Summer TV Premieres and Returns

A few much-anticipated returns and a cautiously-welcome hello mark the post-July 4 TV landscape that kicks off this Sunday night. Before you get yourself into a DVR tizzy, however, here's what you can expect from the shows that are making the height of summer the height of TV watching as well. Because, let's face it, sunshine will kill you, beaches are overcrowded, and nothing complements a bag of Sun Chips better than air conditioning.

So here we go...

(HBO - Returns Sunday, July 10th)

Larry David is back, in more ways than one. Not only is this the eighth season of his critically-acclaimed and audience-adored comedy, but the new season sees Larry return to his "Seinfeld" home of New York City. Because like bagels, pizza, and people, awkwardness is just somehow more authentic in the Big Apple than it is in Los Angeles.

And to think, David almost didn't come back.

"Well, after every season, Larry says, 'That’s it, I’m not doing another season'," co-star Susie Essman told New York Magazine. "And then he’ll finish editing, and the show will air, and then I’ll get a call, and he’ll say, “I’m not promising anything, but I am letting you know I’m working on a couple of outlines. But until I get at least eight outlines, I’m not promising. I’m just letting you know I’m working on it.”

Among the highlights of this coming season are a kick-off episode that tackles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in typical "Curb" fashion - by having Larry torn between his love for a Palestinian restaurant's chicken and the establishment's perceived anti-Semitism. There will also be a cameo this season from infamous baseball anti-icon and Red Sox pariah Bill Buckner.

"[Larry David] just contacted me early last summer and asked me if I'd be interested in it," explains Buckner. "He told me what direction they were going in and what they were trying to do. I thought about it and I thought it'd be fun. It worked out well."

(TNT - Returns Monday, July 11th)

What happens when a police detective known for coaxing iron-clad confessions from even the hardest criminal suddenly finds her methods coming under fire? That's what Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson will find out in the seventh and final season of the Emmy-winning crime drama. At the end of last season, Johnson secured a confession from a gang member knowing full well that the immunity she dangled before him was meaningless once he hit the streets again and fell under the crosshairs of his fellow gang members. Season seven kicks off with the LAPD facing a potentially devastating lawsuit, and all eyes are on Johnson.

“Brenda really gets her comeuppance this year," Sedgwick explained to AOL TV. "Because of the morally and legally ambiguous ways - although she never actually broke the law –- in which she either took the law into her own hands or elicited confessions. That all comes back to haunt her.”

Sedgwick clearly has life beyond "The Closer" firmly in mind, seeing as it was her decision to walk away from the hit series that debuted in 2005. The actress, who has expressed a desire to move from L.A. (where "The Closer" is filmed) back to New York in order to be closer to her husband Kevin Bacon and their family, said in a statement late last year:

"I cannot fathom how difficult it will be to say goodbye to the incredible family we’ve created on 'The Closer.' I will always be grateful to [series creator] James Duff for his love and friendship, as well as for creating such a rich and complex character who I have loved living with year after year."

The imminent end is certainly something the rest of the cast are coming to terms with - although the door is not completely closed. TNT announced that Mary McDonnell's character, Captain Sharon Raydor, will be getting her own spin-off series called "Major Crimes" debuting immediately after the "Closer's" season premiere.

"The cast and most of the crew have been together for seven years now, and it's a big part of our lives," says J.K. Simmons, who plays the contentious Assistant Police Chief Will Pope. "Obviously, being on a hit show is a great thing. It's the goal for a lot of actors. But being on a hit show that's not a happy place to show up and work every day can be its own special kind of purgatory."

(SyFy - Premieres Monday, July 11)

You are forgiven for thinking that "Alphas" is nothing more than a "Heroes" rehash (or, if you are really geek savvy, a "Misfits of Science" retread), but this new SyFy series - about a small group of people who band together after discovering they have superhuman abilities -  promises to be a lot more grounded and complex than the recently-canceled NBC series.

For one, it's being shepherded by writer Zak Penn, who earned serious sci-fi cred with his scripts for "X2" X-Men United," "X-Men: The Last Stand," "X-Men: First Class," and both "Hulk" films, and it also stars rock-solid veteran actor David Strathairn ("Good Night and Good Luck," "L.A. Confidential," "The Bourne Ultimatum") in the lead role of neurologist and psychiatrist Dr. Lee Rosen.

"It's something I've never explored, developing a character that could have mutations anywhere along the road that would be embraced or not," says Strathairn. "It's a real wide landscape of character development. Then I really liked what they're trying to do with the series, which is to explore people who have these neurological anomalies that are very plausible."

As his Dr. Rosen is charged with overseeing a government initiative to scour the world for "special" people, Strathairn sees a change to keep "Alphas" at least somewhat connected to the real world.

"It's not, by any means, a superhero sci-fi thing. It's dealing with very day-to-day problems we all have."

(DirectTV - Returns Wednesday, July 13th)

When its original network, FX, pulled the plug after three seasons, it looked like the Glenn Close/Rose Byrne legal drama "Damages" would be sent to an early grave. But then DirectTV - yes, DirectTV - entered the picture and, through its Audience Network channel, revived the show for a fourth season.

This, naturally, came as good news to star Glenn Close, who is excited about returning to the role of ruthless legal mind Patty Hewes, and her ongoing rivalry with protoge Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), who, at the start of the new season, is about to tackle the thorny issue of private security and the U.S. military.

"They have a lot of history," says Close. "I think Patty would like Ellen to be her No. 2 and I think Patty would like to work with Ellen, but it's also more complex than that."

"She doesn't want Ellen to succeed more than she does. I think Patty still thinks that no-one can do it the way she can do it."

Byrne, like Close, sees the strained mentor/student relationship as a key to "Damages'" success. "[Ellen is] working at a completely different law firm," says Byrne. "When [Patty and Ellen] meet again, it's on much different terms. They have this huge weight of history together which can never be erased. That's where a lot of the drama and tension comes from."

After stretching her comedic muscles in hit movies like "Get Him to the Greek" and "Bridesmaids," Byrne appears ready to dig into some drama once again. "You just can't trust what's happening between [Ellen and Patty], I think that's where the drama really lies."

Veteran TV actors John Goodman and Dylan Baker join the cast in season four, keeping up "Damages'" reputation for securing high-profile names for atypical roles - previous seasons have seen the likes of Ted Danson, Martin Short, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, and Campbell Scott.

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