Tuesday, June 29, 2010

HBO is Summer TV Central

This past Sunday saw the return of Entourage which, when combined with True Blood's third episode, means we're really in summer TV season now. HBO may air a lot of serious stuff like The Pacific and that Al Pacino as Jack Kevorkian movie, but they know what people want to see in the summer: super light escapism. So for those of us who want to turn off our brains but maybe not so much as to tolerate America's Got Talent, here's where we'll be.

I went into Entourage's 7th (!!!) season the way I have every season since like season 3: by saying, "Why is this show still on and why am I still watching it?" But as it did last summer, Entourage reminded me: because there is no other show that better exemplifies summer fluff TV than this one. It's a show about rich people with problems so minor you'll have forgotten them by the time the credits roll. And in the meantime, plenty to live vicariously through.

After the season 3-5 rough patch where the show forgot what it was about and made Vince's career tank, Entourage is back in full-on fluff mode. Last year Vince basically took the year off with nothing to do, but this year he's back doing what he does best: acting as a vessel for a glimpse inside Hollywood without showing any personality whatsoever. This week saw him doing a stunt with no training to prove he's not a pussy, which of course made him seem all the bigger a pussy for not being able to say no to his director. That meant we got to see Vince on set, see a guy light up on fire, and watch his team react to Vince's whining. What more do you need?

Elsewhere, Eric had a light episode, enjoying a lunch with now fiance Sloane (at a restaurant that seemed to employ Top Chef season 5's Stefan?) and doing some basic Vince work. Ari realizes being head of WME (or whatever fictionalized name they came up with) is a lot of work. And Drama and Turtle are still really, really annoying. Turtle wins for worst subplot of the night, partly due to it involving Heroes-killer Dania Ramirez. But hey, Entourage was never a great show. Or even a particularly good one. But it's fun, and that's what makes it good summer TV.

I heard a lot of announcements between seasons about the huge number of new characters coming to Bon Temps this season, which made it all the nicer to see them all largely absent from the premiere. So many shows lose themselves in new characters and new plotlines that it's good to see True Blood sticking by its core characters. But the premiere also saw them all completely spread out. Sam off with his bio family, Bill in Mississippi, Jessica in her house - it was looking like we'd be getting 8 different separate subplots all season long.

While that's still somewhat the case, at least by episode 3 there's been some convergence. Sam is back at Merlotte's and interacting with everyone else. Jessica's been linked back in through Franklin's visit and Sookie's request that Sam look out for her. Sookie's left again in search of Bill, but her trip to Dallas last year didn't hurt anything.

Thing is, True Blood is one of the few shows that actually structures each of its seasons on one of the books it's based on. Which means each season is structured like a novel, with beginning, middle, and end spread out throughout the season. So there's no rush to introduce important characters right away - Eric didn't show up til like midway through season 1, I'm guessing so it would line up with the page he entered on in the book. And these first 3 eps have been a lot of build-up.

So while it's too early to know which of the many plot threads will pay off, here's how I'm feeling about them so far. Among the better ones, True Blood's decision to use actual wolves instead of really crappy CGI has paid off, and the werewolves have come off less lame than on most similar shows and movies. And cool to see Eric and Godric fighting Nazi werewolves. Franklin's super creepy so far, which could go either way. So far so good, but could overstay his welcome a la Maryann. And while she hasn't had too much to do yet, I'm liking the increased screen time Pam's promotion to regular has led to.

On the other end, Sam's family drama isn't doing it for me so far. Maybe it's cause I still remember his little bro being annoying on Prison Break, or because they've mostly been in their own little world, but so far it feels separate from everything else and not so interesting. I've got nothing against King Russell as a character, but that subplot won't kick in until somebody else shows up there. And way too early to say anything on Alcide, who's only barely been introduced (yet I believe is meant to be the biggest new character this season).

However the various threads end up working out, True Blood's got a solid start so far and seems bound to keep getting better each week. I'm glad to have its campy style of fun on my TV this summer.

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