It used to be that summer television was just reruns. That changed a bit in 1985 when Dynasty, having tried for several seasons to overtake Dallas as the #1 show, decided not to have any summer reruns. Ratings for reruns of a soap were always significantly lower, so by forgoing the summer downswing, Dynasty ended up #1 that season. The following season, Dallas ditched its reruns too and leapfrogged back ahead of Dynasty.
Then, in the summer of 2000, Survivor became the hot water-cooler show and did for summer television what Jaws did for summer movies, convincing Hollywood there was money to be made in new summer shows.
Now there are dozens of returning summer series, like Big Brother, Extant, and Under the Dome on CBS; Rookie Blue on ABC; Falling Skies on TNT; The Strain and Tyrant on FX; and MTV’s Teen Wolf. The next season of Orange is The New Black is now on Netflix. Showtime gets back to Masters of Sex and Ray Donovan, while HBO’s True Detective offers an entirely new all-star cast.
Meanwhile, at TNT, Major Crimes and Rizzoli & Isles are back for either the first half of their new season or the second half of their old season (I always get confused as to which is which for shows that split their seasons).
NBC’s question this summer is whether you like your monsters real or fictional. For the latter, Hannibal is back for a third season, while Charles Manson is the Big Bad on Aquarius, which gives David Duchovny something to do while waiting for the X-Files reboot.
Both series represent a programming trend. Whether adapted from books (Game of Thrones, Dexter), comics (Walking Dead, Gotham, Arrow, The Flash), or history (Boardwalk Empire), such series can be enjoyed—in decidedly different ways—by those familiar with the original works and those blissfully ignorant of them.
Restricting ourselves to what new shows are on tap in June, here are the most intriguing possibilities:
•Dark Matter (Syfy) begins with several strangers waking up from cyro-sleep on a derelict space ship. They do not know who they are, how they got there, or where they are going. Assume there will be answers. Maybe even ones we will find out in the first season.
•Deutschland 83 (SundanceTV) offers the first German import for the small screen. Set in 1983, an East German spy is sent to West Germany to get military secrets without being seduced by the decadence of the west. Think The Americans on a smaller scale, with subtitles.
•Human (AMC) is another attempt to come up with a smart series about artificial intelligence in android form. This time around, the synthetic humans are working as menials, and there is no way this will work as well as slavery and indentured servitude, right? They got William Hurt for this one and it is co-produced by the UK’s Channel 4. At least one of those is a good sign.
•Mr. Robot (USA) is not about a robot. It is a techno-thriller about a young hacker who joins a hacker collective with an agenda is to take down powerful CEOs because they are powerful CEOs. Bonus points for a pilot directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who did the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
•Sense8 (Netflix) features eight strangers from around the globe who begin to feel what the others are feeling and start sharing skills. Just to make things interesting, they are being hunted because of the threat they present to the powers-that-be. This sci-fi drama had me at Stracyznski—it was co-created by J. Michael Stracyznski (Babylon 5).
•The Astronaut Wives Club (ABC) purports to tell the story of the Mercury 7 astronauts from the perspective of their wives. I am going to go out on a limb and say it is a good thing almost all of these people are dead and do not have to see this ground-breaking series enter the brave new world of real-life soap opera.
•The Brink (HBO) is a farce in which a major global geopolitical problem threatens the end of the world and the government tries to solve it by sending in Jack Black. This has Big Hit or Big Miss written all over it.
•The Whispers (ABC), as you know from the omnipresent ads, is about the not-so-imaginary invisible friend of a bunch of little kids in D.C. It manipulates them to do things in furtherance of some giant plan. Will we find out before the show gets cancelled? Will the payoff be worth the setup? Flip a coin, America.
•Zoo (CBS) is based on James Patterson’s novel in which animals start attacking humans (i.e., they start acting like humans). This show clearly does not aspire to be anything more than a guilty pleasure, but, hey, that can really work in the summertime.
P.S. Given that all this summer fun began with Survivor, it is interesting that The Island (NBC) is basically Survivor minus the competitions and women, plus the cameramen playing along. Fourteen average American men try to survive on a South Pacific island for 30 days. The show teaches two things: (1) average American men cannot survive in the wilderness for 30 days without strong leadership, and (2) average American men resent and resist strong leadership.