There's an explosion of so-called reality TV, a surge in series imported from Canada, scripted series so questionable executives won't send review DVDs to critics, and an avalanche of quality cable programs airing free from competition with broadcast rivals. Must be the summer TV season.
It's a well-worn dynamic by now. Broadcasters are desperate to prove they can keep the lights on during summer but dead set against airing anything that could be a hit this fall. Cable channels are ready to shine for viewers now that the networks are stuck in reruns and reality, working hard to capture eyeballs that haven't left for the beach or Disney World.
I'm going to help you sort the cool from the corny in the new shows this week, some of which already debuted.
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Here is my summer TV preview, with reviews listed in descending order of show quality, from best to worst. Also is my recommendation on whether to TiVo or Ti-No.
Men of a Certain Age, debuted at 10 p.m. Wednesday on TNT: The biggest problem I had last season with Ray Romano's most excellent treatise on three aging male buddies was its tendency to cripple characters by letting them take a step forward only to fall back farther. This time around, Romano's Joe Tranelli gets a chance to play Prince Charming for his ex-wife, who is stuck in her own personal predicament; Scott Bakula's bed-hopping man child Terry Elliot is actually in love; and Andre Braugher's volatile family man Owen Thoreau considers selling the used car franchise he owns with his father. The common theme here is growth, responsibility and lasting change among a trio of middle-age pals. These guys are finally making positive moves that just might stick, which helps turn these characters from walking punch lines to fully fleshed personalities. TiVo, if only to see the high jinks when Owen puts a camera in his cars to spy on his salesmen's test drives.
The Glades, returns at 10 p.m. Sunday on A&E: This cheeky cop drama was a surprise hit for A&E, emerging as its highest-rated scripted series debut. For its second season, producers have upped the production values a bit, letting Aussie import Matt Passmore stretch his acting chops as a golf-loving ex-cop now helping the police solve tough crimes. The sky looks sharper and the stunts a bit more involved. There's even an exploding car in the first episode. And while Passmore's Jim Longworth chases a murder inside South Florida's Cuban crime families, he also must contend with the return of his girlfriend's soon-to-be ex-husband from prison. TiVo, to see how producers regularly place Tampa and Miami within 20-minute drives of each other.
Franklin & Bash, debuted at 9 p.m. Wednesday on TNT: Do you find a murder prosecution of a woman accused of sexing her elderly husband to death hilarious? How about an ambulance-chasing attorney who cries out his romantic obsessions with off-key singing and an acoustic guitar? My bet is that most viewers will find this buddy comedy outrageously irritating. It features Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer as shoot-from-the-hip attorneys joining a tony law firm. But there's too much cutesy, frat boy-level banter here; it's clever enough between SportsCenter highlights but grating as the backbone for a legal series. Ti-NO, unless you like seeing Gosselaar prove just how far he has fallen from NYPD Blue.
Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, debuted at 10 p.m. Monday on ABC: They should have called this Biggest Loser: Solo for the way ABC's new show rips off so many elements of rival NBC's weight-loss hit. This series, however, focuses on one person over the course of a year as he or she works with overly enthusiastic trainer Chris Powell to reach weight-loss milestones. There are suspense-filled weigh-ins, bruising workouts and lots of tears. But we know how this ends; the network would never waste time on a subject who works all year and doesn't lose the weight. Ti-NO, unless two seasons of Biggest Loser each year just isn't enough.
Platinum Hit, debuted at 10 p.m. Monday on Bravo: Imagine a songwriter-focused version of Project Runway hosted by Jewel, a singer songwriter who hasn't had a pop hit since 1997, and judged by Kara DioGuardi, the one American Idol judge from last year who might have left involuntarily. And there's no Tim Gunn on hand to save it. Ti-NO, because it's not as bad as it sounds. It's worse.