Long ago, in a world few remember, there was a concept known as the TV season. To give you some context, this was during a time when a cell was something only thought of in biology terms, text was strictly a noun and watching TV on your computer was as foreign an idea as owning your own spaceship.
The fall season was the biggest event on the TV calendar. After a summer suffering through repeats (yes, there were no new shows during the summer, the humanity!), the third week of September was a time of great joy heralded throughout the land. Your favorite shows were back and there were new shows to add to the stable.
There was no TiVo’ing. You either watched it when it first aired, caught a repeat or videotaped it. You were at the mercy of the network, their scheduling and yes, there were shows that people actually talked about the next day. OK, wake up, the history lesson is over.
While I do have occasional pangs of nostalgia, I’m enjoying the move from horse and buggy to turbo hybrid Porsche. Instead of being told what’s Must See TV, I get to create my own lineup, from what’s on TV, available on iTunes, Netflix and online episodes.
It’s a toss-your-own season concept, one that means that we’re all masters of our viewing. My mix is an odd roundup – it has murdering lawyers, aspiring designers, Zen cops out for revenge, ’60s ad men and drama queen stylists.
"Damages": There have always been lawyer shows on TV. But there has never been a lawyer show like this. Season 1 introduced Glenn Close as Patty Hewes, one of the most complex, amoral characters ever invented. The show itself is more of a riddle. You start off thinking that there’s one sure thing and then, systemically, you learn that absolutely nothing is what it seems. If Season 1 was impressive, Season 2, which just ended, is more everything — machinations, red herrings, lies and subterfuge at a whole new level. It’s a smart show that doesn’t make a fuss about itself. Like a creature of prey, it lies in wait for you, knowing you’ll be unable to resist. (Available now on iTunes.)
"Project Runway": Delayed because of legal wrangling between its old home, Bravo, and its new home, Lifetime, the show’s sixth season, taped over a year and a half ago, is finally airing. While none of the designers have yet to exhibit the humor or skill of seasons past, it’s still amazing to watch someone whip up a gown made of newspapers in 12 hours. There’s some catfighting, backbiting and hints of a blossoming romance. There’s Tim Gunn, who should be everyone’s life coach, and wooden Heidi Klum. It’s just an embarrassment of riches. Or something that rhymes with that. (Airing now on Lifetime and available at mylifetime.com.)
"Mad Men," Season 3: The show started off with a simple premise — an ad man in the early 1960s with a secret. From there it took off into a modern-day version of "Peyton Place," all smoldering glances, sharp comments and ambiance. While you know the history breathing down the neck of the characters, you never know what’s going to happen from week to week. Some people spend a disturbing amount of time and energy analyzing the show like it’s the Zapruder film. I chose to see it as a soap opera, with occasional depth and great outfits. This season started a bit slow (dream sequences always feel like a copout), but it feels like change is finally coming to the ad men (and women) of Sterling Cooper. (Airing now on AMC and available on iTunes.)
"Life," Seasons 1 and 2: This show was on NBC in ’07 and ’08 but got derailed during the writers strike. I didn’t watch it then, thinking it was another police procedural that treated evidence as a character and featured cops looking thoughtful in their sunglasses. I got to this show in a bit of a convoluted way. I watched "Band of Brothers" for the first time a few weeks ago and fell in love with Damian Lewis. A search of what else he’d done led me to "Life," where he plays the lead, a cop who was framed by the department for a murder he didn’t commit. Now that he’s out, and despite a $50 million settlement, he’s back on the force as a detective, using his newfound Zen to solve crimes while trying to uncover who framed him. While the central mystery is intriguing, Lewis is the main draw. His character is funny and heartbreaking at the same time, a man who knows that his obsession with revenge can’t lead anywhere good. There’s some talk of "Life" coming back to … well, you know. Hope springs eternal. (Available on NBC.com, iTunes and Netflix.)
"The Rachel Zoe Project," Season 2: If you’ve ever seen Jennifer Garner looking good on the red carpet, it’s because Rachel Zoe and her team put her together, like a gorgeous Frankenstein. Working with the laser focus of a SWAT team and the commitment of heart surgeons, Rachel and assistants Taylor and Brad are a combination of silliness and devotion to fashion. Along with husband Rodger (whose hair deserves its own show) and Joey (a makeup artist who could double as a comedian), this group is just a nonstop party. Rachel is expanding her business, Taylor wants to grow in her role, Brad wants to be taken seriously and all this is underscored with epic eyerolling, dancing, a distinct California way of speaking and a vocabulary that exists only in their world (Good=I die!, Great=Loves!). The show is silly but mesmerizing and extremely addictive. (Airing now on Bravo and available on iTunes.)
What I miss most about the way TV used to work was that we all talked about the same thing, at the same time. Now it’s necessary to educate someone about what you’re watching, where it’s available and after all that, they may still not watch. Even though it’s you and your TV, TiVo, iPod or computer, there’s still something about TV that needs to be a shared experience.
So share the love. Tell me what you’re watching and what I’m missing.