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Are you, like many of us at The Signpost, a little discouraged at the prospect of heading into the summer TV lineup?
Summertime is traditionally a time of experimentation for networks. That’s when they put out their feelers on shows that may or may not work (enter “Celebrity Diving” stage). It’s a low-risk, low-reward time of year for networks. Nighttime rating numbers just aren’t as high, because everybody has somewhere else to be on summer nights instead of sitting in front of the television.
Sometimes, it’s worked out, and we get a high-quality show with solid ratings. “Wipeout,” the wacky obstacle course pain-fest, premiered in summer, and has built up a large fanbase of devoted (if somewhat sadistic) fans. “Grey’s Anatomy” started in summer too, and, after ratings successes, was moved to a more competitive slot in the fall/spring lineup. But for every “Grey’s,” there’s a “Bachelor Pad” (the most depraved and entertaining show no longer on television) or a “Duets” (snore, snore, more of the same).
In lieu of another depressing summer trying to figure out what’s worth watching, here’s a list of quality, sometimes forgotten shows that are worth your recreational time (all can be found on Netflix, for all your binge-watching pleasures):
“Upstairs, Downstairs.” For those of you who are sick to death that another year (or more?) needs to go by before your “Downton Abbey” fix is met, go back to the 1970s for this three-time Emmy-winner for Outstanding Drama Series. This BBC show made that servant-and-master dynamic its bread and butter.
“Freaks and Geeks.” This early Judd Apatow production is tied for the best one-season show ever made (see “Firefly” further down the list). Starring current celebrities James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, John Francis Daley and Linda Cardellini before they were famous, this high school dramedy stays close to the ways teens actually act, but doesn’t sell out on the writing.
“Columbo.” There may be more TV shows starring flawed detectives than one would want, but this one stands out in front of the pack. Peter Falk’s mild-mannered, friendly super-genius detective Lieutenant Columbo is so likable, he makes every other cop show come up wanting.
“The X-Files.” The nerdier among us love watching all nine seasons of Mulder and Scully’s investigations into the weird and the unexplained.
“Monk.” The show could get a little cheesy and formulaic, but Tony Shaloub’s performance as the paranoid, OCD, germophobic Sherlock-Holmes-in-a-sanitized-bubble won him two Emmys for Best Comedic Actor.
“Sports Night.” This Aaron Sorkin drama, based loosely on characters behind the scenes at ESPN, didn’t last past two seasons, but not for lack of quality.
“The West Wing.” Sorkin’s biggest success was this story about a fictional Democratic administration led by Martin Sheen’s President Jed Bartlet. Partisan viewers may get their feathers ruffled at the idea of the show, but it’s less politically one-sided than they may think.
“Fawlty Towers.” John Cleese, of the famous “Monty Python” comedy troupe, headlines this oddball British comedy about a family-run inn. Warning: it’s very British.
“Firefly.” The world is full of fans still devastated that only one season of this character-driven, highly creative sci-fi series saw the light before it was canceled. Creator Joss Whedon’s touch is evident throughout the show, as is Nathan Fillion’s lighthearted turn as the ship’s captain.
“King of the Hill.” Hank Hill is perhaps the most underrated hero in modern television. This show was always overshadowed by flashier fare like “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy,” but its high-quality writing, voice acting (yes, actual acting), more realistic plotlines and a dash of oddball, fringe humor make it one of the most comforting shows to binge-watch.