What’s on TV in August? How about a women-of-color sketch-comedy showcase; deep-dive retrospectives of hit machine Motown Records and the original Woodstock concert; two HBO comedies about obscenely wealthy and highly dysfunctional families (though only one features slapstick baptism gags); a most peculiar reboot of a his show from the Nineties; and the gorgeously trashy Kirsten Dunst starring vehicle we’ve been waiting for. Here’s what to check out on le tube for the month. (You can check out the best streaming options here.)
BH90210 (Fox, Aug. 7th)
When Fox announced plans for a reboot of seminal teen soap Beverly Hills, 90210, audiences looked forward to a new generation of telegenic teens dealing with love and scandal, SoCal style. But this series takes a more meta approach, reuniting the original cast members (roll call: Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering, Gabrielle Carteris, Tori Spelling, and Brian Austin Green) to play lightly fictionalized versions of themselves as the actors prep a faux Beverly Hills, 90210 reboot. Passages from the show-within-the-show alternate with the drama behind the scenes. WTF2019?
A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO, Aug. 2nd)
It’s exactly what it says on the tin, folks: At last, a sketch show made by and for black ladies. Robin Thede, improv master and former head writer on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, assembled this collection of screwloose riffs on African-American womanhood with help from executive producer and frequent star Issa Rae. They’re joined in a wild array of scenarios — a Bad Bitch Support Group, a public assembly of one woman’s exes, a drag ball celebrating all things basic — by a stacked lineup of guest talent including Angela Bassett, David Alan Grier, Patti LaBelle, Lena Waithe and many others. This. Looks. Good.
David Makes Man (OWN, August 14th)
Oscar-winning writer Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) is the creator and showrunner of this impressionistic drama revolving around gifted student David (Akili McDowell) as he decides what sort of man he wants to be. The usual coming-of-age narrative gets a boost in stakes from a mother (Alana Arenas) counting on him to achieve their way out of poverty, as well as the memory of his recently deceased best friend. Between this and the stellar High Flying Bird, McCraney is having one hell of a year.
Hitsville: The Making of Motown (Showtime, Aug. 24th)
Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, the Temptations — pretty much everyone that made America want to get up and move during the Sixties was organized under the legendary Motown record label. This doc delves into how visionary founder Berry Gordy grew the Detroit operation into a national powerhouse to create a legacy of black excellence. (Does it also get into how he exerted absolute control over the images of his artists and signed them to contracts that left many of them out in the cold? Yes, it does.) A host of commentators provide context for a pillar of pop culture that stood tall against the era’s racism while getting toes tapping.
Lodge 49, Season 2 (AMC, Aug. 12th)
The offbeat, oddball comedy surprise of 2018 — as its small yet dedicated fanbase will tell anyone in earshot — returns for Round 2. Wyatt Russell stars as Dud, a washed-up surfer and the newest inductee to a mysterious fraternal society known as the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx. The group is in disarray, however, and our rudderless hero feels like he could bring some purpose to his life by getting things back on track. We really, really hope Thomas Pynchon is watching this show and is a huge fan.
On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime, Aug. 25th)
Kirsten Dunst wowed audiences as Fargo‘s hairdresser Peggy Blumquist in the show’s mind-bogglingly great second season — and for her next TV role, she’s playing a different go-getter susceptible to self-actualization pyramid schemes. Her Sunshine State minimum-wager Krystal is convinced that the sketchy Founders American Merchandise outfit can be her ticket to a better life. But after a sobering wake-up call, she vows to take over the organization and finally get hers. Violent black humor, an askance view of American capitalism’s shady underbelly and ugly-beautiful panhandle cinematography — we’re in.
The Righteous Gemstones (HBO, Aug. 18th)
Danny McBride and HBO — always a match made in heaven. The former star of Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals returns to his rightful premium-cable home with this gleefully profane comedy about a family of multi-millionaire televangelists leading a heartland megachurch. Paterfamilias Eli (John Goodman) and his large adult sons Jesse (McBride) and Kelvin (Adam DeVine) run their house of worship like a money factory, squeezing every tax-free dollar possible out of the unquestioning congregation. The series joins them as things start to fall apart, including (but not limited to) a federal investigation, the extensive Gemstone stockpile of automatic firearms, and a well-tanned rival in the form of a malicious Walton Goggins. Comedy geeks, say your prayers.
Succession, Season 2 (HBO, Aug. 11th)
The one-percenters we love to loathe are now back, and they brought their meanest, most creatively obscene insults with them. CEO and father-of-the-year Logan (Brian Cox) may or may not sell the family business to a Japanese tech buyer, which means he’ll have to set up one of his feckless children in the seat of power. Will it be Kendall the Unstable (Jeremy Strong), Roman the Shortsighted (Kieran Culkin), Siobhan the Ruthless (Sarah Snook), or Connor the Irrelevant (Alan Ruck)? So this is how HBO is going to fill the Game of Thrones-shaped vacuum of power plays and horrible patriarchs in their summer schedule? We approve.
The Terror: Infamy (AMC, August 12th)
The sleeper-hit horror anthology jumps forward a century for its second run of episodes, from a doomed Arctic expedition to a World War II-era Japanese internment camp in California. It’s there that a couple of prisoners get the inkling that an unrestful phantom might be haunting the grounds, terrorizing both captives and captors alike. At a time when the government has instated ghastly policies recalling this dark chapter of American history … let’s just say the show takes on a particularly bitter resonance right now.
Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation (PBS, August 6th)
They say that if you remember Woodstock, then you weren’t there, man…so maybe this comprehensive doc chronicling the music and arts festival will jog some memories. In 1969, four hundred thousand flower children, rock & roll fanatics, and free lovers converged on a field in upstate New York for a concert lineup gathering Santana, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc. The rest is history, and well documented in a famous concert movie. This look back covers the rest of the story by focusing not on the who (or for that matter, the Who) and what but the why that caused the audience to flock there and start a revolution.