There have been a number of outstanding scripted series this summer on basic and pay cable, all of them deserving of special praise. But at the moment there are three I can't stop thinking about: ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars, FX's Louie and Cinemax's Strike Back, three expertly realized shows to which the industry should pay close attention. There is much to enjoy about each of them, and much to learn from them, as well.
Pretty Little Liars, in the just-concluded first half of its second season, proved that it isn't just an engaging scripted series for tweens and teens -- it's one of the most skillfully constructed and consistently satisfying dramas on television, period. Unlike so many of the top dramatic series on broadcast and basic cable, Liars never takes itself too seriously, even as the four young women at its center find themselves pulled into one fresh hell after another. I particularly admire the way the writers of this show keep the girls' parents involved in the narrative's increasingly multi-layered drama without actually moving them to the center of the action.
There are two new serialized dramas set to debut later this month that also center on young women in extreme situations: ABC's Revenge and The CW's Ringer. Even though they boast bigger budgets and bigger stars, I don't think they'll enjoy the same level of success as this modest little show. Certainly, they won't achieve the same level of influence.
Meanwhile Louie, in its second season, has slowly transformed from a curious little comedy punctuated by moments of startlingly realistic drama to a profound little drama enhanced by moments of startlingly realistic comedy. There is great variety and experimentation at play here. In one episode, Joan Rivers gave what may be the performance of her lifetime (she played herself, reluctantly and then cautiously seduced by Louie himself). In another, Louie traveled to Afghanistan to entertain troops, carrying a duckling in his bag that his daughter insisted would keep him safe. I'm not sure what's going on with this show, as far as its general direction is concerned, but I like what I'm seeing. There is nothing else like it on television, and I'm not sure there ever has been. Of course, the same can be said about Wilfred, the lead-in to Louie on FX's Thursday night summer schedule, but I can't imagine it ever transcending cult status. Louie, on the other hand, seems destined for genuine greatness. Comedian Louis C.K. is a visionary. Who knew?
This column continues over at MediaPost.