The Olympics provided enough thrills and suspense to keep anyone enthralled, but even without them this summer would likely be remembered as one of the most satisfying for anyone drawn to television drama. One need only consider the triumphant return of “Dallas” on TNT, the gripping finale of TNT’s “The Closer” and the arrival of the effortlessly enjoyable “Bunheads” on ABC Family, the perfect lightweight summer drama for tweens, teens and grown-ups alike. In addition, USA Network’s “White Collar,” “Suits,” “Necessary Roughness” and “Covert Affairs” have continued to impress, along with the indefatigable “Burn Notice,” while over on DirecTV, the increasingly creepy final season of the legal thriller “Damages” and the first season of the uniquely engaging “Hit & Miss,” a dark drama about a transgendered killer for hire, have stood out as two of the season’s most distinctive offerings.
Of course, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with so many tempting dramas filling summer schedules. Consider the options this Sunday night in the 10 p.m. ET time period. Start with AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” currently in the midst of its penultimate season (or the first half of its final season, the second part of which will run next year). I find myself referring to “Bad” as the best drama on television, though arguments can be made that AMC’s “Mad Men” and Showtime’s “Homeland” also deserve that designation. Regardless, it is without question a singularly outstanding series and a frequently breathtaking one at that, as proven by the unshakable final moment of last week’s episode. I’m still haunted by it. When was the last time you saw something in a feature film that came out of nowhere and turned you inside out?
Meanwhile, BBC America’s absorbing new period drama “Copper” is in the unenviable position of making its debut this Sunday opposite what may be the most feverishly anticipated episode of “Breaking Bad” this season. Unapologetically authentic and fearlessly adult, “Copper” revolves around an Irish immigrant cop who returns to New York City after fighting in the Civil War to discover that his wife has gone missing and his daughter has been murdered. In its depiction of the sights, sounds, people and places of New York circa 1864 – specifically in the city’s notorious Five Points neighborhood, where much of the action takes place – “Copper” is so meticulously detailed that it often feels as though it’s set in some kind of ancient era, rather than a mere 148 years ago. In terms of its historical perspective it is a companion of sorts to AMC’s punishing Western saga “Hell on Wheels.” (They’re both set in roughly the same time period, but in vastly different locales.) But “Copper” can’t really be compared to anything else. With Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana among its executive producers I would expect no less.
The drama that comes with deciding what to watch or record Sunday at 10 p.m. continues over at USA Network with the season finale of “Political Animals,” the ambitious and often quite surprising limited series about a hugely powerful and perpetually troubled political family in present-day Washington, D.C. (The series’ biggest surprise yet happens in this episode, and it’s a stunner, but I’ll offer no spoilers here.) I’ve heard mixed reactions to “Animals” since its debut in July, and I have to agree that it has its problems. But there is much to admire here, and with a few adjustments it could be a formidable dramatic series. I’d like to see “Animals” return and continue to provide a dynamic showcase for the talents of Sigourney Weaver (who stars as former First Lady, current Secretary of State and likely future presidential nominee Elaine Barrish) and Ellen Burstyn (as her boozy, trash-mouthed mother). Given that series starring Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”), Glenn Close (“Damages”) and Mary-Louise Parker (Showtime’s “Weeds”) are ending this summer, it would be nice to see vehicles for actresses of their considerable talent and experience survive and thrive. With Weaver and Burstyn among its leads, “Animals” could be one such show.
Last -- though by no means least -- the Sunday 10 p.m. time period is also home to HBO’s “The Newsroom,” a series I have already addressed in this column. I’m still enjoying it, even if its repetitive story structure has proven increasingly distractive. That’s something I hope series creator Aaron Sorkin will deal with next season. Recently, I have found myself surrounded by critics who enjoy ripping into this show as if it were a new reality series on VH1 or E! One particular issue for them has been Sorkin’s perceived treatment of the female characters on the show as flighty, desperate and/or less than smart. There is some truth to their assertions, but it’s worth noting that most of the male characters don’t come off very well, either. (They drink too much. They have temper tantrums. They walk into things. They can’t manage relationships. Etc., etc.) My advice to everyone is to calm the heck down. This is not a show to despise or to discourage. Indeed, it’s a damn sight better than any of the new shows coming from the broadcast networks during the next few months.