While HBO is showing the first three seasons of “The Sopranos” again, and we all are losing sleep over whether to watch “Love Cruise” or “Scrubs” on Tuesdays this fall, now is a good a time as any to point out some high points in the summer television wasteland.
Fear Factor (NBC) OK, this obviously was not for the highbrow set, but NBC found a minor hit in this series which gracefully covered the woefully underused “watching people do sick things” niche. Yes, “Survivor” (hell, even “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) may have started the trend of consuming unusual animals, but this reality show took it to new heights. Anybody who saw the infamous “buffalo testicles” episode won”t forget it for a long, long time. The clincher: Three magic words: “Viewer discretion advised.”
The Wayne Brady Show (ABC) When Michael Richards took his Kramer routine to his own show he flopped miserably. Other characters terrific in small doses fell into similar traps. Thus, ABC”s decision to give the versatile Brady his own variety show was a considerable gamble. But it seemed to pay off for Brady, best known as the jack-of-all-trades improv comedian on “Whose Line is it Anyways?.” No other comedian (including anyone on “Saturday Night Live”) can pull off both songs in the style of Michael Jackson and basic comedy. It”s safe to say Wayne has displaced James Brown (whom he can also imitate without peer) as the hardest working man in show business.
Murder in Small Town X (Fox) It all started when a killer hit the Flint family in picturesque Sunrise, Maine. Soon ten contestants were working together with cheesy actors playing townspeople in order to solve the killer”s game. Each week a contestant was “killed,” and with luck, one suspect cleared. Immediately, in fighting began, especially between the guys and the girls. After disgusting reality programming a la “Temptation Island,” Fox may have found a more secure, less trashy reality subgenre the murder mystery.
Six Feet Under (HBO) The best new show of the summer. It”s a shame none of the big four networks possess the capability to produce daring works. Thankfully, HBO, with hits already in the gritty “Sopranos” and the deliciously bawdy “Sex and the City” found an unlikely blockbuster and record ratings. There”s nothing unusual about the plot, unless you count the little thing about the dead mortician”s son assuming his father”s role and trying to deal with his complicated family. The characterization is superb, and few other shows could portray homosexuals so well or deal with a plot involving a dead porn star. With creator Alan Ball (“American Beauty”) at the helm, HBO guaranteed at least a second season of the drama.
Witchblade (TNT) After kicking up some major ratings in a two-hour movie based on the comic book, the producers of “Witchblade,” decided to turn it into a series a hit series. Homicide detective Sara Pezzini (Yancy Butler, “Drop Zone”) has been chosen to wear the Witchblade, an ancient weapon with amazing powers and a mysterious background. Pezzini now has the power to see the killer”s crime as well as perform extraordinary stunts, but this power comes at a price. Various people are after both Sara and the Witchblade, but who is she to trust? The series has already been renewed for another season, and after an explosive season finale it”s just a matter of time before “Witchblade” becomes a household name.
Night Visions (FOX) Henry Rollins hosts this new “Twilight Zone”-esque anthology series, where each week A-list stars submit themselves to paranormal and nightmarish story lines. Featured guests have included Bridget Fonda, Randy Quaid, Natasha Lyonne and Brian Dennehy. Former Black Flag frontman, Rollins gives a surly impression of Rod Serling, while the stories themselves herald back to Steven Spielberg”s “Amazing Stories.” This new incantation of the TV cult classic pushes the next generation to its mental limits.
Sex and the City (HBO) Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte are back and they are better than ever. In its fourth season, our single gals are not so single anymore. Caution: Spoilers ahead! The very outgoing Samantha (wink, wink) finished up a lesbian relationship and headed straight for the sky with her new boss. Meanwhile, as Charlotte and her nebbish husband, Trey, work like rabbits to conceive their first child, Miranda is getting busy with her ex-boyfriend who just lost part of his manhood to testicular cancer. So maybe it was only once, but that”s all it took for this career girl to anxiously await her own little bun in the oven. So what”s with Carrie? Well Ms. Bradshaw is now engaged to her rugged boyfriend Adian. Can Big be lurking far behind? Still as quick-witted as ever, “Sex in the City” returns with six all new episodes in January.
The Sopranos (HBO) To temper the long wait between the early summer end of season three and next year”s new season, HBO is rerunning the first three seasons in order, with one episode coming each Sunday. For those who missed the death of Livia, Joe Pantaliano”s brilliant portaryal of troubled mobster Ralph Cifaretto or the quick entry and departure of Jackie Jr., now is the time to get caught up. Don”t disrespect the Bing by missing these.