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Network Television Rundown: Where New Shows Go To Die

Even though the pattern's tempered in recent years, summer is still largely known in the network television world as the place where new shows go to die (and where returning summer shows are largely sub-par versions of their academic year corollaries). Nevertheless, having my summers off and a never ending curiosity in the way television works, I once again find myself sorting through the trash to find something at least entertaining, if not brilliant. Last June I got the pleasant surprise of CBS's Harper's Island, which was still by no means brilliant, but was a nice jolt of well-plotted trash over the course of a single season. Two shows in particular are trying to fill this gap this year and a few others are trying to bank on other (some proven, some not so much anymore) formulas from years past. So here's the five shows I think I'll check back in on every once in a while this summer, ranked spectrum-style from most enjoyable to least enjoyable. Check the wording of that sentence, as it implies none of these shows are actually good quality television, but some are way more watchable than others, for those of you looking to fill up some time making fun of the idiot box on the days that are rainy or the nights that are sweaty. Also note that as you go down the list the least likely I am to continue watching said show, so I by no means guarantee anything if you choose to go down the rabbit hole...

Happy Town [ABC]: Purported to be "the next Twin Peaks" before it started airing, ABC quickly canceled the quirky serial drama centered around murder in a quaint Minnesota town when it didn't show strong numbers...in its first three episodes. I'm sure there's some equation or justification they have concocted to make a decision so knee-jerky justifiable, but being the plebeian television viewer that I am, every time it happens to a show I start watching it feels unfair. Especially when it's a show whose sprawling story is revealed in serial format, gently (or not so much, as seemed to be the case in Happy's first few eps) dropping hints and clues and letting the viewer wait in anticipation for the whole story to unravel. But as soon as it was axed, the show's story seemed to prop itself up and show that it had some legs after all, as clunky and clumsy as those legs may be. Sam Neill goes over the top as a creepy classic cinema aficionado who has some kind of connection to "the Magic Man", a serial kidnapper that strikes for the first time in years, but it works. As does Steven Weber (usually) as the mayor's bread factory-owning son. It's not Lynchian in any sense, but it has enough kookiness to let the bland parts (including main character TC played by Lucy's husband from Seventh Heaven) worth getting through. Stream the first five eps on Hulu here.

Persons Unknown [NBC]: Now there's only been one episode so far, and I plan on watching the next one in just an hour or so here, so this one might end up eclipsing Happy Town when all is said and done, but as of now at least I am predicting that it won't be quite as weird as the aforementioned and therefore not quite as enjoyable. A couple things about the pilot, however, which focused on a group of people getting kidnapped and stranded in a small ghost town of sorts, could be highlighted more in future eps to help tone down the melodrama and up the ante in the WTF department. My favorite scene was simple and without gunshots or screaming: the cast (which includes Colin from the original 90210 and Alan Ruck of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Speed fame) enjoying a meal of Chinese food prepared by non-English speaking cooks in a seemingly normal restaurant in the middle of their strange small town that is surrounded by a force field of sorts keeping them from escaping. If they explore their surroundings more rather than stay holed up in the hotel, it could prove to be a nice surprise. But specifically if they keep it up with this side timeline where a journalist that wishes he was a detective with terrible hair tries to find the missing persons, I might fall asleep during tonight's ep. Stream the pilot (new one should go up tomorrow) on Hulu here.

Work of Art [Bravo]: Let's get one thing straight - I didn't really start watching reality television until American Idol this year. I don't know why. Possibly because I finally gave into the excitement of rooting for and against contestants. Maybe that's also why I'm suddenly into the World Cup. Who knows. The fact is that this show, as many have noted already rather obviously, is the exact same format as any other reality show. But it features artists of the visual, painting, drawing, and photoshopping variety. I like art but I don't follow it, and it seems like they've framed this show to cater to people exactly like that. It has an air of pretentiousness surrounding it, but ultimately it's a stock formula stolen from Bravo's many other shows. But it work, at least for me, because it's not full of drama (watching the editors try to create it in post-production is quite hilarious) and it's very amusing to see how subjective the judges can be, like when they kick off the abstract painter in the first ep because in the "portrait" assignment she came up with something that didn't look like a portrait. Ha! Stream the first ep (new one to air Wednesday night) on Hulu here.

The Good Guys [FOX]: If there was one thing I was at last banking on with this show, it was that it wouldn't be hard to watch. But it is. Oh how it is so difficult to stomach. But then two seconds later the brilliant Bradley Whitford (wildly different from his iconic West Wing character) opens his mouth and while the script is in no way "good", he somehow makes me want to keep watching. And so I did. I watched all four hundred minutes of the pilot. Wait, it was only 42 minutes? Cuz I swear Colin Hanks made me feel like I was hanging out with him for weeks, and the way the plot meandered and tried so hard to be more than just another procedural cop show, it felt like it was a season-long story line. Add to this the fact that every single scene change was accompanied with a gunshot sound effect as a transition and no wonder I had a headache at the end. I'm still toying with the idea of watching the second one with the mute button handy just to see if Whitford's entertaining drunken washed up hero character can make the show work, but I think I have enough other things to watch. Stream the first two eps (if you can get through the first) here.

100 Questions [NBC]: Riddle me this, NBC. You have four incredibly funny Thursday night half-hour sitcoms in Community, Parks & Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock. Sure Michael Scott and crew have been on the decline for a while, but even after way too many seasons they still make me laugh at least a few times per episode. And you gotta hand it to that show - it helped prove that you don't need a laugh track on Thursday night, nor do you need a multi-camera oh-so-retro-now set-up. That's right, you can film shows like they're movies or mockumentaries or whatever and it's almost universally always better than pretending you have an audience and the over-sized New York apartment is a reality for 20-somethings. Yes, this Friends rip-off somehow made it onto the air and yes, it's just Friends with a gimmick (the main character tells 100 stories about herself in an extensive and apparently weeks-long interview with a dating service), but more than that, it's not funny. The laugh track doesn't even just seem outdated, it seems demeaning. Stay away from this show unless you have a morbid curiosity like me and somehow can't physically change the channel in between reruns of the infinitely better Thursday night programs. Stream the first three eps (if you dare) here.

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