Not too long ago, summer used to be the place where TV reruns would live, along with lots of lame basic cable (and premium-channel) dreck that was barely watchable. Then that changed as shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men and others all gained big followings and ran whenever their networks wanted to run them. The operating theory wasn’t so much to avoid the network juggernauts (ha! almost sounds quaint nowadays), but the shows were that good and had such cult audience magnetism that their writers would produce limited quantities and the shows could be aired in unusually-timed patterns.

Well, economics and the Internet have screwed with just about everything in this world, and the TV landscape is a casualty too. At least, the old-school TV ways are no more. Now, the best TV happens in the summer. No doubt about it. There’s still plenty of dreck out there and enough odd-themed reality shows to keep in business forever. But summer nights offer some great TV. Thanks to DVRs and the Web, there’s no need to actually watch any of these shows at night or when they are scheduled. Here’s my opinion on the best TV shows on this summer. The order is from really good to really great.

#8. Falling Skies

Yeah, it’s alien vs. people pablum. And the guy from ER is a strange fit as pseudo-dad, -militia leader, – professor, – patriot, but it keeps you on your toes. It’s set in New England-ish and it has this sorta sweet American-revolution spirit running through it. Except the Brits have been replaced by huge alien “skitters” that like to harness and enslave little kids.

#7. Episodes

If all you know Matt LeBlanc is as the dense guy – Joey – from Friends, you’re missing out. It’s an American sitcom that mocks American sitcoms, as seen by Brits. Non-alien Brits. Laugh-out-loud funny at times. Enough cameos and inside jokes to rival what The Larry Sanders Show used to provide. Wow, I miss that show.

#6. The Closer

It all ends this summer for the Southern gal who is somehow a bigwig deputy chief for LAPD investigating homicides. Her character is as stereotypically written as could be, down to the inappropriate police attire, and the cop colleagues who respect her but can’t stand her sometimes. And she doesn’t care.

#5. Wilfred

Before Ted emerged, there was Wilfred, which is actually an Australian import. If your dog could talk and behave like this character, you would never let him out. Or he would really be your best friend. Or you’d both be in jail. Ironically sweet in all manner of lewd ways.

#4. White Collar

Watching these USA Network summer shows always has this guilty pleasure sense. They’re fun, snappy, smartly-written and brisk, but the real reason is how damn bright they are. I mean bright as in bright colors, bright scenes, bright locales, bright clothes. Technicolor, but really done up. After the darkly wonderful The Killing – which told its story over 26 days, and they were 26 rainy, dark days in Seattle – a USA show is the counterbalance. And this one is pretty good. The good guys are the bad guys. Or vice versa.

#3. Damages

Easily the most underrated TV show in years. Glenn Close is unreal as a ruthless lawyer. Each season is a case, a la Murder One’s format. And the twists and turns never stop. Great supporting cast. Hardly anyone has watched this show, which has bounced around. And it’s now nearly impossible to find. Glad I have DirecTV just to catch this one.

#2. Louie

This show gets on a lot of critic’s lists because of the comedian’s general business model. He eschews big corporations, sells his own comedy stuff online, films his own TV shows and generally goes right to the people, Radiohead-style. That’s not why I love it. Louie C.K. is the funniest comic in years. He’s not for everyone, and his jokes are as much about the delivery as they are the content, but he knows real life.

#1. Breaking Bad

Heisenberg is the scariest name on TV. Who knew that the bumbling dad from Malcolm in the Middle would become the most feared TV character in years? From its first episode to this season’s final ones (which will spread over this summer and next), this show has been gripping. The first episode of the summer doesn’t air until Sunday (7/15) but it’s not much of a stretch to say that it will be great.

– Greg Retsinas