NBC gets an early start on the fall television season this week, introducing several new comedies, as well as bringing back “The Voice” tonight and “Parenthood” (yay!) tomorrow night (along with “Sons of Anarchy” on FX, which I’ll be recapping over on WG this fall), and even “Saturday Night Live” this weekend (with three new additions). I am torn about the return of fall television, as I’ve enjoyed reducing my television viewing schedule from around 25-30 shows a week to around 10-12 (plus catching up on a few of last year’s shows). However, writing for Pajiba and Warming Glow, I’m also excited about the opportunity to be able to write about more shows than basically the three I’ve spent most of summer discussing: “Breaking Bad” (the best show on television), “Newsroom” (which I’ve enjoyed defending, despite its innumerable flaws) and “Louie,” which has had something of an enjoyably quiet year.
The Internet may not want you to believe it, but there were other shows on over the summer, as well. So, before we dive head first into the fall season, it’s worth looking back at the best five shows you probably didn’t watch over the summer because maybe you have a life. Or a Netflix account.
“Awkward”: Yes, it’s on MTV, but don’t let that dissuade you from looking into it. The second season of this coming-of-age comedy starring one of the best young actresses around, Ashley Rickards, boasts sharp writing, delightfully humiliating high-school sequences, and even a convoluted love triangle (that has, admittedly, grown a little stale). Most coming-of-age shows focus on male protagonists, but it’s nice to finally see one centered on a female and her often troubled sex life, even moreso that it happens to be one as fantastically funny and intimate as “Awkward.”
“Suits”: I’m always immediately skeptical of anything that airs on the USA Network, which is great at what it does — that is to say, breezy forgettable procedural-like shows — and I actually checked out of this show three episodes into the first season. However, readers here at Pajiba encouraged me to return to it, and it’s a good thing: The first season found a nice groove by the middle, and the second season was flat-out fantastic, meriting this title for my review: The Best Show This Summer Smart People Aren’t Talking About. The second season brought in David Costabile (Gale from “Breaking Bad”) as the main antagonist, and “Suits” took a page out of “The Good Wife,” playbook, playing down the legal cases of the week and focusing more on law firm politics, which helped to make the outstanding casts (which includes Gina Torres) more than just vessels for a layman’s idea of what courtrooms should look like; they became characters we were invested in. It was a strong season, and kind of the perfect summer television show: Compelling, but not too heavy.
“Damages”: The fifth and final season of Glenn Close and Rose Byrne’s “Damages,” is mostly hidden away from most viewers on DirectTV’s Audience Network (it’s hard to remember that “Damages” was once on FX). It’s a shame that such a well-acted drama is available to so few people, but it was given the shaft a couple of seasons ago because the actual storytelling hit a sloggy rut. I stuck it out because of the fine performances, because I’m a completist, and because — despite the interminable middle episodes — like “Dexter,” the seasons are usually bookended by some solid episodes. “Damages” doesn’t end its run until Wednesday, but I liked and disliked this season for the same reasons I’ve liked and disliked previous seasons: They set up great storylines, but they’re not so good at executing them. In fact, subplots are often abandoned, narratives change course just as we get interested, and I’m terrified that the flash forward from the opening episode of the season — Rose Byrne’s character lying dead — is going to be some ridiculous fake out. Nevertheless, “Damages” has been a compelling enough show to stick with, especially now that it nears the end.
“Bunheads”: Amy Sherman-Palladino ABC Family series began as a very promising “Gilmore Girls” redux: Similar characters in a similarly charming town speaking in a similarly fast-paced and quirky manner, and it almost didn’t matter that nothing ever happened on the show. Almost. The show was immensely frustrating for the way it seemed to set something in motion with the pilot episode, but it never actually took off. Yes, the witty dialogue was fun, the characters were delightful, and the performances were great, but the show never really picked up on any narrative threads. There were no storylines. I guess you could call it a successful slice-of-life show, assuming you understand that it’s a slice of no real person’s life, but I was confounded by how plotless the entire season was, ending not with a resolution, but with yet another amusing but ultimately empty pop-culture allusion.
“Longmire”: This was a show I’d have only given a shot during the summer, because it’s the antithesis of what I typically like watching, which is to say: It was a police procedural. I loathe police procedurals. There wasn’t even much of a twist on this one, save for the fact that it features a weary, beaten down old man as a small-town sheriff solving more homicides than could’ve actually happened in a town of that size. Nevertheless, there was a dusty homeyness to “Longmire”; it was slow-moving, but I can’t say I didn’t find some comfort in the lazy beats of the show. Each episode seemed to drift on forever, but I didn’t mind watching the mysteries solved with the same urgency as watching tumbleweeds rolling through a dusty town. I’m not sure I’ll check back in for season two, but I’m not sure I won’t, either. I’d be more inclined, however, if Katee Sackhoff got a lot more screentime.
This summer, as most summers are, was also met with an array of disappointments, shows that I was initially excited about that revealed themselves to be appropriately forgettable for the season: BBC’s first original series, “Copper” is chock full of ham-handed cliches (I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the last six minutes of last week’s show for going on eight days), and seems to want to be great show but doesn’t want to put in the effort to be one. USA Network’s six-part “Political Animals” had a rough start, but found a shred of soapy momentum near the end, making it a show I didn’t completely hate. The final season of “Weeds” has been awful from the get go, and it seems that this season will never, ever end. I didn’t think it would be possible, but I miss the awful, nihilistic Nancy Botwin because at least she was interesting (that said, the “Little Boxes” covers have been fantastic all season long). I quit “Episodes” two episodes into the second season after it demonstrated it wouldn’t be an improvement on the first: A meandering, unfunny waste of Matt LeBlanc. I didn’t watch “True Blood”, but I could tell from status updates on Facebook and Twitter that even the show’s most ardent defenders were ready to bail. I have no idea why I stuck with “Dallas” all season as that time could’ve been better spent plucking out my leg hairs. I could’ve watched the first and last five minutes of each episode and known everything I needed to know about the show. Finally, the new show I was perhaps most excited about, “Bullet in the Face” — touted as the most violent comedy in the history of television — was daffy, unfunny, and so uninteresting that I got up to do something midway through the third of four episodes and never got around to finishing it.