Summer television was never supposed to be a beach distraction. It was a testing ground for shows about nothing. A graveyard for shows without ambition. The season of King of Queens and Friends reruns.
That’s all changing quickly as the major networks hide underappreciated shows like Hannibal in the summer, and hungry cable networks spot an opportunity for their prestige dramas to stand out, like USA Network’s breakout hit of last summer, Mr. Robot. The streaming services run on their own schedule, so you know quality content is coming year-around.
We’re not going out on a limb when we say this could be the most anticipated summer television slate ever. Netflix, Hulu, AMC and even ESPN are warming us up to the idea that streaming at the beach is a worthwhile use of our cellular data.
Let’s take a look at our staff picks for Summer TV shows we’ll be watching…
– Chris Longo
Grace and Frankie
Not since The Golden Girls have seniors been really given a chance to be more than the cranky elder who makes wisecracks at their family member’s expense. But last summer Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman gave the world Grace and Frankie.
Starring dynamic duo Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie follows two former rivals who band together after their husbands leave them for each other. All of the stars — Tomlin, Fonda, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston — are over the age of 70. And all of them are doing things 70 year olds typically don’t do on TV: have sex, do drugs and be the focus — rather than the comedic side component — of the show. It’s a show that helps combat the rampant ageism on TV.
While Sheen and Waterston fall quite flat in terms of their comedic chops and chemistry, Tomlin and Fonda are better than ever. Their supreme hilarity and commanding presences remind us why we have been obsessed with them since 9 to 5. Tomlin’s Frankie has all of the outrageous lines (“I gained another pound today, but I think it’s a pound of knowledge”) and Fonda’s Grace is as sharp and as biting as anyone could aspire to be. Even beyond the iconic four stars, June Diane Raphael is another comedic standout as Brianna, Grace’s daughter and the resident — but not stereotypical — relatable younger character. The show can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes, but when it shines, it shines so brightly.
You owe it to yourself to watch Jane Fonda yell about how she wants to sit on Ryan Gosling’s face.
The second season of Grace and Frankie is now available on Netflix.
– Meryl Gottlieb
Back in the ‘90s, the path to getting a sitcom was pretty clear: kill it on the stand up comedy scene for awhile, make an appearance on the Tonight Show or Late Night, then get a deal with NBC or another network. Also probably be white and male.
Now after 15-some years of stand up comedy wilderness, it looks like an updated version of that model may be making a comeback. Netflix, being the all-consuming behemoth, is gobbling up stand up comics to make new sitcoms at a rate we haven’t seen since the NBC days of yore. Aziz Ansari and Bill Burr both got shots at making hilarious, interesting content last year and now it’s Maria Bamford’s turn.
Bamford has been plugging away as a stand up comic for years and after being the best part of the much-maligned fourth season of Arrested Development, she’s getting a shot at creating her own show through Netflix, which billed it as “the true story of a woman who loses — and then finds — her shit.” The semi-autobiographical 12-episode series hits Netflix on May 20.
– Alec Bojalad
Jesse Custer isn’t your average holy man. He smokes. He loves his whiskey. His best friend is an Irish vampire. He also has demons—literally.
Possessed by Genesis, a paranormal entity that gives him unearthly powers both sacred and profane, the brooding reverend sets off on a twisty and often dangerous journey to confront God. The road to the Heavenly Father is paved with thorns and soaked in blood. From fallen angels to serial killers to a government conspiracy and everything in between, Custer encounters a series of memorable characters that test his convictions about good and evil. You could say he survives fire and brimstone rather than preaching it.
Horror fans will especially look forward to TV’s newest possession saga in this comic book adaptation from writing partners Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. It promises to be tumultuous. Expect strange phenomena, supernatural strength and the preternatural power to compel anyone to obey rather than rolling eyes and unnaturally spinning heads. This half-breed offspring of an angel and a demon is a mashup of good and evil which is possibly even more powerful than the supreme being Himself (which may explain why God abandoned Heaven the moment it was spawned). Meaning, minds will be blown.
We have a feeling we’re gong to worship this series.
Preacher premieres on Sunday, May 22 at 10:00 p.m. on AMC.
– Elizabeth Rayne
Bloodline, the dark Netflix family drama from the creators of Damages, arrived on the streaming service last year quietly. The critical acclaim was there, but it seemed to be a sleeper with audiences. It’s hard to understand why; the cast is packed with some of the finest working actors around, like Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men), and Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises), who gives a spellbinding performance as the black sheep in a family trying to hide their messy past, and the show has a great look, helped by the enticing Florida scenery that warms you up to the cold familial dynamics at play.
Last season ended with a shocking cliffhanger (no spoilers here) that left many fans wondering just where this show could go. But co-creators Daniel Zelman, Glenn Kessler, and Todd A. Kessler have assured fans that there are plenty more skeletons in the Rayburn family closet and that season two will buck the first outing’s measured pacing for a more intense, thrilling installment that will push this family into deeper, stranger waters.
The second season of Bloodline hits Netflix on May 27.
– Nick Harley
That Robert Kirkman guy sure knows how to get his horror comics done right on cable television, doesn’t he? The Walking Dead continues to scare up absurd ratings on Sunday nights, and now Cinemax is going to look for Friday night success with a different Kirkman adaptation, Outcast.
But Outcast deals with a very different kind of horror: demonic possession. The scares in Outcast don’t look like they’re going to be of the post-apocalyptic gross-out variety this time around. Instead, expect a spookier more psychological take on things.
Outcast arrives on Cinemax on June 3rd.
Feed the Beast
After making a television comeback this year on American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson and gaining high marks from critics, David Schwimmer is set to return to TV sets again this year on AMC’s Feed the Beast. Co-starring with Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21), Feed the Beast, part food porn, part hardboiled crime drama, centers on Schwimmer as Tommy, a Greek restaurant owner who gets caught up in mob dealings and the ruthless world of the NYC food industry.
The series, which was adapted from a popular Danish series, also stars Michael Gladis (Mad Men) as an intimidating mobster, Christine Adams (Batman Begins) as Tommy’s deceased wife, and Lorenza Izzo (The Green Inferno) as a potential love interest.
Feed the Beast debuts Sunday June 5th at 10:00 p.m. on AMC.
– Nick Harley
This Peabody award-winning drama about what happens behind-the-scenes of a reality dating competition show has put Lifetime on the map as a place for high-quality original content. Whether you’re a fan of The Bachelor or not, UnReal is a must-watch for its subversive themes, its complicated feminism, and its morally ambiguous main characters.
Speaking of which, both Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby are back for a second season of behind-the-scenes machinations as Quinn and Rachel. Both actresses turned in career-highlight performances as producers who will do almost anything to manufacture drama in front of the camera — emotionally manipulating, lying, and regularly ruining the lives of their female contestants if it means better ratings. They are both victims and perpetrators of society’s treatment of women.
In its first season, UnReal was one of the most consistently surprising, best written, and totally refreshing shows on television. If the second season can keep its unsettling drama grounded in character-driven angst, I don’t see that changing.
UnReal season 2 premieres June 6th at 10:00 p.m. on Lifetime.
– Kayti Burt
O.J.: Made in America
More than 20 years after “The Trial of the Century,” the story of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial is having a moment. American Crime Story; The People V. O.J. Simpson just absolutely killed it (no pun intended) over 10 brilliant episodes on FX earlier this year.
Now ESPN’s 30 for 30 franchise will be taking a stab (Oh God, I swear all these murder puns are unintentional) at the story with an 8-part documentary series to air on ABC and ESPN starting June 11.
While The People V. O.J. Simpson focused on the trial, itself, O.J.: Made in America will instead explore the themes of race and celebrity surrounding the case. The buzz for this thing is beginning to reach absolutely deafening levels. The usually hyperbole-adverse writer and cultural critic Chuck Klosterman has described it as the “greatest thing ESPN has ever produced. I almost can’t believe how revelatory it is.” Sign us up, Chuck.
– Alec Bojalad
Not to be confused with the famous (and sometimes infamous) Grant Wood painting, Corinne Brinkerhoff’s new whodunnit American Gothic will put a chill in your summer, no AC required. Fear not—it’s completely unrelated to the tragically short-lived 1995 series of the same name.
After the too-sudden death of their patriarch, a Boston elite family unravels a shocking secret when they find out that he is the latest in a suspicious series of murders. Unraveling the secret further reveals that the slaughter has gone on for decades. Behind mansion doors, speculation mounts that one of their own may have been the killer’s accomplice. They desperately struggle to piece their reputation back together even as bloodstained hands threaten to tear it apart.
With potentially as many twists and turns as the cavernous halls of the Hawthorne manor, American Gothic could bring the kind of suspense that have you obsessed with unraveling the identity of the Silver Bells Killer more and more with each episode.
American Gothic premieres on June 22nd at 10:00 p.m. on CBS.
– Elizabeth Rayne
Killjoys might not be doing anything particularly new as a science fiction show, but a relative lack of originality is not going to keep us away from a show about space bounty hunters. The show could have faded into the obscurity of the seen-it-before TV pile, if not for its impressive world-building, consistent characterization, and hilarious one-liners. (The show is from Lost Girl creator Michelle Lovretta, and has the same quippy, Joss Whedon-esque humor.)
Killjoys also benefits from keeping its character focus tight on a main trio: Dutch, John, and D’avin. Though there are other recurring, important characters, it is the respective relationships between these three that drives much of the emotional tension. Dutch and John are best friends. John and D’avin are quasi-estranged brothers. And Dutch and D’avin are in some kind of complicated romantic (or at least sexual) relationship. It’s all deliciously complicated, but doesn’t distract from the undercover missions and space battles.
When it comes to setting, the world and culture of The Quad is grounded in an exploration of socio-economic disparity. The Quad is ruled by an elite few who live apart from the people and worlds they exploit. At the end of season one, class tensions came to an explosive head. Paired with the kidnapping of one of the show’s central trio and the tease of a reveal in relation to the killjoy program’s mysterious Level 6, season one ended on a heck of a cliffhanger. We can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Killjoys season 2 premieres July 1st at 9 p.m. on Syfy.
– Kayti Burt
Hulu’s original series Difficult People is insult comedy in narrative form, a dirty little show about get-famous-at-any-cost narcissistic self-loathers played by creator Julie Kessler and street interviewer virtuoso Billy Eichner.
Julie and Billy might be down-on-their luck New York actors aspiring to hit it big, but when they get together they radiate with confidence. It’s a fun dynamic, but Difficult People is like chewing on pop culture candy — sweet, sometimes sour, and always guilt-inducing. Much like Eichner’s Billy on the Street or his memorable appearances on Parks and Recreation, watching this man shout at people is the perfect remedy for a bad day.
If you’re just hearing about this show now, come for the banter, and keeping coming back to see what guests Julie and Billy will play off. Kate McKinnon, Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, and Amy Sedaris stopped by for memorable roles in season one. This season, Hamilton superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nathan Lane, amongst others, are set to show up.
Difficult People season 2 drops on July 12th on Hulu.
– Chris Longo
It’s been a rough year for cliffhangers on television. Just ask The Walking Dead fans how they feel about cliffhangers after they eventually wake up from their rage comas. Credit, Mr. Robot then for doing a cliffhanger right last year.
Mr. Robot season 1 was an excellent debut season for the young drama and told a compelling, shockingly complete story. How many shows completely dismantle the world economy in their first season and then have the audacity to come back for a second? I can’t believe there’s more!
Thankfully, there is more to the story of Elliot Alderson and there are many questions yet to be answered. Chief among them: Who is knocking on that damn door?
Mr. Robot returns on Wednesday, July 13th at 10:00 p.m. on USA Network.
– Alec Bojalad
Leave the lights on, because the paranormal thriller Stranger Things might keep you wide-awake for a while. If you’re an 80s kid, mystery maven, hardcore horror fan, or a hybrid of all three, get ready to stay up till dawn.
When a young boy vanishes into the night, it shakes a sleepy 1980s-era Indiana town. The search for him goes from unnerving to bizarre and even perilous. Wynona Rider, as his panicked mother Joyce, joins forces with police and an unlikely hero of a best friend to venture into a whirlwind of unearthly forces, unspeakable government experiments and the creepiest little girl since The Ring.
Netflix is keeping the series as mysterious as the forces behind the kidnapping, but we can guess that anything from the brother duo who wrote and directed the mystery/sci-fi thriller Wayward Pines will be just as tenebrous and terrifying. I expect gripping plotlines, explosive secrets and freeze-in-your seat suspense that will have you glancing twice over your shoulder after dusk.
The first season of Stranger Things will be available on Netflix on July 15.
– Elizabeth Rayne
Danny McBride slayed us all here at Den of Geek on HBO’s Eastbound and Down, playing hard partying, King Shit of Fuck Mountain, former MLB pitcher Kenny Powers. In the first season of that series, McBride played a gym teacher, and watching the foul-mouthed, power-tripping Powers deal with young, growing minds supplied hilarious comedic material.
Someone at HBO certainly agreed, because McBride is back at the network with Eastbound co-creator Jody Hill for Vice Principals, where McBride will wage war against Walter Goggins as co-Vice Principals of a high school, with both men jockeying for control of the school. Goggins is best known for his serious roles in Django Unchained and Justified, but fans of those projects certainly can acknowledge that he has plenty of untapped comedic potential. We have high-hopes for this new half-hour comedy, and you will too after one watch of the trailer for the upcoming series which premieres in July on HBO.
– Nick Harley