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Cable cranks up its summer TV season

Remember when summertime signaled a break for the TV industry? No more. Today's TV world is a 24/7 affair, thanks to the rise of cable channels, which save their biggest guns for the moments when broadcast networks drown themselves in bug-eating celebrities and awful dramas imported from Canada. Just this week, close to 20 new shows will start up, ranging from Brooke Hogan's excavation of her parents' breakup on VH1's Brooke Knows Best to the debut of the year's best new series so far, Sopranos alum Edie Falco's Nurse Jackie on Showtime. Here's a quick look at the best — and most notorious — new product coming at you over the next couple of weeks. Check our online TV listings at tv.tampabay.com daily to find out what's new.

1. Army Wives

Returns at 10 tonight on Lifetime

The female-centered cable channel's most successful series returns as a big ole' gooey soap opera centered on Kim Delaney's 16-year-old daughter's running off to avoid a move to Europe and tired-looking cougar Catherine Bell's unmasked infidelity to her husband, an officer fighting in Afghanistan next to their son. It's almost juicy enough to make you forget the absurdity of model-pretty Bell sleeping with a guy who looks like a roadie for Hoobastank.

Does it work? For an audience weaned on episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show and Lifetime movies, it's a home run.

2. Weeds

Returns at 10 p.m. Monday on Showtime

Stories about a pot-dealing suburban mom will always walk a fine line between comedy and pathos. But this season opens with Mary-Louise Parker's Nancy Botwin stuck in a seriously degrading relationship with a Mexican drug kingpin; pregnant with his child, she endures forced sex and treatment by a gynecologist who barely speaks her language. Gives new meaning to the term "dark comedy."

Does it work? When your lightest joke features another woman abducted by Mexican kidnappers (Elizabeth Perkins) who can't be ransomed because friends and family hate her too much to pay, maybe it's time to dial back the darkness. Don't expect guest stars Alanis Morissette or Jennifer Jason Leigh to help.

3. The Closer

9 p.m. Monday, TNT

Kyra Sedgwick's deputy police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson digs into a murder case in which every member of a man's family is killed. Of course, it's also an excuse for this wonderful family of characters to bounce off each other, as Johnson faces off against a headstrong narcotics detective (Lee Tergeson) and a callous reporter.

Does it work? The show's writers are so slick, you won't even question why a guy suspected of killing his family never asks for a lawyer or tries to contact other relatives.

4. Raising the Bar

Debuts at 10 p.m. Monday on TNT

The best news here: Star Mark-Paul Gosselaar's hysterically earnest public defender is pushed into cutting his mousy mop of hair for a client, clipping one of the show's most distracting elements. Creator Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue) has simultaneously toned down the worst parts of this legal drama, giving Gloria Reuben's underused administrator legal cases and pulling back Jane Kaczmarek's daffy judge to a realistic level.

Does it work? The cases are still laughable — no public defender in history has gotten so many innocent clients — but the characters are engaging.

5. Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List

Returns 10 p.m. Monday on Bravo

Griffin's "unscripted" show about her celebrity life works for two reasons: She doesn't try to hide how contrived so many events are, and, as an amazing comic, she offers the best commentary this side of The Soup. In this episode, Griffin has a surprisingly uncomfortable hang with Bette Midler (who looks as if she can't wait to leave after she plugs her Las Vegas show).

Does it work? For this Griffin fan, it works without a doubt, especially when, while shilling for Grammy votes, she exposes the ugly truth: Music stars such as Midler and Stevie Nicks rarely actually vote on Grammy awards.

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Cable cranks up its summer TV season 06/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 6, 2009 5:59pm]

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