Summer TV is always a mixed bag: Though more cable networks are programming quality summer fare, it's still a dead zone on the majors. As a result, viewers are treated to great series alongside some genuinely awful ones, and it's possible to flip from a groundbreaking comedy or drama over to a reality show about chefs who date (or something) without missing a beat. It's a weird time. But with many fall premieres just a few weeks away, summer will be gone before you know it. Here's a look back at the season that was as we prep for the season to be:
Best Farewell: Friday Night Lights No one can say Friday Night Lights was a perfect show. It careened into soapy melodrama in its second season and had to work hard to find its footing again as it went through some rebuilding years on DirecTV, and despite some good work from later cast additions, the first season's ensemble remains the best. Plot lines were often dropped entirely, too. But when the show was on its game, it offered some of the most resonant drama on TV, and the series finale was a pitch-perfect end that brought major closure to some great stories while also letting us see the characters getting on with their lives away from the pressure cooker of Texas football. Nicely done.
Most Welcome Return: Breaking Bad The previous two seasons of Breaking Bad kicked off in March, but the latest one didn't get started until July, meaning viewers had to wait more than a year to find out what happened with Walter and Jesse. AMC's drama is pretty much the best one on TV right now and one of the best series ever made -- yep -- and with no Mad Men in sight, it was nice to get back to the world of Heisenberg's blue crystal.
Biggest Disappointment: Nothing Can Kill Two and a Half Men Like the rest of America -- and maybe the world -- I'd hoped that Charlie Sheen's public bonkerization would mean a sudden end to one of the broadest and least enjoyable comedies on the air. Sadly, not even tiger blood can kill Two and Half Men, which recruited Ashton Kutcher to fill the bowling-shirt-shaped void left by a departed Sheen. Alas.
Best Summer Comedy: Louie Louis C.K.'s never been better or funnier than he is right now, and he's never done anything as good as Louie. He makes his show, tells his stories, and constantly digs into weird and uncomfortable material mined from his own shaky fatherhood. Dependably hilarious, but also realistically dramatic and human.
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Biggest Freakout Over Nothing: The Response to Netflix's Price Adjustment It's an extra $5. Maybe less. That's it. Yes, Netflix's selection of Watch Instantly titles isn't perfect, and the vagaries of the studios mean Netflix is constantly renegotiating what they can and can't offer. But $8 a month for streaming-only and $16 for streaming-plus DVD is still a phenomenal entertainment deal, bringing you far more and better choices than you'll find at the multiplex. It's a very modest increase for a product that was practically underpriced already, and I'm still happy to pay it.
Most Welcome Departure: Glenn Beck Glenn Beck feels so 2009, you know? The hysteria, the weeping, the oligarchy. He just feels played out. It was nice to see him step down from his Fox News
tabloid fear-mongering commentary show after a couple years of increasingly unhinged statements. He's obviously not going away entirely -- someone still has to write C-level thrillers and manipulative Wal-Mart bestsellers -- but it's a relief to have him off the airwaves. They're just a little quieter now.
Biggest Disappointment: The Killing A lot of people probably think it was the season finale of The Killing that sent viewers over the edge, with its refusal to answer questions or provide closure to the main murder mystery that had (however weakly) driven the plot. But that was just the final straw. The show became repetitive and cheap remarkably quickly, relying on cliffhanger gimmicks that were always discarded at the beginning of the next episode. It was only the thin hope of finding out who killed Rosie Larsen that kept a lot of people (myself included) tuning in toward the end. But then showrunner Veena Sud couldn't even get that right. The finale was riddled with ridiculous moments that won't hold water next season -- Holder's now totally burned because Linden knows he faked that evidence and how could he be so stupid and holy shit I don't wanna think about it -- and it was evidence that there's no saving this show. It'll be back next year, but with a smaller audience.
Best Blast of Nostalgia: The '90s Are All That Nostalgia for the 1990s is blowing up now that people who grew up in the '90s are earning money that can be traded for goods and services advertised on cable TV. Hence, TeenNick's programming block dedicated to shows popular in its weirder and less Hannah Montana-inspired era. Ironically, the block kicks off at midnight ET, by which point many former '90s kids are asleep so they can get up and go to work, but there are always DVRs. It's been fun to watch the old shows and realize once again that kids have erratic and often pretty crappy taste: good-natured shows like Doug or Clarissa Explains It All still hold a certain charm, but the poop jokes of All That are definitely for younger viewers only. I say bring on The Adventures of Pete & Pete.