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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Summer TV: The good, the bad and the really, really bad

Friday, July 31, 2009

I know. I should be getting outside during the summer. The arguments for doing so are numerous, mostly relating to things such as sunshine, fresh air, the potential for human contact. Mostly though, I hear that there's nothing on except for shows I've either already seen at least once, or programs that I didn't want to see the first time (and neither did anyone else).

But nowadays, summer TV isn't merely packed with reruns, series burn-offs and failed pilots. Cable channels such as TNT, AMC, FX and USA are carrying original scripted programming that often puts the regular-season broadcast network shows to shame. Talent showcases such as FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance" or NBC's "America's Got Talent" are the most-watched programs week after week. And the number of shows about dangerous jobs and the people that do them seem to grow geometrically every year.

Simply put, there's a lot out there, so I'd be remiss if I didn't review the field -- or at least a reasonable cross-section.

The Good:

ABC's "Better Off Ted." Here's a show that I liked immediately when it premiered this past spring and as it has continued, I've happily fallen for it hook, line and sinker. It started out smart and funny; it's only gotten smarter and funnier, with an expert blend of savvy satire and out-and-out silliness. ABC had initially aired a season finale in April, but since there were additional episodes already produced, the network chose to air them, likely hoping to gain some buzz. The ratings haven't been too good, admittedly, but it has gained a solid word-of-mouth fan base.

Food Network's "Chopped." I'm a Food Network fan anyway, but I will put down the remote if I notice this is on while I'm flipping around the dial. The basic ingredients: take the last three weeks of a "Top Chef" style cooking competition and distill it into one hour. Four chefs are pitted against each other to create the individual parts of a three-course meal -- appetizer, entree and dessert -- with one chef eliminated (or "chopped," as the show's title indicates) by a judges' panel after each course. The first twist to this concept is that the cooks have to race a ticking clock on each course; the second is that they are given a basket of 3 to 5 different mystery items that they must use in their dishes. It's the usually oddball items in each basket that makes the show so distinct and intriguing.

USA's "Burn Notice" and TNT's "Leverage." I've already written about how much I like "Burn Notice," and I have many of the same feelings about "Leverage." These are both fun throwbacks to the kind of shows the networks used to do; both are reminders that the action-comedy can still work on TV.

The Bad:

ABC's "Impact" and NBC's "Meteor." Internationally produced miniseries with recognizable stars, obvious CGI and the end of life on Earth as we know it. Sort of. (Two bonus demerits to "Impact" for making the world space agencies look both startlingly incompetent and grossly underfunded; one to "Meteor" for casting an uncomfortable-looking Jason Alexander.)

ABC's "The Superstars." Remember this "Wide World of Sports" staple from the '70s and '80s (and even early '90s)? Unfortunately, this overslick and undercooked attempt to restart the franchise added "celebrities" to the mix, forgetting what made the original concept work: top-name sports stars competing in events that weren't their own.

The Really, Really Bad:

FOX's "More to Love." It's not the least-dignified idea to spring from FOX's reality division -- neither is it the smarmiest, nor is it the most crass, for that matter -- but it's awfully close.

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Jeremy Blomstedt
The Entertainment Center