I was never a big Gilmore Girls fan, but my mom was. Much like Rory and Lorelai, we were a single mom/only child duo, and back in the show's WB heyday, I would often coast through the living room as she settled in with the denizens of Stars Hollow, lingering for a few minutes before eventually getting bored and going back to see if my crush was on AIM. My mom's insistence that much of its content would resonate with me — Rory writes for her school paper, too! Rory likes Belle & Sebastian, too! — failed to really sell me. For me, the WB's main function had been to bring me the high angst of Dawson's Creek, which I had decided was much more "real" than the comparatively family-friendly Gilmore Girls. Once I got my hands on a copy of The Sopranos on DVD, it was over — I could have all the moral ambiguity and unpleasant people and situations I could stomach, with a sufficient amount of prestige to make me feel smart for watching it. Between the dawning Golden Age of Television and my problematic Tarantino obsession, I had gotten it into my head that there was a corollary between quality and misery. My mom, on the other hand, would frequently balk at my choices when we'd hit up Mr. Movies on Dollar Monday — while I was eager to drink in Magnolia's endless barrage of suffering, misfortune, and frogs, I think she took at least two breaks to go play Snood.
Well, Team USA fans, it's the end of the road for populist television enthusiast Juliet Litman. This will be the last entry in her rough guide to the lawyers, spies, and rogue medical practitioners of the USA Network. If you're not ready to say good-bye, we suggest a Suits marathon to ease the pain.
There's just one show left from USA's summer slate that has yet to get its time in the spotlight: Necessary Roughness. I'll admit up front that I don't watch this show. Though I enjoyed Mehcad Brooks on Desperate Housewives, his presence alone was not enough for me to dive into the orange-hued Long Island of psychiatrist/hypnotherapist/“hot doctor" Dani Santino when Necessary Roughness premiered last year. But ignoring even a single show from this vision quest seems like it breaks an unofficial code. Thus, I decided to give this one a try by rewatching the pilot and a random episode from the current season.
This is the show for you if you like:Grey's Anatomy. This show opens with the Black Keys' "Howlin' for You" playing while soon-to-be-cuckolded Dani Santino (Callie Thorne) wakes up in bed with her husband. (Within minutes we find out that he is cheating on her.) The tone, complemented by the hip music, is strikingly similar to what you might find in a mid-season episode of Grey's in which Meredith might be circumnavigating and narrating the drama, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this pilot was crafted out of a rejected spec script. Alas, Dani is no surgeon. Rather, she's a therapist who, while being a supposedly talented shrink, put her family first instead of pursuing a more prestigious career route. However, now that she is getting divorced and her kids are in high school, she's ready to rise to the top of the psychology game as a sports therapist, specializing in mental cases. Her first, marquee client is Terrence "TK" King (Mehcad Brooks), the star of the New York Hawks football team. I think it's safe to assume that Ron Artest's 2010 interview following the Lakers' Finals win inspired this show, and he should be fighting for an EP credit.
It’s officially August. The fall shows are coming. You’re holding your breath until Connie Britton makes a triumphant return to network television in Nashville. What will you do until then? It’s the perfect time for a television marathon! Fortunately, USA's newest original series Common Law premiered this summer, and though it started back in May, using On Demand, iTunes, and some creative Internet sources that we in no way encourage or endorse, you can easily catch up before the season finale on August 10. Given the wacky USA scheduling system, season 2 (or season 1, part 2?) can’t be too far off.
This is the show for you if you like:Starsky and Hutch and you've run out of episodes of White Collar. Common Law seems to be USA's answer to TNT's Southland, though, of course, it's not quite as dark, tonally or visually. Travis Marks (Michael Ealy playing the functional equivalent of Hutch) and Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole playing the functional equivalent of Starsky) are Los Angeles detective-partners sent to couples therapy (cue the innocuous-yet-retrograde gay jokes) because they constantly bicker. They've been working together for five years, and somehow, this small twist feels like a refreshing variation on the odd-couple cop conceit. Don't we usually meet these partnerships as they're forming? Wes and Travis are almost a bizarro version of Neal and Peter from White Collar: instead of fast-paced banter on the slick streets of New York, these detectives drive around Los Angeles trying to one-up each other.
This summer, populist television enthusiast Juliet Litman is watching the best shows that the fan-loved, yet often critically overlooked, USA Network has to offer. Each week, she'll give you a rough guide to the lawyers, spies, and rogue medical practitioners on summer's favorite channel.
We've reached a crossroads with this Team USA endeavor. On July 15, the fantastic Leverage returned for its fifth season. On TNT. However, Leverage is the true summer cable television gateway drug: It's almost like the proto-USA show. You can jump in at almost any point, there's a stable of vaguely familiar regular actors, a bevy of former celebrities who pop up for short arcs, and non-competing single-episode and season-long plot arcs. If I had to guess, the only reason why Leverage was not picked up by USA is because the sky is rarely blue. This season is set in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, but it seemed like it was always gray anyway.
Polyamory: Married and Dating is a reality show on Showtime. I accidentally watched it last week because it was on after The Real L Word, and this week the same thing happened. Like The Real L Word, Polyamory is a reality show on a mission to educate us about different lifestyles while giving us lots of gratuitous nudity and real-life bedroom action. (I think this genre needs a name — how about edutitillitainment?) Anyway, editor-in-chief Bill Simmons demanded (DEMANDED!) I investigate this brave, patchouli-scented new corner of the realitysphere. Here are some observations:
This summer, populist television enthusiast Juliet Litman is watching the best shows that the fan-loved, yet often critically overlooked USA Network has to offer. Each week, she'll give you a rough guide to the lawyers, spies, and rogue medical practitioners on summer's favorite channel.
Finally, a USA show about a girl. Covert Affairs returned last week for its third season, and two episodes in, we've seen three different countries and one bombing. This season has already distinguished itself from previous seasons and the rest of the network's offerings.
This is the show for you if you like: The Bourne movies and the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Like her network brother Michael Westen from Burn Notice, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) works for the CIA, but her relationship with the agency is not so complicated. She's a savvy agent with a penchant for ignoring directives, yet she somehow always lands on her feet. As for the Bourne comparison, that's a no brainer: the show's executive producer Doug Liman produced all three of the Matt Damon movies and directed the first one. The middle of every episode is filled with some sort of action sequence, and Annie's signature red car may even be a nod to the epic car chase in The Bourne Identity.
Now that we are well into July, the good old USA Network has begun to trot out its heavyweights. White Collar owned Tuesday nights last summer (with some help with Covert Affairs, too; more on that next week), even beating out the networks in its time slot. We're just one episode into the fourth season. With a notable new face and 100 percent more caipirinhas, it's time to join the movement.
This is the show for you if you like: The Rat Pack and buddy-cop comedies. Neal Caffrey is a thief and a lover of the finer things in life, like expertly tailored suits, fedoras, and expensive paintings. FBI agent Peter Burke is a standup guy who hunted Neal for years before ultimately catching him. Now, the two are a team: Neal is Peter's partner in solving white collar crimes for "the bureau." (Peter says the words "the bureau" at least once per episode.) Instead of serving out a sentence in jail, Neal reports to Peter and together they take down high-level gambling rings, art forgers, and the like. Of course, Neal can't suppress all his con-man urges, so high jinks ensue and Peter often has to save (and cover for) Neal. Meanwhile, Neal is thrilled to be free from jail because he can return to wearing the '50s-style clothes that he somehow lucked into as they strut around New York City, just happening to always be in front of the city's most beautiful mid-century facades.
Royal Pains may not be the most watched show on USA right now — that would be Burn Notice — but it comes close. Last week it was USA's second-highest rated drama (barring wrestling), pulling in 3.874 million people. But more importantly, since it premiered in June 2009, it has been an anchor of USA's ever-growing original programming block and remains one of its most fun shows.
This is the show for you if you like:The O.C., The Real Housewives of New York, and late-1990s television. There is something timeless about Royal Pains. On the surface it's 2012: The clothes look right (more or less; there is a mild case of Degrassi syndrome, i.e., when the styles look almost exactly on-trend but there is just something a little … off), modern kitchens with Viking ranges abound, and there is no indication that this show is not set in the present. Yet, there is no overwhelming indication that it is set in the present, either.
While you weren't watching, the USA Network's Burn Notice has quietly carved out a sizable niche for itself. Last week, the sixth-season premiere won the night (on cable, at least), pulling in a very respectable 3.9 million viewers. There are enough Michael Westen fans out there to sustain a series of five tie-in novels and three online graphic novels co-published with DC Comics. Now is your chance to join the ranks of a clearly very dedicated fan base. After all, the show is set in Miami, which, if the Heat win tonight, is going to be the "it" city of the summer. Plus, Dexter won't be back for awhile, so you need to get your warm visual hues and chino shirts somewhere.
Now that the "good part" of the television season is over (Mad Men and Game of Thrones), and you have a few weeks before Breaking Bad returns, and even The Bachelorette only has a handful of episodes left, you must be looking for television shows to fill your time. While some people don't think highly of most of summer's offerings, they are patently wrong. In fact, basic cable offers an embarrassment of riches. Tomorrow night, Suits comes back on USA for its second season, and since you have nothing else to do, you should watch it.
On Sunday, Game of Thrones will wrap up its second season of fantastical, filthy-soldier-bifurcating action. In less than two weeks, there will be no more opportunities for Mad Men to expose how unhealthily invested we are in its characters' ongoing spiritual prostitution. Veep and Girls both are perched at the edge of the precipice of hiatus. The mighty, if creaky, Idol machine has ground to a halt, giving way to the tired, nonsensical celebriwarbling of Duets. Summer is coming.