Whether it's an award-wining drama back for a swan song season (The Closer), slick shows just hitting their strides (Boss, Suits) or an outrageous comedy that'll have you LOL-ing through the summer heat (Louie), these veteran shows offer great grownup entertainment.
USA, Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST, returned June 14
Last year's best summer surprise returns for another season of law firm drama. Imagine Law and Order recast for a glossy photo shoot for Esquire or GQ, and you get an idea of Suits' hip, fashionable vibe. The show was clearly imagined as a showcase for flashy attorney Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), but during Season 1 Patrick J. Adams, as young-gun associate Mike Ross, emerged as its star. Adams nabbed a surprise Screen Actors Guild nomination as Ross, the Specter protégé with a photographic memory but — whoops! — no law degree (or college degree, for that matter.) Adams and Macht are great together as they rep clients and conspire to conceal the secret. Rick Hoffman is deliciously hateable as their sleazy in-house foil, Louis Litt, and estimable character actor David Costabile (Damages, Breaking Bad), looks to have a juicy Season 2 role as a prodigal boss returned.
TNT, Mondays at 9 p.m. EST, returns July 9
Kyra Sedgwick takes a final turn as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson as the long-running investigative drama finishes off its seven-season run with a sextet of final shows. The Closer has never really sparked the fervent pop culture conversation of some of its cable network competition but it will end its run as one of the most popular non-network dramas of all time. It was also one of the first summer-launched shows to break through as a critical and ratings hit — to say nothing of the career boost it gave Sedgwick, who has picked up Best Actress honors from the Emmys and Golden Globes. Major Crimes, a spinoff featuring many of the same characters, premieres in August, just after this show's curtain has, ahem, closed.
A&E, Sundays at 9 p.m. EST, returned June 3
If you like Castle, CSI and NCIS, check out this hidden gem, which could be the best show you've probably never heard of. The series follows Detective Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore), a former Chicago cop now tracking down bad guys and solving crimes in the swamplands of the Florida Everglades. The plots are the opposite of the show's oppressive Everglades climate - cool and breezy, and wrapped neatly up at the end of each episode. This summer's run marks Season 3, but don't worry about dropping in late. It's easy to catch up — and if you get hooked, seasons 1 and 2 are available via Netflix and iTunes.
Starz, Fridays at 10 p.m. EST, returns Aug. 17
Kelsey Grammer was a surprise Golden Globe winner as Best Actor for the first season of this edgy political drama. Grammer sheds his Frasier Crane typecast as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, a political animal who's trying to navigate the rocky, corrupt political landscape in the Windy City while also concealing a neurological illness that's slowly robbing him of short-term memory and other brain functionality. Grammer is clearly having fun with the role, which allows him to reveal a villainous side previously glimpsed only through his voice work as Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons. The writing is taut, and the stellar cast also includes Connie Nielson and Kathleen Robertson. The eight-episode first season will be released on DVD July 24 — it's worth catching up before Season 2 starts in August.
HBO, Sundays at 9 p.m. EST, returned June 10
Wondering how much longer the current pop cultural fascination with all things vampire can last? Judging by the still-growing success of HBO's supernatural drama, which enters its fifth season with bigger ratings than ever, it won't be ending anytime soon. The show's labyrnthine plots reward long-term viewers, but HBO offers seasonal recaps on its website that can help new viewers get acclimated. Last season ended with several cliffhangers that had viewers guessing and hypothesizing, but one thing's for certain: Expect lots of blood to be spilled this summer.
FX, Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. EST, returns June 28
Comedian Louis C.K. is outrageous, profane and brilliant — and so is his show, which revolves around a fictionalized version of himself and kicks off Season 3 this summer. For years, Louis C.K. has been revered within the insular world of comedians, but this hilarious series, which he writes, edits and directs, has helped a broader audience discover his talents. This year, Time magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World — not a bad gig for a standup comic. Be warned: The show may be about a single dad raising two daughters, but it's a decidedly adult comedy, with coarse language and frank sex talk. There's a reason it airs at 10:30 on a cable network. It's also hilarious.
Showtime, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. EST, returns July 1
Be honest: You always thought Matt LeBlanc was the Friends cast member who was least likely to find more success after the long-running NBC hit went off the air in 2004. Don't feel bad. We all did. But LeBlanc has revitalized his career with this Showtime series, in which he plays himself — or a version of himself: a fading Hollywood star working with British writers and producers on a new TV series based on a British hit. Fellow Friends alum Lisa Kudrow pulled a similar trick on HBO's undeservedly short-lived The Comeback, and Larry David and Jason Alexander had fun with the concept on a Curb Your Enthusiasm storyline, but LeBlanc makes the notion feel fresh and funny. Take that, Chandler.
Other notable returns: Royal Pains (USA, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST, returned June 6); Rizzoli & Isles (TNT, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST, returned June 5); Falling Skies (TNT, Sundays at 9 p.m. EST, returned June 17); Weeds (Showtime, Sundays at 10 p.m., returns July 1); White Collar (USA, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST, returns July 10); Breaking Bad (AMC, Sundays at 10 p.m. EST, returns July 15.)
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