Summer 2014 TV graphic
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Summer is no longer just a place for discards and reruns. Some of the best TV shows now début “between the seasons.”

At the beginning of this summer I wasn’t looking forward to much for television. Oh what a fool I’ve been. Not only is the overall quality of TV improving, the quality of summer TV is growing leaps and bounds. Some of the best offerings now start during these waning months.

The Leftovers
Some of ‘The Leftovers’

Returning favorites like ‘Ray Donovan’, ‘Masters of Sex’, ‘Falling Skies’, and even poor old ‘True Blood’ have all come on fairly strong. But, its in the brand new shows that the most depth has been plumbed.

With ‘Penny Dreadful‘, ‘The Leftovers’, ‘Outlander’, and ‘Legends’ all giving promise to greatness for many(?) summers to come.

I must give kudos to ‘24: Live Another Day‘ for showing us that Jack Bauer still has what is takes to kick-ass and get all super tragic about it. The best ’24’ has been in a long time.

The ‘True Blood’ promise of the last season has pumped new “old” blood into the series. Bringing back old characters and old “soap-opera” drama. But with the hope of more chaos and true death character arcs I’ve been more able to tolerate some of the silliness that has weighed this show down for years. Now let’s have us a kill ‘em all ‘Angel’ style finale. Oh well, I know that’s NOT going to happen:(

‘Masters of Sex’ is languishing a bit in sophomore season dulls. Having already pushed the boundaries in its début season, it can’t seem to find its legs this year. That doesn’t mean that I don’t look forward each week to these flawed, but driven people. Putting the focus on the characters while taking away from the pioneering “work” they built up during Season One.

And ‘Ray Donovan’ is once again tearing it up, trying to fix the “unfixable”. If only Ray could take his own advice and just lay low I think most of his problems would go away. But where would be the fun in that? Unfortunately, side characters like Bunchy and Terry have all but disappeared most of this season putting everything on the laps of Liev Schrieber and Jon Voight–not necessarily a bad thing.

Falling Skies
Skies are Falling once again

With ex-‘BSG’ co-runner David Ecks now leading ‘Falling Skies’ I was hoping for a big year. And I’ve been quite pleased. Of course, many of these characters continue to need medication for their multiple personality disorders (I’m taking about you Pope), and some of the sillier story-lines once again have run their course. But overall, the action and the character drama has improved. With next year being its last, perhaps we’ll start to see more permanent consequence and more immediate results from all the chaos?

Surprisingly, Season Two of Kevin Murphy’s ‘Defiance’ is everything great that Season One was not. More focused, with darker characters, darker stories, and more mystery. Hopefully this trend continues and the audience stays put for a third season. An honest to god Sci-Fi show on SyFy that’s actually good. Like a cross between ‘Star Trek: DS9′ and ‘Firefly’, frontier sci-fi full of shady aliens…and humans.

‘Hell on Wheels’ is back for a fourth season of Old West “justice”. Lost some steam after show-creators Joe and Tony Gayton left after Season Two. Still, the whole depressing Wild West survival of the “fittest” ruthlessness has some appeal. These are seriously twisted/messed up people doing absolutely horrific things to each other at the ass-end of civilization. Will stick with it for a while longer.

Gothic horror has never been so much fun as with ‘Penny Dreadful‘. Taking the best of classic iconic horror and smashing it all together proved a great idea with top-notched execution. Looking forward to next summer’s Season Two.

Outlander
‘Outlander’ and not her husband

Speaking of horror, I loved reading the Guillermo del Toro/Chuck Hogan ‘The Strain Trilogy’ novels. And FX’s ‘The Strain’ is a reasonably faithful adaptation. However, knowing what happens makes it seem more focused than it actually is. These many characters need more individual build-up before spending little moments each week with them. I wouldn’t mind a little out-of-sequence re-jiggering if it meant more understanding of how these people fit instead of just puking out character and plot without context. Oh well, it’s bound to all come together, eventually?

SyFy’s ‘Dominion’ took a cheesy B-movie and turned it into a cheesy, but slightly better, TV series. Love the concept of an “evil” angel created apocalypse. But the notion of a “chosen one” has been done to death. At least, the great Anthony Head (horrible American accent not withstanding) shines as one helluva nasty sonuvabitch.

CBS’s summer series ‘Extant’ had a great start but stumbled a bit early on. Now mid-season, the horror factor has emerged stronger and things are looking up. The idea of aliens stowing away with human hosts and returning “home” is a well-tread (‘Alien’ and ‘Event Horizon’). But Halle Berry leads a solid cast, including resident Sci-Fi show bad guy Hiroyuki Sanada. Near-future self-driving cars, sentient android “children”, evil corporate sponsored space exploration, and mysterious, murderous human/alien hybrid babies. Just what every sci-fi/horror fans drool over.

A little too early to tell regarding Ronald D. Moore’s newest foray into scripted television. However, ‘Outlander’ shows lots of promise. The lush Scottish settings, quirky period details, and strong performances should give this high-concept romance/fantasy hybrid some juicy backdrops for its drama. If they could only lose the overbearing voice-over narration.

Legends
The Legend of an Undying Sean Bean

And Sean Bean’s newest attempt at not dying in ‘Legends’ shows a some hope, as well. He gets to pretend to be a new “undercover” in each episode, à la ‘Quantum Leap’. With plenty of conspiracy, action, and Ali Larter in lingerie to look forward to.

If you haven’t been watching HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’, stop what you’re doing, go get an HBOGO subscription. and catch up. This show is freakin’ awesome. Portraying the mess of a world where 2 percent of the population just vanished w/o an explanation one day. Three years later and everything and everyone is totally effed-up. This is a drama, by way of Lynch or Kubrick. The performances, directing and writing are Emmy-worthy, every damn episode!

The 2014 Fall TV season is just around the corner and with it tons more quality–and I’m sure, tons more crap. Always great to witness the birth/re-birth of TV every year. It was nice, once again, to have seriously thought-provoking, highly entertaining summer shows to bridge the gap. Eventually, we might never have to watch tolerate a re-run on broadcast television ever again:)