“The Leftovers” Season 1
Start Date/Slot: June 29th/Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO
What it’s about: Adapted from the novel by Tom Perotta, who also wrote the source books for “Little Children” and “Election,” “The Leftovers” is created as a TV show by successful screenwriter/object of geek outrage Damon Lindelof and follows a broad cast of characters in a suburban community coming to to terms with the disappearance of certain friends and family members during a Rapture-like unexplained event. Starring Justin Theroux as the chief of police raising his children alone now that his wife (Amy Brenneman) has abandoned them to join a cult, the cast also features the wonderful Christopher Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Michael Gaston and Ann Dowd, making it one of the starrier new ensembles on the small screen.
Why it might be your new favorite show: Boasting an approach that is by all accounts more somber and elegiac than whizz-bang, and with a pilot directed by the sure TV hand of Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”), the premise of the shows is enough to have us intrigued, and we’re happy to see Justin Theroux get some leading-man love finally. The sprawl of the material, and its potential as an examination of the workings of faith and grief feel timely and topical, if maybe not quite the hilarious, feelgood time of your life. But HBO are slotting this into the prime Sunday slot right after the final season of “True Blood,” so obviously they have high hopes.
Why it might not: How much have we all forgiven Lindelof for the “Lost” finale, or for “Prometheus,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” or “Cowboys & Aliens,” all of which show, to some extent, his tendency to take promising high concepts and get so bogged down in the intricacies of plotting and mythologizing that he just can’t dig himself out by the end? Lindelof has reportedly said that he was chastened by the poisonous response to the “Lost” finale and has learnt his lesson well, but with a central mystery that’s not unlike that of “Lost,” do we trust the storytelling hands we’re in? Mind you, early reports are of a tone and atmosphere very different, and certainly less tricksy, than “Lost”’s so we’re hoping for the best, and the trailer is impressive.
“Under the Dome” Season 2
Start Date/Slot: June 30th/Mondays 10 p.m. on CBS
What it’s about: An expensive ($3m per episode) adaptation of the Stephen King novel brought to the small screen by comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan (whose “Saga” comic is the shit), “Under the Dome,” under the tutelage of showrunner Neal Baer, follows the inhabitants of a very King-eqsue Maine community who suddenly find themselves living beneath a massive dome that cuts them off from the outside world and renders modern communication devices ineffective. Mike Vogel (“Cloverfield”) and Rachel Lefevre (“Twilight”) star with names like Mare Winningham, Samantha Mathis and Jeff Fahey cropping up in recurring supporting roles.
Why it might be your new favorite show: Those of us who’ve given this one a spin are, it should be noted, deeply iffy on it overall, but the show’s been a big hit for CBS, rarely dipping below 10m viewers, with the pilot and finale both around the 12/13m mark. And early episodes, featuring tighter storytelling and good effects did seem to promise something that perhaps Season 2 can recapture, especially considering they have King on board as the writer of the first Season 2 episode.
Why it might not: It really is very silly, thin and kind of teenybopperish, with characters often making dumb decisions that feel highly unrealistic, and new obstacles introduced weekly (fire! meningitis!) that are then scarcely even referred to afterwards. Perhaps the best barometer of whether this is for you is the following claim made for season 2: "This season of the series will include a digital-only character who is able to communicate with characters trapped in the dome” so the show can “reach out to particularly our young audience and embrace this 'transmedia.' ” If that sounds “Hey, cool!” to you, definitely check out “Under the Dome.” We’ll be heading for them thar hills.
“Extant” Season 1
Start Date/Slot: July 9th/Wednesdays 9 p.m. on CBS
What it’s about: An astronaut (Halle Berry) returns home to her family (“ER”‘s Goran Visnjic and “Looper”’s Pierce Gagnon) after a year alone on a space station, mysteriously pregnant as the result of an encounter she cannot remember, and a wider conspiracy gradually reveals itself. Newcomer Mickey Fisher is the series creator and showrunner, Steven Spielberg is exec producing, Grace Gummer co-stars.
Why it might be your new favorite show: Further details are still pretty scarce on this one, though you can check out a rather choppy trailer below that gives you an idea of the look and feel of it, but Berry’s considerable star power should pull in a few curious heads for the first few episodes at least. The premise sounds a little like “Rosemary’s Baby” meets “The Astronaut’s Wife” but the conspiracy thriller element hopefully promises something other than wily old aliens at the bottom of it all.
Why it might not: We’re not sure we buy Halle Berry as an astronaut, “The Astronaut’s Wife” was pants, and while Spielberg’s name is buried in here somewhere, he also exec produces CBS’s big hitter “Under the Dome,” which we’re by no means mad about. And even CBS’s other sci-fi-ish show “Person of Interest” has left us cold so far, so we’re not sure the network’s tastes in that direction and ours overlap. I’m sure they’ll get over it if this plays to anything like ‘Dome’ numbers, though.
“The Bridge” Season 2
Start Date/Slot: July 9th/Wednesdays 10 p.m. on FX
What it’s about: This will be the second season of acclaimed but underwatched immigration drama/murder mystery procedural starring Diane Kruger and Demián Bechir as an American police detective and her Mexican counterpart tracking a serial killer across the geographical and cultural U.S./Mexican border. Annabeth Gish, Ted Levine and Matthew Lillard round out the cast for the show that is based on the Danish/Swedish co-production of the same name, which is itself currently in the writing stage of its third season.
Why it might be your new favorite show: “The Bridge”’s relative lack of chatter, and its Wednesday night slot’s viewership figures of around 8-900,000 (in the most important 18-49 age bracket) are only half the story: the show broke a small record recently by being the most time-shifted show (via DVR) on TV. That is, it gained 165% on its first-airing numbers when you take into account people DVR-ing it and watching it later in the week. In fact FX has five of the ten titles that benefit most from DVR boosts (“Sons of Anarchy” “American Horror Story” “The Americans” and “Justified” are the others). What this indicates exactly is hard to tell, perhaps it’s a show that’s just in the wrong slot, but certainly there is an audience for the show, and critical response has been very positive, especially as to the show’s treatment of potentially thorny political topics. It has even won a Peabody, and with just one season behind us and a few weeks before the season 2 premiere, perhaps now’s the time to start catching up.
Why it might not: Even counting its stellar DVR numbers, “The Bridge” is not exactly a blockbuster, and its overtly socio-political bent may be offputting to a certain segment of its potential viewership. Though to them we’d say, hey, it's really a serial-killer crime procedural, so maybe time to give it a chance?