This summer, many networks have dunked their toes into airing original, first-run programming. While fresh summer TV is old hat for cable networks like USA, it seemed like every network had an idea for a prestige drama or two.
I caught several, but by no means all, of the summer dramas, with mixed results. Here’s my round-up.
Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1943, WGN’s follow-up to Salem is blessed with a great cast (including Olivia Williams and Richard Schiff), a knack for subtlety, and really beautiful clothes. Manhattan, like other period prestige shows before it, doesn’t shy away from showcasing the blatant racism and sexism that permeated the period. While the characters and some events are fictionalized, it’s a fascinating look at America in the middle of WWII. The time period certainly isn’t a stranger to American entertainment, but this show gives it a fresh eye.
So far, I’ve only seen one episode, but the pilot showed a great deal of potential. Sean Bean is, of course, wonderful as the lead character. It also stars Ali Larter, who you may remember for her role as surprise! triplets on TV’s Heroes, or as the mean white lady who tried to steal Idris Elba from Beyonce in that movie from a few years back. The plot isn’t perfect, and there’s a bit of scenery chewing happening, but all in all, it’s an enjoyable show.
Murder in the First
This was a ten episode mini-season, which ended last week. I tuned in for Taye Diggs, I stayed for Richard Schiff and Kathleen Robertson, who was wasted in Starz’ House of Cards-lite, Boss, last year. Also, Draco Malfoy was the bad guy/red herring/no, bad guy. Aside from Draco, the acting was the strongest part of the show. If it pops up on Netflix, it would make a great long weekend binge.
This Week with John Oliver
For this, and everything else he said this summer.
I had high hopes for The Lottery. Set in a future where everyone is infertile, and the youngest children alive are six years old, this show had a great deal of potential to tell an interesting, smart, and terrifying story. Instead, it’s boring, predictable, and acted with the finesse of a daytime soap.
Halt and Catch Fire
I also had high hopes for this show, for both Lee Pace reasons and a fascination with the era portrayed in the show. The early eighties were actually a very interesting time in personal computers, and this show could have told a lot of interesting stories. But, alas, it did not. A troubled lead whose complexity boiled down to father issues, a second lead who never really meshed, and two interesting women who didn’t get enough to do added up to another show that could have been spectacular, but settled for watchable.
I watch this show because I have a crush on Noah Wyle, who is aging like wine, and some cheeses. I used to watch this show for interesting parallels to US military history and fairly interesting plots. This entire season has been disjointed, weird, and hard to follow. Falling Skies has stumbled before, and come back with tighter seasons, but I’m skeptical that it will return to its personal high points any time soon.
The Last Ship
The year before last, I started watching The Following, which is arguably the worst show on any television, ever. I watched the entire first season, not because I wanted to see what new ways Fox could find to torture Kevin Bacon, but because I felt compelled to watch. I secretly worried there would be some trigger in the season finale which would turn all of us viewers into members of the writerly cult of serial killers. While this was not necessarily entirely rational thinking, I was sufficiently creeped out enough to not tune in for the second season.
Which brings us to Michael Bay’s The Last Ship. Referred to in House MacIntosh as The Last Shit, this show is a mess of jingoistic nonsense, dead monkeys, and bad accents. Pajiba referred to it as The Stand for morons; I think that’s still an insult to The Stand. But yet, I watch every week. If I disappear next week, it’s because I’ve gone off to join the US Navy.
I was really excited about this show, from the promos. A family drama set in the Middle East could be revolutionary on US TV, as long as it was done well. Tyrant couldn’t pull that off. I only made it through a few episodes, so it could have improved since I watched, but the bits I did make it through were loaded with unfortunate stereotypes. A few supporting roles were coming to life, and there were some powerful performances outside of the leads, but a weak plot held everyone back.