Want a Good New TV Show? Cable is Where It’s At (still)

Here it comes, the daily promotion for another PopRox live chat. We’ll be doing it July 2 at noon and the first Friday of every month for as long as people keep coming around. I had fun with the last one, so we figured what the heck. There will be more promotion coming up for it — including daily reminders here, so be ready for that — before the date.

Which is July 2. At noon. “Lunch with PopRox” or something clever like that.

We’re starting to get bombarded with new summer shows, many of which, surprisingly, are scripted. The problem is, most of them aren’t very good. The networks say they’re more committed to scripted summer shows, but it still seems like the only quality shows we’re getting during the summer will be on cable. Sifting through some of the newbies:

it could be worse. maybe.

it could be worse. maybe.

HOT IN CLEVELAND (TV Land, 10 p.m. Wednesdays): One of two things is happening. Either I’m just completely over traditionally produced, live-taping, three-camera sitcoms and find them to be more of a dinosaur than black and white or they just aren’t any good anymore. One thing is for sure — you can’t put fresh new actors in them. They look out of place reading the same old stale jokes that Hal Linden did as Barney Miller and mugging to the camera the way George Jefferson did in the 70s. The one exception seems to be Jim Parsons on Big Bang Theory, but his shtick already is getting Urkel old. So if you’re going to make a successful sitcom in the traditional format, you need veterans. That’s the one level Hot in Cleveland works on. It’s got likeable sitcom veterans who haven’t had steady work in years all saying their lines with enthusiastic — if not manufactured — gusto. It’s a shame they had to go to TV Land to be recognized because they’re all still pretty funny. Unfortunately, there are so many levels the show doesn’t work on that it’s hard to take it seriously. Which, I guess, technically is the point of sitcoms. But after a half-hour, I laughed at one line. I think. It might have been more of a chuckle than a laugh. Or a smile with noise behind it. Whatever it was, it doesn’t make me want to watch again. But it’s still better than many of the sitcoms that land at networks. I’m looking in your direction, HankGRADE: C

his lip synching was a lot less annoying as the lead singer of stillwater

his lip synching was a lot less annoying as the lead singer of stillwater

MEMPHIS BEAT (TNT, 10 p.m. Tuesdays): Move along. Nothing to see here. The Clooney-produced cop show certainly seems like every other cop show you’re going to see on CBS or USA. Randomly throwing in a twist of Jason Lee being a world class lip-syncher doesn’t help. They spent the first 55 minutes of the show pushing to some big reveal of Jason Lee crooning blues-style, only to hear a voice so utterly mismatched with Lee’s it was distracting. I even spent a couple seconds debating in my head whether we were supposed to believe Lee was singing, or whether this was some special bar in Memphis that caters to lip-synchers, like a new karaoke phenomenon or something. I’m still not completely convinced either way. I don’t mind the sometimes distracting lip-synching in Glee because it actually is those people singing, just on a previously recorded track. If someone can prove that was Lee singing, maybe I’ll look differently at the show. For now, not so much. In between the signing parts, there just isn’t much going on here we haven’t seen before. Even worse, they’re making the same cliched mistakes other shows have made. The time-honored new-boss-shakin’-things-up-in-an-old-department didn’t stand a chance when Alfre Woodard greeted Lee with, “The one and only Dwight Hendricks” when we don’t have any idea or indication why this should mean anything. We haven’t seen him do jack squat, but we’re supposed to just go along with it? Not on my watch. Then there’s the old “everybody knows everybody” vibe the show tries to foster. What they fail to mention is Memphis is a world-class city of almost 700,000 people that has much more going for it other than being the home of Graceland. Something tells me Memphis residents are going to hate this show out loud. And how the heck did Lee age 10 years since 2008? He’s hard to watch in this knowing this was, at one time, the man who played quintessential teen Brodie and the slacker 90s icon Banky Edwards. Even Earl seems like it’s about 20 years removed from this new guy. Sigh. GRADE: C-

a soon-to-be-30-year-old playing a high school sophomore? just go with it.

a soon-to-be-30-year-old playing a high school sophomore? just go with it.

HARD TIMES OF RJ BERGER (MTV, Mondays at 10): There’s something about this show that makes it more than just watchable, but interesting and enjoyable. The problem is, after three episodes, I can’t figure out what that thing is. Here’s what I know: It moves fast, it’s moderately funny and it sounds like high school sounded, for the most part. It’s too over-the-top trying to make the authentic high school experience come true, but it has to be. If you wanted to make it sound exactly like high school, then you get My So-Called Life, only more depressing. Or if you wanted to say high school was funny and make it authentic, then you get Superbad — and you get the feeling Hard Times is doing its best to have the feel of a Superbad TV adaptation. Actually, every character in the show is “borrowed” from other shows or movies. RJ looks and sounds like McLovin. Miles is Sock from Reaper peppered with Seth from Superbad. Lily is the high school version of Sweet Dee from Always Sunny, just not as hot. Everyone else is a walkin’, talkin’ high school stereotype. I’m sure in future episodes, we’ll find out the principal is a big jerk along the lines of Strickland from Back to the Future. Even though the show is basically stolen and Seth Rogen is getting a team of lawyers ready to sue for copyright infringement, it somehow still feels original enough that I want to keep watching. Maybe it’s because RJ’s parents are pretty funny, if not underused, and I’ve always been a fan of Beth Littleford back from her Daily Show days. Maybe it’s because the jocks are clever in their overt stupidity. Maybe it’s because the basketball coach is a long-lost descendant of Coach Finstock from Teen Wolf and even though I can’t find proof, sure seems like it’s Mr. Morgan from Seinfeld. What’s the Internet for if you can’t prove that? And don’t worry guys, it’s officially OK to be looking at Jenny Swanson (Amber Lancaster) a little lustily. She’s 29, about to turn 30! She’s already been a model on Price is Right! Jareb Dauplaise, who plays Miles, just turned 31. Congrats, MTV, you’ve officially blown 90210 and Friday Night Lights out of the water casting adults in kid roles. If the show goes more than three seasons, poor Jenny will have crow’s feet around her eyes as she starts her senior year. GRADE: B

NEIGHBORS FROM HELL (TBS, 10 p.m. Mondays): No one will debate The Simpsons as one of the best shows of all-time. If you do, you’re just wrong. The problem with success is it breeds copycats who see how funny and imaginative The Simpsons is and think it’s easy, that just because you’re an animated show, you can get away with things you normally wouldn’t get away with on live-action shows. So after The Simpsons, animated shows sprouted like crazy. There have been hysterical successes, three in particular that have stood the test of time — Beavis and Butthead, South Park and Family Guy. But for the extreme critical and mainstream success of those shows, there are dozens of other animated shows that have tried to push the limits of what’s allowed on TV and have failed miserably. Neighbors from Hell is probably going to fail because it just doesn’t seem to have anything we haven’t seen here before in one of those four successful shows. And what we haven’t seen, we don’t necessarily want to see. If you want to see penis recognition as a new security measure at your office, or think that’s funny, then this might be the show for you. I’m good with my key card, thanks. GRADE: C

It’s my fault for not noticing this before, but over at the smartly snarkiest, most sarcastic pop culture website known to man — the AV Club — Donna Bowman is continuing her summer tradition of reviewing two old NewsRadio episodes every week. We’re on to season 4 this summer, which could be the show’s best. It was a time when the cast was 100 percent clicking and the writers were on some kind of super-charged cruise control that included an intricate, intimate knowledge of the characters and plots and some kind of rarely seen comedy drunkenness of both originality and hilarity. I’ll still put down season 3 of NewsRadio as my favorite — and one of the funniest seasons of TV ever — because of episodes like Complaint Box, Arcade, Rose Bowl, Real Deal and Sleeping that had a huge impact on my definition of what funny really is. Complaint Box is among my favorite half-hours in my TV watching history.

But I’ll at least listen to anyone who wants to argue for season 4, which includes comedic classics like Super Karate Monkey Death Car, Secret of Management, Chock, and the two-part Who’s the Boss. Consider yourself lucky I didn’t go off on a 1,500-word diatribe about which season was better. If you’re geeky enough to have an opinion on the matter, leave it in the comments and we can argue about it all day. But just thinking about Jimmy reading from Jimmy James: Macho Business Donkey Wrestler makes me laugh inside. NewsRadio isn’t the most-watched, most-respected or even the funniest show of its time, but if you can watch this clip without laughing, then you’re a better person than I:

back soon.

back soon.

If you’ve been watching True Blood, you’ve probably noticed the trailer announcing Eastbound and Down will be back Sept. 26. Then again, True Blood and Eastbound audiences couldn’t be further apart if one was in China and the other one was in downtown Stroudsburg, so True Blood fans may have been wondering what the holy hell a Kenny Powers is and Eastbound and Down fans might be trying to start petitions to get True Blood off the air so Eastbound and Down could come back quicker. HBO still hasn’t announced a premiere date for Boardwalk Empire, but late September is looking pretty good for that too. I’m seriously considering getting HBO back for Empire.

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