Summer TV Roundup
We’re nearly to September, which means the fall TV Season. But before we get there, we have a few more weeks of summer, and that includes more new TV shows. In these weekly posts I look at the pilot and second episode of new scripted series this summer. Don’t see a new show listed below? Check previous weeks.
Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on HBO (Premiered August 8)
About: This sports anthology series is in its 12th season, but each year is new because it follows a different team. We have had two other sports documentaries air this summer (“All or Nothing” on Amazon and “Last Chance U” on Netflix), but “Hard Knocks” is always the most anticipated lead-in to the NFL season. But it can be made or broken on how interesting the players and coaches are. Unfortunately in the season premier, it looks like there isn’t much to work with in Tampa Bay. Dirk Koetter is by all accounts a good coach, and he did well with the Bucs last season, but he doesn’t have the same charisma in this series as past coaches. The same was true of the players, too. Jameis Winston is a rising star in the NFL, and he dominated much of the screen time in the first episode, but it wasn’t incredibly compelling or engaging. Hopefully there will be more drama as camp progresses, but so far this season felt a little flat.
Pilot Grade: C
Swedish Dicks, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on POP (Premiered August 9)
About: The thing about Peak TV is there are hundreds of channels and streaming services that are all making original content. There’s literally a show for everyone. Which is how something like “Swedish Dicks” makes it to the air. It’s a mildly amusing concept (a pair of Swedes played by Peter Stormare and Johan Glans try to make a living as detectives), but it’s hardly a broad concept with mass appeal. The first two episodes, which aired as a block last Wednesday, were OK. Stormare is a talented performer who shows a nice ability to adapt to comedy. I wasn’t really taken with the concept or either of the first two episodes. Keanu Reeves has a recurring role in future installments, so that might make a difference. But for me, this was merely a passable option in a crowded TV landscape.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-
Mr. Mercedes, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Audience (Premiered August 9)
About: This series, adapted by David E. Kelley, is based on a Stephen King novel. But it’s not your typical King story. There are creepy elements here (in fact, a part of the plot feels like a nod to “Psycho”), but this is more of a detective story. It centers on a retired cop (Brendan Gleeson) who is being taunted by a killer (Harry Treadaway) that ran over dozens and murdered 16 waiting in line at a job fair. The pilot begins with that chilling scene, doing a nice job of helping you get to know a couple of the victims in the five short minutes before the carnage. Then it skips ahead two years, with Gleeson’s detective retired and wasting away, but never having forgotten about the case he left unsolved. That, of course, comes right back in his face through a series of chilling videos on his computer, which prompts him to start investigating again. Meanwhile the killer, who has some issues of his own, continues to stalk the detective as part of a cat-and-mouse game. I thought the pilot was well crafted and moody, and I am curious to see where it goes. Kelley is still very good at his craft, and he’s here paired with veteran TV director Jack Bender, who has a great feel for building the world in the pilot. This is one of the first DirecTV originals that I’ve really enjoyed, and might be their best original series to date.
Pilot Grade: B
Baroness Von Sketch, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on IFC (Premiered August 2)
About: This all-female sketch comedy show is an import from Canada. I was critical of the first episode because the beats felt too short and I had trouble connecting with them. Sketch comedy isn’t my favorite form of entertainment, but I thought the second episode took more time to develop some more in-depth sketches and offered some great observations on life. This still isn’t my favorite kind of series, and probably isn’t for everyone. But if you enjoy sketch comedy, this is developing into something you’ll enjoy checking out this summer.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C
The Sinner, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA (Premiered August 2)
About: The most interesting thing about this series still might be the fascinating star turn for Jessica Biel. It’s a different kind of TV role for her, but if you’ve watched her evolution on film you’ve seen an actress who has taken on many different kind of roles. This is a dark and mysterious story that begins in the pilot with a woman stabbing a man to death on the beach seemingly out of the blue. Biel’s character acknowledges she did the crime and is ready to do the time, but a detective played by Bill Pullman wants to know why. In the second episode Biel offer an explanation that turned out to be a complete fabrication, but flashbacks to her childhood open the door to the idea that there is something mysterious in her past that seems to be driving her actions, perhaps even at a level to which she isn’t even in conscious control. That is a fascinating subject to explore, and at a crisp eight episodes it doesn’t feel like this show will drag the answers out. For now, I’m intrigued.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: B-
What Would Diplo Do?, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Vice (Premiered August 3)
About: This is another comedy series, the first scripted series for Vice, loosely based on the life of DJ Diplo (James Van Der Beek). The first episode was kind of a day-in-the-life, the second one tried to delve into Diplo’s creative process. I like Van Der Beek, but this series felt like a total stretch. There are mildly amusing moments, but this really wasn’t for me. There’s probably an audience for this (which has had a celebrity cameo from the music world in both the first two episodes), but it’s hard to see this with much mass appeal.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C-
Get Shorty, Sundays at 9 p.m. on Epix (Premiered August 13)
About: This latest drama from Epix is an adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel and movie of the same name. But if you head into this show expecting it to be a re-hash of the movie plot, then you’ll be confused. This is more “Get Shorty” the same way “Fargo” was based on the movie. The feel and basic idea is the same, but the characters and specifics have changed. Epix is really trying to build its original content brand, and this series has a good cast, led by Chris O’Dowd and Ray Ramano, but I didn’t love the first two episodes (three are available free on the Epix Website). There were some good moments and some interesting sequences, but the episodes felt uneven, as do the characters. Are they hardened mob men looking for a change, or are they mid-level guys who want to be family men looking for a break? I wasn’t sure, and I don’t think the show was really sure, either. That’s sort of a problem. Epix is trying to break big with stars and high-concept series, and that’s to be applauded, but “Get Shorty” feels a bit like a missed opportunity to me.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C-
Atypical, Now Streaming on Netflix (Premiered August 11)
About: Sam (Keir Gilchrist) is a teenage boy with typical teenage boy problems. But, on top of that, he’s not like others his age. He’s on the Austism spectrum, and that makes it difficult for him to communicate with others, especially when it comes to picking up non-verbal, non-literal cues. That’s the story at the heart of “Atypical,” a new Netflix dramedy that is also about so much more. It’s about the way Sam’s condition complicates life for his family. Whether it’s his mother, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who struggles in trying to be everything to her son to the detriment of the rest of her life. It’s about his father, Doug (Michael Rappaport), who desperately wants to find connection and common ground with his son. And it’s about his little sister, Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), who has taken on the role of protector for her brother at school and often fades into the background at home. All four do a marvelous job with their roles, and I loved the way this series brought the story and characters to life. There’s eight episodes available in the first season, of which I watched the first two. The pilot was engaging, funny at times, and full of heart. The second episode picked up on those threads and continued it. This is one of the best series I’ve previewed so far this summer, and looks like a potential gem in the Netflix vault. That’s a credit to creator Robia Rashid and the world, characters, and story she’s created. “Atypical” is well worth checking out.
Pilot Grade: B+
Second Episode: B+