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Wrapping Up the Summer TV Shows and Films

By James Beale
September 12, 2010

It was a tough summer for TV and movies alike. Theaters were filled with silly comedies, mindless thrillers and unemotional dramas. TV dredged through spurless reality shows and repeats of procedurals. The Writer's Strike of 2008 is partly to blame, as projects often take years to enter into development.

Still, studios continue to produce films that are all very similar and reflect very little original thinking. "Grown Ups" has come out every few years for decades with different casts and a slight tweaking of the plot (remember "Wild Hogs" and "Old Dogs?"). It seems movie studios focus more on money making than they do in producing quality films; and it's working, as shown by "Grown Ups" $238 million gross worldwide.

Audiences disillusioned by post-conversion 3D, shrinking IMAX screens, and repetitive plot lines did have some respite, though. Here were some break out films from the summer of 2010:

  • "Toy Story 3:" Injecting nostalgia for some Virginia Tech students, "Toy Story 3" also brought a tour de force story and some new, fantastic characters (Lotso being the best in my opinion). The moment I'll always remember is that awful moment in the incinerator, which was definitely the darkest scene I've ever seen in an animated movie. Even though the themes were essentially a retread of the superior second installment, "Toy Story 3" was a fitting end to the trilogy.
  • "Inception:" The most debated film of the summer was also one of the best. Christopher Nolan is rising to the top of his generation of filmmakers, continuing to amaze and wow at every outing. Perhaps the best thing about the film was its, well, inception. This was an original idea by a smart filmmaker, and a smart studio gave him a bunch of money to do what he wanted to. The same thing happened last summer with "Inglourious Basterds", and this is an inspiring trend.
  • "Salt:" Ok, old ideas aren't all that bad. "Salt" didn't break a whole lot of new ground, to be sure, but it did the who's-the-real-spy dance about as well as you can. Not every film needs to be a mind-bender like "Inception", but "Salt" had enough smarts behind its rollicking entertainment to make it worth a late-night rental.
  • "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World:" Though the film bridges the line of ridiculousness, it still works as a bit of pop culture ephemera. Speaking especially to the current college generation, the film lacks emotion behind its reference-based core, but is still visually appealing enough to merit a watch.

On television, more of the same was being produced as well this summer. This isn't a new development, but with better content being produced by some networks than ever before, the same old procedural plotlines are becoming more apparent.

For example this year's cancellation of "Law & Order," a mainstay of procedural television for 20 years, was replaced by "Law & Order: Los Angeles." If you want to break the mold, here are some shows worth watching:

  • "Breaking Bad:" Season two felt like a trod towards the inevitable catastrophic flashforwards, an excellent but heavily guided journey towards Walter White destroying someone's life. Season three seemed to set viewers up for something similar with the twins, and then threw away the playbook and gave more shocking thrills and memorable moments than any other show on television. Aaron Paul's Supporting Actor Emmy win was the most deserved win of the night. Unfortunately, viewers won't be able to see the awkwardness between Walter and Gus until July 2011 due to scheduling.
  • "Mad Men:" Now a three-time winner for the Best Drama Emmy, the show continues to dazzle with small character moments acting as seismic plot shifts.
  • "Futurama:" Continuing a trend of animated shows coming back from the dead, "Futurama" went back into usual production after a seven-year layoff. It may not be quite as it was at its peak (as the budget is much tighter now for a cable network), but it's still much smarter and funnier than the omnipresent "Family Guy."
  • "30 For 30". A delightful surprise which continued airing into this summer, ESPN's "30 For 30" series takes 30 different topics and puts them in the hands of 30 documentary filmmakers. A standout is "June 14, 1994," which dovetails multiple sports stories (the biggest being O.J.'s white Bronco chase) only using media footage.