Did you know our favorite shows from the USA Network (and a few from other networks) are referred to as “blue sky shows”? It’s true. Not because they all took place in a sunny city like Santa Barbara (hello, Psych!) or the beaches of Miami (looking at you, Burn Notice!), but because despite their focus on crime the shows were pretty lighthearted and breezy.
No graphic gore. No major angst. No rated-R sexy times. Just clever stories with compelling characters, answering those most important questions: “Whodunit?” and “Will they or won’t they?”
I understand that these shows aren’t for everyone. But if today’s prestige TV gets to be a bit much for you, I’m guessing you probably loved a USA show or two. Likewise, if you like your crime-solving to be peppered with wise-cracking, these shows are definitely your jam.
And one more thing in these shows’ favor? Even though the main character of most of them is a white man, they all had strong female characters in the main cast and most of them showed racial diversity as well.
USA Network’s blue sky shows aired for about 10 years, starting in 2002 with Monk, starring Tony Shaloub. The earliest shows almost all went on too long in my opinion (Monk got annoying by the final seasons and did anything make sense in the last season or two of Burn Notice?!), but with all the hard, stressful, and even scary things going on in our world today, I miss these easy-breezy shows!
Luckily, we can still watch them today. Thanks to Hulu and Amazon Prime, six of USA’s top shows are free to stream. That’s the kind of good news I can use right now! How about you?!
Monk – It’s a blessing…and a curse. That’s what Adrian Monk, obsessive-compulsive former police officer (and current consultant), said about his skill set. I’d say it was mostly a blessing for those of us who enjoyed this show and all the blue sky shows that came after it. FREE on Amazon Prime.
Psych – Shawn Spencer, played by James Roday, was also a consultant to the police (along with his best friend Gus, played by Dule Hill). And like Monk, the police were often less-than-enthused about that. But that’s mainly because Shawn was a fake psychic. This is my favorite USA show, and I can’t wait for the next Psych movie (supposed to come out later this year)! FREE on Amazon Prime.
White Collar – Oh, wait! THIS is my favorite USA show! (How can I choose??) Matt Bomer is Neal Caffrey, a white collar criminal who works with Peter Burke (played by Tim Dekay), FBI agent. They’re an odd couple that ends up being great friends. This show also has an excellent portrayal of marriage, rivaling even Coach and Tammy of FNL, if you ask me. Stream on Hulu.
Burn Notice – I’m not sure I can even start to summarize the plot of this twisty show. But if you like any of these things — heists, conspiracy theories, spies, justice for the underdog, character development, romance, friendship, and Florida sunshine — you’ll like this show starring Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, and Bruce Campbell. Stream on Hulu.
Covert Affairs – Like spies? And pretty people? With a little bit of romance thrown in? (Fine, maybe more than a little.) Then this one is for you. (And me. I’ve watched the whole series twice.) Stream on Hulu.
As USA’s banner shows began ending, they tried to recapture those early days of blue sky programming. Unfortunately, the later shows didn’t catch on quite as well as those first ones did.
Fairly Legal (starring Sarah Shahi), In Plain Sight (starring Mary McCormack), and Necessary Roughness (starring Callie Thorne) can all be found on Amazon, and Graceland (starring Daniel Sunjata and Aaron Tviet) can be streamed on Hulu.
TNT eventually caught on to the trend USA rode for several years and began airing its own blue sky-type shows. Rizzoli & Isles, starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander as a crime-solving detective and medical examiner who were also an odd-couple sort of friends, ran for several seasons and can be found on Hulu.
Based on a book series I really liked, King & Maxwell wasn’t so lucky (though I did like it!). It starred Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn as former Secret Service agents and current private investigators, and it’s on Amazon (but not free with Prime).
Two of my favorite TNT shows were Perception, starring Eric McCormack and Rachel Leigh Cook as a neuropsychiatrist professor and an FBI agent, and Franklin & Bash, starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer as loveable dude-bro lawyers. I know, neither one sounds riveting, but for some reason, they were! Both can be streamed on Amazon.
The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick, and Major Crimes, starring Mary McDonnell, both ran after most these other shows aired and for several seasons. I believe their audiences probably skewed a little older. I know I didn’t watch either one, although surely lots of people liked them. I guess? I don’t know, but I do know you can find them on Amazon.
Of course I can’t talk about blue sky shows without a shout-out to one of my favorite shows of all time! Starring Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski, Chuck was essentially a brother from another mother, airing on NBC instead of USA, but sharing so much in tone and topics with the cable network’s line-up. You can stream Chuck for FREE on Amazon Prime.
A couple other network shows in this same vein: the long-running though bad-ending Castle (starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic) and the short-lived though unique-premised Forever (starring Ioan Gruffudd). Both are on Amazon.
Don’t have Amazon Prime?
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