Is anyone else totally discombobulated over these TV "summer seasons"? We used to moan there was nothing on our happy boxes this time of year but reruns. Now, an old episode of a familiar show might be a refreshing sight.
The rapidly resurgent Law & Order: Criminal Intent ended its season on USA last week. Dylan McDermott's delectably edgy cop saga Dark Blue doesn't return for its second TNT season until Aug. 4. In between, it's obvious networks stagger their summer premiere and finale dates to get the most mileage from their limited number of episodes and keep viewer interest piqued, but this revolving door of comings and goings has my head spinning. I get paid to know these things, and I can't tell the players without a program (guide).
Now that July is hot upon us, however, here are 10 arrivals I'm looking forward to this month:
1. Rizzoli & Isles, 10 p.m. Mondays, TNT (premiered this week): For the record, with that breathy voice and angular beauty, I could watch Angie Harmon read the menu board at Lafayette Coney Island. And she gets far more action than in her Law & Order days as Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli, paired with Sasha Alexander in a new-era Cagney & Lacey whodunit based on Tess Garritsen's novels. It's the companion piece to The Closer, which returned for its sixth season Monday.
2. Covert Affairs, 10 p.m. Tuesdays, USA: Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) is adorable as CIA trainee Annie Walker in this Alias knockoff from Bourne Ultimatum producer Doug Liman. She deserves Emmy consideration right now for performing all those action scenes in skin-tight skirts and four-inch heels.
3. The Jensen Project, 8 p.m. Friday, NBC (Channel 4 in Detroit): Familiar TV faces Patricia Richardson (Home Improvement), Kellie Martin and LeVar Burton lead the cast in this original adventure movie about a family of geniuses who think really hard about saving the world. Among the producers: Walmart. Was the budget rolled back?
4. Mad Men, 10 p.m. July 25, AMC: TV's most honored drama returns for a fourth season, as enigmatic adman Don Draper (Jon Hamm) prepares to face life without wife, kids or Sterling Cooper.
5. Dogs vs. Cats, 8 p.m. July 24, Animal Planet: Never miss a chance to tie into a major movie premiere. On the heels of the live action-3D film Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore comes this special that promises "to answer the age-old question": Which pet is superior?
6. Breakthrough With Tony Robbins, 8 p.m. July 27, NBC: Here's the network's description: "International star, bestselling author and inspirational speaker uses his extraordinary skills to help deserving individuals who have suffered terrible setbacks." What, he's moving to Detroit?
7. The 2010 Espys, 9 tonight, ESPN: This just in: LeBron James has scheduled a one-hour special before the awards show to announce whether he plans to attend.
8. Deadliest Catch: Captain Phil Harris Remembered, 10 p.m. July 20, Discovery: The rugged, rollicking crab-boat captain, who died of a stroke last February, is memorialized in this one-hour special that includes one-on-one interviews with his sons and fellow fishing boat skippers.
9. Project Runway, 9 p.m. July 29, Lifetime: This one's for the Wife. The highly emotional Klum-Gunn designer competition expands to 90 minutes for its eighth season. Men, say it with me now: Oh, joy.
10. Jersey Shore, 10 p.m. July 29, MTV: The guidos and guidettes invade Miami for their second season. What more do you need?
Unwrapping ''UnderCovers'': Sometimes I worry that I devote way too much space here to bashing the bonehead programming moves of NBC. I almost feel guilty about it, but doggone it, they just won't stop! However, when credit is due, it must be conferred. So it is today I come to praise the National Broadcasting Company for a bold programming gambit.
At 8 p.m. Wednesdays this fall, NBC will unveil UnderCovers, a new Mr. & Mrs. Smith-styled, husband-and-wife action romp from the mind of J.J. Abrams, the surefire hitmaker who gave primetime Lost, Fringe and Alias. The first scripted series picked up by the network for 2010-11, it stars ultrahunky Boris Kodjoe (Soul Food) and U.S. newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Dr. Who) as former CIA operatives who married on the job and retired to run a catering company in L.A. — until the agency pulls them back in.
Both Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw are ... black. Let me repeat this: The stars of a signature, big-budget, one-hour drama on one of America's Big Four conventional networks -— the 8 o'clock lead-in for Law & Order: SVU and the new Law & Order: Los Angeles this fall — are both personages of color.
This may not sound too extraordinary at first in this enlightened age. But unless my memory has given way to senility, you may need to go all the way back to the 1989 CBS series Snoops with Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell-Reid to find a non-comedy on a TV network not named BET or TVOne whose two lead actors both are of African descent. (Tim and Daphne were married in real life, so they deserve extra points.)
You know why this is. In a fascinating way, the success of UnderCovers could serve as a referendum on the present state of race relations in America — or a reflection of President Obama's approval rating. The show seemingly has everything going for it, but it projects stylish, beautiful-looking black people in the non-stereotypical TV role of heroes, not clowns or criminals. Snoops lasted less than one season. We shall see.Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org