Summer TV Surprises: A Look Back

By: Vlada Gelman

Summer is typically a quiet time for TV watchers, but thanks to the proliferation of cable shows and broadcast networks burning off episodes, this summer was not without entertainment and some surprises. Below are the moments, actors, shows and realizations that surprised me this summer.

The supporting cast of NURSE JACKIE: Yes, Edie Falco is fabulous, but for me, it’s the people surrounding Jackie who make the series, especially Merritt Wever, Eve Best and Peter Facinelli. Each one adds something unique and unexpected to the show. Wever is absolutely hilarious. Best, who has the most amazing laugh, is the perfect juxtaposition to Jackie. Facinelli takes what could have been a jackass character and makes him a lovable doofus. I’m surprised and delighted that NURSE JACKIE has introduced me to Wever and Best. In a way, it feels like I’m also discovering Facinelli for the first time. I’ve seen and enjoyed him before in different movies and TV shows, but I’m pretty sure his shirtless chest did most of the acting in Fox’s short-lived FASTLANE.

Sebastian Stan on KINGS: Thanks to NBC banishing KINGS to summer burn-off theater on Saturdays, not too many viewers watched this epic and imaginative series. That’s too bad because as reliably magnificent as Ian McShane and Susanna Thompson were, the real surprise was Sebastian Stan. I’d seen the actor before on GOSSIP GIRL as Carter Baizen, a role he’ll be reprising this fall, but I had no idea he was capable of this. His Jack was complicated, tormented, selfish, lonely and desperately seeking love and acceptance. Watching him come to accept who he is as he stood up to his mother, was like watching Stan show us who he really is as an actor.

Bonus KINGS surprise: No show got a bigger gasp out of me this summer than when Silas yelled at Jack, “And you’re no prince, you faggot!”

TRUE BLOOD: I’m just not that into you. Earlier this summer, I made my way through the first season of the HBO series and it wasn’t love at first sight. I’m not even sure it was like. Everyone around me seems to be crazy for these vamps, but maybe I’ve had my fill of bloodsuckers because I just can’t get into TRUE BLOOD. I haven’t even attempted to watch season two yet and am in no rush to do so. Maybe my feelings will change if I ever getting around to it, but I’m having a hard time imagining myself getting over my annoyance with almost every character on the show.

DROP DEAD DIVA: The charming, funny Lifetime series and its extremely talented leading lady have captured my heart. Brooke Elliott is simply fabulous at balancing the duality of playing two characters. Congrats, Diva, on becoming the first original Lifetime series to land on my DVR record list. Thanks to you and SoapNet’s BEING ERICA, I’m starting to believe that all hope is not lost for shows about real women. Despite the fantastical premises of both series, they’re more relatable and grounded than the ladies of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, my new guilty pleasure: I thought it would be 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, which I enjoy and is more well-written, but no… At first, I found this series meh, and I still have my issues with Emily — do all her love interests keep disappearing because they’ve realized she’s really not that special? — but its soapy, teen drama storylines and pileup of secrets have quietly gotten me hooked. I have to give the show props for trying to make the adult characters interesting and integral. Susan Ward has taken what could have been a cartoonish character and given her real dignity and heart. Plus, I enjoy playing “Who will Sasha inappropriately flirt with this week?”

Uli doesn’t make the final four on PROJECT RUNWAY: ALL-STAR CHALLENGE: Yes, Daniel’s red carpet dress was fabulous and would look great on Nicole Kidman, although I’m still unclear about who exactly will be wearing the dress at the Nine premiere. The rest of his collection? Bizarre and boring. I loved Daniel and his designs in season 2 of PROJECT RUNWAY, so I can’t help wondering if the judges crowned him the winner because he was the fan favorite that year who didn’t win. And for that matter, did the judges punish Korto because she’s a sulky, sore loser? Has this women ever smiled during her time on the show? Still, I’d keep her in the top 4 and replace Sweet P’s overly twee collection with Uli’s sophisticated and impeccably crafted designs. But as PROJECT RUNWAY reminds me every season, what do I know about fashion?

What surprised you this summer?

Vlada resides in Los Angeles, where there are stars in the sky and on the ground. She has worked for TVWeek,, and The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, CA. She runs the TV blog Staying In and can be found on Twitter: @stayingin.

  • Linda B.

    True Blood’s second season is soooo much better than the first. I had a hard time gettiing into it at first as well, but grew to like it. With the second season, i grew to LOVE it. It has become a show I look forward to every week.

  • I was also a llittle shocked by the “other F-word” being used on Kings. I think I even had to rewind the TiVo to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. I didn’t think they could get away with that. Maybe even Standards & Practices realized that no one was watching.

  • Tim

    I, too, watch no Lifetime, but found Drop Dead Diva irresistable. Love a show with heart. The whole cast of Nurse Jackie is great. I agree. I never paid Facinelli much attention before, but he’s a find in this show.

  • Jess

    I was with ya on everything but True Blood. It’s a wonderful blend of humor and naughtiness as OMFG moments. I have to admit that this season started out a bit slow but once it finished setting up the pieces its been one not stop thrill ride. It’s definitely worth a go.

  • Megan

    True Blood is a must! Seriously, give the second season a chance! Godric, Eric, Jessica are all reasons to watch!

    Make It or Break It is a big surprise. I fell in love with that show. I really like Emily and the episode where she had to fight to get back on the team was emotional and the actress pulled it off.

    Nurse Jackie has been hilarious and I love Wever, wow she’s amazing, and soooo funny.

    I find myself very into Drop Dead Diva, a great storyline, and really moving.

    Surprisingly, I have been mildly entertained by Warehouse 13. And I have enjoyed 10 Things I Hate About you, it’s writing has gotten better.

  • Jocelyn

    I was absolutely the same about True Blood season one – Season two is infinitely better. The characters are more developed, the storylines have, well, plots, and the supporting actors take a lot of the slack from Sookie and Bill. All of these improve the show a huge amount – I totally reccommend a look at season two!