Playing the Slots: Sunday Night

The series finale of The Sopranos, airing this Sunday, raises two questions for faithful viewers: How will it all end? And, Now what am I going to watch on Sunday nights? After all, The Sopranos more or less transformed Sundays from a wasteland of retread movies and The Wonderful World of Disney to the week’s top destination for Serious TV. (Well, Serious TV and Entourage.) No doubt HBO hopes you’ll transition painlessly to John From Cincinnati (see here), and Showtime hopes to entice you with Meadowlands, a superficially Sopranos-esque offering of its own (see below). Clearly, though, the night is up for grabs—so here’s a guide to what you should hold on to and what you should discard.

Photo: Courtesy of Bill Records/NBC

‘Friday Night Lights’
This year’s best-show-you’re-not-watching™ is now in reruns on Sundays— which won’t help confused viewers who’ve chased it all over the schedule but will give you a chance to bone up before fall, when the second season moves to the more mnemonically friendly Friday night.

Photo: Ron Tom/ABC

‘Desperate Housewives’
It began with an overhyped bang, so you might assume it’s become a whimper of its former self. But the show remains pretty much what it always was: a super-stylized soap with a fun cast and a frothy dose of escapism.

Photo: Scott Garfield/ABC

‘Brothers & Sisters’
The show’s premiere last fall was buried under bad press about offscreen turmoil, so there’s a good chance you skipped the first season, now in reruns. Brothers & Sisters doesn’t offer much in the way of Mafia mayhem and murder, but it does feature a stellar Sally Field (as the meddling matriarch), intriguing characters (from the pen of playwright Jon Robin Baitz), and amusing dialogue that actually resembles real-life sibling banter.

Photo: Evans Vestal Ward/Comedy Central

‘American Body Shop’
Mirroring the style of Reno 911!, this deadpan improvisational comedy (premiering July 8) on Comedy Central demonstrates the problem with deadpan improv: Often the first-draft jokes just aren’t that funny. The auto-shop premise has promise, but you’ll be better served by HBO’s upcoming Flight of the Conchords, which is just as laconic and twice as amusing.

Photo: Lifetime

‘Army Wives’
Starring Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell, this new series about a community of Army spouses (premiering June 10) should be more fun—that is, a lot trashier—than it is, ideally falling somewhere between the footballers’ wives on BBC America and the Army Ranger wives on The Unit. Army Wives is smarter than most made-for-Lifetime movies (for what that’s worth), but when you’re only the fourth-best wives-related show on TV (and the second best on Sunday nights), you’re not exactly making a compelling case for your existence.

Photo: Ecosse Films/Showtime

At first glance, this show seems like the perfect Sopranos replacement, from its Jersey-resonant title to its high-concept conceit: a whole town of people under witness protection. But this British co-production (premiering June 17 on Showtime) is less Mafia drama than a bizarre mash-up of American Beauty and Lost, as reconceived by David Lynch. In this eerie suburb, everyone has a secret, and the results are by turns creepy, campy, and downright ludicrous. Still, it’s worth a spot on your DVR, if only to chart the initial course of this off-kilter series.

Playing the Slots: Sunday Night