Once upon a time the typical summer TV season was a breeding ground for programming crud like "The Hudson Brothers Show," "The Ken Berry ‘Wow’ Show," "The Keane Brothers Show" and leftover episodes of canceled series. My apologies if I have sent you in search of the Pepto-Bismol, but once Memorial Day weekend arose, the "Gone Fishing" sign was normally up on the broadcast networks for the summer.
CBS stepped up to the plate in the summer of 2000 care of "Survivor," which concluded with a whopping 51.7 million viewers (based on Nielsen data). The moral of that story: Viewers might indeed tune in for something worthwhile even when the heat is on. "American Idol" on Fox began two summers later. Cable eventually joined the fray with an aggressive slate of original scripted dramas in the summer. Think "The Wire" on HBO, "Mad Men" on AMC, and "Six Feet Under" and "Damages" on FX, to name a few. And now there are the digital streamers.
At present, summer on the broadcast networks is a platform for non-scripted fare like "America’s Got Talent" on NBC, ABC’s "The Bachelorette and a host of game shows," Fox’s "So You Think You Can Dance" and, of course, CBS’ "Big Brother." Admit it – you watch "Big Brother" and you revel in the alliances, the backstabbing, the "showmances," the competitions, the power of vetoes, "Zingbot," and, of course, "Chenbot" herself, the great Julie Chen. I know I do!
But there are also plenty of worthy entries the scripted arena thanks to cable and digital. What follows are my picks for the best of the mix (new and returning, scripted and non-scripted) this summer across all platforms. The programs are listed by airdate.
"The Affair" (Showtime) – returned Sunday, June 17
When we last visited this relationship-themed drama 17 months ago, Dominic West as Noah Salloway was back in New York and without a residence. The emotional effects of his extramarital affair with Allison (Ruth Wilson) morphed into a shattered relationship, and each of the four principal characters – Noah, Allison, Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney) and Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson) – are all now involved with new potential love interests. But can they forget the past?
Earlier, of course, was the death of Allison’s brother-in-law, Scott (Colin Donnell) and the ensuing police investigation. And then there was Noah covering up for Helen, who is the guilty party, and Noah trying to get back into good grace with his four children. In other worlds, don’t cheat on your spouse! What ensues can be very complicated.
"Yellowstone" (Paramount Network) – premieres Wednesday, June 20
Headlined by Oscar winner Kevin Costner as ranch owner John Dutton, the Dutton family is reminiscent of that clan called Ewing. For 13 seasons on the original "Dallas" (and three abbreviated seasons in the recent TNT reboot), "Dallas" kept viewers entrenched in good versus evil in the oil-drilling field, complete with love affairs, scandals and those addictive season-ending cliffhangers.
In "Yellowstone," the location is picturesque Montana, and the conflict is Costner’s Dutton butting heads with land developers, an Indian reservation, and America’s first national park. Given the ensemble nature of the cast (with youth on the forefront), expect some sexual shenanigans in "Yellowstone" as well. And let’s hope for an edge-of-your seat season-ender.
"Cultureshock" (A+E) – premieres Monday, June 25
Described as pop culture-focused docuseries from documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, each episode (from a different director) will shed light on the untold stories of an array of buzz-worthy moments. Included in "Cultureshock" will be a profile on comedian Chris Rock, a behind-the-scenes look at one season TV classic "Freaks and Geeks," and how the rise of tabloid talk shows like "The Jerry Springer Show" and "Geraldo" laid the groundwork for today’s reality television.
"GLOW" (Netflix) – premieres Friday, June 29
What started as a comedic look at the characters and gimmicks of the 1980s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) circuit will evolve in season two into how the ladies are dealing with their newfound celebrity amid an array of issues (including family problems and relationship challenges). The ensemble cast includes Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron as coke-addled, mid-level director Sam Sylvia.
"Sharp Objects" (HBO) – premieres Wednesday, July 8
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel by the same name, the limited psychological thriller stars Oscar nominee Amy Adams as a mentally unstable St. Louis crime reporter who returns to her hometown to cover the murders of two young girls, which is eerily reminiscent of her past. The eight-episode series also stars Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Elizabeth Perkins and Matt Craven.
"Castle Rock" (Hulu) – premieres Thursday, July 25
The king of the macabre, Stephen King, has teamed up with "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams for this horror anthology series set in the fictional town of Castle Rock. The twist: Themes and characters from across King’s vast library of work will be featured. In this first season, an attorney named Henry Deaver ("Moonlight’s" André Holland) returns to the small town to represent an inmate (Bill Skarsgård) who is imprisoned at Shawshank Prison. Sissy Spacek ("Carrie") and Terry O’Quinn ("Lost") also star.
"Lodge 49" (AMC) – premieres Monday, August 6
Described as a modern day fable (and airing out of "Better Call Saul"), a likable ex-surfer named Dud (Wyatt Russell) coping with the passing of his father and the collapse of the family business finds himself at the doorstep of Lodge 49, a dying fraternal order. There he meets plumbing salesman and the "Luminous Knight" of the order, Ernie (Brent Jennings), who puts Dud on the path to recover the life he has lost. Paul Giamatti ("Billions") is one of the producers.
"The Innocents" (Netflix) – premieres Friday, August 24
Back in the summer of 1991, you might recall love and angst upscale Beverly Hills style in Fox’s "Beverly Hills, 90210." This summer, the focus is on June (Sorcha Groundshell) and Harry (Percelle Ascott), two teenagers who ditch their troubled homes to be together in this British drama. But there is one glitch: June has the supernatural ability to "shape shift" and she is not alone. And this odd "gift" puts her both in great demand and vulnerable to dark forces. No one ever said young love was easy!
"Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan" (Amazon) – premieres Friday, August 31
From Carlton Cuse ("Lost") and Graham Roland ("Fringe"), former "The Office" star John Krasinski inherits the role of the former marine and CIA analyst formerly played by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Ben Afflect and Chris Pine from the film series. This time, Ryan is busy pursuing the head of a terrorist group through Europe and the Middle East as he prepares for a massive attack against the United States. It is never a dull moment for Jack Ryan!
"Kidding" (Showtime) – Sunday, September 9
In his first regularly scheduled series role since classic 1990s sketch comedy "In Living Color," Jim Carrey plays Jeff (a.k.a. "Mr. Pickles"), an icon of children’s television - a la Mr. Rogers - and a role model for this teen and millennial generation of tomorrow in this dark comedy. But when his family – wife, two sons, sister, and father – begins to spiral downward, Jeff realizes life outside of "Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time" is not all that easy…or necessarily fair. The cast includes Catherine Keener, Frank Langella and Judy Greer.