The Must-Sees of Summer

Posted May 31, 2018 8:25 p.m. EDT

Summer, once the dumping ground of television, is now the season with a little something for everyone. Want popcorn? Summer 2018 brings high-profile adaptations of the work of Tom Clancy, Stephen King and Gillian Flynn. Want critical darlings? New seasons arrive of lauded series like “Better Call Saul” and “Humans.” Want something new and different? Try HBO’s “Random Acts of Flyness” or AMC’s “Lodge 49.” All those shows and more are included in this list of summer highlights (which contains spoilers for returning shows).


“American Woman” (Paramount, Thursday): The humor in this period sitcom about a California woman taking control of her life after divorce is surprisingly gentle and non-jokey, considering its creator, John Riggi, wrote 10 episodes of “30 Rock.” Alicia Silverstone plays a wife whose world is upended when she discovers that her husband (James Tupper) is a philanderer and a fraud. It’s both a comedy and, for anyone who might need it, a primer on sexism American-style in the 1970s.

“Castle Rock” (Hulu, July 25): This riff on characters and locations from the Stephen King multiverse (Hulu’s word) is set in one of his favorite fictional Maine towns. Fans can wallow in the King connections — the Shawshank penitentiary, now privatized, is a major factor — and the first episode sets up a potentially intriguing story involving a nameless inmate discovered in the prison’s depths. Terrific actors dot the credits: Andre Holland, Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn, Terry O’Quinn.

“The Innocents” (Netflix, Aug. 24): The home of “Stranger Things” tries for another supernatural young-adult hit involving endangered teenagers and dodgy scientists. This one’s in a completely different register, though: swoony romantic, with a CW-style pop soundtrack and darkly gorgeous British landscapes.

“Lodge 49” (AMC, Aug. 6): The middle-class California idyll — aerospace jobs, affordable bungalows, manageable beach traffic — is the dream the beaten-down characters in this lighthearted drama are trying to claw their way back to. Wyatt Russell (“22 Jump Street”) plays a former pool boy who finds a connection to that semi-mythical past in a rundown fraternal lodge in Long Beach. In the early episodes the show’s creator, the writer Jim Gavin (“Middle Men”), flirts with magic realism — the Lynx Lodge offers companionship, pancake breakfasts and, possibly, alchemy.

“Random Acts of Flyness” (HBO, Aug. 3): Amid all the accomplished storytelling of the peak-TV era, there hasn’t been much that could be called experimental or subversive or smartly provocative. The shows that deserve those labels often have been half-hours from African-American artists like Donald Glover, Wyatt Cenac, W. Kamau Bell, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key and Issa Rae (whose “Insecure” begins a third season on HBO on Aug. 12). The filmmaker Terence Nance (“An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”) joins that list with this uncategorizable late-night disquisition on race and gender that has elements of Ernie Kovacs, William Greaves, Spike Lee and cable-access TV.

“Sacred Games” (Netflix, July 6): Netflix’s first Indian original, based on Vikram Chandra’s sprawling Mumbai gangster novel, is not a singing-and-dancing spectacular, though one of its characters is a Bollywood star. Instead of production numbers, look for dogged cops, chattering machine guns and bodies falling from heights.

“Sharp Objects” (HBO, July 8): The prestige series of the summer is this moody, fragmented, flashback-heavy gothic mystery and family psychodrama, developed by Marti Noxon from Gillian Flynn’s first novel. Jean-Marc Vallée of “Big Little Lies” directed all eight episodes, but the closer HBO comparison is “True Detective.” Amy Adams stars (for the first time on TV) as a vodka-drenched St. Louis reporter sent to her hometown when someone starts killing teenage girls. The notable cast includes Patricia Clarkson, Henry Czerny, Chris Messina, Elizabeth Perkins and Matt Craven.

“Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” (Amazon, Aug. 31): Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine and now John Krasinski: Few things correlate as strongly with “white, American, square-jawed male” as “actors who have played Jack Ryan on screen.” Krasinski takes on the role of the steadfast CIA analyst in this series created by the TV veterans Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, who worked together on “The Returned” and “Lost.” Amazon’s first venture in the spy genre, “Patriot,” is a quirky anti-thriller; the straight-ahead action in the first episode of “Jack Ryan” confirms the company’s move toward tentpole-style entertainment.


“The Affair” (Showtime, June 17): Hate it or love to hate it, Showtime’s post-divorce drama is back for a fifth season of complicated plotting and shifting points of view. Helen (Maura Tierney) and her ex, Noah (Dominic West), are now in Southern California. Luckily for viewers, the move to warmer climes doesn’t make her any less uptight, controlling and clueless or him any less angry, abrasive and insecure. In each other’s eyes, anyway. (Seasons 1-4 can be streamed at showtime.com and on Showtime’s Amazon Prime channel.)

“Better Call Saul” (AMC, Aug. 6): As it enters its fourth season (no episodes were available), this “Breaking Bad” spinoff and its star, Bob Odenkirk, have moved out of the shadow of the original and become perennial Emmy and Golden Globe nominees in their own rights. (The show added a prestige-TV accessory, a Peabody Award.) Not much news on Season 4 has leaked, although because the show’s a prequel, some things can be predicted, like a growing role for Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring.

“Humans” (AMC, Tuesday): Set a year after the climax of Season 2 — when the world’s entire population of robots was given the consciousness and emotions previously possessed by a handful — the new season of this terrific British drama becomes more of an allegory of contemporary racial and political divides. The “synths” who had been on the run are now internal exiles, facing issues like trafficking, refugee status and whether to pursue peaceful protest or violent rebellion. (Seasons 1-2 can be streamed at Amazon Prime.)

“Luke Cage” (Netflix, June 22): The second season of this Marvel series about a bulletproof superhero (Mike Colter) trying to keep the peace in Harlem features the final screen performance of the deep-voiced, Emmy-winning actor Reg E. Cathey, who filmed his role as Cage’s father before his death in February. He’s introduced early in the season-opening episode, rehearsing a sermon alone before a mirror.

“Spiral” (MHz Choice, Tuesday): The first series from France (where it’s called “Engrenages,” or gears) to break through in the United States, this brusque policier has completed six seasons since its debut in 2005. Season 6, like its predecessors, begins with the discovery of a corpse, this time missing head, hands and feet. “Spiral,” with its procedural crime-solving and wide focus on cops, lawyers and judges, has been compared to the “Law & Order” shows, but it differs by continually incorporating the characters’ personal lives. In the new season, whose 12 episodes were written by Anne Landois, that includes the frequent need of the main cop, Capt. Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust), to pump breast milk, even at crime scenes. Vive la difference. (Seasons 1-5 can be streamed at Hulu.)


“Casual” (Hulu, July 31): The siblings Valerie and Alex (Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey) have a shortened, eight-episode fourth and final season to resolve their commitment issues. Originally a melancholy sitcom about adult dating, “Casual” has grown into a melancholy (but still sharply funny) meditation on belonging, happiness and the many meanings of family. Megan Ferguson brings the screwball-comedy vibe she showed in “The Comedians” to the role of a neighbor with an eye for Alex.

“The Fosters” (Freeform, Monday-Wednesday): It’s not a good moment to be losing this touching young-adult melodrama, one of TV’s most overt celebrations of tolerance and diversity. At least the preternaturally sane lesbian mom and wife Lena (Sherri Saum) is considering a run for the California Assembly as the fifth and final season ends. The three-night finale centers on the destination wedding of Brandon (David Lambert) — assuming his series-long feelings for his adoptive sister Callie (Maia Mitchell) don’t get in the way — so there are hookups, excessive drinking and bad resort music mixed with the sentimental flashback montages.