Summer TV Turns DesperateS

I'm thrilled that my favorite summer shows—like True Blood and Weeds—are finally coming back. But one thing is increasingly clear: There are a lot of desperate shows out there. And they're all resorting to the same tired tricks to try to make themselves fresh again.

This is "jumping the shark" in the most traditional manner of speaking. Sadly, most people these days say a show "jumped the shark" when it got really bad, but what it really describes is when a show resorts to silly and outrageous stunts to try to attract viewers (like having Fonzie jump an actual shark on an episode of Happy Days). And True Blood used two of the biggest shark jumps around in the show's first episode on Sunday.

The writers fast forwarded the story a year into the future. I always hate that, especially on a show like True Blood where each episode starts at the exact moment the last one ended. Jumping ahead in time says, "We don't have anything interesting left to say about the characters we created, so we need to jump ahead and change them so we can generate some new plot lines." It's almost disrespectful to the viewers and doesn't give them a sense of closure about the cliffhangers they set up at the end of last season. It's also a cheap way to build up suspense, so what happened in the past year then has to be filled in over the course of the season.

Weeds, which has jumped more sharks than exist in all the oceans of the world, used the same tactic. Suddenly it's three years in the future and Nancy is out of prison. For Weeds, it seems like the creators came up with last season's cliffhanger (where Nancy turns herself in to the police) before coming up with a resolution, and they only way they could get out of the corner they painted themselves into was to jump down the television wormhole and emerge somewhere in the future. It also helps explain why suddenly our little boy Shane has a deep voice and sideburns and has seemingly lost all of his acting ability. Oh, puberty is a bitch.

At least with both of these, there is a viable explanation why there was the Great Leap Forward: Sookie was lost in a fairy world (hey, for True Blood that's plausible) and Nancy was in prison. Remember when Desperate Housewives jumped five years in the future for no particular reason? That was the worst!

Know what is also the worst? A character who suddenly becomes gay. Check out Nancy Botwin making out with her cellmate. Oh, now Nancy is a lesbian? Guess what? So is Tara on True Blood. Yup, it just happened. With Nancy it's a little bit understandable, because she has always been a sexual opportunist, but she has never even hinted she wanted some girl-on-girl in the past. And this is the second time Weeds has done this. Remember when Sanjay, Nancy's former dealer, just decided to come out of the blue? Yes, sometimes when people come out, it's a shock, but it's almost as if these shows aren't brave enough to start with a gay character because it might offend someone, but they'll just throw them in as the show progresses because it's so damn shocking.

That's not the case for True Blood, which has always had gay characters (and tons of them). Which is why Tara being a lesbian cage fighter is a little bit odd. Is Tara only a lesbian now because she's been wronged by so many men? So, she's not really a homosexual, she's just an anti-heterosexual. Or did the writers make her a lesbian because lesbians are tough and this is a way to telegraph that there's a whole new tough Tara in town? Sorry, but Tara was tough in the first place! Why not have an emotionally resonant story about her trying to get over being betrayed by men rather than just dropping the Sappho bomb on the audience in a cheap attempt to shock?

But Weeds really jumped a third shark last night by relocating the action to a new locale—its fourth, assuming you count wandering around the upper Midwest last season as one location. Moving is always a sign of desperation, going all the way back to Laverne & Shirley's big relocation to the West coast. Again, it's a feeble attempt to find something new and exciting to write about. Now Nancy is in New York. Look, she lives in Washington Heights with all gritty real people! Oh, isn't that different! I'm afraid that in three episodes this is just going to be a bad rehash of Muppets Take Manhattan or some such nonsense.

And Larry David better watch out, because he's headed right into the same trap. The spirit of Curb Your Enthusiasm has always been this New York crank stuck in a glossy Los Angeles world. Sure, Larry David (at least the character on the show) would be an Asshole with a capital A in any environment, but the frisson of his personality in sunny, laid back LA is what gave the show its tension. And yet the latest season of the show (which starts July 10) is going to be set in New York. Now, we haven't seen the show yet, but we can just imagine it's going to reek of desperation. Not to mention Larry David in New York is just going to look like a more hyper version of Woody Allen. It's just not going to have the same impact.

There will be some new scenarios, I'm sure. That's all these shows are looking to do, find something to invigorate a series that's been around for awhile and get the creative juices flowing. If only they could find a more creative way to do it.