Thursday, August 26, 2010


For me, television during the summer is akin to a vast desert, littered with reruns, brain-dead reality shows, and sporting events that I couldn't care less about. But fortunately, since early June, there have been a handful of oases of worthwhile televised product to be found among the seemingly endless sea of dreck.

These are the shows that I'm making it a point to watch until the Fall season begins:

True Blood, Season 3 (HBO)

The True Blood cast vamping it up

I've been following this series since its first episode and it's been fun to watch it grow and evolve and explore new directions and ideas with each season. I have to admit, I was wary of True Blood at first-I'm something of a vampire purist and I really dislike it when the Undead are portrayed primarily as youthful, gorgeous, courtly fops and cover girls who, aside from having fangs and some cool super-powers, seem every bit as human as they were when they were alive. There's a little bit of that in True Blood, but it doesn't apply to every vampire and it works in the context of the show and from a character standpoint. There's nice variety in the way each vampire is portrayed in True Blood, real individuality, and that's part of the reason why I got hooked on it. The cast is uniformly great, the writing is crisp, witty (sometimes it's downright hilarious), often disturbing, and always intriguing. There's plenty of sex and gore to keep jaded viewers like me satisfied, and I'm always eager to see what will happen next. The first season was good, the second season was better, and this third season is shaping up to be the best one yet.

Hung, Season 2 (HBO)

Thomas Jane and Jane Adams

As far as HBO comedies go, this will never be on the same level as The Larry Sanders Show or Curb Your Enthusiasm. Not even close. For one thing, Hung is supposed to be a comedy, but it's not particularly funny. In fact, I don't think I've so much as chuckled from it since midway through the first season. There were actually episodes of Oz that were funnier than this show. In that respect, it's a wonder that I'm still watching it. But I can't deny that the cast is good, particularly Thomas Jane, Jane Adams, and—I can't believe I'm writing this—Anne Heche. And most of the characters are likable (or at least interesting) enough that I want to see where the mildly compelling stories will take them. But you'd think there would be a lot more laughs to be gotten from the premise of a hunky, financially strapped Detroit high school gym teacher with an extraordinarily huge schwinger, who moonlights as a male prostitute for a geeky, insecure female pimp who aspires to be a successful poet.

Rubicon, Season 1 (AMC)

Arliss Howard (left) with James Badge Dale

This is kind of like a more mature, more analytical version of 24, but without any of the high-octane action or nail-biting suspense. It's certainly taking its time in terms of laying out its story. As of this writing, the show has aired five episodes and I'm still not sure what the stakes are or what the overall plot is. There's no clear villain as of yet, and other than lead character Will Travers, an intelligence analyst for the U.S. government (played by James Badge Dale, who actually co-starred in the third season of 24 but is much better here), it's hard to figure out exactly who are the good guys and bad guys—although that may be precisely the point. But I don't know. I do have some problems with the plotting—there's a subplot involving a wealthy widow played by Miranda Richardson that, so far, has been mostly off on its own, with little connection to the main plot. Every time the focus shifts to her and her storyline, my attention starts to wander. The writers really need to integrate her and her story in with the rest of the show, and quickly, because right now, her scenes have the same effect as a Keith Richards solo set at a Rolling Stones concert: they signal that you can now go for your bathroom break. The show does, however, succeed in creating a sense of unease and impending danger. And Will's immediate supervisor, Kale Ingram (played by Arliss Howard), is nearly as mysterious, creepy, and intriguing as Michael Emerson's character Benjamin Linus was on Lost. Of particular note is Ingram's boss, Truxton Spangler (played by Michael Cristofer), who is one of the most eccentric, awkward, socially inept, and downright odd characters I've seen on TV in a while, yet he's also thoroughly believable as a human being. A bravura portrayal by Cristofer. I guess I'm sticking with this show till the end of the season, but so far, it hasn't impressed me enough to make me say that I'd want to see anything beyond that.

Louie, Season 1 (FX)

Louis C.K.

Without a doubt, this is one of the darkest comedies ever produced for television. Even Curb Your Enthusiasm doesn't have as bleak an outlook on life as this show. It's gritty, realistic, and uncomfortable—too much so at times—but it still manages to be funny. Written and directed by standup comedian Louis C.K. (who recently appeared on several episodes of Parks and Recreation as Amy Poehler's cop boyfriend), this show will make you feel that your life is pretty much over once you've reached your 40s, and that by and large, people are absolute shit. But if you can get past that, you'll find some pretty brilliant humor. The storytelling is unique—and defies expectations—in that not every episode tells one story that encompasses the entire half hour. In most cases, each episode is comprised of several self-contained stories separated by commercial breaks—which is a very good way to avoid stretching out a premise that works best as a sketch.

Aftermath With William Shatner, Season 1 (Biography)

The new Odd Couple: Goetz and Shatner

Talk about a surreal viewing experience. A series of straight, serious interviews with notable and/or notorious newsmakers of the past: New York City subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz; Mary Kay LeTourneau, the pretty schoolteacher who had an affair with one of her 14-year-old students and bore two of his children—and then married him once she completed her 7-year prison sentence; former U.S. Army soldier Jessica Lynch, who was captured by Iraqi soldiers in 2003, eventually rescued by American troops, and then used as a propaganda tool by the Bush administration; and convicted killer Lee Malvo, who was one of the so-called "D.C. Snipers." All of them being interviewed by... WILLIAM SHATNER. Huh?!? Captain James T.J. Hooker Crane?!? You really have to see this to believe it. I still can't decide which is weirder: Bernhard Goetz, or Bernhard Goetz being interviewed by WILLIAM SHATNER. There's one particularly strange moment in the LeTourneau episode—and not strange in a good way: The Shat actually tells LeTourneau, now 48, and her husband, Vili Fualaau, now 27, "Your story is a beautiful story... I love your story." Really, Bill? You love a case of statutory rape? You know, there's a famous film director who would probably jump at the chance to hang out with you. I hear he spends a lot of time in France and Switzerland. (I'd like to think Shatner was really just trying to butter up Mary Kay and Vili, in order to make them feel comfortable so that they would speak candidly. But still, it was a stupid thing to say.)

I won't say these shows will one day be remembered as among the very best that television has ever offered, but, hey, when you're wandering through a desert, you have to accept any oasis you stumble upon.


  1. Haven't seen any of those shows yet, I will have to check some of them out. (I don't have HBO so I can't see them all!) for me it's AMERICA'S GOT TALENT all the way! And the Comedy Central roast of DAVID HASSHOFF was the most entertaining show I've seen all summer.

  2. On the LeTourneau deal; I happen to think there is an appropriate double standard at work here. I KNOW that the same relationship with the sexual roles reversed would have been entirely, inexcusably, wrong (and icky). But the reversal of the genders here makes the difference, IMHO, in the application of the term "rape." I don't excuse the impropriety of the sexual relationship with a minor, but I think the fact that he waited for her, and married her, speaks to the fact of their emotional connection, and begs for another noun besides "rape," statutory or otherwise. I think that's what he was saying. That's what I heard. BTW, I think the very fact that he is an over-the-top, well-known celeb makes him ideal for these kinds of interviews. He's using the fact that everyone feels they know him already as an asset instead of an annoyance. Only he and Lindsay Lohan (who doesn't have the intellectual chops to pull it off) could do this.

  3. Interesting and thought-provoking response, Anonymous. I don't agree with everything you wrote, but diff'rent strokes and all that. I think I'd be just as horrified if it were my 14-year-old son as I would be if it were my 14-year-old daughter. Plus the fact that Mary Kay seems to be a real nutjob. I'm not so sure Vili "waited" for her--I think maybe he was afraid of what she'd do to him if he wasn't around for her when she got out of prison. The guy was TRAPPED--she bore not one but TWO of his children, so they were connected for life, emotionally or not. Maybe I was reading it wrong, but he didn't seem like a guy who was particularly head-over-hills in love during that interview. He seemed more like he'd learned to live with her oddness, and was resigned to a life with her, but that's about it.

    Thanks for posting. And I hope you don't remain anonymous!

  4. First, I am a huge TRUE BLOOD fan-atic. I just started watching the Seasons before Season 3 started.... and WOW, I was hooked. I also recommend Glenn reading the Sookie Stackhouse series, there are 10 novels, and the show is based on the books, but with liberal TV license that has changed and expanded the profiles and characters and stories. I also started watching HUNG since its on after TB, and like that. I have not found any other shows worth the pursuit yet, but heard the Tutors and also Rome (Rome is out of production) are worth seeing. I have many movies that I want to see that I missed over the years... that may take the place of TV for awhile for me. I still miss LOST of course...

  5. For those interested there is a Rubicon fansite at and I've submitted a link to this article there...

  6. Thanks for some helpful clues and pointers as to what NOT to bother wasting precious time on during the incredibly blip-like space that is (was) summer. Among other things, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who feels that Rubicon is "taking its time in terms of laying out its story." Like you, "I'm still not sure what the stakes are or what the overall plot is." Producers of shows like this don't seem to realize that there is SO much else we could - and should - be doing that yields far more payoff than devoting an hour to unraveling their "subtle" story lines - time would be better spent reading Glenn Greenberg's blog ranting ABOUT the stupid show, for example (and I mean that literally, not sarcastically).

  7. . . . another option to fill in down time wisely and productively during summer or otherwise is watching this incredible documentary on Captain Beefheart, and understanding just why Trout Mask Replica is truly a work of genius - and almost completely unlistenable -