It’s June, that time of year that is generally considered a television wasteland: Broadcast networks lapse into re-runs and shows that they didn’t think were going to be popular enough to get a big enough audience at any other time of the year, and we’re all supposed to be thinking about what’s going to debut come the new fall season. So why am I excited about the next few months of viewing?
The rise of counter-programming — going against the perceived wisdom in the hopes of catching an audience who’re underserved by what they’ve previously been getting — over the last few years, especially on basic cable channels like TNT, USA and the like, has produced a whole new genre of show: The enjoyable-but-essentially-brainless-quasi-thriller. We’ve all seen them, and chances are, at least one of them is a (potentially not-so-)secret guilty pleasure: Burn Notice, In Plain Sight, Haven, and so on. Thing is, while I appreciate good, quality television as much as the next person — unless the next person is someone who lives for re-runs of Fear Factor and Bridezillas, in which case, much more than that guy — these are my shows.
Last week, I eagerly wolfed down the premieres of both White Collar and Covert Affairs, and it’s almost embarrassing how much I’m looking forward to the debuts of Warehouse 13 and Leverage next month (plus, of course, Eureka, Psych and all the others). This is what summer is for, right? TiVoing shows like this that won’t tax your brain too much and which you can watch one after another when the weather inevitably turns crappy outside?
I don’t think I’m alone in my love for this kind of show, either. Every year, it seems, more and more of these shows crop up (I’m calling it: Syfy’s Alphas? Totally going to be this year’s addition), so someone is watching them. And, more and more, it feels as if network television is taking leaves from this particular book: What was the CW’s Nikita if not a cable channel summer show with more episodes (I watched, and enjoyed, them all, of course). Aren’t shows like Bones and Castle getting quirkier in their relatively old ages, mirroring the addictive, increasingly-geeky, funny banter of these summer popcorn shows?
What makes them work, I think, is that they’re completely unpretentious: They know why they’re there, and they’ll happily show up on time to entertain, amuse and then get the hell out of there before you’re bored. It’s something that a lot of network shows could learn from, I think – especially the part about “entertaining.” There’s a purity, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious (It does, doesn’t it?), about these shows, a purpose and drive that doesn’t get lost in an attempt to grab as wide an audience as possible or watered down by too many episodes for everyone to handle, and that’s what makes them so great: They’re throwaway pop culture that knows that they’re throwaway pop culture, and love it. Summer shows like these don’t pander or ponder, and instead just do their job. When they’re done well – and so many are, the hits to misses ratio is really high, I’d argue – they’re some of the most televisiony television around, and that’s why I love ’em. If only all year could have such throwaway greatness as the summer.