The summer used to be when TV networks would air reruns and other low-stakes programming, knowing that people would rather be at the beach than cooped up inside watching television. But eventually some realized that if every network did this, then it would give new shows that did premiere in June, July, and August an excellent opportunity to stand out. So we’ve now reached the point when the summer months aren’t very different from every other time of the year in terms of the quality of TV shows debuting.
And yet, there is still something unique about a summer show. If we look back at some of the recent series that broke through after their summer premieres to become the talk of water coolers everywhere, some patterns start to emerge:
- 2018: Sharp Objects, Succession, Who is America?
- 2017: GLOW, The Sinner
- 2016: Stranger Things, The Night Of
- 2015: Mr. Robot
- 2014: The Leftovers, Outlander, The Knick
- 2013: Orange Is the New Black
First, most of these shows are just a little offbeat. We use the summer as a break from the monotony of daily work or school life—a chance to do things we don’t normally get to do. Maybe our summer TV preferences are the same. It presents an opportunity to watch something that won’t remind you of every other thing you’ve already watched that year.
Second, with a few exceptions, these shows were not expected to be zeitgeist capturers. Some were not expected to be successes at all. Mr. Robot came out of nowhere in 2015. Stranger Things did the same a year later. Succession was not among HBO’s most highly anticipated projects of 2018, and yet, a year later, it’s probably the cable network’s best show still on the air. The best summer shows tend to catch on with a few (well, a relative few) dedicated watchers and then spread rapidly from there through word of mouth.
And, finally, these shows are compelling but generally not what you’d called “appointment viewing.” You won’t feel pressured to see all the episodes as soon as possible. Like most other summer activities, you can watch them at your leisure and still feel like you’re a part of the conversation. Everything moves just a bit slower over the summer, including our conversations around culture. This allows series that are released all at once to stand out more than they usually do—what’s normally only a two-week window of discussion for those shows throughout the rest of the year can instead last for much longer.
Now that we know what makes for a good summer TV series, let’s look at some of the new ones premiering soon that might fit the bill this year:
Co-created by and starring Fred Armisen, Los Espookys is a Spanish-language comedy that follows a group of friends “who turn their love for horror into a peculiar business, providing horror to those who need it, in a dreamy Latin American country where the strange and eerie are just part of daily life.” Hollywood Reporter critic Daniel Fienberg said the show’s droll sense of humor is “likely to make it a cult favorite.”
Carla Gugino plays a former thief “fresh out of prison” who is thrust back into her old line of work in this Cinemax show. It also stars Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame. Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone gave the series a positive review, praising Gugino’s charismatic lead performance as the titular master thief.
Already internet famous for an episode that includes “close to 30 penises,” Euphoria is a teen drama about a group of American high schoolers navigating drugs, sex, and identity. I’ve seen the first four episodes and liked them. While it’s certainly very explicit, the hysteria surrounding said few-dozen penises is overblown. Teens are likely to love this show, while many adults will appreciate its creative visuals and star Zendaya’s outstanding lead performance. And, clearly, it’s already getting people talking.
Based on the book of the same name by Daniel O’Malley, The Rook is a miniseries about a woman who wakes up in London with no memory of how she got there, soon discovering she’s part of a secret British agency for people with supernatural abilities. Twilight author Stephenie Meyer was originally hired as showrunner, but left the series after creative differences with the other producers.
Russell Crowe is transformed into the ghoulish Fox News CEO Roger Ailes in this miniseries based on the book The Loudest Voice in the Room by Gabriel Sherman. The series will focus on the last decade, when Ailes solidified his cable “news” channel as a wing of the US Republican party before several allegations of sexual harassment resulted in his ouster from the company. Naomi Watts plays Gretchen Carlson, one of the Fox employees who accused Ailes of misconduct. Ailes died in 2017 not long after he left the network.
What if superheroes, but bad? That’s the question asked by The Boys, based on the comic book of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. When some of the world’s superheroes abuse their powers, a group of vigilantes (our titular “boys”) take it upon themselves to take them down and expose the conglomerate covering it all up.
Former cast members of the 1990s series Beverly Hills, 90210 reunite to play themselves in this meta mockumentary. The teaser (above) is deeply weird. After Toy Story, Men in Black, and Nickelodeon’s All That, BH90210 continues the summer of 1990s reboots. The show will include a tribute to iconic cast member Luke Perry, who died in March.
Technically this the second season of the AMC anthology horror series, but we’ll include it on this list because it’s a completely different story from the show’s first season, which was a fictionalized account of John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition in 1845. This season is set in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, and stars George Takei—who himself was relocated to internment camps with his family as a child in the 1940s.