As if there were a checklist for recycled summer trash—Sailboats! Sunblock! Teen sex!—Falcon Beach practically parodies its own components. We are plunked down in a New England village where the locals, at least those among them not yet palsied unto gnomic bromide after years of chewing cud, pump gas at the service station or knot rope at the boat shop, while the visitors, emotionally anemic, angelically transparent, rest up in rented lakeside shacks from a long winter of making money. To such staples, add loud music, negligent bikinis, recreational drugs, class animus, and volleyball. (You will have noticed on the sports channels that beach volleyball is the new striptease.) For several seconds in the two-hour pilot, I saw someone in a Che Guevara T-shirt, but he didn’t mean it. Summer trash is no more permitted to be political than to be fat.
Which brings us to the hunks and hotties. Chief among them is the six-plus feet of Jason (Steve Byers), a blond and blue-eyed local boy whose only ambition is to become a professional wake-boarder (which wake-boarding looks to me exactly like waterskiing). Otherwise, as Jason explains to Paige (Jennifer Kydd), “I don’t do plans.” Petulant Paige isn’t pleased to be stuck for the summer in these sticks: “I’m not a tourist, I’m a hostage.” (I’d tell you why her mother needs time away from her father, but they are both adults, so who cares?) Till a night on the lake with Jason, she’d rather be back in corporate America, working toward her M.B.A. Unfortunately, Jason still has issues to resolve with Tanya (Devon Weigel), who used to be his main squeeze until she ran away to Italy to be a supermodel. She’s back now, traumatized yet just as slinky. And she’s hanging out with Paige’s drug-dealing playboy brother, Lane (Morgan Kelly), which means that more than one heart and neck will be broken.
Never mind the second-stringer sidekicks, Danny (Ephraim Ellis) and Erin (Melissa Elias). Yes, they are cute when they sing “I’m leaving on a jet plane.” But their very cuteness distracts us from the summer-trash essentialism of teen angst. On television, your summer teen inside his sunblock is sunk in a sullenness so profound it amounts to a mystique. Most of us don’t feel as bad for fifteen minutes in our entire lives as these kids have apparently felt since Pampers. And if they never grow up to be more interesting than their urine samples, it’s your fault.
Windfall, on the other hand, takes a fairy-tale premise—that good luck can be a curse—and stomps all over it till it looks like television. Young married best friends Luke Perry, Lana Parrilla, Jason Gedrick, and Sarah Wynter, through no virtue or fault of their own and in cahoots with several acquaintances, win a $386 million lottery. “We can do absolutely anything we want to with our lives,” one of them squeals. Since Lana, who is married to Luke, always bets the same number, which is Jason’s birthday, you know they’ll spend the rest of the summer wrecking those lives—except, maybe, for Jaclyn DeSantis as a nurse who immediately helps a patient without health insurance. Windfall is primarily interesting as the latest chapter in network television’s Sisyphean exertions to find something, anything, for Luke Perry and Jason Gedrick to do with themselves.
Anthony Michael Hall is back from his coma for a fifth season, and while I usually enjoy his F/X visions in The Dead Zone, the master narrative is now slower than sap. Last year began with presidential wannabe Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery) preparing, after the murder of his own father, to marry a gorgeously unhappy Miranda (Laura Harris), who agreed to this loveless bargain to protect our psychic hero from the forces of evil (Martin Donovan). This year starts with that exact same wedding. It’s taken us a long, hectic time to go an inch to nowhere.
But The 4400, the series in which every human ever abducted by aliens (or some such shadowy captors) returns suddenly to Earth with paranormal powers and to quarantine, has always motored on with enough loud plot to suspend or concuss disbelief. In the third-season opener, Peter Coyote impersonates Rasputin, Megalyn Echikunwoke plays an Isabelle who goes to bed a baby and wakes up 20 years old, and the Nova Group delivers on its promise of a terrorist attack with a deed so astonishingly counterintuitive as to suggest—well, I must keep a secret, but it’s hiding behind a grin.