Summer TV grades

Since I’ve had a lot of time in front of the TV lately, I’ve been able to check out some of the new summer series. And since some of them are really quite decent, I thought I would share my grades with you. NB: These shows are not graded on a summer curve, so the grades they received reflect how they would stack up against regular-season fare.

The Bronx is Burning

ESPN, Tuesdays at 10/9 pm

This is an ESPN original series about the 1977 Yankees, who added Reggie Jackson to their lineup and Billy Martin to their clubhouse during the same summer that the Son of Sam terrorized New York. The show intersperses the cops working the Son of Sam case with Jimmy Breslin’s newspaper coverage of it, alongside the Yankees’ turmoil caused by friction between Jackson and Martin and Martin and George Steinbrenner.

The cast is quite good (John Turturro, Oliver Platt, and Dan Lauria are among the veteran performers), but the show doesn’t seem to hang together well. Oliver Platt, for example, whom I usually love, has almost no “pop” as George Steinbrenner, which is saying something, since Steinbrenner is infamous for being quite a character. The lack of sparkle on the part of the actors combined with the jolting (lack of) transitions between the Son of Sam material and the Yankees material leads me to believe that the problem is the direction. So far, after two episodes, the two storylines haven’t been integrated any better than shots of Yankees players reading the newspaper accounts of the Son of Sam murders in the clubhouse, without even any dialogue acknowledging what they’re reading.

ESPN, I think, is just too inexperienced at this kind of original content. It hasn’t been that long since they started producing this kind of series, and it shows. The Bronx is Burning is decent, especially for summer fare, but it’s just a notch down from the kind of series produced by other cable networks, like TNT or FX, which is itself a notch down from the premium cable content produced by HBO and Showtime.

Grade: C+

Mad Men

AMC, Thursdays at 10/9 pm

Mad Men follows the careers and extracurricular activities of “Mad”ison Avenue ad men (get it?) in 1960. The secretaries are explicitly told to expect groping, if not more, from their bosses, the firm scoffs at the idea of hiring Jews as ad execs while at the same time wooing an upscale Jewish department store as a client, and everyone, everyone, everyone smokes.

This series is very well put-together, which is not a surprise since it comes from one of the writers of The Sopranos. It’s clear that Matthew Weiner imbibed a sense of style from his time on The Sopranos, because he takes the same care with the period sets and tone and so forth that The Sopranos always did with their set pieces revolving around Tony’s father and his heyday. Mad Men has a little more conventional pacing than The Sopranos, however, which is to say that, while it is contemplative and serious, it’s also linear and “things happen” over the course of the episode. The world of ad execs is also significantly less violent than the world of the mob, if no less misogynistic and smoky.

Mad Men is an example of what I said above about cable content one notch below HBO. It’s really quite good and worth watching.

Grade: B+

My Boys

TBS, Mondays at 10/9 pm

The new season doesn’t actually premiere until July 30, but I’m already gearing up for it, and I can already give you my review, having watched and loved it last summer. The premise of the show is that PJ is a woman in a man’s world. However, unlike most formulations of that premise, PJ loves it. She’s a sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, primarily covering the Cubs, and after spending all of her work time in the clubhouse hanging out with “the guys,” she goes home to play poker and watch sports with “her boys:” friends from college, friends from work, and her older brother. While PJ loves hanging out with guys as friends, she’s much less talented at dating them, for which she relies on girly-girl advice from her best (and only girl) friend, Stephanie.

This show is cute and funny, and both Dan and I liked it a lot last summer. It’s now in the very small group of sitcoms that we actually watch. I think that pool has been narrowed exclusively to My Boys, How I Met Your Mother, and The Office, so it’s really rather selective. The actors on the show all get along tremendously well, according to interviews, and it shows. Their banter is very natural, and Jordana Spiro is quite believeable as the girl who loves sports. (I have some experience with that, as my sister falls squarely in that camp.) What’s more, this show addresses the demographic that Dan and I belong to: several years post-college, career-driven, no kids. As I’ve commented before, that’s a rare thing, especially for a comedy.

So if you didn’t pick up My Boys last summer, pick it up next Monday when it premieres again. It’s not a complicated storyline, so it’s not like you’ve missed anything if you didn’t watch it before. It’s funny and well-written, and it stacks up very favorably against any other comedies on TV, summer or fall.

Grade: A−

One Response to “Summer TV grades”

  1. Cheryl
    July 25th, 2007 22:25

    Hey, guess what! There’s a My Boys marathon starting on the 29th! Yay, a new show! My Tivo is going to be so full of good television. :)

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