So Many New Summer Shows, But What's Actually Good?
by Kim Potts, posted Jun 24th 2010 1:00PM
This summer's TV landscape is full of new reality shows, new cop shows, even a drama or two that are worth checking out, but what's the one new series that you must see, the one that promises to be as compelling in episode two and subsequent installments as it was in its pilot, and, more importantly, that is likely to make it to a second season, and thus is worthy of the time investment of your faithful viewing?
That would be 'Rubicon,' the AMC drama about New York City intelligence analyst Will Travers (played by '24' and 'The Pacific' alum James Badge Dale) who, after the death of a co-worker, begins to realize that there may be a conspiracy running amongst the leaders of the government think tank where he's employed.
I know, I know -- you're loathe to jump into yet another series with a long-simmering mystery ... we're all still a little intellectually unfulfilled by the questions the 'Lost' series finale didn't answer after six seasons of devoted fandom. But take a risk, viewers. Don't be afraid to love a TV show again.
And here are eight reasons why 'Rubicon' (which officially premieres on August 1, with the pilot and one additional episode) should be that show:
1. It's on AMC, home of 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad.' If it's truly all about the company you keep, there are only a few places where the odds are overwhelmingly good that new shows will be overwhelmingly good. FX, Showtime, HBO and AMC.
2. Speaking of FX, 'Rubicon' is the first show since 'Sons of Anarchy' to reel me in so completely with the pilot (which, if you missed the sneak preview that aired after the 'Breaking Bad' season 3 finale, you can still watch below). This time we get shaggy-haired data geeks sitting in an office, surrounded by thick books on string theory, instead of a private clubhouse full of scruffy bikers surrounded by skimpily-clad women, but both are rife with smart characters and good writing that trusts we're not the sort of viewers who need everything to be spoon fed to us.
'Rubicon's' writing, direction and acting are so powerful that when, in the opening (and yes, SPOILERS AHEAD if you haven't watched yet), we see a man open a newspaper, watch a four-leaf clover tumble out, put a handgun to his head and pull the trigger ... well, clearly, we know the four-leaf clover is going to play a big role in something bad, and though we still don't know by the end of the pilot exactly what the big bad is, it is sufficiently creepy, scary and mysterious to make us want more.
Ditto the unfolding of info about Will, who lost his wife and child in the Sept. 11 attacks, and loses what we are led to believe is one of his last remaining friends in the pilot. Just enough to hook us, and make us want to know more about why this incredibly gifted, attractive, seemingly nice guy is a loner.
Finally, before Will's friend (who is actually connected to him in more ways than one) is killed (in the second of the pilot's conspiracy-related deaths), he gifts Will with a motorcycle and a cryptic note that suggests Will should get on the bike, drive away and never look back at his current life. He doesn't of course, and in a lesser show, that would have played out as cheesy or overly dramatic. But when you watch it happen on 'Rubicon,' you get the feeling that it's a serious warning, one that Will might come to regret not heeding.
3. And like 'Sons of Anarchy,' 'Rubicon' looks to unfold slowly across the first season, with some action along the way, and, I'm guessing, a game-changing season finale to take us into the next set of 13 episodes. That pace might scare off some viewers, but I would remind them that 'Mad Men' is the king of the slow-paced TV show, and it has always been worth the eventual payoff.
4. Because it's cable, there are no worries that if ratings aren't fantastic out of the gate, the show will be yanked from the line-up. We can count on 'Rubicon' being on, for 13 Sunday nights, for at least one whole season.
5. James Badge Dale is ripe for a breakout. He kept up with Jack Bauer in '24's' third season, was terrific in his portrayal of real-life World War II vet Robert Leckie in HBO's 'The Pacific' miniseries and has given standout guest performances on 'CSIs' 'Miami,' 'New York' and the original version. In other words, he may still be unknown to most viewers (although, who knew who James Gandolfini was before 'The Sopranos'?), but he's got the skills to hang on a network that employs Emmy winner Bryan Cranston and Emmy nominees Jon Hamm and John Slattery.
6. Series creator Jason Horwitch left the production (the ever-popular "creative differences" was rumored), but 'Homicide: Life on the Street' producer Henry Bromell has stepped in as showrunner and 'The Sopranos'/'Nurse Jackie'/'Sons of Anarchy' alum Allen Coulter directed the pilot, i.e. A-list behind-the-camera action.
7. The bench of supporting cast members is so deep that two of the ones killed off in the pilot are actors most other dramas would be lucky to get their hands on. Actually, I suspect we'll see both of them again in flashbacks that will almost certainly be necessary in untangling the central conspiracy, but still, the point is, there's a lot of talent, and faces you'll recognize, in this cast.
Among them: two-time Oscar nominee Miranda Richardson, 'The Nine' star Jessica Collins, the always great Arliss Howard, 'Homicide' and 'The Wire' star Peter Gerety and Harris Yulin, whose face you'll remember from 20 different shows, including 'Frasier,' '24,' 'Entourage' and 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' as well as at least a handful of movies.
8. The title. I hate one-word titles ... they're almost always forgettable. Then there are titles that are just plain bad, so bad that, even after a show has a successful debut, its title is so lame/confusing/inappropriate that its network and creator are considering changing it (oh yeah, we're looking at you, 'Cougar Town'). But 'Rubicon' ... the word means the point of no return, which makes it a really fantastic description of what the show appears to be in the pilot, and what it hints that it most definitely is going to become as it unfolds across the season. And I appreciate that so much thought, obviously, went into the show's name, and am taking it as one of many signs that just as much thought has gone into other aspects of the show.
So, are you sold? Have you already watched the pilot and agree that 'Rubicon' is the summer 2010 show that's most likely to succeed? And if you haven't seen it, are you ready to check it out right! this! minute!? Because you can, below, and let us know if you agree that 'Rubicon' is all that.
An Honorable Mention
Meanwhile, we also have a runner-up pick for breakout summer show of 2010, and it's for viewers looking for something a little lighter, a little more in the guilty pleasure vein: USA Network's 'Covert Affairs,' a drama about CIA trainee Annie Walker ('Coyote Ugly' star Piper Perabo), who's called into immediate and mysterious action on a case, supposedly because she has special language skills.
But you just know that's not the real reason why, and though Annie's not privy to the real reason right away, viewers are by the end of the premiere. Hint: She had a hot island romance with a guy who fell in love with her and then abandoned her with little explanation.
'Covert Affairs,' which premieres on USA after the 'White Collar' season 2 opener on July 13, has a very 'Alias' vibe about it (Perabo even looks like Jennifer Garner in certain scenes), from the action sequences (there's a killer -- literally -- shootout in a hotel in the pilot) and the secretive CIA bosses (played here by Peter Gallagher and 'Invasion's' Kari Matchett as a contentious husband and wife duo) to Annie's penchant for using her female wiles as a spy chick trick and the resident computer/gadget geek, who in 'Affairs' is Auggie Anderson (the scene-stealing Christopher Gorham), a charming, confident CIA op who was blinded on a mission, but can still find his way around every inch of CIA headquarters and uses Braille jokes to pick up women. Auggie is easily one of the best new TV characters of the year, and one of the best reasons to considering adding 'Covert Affairs' to the list of breezy summer shows on your watch list.