Everywhere you look, it's the lazy season. Even on TV. Maybe that's what makes winning summer performances pop on the tube: They're flashes of color in a drab landscape.
Here are five actors worth watching this summer:
Rufus Sewell as the dapper Italian detective Aurelio Zen in the Masterpiece Mystery! series Zen, on PBS. Zen has a "reputation for integrity," as he is often reminded, usually by higher-ups right before they try to corrupt him. The role fits Sewell like one of Zen's sleekly tailored suits.
Sarah Carter as the mysterious Maggie on TNT's Falling Skies. You know you're a survivor when an alien invasion doesn't rank among the toughest challenges you've ever faced. Carter shines as this flinty and lethal loner.
Jason Gann as the (sort of) canine title character in FX's Wilfred. Gann, who originated this role on Australian TV, is perfect as the anarchic, stoner mutt constantly bringing chaos into Elijah Wood's life. Man's best friend? Ha!
Ally Walker on Lifetime's The Protector. Walker, so good on Sons of Anarchy as a rogue ATF agent, hits just the right note here as Gloria Sheppard. Talk about stressed. Gloria is trying to balance her responsibilities as a divorced mother of two boys with her job as a busy LAPD homicide detective.
Dylan Baker on DirecTV's Damages. Baker is chilling as ruthless bagman Jerry Boorman. The chameleonic character actor is even more versatile than we thought. And that's saying something.
A long trip for nothing. Speaking of Damages, the show seems to get increasingly allergic to plausibility. Take this week.
Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) hires Victor Huntley, a retired NYPD detective, to track down her runaway son.
Huntley (played by Tom Noonan, whom you may remember as Hannibal Lecter's pen pal in 1986's Manhunter), comes up with a stale, very tenuous lead, and Patty, despite being the busiest lawyer in Manhattan, insists on driving up to Boston with him to track the tidbit down.
Huntley locates his potential witness and begins questioning him. Meanwhile, Patty is 20 yards away, her back turned, busily chatting on her cellphone.
She drove six hours only to pay no attention to what the guy had to say?
Say no more. This has been a disturbing week of TMI.
On The Howard Stern Show, Hugh Hefner's former paramour Crystal Harris related that in two years of putative intimacy with the Playboy figurehead, she had never seen Hef unclothed. Count your blessings, girl.
On the opposite extreme, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek bragged that when a burglar slipped into his hotel room in the middle of the night, Trebek threw on his underwear and chased the thief down the corridor.
After the interview appeared on Today, anchor Matt Lauer said, "I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing that Alex Trebek sleeps in the nude." So say we all.
Infiltrators. On this week's True Blood, Bill laid a little history on the remaining vampire sheriffs in Louisiana.
"Vampires have often found it advantageous to maintain a hidden presence in humanity's most powerful institutions," he lectured. "In the 1600s that was the Catholic Church. And today, as you all know, it's Google [and] Fox News."
Ah, that would explain Shepard Smith.