True TV | A Torrent Affair: Illegal downloading: The new TiVo. 

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The biggest TV hits of the summer (in relative terms; June-August viewership is always low, even if you can’t afford gas to get away from the tube) were crap, shows your grandparents and slower officemates just looove: America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance? and Wipeout on the reality side; Criminal Minds, 60 Minutes and Two & a Half Men reruns on the scripted tip.

The Beijing Summer Olympic Games and the Democratic National Convention made dents last month, but they were on every damn channel all the damn time—how could they damn not?

But elsewhere, the summer TV hot list looked very different: Showtime’s Weeds, BBC’s Top Gear, Sci-Fi’s Stargate Atlantis, AMC’s Mad Men and USA’s Burn Notice were all fixtures in the Top 10. Not exactly a Season Pass roster for geezers and pinheads (with the possible exception of Stargate Atlantis, anyway). Must be some esoteric, oddly metered rung of the Nielsen ratings, the 14 of you who care about such matters are probably thinking.

Wrong-o! They’re the most-downloaded TV shows—actually, “files”—from various BitTorrent Internet sites around the world, as compiled by TorrentFreak.com. They may not have much regard for things like “copyright law” and “bandwidth,” but these downloaders are obviously a far more discerning and intelligent lot than traditional TV viewers. I don’t see a Big Brother or a Greatest American Dog (arguably the same CBS reality series) in any of TorrentFreak’s weekly Top 10 lists of the past summer.

Top Gear, the only nonscripted nondrama of the list, held the No. 1 slot for weeks likely because it was uploads of the original BBC first run, not the chopped-up BBC America version that ran in months-delayed repeats. Oh, and because It’s! Awesome! The fact that no one, especially not Torrent pirates who won’t even spring for cable, can afford any of those cars is beside the point: It’s about immediacy. And awesome, unaffordable rides, but mostly immediacy.

Instead of joining the whining ranks of the “I’m waiting for the DVD! Don’t tell me anything! La-la-la-la!” crowd who’ll maybe see this stuff next year (if we’re lucky), downloaders are allowing the pop-cultural dialogue to continue unabated. Of course, they’re also stealing content, but as TorrentFreak points out constantly, “The entertainment industry should learn how to embrace technology and compete with piracy, instead of fighting its customers. The rise of illegal downloading is a signal that customers want something that is not available through other channels, it’s more about availability than the fact that it’s free, as illustrated by the huge number of downloads TV shows have.”

How huge? Last year’s most pirated series according to TorrentFreak, Heroes (available for free on NBC), was downloaded nearly 2.5 million times. Last week’s season premiere of Prison Break (available for free on Fox and Hulu.com) debuted at No. 1 this week with 1 million downloads.

Prison Break knocked off Weeds, which had just finally unseated Top Gear after spending the summer at No. 2. If the Monday, Sept. 15, season finale of Weeds (not available for free on Showtime) doesn’t put Mary-Louise Parker back on top, I’m going to seriously question the aforementioned smarts of Torrenters. (Prison Break? Really?)

Season 4 of Weeds began with one of the ballsiest moves an established series can make: Changing locales and mindset, not to mention a beloved theme song (even though “Little Boxes” had to go before, say, Katy Perry got a turn at fucking it up). It paid off; this season has been the most exhilaratingly unpredictable and fun 12 episodes since the first. Parker is better than ever, shifting from Mexican-border pot mule to storefront façade to Tijuana drug-kingpin moll with nary a blink. And Andy (Justin Kirk) and Doug (Kevin Nealon) joining the Minutemen in order to help illegals across the border? Genius!

Sure, one-time show-stealer Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) has been reduced to a loopy cartoon frenemy, and the kids’ storylines have become plain creepy (three-ways, MILFs and cheese, oh my!), but Weeds’ fourth season is still a bold reinvention. I’d even go so far as to say, worth pirating … if I advocated that sort of thing.

DVD

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Chuck: Season 1
Box-store techie Chuck (Zachary Levi) accidentally downloads all the government’s secrets into his brain; mucho geek exposition and sexy-wacky spy action ensue. The one with the monsters and the devil was Reaper—we clear?
(WarnerBros.com)

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Dirty Sexy Money: Season 1
It’s Arrested Development as a drama! And they’re still rich! And still on the air. Dirty Sexy Money lives up to its title and has enough buried back story and intrigue to fill up several seasons. So ABC will probably cancel it after the next. (ABC.com)

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Duckman: Seasons 1 & 2
Finally! It only took 10 years. The animated cable series about an anger-prone private-eye duck (Jason Alexander) and his deadpan pig partner Cornfed was arguably the meta-Family Guy, only smarter and waaay darker. Rants ahoy! (Paramount.com)

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Glenn Beck: Unelectable
The only (intentionally) funny LDS talk-radio host in the country takes his raging conservative act to the stage, skewering today’s ’Merica, pantywaist liberals and a royally effdup campaign season. And yes, his head really is that big. (GlennBeck.com)

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Pushing Daisies: Season 1
The wonderfully weird ABC series about a pie maker who brings his childhood love back from the dead but can never touch her again or she’ll die for good. There are also new mysteries every week, just to keep things TV-normal. (WarnerBros.com)

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More New DVD Releases (Sept. 16) The Babysitters, Criminal Minds: Season 3, The Love Guru, Made of Honor, Never Cry Werewolf, Noise, Private Practice: Season 1, Snow Angels, Speed Racer, They Wait, Torchwood: Season 2, Will & Grace: Season 8, Young @ Heart

Listen to Bill Mondays at 8 a.m. on X96’s Radio From Hell. Deadpan pig blogging at BillFrost.tv. Even more True TV linkage at MySpace.com/TrueTV and on Facebook.

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