Summertime, and the Basic Cable Shows Are Easy

So it's rerun season on the networks. Perhaps you don't care. Perhaps you're one of those people who, whenever you hear people talking about a television show, like to say "I don't even own a television," and then stand smugly, waiting for adulation. Or perhaps you own one, but only watch highest culture, like something on Masterpiece Theatre not featuring Colin Firth. If so, this post will bore and/or frustrate you.

When the networks are in reruns, and the only new content involves reality shows that make me dangerously stabby, or Dateline-NBC style shows that drag a five-minute murder case into a hour-long repetitive nightmare, there used to be no alternatives. But recently basic cable channels like USA, TNT, FX, and etc. have stepped up with some pretty decent original programming. Here are a few that I have been watching, idly or otherwise.

In Plain Sight on USA Network is about the U.S. Marshal's witness protection program. Mary McCormack and Fred Weller play U.S. Marshals managing various riffraff in the program in Albuquerque. There's nothing terribly original about the witness-of-the-week format or the plotting or most of the dialogue. But McCormack makes her misfit, misanthropic character work very well, and the interplay between her and Weller's geeky know-it-all partner sparkles. The ongoing story arcs about McCormack's relationship with her family also work because they aren't too treacly. It's enjoyable and occasionally quite funny. A solid B+.

The Closer on TNT stars Kyra Sedgwick as a LAPD deputy chief with a talent for getting confessions out of suspects. I ought to really like this one. It has an excellent ensemble cast (I especially like G.W. Bailey, who is doing an older version of his Sgt. Rizzo character from M*A*S*H), good writing, decent plotting. But somehow the whole is less than the sum of its parts for me. The best part of the show is the interplay among the cops, not the solving of the mysteries or the method-of-coercing-a-confession-of-the-week. Only a B to B-.

Saving Grace on TNT features Holly Hunter chewing up scenery as a hard-drinking, bed-hopping, hard-living Oklahoma City cop who happens to have a troubled friendship with an angel named Earl who shows up to talk to her now and again. I think this is probably the best acted and conceived of the lot. Hunter inhabits her self-destructive arrested adolescent character so completely that you feel like Googling her to see how often she's been in rehab. That's good, because most of the plots are more about how the cop stuff she does impacts her character. The concept of religion and faith is treated seriously but not delicately; Earl does not provide Deus Ex Machina and provides damn few answers about why bad things happen. I like it a lot. A solid A- to A.

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  1. Derrick says

    I refuse to watch shows based in OKC on general principle.

    But I'll also put in a plug for Mad Men and Breaking Bad (those that hasn't started up season 2 yet). Both EXCELLENT shows on AMC of all places.