We’re getting a lot of returning favorites this August, with new seasons of Better Call Saul, Insecure, The Sinner and Mr. Mercedes all hitting the airwaves — and all coming back strong. Meanwhile, cable lights up with an offbeat, Afrocentric late-night show, an unusual drama about a surfer joining a Freemasons-like secret society and docs on subjects ranging from Southern rock legends to Chicago high-school students to gone-too-soon movie stars. Here’s what you need to tune in to this month. (Our streaming recommendations for August can be found here.)
America to Me (Starz, Aug. 26th)
In the suburbs outside Chicago, the proud halls of Oak Park and River Forest High School provide a microcosm for racial tensions raging across the nation. For this 10-part documentary miniseries, Hoop Dreams director Steve James embeds himself in this teeming, complicated social ecosystem and reopens the discussion on white privilege among our youth. Though the school has an affluent student body and a state-of-the-art campus, test score disparity and de facto segregation in the lunchroom reflects a deeper, bigger-picture disharmony. So at least one group of folks are having the uncomfortable conversations we should all be having. And yes, kids, this is all going to be on the quiz.
Better Call Saul, Season Four (AMC, Aug. 6th)
Things are about to get a lot more dangerous for unscrupulous lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), which is to say it’s business as usual for this extraordinary Breaking Bad prequel series. The once and future Saul Goodman continues to expand his fragile legal enterprise, while chicken-vendor-cum-drug-baron-cum-Walter-White-nemesis Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and long-suffering legal eagle Kim (Rhea Seehorn) do what they do best (scheme, glare and fret, respectively). The aftermath of Jimmy’s brother shuffling off this mortal coil will play a big part as we all inch closer to Goodman Ground Zero. Lawyer up, folks.
Carter (WGN, Aug. 7th)
In the hallowed tradition of Castle and The Grinder comes this Canadian import, a comedy about an actor named Harley Carter (Jerry O’Connell) who once starred in a hit detective procedural. Then a personal meltdown got him booted from the show and sent packing for his hometown; luckily, opportunity comes a-knocking when townspeople start approaching him to solve real crimes around the neighborhood. With his estimable improv skills and some help from his childhood pal-turned-actual cop Sam (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), he might just pull it off. Just don’t ask him to recite the Miranda rights or he might reply by yelling, “Um … line?!?”
I Am Paul Walker (Paramount Network, Aug. 11th)
We’re five years out from the death of actor Paul Walker and the pain’s still fresh for the legions of fans he picked up as one of the leading men in the Fast and Furious franchise. This posthumous portrait doubles as a celebration of a life lived to the extreme, using the traditional combination of intimate interviews and personal archival footage to form a portrait of the well-liked daredevil. As his family and friends tell it, he was a “gun-toting hippie” whose alpha-male persona concealed a gentler, more sensitive soul. Expect a lot of intimate looks at the actor, and a lot of wadded Kleenex by your feet.
Insecure, Season 3 (HBO, Aug. 12th)
Shade is back in session, as Issa Rae’s ongoing field study of the black female experience in modern-day Hell-ay drops another season. Her alter ego Issa Dee has moved in with her ex, but they’re just gonna keep it cool and platonic, right? Right?!? Our heroine and her pals Molly (Yvonne Orji) and Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) continue to struggle and strive in both the dating and professional worlds. (One new episode focuses on Issa’s uphill battle to get approved by an upscale apartment board, while Molly angles for a promotion to the next level.) And once again, this stealth HBO MVP dramedy continues to prove that attention needs to be paid to what’s one of the best (and most underrated) shows on premium cable right now.
Lodge 49 (AMC, Aug.6th)
When we think “secret society,” we think of, y’know, Ivy League basements and hooded robes. This new comedy from AMC takes the topic in a less ominous direction, i.e. a sleepy clubhouse in Long Beach, California. Sean “Dud” Dudley (a sublimely chilled-out Wyatt Russell) is a former beach bum shaken by the recent death of his father. In an attempt to connect with his late pops a bit more, the surfer joins his old man’s fraternal order, the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx. His long-in-the-tooth fellows members are soon re-energized to continue on with … what, exactly? The trailer leaves the precise nature of their activities a mystery, but we assume there’s more going on than fundraising drives and pledge reciting. Don’t forget the secret handshake!
Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave Here Tomorrow (Showtime, Aug. 18th)
Just when Skynyrd superfans thought they knew everything there was to know about the Southern rock godheads, along comes the definitive account of the band’s work and influence. This documentary — or if you will, “rockumentary” — is chockablock with illuminating tidbits about how the group came together, pissed off Mick Jagger and overcame a demonic possession, among many others. From the Van Zant household to the crash site outside Gillsburg, Mississippi, director Stephen Kijak has left no stone unturned, conducting new interviews with all remaining members and still finding time to examine an unintended legacy in Confederate-revival culture. Big wheels keep on turnin’ …
Mr. Mercedes, Season 2 (Audience, Aug. 22nd)
The explosive finale of this Stephen King adaptation’s first season left psychopathic serial killer Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) in a vegetative coma, with his nemesis — the unhealthily obsessed, dogged detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) — waiting by his side. The sophomore run shifts gear into something altogether stranger, as it appears Brady has taken telepathic control of assorted townspeople to do his dark bidding. His doctor (a mustachioed Jack Huston) has nefarious plans of his own, too; the trailer gave off strong Josef Mengele vibes. We have the feeling that things are about to get dark. Very dark.
Random Acts of Flyness (HBO, Aug. 3rd)
Good luck trying to slot this mind-melting new series from visionary Terence Nance into a genre. Part sketch program, part dialectic on race and gender in America and part multi-media art project, the indie filmmaker’s irrepressible creative spirit has made this six-episode whatsit into an uncanny expression of a chaotic time. The show addresses everything from trans civil rights to police brutality with a heady swirl of animation, surrealist live-action and docu-stylings — imagine a socially conscious new path for Adult Swim-style late-night weirdness. You know how people always say “you’ve never seen a show like this before?” That sentence genuinely applies here.
The Sinner, Season 2 (USA, Aug. 1st)
Though star Jessica Biel will not rejoin the cast for this sleeper hit’s second season, Bill Pullman returns as Detective Harry Ambrose, training his attention on a new, equally inexplicable crime. Out of nowhere, a young boy in a quiet town poisons both of his parents and watches them die; the answer behind this enigmatic homicide is sure to expose a vein of evil far deeper than initially presumed. Ans hot off her Fargo stint, Carrie Coon also provides a notable addition to the cast, though the true nature of her character has been kept tightly under wraps. She — like everyone else in this morally murky stew — has no shortage of secrets to keep.