As a strong summer of cable programming transitions into the start of the fall broadcast season, Stuart Levine and Jon Weisman offer some thoughts about they've been watching:
Jon: How about we kick off our first Season Pass chat by talking about Sunday's premiere of "Tell Me You Love Me." I'm seeing a wide range of opinion on it; something tells me that this new HBO series could be the most polarizing program since … that last HBO series, "John From Cincinnati."
I think the show teeters on the edge of self-pity and self-absorption, but I'm cautiously interested in its serious look at sex and relationships.
Stu: I completely understand that all the explicit sex is what will draw attention to it, but that's short-selling the series. Creator Cynthia Mort is able to look at the underbelly of what makes relationships both thrive and then fall apart, and it's the latter I find most compelling. These four couples seem awfully real to me.
HBO distributed the entire series at TCA this summer and I've watched the whole thing already — I figured it was a good time with summer programming not burdening my Tivo. Without giving anything away, as the series moves along, the sex loses its wow factor and the out-of-the-bedroom problems take become much more scintilating.
Jon: Just to get the newer primetime cable shows out of the way, "Mad Men" was far and away the king for me this summer. Each episode is not only entertaining in and of itself, each seems to open up whole new worlds to explore. The characters are incredibly rich. It's a long way until next year's Emmy nominations, but I sure hope "Mad" gets remembered.
HBO's modest but clever "Flight of the Conchords" was my other summer favorite among the new shows ("Damages" seems to have forgotten to give Glenn Close anything interesting to do), while "Big Love" still doesn't seem to get the credit for excellence that it deserves. It really evolved into so much more than its premise in season two. In many respects, it does very well what "Tell Me You Love Me" is aiming to do.
Stu: I completely agree with you on "Mad Men." It captures 1960 so incredibly well, it's scary. Props to the set and costume designers especially. "Sopranos" alum Matthew Weiner has entered into the David Chase-Aaron Sorkin-David Milch arena with this one.
I may be wrong but I don't remember AMC renewing it for season two. Wonder what the holdup is? I know it's critically beloved but I don't think the ratings have been all that stellar. I'm sure it'll be completely forgotten come Emmy time next year but no matter, it's a gem.
I can't go along on "Flight of the Conchords." Very aware that some people just love it but I watched two episodes and didn't get it. Maybe it's me.
I'm really down on "Rescue Me." Used to love it but it seems to have gotten away from Denis Leary and Peter Tolan. What started out as a terrific look at how 9/11 affected this particular group of fireman has turned into a bad comedy. Time to get back to what made it a draw in the first place.
Jon: I only committed to watching "Rescue Me" this season, so it doesn't suffer from comparison for me. The thing I've noticed is it has the same problem "Party of Five" came to have toward the end of its run - an episode can be moving along smoothly, and then there's one clunker of a scene or subplot that just knocks it off the rails.
If it is serious at all about becoming more than a channel known mostly for movies, AMC simply has to renew "Mad Men." Its value transcends ratings.
Stu: Agreed. Will be sorry to see both "Mad Men" and "Damages" come to an end. On the latter, FX's most recent dramatic fare ("The Riches," "Dirt") haven't really worked for me, but from the pilot, "Damages" had me hooked. Which makes me think: Can't wait to see the final season of "The Shield" too. The Vic vs. Shane confrontation could make for a great payoff.
Jon: It's going to be hard making time for all the high-quality cable shows along with the upcoming broadcast TV premieres, the increasing load of Oscar-contending movies and the baseball playoffs. It'd be nice to read a book once in a while, but duty calls.
Stu: A book... what's that???