Charlie Sheen, Aaron Sorkin, and Dallas return; Sigourney Weaver makes her TV debut; and more
The network TV season is over. Game of Thrones just had its season finale. Mad Men and Girls each have a depressingly small number of episodes left in their brilliant seasons. What's a TV addict to do? These 10 promising new and reliable returning series are a good start:
There's no series on TV as daring, transfixing, or unnerving as Breaking Bad. There's also no returning show whose premiere is so feverishly anticipated. The last season of the drama delved deeper into the rabbit hole than even its most loyal viewers ever thought it would go, challenging its fans to follow its conflicted anti-hero as he thwarted loyalties and became more morally blurred than ever.
Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Giancarlo Esposito delivered searing performances last season as various players in an increasingly complicated drug ring. Esposito, especially, blew viewers away—before his character was literally blown away in the watercooler TV moment of 2011. When Breaking Bad returns, it will do so having been given the best gift a serialized TV drama can ask for: an end date. The show will conclude after two more abbreviated eight-episode seasons, allowing its creative team to craft the kind of endlessly debated end afforded to the modern greats: The Sopranos, Friday Night Lights, and Lost.
Premieres July 15 on AMC.
For TV fans who ravenously consume the work of Aaron Sorkin, the combination of the celebrated scribe's talents and HBO's pedigree is comparable to what it must have been like when someone first combined peanut butter and jelly. The Emmy- and Oscar-winning writer behind The West Wing, The Social Network, and Moneyball and the network behind the most prestigious, ground-breaking TV series in recent decades go together so deliciously that, for some, it's incomprehensible that we ever lived without them together.
Of course not everyone is so hyperbolically bullish on Newsroom, which will see Sorkin—as he did with Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip—once again pulling back the curtain on the daily operation of a TV show. This time, his focus is a cable news program. Sorkin deja vu is strong in early trailers, which are brimming with moralizing monologues, passionate grandstanding ("He's trying to do good! And he's risking a lot to do it!"), unlikable heroes, and walk-and-talk whiplash dialogue. Jeff Daniels is a blowhard anchor, the always delightful Emily Mortimer is his plucky-exasperated producer, Jane Fonda is a Ted Turner-esque media mogul. The cast, combined with the freedom Sorkin will have from working with HBO, is very promising.
Premieres June 24 at 10 pm on HBO.
Comedians have trumpeted their willingness to "tell it like it is" for decades. But no one does it with as much intelligence as Louis C.K. His FX series Louie is many things: experimental, heartbreaking, unsettling, hilarious, frank, cathartic, grating. But above all, it's truthful. Louis C.K. is a version of the Everyman that the khaki-wearing, hot-wife having, manicured-lawn keeping likes of Ray Barone, Tim Taylor, and Cliff Huxtable could never be. He's raunchy and unapologetic; a dad who admits to parenting being hard without the comfort of a laugh track, who is both frustratingly obtuse as disenchanted.
The first two seasons of Louie produced a handful of the best comedy episodes in recent years, confronting racism, homophobia, death, divorce, and Dane Cook with painful humor. The upcoming season is shrouded in mystery, though C.K. promises four unnamed Oscar-winners will crop up at various times. Dame Judi Dench as you've never seen her before?
Premieres June 28 and 10:30 pm on FX.
The most captivating thing on Showtime during the summers used to be Nancy Botwin's housewife-turned-drug-lord shenanigans on Weeds. Then Matt LeBlanc started playing himself. In Episodes, LeBlanc plays a sort of douchebag-a-tized version of himself—a medium-talented comedy actor who struck it big playing one note as Joey Tribiani on Friends, who can afford to be off-puttingly choosy and demanding with future projects because of his syndication residuals. The perfect balance of winky braggadocio and fresh characterization LeBlanc brings to playing his LeBlanc parody is what draws you in to Episodes. But bitingly fresh, zinging smart writing keeps you around.
The insider skewering of Hollywood through the eyes of a pair of British sitcom writers, played with charm and humor by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, is as wickedly hilarious as anything on Curb Your Enthusiasm or an above-average episode of Entourage—two series that have also employed the actor-playing-a-comedic-version-of-himself conceit. The trick is nothing new. But to see how adroitly LeBlanc employs it, look not only to the Golden Globe he won for the role, but to ABC's breakout comedy Don't Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23, in which Dawson's Creek mirrors LeBlanc's knowing, nostalgic, satiric portrayal to almost as amusing effect.
Premieres July 1 at 10:30 pm on Showtime.
The Glee Project
Oxygen's summer casting search for the fresh members of New Directions boils down the best elements of Glee—the goosebump-raising singing, the poignant social commentary, the championing of the underdog, and once again THE SINGING—while nixing the most maddening: clunky dialogue and unwieldy plot development.
The whole thing has a summer camp feel, as we see the contestants not only audition week after week, but intensely bond, grow their talent, and become their best Glee-self-accepting selves. The contestant pool is truly unlike any other reality show's: A blind teenage boy, a transgender, and a wheelchair-bound hopeful all compete on equal ground with the traditional divas and talented jocks. Last year, the show discovered two truly breakout stars in cross-dressing Alex Newell, who exploded off the screen in the season three finale, and Rachel-Berry-in-training Lindsay Pearce, who co-starred as a rival show choir member earlier in the season. (Winners Damian McGinty and Samuel Larsen proved to be too milquetoast to gel properly with the Glee cast.) Since so many of Glee's characters graduated from McKinley High at the end of this season, the show could use an influx of fresh talent more next season than ever.