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Summer TV Love Affair

As we bid farewell to the summer of 2004, we'd be remiss if we didn't give thanks for a summer of terrific television. Here's what kept us indoors:

The Olympics:
On NBC, Bravo, USA, MSNBC, Telemundo and even in HD, the Summer Games rocked. (Cable's coverage of obscure Olympic sports like badminton was far more interesting than we thought obscure sports could possibly be.) Yes, there may have been one too many heart-wrenching stories of the field hockey player overcoming adversity. But there were was Tom Brokaw's poignant feature about Polish inmates in a Nazi prison camp holding their own 1944 Olympics.

Political Conventions: We don't buy the no news argument. Whether it's the Democrats in Boston or the Republicans who are gathering in New York as we write this, we are seeing the face the men and women who want to run our country want to put forward. Love them or hate them, Bill Clinton and Al Sharpton gave great speeches in Beantown. And kudos to ABC News Now for going digital 24/7 and making an end run around the cable news networks.

Rescue Me: Gritty, profane and completely entertaining, this FX drama about New York firefighters in a post-9/11 world is the best new series of the summer.

Nip/Tuck: The most over-the-top prime time soap ever, it delves further into the psyches of the inner and outer worlds of two Miami plastic surgeons with each new episode. Baroque and explicit to the extreme, season two has been one wild, narcissistic ride. Once again FX out-HBOs HBO.

The Daily Show: Few news programs have given the presidential race more thought-provoking context than that of Jon Stewart and his crew. They got us laughing… and thinking. Yes, Stewart went soft with John Kerry. Just give us more of Samantha Bee, Lewis Black, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Rob Corddry, and we'll forgive you.

Real Time with Bill Maher: Mr. Politically Incorrect is back on game. Maher's "New Rules" segments are words to live by. Around here, the sleepyheads without TiVo print transcripts off the Web site.

Da Ali G Show: Funny in so many ways that are so wrong, we're embarrassed to admit we're laughing while we write this.

Amish in the City: When we heard about this UPN reality series, we thought it was a Saturday Night Live
bit. The show turned out to be compelling and tender. As Ali G would say: "Respek."

The 4400: Earthlings abducted by aliens returned to Earth and showed up on the USA Network. Who knew they all had people meters?

Entourage: This HBO eye-candy comedy got progressively better. Jeremy Piven is the Hollywood uber-agent supreme.

The Grid: TNT's counterterrorism mini-series was the television equivalent of a beach-read thriller.

The Amazing Race: As columnist Matt Roush said on these pages, it's a reality series you can watch without feeling like you need to take a shower afterwards. CBS has taken good care of this terrific family show.

Simple Life 2: Okay, so we do need a shower after we've seen Paris and Nicole. But summer is the time for guilty pleasures.

And so now you know why we're all so pale.