A Field Guide to Summer TV: Thursday

Ah, the day of days.

This is when the summer powerhouses come out to play, and when the major networks drop in for a visit, so without further ado:

9 PM

Burn Notice (USA)

The funny thing about Burn Notice is that four seasons and two added major characters later it’s still one of the best summer shows on television. The original modern spy story, Burn Notice stars Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen, a “burned” spy who is forced to basically become a covert freelancer when he’s dumped in Miami. His primary team is best friend Sam (Bruce Campbell, Army of Darkness) and his ex- and then current girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, The Tudors). In later seasons Sharon Gless was added as his mother, and Coby Bell joined as another burned spy who doesn’t know that Michael’s to blame for his termination. This show can be boiled down to great action sequences, explosions, pretty people and locations, and a great sense of humor about itself and the genre. Burn Notice is the series that started it all for the USA network.

10 PM

Rookie Blue (ABC)

Hey guys! Another cop show! Rookie Blue is often described as the Grey’s Anatomy of cop shows, and that description’s pretty accurate. Though Blue lacks the depth of interesting supporting cast that early Grey’s had, and you’re not really going to see anything new here, the second season brings back the procedural soap with a vengeance. (I use procedural loosely. If you’re looking for a case that needs solving, these rookies are probably too busy talking about their feelings to catch bad guys. But the leads on Grey’s had a strange amount of downtime too. If all doctors and cops had the time to makeout in supply closets and evidence lockers as often as these soap stars, we wouldn’t need a complete overhaul of our healthcare and justice systems.)

vs.

Wilfred (FX)

Wilfred is quite possibly the most consistently funny sitcom I have ever seen. It’s also one of the loopiest premises, on loan from Australia. Original show co-creator Jason Gann stars as the title character, an anthropomorphized dog that only Elijah Wood can see. To be clear, everyone sees Jason Gann as a dog, and Ryan (Elijah Wood) sees Jason Gann. The best part of this show is that it both uses and doesn’t need the premise. Gann and Wood’s banter would be funny if it was said by two stoners in a basement but when it’s a dog and Frodo (or not in either case), a certain hilarious alchemy happens. Wilfred is part dog, part life coach, or as one of he co-creators describes him “part Labrador Retriever and part Russell Crowe on a bender.” It’s definitely an acquired taste, but if you can’t sympathize with a suicidal young man with no prospects who needs to take control of his life and wonders if there’s something wrong with him, you’re probably too busy spending your bailout money to watch television anyway.

vs.

Futurama (Comedy Central)

The futuristic animated comedy from Simpsons creator Matt Groening has moved to Comedy Central from its former home at Fox. All your favorites are still here: Leela, Fry, and of course Zoidberg and Bender. If you like The Simpsons, you’re pretty much guaranteed to like this. It’s like Flash Gordon made love to Marge.

vs.

Suits (USA)

The best way to describe Suits is probably a contemporary Mad Men with lawyers. The show has the same sleek silhouette as the AMC staple, and though the premise sounds a bit like other USA favorite Psych, Suits pulls a lot of drama and class out of its young associate with an eidetic memory (i.e. he reads it, he knows it) and the cynical veteran attorney who hires him despite his lack of a law degree. Suits has gotten mixed reviews because a lot of reviewers don’t know what to do with it. (The USA Today review has more vitriol than I’ve ever seen USA Today direct at anything. Where was this when you saw Transformers, guys?) Suits‘ premise suggests a tongue in cheek goof-off using his close to superpowers to sneak around his stuffy superiors (i.e. Psych), but Suits is not that. It’s not a bromance like Franklin & Bash or an improbable theatrical walk and talker like Boston Legal. It’s Mad Men set now, except Peggy’s a stoner Millenial who got kicked out of law school and Gabriel Macht plays Don Draper without all that Dick Whitman stuff. As the NYT’s Ginia Bellafante accurately points out, Suits joins USA’s stable of blue skied fantasy second chances. There are lots of Mike Rosses out there right now without jobs who have to move back in with their parents, but forgive this Millenial if I’d rather see one of us be able to afford those suits. Besides, if I want something that depicts the world as it is, I’ve got Louie and Breaking Bad on the DVR.

10:30 PM

Louie (FX)

Cult comedian Louis C.K. stars in this grungier, more honest version of Seinfeld. Yes, we follow a comedian and his friends and family through their daily life, and yes, the show is framed by a standup routine, but Louie is refreshing in its honesty. Divorced Louie’s daughters are sometimes adorable, but alot of the time they’re annoying and a little slow on the uptake, and the show really shines when we see this relatively competent single dad wrangle his two contrary girls, his mother, his therapist, his friends, and his job. When I use the word grunge, I mean that in the kindest fashion. Louie is made on a very low budget, and C.K. is the primary force for everything on it: performer, writer, director, editor. When you watch Louie you’re getting as close as you can to a comedy auteur. For better or for worse, it’s an interesting experiment that rejects the absurd, manicured multi-camera Seinfeld model. And now it’s nominated for two Emmys. So there’s that.

vs.

Ugly Americans (Comedy Central)

Comedy Central closes out its animated block with alternate reality sitcom Ugly Americans that bears interesting similarities to wonderful webcomic Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, about a world where supernatural creatures just want to live in New York like everyone else. Obviously things can get a little difficult when your roommate’s a zombie, your girlfriend’s a demon, and you have to help the Blob find a job. While Darwin goes in the adorable, silly direction, Ugly Americans is dark and sarcastic, kind of like most New Yorkers.

These decisions are getting hard, huh?

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