6 fairly ridiculous TV shows to stream over the summer

The summer doldrums can be a tough time for TV fans. With barely anything new on networks, it can be hard to find something to watch. Luckily, cable is increasingly moving some of its most interesting shows to the summer, where they don’t have to compete with big-name series. The results, while not always Emmy-worthy, are still compelling. I talked about some great summer shows in a previous column but here are 6 more for the summer of 2013.

Covert Affairs

★★★

Amazon Prime, first three seasons now streaming

USA has made a name for itself by creating original programming in a pretty strict format. Each show follows a quirky protagonist in an otherwise fairly predictable genre show. For Covert Affairs (USA, 2010-Present) that formula wasn’t a great fit at first. A spy show about a young secret agent who still sometimes lets her emotions interfere with the mission, Covert Affairs, managed to nail a fun mission of the week for its first two seasons in ways that kept it’s lead character Annie (Piper Perabo) in a weird holding pattern as she made the same mistakes and barely succeeded despite them over and over again. In its third season, though, Cover Affairs became almost a different show, telling longer stories over several episodes and finally starting to take Annie and her decisions seriously. The results still aren’t likely to earn too many awards (though it did earn Perabo a Golden Globe nomination) but they have managed to turn a show that was already an entertaining way to waste a little time into genuinely compelling television.

Longmire

★★★

Netflix, first season now streaming

I’ll admit that I only started watching Longmire (A&E, 2012-Present) because it co-starred Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff, but by the end of its first season…actually that’s still the only reason I was watching. But sometimes that’s enough. The cast of Longmire is a pleasant, professional bunch headed by Robert Taylor and assisted by a group of enjoyable supporting actors of which Sackhoff is but one. Hanging out each week and just watching this group solve mysteries is a pretty good way to spend an hour. Unfortunately, Longmire wants to be much more than that, stacking emotional gut-punches for its characters on top of depressing revelations about their pasts in a lot of episodes. What makes that unfortunate is that it isn’t very good at either of those things. As the crime procedural the show actually is every week, it’s pretty enjoyable, but as the Emmy-nominated drama it so clearly wants to be, it’s a depressing failure. Here’s hoping that the just-begun second season will let it settle into a more comfortable groove as one show or the other.

The Glades

★★★½

Netflix, third season recently added

If Longmire fails by striving to be more than it can be, then A&E’s other original Monday night drama, The Glades (A&E 2010-Present) succeeds by knowing exactly what it is. The show follows big-city detective Jim Longworth as he moves from Chicago to Florida and starts a new life solving murders and romantically pursuing a local nurse. If that all sounds a little by-the-numbers, that’s because The Glades is proudly, aggressively, by-the-numbers. When it’s doing its job right, it gives you the same satisfying feeling as an afternoon re-run of Law & Order: entertaining but not challenging. There’s something to be said for television that you want to watch that doesn’t require your full attention. Re-reading that, it all sounds extremely dismissive and maybe it is a little (it’s doubtful The Glades will go down in history as one of television’s greatest shows) but there really is something admirable about a show like The Glades that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a fun thing to watch for an hour.

Awkward

★★★★

Amazon Prime, first three seasons now streaming

For decades now, MTV has been creating shows that try to blend the teen drama with the soap opera, and while it’s had some ratings success in the past with reality show hybrids like Laguna Beach, I don’t think the network’s ever attempted something as artistically successful as Awkward (MTV, 2011-Present). What’s interesting about Awkward is that it’s hard to find a compelling reason why it’s so much better than all of MTV’s other attempts. There’s no especially engaging hook here. It’s a show (at top) about a high-school girl who starts to make big changes in her life after an elaborate misunderstanding makes people think she attempted suicide. It’s a show about an outcast in high school narrating her own life experience. While the details are different, the big picture sounds just like another dozen teen dramas on television. And yet, there’s a spark here other shows in the genre don’t have. But that spark doesn’t come from any special gimmick or from a show that grabs at the zeitgeist. It’s just a well-crafted, well-executed show and in a genre that’s usually defined by how cravenly you can appeal to pre-teens that sets it apart from the rest of the pack.

Pretty Little Liars

★★★½

Netflix, third season recently added

Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family, 2010-present) is made fun of a lot for being a ridiculous show. Truth be told, it probably deserves most of what it gets. A show about a group of popular high-schoolers who lose touch after their leader mysteriously disappears, only to band together again after they’re equally mysteriously blackmailed Pretty Little Liars really is ridiculous. But I have a soft spot in my heart for shows that embrace their own ridiculousness to the insane degree Pretty Little Liars does. (This also explains how I’ve been able to sit through three seasons of The Vampire Diaries so far.) This is a show about gossipy teenage girls that somehow manages to have arson become a major plot point. This is a show about gossipy teenage girls who regularly discuss getting framed for murder like it’s just another thing they have to deal with. Hell, this is a show about gossipy teenage girls where getting framed for murder is just another thing they have to deal with. Pretty Little Liars will never be great, or maybe even good, television but I’ve watched a lot of good television I’ve enjoyed less than this.

Suits

★★★

Amazon Prime, first two seasons now streaming

I like to think of Suits (USA 2011-Present) as the bizarre legal drama prequel to NBC’s Community, a show that began with disgraced lawyer Jeff Winger starting out at community college after his law credentials are discovered to be fraudulent. Suits starts off with confident 20-something Mike Ross deciding to fake being a lawyer at a high-powered firm without any credentials but his own confidence. It’s a weird premise that can’t possibly be sustained without making the rest of the cast look ridiculous (already at the end of the second season, most of the main cast looks a bit like a bumbling Lois Lane who just can’t figure out why Clark Kent looks so familiar with his glasses off whenever Mike is the center of attention) but the show and its lead both manage to salvage it by just committing fully to the deception at every opportunity. It’s a balancing act that constantly seems on the verge of falling apart but until it does Suits manages to be an entertaining spin on the legal genre.

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