Summer used to be boring — at least when it came to TV. Not anymore. Oh, don’t misunderstand, it’s still nothing compared to the absolute barrage of new shows, ratings juggernauts, and critical darlings that will be reappearing come September (The Good Place, I miss you, come back), but the era in which the lazy days of May through August meant nothing but syndicated chestnuts and the odd series someone needed to dump are long gone. Last summer we got some unexpected gems. This summer, there’s no shortage of good, exciting stuff.
What’s perhaps most striking about the list of shows you’re about to ease on down is this: this is an extremely partial selection. In the interest of not dishing up 16,000 words, we cut reliable shows like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, gentle beauties like the PBS/BBC co-produced Little Women miniseries, the Amy Adams-starring Gillian Flynn adaptation Sharp Objects, which as of yet lacks a release date, and the Duplass brothers’ follow-up to Wild Wild Country. And that list of things we omitted? It omitted some things.
It may seem like a lot, and it is. But compared to what’s a-comin’ this fall, it’s child’s play. Take advantage of the air-conditioning and try something you might never check out otherwise. You’ve got time — sort of.
Premiere: May 6th on Starz
As fellow Chicagoans, there’s no way we were missing anything created by Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho (also of How to Get Away with Murder and Looking), but our enthusiasm for Saracho’s first series as showrunner isn’t only a matter of hometown loyalty. Vida centers on Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera), Mexican-American sisters who’ve left their community in East Los Angeles far behind and whose emotional distance has only been sharpened by the physical distance. When their mother, Vida, dies, she leaves behind a bar, unanswered questions, and a “roommate” who, as it turns out, is actually her wife. Saracho and her writers’ room (staffed entirely by Latinx writers) use that twisty family tension as a jumping-off point for the exploration of gentrification, sexuality, family, identity, classism, and other light topics. Prada and Barrera are well up to tackling anything that these tight, smart scripts throw at them, turning in a pair of remarkable central performances that promise to get even better with time. In short: it’s great. Watch it. –Allison Shoemaker
Premiere: May 12th on Showtime
In his latest televised adventure, Benedict Cumberbatch plays a self-loathing, highly intelligent, drug-addicted member of Great Britain’s aristocratic class in an adaptation of a celebrated book series. Before you preemptively roll your eyes, it’s not the return of Sherlock. Instead, Cumberbatch stars in Patrick Melrose, the highly-anticipated adaptation of Edward St. Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical novels, which the star is also producing (alongside Rachael Horovitz). The Internet may have well and truly played out every possible joke about the Cumberbatch name, but while we’re tired of the yuks, no one in their right mind should be tired of the actor, whose thoughtful, often viscerally charged performances are reliably gripping. Throw in a cast that includes Hugo Weaving (as Patrick’s abusive father), Jennifer Jason Leigh (as his indifferent mother), Blythe Danner, and Allison Williams, and you’ve got all the makings of a barnburner. –Allison Shoemaker
Premiere: May 19th on HBO
Everything about HBO’s forthcoming adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s legendary 1953 novel checks out. Michael B. Jordan? Check. Michael Shannon? Check. 99 Homes director Ramin Bahrani? Check. These are all positives. Sure, some purists might bemoan the idea that this is another remake from Hollywood and that it’s sacrilegious to François Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation, but c’mon. It’s been over 50 years since that movie, and in a world as stupid as ours, we can only be so lucky to have something this smart and rich and exciting. Though, that may explain why we’re getting a brainy blockbuster production such as this on HBO and not in our local theaters. Whatever. We don’t have to deal with the morons on their cellphones. Throw those into the fire! –Michael Roffman
Royal Wedding with Cord and Tish
Premiere: May 19th on HBO
Excitement for the royal wedding is at a fever pitch, with the pending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle creating a stir stateside as well as across the pond. HBO is getting in on the action with a live two-hour special hosted by legendary broadcasters Cord Hosenback (Will Ferrell) and Tish Cattigan (Molly Shannon), who are best known for their yearly [coverage of the Rose Parade]. Joining them for the special is their favorite man-on-the-street reporter, SNL alum Tim Meadows, and other guests are slated to appear as well. The special is being produced by Funny or Die and for those who wind up sleeping through their alarms that Saturday morning, HBO will be re-airing the special in primetime, starting at 9:45pm ET. –Kate Kulzick
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Premiere: May 25th on Amazon
Despite not being a horror film in the conventional sense, Peter Weir’s 1975 Australian film Picnic at Hanging Rock, adapted from the Joan Lindsey novel of the same name, is one of the scariest movies you’ll ever see – a harrowing period tale of existential mystery and lingering adolescent sexual tension set against a desolate Australian backdrop. Now, Australian channel Foxtel is remaking it into a six-part miniseries starring Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer – it’s an inspired choice to cast her as headmistress Mrs. Appleyard, given her expertise at playing complicated women advancing themselves within restrictive social structures. Early photos look promising, with glimpses of gorgeous pastoral settings and my god those costumes; all reports indicate this should be a worthy successor to Weir’s unrelentingly haunting film and the book that inspired it. –Clint Worthington