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Summer Cable-TV Preview: Hackers, Hip-Hop and Lesbian Vampires

Demonic possessions, rock & roll lifers, the return of ‘Mr. Robot’ and ‘OITNB’ — we’ve got your small-screen covered

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Myles Aronowitz/Netflix, Sarah Shatz/USA Network, HBO

What a summer for TV — the airwaves are full of excellent reasons to avoid leaving the friendly confines of your air-conditioned nachos-stocked apartment. The summer TV line-up offers brilliant new shows as well as returning favorites, glorious dumb-ass comedies as well as criminal suspense. There are veteran heroes coming back with new adventures — whether that means Danny McBride bringing that Eastbound and Down magic to high school, Cameron Crowe chronicling the rock & roll road life or Robert Kirkman exploring demonic possession. The resurrection of Winona. The best season yet for Orange Is the New Black. James Franco doing a Lifetime movie about lesbian vampires. Cops, crooks, chefs and aliens. It's all here. Happy sweltering.

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Myles Aronowitz/Netflix, Sarah Shatz/USA Network, HBO

‘Roadies’

Showtime, June 26th
Cameron Crowe created this tale of noble roadies, based on the rock and roll tour travails he's been chronicling ever since he spent the Seventies profiling the Eagles and the Allman Brothers for Rolling Stone. Roadies focuses on the backstage crew and the camaraderie they develop as the highway stretches on forever. Luke Wilson plays the tour manager of an arena-rock group with the very 1974 name of the Staton-House Band, with Carla Gugino as their perky production manager and Luiz Guzman as a philosophizing bus driver. This has always been home turf for Crowe, from Singles to Almost Famous. And anything that gives Carla Gugino a chance to rock out is a good thing.

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Myles Aronowitz/Netflix, Sarah Shatz/USA Network, HBO

‘The Night Of’

HBO, July 17th
Like so many New York crime stories, this one begins with a nice guy who never did anything crazy in his life before tonight … which is when things get bloody. A mild-mannered Pakistani high-school kid from Queens borrows his dad's cab to go to a downtown club. He picks up a passenger: a mystery girl who lures him into bed. Fade to black — until he wakes up and finds her extremely dead body. Did he kill her? Or is somebody setting him up?

Written by noir mastermind Richard Price, The Night Of gets its tension from the two hard-boiled cranks playing mind games over this case. John Turturro is fantastically scuzzy as the ambulance chaser who scams onto the case as the defense attorney, the kind of guy who picks the scabs on his eczema-infected feet, with his pencil, on the subway. Bill Camp is the equally rumpled and manic detective convinced he's got this kid red-handed — both these guys make Lieutenant Columbo look like James Bond. (And the ever-welcome Kevin Dunn shows up as one of the cops, satisfying HBO's requirement that every show needs at least one cynical asshole played by Kevin Dunn.)

When Nasir (Riz Ahmed) threatens to start telling the cops the truth, Turturro has a conniption fit: "I wanna tell you something and it's the most important thing you'll ever hear in your entire life so don't not hear it," he yells at the kid. "Shut it. They come up with their story, we come up with ours." This criminal justice system turns everybody into a wiseguy, even the judge; when a black prisoner complains he got a stiffer sentence than the Jewish guy ahead of him in line, His Honor smirks, "You want Jew time? Do Jew crime." But Turturro steals the show — and considering his role was originally built for James Gandolfini, who tragically died before it came to pass, the actor's achievement is twice as impressive.

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Stranger Things

Netflix

‘Stranger Things’

Netflix, July 17th
November 1983: a small-town Indiana comics-geek kid vanishes without a trace. The local cops don't have a clue. His working-stiff mom (Winona Ryder) goes looking for answers, except she starts to suspect he's caught up in some sinister government conspiracy involving some deadly adults. (One of them is Matthew Modine.) Stranger Things is an affectionate ode to Eighties geek culture — the missing kid's friends try to solve the mystery, using their walkie-talkies to talk in their shared language of references to Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons and issue #134 of The Uncanny X-Men. (And the kid's teen brother is a music freak who makes him mix tapes full of Joy Division, Bowie, Television and the Clash.) But the mystery deepens when they meet a weird little girl with a shaved head and some creepy supernatural secrets. It's great to see Ryder in action — between this and last year's Show Me A Hero, she's back in the game. Winona Forever!

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‘Mr. Robot’

USA, July 13th
Last year's best new show came out of nowhere — well, out of the USA Network, which is basically the same thing. Rami Malek returns as Eliot, a hacker kid in a black hoodie, recruited into an underground Coney Island cell of vigilante anarchists dedicated to corporate sabotage. The hotly anticipated second chapter picks up where we left off, after the fsociety hack throws the world economy into chaos. Christian Slater returns as Mr. Robot, who plays a murky role in Eliot's unstable and drug-riddled brain; as he says, it's "an infinite loop of insanity." Sam Esmail's visually splendid and outrageously imaginative punk fantasy doesn't rest on its laurels — the new season adds newcomers like Craig Robinson from The Office, Frances Ha's Grace Gummer and rapper Joey Bada$$, while B.D. Wong expands the intriguing role of trans hacker Whiterose, leader of the Dark Army. And in a typically inventive special-effects trick, there's a clever cameo by some guy named Barack Obama.

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‘Ballers’

HBO, July 17th
When Ballers dropped last summer, everybody pegged it as the NFL version of Entourage, with a side order of Arli$$. But it proved Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could hold his own as a TV leading man, after essentially conquering every other corner of the media. He returns as the ex-football star Spencer Strasmore, finding there's life after the gridiron by putting on a suit and starting a new career as financial adviser to the A-list jocks — to "monetize my friendships," as he put it. Johnson is hardly the first pro wrestler to make the transition into the acting game, but he is probably the first to play a guy you could imagine doing your taxes. Rob Corddry keeps up his hyperactive comic weaseling as a sleazebag sidekick. The bro crew orbiting around these two might be a lot less charismatic, yet Ballers builds a laid-back party vibe around its star's unflappable core of chill.

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‘Vice Principals’

HBO, July 17th
For most people, high school is a four-year sentence. For Neal Gamby, it's the hellhole he's dug himself into for life, and the only thing that keeps him going is the dream that someday he'll run the place. He's the most pitiful high-school administrator you've ever seen — especially since he's Danny McBride, who makes Gamby a comic creation worthy of Kenny Power, the slob he played to mulleted perfection on Eastbound and Down. Vice Principals is the excellent long-awaited return for Eastbound creators McBride and Jody Hill, except this time their turf is the South Carolina high school where Gamby's the vice principal gunning for the top job. McBride makes it the summer's best new comedy — he's a bundle of sweaty mid-life despair, a petty tyrant with a tragic little mustache and pompadour, seething in his sad blue school-spirit sweater vest.

As Vice Principals begins, the retiring principal of a South Carolina high school leads his two deputies in one final Pledge of Allegiance, while they flip each other off behind his back. (The principal who's stepping down? Bill Murray, in a genius cameo.) Gamsby's arch enemy is Walton Goggins from Justified, as a horrifying smarmy bow-tie dandy, always simpering and sucking up. They battle it out to take over, but to their shock, they both get passed over in favor of a new principal, who adds insult to injury by ordering Gamby to get up early every morning to teach driver's ed in the parking lot. Driver's ed? This means war.

McBride is just amazing — at least Kenny Powers always had his clueless-asshole swagger to carry him through, but Gamby is a darker character who can smell the stench of loser dust all over him. Especially when he's with his foxy ex-wife (Busy Phillips), whose motorcross-riding good old boy of a new husband (Shea Whigham) is cooler, smarter and nicer than he is. When he joins forces with his sworn enemy to bring down the new principal, it just brings out the worst in each other — McBride never stops adding to his own humiliations. His idea of acting like a boss is going around saying things like "I'm sorry you made me yell at you today." His idea of helping to mold the minds of the future is to warn his students, "You know what happens to kids your age if you smoke too much marijuana? You grow tits! Giant turkey tits, down to your knees!" Here, at last, is a true role model for America's youth.

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‘The Get Down’

Netflix, August 12th
To the beat, y'all. The Get Down is Vinyl meets Empire times The Wanderers, with a crew of South Bronx kids in the 1970s looking for a way into NYC's exploding music scene. The Bronx is burning and these kids all want to be stars, whether that means singing gospel in church, grabbing the mic at a Grandmaster Flash block party or scheming to turn into the next Donna Summer by getting discovered on the floor of Les Inferno. Moulin Rouge mastermind Baz Luhrman has been threatening this TV musical project for a long time, and nobody can accuse him of playing small-time — he aims to sum up the birth of hip-hop and the triumph of disco, with plenty of poetic musings. ("The paleface media tells us we're all going to hell. But maybe we're just the first ones to light the fire!") Justice Smith is the teen hero, who finds his superfly Afro and disco threads just get him in trouble at the nascent rap shows. He heads up a cast of newcomers, as well as eternally cool icons like Jimmy Smits and Giancarlo Esposito.

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