Sunday, June 27, 2010

Even in the now-busy TV summer, the season premieres of "Entourage" and "Hung" are a big deal


This is HBO's official preview for season seven of Entourage, which launches tonight.

by Ken

Short version: Tonight marks the season premieres of HBO's current comedy gems, Hung and Entourage.

Here's the last thing I wrote about HBO's improbably endearing Hung:
There's clearly something going on between Ray (Thomas Jane) and Tanya (Jane Adams) -- whom I've described as two of "life's left-behinds." But so far it hasn't produced happy results either in bed or in their, er, joint business venture.

"Why can't I ever see people for who they really are? . . .
"My mother was right, I'm too desperate to be liked."

-- Tanya, "the world's worst pimp," in Sunday's Hung

What continues to delight me about Hung is its refusal to be plot-predicatable while remaining both charming and stubbornly believable. It even turns out that we haven't heard the end of Tanya's "lyric bread." She's even adopted Ray's suggestion that the poems (or other inspirational texts) stuffed into her baked goods would need to be laminated, and from Sunday's episode it's looking like the lyric bread is even throwing off plot lines of its own.

The rise of original cable programming has changed the TV landscape in a lot of ways, but perhaps none starker than the new life it's pumped into summer viewing, which for so many years was a wasteland as far as the broadcast networks were concerned.

Just off the top of my head, AMC has gotten in a full season of Breaking Bad, with season four of Mad Men's on the horizon. Lifetime is rounding out the new season of Army Wives. TNT has given us the final season of Saving Grace, and now new seasons of Leverage and HawthoRNe, with the return of The Closer upcoming. USA has given us new seasons of In Plain Sight and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and now Burn Notice and Royal Pains, with the return of White Collar and Psych in the offing. Meanwhile, NBC seems to be treating Friday Night Lights like a cable show -- perhaps to its benefit creatively, if not ratings-wise.

I'm sure I've forgotten a number of others. And most of these networks are also unveiling new shows. Of course the cable networks start with the enormous advantage of significantly lower viewer expectations. Numbers that make for a cable megahit would bury a network offering. And it's certainly not true that those networks do nothing of interest.

Still, the cable networks have the freedom to respond to genuinely interesting ideas featuring creative writers and talented actors, while the broadcast networks continue to depend on officially recognized "draws," which more often than not leads them into fatiguingly imitative rot. And while most of broadcast TV's hit series are oversize versions of these hybrid retreads, every now and then they discover that creative writers and talented actors can also produce network hits.

I thought it was significant that Sopranos creator David Chase insisted, while the show was still up and running, that contrary to everyone's assumption he could have imagined it on broadcast TV. Sure, it would have required some toning down (as has indeed been done for the A&E reruns), and I'm sure it would have been a much more enervating experience for Chase and team, who would have faced episode-by-episode battles royal with network suits, but it says something to me that in his mind he could have imagined it.

I think it's easy enough to imagine a broadcast version of Entourage, though again there would be a weekly siege by network suits insisting that it be made more "accessible" for dumbed-down audiences. I don't suppose there's any way that Hung could have passed muster on a broadcast network, even though the show itself has been strikingly chaste. Still, the premise of a guy trying to capitalize on his one remaining asset by going into the escort business would surely be unsanitizable. Never mind that the life dilemmas of all the characters are more recognizably human than most anything we see on broadcast, which packs as much tawdry salaciousness into its programming as it thinks it can get away with.

I know where I'll be tonight.

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At 3:32 AM, Anonymous Lee said...

watched both last night.Nothing like Hung.

I've been a huge fan of True Blood because its character driven like most of the shows you mentioned. And it looks like the BEST character Lafayette is being given a really interesting story line in relation to his mother. Played by Alfre Woodward. Kudos to HBO again for giving another really talented over 50 actress a job.


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