Discovery's Shark Week has been thriving for 20-plus years with its annual look at great white shark attacks. That's an unlikely streak for a bunch of programs that basically say the same thing over and over again: "They're coming to get you." To remain successful, Shark Week needs to sustain our hysteria about getting bitten by a great white, despite the overwhelmingly low odds.
This year's kickoff program, Great White Invasion (Sunday, 8 p.m.), tries to convince us that "all over the world, great whites are coming closer to shore." As the narrator warns, "We think of great whites as living far out in the ocean and distant from people. BUT NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH!"
Okay, I admit to being frightened by that idea, but will it frighten me again next year? Probably not, and that's why Shark Week will have to up the ante yet again. I wouldn't be surprised to see a program entitled Don't Look Now, But a Great White Shark Is Lifting the Latch on Your Bedroom Window....
Sunday, 9:30 pm (HBO)
In the final season, bad things keep happening to Hollywood star Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his entourage of childhood friends. For a group of guys who have it made - money, fame, glamorous women - life really couldn't get much worse. Manager Eric (Kevin Connolly) and hanger-on Turtle (Jerry Ferrarra) have serious trouble with their girlfriends. Agent Ari (Jeremy Piven) busts a blood vessel when he learns that his estranged wife is dating a chef. As for Vince, his house burned down after he left rehab.
In the midst of all this pain, only Vince's usually hapless brother, Johnny (Kevin Dillon), is riding high. He's doing voice work for a new animated TV series that plans to give The Simpsons a run for its money. "Please, please, please God, I've suffered enough," Johnny says, hoping his lucky streak continues. "I deserve good things."
I can't wait for the next episode or two. I think God is going to have some fun with this.
Koran by Heart
Monday, 8 pm (HBO)
While I spent my childhood watching syndicated sitcoms, the three 10-year-olds profiled in Koran by Heart have learned to recite...yes, the Koran by heart. Muslim children all over the world engage in this activity, and the best hundred of them come to Cairo for an annual competition. The documentary follows these incredibly devoted kids as they practice their recitation over and over. And over.
According to the organizer of the competition, "On judgment day, our levels in heaven will be decided by how much of the Koran we have memorized."
What worries me is that our levels in hell will be decided by how much of Gilligan's Island we have memorized.
Wednesday, 9 pm (Lifetime)
This reality series follows moms who bring their little girls to Pittsburgh's Abby Lee Dance Concentration Camp - oh, sorry, I mean Abby Lee Dance Studio. Abby's oversized ego depends on her reputation for winning Broadway-style Junior Miss dance competitions with her tiny victims. The only way to keep winning is to mercilessly drive the children in ways that 6-to 13-year-olds should never be driven.
"I can make you or I can break you!" Abby bellows at the twig-like girls, who are done up like floozies. When the girls break down due to illness, nerves or sheer grade-school vulnerability, Abby explodes: "STOP CRYING!"
And what about the mothers who lead their lambs to the slaughter? They're so consumed by dreams of stardom that they freak out whenever their girls show signs of weakness around Abby - that is, signs of age-appropriate behavior.
"STOP CRYING!" they plead.
Wednesday, 9 pm (FX)
Denis Leary's NYC firefighter dramedy is as good as ever in its final season. This week, Leary's character, hotheaded Tommy Gavin, continues his "rebel asshole parade," as a colleague puts it. Tommy is on edge as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, and his fellow firefighters are at each other's throats. The tension comes to a head when a TV station interviews Tommy about 9/11 for a mawkish 10th anniversary feature. Tommy gets increasingly annoyed by the reporter's dumb questions and finally loses it when she asks, "What would have been a happy ending on that day?"
"There are no happy endings," Tommy hisses, while his mates brace themselves for a tirade.
Given all the misery in this episode, it's hard to imagine a happy ending for Rescue Me. But who knows - things could turn around by the Sept. 7 finale. I sure hope they do.