Political Pundits drone on about the 24 hour news cycle, well television critics should be harping on and promoting TV’s twelve month cycle. TV no longer has a bench for the B team. Long gone is the time when summer shows were only repeats or shows not good enough for the starter line-up in the Fall. This summer broadcast, cable and streaming networks have dug deep to present thoughtful and unique content.
There were three hundred new shows this summer. Too many for any sane person to actually watch, but here are the best shows I watched. Several of them should have been nominated… They were that good.
Based on a comic book series, Preacher (AMC) brings unique characters, storytelling and visuals. Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) promises to leave his heathen habits in the past when he returns home to take over his deceased father’s church. Tulip (Ruth Negga), his ex-girlfriend and childhood friend, follows him home determined to reunite and seek revenge on the person who has harmed them both. When he is inhabited by a supernatural power he determines to bring God to the sinners of Annville, Texas. Whether he is blessed or damned remains to be seen as he works with friends and foe alike in this wickedly funny and insightful take on good vs evil.
Brain Dead (CBS) is perhaps the most impressive show the network has aired. No show has a done a better job of parodying the current political atmosphere, including Saturday Night Live. From the show’s musical recap of the previous episode to the characters’ hijinks, this show illustrates the ridiculous nature of politics in Washington, DC and the partisan politics that has divided our nation.
Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) agrees to take a job working for her brother, Democratic Senator Luke Healy (Danny Pino), in order to secure funding for her documentary film. With the most unlikely allies, she discovers that an alien bug is literally eating people’s brains on Capital Hill in an attempt to take-over Washington. From concept, to casting and performances, this show excels. The one thing that will make this show better is a musical number ala west side story. PS-I’ll never listen to “You Might Think” by The Cars in the same way again!
Capitalizing on the fame of Serial and The Staircase, The Night of (HBO) is a remake of a British series named Criminal Justice. It tells the story of Pakistani Muslim Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) who lives in Queens, New York. When he leaves home one night to attend a party, his life takes a most unexpected turn. This limited series is a fascinating investigation of the American Criminal Justice System reminiscent of John Ridley’s American Crime.
Its ability to tell Naz’s story in the most strip down fashion helps viewers see the realities of the system we depend upon for our very survival. Whether Naz is innocent or guilty of the crime he is accused and held for without bail, the cost he and his family pays is steep. Wisely, the show does not heap the blame on any one part of the system, instead we experience how it is dying by a hundred small cuts.The creators, Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, excel because the story is told thoroughly. The details mattered more than throwing glitter on the project. There is no gratuitous sex, frivolous characters or unnecessary shots. This show is sadly illuminating.
When Ivy Moxam (Jodie Comer) is found running down a street in her night clothes her mystery truly begins. Held captive for thirteen years, the police try to work with her to find her captor who has kidnapped another little girl, but they soon come to believe that she is not telling them the whole truth.
Like the now cancelled The Family (ABC), Thirteen (BBC) centers on child abduction. In a mere six episodes, this show convincingly highlights the problems long-term kidnapping victims experience. The performances are stellar and illustrate the difference between quantity and quality; The Family, now cancelled, was twelve episodes. Moreover, creator Marnie Dicken’s ability to weave mystery, crime, drama is beautifully delivered by Jodie Comer.
The A Word (Sundance)deftly handles autism and the myriad of issues a family must confront to support an autistic child. The Hughes family is dysfunctional in its own unique ways: a grandfather who is unable to voice his feelings, a self-centered mother; an unrealistic father; a neglected sister, a cuckold uncle. However, their inability to effectively communicate with each other is amplified when the youngest member, Joe, is finally diagnosed. In many ways he forces them to confront their individual issues so that they can be present for him. The performances are stellar and Joe’s singing is a joy! This shows captures nuances of autism and family life that defies genres.
Roadies (Showtime) is weirdly engaging though the music is largely outside my interests. Like Rick Famuyiwa’s Brown Sugar (2002), Roadies is a love letter to a creative’s childhood music. Though hip hop and other genres of music pop-up on the show, this is Cameron Crowe’s elegy to rock and roll.
The show follows the lives of Staton-House Band’s crew. It is equal parts rock and roll history and roadie life. The chemistry between Bill (Luke Wilson) and Shelli (Carla Gugino) as well as Reg (Rafe Spall) and Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots) is clear and a big part of the show, but crew as family and colleagues is the show’s focus as well as the changing music business. This show is as smart as Newsroom (HBO) but it has the hear of Shakespearean tragedy.
Animal Kingdom is TNT’s Sons of Anarchy. It is less dark and visually halting, but every bit as dysfunctional. The show does an excellent job of giving us an external and internal understanding of the characters. We understand their flaws, and we also get a glimpse into their psyche and history. Far from a biker gang, they don’t have the exterior of danger. They don’t wear the gear associated with criminal behavior. They are con-artists and thieves not quite white-collar.
This family of misfits is led by Smurf (Ellen Barkin). She is sociopathic and narcissistic. She has devised love in the form of a family she keeps stilted in hopes that it will feed her never-ending needs. In many ways she is their dealer doling out just enough to keep them hooked, alive and feeding her needs. To what low will she go to retain her control of her family?
Queen of the South (USA) is the story of a Mexican money changer, Teresa Mendoza, who has to use her wit to out maneuver some of the most notorious drug pins. The best scenes involve Teresea (Alice Braga) and Camilla (Veronica Falcon). These power houses are dynamic and give the cartels all they can handle. Based on the telenovela La Reina del Sur and the book of the same name by Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte, this narco-drama falls a little short. This show has squandered all of the intrigue surrounding el Chapo, the Sinaloa Cartel, Kate del Castillo and Sean Penn. The show’s pacing and plot development are lacking but the lead performances are worth it!