Not long ago, network television in the summer was devoted almost exclusively to reruns. That changed with the advent of Survivor (CBS), which achieved water cooler status in the summer of 2000, showing Hollywood that money could be made when school is out.
Now, while Netflix unleashes the next seasons of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, and HBO explores unwritten territory in Game of Thrones, traditional networks are having a hard time coming up with anything beyond “it is better than watching nothing.”
Lifetime has unREAL, and TNT offers up Murder in the First, both of which are better than anything you can find on the big four networks.
CBS shows like Under the Dome, Extant, and Zoo, have proven summertime is the right time for schlock—but not good schlock like The Strain on FX. The pattern is to come up with a decent premise, but never figure out how to string it along for an entire season.
CBS is obviously aware 2016 is an election year. BrainDead, from the creators of The Good Wife, suggests ideological extremism in politicians is caused by alien critters taking over their brains. But the show otherwise lacks the bite of a decent zinger on SNL’s “Weekend Update.” Plus, with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, BrainDead is guaranteed to never be as outrageous as the real world it is trying to satirize.
American Gothic (CBS) wraps mayoral politics around a murder mystery, when the patriarch of a rich Boston family dies, and evidence suggests he may have been an infamous serial killer. If not, then the rest of the Hawthorne clan are likely suspects. The problem is there was nothing in the pilot that was half as good a hook as the “somebody’s at the door” that creeped us out in the 1995 CBS series of the same name.
You want a horror series with a hook? Check out the Canadian limited series Slasher on Netflix. The show owes as much to Agatha Christie as John Carpenter, and its bloody opening has a moment that made me gasp out loud. The killings are not on the level of Lifetime’s The Lizzie Borden Chronicles in terms of black comedy, but they have their share of tongue-in-cheek moments.
Basic cable offerings are headed for the dark side. Animal Kingdom (TNT), based on an Australian movie, takes a teenage boy whose mother has died and drops him in with relatives who are up to no good.
The cast includes Ellen Barkin and Scott Speedman, which is sort of a recommendation, but the characters are all dark and the guys are all disposed to walking around shirtless. Clearly, I am not this show’s target audience.
Feed the Beast (AMC) offers tantalizing casting, with David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess as best buds struggling to open their own restaurant. This one is based on a Danish show, Bankerot, which will probably be available for streaming on this side of the pond sooner or later.
Schwimmer’s performance as a widower whose son stopped talking after his mother was murdered in front of him is the finest of his career. Sturgess’ character is in with the mob, and the show makes it clear happy moments will be few and far between. Now if only they would stop airing the promo with Schwimmer slipping back into Ross mode half a dozen times every episode.
For lighter fare, there is Roadies (Showtime), a look at the life of crewmembers on a big (faux) band tour. This is the brain child of Cameron Crowe, which should be a good sign, but the pilot crammed way too much into the first episode for a series on premium cable, and is therefore not in danger of being summarily cancelled when the ratings prove insufficient.
Wrecked (TBS) is not exactly Lost as written by the crew that brought you Airplane!, but it is a step in that direction. Lost fans will find more to laugh at, but the characters are nowhere near likable and creators Jordan and Justin Shipley have a knack for different avenues of humor (e.g., trying to get a satellite phone to work).
Finally, if ever there were the title of a television series that would persuade you to watch it, Ride with Norman Reedus (AMC) would have to be it. If the show succeeds, expect exciting spinoffs like Eat with Norman Reedus, Mow with Norman Reedus, and, of course, the inevitable Sleep with Norman Reedus. Ka-ching!
P.S Nashville is being resurrected by CMT, although the cast will be slimmed down. The characters of Luke Wheeler and Layla Grant are out, but the fates of Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes and that missing plane are still up in the air.
The only reason I am not screaming to put the stake back in this corpse is that word has it Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (the tag-team that brought us thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, and Once and Again) are supposed to take over running the show. Herskovitz and Zwick are on a level with Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon, and Amy Sherman-Palladino. Hell, I would go back to watching Wayward Pines if anyone on that list lost their last shreds of dignity and starting writing it.