Here are my picks (and I'm not telling you when they come on because it will probably change by the time you read this):
- "Psych"—two boyhood pals, Sean and Gus, run a psychic detective agency and get hired by the Santa Barbara police to solve cases. Only Sean is not psychic, just very observant. If I had kids I would make them watch this show. So funny and sweet with hilarious and constant use of 80's pop culture references. Lassiter—a bumbling but arrogant lieutenant—is comic relief to the comic relief. Occasional blue humor, and unfortunately Juliette (Sean's love interest) is now sleeping with Declan. Corbin Bernsen--who plays Sean's retired cop Dad who trained him to be observant--just released a very unique Christian film: http://www.rustmovie.com/ USA NETWORK
- "White Collar"—a young art thief (with electronic cuff) is recruited by the FBI to help solve cases. He's paired with an older agent and proves to be a thorn in his side, even while unorthodoxly cracking tough cases. Tiffani Thiessen is perfectly cast as the older agent's wife. Great, warm, "genuine" relationships throughout. Classy. USA NETWORK
- "Medium"—Although the core of the show deals with something strictly forbidden by, oh…say, GOD AND THE BIBLE (viz., contacting the dead), it's more like the dead contact HER (although she will do a few favors for living loved ones and send a psychic text to the next world….) Patricia Arquette (the medium) is an incredibly believable Mom of three girls and has simply THE most down-to-earth, everyday, unhyped-up relationship with her husband and kids. Actually, this is one of the most realistic, almost mundane portrayals of family life all around—except for those extraordinary gifts (like a sixth sense) that have been passed on to the girls. By BEING realistic and seeing all the "ordinary love" in this family—not without their trials—family life is appealing. Allison (Patricia Arquette) helps solve murder cases because she sees murders in her dreams. My cousin, Alexandra Breckenridge, recently guest-starred. CBS
- "Dog the Bounty Hunter"—Why does everyone laugh when I tell them this is one of my favorite shows? They usually stop laughing when I tell them it is THE most Christian show on TV. Duane "Dog" Chapman shows forth the mercy of the Father. How many shows do you know do that? When I attended "Act One—Hollywood," a Christian screenwriting bootcamp, we got to listen to Ron Austin (former head of the WGA—Writers Guild of America), a profound, devout Catholic. He said that there's a lot of justice in the movies and on TV, but not a lot of mercy. Mercy for even bad people. Dog (an ex-convict himself) is a Christian who believes in giving every man a "second chance," because God gave him a second chance. He and his family are colorful to be sure, but watch how he treats people with great dignity and love and challenges them to be better. Watch how he prays and preaches and concretely helps people (without being a bleeding heart and having false compassion), often with tough love. Listen to his piercing and effective pep talks, reminding people who they really are, calling them to their responsibility as parents, etc. A & E
- "Covert Affairs"—A brand new show about a wet-behind-the-ears female CIA operative who faces plenty of opposition everywhere, including inside the agency. Not quite the eye candy that "Alias" was, but satisfying cloak and dagger storylines. USA NETWORK
- "Cold Case"—Yeah, I know it's old, but it's still good, isn't it? Old murders ("cold cases") are resurrected by a determined cop (Kathryn Morris) who isn't out for vengeance, but to honor the life that was snuffed out, and bring peace to all involved. The flashbacks always end with a shot of a grateful "victim" finding a way to thank her. Oops! Just found out that this show "went cold" as of May 2010. RIP. We can always watch re-runs. CBS
- "NCIS"—This consistently top-of-the-ratings show features Mark Harmon as the head of a team of internal Navy investigators. It's filmed like a movie—tons of creative, complicated camera angles with fancy editing. Lots of robust, jockeying relationships. I'm not biased towards this show in any way, even though my cousin, Michael Weatherly, plays Agent DiNozzo. CBS
- "House"—You either love him or hate him. I love him. People argue with me all the time: "But he's so self-centered!" ME: "No! He loves his work." PEOPLE: "He's just a curious medical geek!" ME: "No! He really wants to help people!" PEOPLE: "No, he doesn't!" ME: "Yes, he does!" PEOPLE: "No, he doesn't!" ME: "Yes, he does!" PEOPLE: "No, he doesn't!" ME: "Yes, he does!" (last word) Dr. House solves medical mysteries (the show's writers are supplied actual medical mysteries by the same doctor who works on the medical mysteries article for the Sunday New York Times Magazine). FOX
- "The Dog Whisperer"—Not to be confused with "Dog the Bounty Hunter." Cesar Millan is a genius with dogs. It's not that he has some magic way with them, he really understands "dog psychology" and he can train pet owners to do exactly what he does in a very short time. It's really a kind of simple behaviorism. As Cesar says: "I rehabilitate dogs, I train people." He tries to get people to stop treating dogs like people, and treat them like the dogs they are. If YOU are the pack leader, your dog will follow. You can also get your puppy fix with this show. (Not to be confused with "getting your puppy fixed.") NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (NATGEO)
- ANY "Real Life" TV show—Not to be confused with fake "Reality TV" like Survivor, Big Brother, Bad Girls Club, Really Obnoxious Housewives of Anycity, etc. (where people are put in unnatural, scripted situations and swear at each other and pull each other's hair out), "Real Life TV" is usually just job-shadowing regular people during their regular lives (usually work-related). It's endlessly fascinating to see people carry out all kinds of exotic skilled activities: "Ax Men" (lumberjacks) HISTORY, "Billy the Exterminator" (just like it sounds—in Louisiana!), "Deadliest Catch" (Alaskan King Crab fishermen) DISCOVERY CHANNEL, "Dirty Jobs" (just like it sounds) DISCOVERY, "Animal Cops" (don't even think of abusing an animal) ANIMAL PLANET, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" (host goes cross-country to talk to cooks and customers and sample the local menu) FOOD NETWORK, "Jerseylicious" (big-haired, orange-skinned New Jersey hairdressers…oh wait..that's "Reality TV"), and my favorite: "Ice Road Truckers" (big rig truck drivers risk their lives to bring goods to the northernmost reaches of the planet as they trek across frozen bodies of water in the winter--there's now also a trucker-chick) HISTORY.
"Breaking Bad" is a critically acclaimed show about an addicted schoolteacher who makes and sells drugs to pay for his expensive cancer treatments. My nephew, Jere Burns, has a critically-acclaimed recurring role on the show. I find the show too depressing to watch. "Mad Men" is a beyond-genius show, but also beyond-bleak.
Did I mention there are actors in my family?
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about USA Network doing so well in the ratings with all their ("characters welcome") character-driven dramas. The WSJ believes this is what TV should be about. I didn't mention "Burn Notice" (USA NETWORK) because they are just blowing up half of Miami and that's not right. But you will learn how to make all kinds of explosives out of what you find in your medicine cabinet, how to do hostage negotiations with a Super Soaker, and how to rappel down a burning building with only a fishing line.
Please stop screaming at your screen about YOUR favorite shows that I left out and just leave a comment telling me what they are and why. Thank you.
If you are still confused about scheduling or want to break out of my little box of selections, pick up the latest issue of "Entertainment Weekly—All the Buzz on 86 Shows—Fall TV Preview" #1120/1121, Sept. 17/24, 2010 (double issue, so it'll be on stands for a while).