Remember when summer television was an oxymoron? Now, instead of warmed-over reruns and stale burn-offs, broadcast and cable networks are increasingly giving us fresh fare during the warmer months.
Will CBS' Pirate Master be the latest reality juggernaut to launch during the summer, following in the footsteps of Survivor, American Idol, and The Amazing Race? (Fingers crossed that it's a bona fide hit.) Will we get sucked into the topsy-turvy world of high stakes litigator Patty Hughes (Glenn Close) on FX's Damages?
Turn up the A/C, grab an ice cold caipirinha, sit back, and relax... Here are the series that I'll be watching this summer.
Hidden Palms (CW)
After a disastrous viral ad campaign, the CW has unceremoniously dumped its latest teen drama in a summer slot with barely any promotion or advertising (sorry but those Three Stooges-inspired 8-second "commercials" don't count); but don't count this Desperate Housewives meets The OC out just yet. (After all, The OC launched during the summer months too.) This eight-episode series is the perfect summertime cocktail: cool, refreshing, and a little tart. Come for the beautiful bodies and the sun-drenched atmosphere and stay for the murder mystery. (Launches May 30th)
Pirate Master (CBS)
CBS attempts to capture the magic of Season One of Survivor by launching its latest reality series--in which 16 people vie for the title of Pirate Master and $1 million in gold--in the same timeslot and date as that series' initial launch. Just don't call it Survivor at sea; Pirate Master is a cunning combination of pirate-themed expeditions, sociological experiment, and a grand stage for backstabbing, greed, and manipulation, all brought to life by Survivor and The Apprentice mastermind Mark Burnett. Aussie Cameron Daddo hosts the proceedings with a rare combination of icy detachment and a winking nod to the camera. (Launches May 31st)
Flight of the Conchords (HBO)
There are few things in this life more pleasurable than the off-kilter humor of New Zealand muscial/comedy duo Flight of the Conchords; if you've ever seen them perform live (which I have, twice, in Los Angeles and Aspen) you know exactly what I mean, as Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie manage to balance spacey lyrics with bellyaching laughs. HBO has given them a half-hour platform to bring their unique comedic stylings to the US audience and this sitcom is definitely in the same vein of Curb Your Enthusiasm... if Larry David was played by two 20-something, slightly odd-looking New Zealanders with a penchant for murderous robots from the future, making bike helmets out of their own hair, folk parodies, and filming bizarro music videos. You'll thank me in the morning. (Launches June 10th, though you can watch the entirety of the pilot here.)
Big Love (HBO)
The Henrickson clan returns for a second season of feuds, polygamy, and warring wives as Bill attempts to learn who outed Barb as a polygamist during the Utah Mother of the Year ceremony, Roman attempts to use Bill's brother Joey as leverage to regain control of the family business, and Nicki tries to overcompensate in light of Margene's new pregnancy. I can't wait. (Launches June 11th)
Creature Comforts (CBS)
It's been delayed endlessly, but the US adaptation of popular Brit series Creature Comforts is finally here. Innocuous documentary-style man on the street interviews about topics ranging from politics to home living conditions are animated using Wallace & Gromit-style claymation while the interviewees are replaced with birds, dogs, cats, and any number of other animals. It's witty, touching, and a little out there. (Launches June 4th)
Top Chef (Bravo)
Top Chef returns for a third season of fileting and gutting... and cooking too, of course. Padma Lakshmi (blech) returns as host, along with judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and latest addition Ted Allen (Queer Eye). This time, the action moves from Los Angeles to Miami as 15 chefs compete for the dubious title of Top Chef and a whole lot of cash while talking trash and stabbing each other in the back. The knives are drawn and I'm already hungry. (Launches June 13th)
The 4400 (USA)
Season Four of smart and stylish sci fi drama The 4400 returns this June with a new direction for the lives of the 4400 returnees as messiah (or Judas, depending on your POV) Jordan Collier begins distributing promicin--capable of giving anyone 4400-like abilities--to the general public. Find out what's been happening to Tom Baldwin, Diana Skouris, Kyle (who seemed about to inject himself), and the rest of the gang. (Launches June 17th)
Mystery/drama series Meadowlands, a co-production between Showtime and UK's Channel 4, stars the always impressive David Morrissey (State of Play, Blackpool) as the pater familias of a family unit who is placed by the witness protection program in the seemingly idyllic community of Meadowlands, only this quaint little town, where everyone has at least one secret, is less like heaven and more like hell. (Launches June 17th)
Doctor Who (Sci Fi)
It seems like forever since we last caught up with the time-traveling Doctor (David Tennant) but he returns this summer with a new companion, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman, replacing the departed and much missed Billie Piper) and new adversaries. Among the adventures expected this season, the series' third? William Shakespeare, a 1930s Dalek plot, vampiric aliens, and some stormtroopers called the Judoon. (Looking for a trailer? Click here.) Rose might be gone but I cannot wait. (Launches July 6th)
Eureka (Sci Fi)
The quirky sci-fi dramedy, starring Colin Ferguson, Salli Richardson, Jordan Hinson, and Matt Frewer, returns for a second season of improbable yet highly entertaining science-related catastrophes set in a Pacific Northwest town that's the home to the country's best and brightest scientific minds. (Launches July 10th)
I can't even tell you how much I loved the pilot for the new drama Damages; to call this a legal drama would be like saying that Dickens' novels were soap operas. It's a deeply layered, provocative, taut gem of a thriller and a tense, serialized whodunit starring Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, Ted Danson, and Tate Donovan. It's The Devil Wears Prada meets Murder One. The legal world never seemed this dangerous or quite so murderous before. Check out the trailer here. (Launches July 24th)
Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (BBC America)
Before the US version starts this fall on FOX, catch up with the third season of UK original Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares as notorious taskmaster/master chef Gordon Ramsay attempts to save struggling restaurants with tough love, elbow grease, and his potty mouth. (Launches July 12th)
Weeds returns for its third season this summer with some familiar faces, including Mary-Kate Olsen, Matthew Modine, and Carrie Fisher. The third season will find Nancy striking up a new business arrangement with Sullivan Groff (Modine), an enigmatic land developer, while the community of Agrestic finds itself neighbors to a new planned community, called Majestic, controlled by a Christian mega-church right next door. (Launches August 13th)
David Duchovny buries all memories of Fox Mulder in this triumphant return to television. Here, he plays Hank Moody, a divorced novelist with some seriously self-destructive behavior (alcohol, drugs, and women) in the dark half-hour comedy, which also stars Natascha McElhone, Madeline Zima, Madeleine Martin, and Evan Handler (Launches August 13th)
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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionaryblog.com.