I don't know about you, but I'm ready for a summer of transcredible exploits. This was the week in TV Land:
• Last week I asked what you watch during the summer, and the responses covered the bases for summer shows: Burn Notice, Leverage (really?), The Closer (really?!), sporting events, etc. I realized that there's got to be a better way, so I've taken to the intertubes for assistance. Every week, I'll highlight a series you can watch for free (or close to it) online. The goal is to showcase classics, forgotten shows, memorable failures, and random series that are worth a look out of sheer curiosity.
This week: Thief, starring Andre Braugher, Malik Yoba, and Clifton Collins Jr. The FX series debuted in spring 2006, and though it earned critical praise, it wasn't the ratings smash the network was looking for, and it was cancelled after six episodes. That's a shame, especially considering the cast and the concept: Braugher stars as a working thief struggling to maintain a balance between his professional life, which includes planning a heist and dodging the Chinese mafia, and her personal life, which includes caring for the daughter of his recently deceased girlfriend. Braugher is, as expected, fantastic in the role -- he won an Emmy for it even after the show was cancelled -- and the series could have been another in FX's arsenal of shows about bad men trying to do good things. The series is available in its entirety on Hulu, and I advise you to check it out:
• Entourage returned last night for its seventh season, with an eighth on the way next year. (Though whether they call it an official eighth season or just the delayed second-half of the seventh is still up in the air.) I watched for you, dear readers, and am able to report that, seven years in, things are pretty much exactly the same. It's still materialistic porn for posers and wannabes, though the show would be much more tolerable if Johnny Drama were to die in a fire and never be spoken of again. If the press kits are to be believed, this is the season where Vince will finally start to look for something meaningful in life beyond fame, or maybe deal with some legitimate struggle that can't be solved with 20 minutes and a hip-hop single. Yet much of the season premiere felt lifted from dozens of previous scripts, from Drama's pathetic referencing of his old gigs to Turtle's habit of ruining his life with sex. Even Eric is, for some reason, still with Sloan, who has all the personality and emotional range of a coffee table. I want something to happen this year. For a series that pretends to have such high stakes, things work out too perfectly too often, and it'd be a refreshing change of pace if things got tricky for the boys. For now, though, I'm not holding my breath.
• Some good news from the jagged pile of broken dreams that is American Idol: Crystal Bowersox, the second-place finisher this season and the most talented performer of the bunch, has signed with 19 Recordings/Jive Records. The label also boasts other Idol names, including Carrie Underwood and other singers you probably don't listen to. Good for her, too. She was the most entertaining and impressive singer of the season, and even if Idol is determined to remain a popularity contest for tween acts, it's nice that someone like Crystal can use it to gain broader exposure and add some fuel to her career. Her debut record is slated for release this year.
• More Conan O'Brien news, because I just can't help it: Jay Leno's Tonight Show is now doing worse than Conan's did. It's more clear each week that NBC made the wrong financial decision by shifting Leno to 10 p.m. ET and then moving him back to Tonight, which cost them millions in payouts to Conan as well as ruined their primetime schedule for a year. They lost the PR war in a gigantic way, and Leno's continued ratings decline just underscores the way this whole situation was mismanaged.
• The U.S.A. is out of the World Cup after a loss to Ghana on Saturday, which means we can all go back to not pretending to care about soccer for a few years. I'd love to hear someone say, "I don't give two shits about soccer, mainly because of the inconsistent scoring procedures and faked injuries, but I'm a fan of mindless American domination in all forms." That's the kind of honesty I can get behind.
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• Futurama returned last week on Comedy Central with its first new episodes since the series ended its initial run on Fox in 2003. (I'm not counting the direct-to-DVD movies that were split into chunks and aired as episodes in 2008-09, because they're meant as movies, not TV.) At its best, the show is one of the smartest, funniest, silliest, and most enjoyable comedies in ages, and though the first two episodes of its resurrected run might not rank as classics, they were still solid eps with plenty of good jokes and trademark absurd stories. It was wonderful to see the characters again -- I'm a Zoidberg fan to the core -- and it feels reassuring to know that, at least for now, they've been given the ability to live again.
• You know the whole "bros icing bros" thing? Where one douchebag surprises another with a Smirnoff Ice, at which point the second guy must take a knee and chug the drink? It's a lame viral game based on the fact that nobody actually likes Smirnoff Ice, which is why the company hasn't come within spitting distance of anything resembling a statement on the prank, merely legal notices against sites using the name. Turning bad PR into good through sheer will power is pretty damn tough to do.
Yet that's what SyFy is attempting to do with a new gimmick called B Movie Mogul, which invites users to pitch ideas for their own terrible movie similar to the low-budget crapfests SyFy keeps making. This is the sign of a network giving up: They're not trying to make better content, or even asking viewers to produce better content. They want people to make bad movies, on purpose, just for the hell of it, as if by trying hard enough they can re-create the cult appeal of The Room or Birdemic. I think we should all submit really boring story pitches in hopes of tanking the contest. Who's with me?
Another pretty light week coming up, but this Sunday is July 4, which means you'll have your pick of patriotic shows to watch between trips to the grill. History is running America: The Story of Us on Sunday, and HBO is airing its John Adams miniseries in its entirety beginning Saturday evening. On Monday the 5th, Spike is taking a break from Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns to show the entire run of Band of Brothers beginning that morning. Basically, it's a weekend of TV you can watch with your grandparents, but in a good way.