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.
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.
Premieres June 5 at 10 pm on Oxygen.
USA breaks from its faithful adherence to summer procedural dramas starring beautiful people with Political Animals, a brazen political thriller doubling as a headline-baiting piece of Hillary Clinton fanfiction. Sigourney Weaver plays a former First Lady who becomes Secretary of State. Her life is upended when she decides to divorce the former president after he has an affair, forcing her to balance keeping her family together with keeping the State Department running.
Beyond the Clinton intrigue, the show promises to be a gripping reverse spin on The Good Wife's first season's stand-by-your man personal drama peppered with standard procedural storytelling. It's Weaver's first major TV role, and it's hard to imagine she'd take it and tackle such hot-button material unless the writing measured up. Sweetening the deal, the supporting cast includes Lonestar alum James Wolk—who will forever have good TV karma after starring in the gone-too-soon drama—Carla Gugino, and Ellen Burstyn.
Premieres July 15 at 10 pm on USA.
USA has a glut of glossy procedural dramas, most of which are comparable to beach reads: mindless, mildly sexy, predictable, but exactly the kind of fare you want to be consuming in the dog days. There's Royal Pains, Suits, Common Law, Necessary Roughness, Burn Notice, and Fairly Legal, all of which blend indistinguishably with Franklin and Bash and Rizzoli and Isles on rival cable networks. But if there's one cable drama beach read worth picking up, it's White Collar.
It's slicker than its contemporaries, with a suave lead and clever premise: Matt Bomer plays a former con artist who becomes an asset to the FBI (Tim DeKay) once he's finally caught. Bomer and DeKay rev up the done-to-death crime-solving partners dynamic with their easy chemistry, while a criminal past gives Bomer's character a more sanitized, more palatable Breaking Bad-like moral ambiguity. When the show returns, Bomer is on the run from the FBI again, promising an entertaining game of cat and mouse. And keep an eye on Bomer; his star is on the rise, with a high-profile role in this summer's stripper comedy Magic Mike, and one of the juiciest parts in the upcoming AIDS drama The Normal Heart.
Premieres July 10 at 9 pm on USA.
After tripping on tiger blood and hypnotizing the nation with his personality train wreck and bizarre contrition tour, Charlie Sheen has racked up a high interest level in his new sitcom. Anger Management is based on an Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson movie, and is airing on FX as part of a strange, kind of brave all-or-nothing deal that will force the network to pick up a monstrous 100 episodes of the show if the ratings for the initial batch of episodes are any good—a baffling gamble considering Sheen's recent behavior.
Not an iota of footage from the series has been previewed, which is almost never a good sign, and Sheen reportedly agreed to the series because showrunners are collaborating with him creatively, which... oy. But Selma Blair and Brett Butler have returned from that far off land where former "it" stars go when they disappear from the public eye for years to co-star in the sitcom, which is at once exciting and confusing. We're not anticipating greatness with Anger Management, but everyone will be talking about it when the first episode premieres.
Premieres June 28 at 9 pm on FX.
Primetime soap operas are experiencing somewhat of a revival, thanks to the addicting popularity of ABC's hits Revenge, Scandal, and Once Upon a Time. That makes it the perfect time for the grandaddy of them all to stage its own comeback. Dallas returns to TV more than 20 years after the entire nation—almost literally the entire nation—tuned in to find out who shot J.R. Ewing. Original stars Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, and Patrick Duffy are returning for what amounts to a sequel to the original series, following the sexy younger generation of Ewings, led by beefy Desperate Housewives alums Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe, as they continue the old tradition of warring over oil, family loyalties, and love.
Early trailers reveal an unapologetic self-seriousness that borders on camp for the new Dallas, which will surely be just fine for fans of the old show. Children of those fans discovering the Ewings for the first time should be enticed by the steamy sex scenes and slightly more profane nature afforded the series by its new berth on 2012 cable, rather than 1980s broadcast TV. Reboots, relaunches, and remakes have notoriously struggled to catch on in recent years—remember Charlie's Angels last season? But Dallas is a Texas-sized gamble that just may pay off.
Premieres June 13 at 9 pm on TNT.
The go-to recommendation for good summer reality TV is almost always Fox's consistently frothy-yet-awe-inspiring So You Think You Can Dance. While talent junkies would be wise to tune in to this summer's new round of the talent competition, the dance show that's more intriguing is the CW's Breaking Pointe. Following a group of dancers fighting to keep their spots in a Salt Lake City ballet company, Breaking Pointe is jarringly devoid of trash—rare for a reality show these days—and brimming with class—rare for the CW, ever.
The dancing is gorgeous, the brutal training is riveting, and the drama is more high stakes than anything you'll find on Real Housewives or American Idol. "Can my body withstand barely eating while I repeatedly leap six feet in the air and land on my toes?" trumps "Will he pull off this Phil Collins cover?" every time. There's a juicy Black Swan arc going on, as a 32-year-old prima ballerina's reign is threatened by a teenage rising star. The dancers are as statuesque and pretty as any CW actor, and the drama is balanced perfectly with the dancing. How could you not tune in to a show with the genius tagline: "Blood, sweat, and tutus?"