Cowabunga, channel surfers! The summer is here and with it a rising tide of new and returning summer series. Time to kick back and catch a few cathode rays.
Like the season that contains it, the TV summer has traditionally been a time of relaxed ambitions, of transitory simple pleasures. If the shows the networks mount in these months lack star power and substantial budgets, they also represent a kind of vacation from the anxiousness of fall, winter and spring, with their constantly fragmenting and desperately shuffled schedules. You know where you stand in the summer. (You are over by Labor Day, or thereabouts.)
Apart from reality fun and game shows, summer 2010 seems composed largely of cops, spies and monsters, sometimes in the same series. This feels thematically appropriate, but it's not all the television equivalent of the bottom half of a drive-in double bill. Cable TV, basic and premium, does its business year-round; no show is more prestigious at the moment than " Mad Men," which begins its fourth season in July. "True Blood" and "Weeds" and "Rescue Me" also all return this summer.
It is a full-packed picnic basket. Here's a not completely complete guide to the goodies, and the not-so-goodies.
Already running, but not for long, is "100 Questions," a standard singles sitcom, whose 13-episode order was cut to six. In "Persons Unknown" — Pirandello by way of Agatha Christie by way of " Lost," from the writer of "The Usual Suspects" — a group of strangers find themselves trapped in a house together, as if they had auditioned for "Big Brother" without knowing it. "Friday Night Lights" has episodes through July. People who want the world to see that thing they can do are currently competing in "America's Got Talent" and will soon vie to be the next "Last Comic Standing" (Monday).
In "The Gates" (June 20), not for the first time do we see a new police chief arrive with family in a town full of dark secrets, but these secrets are strictly supernatural. In "Scoundrels" (June 20), Virginia Madsen tries to keep her brood of small-time crooks out of trouble after dad goes to jail. "Rookie Blue" (June 24) is "Grey's Anatomy" with guns; persuasive Missy Peregrym your wide-eyed way in. "Downfall" (June 22), is a trivia game played atop a skyscraper; losers apparently go over the edge. "Bachelor Pad" (Aug. 9) repurposes losers from "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" (now in progress). Returning are "Wipeout," (June 22), the obstacle course game, and " Shaq Vs." (Aug. 10), in which Shaquille O'Neal attempts to beat other athletes at their own games.
Old-school/new-school odd-couple cop show "The Good Guys" gets its official premiere Monday; like "Life on Mars" without the time travel. "Lie to Me," which can always boast that it stars Tim Roth, brings forth new episodes at a new time (Monday); and Gordon Ramsay once again opens the gates to "Hell's Kitchen" (Monday), to his own chagrin, doubtlessly; in "Masterchef" (July 27) he teases pro chops from amateur cooks.
"Masterpiece! Mystery" has returning seasons of "Poirot" (July 11), including "Murder on the Orient Express," and "Inspector Lewis" (Aug. 29), Kevin Whately not quite erasing memories of old boss Inspector Morse, but a believable boss in his own right. Also coming: a seasonally appropriate replay of "Baseball: A Ken Burns Film," verite virtuoso Frederick Wiseman's three-hour "Le Danse: Le Ballet de l'Opera de Paris," (June 16) and an "American Masters" profile of Merle Haggard, "Learning to Live With Myself" (July 21).
No new series from the 800-pound gorilla of premium cable, but here come the third season of the gothic soft-core horror soap "True Blood" (June 13); Season 2 of "Hung," what I suppose could be called the "original" big-penis TV comedy (June 27); and a seventh season of "Entourage" to mark the inexorable passing of time.
"The Big C" stars redoubtable Laura Linney as a woman who decides to live large in the face of cancer; producing methamphetamine is probably not on her bucket list. (Oliver Platt and Gabourey Sidibe make this date feel extra special.) "The Green Room With Paul Provenza" (June 10) features the host in roundtable raps with other comics, including Roseanne Barr, Eddie Izzard and Jonathan Winters; "The Real L Word" (June 20) follows "real-life, hot and happening lesbians in their daily lives at work and play in Los Angeles." And "Weeds" is back Aug. 16, more trouble for Mary Louise Parker, I 'spect.