HBO is TV's unofficial king of summer, with the return of water-cooler dominator Game of Thrones, a deep-dive portrait of twin musical innovators Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine and Andy Samberg doing for professional cycling what he did for tennis. There's plenty to peruse beyond premium cable, of course, as the networks ready sci-fi–inflected procedurals and FX unveils an ambitious new period drama set in the cradle of crack cocaine. Here's what you need to be tuning into this month.
American Ripper (History, July 11th)
Herman Mudgett, a.k.a. H.H. Holmes, murdered what some scholars believe to be over 200 people during the tail end of the 19th century in Chicago. Around that same time, the notorious Jack the Ripper hunted the prostitutes of Whitechapel and set the mold for the modern serial killer. This series picks up in the present day, where Mudgett's great-grandson goes about proving his pet theory that these two men were one and the same, allying himself with an ex-CIA analyst to rewrite the history of savagery. This series is basically trying to trace nothing less than the origins of man-made evil, so you know, no big whoop.
The Defiant Ones (HBO, July 9th)
Andre "Dr. Dre" Young rose to fame as a rapper-producer with N.W.A before embarking upon a successful solo recording career and founding his own label, Aftermath. Jimmy Iovine contributed audio-engineer work to John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen before cofounding the megalabel Interscope. This four-part documentary chronicles the lives and successes of these two men, joined recently as the joint heads of boutique headphones company Beats Electronics. From Compton to Brooklyn, united by gumption, they rose from humble beginnings to build a sprawling empires, with Menace II Society director Allen Hughes' double-biography forming a picture of self-made American success.
Game of Thrones, Season 7 (HBO, July 16th)
TV's biggest summer blockbuster makes its return (albeit in a truncated seven-episode run), swallowing up the rest of the schedule like a dragon with a misbehaving peasant. When we last checked in with the assorted plotters and schemers of Westeros, Cersei had staged a shocking coup-by-wildfire; the new season will sort through the aftermath of that ambush, Jon Snow's parentage and the long-awaited arrival of the dreaded winter, among a dozen other in-motion subplots. Add in a legion of ill-tempered White Walkers and a triumphant Daenerys descending into the fray atop a mammoth-sized dragon, and it's shaping up to be the bloodiest season yet.
Loaded (AMC, July 17th)
It's Silicon Valley's off-season, so AMC has helpfully stepped in with a start-up-world holdover. Four code-bro doofuses sell their fledgling video-game company to a major buyer and all become instant millionaires. But as the core quartet gets acclimated to the lifestyle of the rich and viral, they realize they'll have to work harder and smarter if they want to hold onto the digital kingdom they've built. None of which stops these gents from under-the-influence gold ingot purchasing and bathtub champagne benders – for geniuses, they have the capacity to be monumentally stupid.
Midnight, Texas (NBC, July 24th)
Midnight is a sleepy little Texas hamlet like any other – except it's peopled by psychics, vampires, shape-shifters and a guy with eagle wings for arms. From True Blood novelist Charlaine Harris comes another tale of the steamy, supernatural South, where French-Canadian hunk François Arnaud stars as a telepathic drifter instantly gets himself tangled up in small-town danger, romance and lurid shenanigans. The constraints of network TV preclude this from hitting the hedonistic extremes of Bon Temps, Louisiana, but rest assured that there will be plenty of hothouse intrigue nonetheless.
Salvation (CBS, July 12th)
The bad news is that there's a massive asteroid on a collision course with Earth and all of humanity has about six months left to live. The good news: We've got our best people on the job. This end-of-days thriller focuses on the joint efforts of a tech billionaire and an MIT grad student to save the planet without alarming the general populace, locked in a race against time as the federal government prepares their own extreme solution. There's also a sci-fi writer recruited to devise a theoretical plan to avert crisis, which we assume begins with a refresher viewing of Armageddon.
Somewhere Between (ABC, July 24th)
In the dead of summer, a paranormal procedural can be as refreshing as a glass of ice water. ABC will slake your thirst with this Americanized version of a Korean-made smash: Paula Patton plays a mother who lives through the nightmare of her daughter's murder, and then mysteriously awakens one morning to find that it's two weeks earlier and her girl is alive again. With the clock ticking and police rolling their eyes, she's in a race against time to prevent the same fate from befalling her daughter — and taking her, too. A good murder mystery with a sci-fi hook is one of life's simple pleasures; if ABC plays their cards right, they could have a new sleeper hit on their hands.
Snowfall (FX, July 5th)
Cheap, strong and easy to produce, crack cocaine hit Los Angeles like a virus in 1983, leaving a trail of broken lives in its wake. Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton's saga takes place in that pivotal cultural moment when a hot new product triggered a huge spike in the city's dealing economy and kicked the War on Drugs into high gear. The show expands its focus to include an untested teen pusher, a zealous CIA operative, a conflicted lucha libre wrestler and a Mexican kingpin's gorgeous daughter. From these lives, Singleton aims to form a portrait of a specific time and place, and from it, a diagnosis of its troubles. Dare we invoke the name of The Wire?
Tour de Pharmacy (HBO, July 8th)
Andy Samberg and Murray Miller made an utter mockery out of professional tennis in their "30 For 30" send-up 7 Days In Hell, and their new sports mockumentary sets its Eighties-era videotape lens on the scandal-tinged Tour de France. Samberg and a magnificently goateed Orlando Bloom (portraying a character named JuJu Peppi, naturally) lead the pack of artificially-enhanced racers, with eclectic array of competitors featuring Daveed Diggs, Dolph Lundgren, John Cena and Will Forte will joining them on the racetrack. (Did you think Lance Armstrong wouldn't make a good-natured cameo appearance to poke fun at his own checkered past? Think again.) If it's half as ludicrous as 7 Days – which included an extended computer-animated sequence of a Swedish prison orgy – it should be a winner.
Will (TNT, July 10th)
Before he was such stuff as drowsy high-school English class lectures are made of, ol' William Shakespeare was a sexy young horndog. The latest entry in the proud tradition of TV shows imagining hotter versions of historical figures joins Billy Shakes in his early twenties, as the untested playwright first began to seize the London theatre world's attention. It takes a reverent stance towards the Bard as a genius, iconoclast and insatiable love-machine, chronicling his romancing a series of grateful maidens in between writing a play or three. Call it Shakespeare in Lust.