There was a scene many years ago on The West Wing in which President Josiah Bartlet, during one of his typically humorous exchanges with his stubborn and beloved personal secretary and friend Mrs. Landingham, threatened to beat her about the head with large vegetables.
I know exactly how he felt. I have lately felt the urge to take an eggplant in one hand and a zucchini in the other and clobber anyone who complains about not being able to find anything worth watching on television. Where in the world are such people looking? Perhaps they have mistaken their microwaves for their flat-screens?
Regardless, the next two months will render such complainers irrelevant. Looking over network schedules for the weeks to come, I can't recall a time in recent memory when there were so many spectacular offerings available on so many networks. I realize most people don't have access to all channels, but surely everyone can find a few things to be excited about, even if they rely on TV antennas for delivery of their programming. Consider the following:
The Pacific (HBO) Not everyone subscribes to HBO, but most people do receive their television over cable, and as far as I'm concerned it would be worth subscribing to the pay-cable giant for the next two months just to share in the first-run experience of this emotionally charged World War II epic. A miniseries of this magnitude is the kind that makes memories. (You remember where you were when you first watched such television touchstones as Roots, The Thorn Birds, Holocaust or Band of Brothers, don't you?)
Life (Discovery) This ten-part wildlife documentary is a stunning follow-up to the unforgettable Planet Earth, another co-production between the BBC and Discovery. I'm not convinced that Oprah Winfrey was the best choice as narrator of the American version (replacing Sir David Attenborough in the BBC presentation), and I sometimes tire of watching animals eat each other. (Life is a savage buffet.) But damn, Life is filled with more how-did-they-do-that moments than Avatar. Happily, such questions will be answered in The Making of Life, a bonus hour set for telecast on April 18 at 10 p.m. ET.
Justified (FX) The hugely talented Graham Yost (Boomtown) created this enormously engaging detective drama centered on U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a character that has appeared in several stories by acclaimed crime novelist Elmore Leonard, who serves as an executive producer on the show. In the process, Yost gave FX (and us) the best new drama series of the year. Savor the dialogue, the scenery, the attention to regional detail and everything else that sets Justified apart from the rest.
Lost (ABC). The most challenging show in broadcast television history has entered its exciting home stretch. Even with time running out, it's still raising more questions than revealing answers.
Breaking Bad (AMC) I don't think it's possible to have watched the first five minutes of last night's season premiere and not stick around for the next few months. The disturbing sight of those crawling people topped last season's bizarre beginning with the plastic eye creepily floating in the Whites' pool, and we know what that led to!
American Idol (Fox) I could fill this column with complaints about TV's biggest show. (Four judges! Ellen! The judges' save! The disappointing Top 12!) But I have to admit I'm all caught up in it all over again. More importantly, I'm not alone. One can't go anywhere these days and not find people who will respond to the names Siobhan, Crystal and Casey.
Dancing with the Stars (ABC) This streamlined, star-packed, Samantha-free season will be second only to Idol in mass appeal.
Damages (FX) Here's a densely plotted legal drama that's as dark and twisty as anything Meredith Grey could imagine, and it's blessed with the most exciting cast working on any television series today: Glenn Close, Lily Tomlin, Martin Short, Campbell Scott, Len Cariou, Keith Carradine, Reiko Aylesworth, Rose Byrne, Tate Donovan, Ted Danson, Madchen Amick, Michael Nouri, Craig Bierko, Zachary Booth and Dominic Chianese.
Glee (Fox) As a rule, when a broadcast network yanks a freshman series off its air after only a few weeks, then waits a few months to put it back on, said series suffers a slump from which it never recovers. That ain't gonna happen when Glee returns next month, in part because the two CDs that were released late last year have become the soundtrack of millions of lives. I just hope series creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy doesn't overdo the whole guest star thing and puts most of his creative energy into further developing his beloved characters.
Doctor Who (BBC America) Can young unknown Matt Smith follow in the footsteps of the already legendary David Tennant as The Doctor? Will new stories from new executive producer Steven Moffat live up to the legacy of the departed genius Russell T. Davies? These are the biggest cliffhangers of the season!
Nurse Jackie and The United States of Tara (Showtime) These sexy, sassy sophomores about a drug-abusing nurse leading dual lives and a woman coping with multiple personalities, respectively, aren't just an unbeatable comedy combo: They are the best comedies on cable, period.
In Plain Sight (USA Network) This drama about U.S. marshals risking everything for the witness protection program is TV's most under-appreciated show. If I ran the world, series stars Mary McCormack and Frederick Weller would be prominent among this year's Emmy Award nominees.
Chuck (NBC) Chuck comes out (as a super-spy) to his best pal Morgan and this already entertaining show is suddenly better than ever. Sexy guest turns by Kristin Kreuk and Brandon Routh haven't hurt, either.
Castle (ABC) After years of trying, ABC finally has a popular procedural crime drama to call its own. Nathan Fillion (as best-selling crime novelist Richard Castle) and Stana Katic (as Detective Kate Beckett) are TV's sexiest non-couple. Let's hope they never get together!
Southland (TNT) The only good thing to come out of the recent mess at NBC was its decision to dump this gritty L.A. cop drama, allowing TNT to scoop it up and run with it. With its strong language and very adult themes, Southland already felt like a cable show. If we're lucky, TNT will order new episodes and make it more like The Shield.
South Park (Comedy Central) Its fourteenth season is off to a riotously rude start. Just ask Tiger Woods.
Supernatural (The CW) The Armageddon is about to resume!
New episodes of Seven Successful Broadcast Freshmen Any season that includes among its newborns CBS' The Good Wife, Fox's Glee, NBC's Community, The CW's The Vampire Diaries and ABC's Modern Family, The Middle and Cougar Town is one for the history books. The next two months will be filled with new episodes from them all.
After pondering the current and near-term shows mentioned above, think for a moment about what this list does not include: Fresh episodes of NBC's Friday Night Lights, AMC's Mad Men, HBO's True Blood, Showtime's Dexter and Weeds, TNT's The Closer, USA Network's Burn Notice and White Collar, and FX's Archer, Rescue Me and Sons of Anarchy. Still think television is a wasteland? Then grab an eggplant and let's go.
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