Summer TV is usually a seemingly endless wasteland of network repeats and reality shows. But Summer 2007 gave us some of the best scripted series ever on cable with the return of TNT’s The Closer, TBS’ The Boys, even USA Network’s Monk and Psych. I know newcomers TNT’s State Of Grace, Lifetime’s Army Wives, Side Order Of Life and State Of Mind have their admirers, but I’m not one of them — although each of these series is still above average. Instead, like everyone, I jumped on AMC’s Mad Men bandwagon for all the obvious reasons: quality production, quality scripts, quality cast. Not only is Jon Hamm mesmerizing as a cross between Clive Owen and Bruce Willis, but Vincent Kartheiser is surprising as Topher Grace’s evil twin. Just seeing recurring themes like sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia from that specific time and place, plus attitudes about adultery, alcohol, smoking and therapy, is a valuable history lesson in how the hell we got into the societal mess we’re in today. Funny how inconsequential the actual business of advertising is to the heart of this drama by Sopranos producer Matthew Weiner, but that can rectified during the second season. And there must be a third and fourth sooner rather than later.
My other favorite summer scripted series is USA Networks’ Burn Notice which gifts us again with a new and improved Jeffrey Donovan (since he was unwatchable in 2004’s Touching Evil) born to play a disaffected spy. Any character written to preen, with a sniper aiming at him, “How Do I Look? Good, right?” and then proffer his jacket’s Armani label, is my kind of hero. And, for once, the girlfriend role is not just scribbled in as an afterthought: Gabrielle Anwar — who knew she could act? — plays tougher than the guys. Granted the show is an espionage version of Magnum P.I. set in Miami, but it’s been the right relief for the summer TV blahs. Since it’s also better than anything on NBC’s fall schedule except Heroes, I suggest that when Bionic Woman fails, and it will, replace it with Burn Notice. Or Psych. Dead air would even be better.