By now it’s no secret that some of the best television airs during June, July and August and mainly on cable networks. America’s most dedicated pop-culture addicts adjusted their calendars accordingly in the past decade, but maybe now our expectations run a little too high.
Consequently, this summer’s offerings might seem a bit thin. A whole lot of easy-on -the-brain procedurals are back for another round, whether they deserve it or not. (I mean you, “Franklin & Bash,” “Rizzoli and Isles,” “The Glades,” et al.) Those flavored popsicles of the cable wasteland — Bravo, TLC, E! — keep offering the same old shows about matchmakers, manic chefs, toddler beauty contestants, cake bakers, some replacement New York housewives and a generally fizzled-out sense of fizz. The big networks want us all to start watching dating shows again. And I’ve lost count of how many reality shows about swamp dwellers and country-critter chasers there actually are.
Despite such redundancies, there are still a few good reasons to remain an avid indoorsman (or indoorswoman) this summer. What could possibly await you outside, anyhow, besides mosquito bites and heat stroke? Herewith, my very quick guide to what’s worth watching.
The hot stuff
Or: You know better than to bother me on Sunday nights.
“True Blood”; “Weeds”
I’m lumping these two shows together because they were once among my favorites, but this summer I’ve put both on probationary notice.
The first few episodes that I’ve seen of “True Blood’s” fifth season focus on internal squabbles in the clandestine Vampire Authority, headed by new cast member Christopher Meloni. The authority’s real aim should be to gain control of “True Blood’s” rudderless, almost improvisational storylines — though it is encouraging to see that a formerly human character has seroconverted into a vampire.
Meanwhile, I’m holding out faint hope that Jenji Kohan’s once-addictive “Weeds,” starring the underpraised Mary Louise Parker as an itinerant mother/drug dealer/parolee, can right itself after last year’s sleepily stoned season set in New York that ended with someone getting shot … by whom? “True Blood” returns June 10 on HBO; “Weeds” returns July 1 on Showtime.
This new HBO drama from “The West Wing’s” Aaron Sorkin (about a news anchor’s angry epiphany about the state of things in America) is this summer’s only real big kahuna, as far as hype and anticipation goes. Sadly, the pilot is so chock full of Sorkinesque speechifying dialogue that it immediately feels like an uphill climb. Jeff Daniels stars, along with Sam Waterston, Emily Mortimer and occasionally Jane Fonda. June 24, HBO.
People have finally come around to what I think is TV’s finest current show. Maybe it had something to do with seeing [redacted's] [redacted] blown off in last season’s finale. (Redactions supplied as a courtesy to you fools who are still a season or more behind.) The universal acclaim gets here just in time to see “Breaking Bad” off: This summer’s eight episodes will set us up for methmaker Walter White’s treacherous journey into the Albuquerque sunset when the series ends next year. July 15, AMC.
More television aimed at Washington insiders! This six-episode miniseries, from the guy behind the clever but soon-forgotten “Jack and Bobby,” stars Sigourney Weaver as a former first lady who unsuccessfully ran for president and is now the secretary of state. (Stranger things have happened.) July 15, USA.
“Copper”; “Hell on Wheels”
A British-made drama about an Irish-American policeman (Tom Weston) in 1864 New York who is searching for his missing wife. I feel like I’ve been hearing about “Copper” forever. Bonus anticipatory factor: One of the co-creators was behind HBO’s “Oz.”
Speaking of the 1860s, I was somewhat glad I stuck with AMC’s uneven railroad epic, “Hell on Wheels” last fall. We get another chance to see if it chugs along this summer. “Hell on Wheels” returns Aug. 12 on AMC. “Copper” begins on Aug. 19 on BBC America.
“The Soul Man”
Cedric the Entertainer stars in this “Hot in Cleveland” spinoff as a reverend who used to be a Barry White-style singer of sexy R&B hits. June 20, TV Land.
“Snooki & JWoww”
I once charitably interpreted “Jersey Shore” as a fascinating rumination on the nature of sin. Now I’m just going to file this spinoff under “comedy” and make a feeble attempt to enjoy it as such. June 21, MTV.
Louis C.K.’s mouth has gotten him in a little bit more trouble than he’d probably prefer lately, and his brilliantly fluid comedy series befuddles some viewers, but I’m still a big fan and more than interested to see where he takes his sad-sack Manhattanite alter ego this time. June 28, FX.
I already don’t have the time or the energy to watch much of London’s Olympics (is there a word for the phenomenon of finding something tiresome before it even begins?), but I am rooting for this British mockumentary that stars “Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville as the overwhelmed head of a logistics team assigned to solve an array of comical mix-ups that come with hosting the Summer Games. June 28, BBC America.
Charlie Sheen’s return to sitcomville in a show that’s based on the premise of a Jack Nicholson movie, aided by the vernacular freedom that only cable can bring. No one’s seen it yet, but all eyes will be on it — for reasons that still baffle me. June 28, FX.
“Sullivan & Son”
The sitcom genre keeps getting the resuscitating paddles to the chest. This one is about the son of a pub owner who decides to take over the business when his parents retire. It stars comedian Steve Byrne, who has built his career making light of his Irish-Korean heritage. July 19, TBS.
Cops, cowboys, covert agents
Action and procedurals
Reelz Channel’s imported action-adventure show reminds me of the little thing I had for Cinemax’s “Strike Back” last summer — with that same stylish knack for violence. Based on a comic book and a video game, “XIII” stars Stuart Townsend as an amnesiac secret operative who is on a Bourne-like hunt for information about his past, present and future. June 29, Reelz Channel.
Eric McCormack, still seeking the right post-”Will & Grace” fit, plays a neuroscientist who struggles to keep his paranoid schizophrenia at bay. As if his life weren’t complicated enough, the FBI requires his help to solve cases. July 9, TNT.
“The Closer”/”Major Crimes”
As fans know, Kyra Sedgwick’s “The Closer” is closing, which is like finding out that your favorite summertime Sno-Cone truck is shuttering for good. But, wait — there’s a spinoff with mean Capt. Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) waiting in the wings, premiering right after “The Closer’s” final episode. “The Closer” returns July 9; “Major Crimes” begins Aug. 13, both on TNT.
“Hit and Miss”
I haven’t seen this British-made miniseries yet, but could it sound any more intriguing? “Big Love’s” Chloe Sevigny plays a transgender Irish assassin. Whatever you do, don’t call her a hitman. July 11, DirecTV only.
It’s a crime procedural based on a series of novels, but this drama about a depressed yet valorous sheriff (Robert Taylor) in rural Wyoming has a much slower pace and different feel from its usual summer-sleuth cohort. I was struck by the quietude of the first episode (which aired June 3) and Taylor’s nuanced performance, so I’m willing to see where the show leads us. Airs Sundays, A&E.
Soaps, reality, competition
A surprisingly spry return to Southfork Ranch. June 13, TNT.
“Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp”
I’m including this more as a disaster alert than a recommendation. June 19, Lifetime.
“American Ninja Warrior”
Although the current season began in late May, the hard work of winnowing down regional finalists continues each week. The finalists — who display upper-body strength that most of us can only dream of — will have to face the dreaded Mount Midoriyama obstacle course in Las Vegas. Only three men have ever completed it, which is just one reason why I am belatedly and elatedly hooked on this thrilling competition show. Full episodes air Sundays and Tuesdays on G4; highlights air Mondays at 9 on NBC.
From the creator of the much-beloved “Gilmore Girls,” and just as quippy and heartfelt, this show is about a Las Vegas showgirl who marries her determined suitor, moves to his small home town and reluctantly takes a job teaching young girls at a local dance studio. June 11, ABC Family.
“The Great Escape”
Co-created by the folks who brought us the incomparable “Amazing Race,” this promising new reality competition series puts blindfolded couples into real picklish situations, where they must use their wits and strength to escape. Locations include Alcatraz and the USS Hornet. June 24, TNT.
Real (as opposed to ‘reality’)
National Geographic takes a fresh look at the still-extant American frontier in this four-part miniseries — the mountains, coasts, forests and other pockets of our nation that harbor a surprising array of wildlife, danger and beauty. Some of it just steps from the nearest Mickey D’s. June 10-11, National Geographic Channel.
“The Other F Word”
Seen in limited theatrical release last year, this doc examines the lives of dads who maintain careers as punk-rock musicians on the road. As The Washington Post’s Joe Heim noted last fall in his review, “The Other F Word” is “one of the better rock movies to explore — and explode — the myth of being in a rock band, particularly an aging, working band that has managed to hang on and still make a living.” June 14, Showtime.
PBS’s long-running “POV” documentary series returns for its 25th season with Jennifer Fox’s film about a Tibetan Buddhist master’s belief that his son is the reincarnation of his former master — but the son has other ideas. With fittingly Zen-like discipline, this doc took 20 years to finish and takes a casual approach to linear narrative. When it screened in Washington last year, The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan found it to be “a watchable, if frustrating, account of one man’s resistance to his fate and his ultimate acceptance of it.” June 21, PBS.
“Me @ the Zoo”
A young man named Chris Crocker found Internet fame with his unhinged “Leave Britney Alone!” viral video rant, but his story didn’t end there. This film is touted as a thoughtful examination of what notoriety means in our modern era. June 25, HBO.
“Hard Times: Lost on Long Island”
Marc Levin, who has made documentaries about the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist factory fire and the incarceration of Washington gang members, turns in this story of chronically unemployed mid-career suburbanites who can’t find jobs in this stagnant economy. July 9, HBO.