Once upon a time, summer TV was all reruns, busted pilots and short-run replacement shows (I liked that Ben Vereen one, though …), but now, it’s just as stuffed with scripted and reality shows as the rest of the year — and a bunch of them are just awesome.
So, in no particular order, here’s my list of Summer Shows I Can’t Live Without (feel free to play along at home; your results may vary):
“Wipeout”: Anytime I need a boost to my spirits, ABC’s reality-competition show, which sends contestants through wild and wacky obstacle courses, is just the ticket. In some ways, it’s a living “Road Runner & Coyote” cartoon, only with no Road Runner (unless you count that $50,000 ultimate payoff that everyone’s chasing). All the colorful contestants are Wile E. Coyote, forced to suffer repeated splats, falls, flips and indignities in search of an elusive prize. Yes, it’s silly and mindless fun, but I love it because … it’s silly and mindless fun.
“America’s Got Talent”: You can keep your “American Idol,” I prefer NBC’s often emotional, sometimes downright loopy talent-competition series, which pits dog acts against magicians against singers against a harmonica player against a guy who flossed his neck. What all of the acts have in common is that they have nothing in common except a willingness to endure possible public humiliation to realize a long-held dream. Sometimes it makes me cry, and sometimes it makes me want to take a shower.
“Ice Road Truckers”: In the midst of a sultry summertime, there’s nothing like tuning in to History Channel and watching truckers on the frozen Dalton Highway in Alaska battle snow, ice and below-zero temperatures to get their rigs and their loads from one tiny tundra hamlet to another. If I still lived in the Northeast and was facing similar conditions in a few months, I might not be so sanguine, but as I don’t, it’s a visually stunning reminder of what I’m missing.
“Burn Notice”: USA Network now has a second spy drama, called “Covert Affairs,” but the original remains the gold standard for espionage thrills, chills and fun. The summer finale airs tonight (Aug. 26), so you better get hopping if you haven’t yet fallen in love with burned spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) and his motley crew in Miami. Oh, and any chance to watch Sharon Gless puff a cigarette and have her say as Westen’s savvy mom is worth the price of admission.
“The Choir”: I fell in love with the first season of this BBC America reality show, in which elfin choirmaster Gareth Malone built a choir out of the rough-hewn raw materials at a British high school that didn’t even have a music program, eventually taking it all the way to a worldwide competition in China. In the most recent season, he took on adolescent masculinity to create a choir at a sports-focused all-boys school. In the next season, he heads to a blue-collar area to not only revitalize the school but the whole town. Gareth is tough but loving and has an unshakable faith in the transformative power of singing — and he’s made a believer out of me.
“Warehouse 13” and “Eureka”: Syfy has just found the right mix of science-fiction, fantasy, character humor, drama and good old entertainment in this pair of hit shows, which had crossover episodes early in the month. Both shows manage to be true to their genres without resorting to silliness or self-parody (excellent casts and writers go a long way to making that happen). They’re light in tone, but not lightweight — and that’s harder than it sounds.
“Psych”: A perfect froth of slapstick, one-liners, homages galore and even a dead body or two, this USA Network comedy-drama about a pretend police psychic (James Roday) and his long-suffering best buddy and partner (Dule Hill) is an absolute delight. The whole cast is strong, the writing is clever but never twee, the theme song rocks, and there’s just enough heart to anchor it to Earth and keep the whole thing from floating away.
These are only the tip of the iceberg, and I could easily give Honorable Mentions to: Discovery’s “The Colony”; Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva”: USA’s “Royal Pains” and “White Collar”; BBC America’s “James May’s Toy Stories”: and Syfy’s new “Haven” (like the chemistry between the leads a lot). And of course, there’s Discovery’s “Pitchmen,” which just returned for a new season. And while it’s as old-fashioned as it could be, I’m liking ABC Family’s sitcom “Melissa & Joey” (as I only watch one other sitcom, NBC’s “Community,” that’s something).
I’m sure there are more I just can’t think of right now. Ain’t summer grand?