What you need to watch on TV this summer

Posted at 10:03 PM, Jul 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-25 19:26:08-04

It’s hot outside, like vacationing on the surface of the hot sun, so stay inside with the air conditioning blowing, pour a tall cold beverage of your choice and watch lots and lots of TV.  Here are some of the best offerings this summer.

“Brain Dead” (CBS)
With all the absurdity and insanity of this year’s presidential race, is it crazy to think that politicians of both parties may have been infected with brain devouring aliens?  Such is the premise of Robert and Michelle King’s (creators of “The Good Wife”) new science fiction/ comedy/ political satire. The story centers on the sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) of a Democratic Senator and the Chief of Staff of a Republican Senator, who begin a flirtation as they investigate some strange incidents in D.C.  People have begun exhibiting complete personality transformations overnight, and then there are a few rather messy deaths caused by people’s brains exploding.  It is great to see Tony Shalhoub back on television as a drunken, southern Senator infected by the bug-like invaders.  This show will please those looking for something a little different- a lighthearted, romantic, politically smart comedy with a touch of paranormal gore.

“12 Monkeys” (SYFY)
This is the second season of this time-bending series, and thankfully the show has ironed out some of its issues.  Bad acting and a lack of chemistry between the leads weighted the show down last season. Based on the 1995 movie, James Cole, a time traveler in the year 2043, is sent back in time to stop a virus that wipes out humanity.  Things are more complicated this season as the Messengers (a shadow consortium) have started traveling through time creating paradoxes that threaten to destroy the fabric of reality.  Fans of pulp sci-fi will enjoy deciphering the plot complications inherent with time travel stories and reveling in the twists and turns of this entertaining show.

“UnREAL” (Lifetime)
Entering its second season, UnREAL follows the backstage drama of “Everlasting”, a Bachelor-like reality TV show.  The focus of the show is the relationship between two cutthroat producers whose moral compasses are not only skewed, but missing all together. Anything goes in their drive to deliver the fights, breakdowns, and scandals that make great television.  They are more than willing to lie, threaten and manipulate their contestants, which occasionally results in devastating consequences.  This season stirs the pot a little more with Everlasting’s first African-American male suitor, a controversial southern belle who poses in a Confederate flag bikini as well as a tomboyish African-American activist. Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer (who earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination this year) deliver fiery performances and the dialog is fast, funny and R-rated.  Whether you indulge in “The Bachelor” or not, there is a great deal to like in this edgy comedy.

“The Night Of” (HBO)
HBO’s new crime drama begins with a Pakistani-American student Nasir “Nas” Khan (Riz Ahmed) stealing his dad’s cab to go to a party in New York.  He ends up picking up a beautiful, uninhibited woman and engaging in some uncharacteristically risky behavior involving sex and drugs. He wakes up the next morning to find her stabbed to death, has no memory of what happened, and ends the day arrested for her murder.  John Turturro plays John Stone, a slovenly, down on his luck lawyer who takes Nas’ case out of pity, curiosity and a desire to land a big case.  Written by Richard Price (“Clockers” and “The Wire”) and Steve Zaillian (“Gangs of New York”), the show is an incredibly realistic, thoughtful portrayal of one man’s experiences in the justice system.  Like “The Wire”, the story unravels through the multiple viewpoints of the suspect, police officers, family members and lawyers. Director Zaillian sets a leisurely pace with the storytelling allowing the audience to stay with the characters before and after their interactions. We see Nas and his family waiting in the police station, characters driving home and lawyers taking a smoke break. All these seemingly insignificant moments and the attention to small character details, like Stone explaining that he wears sandals because of eczema on his feet, give the show a remarkable depth and sense of authenticity. The audience doesn’t know whether Nas is guilty or not, but this naïve young man’s journey promises to deliver riveting television.

“Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
Season 4 of this award winning series gets a little more serious, exploring some darker territory than it has in the past. A corporation has taken over running the prison which results in overcrowding, worsening conditions and untrained abusive guards. Adding to the building tension, an increase in the Hispanic inmate population upsets the delicate racial balance and propels the inmates towards a dangerous and deadly revolt. There are some especially moving storylines this season that showcase the Emmy-worthy performances of Samira Wiley (Poussey Washington), Lori Petty (Lolly Whitehill) and Michael Harney (Sam Healy). Rest assured all humor is not lost this season.  Funny subplots include an investigation into who is pooping in the shower and the misadventures of disposing of a body in a prison. My one complaint isn’t even really a complaint.  The talented cast is so big and there are so many complicated, interesting female characters (a wonderful problem) that several of your favorite characters may appear for only a few episodes. This series excels at telling stories about women of all faiths, colors and sexual identities, and finding the humanity they all share.

“Mr. Robot” (USA)
It is difficult to describe one of the best and most unconventional dramas on the air. Elliot Alderson (Rami Makek), a brilliant hacker, is a member of fsociety a vigilante group that has succeeded in destroying the financial records of the huge conglomerate E. Corp and erasing the debt of millions of people.  The group’s mission is to start a revolution by plunging the banking world into chaos. Elliot, whether because of drugs or mental illness, can’t differentiate between reality and the people and situations he creates in his mind.  This leaves the viewer in the uncomfortable and exciting position of never really knowing what or who to trust.  Elliot’s world is a nihilistic wasteland where society has been hallowed out by consumerism, a hyper-reliance on technology and the relentless monotony of everyday life.  The unique look of the show, with faces framed in the bottom corners of the screen, accentuates the alienation of the characters and keeps the audience feeling off balance. The show wouldn’t work without Malek’s mesmerizing, Emmy-nominated performance as the haunted Elliot.  Craig Robinson (“The Office”) and Grace Gummer are stellar additions to the cast this year and play intriguing characters. This darkly compelling, inventive show continues to impress and surprise.

“Stranger Things” (Netflix)
This eight part series is meant to look and feel like some of the great supernatural films of the 1980’s like “E.T.”, “The Goonies”, and “Poltergeist.” The show begins with a group of adolescent friends in a small town in 1983 playing Dungeons and Dragons. On the way home one night, one of the boys goes missing, possibly attacked by some kind of monster.  While searching for their missing friend, the boy’s discover a mysterious young girl, named Eleven, who appears to be the victim of some kind of shadowy government experiments. Meanwhile, the missing boy’s mother (Winona Ryder) is getting bizarre phone calls she swears are from her son that literally burn through her phone. With a nostalgic electronic soundtrack, a Steven Speilbergian story and plenty of references to the fabulousness of the 80s, “Stranger Things” is a lot of fun and feels like hanging out with an old friend.






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