Cable, Ready?

Good, bad and fugly summer TV offerings from coaxial land

That "revolutionary" 2004 summer season certain broadcast networks were convinced would change the landscape of television forever? Turns out it's actually xeriscape: Dry, barren and really only succeeding in annoying the neighbors.

Now, there are few bigger advocates for annoying the neighbors than me (shut up your damned kids and dogs, I'll take down the Vote Nader/Satan 2004 sign, fair enough?), but this summer tube season is seriously weak. At least we can fall back on the superior new offerings on cable, right? Not so fast ...

Stargate Atlantis (Sci-Fi; debuted Friday, July 16): They're all freaks, but there are two distinct categories of Stargate SG-1 fans: The ones who've followed the galaxy-surfing saga for seven seasons since the Showtime beginning through the transition to the Sci-Fi Channel, and those who are a couple of years behind, because they've only recently gotten hooked through syndicated reruns. The latter group always gets screwed when the local channel bumps those weekend SG-1s for exclusive college volleyball coverage; the former is absolutely wet over the arrival of Stargate Atlantis, the series' first spin-off. All they need to know (this is not a newbie-friendly franchise) is that Atlantis is faster-paced, higher-tech and a tad more environmentally preachy than SG-1. Later Gateheads can clip and save this for when Atlantis reruns head to syndication and/or Al Gore's new network.

Entourage (HBO; debuted Sunday, July 18): Mark Wahlberg, the underwear artist formerly known as Marky Mark, can be a funny guy--watch Rock Star as a comedy instead of a serious indictment of the drug and leather-pant trades sometime; you'll see it. Too bad his first production project Entourage, a not-autobiographical-wink-wink series about hot young Hollywood actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his posse of hangers-on and handlers, is longer on stilted "cool" than laughs. Even more puzzling, as a supposed rising star, Vincent exhibits all the on-screen charisma of a fern, made even more glaringly obvious when real celebs (Wahlberg himself, Jessica Alba) make Larry Sanders-style cameos. Best pilot-ep moment: Vincent's agent (Jeremy Piven, Entourage's saving grace) informing his fern that Colin Farrell has taken the $4 million role he declined in the sure-to-be-blockbuster Matterhorn ("It's Die Hard at Disneyland--what's not to love?").

The Grid (TNT; debuted Monday, July 19): If we learn only one thing from TNT's new counter-terrorism drama, it's this: Don't smoke while assembling sarin-gas bombs! That, and Julianna Margulies probably should have taken the gazillion-dollar paycheck they offered her to stay on ER. She and The Practice's Dylan McDermott star as American feds leading an international/interracial/interdenominational task force charged with stopping a global terrorist cell (if you're still awake, you and your six online friends probably loved Threat Matrix). Everyone's job title is at least a paragraph long, requiring a freeze-frame to display every time a new character shows up--without the freezes, The Grid's two-hour pilot would clock in at about 28 minutes and still seem to drag. Apparently commitment-phobic, TNT is pimping The Grid as a "limited series," freeing Margulies up for Ghost Ship 2. She'd be starting her 10th season on ER this fall, just sayin.'

Things I Hate About You (Bravo; debuted Tuesday, July 20): Give couples personal video cameras and have them record every little annoying tic they can't stand about each other and see who wins, uh, something. This is such a recipe for double homicide it ought to be on Court TV, not Bravo.

Rescue Me (FX; debuted Wednesday, July 21): Denis Leary stars as a hard-drinking/internally conflicted/basically effdup (new word, kiddies) New York City firefighter in an intensely graphic and raw series that promises to tweak the basic-cable content limits already stretched beyond recognition by FX's The Shield and Nip/Tuck, if not those Ex-treme Dating reruns. Firefighters, cops, plastic surgeons--when is FX going to produce a gritty drama about booze-abusing, whoring, effdup, nonsensical-word-inventing newspaper television hacks?

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