The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Modern Family; with the genre-leaping dexterity of Community; with the jaw-dropping efforts to make a movie every week on Glee; with the slick editing on Cougar Town; with the whip-lash pacing of Better Off Ted, 30 Rock, and Archer, a lazily shot multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track isn’t going to make much of splash anymore.

Maybe they can decamp to CBS–they still use laugh tracks on stuff like Two and a Half Men. For obvious reasons.

Entrez-vous? MAD MEN, THE VENTURE BROTHERS, and the New Viewer

I tried to watch the new episode of Mad Men this week, I really did. Everything I hear says that the show is hitting new highs, and heaven knows I hate missing out on the zeitgeist. As I squirmed on the couch, however, I had to wonder if I’m just not meant to get it. I think some important stuff was supposed to be going down between Don and Peggy, but all I could see is what a jerk Don Draper is being. Loyal fans tell me these were momentous times, which leads me to wonder if the Sterling Cooper world just isn’t for me.

I think I cracked the actual code, however, while watching–of all things–the season premiere of The Venture Brothers (and, yes, I’m altogether too aware that this may be the first ever comparison between Mad Men and The Venture Brothers). The Monarch’s ode to his Butter-Glider (“no more hiding what is woooonderful”) made me laugh until I was wheezing:

Really, who can’t enjoy a little Butter-Glider humor? And yet, most of the episode was built on so many references, homages, and in-jokes  that the plot felt like a Jenga tower. Some of those references, as is often the case in The Venture Brothers, were to other pop culture phenomena (here several asides to Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace, David Byrne, Ghostbusters, House…even the episode title is a reference to an Oscar nominee), but many were references to little details in previous episodes. If a viewer hasn’t committed to memory–let alone seen–previous episodes like “The Family That Slays Together Stays Together,” “Return to Malice,” and “Pinstripes and Poltergeists”  (setting up 21’s twisted relationship with a dead 24), or second season premiere “Powerless in the Face of Death” (for King Gorilla’s backstory, the fact that there have been many Hank and Dean clones, and the montage of those clones’ deaths), that Jenga tower is almost certain to come tumbling down. “Powerless in the Face of Death” is more than four years old. It’s terrific, and people should commit it to memory, but that’s a lot of dedication to ask of a TV viewer. It isn’t just that the plot will make little sense without understanding what has come before–it’s that these gem-like little Easter eggs are the humor and emotional payoff of the entire endeavor. I found it delightful, but then I can recite the previous clones’ deaths. The show’s made for me, but it’s probably a lot less than inviting for a new viewer.

I suspect the same is true for Mad Men–that if a viewer is as immersed in the Sterling Cooper world from the very beginning, the organizing structure that is all of Don and Peggy’s little interactions over the years holds up the Jenga tower. And even more important than supporting the plot line, having those previous tidbits as the emotional underpinning allows for a cathartic payoff. But a new–or inconsistent–viewer doesn’t get the payoff, and I have to wonder if those viewers just give up. This isn’t exactly revolutionary–it’s not rocket science that one reason procedurals do so well, especially in reruns, is because people can drop in knowing nothing and leave happily 44 minutes later with the bad guy in jail. But it is interesting that these two examples, and perhaps most other examples of TV shows that reward hard work and paying attention, are on cable. Arrested Development scratched out four glorious years on FOX but never had a quarter of the audience of American Idol. ABC couldn’t sustain Pushing Daisies. How long can a show last if its very structure keeps new viewers from joining the party? To what extent do profit streams that take into account DVD rentals and sales and online access to content make such shows, with which viewers can catch up, more financially viable? Does the fact that we’re talking about payoff to small details set these shows apart from soap operas, which have ongoing storylines that demand commitment, or are we just being snobs? Is the only hope for complicated, Jenga tower programming networks that can be satisfied with a couple million viewers, while broadcast television is destined for little more than singing and dancing competitions?

THE DEFENDERS: Leaving Las Vegas

There may be a glut of legal shows crowding the airwaves, but I understand the push to greenlight them. There are only so many occupations in which dramatic tension is woven into the very fabric of the work. The adversarial nature of practicing law builds interesting conflict into the premise of the show, which a good production can use to drive the week-to-week content.

Still, 20 years after Law & Order and 25 after LA Law showrunners have to hustle to make each new iteration of legal show eye-catching. That’s how you get Eli Stone, which used George Michael songs and a potential brain tumor to freshen things up. ABC’s failed The Whole Truth was a valiant attempt, presenting prosecution and defense views of the same evidence. Unfortunately, it sank under the weight of the Lifetime-worthy, overscored tags that showed what really happened.

The Defenders takes a very different approach, trying a marriage of levity and consequences to keep the format jumping. And to be honest, setting the show in Las Vegas is a great concept–the idea that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas solely because you enjoy attorney-client privilege is kind of inspired. Las Vegas…is what it is (where else can you see a whole ceiling-full of Chihulys within feet of someone handing you a prostitute’s phone number?), which should lead to cases that are tricky, titillating, and tragic by turn. There will also be ample opportunities–ample–for the leads to get into trouble. It really should inject new life into an aging genre.

Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to cast Jim Belushi as the lead, so I couldn’t watch more than 30 minutes of the darn thing. Can’t do it. Like the premise, like some of the rest of the cast (Natalie Zea!). Can’t do it. When David Cross thinks someone’s a jerk, that’s really saying something (and that’s coming from someone who likes David Cross). Jerry O’Connell is fine, but he’s not nearly likable enough to make up for how unlikable I find Belushi. If you don’t suffer from this same malady, let me know how the Vegas setting works out, but I’m folding.

OUTLAWS: Objection!

Full disclosure: I’m probably guilty of giving any new NBC lawyer show a more thorough going-over than usual, since said show was chosen over NBC providing me a weekly dose of David Tennant as a lawyer. In other words, I expect these shows to be outstanding to make up for the terrible, terrible cost they’re imposing on the world.

Sadly, Outlaws doesn’t make it over the bar of “watchable,” let alone outstanding. Jimmy Smits is his typical charismatic self, with enough gravitas to sell heavy legal plots and enough playfulness to sell Cyrus Garza’s troubled, disorganized side without weighing down the show. While I’m not thrilled with the female characters being relegated to Stieg Larsson or chick lit rip-offs, the cobbled-together legal team (including Carly Pope, David Ramsey, and Jesse Bradford) has a lot of chemistry. The scenes focusing on the team working to unravel a winning legal strategy have potential.

The problem is that the scenes bracketing the plucky team are so beyond the scope of suspendable disbelief that the entire show sinks under their weight. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, and even I know that when a court overturns a previous conviction the guy who was on death row 20 minutes ago isn’t immediately headed out for a Krispy Kreme. The opening scenes where Cyrus announces his departure from the Supreme Court–yes, the Supreme Court of the United States of America–while delivering an opinion from the bench are likely meant to show him as a maverick, an untamable iconoclast. Instead, it’s simply ridiculous. “Hey, y’all, I think I’ll step down from the Supreme Court. Kisses!” so thoroughly undercuts the character that it damages the rest of the show by making a what should be a serious approach silly. That’s not even mentioning the fact that Cyrus’ decision to become the defense lawyer in the trial he just ordered as a Supreme Court Justice apparently doesn’t wave any conflict of interest flags. Jimmy Smits feels very intensely about this issue, so it must be okay!

I like a good legal show, so I’ll keep hoping Outlaws figures out the law, but until then it’s hard not to wonder what David E. Kelley and Kathy Bates will be bringing to the bar–or what Tennant could have.

Crimestoppers versus Lawyers: The State of Modern Television Folds Inward Yet Again Tonight

Three major premieres tonight, and all three reflect the current TV tendency to solve crime. Whether this is because we like the comfort of watching square-jawed heroes catch bad guys before we shuffle off to bed or because we like to unwind puzzles or because there’s something in the SAG contract guaranteeing the opportunity to play both a cop and a criminal to each and every union member, a large percentage of shows on every night focus on crime solving. Tuesday’s new offerings don’t offer much new–although they will claim they do–but they do offer some intriguing actors.

“You could watch Kelly Osborne do a bad salsa on Dancing with the Stars, or you could watch a star the likes of Linda Hunt–she alone makes NCIS: Boba Milk worth checking out.”

NCIS offers a cleverly named spin-off, NCIS: Los Angeles, which shall shortly be the recipient of a rude, fast food-based nickname. The NCIS franchise is a police procedural, but they’re Navy cops in some fashion, so that’s different. The cast is intriguing, however, anchored by unfortunate Robin Chris O’Donnell (less interesting) and LL Cool J (more interesting–as Mama told him to knock you out, I assume he’ll be delivering Mark Harmon-approved head slaps) and flavored by Oscar winner Linda Hunt (perhaps better known on TV for The Practice and Carnivale). You could watch Kelly Osborne do a bad salsa on Dancing with the Stars, or you could watch a star the likes of Linda Hunt–she alone makes NCIS: Boba Milk worth checking out.

ABC hands the DwtS lead in audience to the forgotten (yes, they’re avoiding capital letters), a show from the Bruckheimer stable in which a team of dedicated crimesolvers follows up on cold cases where “the forgotten” are unidentified murder victims who will be buried in a potter’s field unless they are identified. What makes the forgotten different from other, similar shows focusing on cold cases, like, I don’t know, Cold Case? The crimesolvers are civilians. Sure, that’ll make all the difference (and will likely make it so much easier to get information and evidence! In TV Land, that is). Said civilians are led into combat by Christian Slater, who, after his split-personality spy show My Own Worst Enemy failed, may have found he liked TV work. I’m not sure I want him on my TV every week, but I’m willing to be persuaded.

CBS volleys the Christian Slater serve with The Good Wife, a show that is much, much different than our previous two entries because it solves crime from the law side of the ledger rather than the order side. In addition, its lead character (played by Julianna Marguiles of ER fame), is not just a lawyer, she’s a politician’s wife. A dirty politician’s wife. Oh, and a district attorney, which means she may as well just wave across the aisle at Sam Waterston [edited: my bad; I read bad intell–she’s defending people pro bono! Maybe George Michael will start singing soon.]. Presumably this means we’ll be getting more detail about the intrepid crimefighers’ personal lives here, but do we want that detail in our tidy procedurals?  The Good Wife may not be blazing new ground, but it’s bringing a lot of firepower with a cast that is, at first glance, at least, more intriguing than the forgotten‘s : in addition to Marguiles, we’ll be treated to Josh Charles (Sports Night–yay!). Christine Baranski (Cybill, Welcome to New York), Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, Friday Night Lights), Chris Noth (Law & Order, Sex and the City), and by far my favorite, Christine Willes. Yes, Dead Like Me‘s Delores Herbig (“her big brown eyes”) and Reaper‘s DMV demon Gladys is likely to bring more pep to these proceedings than the entire case docket. I’d tune in just for her. NCIS: West Coast Style on CBS at 9pm Eastern followed by The Good Wife at 10; the forgotten (still missing its caps) airs on ABC at 10pm Eastern.

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Andre Braugher on the two-hour season premiere of House tonight. If you’re mourning the overlooking of Generation Kill a bit today, you’re probably already familiar with Braugher’s Emmy-winning role in David Simon’s previous work (with Paul Attanasio and Tom Fontana, of course), Homicide: Life on the Street. If you’re not familiar with said work, get thee to the DVD-rental service of your choice immediately, because Braugher’s Frank Pembleton is one of the greatest TV performances of all time. You may also have seen Braugher in the recent miniseries Thief, the short-lived Practice spinoff Gideon’s Crossing, doscudramas like The Tuskegee Airmen, Soldier’s Girl, and 10,000 Black Men Named George, and shows like Hack and, of course, Law and Order. You could watch Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars; or the season premieres of Heroes, Castle, the CBS comedy block, or CSI: Honey Barbecue; or the kickoff of Accidentally On Purpose (unintended pregnancy–always hilarious!)–but why would you when Andre Braugher will be on your screen? While I’ve been a leetle less enchanted with House lately, Braugher is an irresistable force–putting him up against immovable object House (and to-date still-Emmyless Hugh Laurie)? Can’t. Wait. House, longer than usual and hopefully with less Thirteen, tonight on Fox at 8pm Eastern.

The Pusher and The User: WEEDS and NURSE JACKIE Premiere on Showtime Tonight

It’s Ladies’ Night on Showtime, with the return of Weeds and the premiere of Nurse Jackie. Weeds is sharp, brutally funny, and well-acted, and…we have a hard time watching it. Mary-Louise Parker is terrific in her role as widow-turned-marijuana dealer Nancy Botwin, but Nancy’s choices put her children in such horrific, dangerous situations that we have a hard time not wanting to call Social Services on a television character. Still, the lecture Nancy’s brother (the terrific Justin Kirk) once gave Nancy’s youngest son on…growing up…with a banana peel…is still one of the funniest things that television has produced recently, so if you can stomach the bad parenting, tune in.

Nurse Jackie, on the other hand, finds Edie Falco snorting Oxycontin to keep herself sharp enough to keep her patients out of danger. This pilot is by turns acerbic, heartbreaking, snide, touching, and clever, and it opens by quoting TS Eliot, so I fell a little in love a little too quickly. Falco is so good (and this is coming from someone who could not handle The Sopranos and therefore never really understood the acclaim for its leads) I almost want to hand her the Oxy myself. She’s joined by a solid supporting cast that includes Peter Facinelli (Damages, Six Feet Under, Fastlane), Anna Deavere Smith (The West Wing, The Practice), and Merritt Wever (Matt and Danny’s PA on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). I’m terrified thinking that Nancy Botwin’s kids are going to end up in the emergency room, to the point where I’m not sure I can watch her show, but I’d feel a lot better knowing they were going to end up under Nurse Jackie’s tough, tender care.

Weeds season premiere tonight at 10pm Eastern and Pacific, followed immediately by the series premiere of Nurse Jackie, both on Showtime.

THE LISTENER: That’s Not the Color of His Parachute

Susannah and I were recently talking about the set-up and structure of serial storytelling. It makes sense that we see so many cop and doctor shows, because cops and doctors are so much more likely to stumble across a dramatic situation than are, say, retail workers or pickle-dehairers. Sure, we occasionally get a show set in, say, the White House or a pie shop (and even then the latter is in many ways about solving crimes), but it’s generally easier to get a conflict that can be resolved in 42 minutes rolling with a cop or a doctor at the helm.

So it’s no surprise that The Listener focuses on a central character (Craig Olejnik as Toby Logan) who is a paramedic, as his job can bring his psychic talents–oh, did I mention he’s a psychic paramedic?–to bear on cases where people are already in trouble. One of the problems with The Listener–in addition to the fact that it’s neither terribly well acted nor designed–is that our psychic paramedic isn’t content being a psychic paramedic. Instead, he has to be a cop, too. It’s one thing to assume that Toby can solve cases more quickly than the cops because he can hear people’s thoughts, but it’s hard to swallow the idea that Toby can solve cases more quickly than the cops because he thought to look up some records on the computer. I’d prefer to see the show about the psychic retail worker who solves cases by hearing people’s thoughts while they’re struggling into the wrong size in the dressing room, but if we get The Listener instead, could we at least get a paramedic who wants to be a paramedic? If I get in an accident in his general vicinity, I’d prefer to think Toby Logan is more worried about my vital signs than about reading my thoughts to solve the mystery of who took my baby Babybel cheeses out of the communal work refrigerator.

Summer Premieres Abound on Thursday Night


New summer TV is busting out all over! If you’re like me and are waiting out the audition process on So You Think You Can Dance (why does the producer manipulation in the audition rounds work so much better on American Idol than on SYTYCD? How can they possibly think I want to see the entirely constructed tension of putting the adorable Kasprzak brothers on the stage together to hear about the last slot?), there’s still plenty of new TV for you tonight. USA leads the pack with a brand new season of Burn Notice, which presumably finds Michael out of the ocean and on the run. More Bruce Campbell, please! They follow the Burn Notice season premiere with the bow of new Mark Feuerstein medical dramedy Royal Pains. To be honest, I’m not sure I care about the cuts, bruises, and face lifts of the rich and famous Hamptons residents who need house calls, but I love me some Mark Feuerstein (Cliff Calley! ), so I guess I’m there (also: bonus Campbell Scott!). Burn Notice and Royal Pains might be a good match–good guys who lose their good lives and try to reconstruct new ones with help from wacky friends and family? Hmmm. Maybe I just favor the Campbells.

If you just can’t get enough medical drama, NBC also debuts The Listener, about a psychic paramedic (Craig Olejnik, sporting unfortunate hair). Yep. The lead character referring to his psychic ability as God setting him up with free cable is kind of cute, I suppose. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m that impressed with paramedics who see a major car accident out their window and are surprised by it, as psychic ability apparently drowns out huge noises. The latest in an increasingly long line of Canadian imports, The Listener‘s cast isn’t as instantly interesting as Mark Feuerstein (few are!), so we’ll be waiting for Colm Feore to show up. Unless we’ve given up and are watching the early showing of The USA Network Campbell Evening instead. Burn Notice and Royal Pains on USA Network at 9pm and 10pm Eastern and Pacific, respectively, and a double dose of The Listener on NBC at the same times.