Question: It seems, more and more, that cable television has taken the cynical route. Shows like Damages and Rescue Me offer a very harsh view of the world. Even comedies like Californication serve up bad behavior as a form of entertainment. I don't doubt that, at least with Damages and Rescue Me (I haven't had the opportunity to watch Californication), the writing is top-notch and the acting impeccable. But at what point did television (cable in particular) become bad-as-we-want-to-be? Do you think that cable has now created a landscape where show producers push the envelope just because they can? The offerings may be fun to watch, if you like that sort of thing, but I can only imagine the dreck that will come out in the future, with loads of illicit sex, swearing and sliminess, and viewers may end up desensitized to it. Clearly, I prefer shows in which I wouldn't mind hanging out with the main character (and my parents taught me that swearing too much just meant you had a poor vocabulary), but I'm not so sure it's a good thing in general that we, as a TV-watching society, are going down this particular road.
Answer: If everything cable offered this summer was this twisted and cynical, I might empathize with you more fully. But the menu is much more diverse than you describe, and it's not all about the sort of dark-to-perverse "edge" you often find on FX and the pay channels. In fact, the more popular breakout shows tended to be much more mainstream, led by TNT's hits The Closer (yes, there's death each week, but the tone is much lighter than even most of CBS' procedurals) and Saving Grace, which buffers its edge with a theme of redemption from on high. Add in USA Network's upbeat hits Monk, Psych and the new Burn Notice, Lifetime's soapy smash Army Wives, TBS' enjoyable sitcom My Boys and even HBO's offbeat comedy Flight of the Conchords — which, to its credit, doesn't conform to the cult of cruelty — and you've got plenty of choices that won't get you depressed or creeped out. True, critics often are drawn to shows that push the envelope, because they tend to be different and surprising, and on FX and pay cable, the acting and writing generally do aim higher than you get on basic. But that's not all that's been worth watching this summer.