Summer TV, in recent years, has become a rather fertile ground for top-quality programming on the cable side of the dial.
While the major broadcast networks ceded their schedules to reality shows, schedule cast-offs and repeats during the dog days, channels such as AMC, FX, TNT and USA started rolling out original series, and a significant number of them connected, critically and commercially.
USA runs my personal favorite of these summer series, the Miami-set actioner "Burn Notice," which returned with its third season premiere this past Thursday night, and it picked up exactly where it left off: blacklisted spy Michael Westin (played with a kind of wry determination by Jeffrey Donovan) now knows who put him out in the cold, but those folks (coyly referred to as "Management") still have no intention of bringing him back. Westin's cohorts in his odd and dangerous life remain unchanged, which is good news for him (and us, the home audience); the supporting cast of Gabrielle Anwar (as trigger-happy girlfriend Fiona), Bruce Campbell (as hard-drinking best buddy Sam) and Sharon Gless (as Westin's chain-smoking mother) have all settled back into their roles with ease, and all the actors give nicely balanced characterizations.
Packed with great action sequences, a few neat twists and turns and not a small amount of laughs, "Burn Notice" is one of those shows that the networks used to do very well, and don't seem to do at all anymore. I am glad to see this one back on the schedule. Three and a half stars (out of four).
Following "Burn Notice" on USA this summer is a new doctor drama called "Royal Pains," and while the pilot wasn't a home run, I still liked it quite a bit. Mark Feuerstein (whose track record, network series-wise, isn't exactly world-beating) plays Hank Lawson, a New York doctor who -- after failing to save his hospital's top benefactor -- falls into a job as a "concierge doctor" for the rich and richer in the Hamptons. Hank impresses a mysterious man named Boris (played by an accent-bearing Campbell Scott) by saving a woman's life during a sprawling party, and soon his services are in high demand - whether he likes it or not.
Feuerstein is OK as Hank; he handles the rapid-fire doctorspeak pretty well, but comes off a little too glum and disinterested in most of the non-medical scenes. Co-star Paulo Costanzo, however, as Hank's younger brother-slash-accountant-slash-sidekick, has no such character issues.
Indeed, Costanzo has a real way with a one-liner; he lands the lion's share of the big laughs in the pilot episode, yet manages to avoid making a nuisance of himself.
The pilot itself felt a bit over-written, with maybe one medical crisis too many, along with a couple of pointless visual sequences that could have easily been trimmed (or at least simplified), but ultimately, I enjoyed "Royal Pains," and I'll tune in again. Three stars.