Not only is summer a useful time to finish or delete anything that’s loitering in your DVR, I’ve always encouraged viewers to also use these months as a time to guiltlessly graze TV’s junk-food aisles. Certain inane pleasures await when we stop treating TV like highbrow homework and let it become the populist entertainer it was made to be.
That said, I do have some summer assignments (no groaning!), including FX’s instantly addictive 1980s drug epic “Snowfall” (July 5), Netflix’s delightful lady-wrestler dramedy “GLOW” (June 23) and PBS’ ace-detective prequel “Prime Suspect: Tennison” (June 25) - reviews of which you can find elsewhere in this preview package.
And here are another 20 new and returning shows I think are worth checking out between now and Labor Day. (No pressure, though. If you’d prefer to spend your summer watching real estate transactions and celebrity game shows, I won’t tell.)
“The Great British Baking Show”
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(PBS at 9 p.m., premieres Friday, June 16) Once more into the tent! Twelve amateur bakers vie for the only title that really matters, with judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood scrutinizing 30 new dessert challenges. Fans consider “The Great British Baking Show” to be the perfect escape from a tumultuous world, and they’re right - it is.
(BBC America at 10 p.m., Wednesday, June 28) Remember how wild we all were for “Broadchurch” a few years back? (And how let down we were by Season 1’s ending and Season 2’s meandering?) Now the show is back for a reinvigorated third (and final) round, reuniting detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller (David Tennant and Olivia Colman) as they investigate a rape case.
“The Words That Built America”
(HBO at 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 4) Indefatigable documentarian and patriot Alexandra Pelosi steps out of the picture and gets famous and non-famous Americans to read aloud from the three documents that define our nation: the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. That ought to fix things.
“The Deﬁant Ones”
(HBO at 9 p.m. Sunday, July 9-Wednesday, July 12) Critics got a glimpse awhile back of this four-night documentary about the intertwining careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine (and the emergence of Interscope and Death Row Records) - and I was totally hooked. “The Defiant Ones” affirms the idea that a good ear for talent is connected to an open (and rebellious, idiosyncratic) mind that instinctively roots out the new.
“Last Men in Aleppo”
(PBS, premieres July 10; check listings or visit PBS.org/pov) Of all the documentaries coming out of war-ravaged Syria, including Oscar-winner “The White Helmets,” this one from director Feras Fayyad is particularly impressive as a fuller work. Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan wrote that “Last Men in Aleppo” is “a deeper and more artful film (than ‘White Helmets).”
(CBS at 9 p.m., Wednesday, July 12) This sci-fi/suspense thriller is about an MIT student and a tech billionaire who team up to save the world from an asteroid. That particular sort of Armageddon sounds like old hat (or maybe wishful thinking), but with past shows like “Brain Dead” and “Extant,” CBS seems to really get the experimental nature of summer TV.
(TruTV at 10 p.m., Wednesday, July 12) “Veep” fans know Andrea Savage as President Laura Montez; here she plays a crazed comedy writer/mom/wife in one of those “loosely based” autobiographical L.A. dramedies. Not exactly a new concept (see “Better Things,” et al.), but short clips from the show seem surprisingly funny - and naughty.
“Friends From College”
(Netflix, July 14) Film director Nicholas Stoller (”Neighbors”) and wife Francesca Delbanco are behind this eight-episode dramedy about a group of six Ivy Leaguers (including Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, Cobie Smulders and Nat Faxon) who remain friends in their complicated 40s. Precious, sure, but Key’s comedic timing saves the episodes I’ve seen.
“Game of Thrones”
(HBO at 9 p.m., Sunday, July 16) Although I find it a bit rudderless since it eclipsed the novels (which I’ve never read), “GoT” is still one of the best shows of our time. There are only seven episodes in this penultimate season, so enjoy them while they last. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner Daenerys and Tyrion take care of Cersei, the better - but I hope they leave something for Arya.
(FX at 10 p.m., Sunday, July 16) Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s underappreciated viral-vampires saga moves at a nice clip with a minimum of existential crises amid the horror. This fourth and final season deals with the fact that petulant brat Zach (Max Charles) set off a nuclear bomb in Manhattan at the end of Season 3. (He’s the worst.)
(HBO at 10:30 p.m., Sunday, July 23) Issa Rae’s affecting portrait of a young social worker in Los Angeles and the up-and-down state of her friendships and love life ended its first season on an especially down note, when her character’s boyfriend dumped her after discovering she’d had an affair. Both Rae and HBO have been pretty tight-lipped about what happens next.
(NBC at 10 p.m., Monday, July 24) From author Charlaine Harris (who gave us “True Blood”), this drama is about a small town that’s full of paranormal inhabitants (vampires, witches, werewolves, psychics) who have to fight off cops and biker gangs to form a community where they can be themselves. Looks like the usual monster mash-up of gothic and erotic.
(ABC at 10 p.m., Monday, July 24) As if media workers aren’t crazy-busy enough these days, Paula Patton stars as Laura Price, a TV news producer who has a frighteningly detailed vision that her 8-year-old daughter (Aria Birch) will be murdered. This 10-episode thriller follows along as Laura desperately tries to prevent the inevitable.
(HBO at 11:30 p.m., Friday, July 28) From brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (”Togetherness”), this anthology dramedy features a random mix of characters who each spend a night in Room 104 of an nondescript motel. The brothers initially said they wanted to set the show in a banal, corporate chain motel, but in a preview clip, this retro, double-queen room definitely looks old-school No-Tell Motel.
(Discovery Channel at 9 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 1) Discovery takes a dramatic, eight-episode stab at telling the story of hermit and domestic terrorist Ted Kaczynski (Paul Bettany) and the FBI profiler, Jim Fitzgerald (”Avatar’s” Sam Worthington), who tracked him down in 1996. Jane Lynch plays Attorney General Janet Reno. “Quarry” showrunner Greg Yaitanes directs.
“What Would Diplo Do?”
(Viceland at 10 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 3) Viceland’s first attempt at a scripted show is a dramedy in which James Van Der Beek stars as a satirically egocentric version of Diplo, the world-famous DJ and record producer. Your skepticism is warranted, but know this: The TV industry exists mainly to find Van Der Beek the perfect comeback vehicle. It’s been going on for years now.
“First in Human”
(Discovery Channel at 9 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 10) Three-night docu-series, narrated by “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons, takes viewers on an unprecedented trip inside the National Institutes of Health’s “Building 10” hospital complex, where chemotherapy was first used against cancer, lithium was tried for depression and - so long as federal funding continues - further research continues.
(Epix at 10 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 13) Chris O’Dowd stars in this series adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, which is a refreshing departure from both the book and the 1995 John Travolta movie. The essential plot is the same - O’Dowd is a hit man who travels to Hollywood for a job and realizes the movie biz is his true calling - but it’s been given a “Breaking Bad”-style upgrade that suits it well.
(Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 23) Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s surrealistic, hilarious twist on the “young women in the big city” trope is back for a fourth season. Delightfully weird and endearing (and deserving of its near-unanimous praise) “Broad City” may not be a “Seinfeld”-size hit, but it has a “Seinfeld”-esque way of reflecting this generation’s sharpest sense of humor.
“Halt and Catch Fire”
(AMC, expected in late summer) The fourth and final season of AMC’s dawn-of-the-internet drama was slow-going at first but then shifted its characters’ perspectives into higher gear and evolved into a moody, almost “Mad Men”-esque rumination on a certain time (the 1980s) and place (first Texas, then the Bay Area). Now it’s the 1990s - so here come all those freebie AOL discs?