Cable's Summer Hits a New High
Vanessa Hudgens, Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale in High School Musical 2 by Adam Larkey/Disney Channel
The ridiculous (in a good way) ratings for Disney Channel's multiple record-breaking weekend launch of
High School Musical 2
was just the most spectacular reminder of what a great TV summer this has been - if you have cable.
Not even a big hit like TNT's
's numbers, and some of the best series, like AMC's mesmerizing
, are only doing so-so. But that's only to be expected given the glut of programming on many nights - including Thursdays, when
goes head-to-head with USA Network's latest clever breakout caper,
. I thought my DVRs would get a break this summer. Didn't happen.
Just look at the options we've had over the last few nights, including terrific new episodes of
on Thursday. I'm really enjoying
now that ex-spy Michael Weston is getting closer to the truth about how he was set up to be fired. And what can I say about
besides the word I used to start my initial review of the show: wow. Loved the metaphor of creating an ad campaign about private executive banking accounts for men - or, as Don Draper put it, "Men need their own accounts beyond the family." As Don's attempts to compartmentalize his messy and secretive life (the family he left behind when he went by "Dick," the mistress he sees for lunch) continue to shred, this show just gets more fascinating. "Who is Donald Draper?" wonders his brother Adam, whom Don refuses to publicly acknowledge. The answer to that question is making for great drama. (And wait until you see this week's episode, in which Joan - the supremely sexy secretary played by Christina Hendricks - comes into her own.)
Then Friday not only brought us the premiere of the long-awaited
High School Musical 2
, which for all of its clunky corniness was a lot of fun to watc (and, I'm sure for many, watch again and again). But there were also new episodes of
, all enjoyable summer diversions.
Saturday? Not a factor.
Sunday? Too much going on. Lifetime is in full gear with an all-new lineup, anchored by the breakout hit
. USA continues to score with its fantasy-based
The Dead Zone
(neither of which I have kept up with this summer, though I've been recording
and am slowly getting back in the game). HGTV is getting record numbers for its fast-paced
reality show, on which the contestants really are (as one survivor put it this week) "dropping like flies." Two double eliminations in a row? They're not wasting any time on this one.
But this Sunday, I was mainly glued to HBO - which was a change, now that
John from Cincinnati
is no longer around to frustrate and bore those of us who tried but couldn't crack its pseudo-mystical surface.
has taken up residence where it belonged all along, in the Sunday catbird seat, and was this week's penultimate episode ever a busy one. When Barb told Bill, "I'd say we're off the rails," I'd say she's right.
A son who's dating twins, both of whom want to marry the same guy. A daughter who's dating an older guy who wants to play the field, causing her once again to questions her tortured family values.
And those other wives! Nikki, who's sliding into a gambling addiction, just what the family's strained finances amid complicated business deals don't need. Margene, who's getting more than a little fed up by being on the low end of the wives' social totem pole. She's using the Weber Gaming conflict as her way up and out into a more public status as a WOB (wife of Bill), and it's ruffling feathers right and left.
The domestic conflicts are juicy, and the sinister family/business intrigues are terrifically twisted (ending with that shot of the snakes writhing on Barb and Bill's bed), but what really set this episode apart was the painfully poignant rift in Barb's family, which came to a head at her mother's wedding. Kudos to Ellen Burstyn, who might actually merit an Emmy nomination for this guest role (as opposed to the one she got last year for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in HBO's
). "I can't just tolerate you. You're my daughter. I'm responsible for your eternal salvation," Barb's mom cried as Barb flinched with the realization of what she has really sacrificed by letting her marriage to Bill evolve into this polygamist mess.
The complicated politics of religion that reared its head at the reception were fascinating, and something I'm sure many families can relate to - setting aside the particulars of the Mormon faith and the polygamist mavericks.
really kicked into gear this season, and I can't believe it's already almost over.
: I can't really argue with those who feel the show is off its game lately. (I'm beginning to find Vince more than a little annoying, not even showing a little concern over the possible impact of his insane writer-director buddy's latest antics.) But still, I love the ensemble (especially the Ari-Lloyd moments), and it's a gas to watch Ari joust with studio siren Dana Gordon (Constance Zimmer, whose talents are so much better used here than on
). With a new season of
Curb Your Enthusiasm
on the horizon (I've only seen one new episode so far, and can't wait for more), that's reason enough to stick with HBO despite its recent ups and downs.