to a long hot summer of TV – in case you’re tempted to venture outside in
the sweltering heat, the airwaves are full of excellent reasons to stay
inside and watch.
Our summer TV preview has brilliant new shows and returning old
favorites, from the Iron Throne to the Black Lodge. There are innovative
dramas about stand-up comics, female wrestlers, drug dealers and Seventies stand-up comics. There are clones and cowgirls and dragons.
There are erotic thrillers, wild comedies and ridiculous game shows.
Praise the TV gods and pour the damn good coffee.
It makes sense that Twin Peaks had to wait until the 2000s to find its audience – it suits the stream-and-binge era much better than it suited old-school broadcast TV. For the reboot, he could have just dropped a That’s So Raven rerun dubbed into Aramaic and people would have wept for joy at the genius of it all. But the reboot/revival/belated third season (pick your term) has the all-purpose “dreaminess” of the original, with self-amused torpor punctuated by sadistic violence. Lynch directed all 18 hours of it himself, with co-writer Mark Frost returned from the original series, and there’s something touching about the way he rounds up the old gang, counting on the audience’s affection for these familiar faces: Kyle McLachlan, Sherilyn Fenn, Madchen Amick and the Log Lady herself, Catherine Coulson (the actress died in 2015 shortly after filming her scenes). Twin Peaks has become the show from another place – the darkness of future past, a geist that had to travel to find its zeit.
Welcome to the bloody business of hustling for laughs. I’m Dying Up Here chronicles the Seventies L.A. stand-up comedy racket, executive produced by Jim Carrey and based on William Knoedelseder’s 2009 book. It’s set in a Hollywood full of small-time hustlers, jokers, gangsters and losers – the same scene that gave the world David Letterman and Jay Leno. These guys (and they’re almost all guys) keep coming back to the seedy clubs, suffering the abuse of drunks and thugs, dreaming of turning into the next Freddie Prinze or Jimmie Walker. “I tell you,” a cabbie tells two newbie Angelenos, “ever since Carson moved his outfit from New York to here, every asshole who thinks he can tell a joke has been circling Burbank like a fucking vulture.”
The show has a Boogie Nights sense of late-night despair, with the Sixties hangover looming above the city like smog. The club regulars gather around the kitchen TV to see one of their friends get his big break – doing his tight five on The Tonight Show – until Johnny Carson anoints him by waving him over to chat. (“He’s getting the couch!”) Yet none of them hear a single moment of his set, because they can’t stop muttering about how jealous they are.
Melissa Leo is fearsome as the comedy club matriarch Goldie, while the rest of the cast is full of familiar faces, if not names; standouts include Clark Duke, the kid from Hot Tub Time Machine, and Ari Graynor, who was Meadow Soprano’s college roommate Caitlin. There’s a clever Seventies rock soundtrack, including the best-ever use of the J. Geils Band’s “Whammer Jammer” in a strip-club scene. The comedians keep their guard up only to stand at their most vulnerable onstage, fending off hecklers (“What are you doing here – the hooker in the trunk isn’t gonna bury herself”) or bullies (“Tell me, sir: Is there a Mrs. Drunken Shithead at home?”) or, worst of all, silent faces. But they put off the end of the night as long as possible. When one of them announces, “Closing time – your soul-crushing existences await you,” the punch line is that the comedians, unlike the audience, have no escape at all.
Ladies and gentlemen, Litchfield
is burning. The new season of Orange Is
The New Black picks up right where the top-notch fourth season left off, in
the middle of a prison riot. The inmates have gotten more divided,
splitting up into bitter racial factions and faced with increasingly brutal guards
amid overcrowded conditions – as one prisoner snarls, “We packed four in a bunk
like factory chickens.” All the rage finally culminates in a riot after the
heartshattering death of one of the jail’s most beloved resients, Samira
Wiley’s Poussey. The fourth season ended with a cliffhanger: Daya (Dasha
Polanco) grabbing hold of a C.O.’s gun and taking aim at his head while her
fellow inmates yell for her to shoot. The new season plays out in the three-day
period after the riot, as the women of Litchfield rise up to take over the
prison. Yet they still have no way to protect themselves from each other.
supernatural Western sleeper returns for another shooting match. Melanie
Scrofano is Wyatt Earp’s great-great-grandaughter, who inherits the family’s
Colt .45 and occult fighting skills, returning to her hometown of Purgatory to
avenge her daddy and settle family scores against a posse of zombie desperados
called the Revenants. The show goes all in with its Cowgirl Buffy pulp conceit,
mixing up quips and combat as Earp teams up with her lesbian little sister and a
time-traveling Doc Holliday to tangle with witches, demons, cannibals and worst
of all, evil people who claim Uma Thurman was the best thing to ever happen to
the Batman franchise.
Tatiana Maslany wraps up her historic run
playing multiple roles as a whole posse of clones on the run. The story began
with punk grifter Sarah Manning sharing a brief moment of eye contact with a
stranger who then falls to her death on a train platform; since then she’s
discovered her identity as a genetic-engineering experiment, found her “sestras” (fellow clone sisters), and given birth to a daughter of her own.
But she’s still just a jump ahead of the corporate bad guys from Neolution, who
claim the clones as their intellectual property. As one of them says
menacingly, early on in the new season, “You don’t know how far we’re willing
to go to bring all these clones in.” And P.T. Westmoreland, the madman who
founded Neolution 170 years ago, turns out to be still alive – and still
dangerous. Orphan Black has always
raced far ahead of narrative coherence, never slowing down long enough to make
much sense, but that’s part of the rush – especially with Jordan Gavaris’ Felix
as the clones’ indispensably bitchy and delightful comrade.
through this, baby. Courtney Love has finally reached the Lifetime-movie phase
of her rock & roll saga, in a dramatizaton of the true story of the Beverly
Hills bloodbath that shocked the nation in 1989. Menendez: Blood Brothers stars the grunge grande dame as Kitty
haggard as the former beauty-pageant queen turned doomed Hollywood matron gunned down in her mansion, along with her show-biz executive husband
Jose. The killers: their teenage sons Lyle and Erik. At first, everyone assumed
it was some kind of gangland slaying, but suspicions got raised as the brothers
burned through their inheritance. On trial, the brothers told a
horrific tale of long-running abuse, pleading self-defense. When
Kitty and Jose attend their son’s tennis match, he can’t stop flirting with the
foxy young mom next to him in the bleachers. “You like Duran Duran?” he asks. “I discovered Duran Duran – and the Eurythmics too.” (Hole used to cover “Hungry
Like the Wolf” onstage. Time is a flat circle.)
The summer’s most bizarre contender, and the crowning chapter in the completely nonsensical third act of Mike Myers’ career. It’s a reboot of the trash-classic 1970s game show – the late great Chuck Barris hosted the original Gong Show as a freewheeling mess of amateur singers, jugglers, magicians and a guy named the Unknown Comic who told godawful jokes while wearing a paper bag over his head. In this version, executive produced by Will Arnett, Myers hosts it in character – playing a 72-year-old London comedian Tommy Maitland, who appeared in forgotten flicks like He Wore a Dustman’s Hat and From Russia, Luv, as well as hosting the popular Australian game show Dingo’s Got The Baby. The new-model Gong Show will feature celebrity guest judges like Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale and Andy Samberg – not to mention Dana Carvey, in a treat for Wayne’s World shippers.
Alison Brie is a floundering Hollywood actress – she dreams of serious theater, yet can’t even score a bit part on a soap opera. Until she shows up in a cattle call for her strangest audition ever: Marc Maron is recruiting for a new league called the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. She asks, “Sorry … are you hiring actors to play wrestlers? Or are we the wrestlers?” He replies, “Yes.” When Brie gives him a resume full of Strindberg plays, she adds, “I’ve also done extensive mask work and clowning workshops.” Goodbye Strindberg; hello hair-pulling smackdowns set to Journey anthems.
The latest from Orange Is The New Black‘s Jenji Kohan, G.L.O.W. is a surprisingly affectionate and clever account of a truly weird Eighties pop culture phenomenon, based on the pioneering real-life league. The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling were a low-budget TV staple back in the day. (Some of us who watched can still sing along to their rap theme song “Nasty and Mean,” chanting, “We eat raw meat before every fight / So get out of the way because we kill on sight.”) Brie is impressively convincing as the prissy vanilla-ice princess who toughens up and learns to dole out the punishment as she starts to thrive on the violence (and the employment). And Maron is hilarious as the hard-boiled director, who only lowers himself to this degrading gig because he’s failed at his true calling, directing sci-fi soft-porn flicks. He’s like Tom Hanks in A League of Our Own, except with slightly less alcohol and a lot more snorting lines off his framed portrait of Ron and Nancy.
The whole squad is full of characters – Sydelle Noel as the streetwise enforcer Cherry, Britt Baron is the soulful punk-rock girl in the Germs t-shirt. It reworks the Orange Is The New Black conceit of dropping a preppie poseur into a can full of bona fide bad girls – except this time in scenarios starring the Leather Virgin, Mutant Mod, the Sexecutioner and Kuntar the Magnificent.
Watts plays a Manhattan therapist who veers off the rails. She has a rich lawyer husband (Billy Crudup), a young
daughte and a
placid life on the surface. Like any idealistic shrink, she’s scrupulous about staying on the
right side of every boundary, saying in her soothing tones, “I’m not your
friend – I’m your therapist.” And she’s totally uptight: When a patient remarks, “Your office is so corporate,” she replies, “Thank you.” But the more she
listens to strangers tell their stories about sex and drugs and violence, the
more she starts itching to walk on the wild side. And with 50
Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson on board, there’s a good chance that Watts will find the other
side of the mirror too seductive to resist. The erotic-thriller veneer of Gypsy gets a welcome boost by reworking
the Stevie Nicks classic into the theme song – and the goddess Brenda Vaccaro as
a meddlesome patient.
John Singleton created this tough, gritty drama about the Eighties crack epidemic, set in South Central L.A. Damon Idris is the kid who gets swept up into the drug trade, named Franklin Saint. (Singleton has never worried much about being too subtle with names; this is the guy who cast Janet Jackson as a girl named Justice who writes poetry in Poetic Justice.) Franklin went to a fancy school in the Valley, but now he’s back in the hood, working at a convenience store, making his plans to escape while grooving to “Jam on It” on his blaster. He deals weed to his rich prep-school friends – then he meets high rollers who have new plans for him. There’s a CIA agent with a connection to the Nicaraguan contras, funding their terrorist war against the Sandinista government; there’s a Mexican wrestler who makes money on the side collecting debts for the mob. Their stories intertwine with a new kind of drug: One that’s cheap, quick and deadly – and is about to transform the crime world.
difficult to describe this show without sounding like you just gobbled up a bag
of mescaline-dusted cheese puffs, but here goes. Candy Crush is a live-action game show based on the phone game,
with human contestants trapped on a giant screen where they use their whole
bodies to slide and swipe until they match the magic video candies. And it’s
hosted by human emoji Mario Lopez, who coaches these lucky folks to win valuable
prizes. Lopez’s career has taken him plenty of strange places since Saved By The Bell, but it’s fair to say Candy Crush must be the trippiest. In
case you’re the gambling type, three episodes is the over/under for how long it
takes before one of the contestant screams, “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!
I’m so scaaaaared!“
the most fervently anticipated TV event of the year – the return of Game of Thrones. The white raven from
the Citadel has touched down in Winterfell, which means it’s official: Winter
is here. Cersei Lanner sits on the Iron Throne in the aftermath of the Battle
of the Bastards; in
last season’s stunner finale, Cersei she a host of her problems at once by
setting the Sparrows ablaze, wrapping up one of the saga’s least enthralling
subplots in a great ball of fire. Jaime arrived home just in time to see his
sister/lover take over as queen, before the ashes of their last remaining child
have a chance to get cold. Daenerys sets sail with Tyrion as her Hand of the
Queen, while Jon Snow reigns as King in the North. They are all ready to make their next
move. Season Seven promises to be the tightest yet – seven episodes instead of the usual 10.
With George R. R. Martin’s books now distant in the rear view mirror, Game of Thrones breaks out in new
directions, adding cast members like Jim Broadbent and Tom Hopper – along with
some guy named Ed Sheeran.
return of the mack: Issa Rae faces up to her so-called life in the new season
of Insecure, one of last year’s
brightest sitcom newcomers. The creator of Awkward
Black Girl gets even more awkward as she grapples to figure herself out.
What is she doing at the inner-city educational nonprofit I Got This? Is she
wasting her talent by not chasing her dream of rapping? Does she belong with
the guy who makes her feel like “the black couple fighting at CVS”? Or does she
belong with the less reliable but hotter guy she tells him not to worry about?
Why is her coolest friend Molly single? For that matter, why is Issa? That’s a
lot of drama to resolve in one season, but watching her try will be a pleasure,
especially with her bathroom-mirror raps for commentary.
New York comedy of bad manners gets a few new twists this summer – yet Julie
Klausner and Billy Eichner remain the tight connection at the heart of their
stomach-clenchingly cringe-intensive fictional universe. Stockard Channing
shows up to play Julie’s unbearable aunt, while Billy makes a move to figure
out how to be part of a bona fide couple with boyfriend John Cho. But there
seems to be no need to worry either of these Difficult People will get normal on us. As always, it’s the
dysfunctional adventures of two BFFs who bring out the catty worst each other,
in a city full of people who’d rather gargle broken glass than spend a minute
with either of them.
The long-awaited Marvel Netflix all-star team finally gets it together to battle the forces of evil. On deck: The whiskey-swilling hard-boiled detective Jessica Jones; her Hell’s Kitchen neighbor (and her attorney) Matt Murdock, known on the streets as Daredevil; Harlem’s bulletproof black messiah Luke Cage; and some douchey martial-arts kid who wants people to call him Iron Fist, but looks like his true superpower is his mystic hacky-sack skills. Well, three out of four ain‘t bad.
The Defenders thrives on the tension between these four wildly divergent heroes – Krysten Ritter‘s Jones and Mike Colter’s Cage have a stoic sense of grief in their bones, while Charlie Cox plays it a bit mellow as Daredevil. They’re not exactly equal partners, in terms of their skill sets or star power; letting Finn Jones’ lame Danny Rand on this squad is like putting Sammy Hagar in the Traveling Wilburys. (It’s reminiscent of the classic sketch on The State where the Super Friends tell Aquaman, “Go talk to some fish.”) But these loners join forces with some help from the underpraised Rosario Dawson as Clare Temple, along with other figures from the Marvel Netflix orbit – Elodie Yung makes a welcome return as Elektra, while Sigourney Weaver makes an elegantly sinister super-villain.