Thank you, Breaking Bad. You've returned at just the right time. With the kind of heat we've all been experiencing this summer, there's really only one way to beat it: watching cool shows like this one. And it's just one of several series this week that are like a refreshing dip in the neighbor's pool. Without the worry of figuring out how to get that chlorine smell off your hands.
The Closer, TNT, Mondays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
Hearing that this show is going away soon doesn't quite inspire the trauma that would come with hearing that, say, Ms. Magazine was folding. Still, as this top-notch detective drama begins its final, six-episode run, it is kind of sad to see a landmark character like Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Johnson exit. When the series started in 2005, you had to be a great investigator to find any show that featured a strong, funny female who was the equal of any man. The Closer changed the rules of television, giving a woman top billing but never getting preachy or political about it. It didn't hurt that her Greek chorus of fellow (male) detectives were equally fierce and funny, and that the cases she solved became increasingly creative. The show will be missed, but its impact is going to be felt for a long time to come.
Perception, TNT, Mondays, 10 p.m./9 CT
We all know somebody who is crazy. Whether it's that guy at the freeway off-ramp this morning who tried to take his pants off over his head or the 50-year-old co-worker who dresses like he or she is 20 or the mother-in-law who....well, is your mother-in-law...there's more than enough fruitcake being served everywhere on an hourly basis. I think we can all agree, though, that seldom is it particularly entertaining. Which makes this new detective series starring Eric (Will & Grace) McCormack a bit of a gamble. It's entirely based on a genuinely unhinged guy.
Who happens to be McCormack's character, Dr. Daniel Pierce, a neuroscientist and professor who is one of those typically TV "eccentric geniuses" - think Sherlock Holmes with schizophrenia - who helps the FBI solve crimes. I realize that this whole concept sounds pretty been-there-seen-that. Networks have long tried to come up with their own version of a quirky criminologist, whether he sits in a wheelchair, lives in a trailer or has a dog as a partner, so schizo detective fits well in that trite tradition. As hokey as it might seem, though, McCormack has a way of keeping the character light and engaging while never turning the "crazy" conceit into a gimmick. Somewhere underneath all the quirkiness, there's something serious going on. His performance is enough that....TNT, here's your money quote, so get ready....you'd have to be crazy not to check it out.
Destination Truth, SyFy, Tuesdays, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
Here's a little tip if you're planning a vacation. If you walk into a travel agent's office and see a picture of Josh Gates on the wall, you really might want to look elsewhere to book your trip. If they've been arranging getaways for the host of this fascinating and frightening reality series, you need to be dealing with someone who won't send you to Vietnam in search of Bigfoot or to a Romanian forest to wait for ghosts.
That would be lousy for you, but it is perfect for the intrepid Gates and his merry band of extremely foolhardy Truth seekers. The group is entering its fifth season this week, and they continue to provide a unique show that's part travelogue, part monster-fest and all entertaining as they travel the world to investigate the veracity of local legends about beasts, ghosts and other scary stuff. There are plenty of series these days that chase after spooks, but Gates' dry humor about his missions - and his emphasis on teaching you a little history of every region he visits - make Destination Truth worth putting on your itinerary.
Political Animals, USA, Sundays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
For anyone who has ever followed the ups and downs of Bill and Hillary Clinton and said, "Their lives are like some TV drama," here's some good news. Your prediction has come true, courtesy of Political Animals. Although no mention is ever made of the former president and his Secretary of State spouse, their lives are all over this new series starring Sigourney Weaver as, well, the secretary of state who ran an unsuccessful bid for president before taking the job and also happens to be the ex-wife of a Southern-born former president well known for his sexual indiscretions.
There are some breaks from the real Clinton world - Weaver has two sons, she has left her philandering husband, she gets to yell at reporters whenever she wants, her outfits are a lot lower cut than anything you've ever seen Hillary Clinton in. Still, it's odd how, for a show clearly inspired by actual people and events, many of the situations - a scandal involving Weaver's gay son or scheming journalist who stops at nothing for a story - seem incredibly made-for-TV. If you go into Political Animals expecting a searing, inside look at how government really works, you'd be better off find a West Wing DVD. This isn't intended to be that kind of program. However, if you want a steamrolling performance by a great actor (Weaver) in a roll that serves up platter after platter of soap opera-esque scenery to chew, this show has definitely worked hard to earn your support.
Breaking Bad, AMC, Sundays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
I'll admit it....for most of this show's first four seasons, I went out of my way not to watch it. Nearly everyone I knew would rave about it, tell me it's the best thing they'd ever seen and then ask if I had any insight into what was going to happen next. And yet, I avoided it because I figured any show about a high school science teacher (Bryan Cranston) dying of cancer who starts making methamphetamine in order to create a financial nest egg for the family he'll be leaving soon would leave me feeling pretty lousy at the end of each episode. If I'm going to invest my time watching a show, I don't want to feel worse about life when it's done. So I steered clear of this series until I couldn't take the peer pressure anymore and started watching all the episodes back to back to back.
And here's what I've learned. Sure, it's not exactly the Wonderful World of Disney but this truly is the best show on TV right now. I realize that it might sound hard to relate to a character who manufactures illegal substances and has now killed a handful of people, including the man who sold his drugs. What makes Bad so good, though, is how he remains someone you care deeply about even as he descends into a very dark place. No matter what horrible thing he does, it's very clear that he's doing to provide for his family or watch over his young partner Jesse (Aaron Paul).
There's nothing happy about all the troubles that have befallen this man, and as the fifth season begins, it looks for all the world like he may now become the very sort of drug kingpin he used to fear. Rather than seem depressing, however, this is all fascinating in the way a really good novel keeps your interest. He has faced a very relatable problem - cancer - and his way of dealing with it has you constantly asking if you'd make the same choices if you were in his situation. Maybe you would. Maybe you wouldn't. But the point is simply to study this man's life, and root for him to survive his troubles even though how he does it is deplorable. No other TV show has ever explored life and morality like this, and while you may not like the answers it comes up with, you have to admire it for asking the questions.