Early June is the weirdest time in television. Post May Sweeps and shagged out from season and series finales, TV takes a breather. For the cable and specialty channels, summer has traditionally been a period to grab viewers with new specials and series, but most don't officially start a summer season until mid-June. When I look at the next few weeks I see a weird cluster of new and interesting shows airing on June 12th and 13th. There must be some unspoken agreement among TV execs that late May and early June are officially downtime. This is the time of the year when we turn to PBS to see if there's a repeat of some lovely Mystery! or Masterpiece Theatre series we might have missed the first time. Sure enough, this week's Masterpiece Theatre has a nifty frock opera. Girly, gorgeous and Georgian - that's the gist of Aristocrats, a three-part (continuing next Sunday) adaptation of a best-selling Brit book, a biography of the Lennox sisters, famous in England and Ireland in the 18th century. It's history from a female perspective - the book is based on letters between the sisters. The intensity of the feminine perspective is a little muted on TV, with a greater emphasis on the lavish Georgian-period dress, furniture and architecture than on the scandalous activities of Caroline, Emily, Sarah and Louisa Lennox. It was mostly filmed in Ireland in some locations where the real events took place. Geraldine Somerville (known to us as Penhaligon in Cracker) plays Emily, a strong-willed woman who marries an Irish lord, bears many children and is tangentially involved in the Irish rebellion. The others (played by Serena Gordon, Jodhi May and Anne-Marie Duff) marry scandalously, become mistresses or generally cavort about the royal court. Aristocrats is a soaper with a veneer of historical drama. It has hints of lively lascivity in depicting the peculiar 18th-century eroticism surrounding feet and hands, but it's never lurid.
Masterpiece Theatre: Aristocrats airs Sunday, 9 p.m., PBS
-Both HBO and TMN are taking advantage of the early summer slump to unveil the latest cool cable drama. Heavily hyped (worthy of a long feature in The New Yorker, no less), Six Feet Under was created by playwright Alan Ball, the man who wrote American Beauty. Ball himself recently said, "In a lot of ways, it's Knot's Landing set in a funeral home." The family at the centre of the show, The Fishers, operate a funeral home and all six episodes are built around the death of an individual and how his arrival at the funeral home interrupts the weird little drama of the Fishers. It's actually a cute and dippy show, kind of sharp but much less strange than the hype would have you believe. The problem, perhaps, is that this is the first big HBO show to arrive since The Sopranos and, while comparisons are inevitable, Six Feet Under is nothing like The Sopranos in style or depth. In the first episode the most compelling character is the first to die - the patriarch of the Fisher family. This brings together mother Ruth (Frances Conroy), who is clearly unstable, son Nate (Peter Krause from Sports Night), who is selfish and drifting, son David (Michael Hall), who is secretly gay, and daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose), who is merely mixed-up and on drugs. What happens is droll and wryly comic on the subject of death. It's good, not great, so far.
Six Feet Under airs Monday, 10 p.m., TMN
-There are marvelous little things on Bravo!, if you know when to look - short films and videos made for Bravo!FACT for a variety of reasons. Some are made as celebrations of writers who are nominated for awards, some are works of art and some are made just for the heck of it. Recently, on Wednesdays, Bravo! has sensibly packed three shorts together under various themes. This week's package is called Poetic Themes and it's a glorious half hour of images and words. There's an eye-popping, wacky celebration of Leonard Cohen called Leonard, Light My Cigarette; the multi-directed Elimination Dance, which is adapted from the Michael Ondaatje work, and my favourite is Fort Goof, a very clever and engaging video for a Lynn Crosbie poem, directed by Bruce McDonald.
Bravo!Videos airs Wednesday, 7 p.m., Bravo!