With the ever-expanding set of original programming choices that are offered by cable networks over the summer, I think that the months between the end of one traditional season (May) and the beginning of the next (September), are rapidly becoming the best time to watch television. To be sure, there isn’t as much original programming as there is in the fall, and one would be hard-pressed to try and fill all the primetime TV hours in the summer (a far easier task in the fall), but there is still tons of good stuff out there. Last night, two shows had their season premieres and another its series premiere, and all are definitely worth checking out.

Up first was The 4400, that odd, slightly disturbing sci-fi show that more recent programs, like Heroes, certainly owe a debt. The name from the show comes from the fact that within its world, 4400 people were taken from Earth over the course of 60 (or so) years. They were all then returned to the same place in Washington State at the same time. Some have developed special abilities (superpowers). The show follows some of the 4400 and the government agency, NTAC (the National Threat Assessment Command), that watches over them.

I’ll admit that I have a hard time in this show remembering the specifics of what went on from one season to the next. From the first to the second season it didn’t seem that important, we were mainly dealing with “freak of the week” episodes (single, standalone episodes exploring one never before and never again seen character that didn’t really tie in to a larger picture). Over the last few seasons however, there has been a far larger story arc in play, mostly recently with The 4400 Center and Jordan Collie (Billy Campbell) trying to convince everyone in the world to take a drug that would help them all unleash their “4400” ability. The authorities (mainly in the form of Joel Gretsch) don’t appreciate the fact that many 4400 abilities are dangerous, and the drug he pushes, deadly.

It’s a show that occasionally is a little too obvious in its message (anytime anyone has the initials J.C. I get nervous), but still poses interesting questions about our society and where we’re headed. If sci-fi isn’t your thing, there are still a number of strong family-based stories to follow, though joining the series at this point in its storyline may prove difficult (there are of course DVDs available of the first three seasons).

Next up, the ever-funny Entourage. They had a slightly different episode last night, quite reminiscent of several M*A*S*H episodes, though they may have been pushing more for a Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse thing (the documentary made by Francis Ford Coppola’s wife about the making of Apocalypse Now. The cast and crew of Medellin, a film being made by Vince Chase and his buddies about Pablo Escobar, are followed by a documentary filmmaker through their trials and tribulations of making a movie. It was a great way to show what happened on set during the filmmaking, and it advanced the main story three months without skipping over anything. I always find Entourage a great diversion, and am interested in what happens with the main characters, even if I never really see anything laugh-out-loud wonderful.

What did make me laugh out loud last night was the new show that followed Entourage, Flight of the Conchords. Any show that talks about, even in passing, gulab jamuns that are “off the hook” is unquestionably worth checking out. The show follows a couple of boys from New Zealand trying to breakthrough with their odd, folksy band in New York City. It’s a little bit Extras, quite a bit weird, and filled with funny, funny songs. Last night’s premiere focused on one-half of the duo (Jemaine) trying to date the other-half’s (Bret) ex-girlfriend. Needless to say, it was an idea doomed from the start.

Normally, I would find a show like this a little too quirky and a little too far out there; weird for weird’s sake, rather than weird for funny’s sake. However, there were enough truly hysterical moments to stop that from being the case. Outside of the “off the hook gulab jamuns” which, I’ll give you, you need to know Indian food to appreciate it, during the credits there was an extended portion of a music video that the duo filmed earlier in the episode. In short, in the video they’re robots talking about how they now run the world and all the humans are dead. The extended portion features a brilliant “binary solo” which solely consists of a (I hope) random string of “0” and “1”s, which, if you think about it, is exactly what a binary solo should be. It’s a funny notion, made utterly hysterical by the deadpan portrayals of the main characters. These guys act perfectly serious, even with the dumbest things, and that’s what makes them funny.

See, cable is good. TV is good. And tonight, I’m hoping Hell’s Kitchen will be good too.