Summertime used to be a dead zone for television programming.
May sweeps would end, studios would pack it in for a summer break and odd sports like bowling, would have their time to shine.
Today, summer is a competitive television season. Some of the best shows released all year can be found during the hazy, lazy days of July and August.
Here are four can’t miss summer shows … and three to avoid …
Shows to Watch
- Stranger Things (Netflix) — The buzz this show has generated since its early July release has been intense. Yes, it’s that good. “Stranger Things” captures all the best of the ’80s (“ET,” “Aliens,” “Poltergeist,” “The Shining,” “Firestarter,” et. all) and yet feels completely new and exciting. The Duffer brothers, the creative duo behind the project, have worked magic with this limited series. You’ll be bummed when you have to leave it after just eight episodes. More is likely on the way.
- The Night Of (HBO) — Lost in the buzz around “Stranger Things” HBO’s newest drama is worth every bit of your attention. Like that Netflix series, “The Night Of” is just eight episodes. Stateside producers are realizing what the BBC has long known … good things can come in small packages. Four episodes in, and I can’t get enough of this show. “Orange Is The New Black” brought prison reform to mind, but you will want to engage in prison reform after watching this riveting drama. John Turturro is so good as a bottom-feeding attorney in the New York criminal justice system that he’s a shoe in for an Emmy nod. There’s this thing with his character’s ongoing struggle with eczema on his feet that is the perfect meta take on the U.S. system of justice: it’s painful, unsightly, shameful and something we keep trying to “treat” but can’t seem to fix.
- Vice Principals (HBO) — This is political satire at its very best, a meta statement on the Obama presidency. Like the similarly dark “Election” with the brilliant Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, the show is set in a U.S. high school as a stand in for a much larger national stage. As below, so above. I’m a huge fan of stars Danny McBride and Walton Goggins. I admit, after the first episode, I hated both their characters. Like HBO’s “Girls,” you’re not meant to like them or cheer them on unless you’re kinda sick in the head. When I clued into the larger satire I absolutely fell in love with this show.
- Peaky Blinders (Netflix) — I’m late on the “Peaky Blinders” bandwagon but I don’t care. I’ll get on my roof with a giant banner that says “Watch Peaky Blinders!” and get a “Peaky Blinders” haircut to show allegiance to this brilliant bit of television. Netflix began featuring the show’s third season in late May. I loved the underrated “Manhattan” and enjoy the ongoing spy spoof “Archer.” Both make me look up references online while watching the show. These are shows built for our multi-device television watching pleasure, to be sure. With “Peaky Blinders” I’ve looked up Battle of the Somme, Battle of Verdun, and Battle of Ypres. As well as “Tokyo” and Winston Churchill’s early years. Seriously, history buffs will love this show. Even if you don’t track our past, there’s much to admire in the crime empire building show. Think “Sopranos” meets Dan Carlin’s podcast, meets “Downton Abbey” and you have an idea of how good this show really is.
Shows to Avoid
- Roadies (Showtime) — I really wanted to like this show. I really did. I admire almost everything Cameron Crow has done. “Almost Famous,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Vanilla Sky” have stood the test of time. Yet “Roadies” just doesn’t grab me. The journey of ingénue Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots) and the two bickering leads Bill (Luke Wilson) and Shelli (Carla Gugino) just isn’t enough to capture my attention, let alone keep it. It’s a shame because Gugino is an amazing actress and deserves better material than what she’s had so far in – “Californication” “San Andreas” and now“Roadies.” I’ve always liked Wilson, but his character is too miserable to enjoy. I like the “Song of the Day” which is a brief musical interlude in every show, and Ron White actually chews up the scenery. I had no idea how good White can be, as I’m not a fan of his comedy. His television presence came completely as a shock to me. “Roadies” is better than HBO’s foray into rock n’ roll TV with “Vinyl,” but still not worth the investment.
- Ballers (HBO) — I know I’m going against the show’s mass appeal, but it really is a mess. It’s trying to tell a business story similar to the far better “House of Lies” and yet trundles into “Californication’s” worst tendencies – mindless boob shots and characters so misogynistic that even Andrew Dice Clay might complain. I get that Dwayne Johnson is cool and he’s a really good actor. His comedic co-star Rod Corddry is so solid, too, but the show itself is unbearable. It careens so fast from story line to story line that I end up caring about none of it. I’m sure the British version of “Ballers” is better. It focuses more on the wives of professional soccer players. Maybe I’ll give that a try as the summer winds down.
- Feed the Beast (AMC) — There has been so much written about how bad this show is that I almost didn’t mention it here. It really is so awful and so unintentionally funny that in case you’re channel surfing and think to yourself, “I’ll give it a go!” don’t! As a rule of thumb, If the best part of your show is David Schwimmer (and he seems to be the only one invested in this hot mess) then you’re in deep trouble.
Photo Credits: Fred Norris/HBO’s “Vice Principals.” Jeff Daly/HBO’s “Ballers.”