By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist June 16, 2014 at 2:34PM
“Hemlock Grove” Season 2
Start Date/Slot: July 11th/Netflix
What it’s about: The 10-episode second season of the Eli Roth-produced horror serial “Hemlock Grove” will be available, presumably to inhale all in one go should you feel so inclined, come July 11th. It’s based on the well-loved doorstop novel of the same name by Brian McGreevy who also created and co-wrote the show. Starring Famke Janssen, Dougray Scott and Lili Taylor among a host of lesser-known names, the story is set in the titular fictional Pennsylvania town in which two goodlooking young chaps (with dark supernatural secrets of their own) played by Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron team up to solve a series of grisly murders that may just have a supernatural explanation.
Why it might be your new favorite show: Kind of a gorier, fleshier “Supernatural,” “Hemlock Grove” is a pricey and often well-mounted production with some good effects (a Season One werewolf transformation was a particular high point) that may appeal to anyone who watched “Game of Thrones” not for the epic storytelling but for the head cleavings.
Why it might not: Its first season was terrible. Tonally odd (quite flat and dull in parts) bafflingly plotted (fine, it’s a supernatural story but nothing makes any sense even within those parameters) and even rather badly acted (outside the engaging lead pair) the show has a lot of lost ground to make up in its second season if it’s going to attract anything like season one numbers for Netflix (who claimed that Season 1 was in fact watched by more people on its opening weekend than “House of Cards” which is a startling factoid if true and a testament to the might of the younger, more genre-oriented and dare we say it, less discerning audience toward which it skews). Alison Willmore’s on-point takedown of its turgid emo excesses for Indiewire is here. Impressively gory NSFW second season trailer below.
“The Strain” Season 1
Start Date/Slot: July 13th/Sundays 10 p.m. on FX
What it’s about: If at first you don’t succeed at selling your pitch for a TV show about a viral outbreak of vampirism, write a trilogy of novels about it instead and then get them made into a TV show. So it goes if you’re Guillermo del Toro, anyway, who, along with Chuck Hogan, wrote the books “The Strain,” “The Fall” and “The Night Eternal” which will form the basis for this FX show, the pilot to be directed by del Toro of course, and which will star “House of Cards” breakout Corey Stoll alongside Mia Maestro, David Bradley, Kevin Durand and Sean Astin among it sprawling cast. It tells the horror/thriller story of the sudden spread of an infection which causes the carrier to display symptoms of vampirism, and the small band of misfits who battle to prevent the spread, kill the existing vampires and protect their families and the city at large from complete breakdown.
Why it might be your new favorite show: If you’ve had your fill of hunky southern vampires, and the misunderstood undead who just want a cuddle (and obviously, no vampires at all is simply not a televisual option) “The Strain” marks a welcome return to nasty—del Toro’s creatures are ugly, grotesque and malevolent. Del Toro’s own name should attract genre fans too, as well as those who’ve read the books (like us); they’re not earth-shatteringly original (and kind of hurriedly written it feels at times) but there’s a solid genre story in there that has plenty of potential to work even better as a TV show.
Why it might not: The source, as we’ve said, is pretty generic and the show will be up against it, once the novelty factor has worn off, to distinguish itself from other genre fare like “The Walking Dead.” That said, ‘Dead’ doesn’t return till October so perhaps “The Strain” is poised to hoover up its massive audience in its absence, which is probably a pretty canny strategy, borne out by its prime Sunday slot. The only thing that really remains to be seen is if we can buy Corey Stoll with hair, but we’re going to try.
“Masters of Sex” Season 2
Start Date/Slot: July 13th/Sundays 10 p.m. on Showtime
What it’s about: Probably the best show you’re not watching, we’re hoping this clever, detail-rich period drama, from showrunner and "The Pacific" writer Michelle Ashford, that follows real-life pioneering sexologists Masters and Johnson (Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan) will find a broader audience in its second season, now moved to summer instead of fall. Its first season was explicit, yes, but also adult in the sense of grown-up; a surprisingly insightful and often very funny, occasionally very touching character study set in an era of sexual repression and taboo. The stars are two of our favorite actors anyway, and the supporting cast is a treasure—Allison Janney provided one of the most moving moments in season one (or indeed in the history of TV ever, seriously) while Beau Bridges as her husband the dean, Caitlin Fitzgerald as Mrs. Masters and the awesome Julianne Nicholson as a flinty rival doctor round out the regular supporting cast.
Why it might be your new favorite show: The casting good news doesn’t stop with the return of all the season 1 favorites, season 2 looks to have added Sarah Silverman, Courtney B. Vance and “Breaking Bad”’s Betsy Brandt as well as Rene Auberjonois “as Georgios Papanikolaou, inventor of the Pap smear” and if that last doesn’t pique your interest, we give up on you.
Why it might not: The loving period detailing that rivals anything “Mad Men” has achieved, and the splashy, potentially titillating subject matter didn’t really do the trick in season one, so perhaps audiences were put off by the potential unglamor of the show’s storyline. Certainly, Sheen’s Masters is a whole different bird from Don Draper—uptight and repressed despite his field of study, he’s a nuanced central character who, along with his terrific foil in Caplan’s spiky, liberated-before-her-time Johnson, doesn't have anything of the fetishizable cool of Jon Hamm's character. But dammit, if we have to, we’re going to beg you to give this one a chance nonetheless as otherwise they’ll take it away and we won’t be allowed have nice things anymore.
“Ray Donovan” Season 2
Start Date/Slot: June 13th/Sundays 9 p.m. on Showtime
What it’s about: Another not-quite-on-fire Showtime entry, along with “Masters of Sex” which it will now run directly before, “Ray Donovan” tells the not-hugely-original story of a high-powered fixer (Liev Schreiber) with a slew of personal issues involving his wife (“Deadwood”’s Paula Malcolmson) and father (Jon Voight) who’s recently been released from prison, as he works to clean up the various sticky situations that the powerful Hollywood elite get themselves into. The pilot of season one was Showtime's biggest-ever premiere, when you include YouTube and on-demand views, but since then the show has rather bubbled under the radar, despite an immensely impressive cast which also included Eddie Marsan, Elliot Gould, Rosanna Arquette, James Woods, Josh Pais and Jonathan Schaech in season one.
Why it might be your new favorite show: In terms of star power at least, Showtime appear to be doubling down for the second season, enlisting Hank Azaria, Sherilyn Fenn, Ann-Marget, Kip Pardue, Wendell Pierce and Vinessa Shaw in addition to the core cast. And indeed it’s largely as a performance showcase that the show’s has gained its most positive notices; even those, like us we’re afraid, who find the premise almost interchangeable with quite a few other shows out there, notably “Scandal, compliment the strength of the performances, which are, unusually for this sort of thing, allowed to breathe.
Why it might not: When it’s not focused on one of its knottier, more complex characters and is instead following its procedural, case-by case structure as Ray prevents another TMZ-style PR leak or puts the lid on another simmering Hollywood sex scandal, the show can feel very familiar. Still, with this cast plus the terrific new additions, we have to say our curiosity is more piqued for the second season, which also feels like one that viewers can dive straight into without necessarily having to have seen all of the first. And this trailer may well get you in the mood.