It’s mid-Summer, which means: scarce TV (which in the age of peak TV, actually isn’t that scarce). So: trash TV, trash TV masquerading as prestige TV, and comedies. Oh, and Game of Thrones. And a drama series adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon. So…actually, every kind of TV. While it might not be bloated with high-end drama premieres that you’ll see in fall, the manageable amount of series to watch across genres (some, like the Duplass Brothers’ Room 104, that themselves transcend genre from episode to episode) goes to show that even during the most escapist months of the year filled with the most notoriously bad programming, intriguing TV is inescapable. Here’s what we’re looking forward to.
7/8: Tour de Pharmacy (HBO)
Because of the Fourth of July and such, this is a particularly bare week as far as TV premieres go — and Tour de Pharmacy, the Andy Samberg-starring follow-up to HBO sports mockumentary 7 Days in Hell, is perhaps this week’s most enticing TV event. “Winning was in their blood,” announces the trailer, speaking in amusingly uncomfortable double entendre to the theme — yes, doping — of this half-feature-length film. With Danny Glover, Will Forte, Jeff Goldblum, Maya Rudolph, Daveed Diggs, James Marsden…and baggage-carrying sports figures Mike Tyson and (the even baggage-ier, given the subject) Lance Armstrong all making appearances, this Christopher Guest on (literal) steroids…thing created by Murray Miller and Samberg sounds like compulsory, low-stakes (it’s a 45 minute one-off!) viewing.
7/10: Will (TNT)
If Shakespeare in Love was a bit too vanilla for your tastes, this TNT dramatization of a very salacious version of the life of William Shakespeare looks like it’s somehow trying to not only court the theater nerds, but also Game of Thrones enthusiasts with its British gangstas-of-yore vibes. “Money… power… greatness… you see, it’s all just theater,” says Shakespeare’s rival, Christopher Marlowe, in the trailer, which takes pains to show that it’ll play up the action of… being an Elizabethan playwright. You may not be surprised to find that it was created by Craig Pearce, who co-wrote Romeo + Juliet (and Moulin Rouge, and The Great Gatsby) with Baz Luhrman. The thing is, Romeo + Juliet, while ridiculous, was also fucking awesome.
7/12: I’m Sorry (truTV)
Ah, another semi-autobiographical slice of life TV comedy series from a comedian about a comedy writer. Though this mold certainly has gotten tired, and though I’m Sorry looks like it does little to break from or experiment with it (beyond not having it center around a kvetchy male comedian), this structure also certainly provides a pretty casual space for jokes to organically arise, and for certain comedians’ personalities to go to all of their best, most cynical places. This doesn’t look like the place to turn if you’re looking for memorable TV innovation, but if you want some amusing inter-generational jokes about tea-bagging and the awkward aspects of motherhood (like when your kid asks about whether your vagina is still “big” from giving birth), here’s this.
7/12 — Friends From College (Netflix)
Friends From College looks like pleasant summer viewing — 40-somethings with nice apartments and graduated-from-Harvard-20-years-ago jobs regressing to late-teenage levels of immaturity while hanging out with/occasionally fucking their buds from college. This might sound like a dull premise if it weren’t for its Keegan-Michael Key and Cobie Smulders as its leads, and Billy Eichner and Kate McKinnon as other characters who look like they pop up from time to time to make sure you’re still watching. Again, thin, lighthearted premises coupled with easy laughs are kind of the traditional fare of the season — plus, one of its creators is Neighbors writer/director Nicholas Stoller — so we already know he can mine humor from midlife regression.
7/16: Game of Thrones (HBO)
What would’ve happened to me if I didn’t include this on this list?
7/21: Ozark (Netflix)
Ozark’s first trailers have been compelling and dark. (Literally dark — it’s a thing with TV dramas that want to immediately proclaim gravity-as-quality.) Its cast — Jason Bateman (who also directs) and Laura Linney — is great. Its creator… wrote The Accountant… and The Judge… which could very understandably stifle any optimism about this cynical series. That said, the fact that Ozark takes its name from a region and not a stiff job title could maybe (??) be a good sign (if you’re really hunting for them.) Bateman plays a financial analyst who gets caught up in a lot of… shady financial analyst stuff . He has to abruptly move with his wife (an ex-political campaign advisor) and children to the Lake of the Ozarks, where there’s even more shady stuff going on. Any TV series that gives Laura Linney a platform to Linnify is worth checking out, so I know I’ll be there to at least see what the deal is with the perpetually blue-lit bleakness on July 21.
7/23 — Insecure (HBO)
Issa finds herself in the abyss of the dating pool at the beginning of Insecure’s second season, missing Lawrence following her affair and the ensuing massive power shift in the dynamic of their relationship — so massive, in fact, that they’re no longer even in a relationship. Even with the distractions of her “We Got Y’all” job and her social life — and all of the lame dates — she’s still, as the trailer above shows, longing for Lawrence, particularly now that he has his shit so seemingly together. Molly, meanwhile, discovers that her white male coworker is making more money she is, and grapples with being slighted as a black woman even after rising to the top of the capitalist professional ladder. And as in Season 1, the show is all the more gut-bustingly funny because of its intimate and incisive explorations of these types of romantic and professional setbacks.
7/24 — Midnight, Texas (NBC)
Imagine True Blood, but on network television. So the same amount of stupidly fit bodies sexing, only less graphically, and the same amount of special effects, only worse, and just as many superhuman beings and just as much amusing fantasy body horror. (In the trailer, for instance, a corpse follows the main character around while gushing corpse juice at the mouth.) Which is to say, this new show based on Charlaine Harris’ series of the same name looks like absolute garbage, and also looks fun. As in True Blood, psychics, witches, vampires, and other such things (but seemingly no fairies) abound.
7/28 — Room 104 (HBO)
This one is still a ways away, and I don’t want to reveal too much, but I will say that the first episode of Room 104 is far more unsettling than anything you might have seen in American Horror Story: Hotel. Hotel/motel rooms are wonderfully rife, falsely blank spaces — carrying a certain odd and unknown history with them even as they masquerade as neutral. This series’ format, an anthology series that changes characters and even genre episode by episode, is the perfect way of demonstrating that. Working with a great cast, the Duplass brothers and the directors they’ve enlisted create a bundle of short plays that happen to be on TV — episodes of television that don’t rely on leaps from location to location (but that aren’t multi-cam sitcoms, either), but rather just on characters existing and unraveling themselves for us within a confined space and time. There may be a strict spacial constraint imposed on this series, but that just better frames the limitless potential for human weirdness within it.
7/28: The Last Tycoon (Amazon)
The last big, glitzy adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel — Baz Luhrmann’s absurd Cirque du Gatsby — was too big and too glitzy for its own good. From Captain Philips screenwriter/Shattered Glass writer/director Billy Ray, this Matt Bomer, Lily Collins, and Kelsey Grammer-starring adaptation of Fitzgerald’s final, unfinished novel looks to be a bit more palatable. The danger: by adapting it to the screen, it turns the novel into yet another Hollywood-looking-at-Hollywood’s-past piece, and there’s certainly a bounty of those out there. The series comes to Amazon after development at HBO (who ended up passing on it), and focuses on a Jewish wunderkind producer named Monroe Stahr (Bomer), who’s pressured to make his movies friendly to the Nazi regime if he wants them to ever be released in Germany. The pilot received mixed reviews, with the Guardian calling it “awful” and Entertainment Weekly saying “the characters are finely drawn, the relationships are clear, the conflicts are interesting, and most of all, Bomer is fantastic and magnetic.” So, uh, yeah, subjectivity, man. Whether awful or magnetic, it looks deserving of a try for the production design alone.