Television has overtaken film as America’s most prestigious medium. Nowadays, most A-list actors would gladly swap their five biggest houses for a leading role in a sharp television drama or a cultish comedy.
This year saw Homeland borrow Britain’s best ginger, Damian Lewis, turning him into a sexy terrorist. Occasionally, he got to squish up against Claire Danes. We loved it.
Then we had our first taste of Smash (Deborah Messing, Jack Davenport), which does for the ailing Broadway musical what Glee did for geeks and show choirs. Meanwhile, Touch – an intriguing drama about a man whose mute, autistic son wants to save the world with numbers – made Kiefer Sutherland relevant again.
Sadly though, America’s beloved ten-year-old police procedural, CSI: Miami, has been retired (to a quieter part of Florida, presumably). The final season airs later this summer on Channel 5. But don’t cry so long and hard that you miss the fresh batch of Stateside shows starting here soon. These are our new-season highlights:
THE NEWSROOM – starts Tuesday 10 July on Sky Atlantic
What is it? A new HBO drama by Aaron Sorkin. It promises to be a strapping if solemn show about a courageous, incorruptible newscaster; one who bears precisely no resemblance to any real-life American anchor. The Newsroom will no doubt do for US current affairs programmes what The West Wing did for American presidents: make them seem honourable. Instead of Martin Sheen in the White House, we get Jeff Daniels in a cable news studio, a part he’s made for.
Standout performance: Jeff Daniels shouting and doing his serious face.
Watch it if you liked: The Hour and The West Wing.
THE FINDER – starts Wednesday 11 July on Universal
What is it? War veteran Walter Sherman (Geoff Stults) tracked improvised explosive devices in Iraq, but missed one and ended up as its victim. He survived the blast, but back home discovers its unlikely legacy: he’s developed the ability to find people and things. It’s a heavy premise, but the show is light and witty. You’ll enjoy Sherman’s pairing with ex-lawyer and bar owner Leo Knox (Michael Clarke Duncan). The Finder doesn’t really get good until episode two, though.
Standout performance: Geoff Stults – unflappable under pressure.
Watch it if you liked: Leverage, Lie to Me and Castle.
DALLAS – September on Channel 5
What is it? Twenty years after the original was scrapped, the Texan super-soap is back with big storylines, but tragically small hair and shoulder pads. Some original cast members – Patrick Duffy, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray – have been redrafted, but the focus has shifted to the next generation. Namely, cousins John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe), who butt handsome heads almost immediately. But you’ll have to wait 20 minutes for the first face-slap, and things don’t really get going until we re-meet JR senior and hear that despicable laugh.
Standout performance: Larry Hagman, strutting on his walking-frame. The old goat still has it.
Watch it if you liked: Dallas. What else?
SUBURGATORY – July on E4
What is it? A cute, snappy sitcom about a Manhattan-bred father and daughter who move to Chatswin, a small town in upstate New York. Dad George (Jeremy Sisto) wants a quiet life, but teenager Tessa (Jane Levy) is a dedicated urbanite, whose idea of a good time is a gallery opening followed by a poetry slam and a slice. She refuses to be tamed by Chatswin, where downtime is spent at the country club or taking your small dog for a manicure.
Standout performance: Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines plays primped, wonderfully dim Chatswin local, Dallas Royce.
Watch it if you liked: Cougar Town and Arrested Development.
GIRLS – October on Sky Atlantic
What is it? Four 20-something females search for themselves, boys and jobs in New York. But Girls is not a Sex and the City rehash. It’s set in boho Brooklyn for starters, where our femmes chug beer, wear vintage and date art-house losers. Girls’ writer, director and star, Lena Dunham, has chiselled something bold, confessional and furiously funny. She plays Hannah, an unpublished writer who’s penning a book of essays she thinks will speak to her generation. But a conversation with her parents in the pilot puts her literary future in jeopardy.
Standout performance: Adam (Adam Driver), Hannah’s dependably topless bit of stuff.
Watch it if you liked: Skins and Friends.
PERSON OF INTEREST – August on Channel 5
What is it? An ex-CIA hit man and a shady genius team up to prevent crimes from happening in New York. They do this by tapping into Big Brother-type software that our geek, Harold Finch (Lost’s Michael Emmerson), invented so the government could intercept terrorists plans. It’s a decent Orwellian twist on the standard catch-the-bad-guy procedural. Emerson gets the best lines, but his partner John Reese (Jim Caviezel) looks pretty and gets to play with guns.
Standout performance: Michael Emerson, staring off into the distance with a morally ambiguous glint in his eyes.
Watch it if you liked: CSI, Lost and Alcatraz.
A GIFTED MAN – August on Watch
What is it? A huffy, high-end doctor is catapulted into uncomfortable situations, like helping the poor and talking to ghosts. When selfish neurosurgeon Dr Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) gets a visit from the spirit of his ex-wife Anna (Jennifer Ehle), she asks him to tie up her loose ends. Roughly translated, that means providing pro-bono care to New York’s needy. (Pre-death, she ran a free clinic.) There’s really no way to explain this show without it coming off as crass twaddle, which it isn’t. Not really.
Standout performance: Patrick Wilson, scrubbed up and fixing brains.
Watch it if you liked: House, Private Practice and Ghost Whisperer.