Summer TV Preview: 2014

Did you know that in the 70 days since April 6th, the world’s population has increased by about 15,690,000 people, which is roughly equivalent to the current combined populations of Pennsylvania and Iowa? Of course not! That’s just one of the fascinating things that has been happening on our planet while we were all too busy anticipating, watching, critiquing and dissecting Season 4 of “Game of Thrones” to notice (find all our ‘Thrones’ coverage here). But with what is probably the show’s most controversial season coming to its end last night (finale recap), paradoxically—or maybe not, following the “no such thing as bad publicity” paradigm—on a probable viewership high, our Sunday evenings for the next few months are suddenly free: a gaping maw of endless exciting possibilities. Why not schedule an extra SoulCycle class, polish up that rusty Spanish or study world population expansion?

In fact, your self-improvement kick need not just be limited to Sundays, because toppling like dominoes in June are several other shows too. Following the finales of comedies “Silicon Valley” and “Veep” earlier this month, and the gluttonous mainlining of all 13 episodes of “Orange is the New Black” in one go, “Louie” ends tonight,“Fargo” tomorrow night and new kid on the block “Penny Dreadful” wraps its first season on June 29th. There has never been a better time to take an evening class or work on your interpersonal relationships.

However, on the off chance that human conversation fills you with terror without the burbling of the TV in the background (and really, what’s to talk about if not Sam Tarly), and you already have your certificate in genealogy, never fear: June and July see a whole slew of new and returning shows grace the air. Now we can’t guarantee that any of these will mimic the televisual crack effect of ‘Thrones,’ but over the next couple of months, these are the ones that have caught our eye that you might want to try on for size. All times Eastern.


Halt And Catch Fire

Halt and Catch Fire” Season 1
Start Date/Slot: Already airing, three episodes in/Sundays 10 p.m. on AMC
What it’s about: It's a period piece drama set in the 1980s depicting a fictionalized insider's view of the personal computer revolution that involved Apple, IBM, Microsoft, RadioShack, Commodore, and other software titans of that era. The show’s title is a reference to a fictitious computer code which ceases the machine to function.
Why it might be your new favorite show: The cast is terrific and the show works as a triangle between the three leads. There’s Lee Pace as the driven but utterly volatile and reckless Joe MacMillan, an ex-IBM exec with a chip on his shoulder who forces the employers of his company into the PC arms race by underhanded means. There’s a terrific Scoot McNairy as Gordon Clark, a brilliant computer engineer who’s put his dreams on the backburner in favor of his family’s stability, but MacMillan, understanding his genius, looks to untap it. And then there’s Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis, the stand-out actress from Sundance film “Breathe In”), a punk rock-y volatile computer prodigy that MacMillan hopes to exploit for his means, but she proves to be much harder to control. Kerry Bishé co-stars as McNairy's concerned wife and that’s all there is for name actors, but the show is certainly strong enough as it is with its core trio. Its pilot episode was also incredibly engaging with great character stakes for each corner of the triangle.
Why it might not: Apart from the obvious similarities with Lee Pace’s character and Don Draper in “Mad Men” (which admittedly, only seem to be surface ones so far), the writing can be uneven. But we’re only three episodes in so far and we’re mostly hooked. The pilot was easily the best we’ve seen in some time. The second episode has some rather clunky, unbelievable monologues, but again, we’re only three eps deeps so far and we like what we’ve seen so far.


Rectify” Season 2
Start Date/Slot: June 19th/Thursdays 9 p.m. on SundanceTV
What it’s about: Returning for an expanded second season order of ten as opposed to six episodes, SundanceTV’s flagship (and first ever) original program is a critically lauded slow-burn drama that hasn’t yet quite caught fire numbers-wise the way its reviews suggest it should (Nielsen does not track SundanceTV so hard to know exactly). Detailing the difficult readjustment to life back in his hostile and suspicious hometown of a man imprisoned for 18 years (under sentence of execution) for the murder of his girlfriend, the show’s first season has, however, proven a breakout showcase for its lead, Aden Young, and given strong supporting roles to Abigail Spencer (“Mad Men”), Adelaide Clemens (“Parade’s End”) and J. Smith-Cameron. It was created by Ray McKinnon, himself an actor also known as Linc Potter in “Sons of Anarchy” and the tremulous Reverend Smith in “Deadwood.”
Why it might be your new favorite show: It’s a beautifully shot and unusually meditative show in the Southern Gothic tradition, steeped more in mood and character arc than action and violence. A frequent comparison point that crops up visually, in fact, is Terrence Malick, which is high praise indeed. And its thoughtful approach to themes of guilt, redemption and the value or cost of incarceration (the central character’s guilt or innocence of the charge that sent him away is maintained with clever ambivalence as the show’s chief mystery) has, so far at least, unfolded with unusual grace and intelligence. Plus you've only six episodes to catch up on if you haven't been watching.
Why it might not: The few dissenting critical voices complained about the show’s lack of forward momentum after a universally acclaimed pilot, and it’s hard to see how the second season is going to attract more buzz than the rather muted response to the first, especially with Sundance’s second venture, “The Red Road,” also not creating many ripples. We confess it’s one that the majority of us here have yet to fully embrace, and the lack of urgency around it makes it feel like a show that people admire rather than desperately crave more of. A ten-episode season could translate to an even slower pace, and without big names in the cast, or a big marketing push, it’s relying on quality alone to help it grow. That said, SundanceTV themselves are playing it straight down the “delighted by the response” party line, so perhaps the show’s low cost and prestige-y profile is enough for them for now.

True Blood

True Blood” Season 7 (Final Season)
Start Date/Slot: June 22nd/Sundays 9 p.m. on HBO
What it’s about: The seventh and final series of the popular vampire show based on Charlaine Harris’ series of novels, the Southern Vampire Mysteries, “True Blood” comes from creator Alan Ball who was behind the epochal “Six Feet Under.” It follows the continuing adventures of waitress and telepathic human-fairy hybrid Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) in a fictional Louisiana town in which all sorts of supernatural beings, especially vampires (chiefly Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgård) are real and whose struggle for acceptance provides an easy (if not unproblematic) allegory for various civil rights movements. Ball, however left showrunning duties after Season 5, and Season 6 was more coolly received by critics and audiences alike, as the show played to average audiences of 4m, down from Season 5’s 5m average.
Why it might be your new favorite show: Honestly at this stage you’re either on the “True Blood” train or you’re not and of you’re not it’s unlikely that the final series is going to pull you in, although it rarely fails to deliver on the sex front, so “Game of Thrones” fleshhounds may find something to enjoy there. Also, 4m viewers may be down on season 5 but it’s still nothing to sneeze at, and the knowledge that these will be the last 10 episodes is likely to make the show’s considerable fanbase that bit more vociferous, especially in the lead up to the finale.
Why it might not: “True Blood” ’s mix of potboilery Southern Gothic and supernatural soap opera has always been a little overcooked for our liking, and the show hit its real heyday just when there were so many vampires on our screens otherwise that we had pretty much reached saturation levels. And as we said, you’re unlikely to jump on board for the seventh season of something you haven’t been watching till now.


Tyrant” Season 1
Start Date/Slot: June 24th/Tuesdays 10 p.m. on FX
What it’s about: The second son of the dictator leader of a fictional foreign country returns with his American family to the country of his birth after many years self-imposed exile in Los Angeles, facing both massive culture shock and clashes within his extended family as American values come into conflict with those of his authoritarian father. The show features no particularly big stars, although lead Adam Rayner will be keeping his fingers crossed as he was tapped to play Simon Templar in the new “The Saint” show that never made it to series, and Ashraf Barhom has already impressed us greatly in “Paradise Now” and “The Kingdom.” Created by Israeli writer/producer/director Gideon Raff, who wrote the original show on which “Homeland” was based, the series pilot was originally mooted as a directorial project for Ang Lee, but when he withdrew, apparently for personal reasons ‘Harry Potter’ director David Yates stepped in.
Why it might be your new favorite show: This is some pretty meaty stuff and fairly daring at that: the country in question may be fictional but has been imagined as a confabulation of various real Middle Eastern nations so the Arab/Western culture clash can be expected to be pointed and highly hot-button topical. In fact that might almost give us pause were it not for the pedigree of the show’s creators and producers, and the fact that despite a potentially tricky logline, the pitch inspired quite the bidding war which FX won. The channel is already snapping at the heels of the HBOs and Showtimes of the world with ”Sons of Anarchy” “Justified,” ”The Bridge” “American Horror Story” “The Americans” and now “Fargo” in terms of prestige dramas, and clearly hopes that “Tyrant” could nudge it up even higher.
Why it might not: Aside from not having the hookiest or easiest-sell premise, the overtly political nature of this drama might turn people off, especially those looking for pure popcorn escapism. Of course, the same could have been said in advance of the wildly successful “Homeland,” but on the other hand, FX’s own “The Americans” has struggled to find its niche (despite being pretty great), and part of that may be a slight discomfort at having warts’n’all American politics, even historical American politics, so foregrounded. With “Tyrant” set contemporarily, those issues could be magnified and could prove a turn-off for some audiences, who won’t even have a recognizable name or face to tune in for. Pilot episode teaser below.