It’s a good month for TV documentary lovers: Curious viewers can learn a bit about the rich history of Detroit, the life and times of clown prince Robin Williams and/or the manifold wonders of the mighty shark on the small screen. Sadly, not all at once. Plus HBO mounts their big Emmy horse with the well-pedigreed Sharp Objects, while NBC brings the best sitcom you aren’t watching back to the schedule and The CW brings a Canadian sensation to stateside living rooms. Here’s what to tune in for on ye olde fashioned TV networks and premium-cable channels in July. (Check back for your best streaming options for the month starting tomorrow.)
Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits and Monsters (TruTV, July 11th)
Out of the delirious mind of Bobcat Goldthwait have sprung alcoholic birthday clowns and homicidal media darlings, mourning dads who gutlessly lie and well-meaning twentysomethings who dabble in inter-special love. His new horror anthology series gives audiences a direct portal right into a truly fevered imagination: Stories include David Koechner and Michael Ian Black as political opponents who also happen to be a werewolf and the Devil, respectively, and a tale in which Seth Green frantically keeps his daughter from being murdered by cartoon characters only he can see. Expect a lot of idiosyncratic spins on stock scary-movie standbys. (Two words: mermaid punching.)
Burden of Truth (The CW, July 25th)
Paging Erin Brockovich! This Canadian series flips that film’s formula on its head, tapping Smallville alum Kristin Kreuk to portray a lawyer working for a gigantic pharmaceutical behemoth. She arrives in her old hometown on a mission without mercy, only to have a change of heart when she sees the harm that her employers have wrought. (Oh, there will be a David-versus-Goliath showdown.) The show has already made a splash in its native country during its CBC run, and if it good enough for our neighbors to the north, it’s good enough for us.
Detroit: Comeback City (History, July 1st)
The collapse of the American auto industry left the one-time center of manufacturing a rusted-out shell of itself, but this trenchant documentary envisions a hopeful future returning the metropolis to its former glory. Detroit native J.K. Simmons narrates this deep-dive into the city’s past and future, an arc of resilience and hardship organized around the fate of the Michigan Central Station. The once-grand transit hub now sits defunct, but a plan from Ford to renovate the building and get it back in use has provided a much-needed symbol of rebirth. The Motor City may be down, but it’s far from out.
The History of Comedy (CNN, July 15th)
What’s so funny? According to this stem-to-stern CNN docuseries: Banana peels and political satire, sitcoms and soul-scraping stand-up, the Smothers Brothers and the latest viral meme du jour. (Not in that order, mind you.) This seven-episode portrait of an art form trace the evolution of American comedy, from writing-room gender issues and social realism one half-hour at a time to the connection between humor and deep personal pain. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A viewer walks into a living room, turns on the TV, and ….
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (HBO, July 16th)
The sad-clown archetype started with Pagliacci and made it to the present via Robin Williams, a comic prince of stage and screen who constantly wrestled with personal demons when away from the footlights. This documentary takes a somber look back at a life tragically cut short, from his beginnings as a force of unstoppable mania at ‘70s open-mic clubs to his box-office successes to his pensive final days. Featuring a host of never-before-seen footage and supplementary materials, as well as interviews with Williams’ contemporaries and one particularly affecting talking-head segment with his son, this is the most comprehensive monument yet to the singular, sorely missed talent.
Shark Week (Discovery, July 22nd)
They’re big, they’re deadly, they’re hungry and they’re coming to basic cable. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the channel’s annual salute to our noble and misunderstood killing machines of the ocean – where did the time go?And though some detractors complain that they just don’t mako them like they used to [rimshot], Discovery is pulling out all the stops for eight days of specials and toothy-predator–related programming. What does a tiger shark’s sonogram look like? Could there be a dinosaur-aged member of the giant-fish family lurking around the briny deep? Just how great is the Great White, really? We want answers, people!
Sharp Objects (HBO, July 8th)
The summer’s most anticipated premium-cable Prestige TV miniseries joins star Amy Adams with Little Big Lies director Jean-Marc Vallée and Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn for another lurid tale of dead-girl murders and personal-demon battles. The star plays a crime journalist with a history of self-harm and substance abuse, along with an assignment that forces her to return to her home town. A domineering mother (Patricia Clarkson), a hotshot big-city detective (Chris Messina) and a mounting body count all come into play. The order to back up the Emmy truck has already been called in.
Snowfall, Season 2 (FX, July 19th)
This strong FX drama chronicling the beginnings of the crack epidemic in 1980s Los Angeles largely flew under the critical radar in its strong debut season – and it goes into Round Two with something to prove. Crack dealer-on-the-rise Franklin (Damson Idris) grows his business and attracts some unwanted attention, while CIA flack Teddy (Carter Hudson) organizes a questionably ethical sting operation. Meanwhile, partners-in-crime Lucia and Oso (Emily Rios and Sergio Peris-Mencheta) plot their latest power grab. They’re all part of a larger, dirtier game in which there are no winners, only temporary champions destined to fall sooner or later.
Steven Universe: Heart of the Crystal Gems (Cartoon Network, July 2nd)
Welcome back, Mr. Universe! One of most bracingly strange animated programs currently running, the ongoing chronicles of our boy Steven and his genderqueer polymorphic-geologic pals known as the Crystal Gems embark on a quest to reunite the squabbling, usually inseparable Ruby and Sapphire. Five seasons of dense mythology make this a tough sit for newcomers, but the show’s ardent fanbase – equal parts open-minded adults and wide-eyed youngsters – will consider the five-night broadcast of this arc nothing short of appointment viewing.
Trial and Error: Lady, Killer (NBC, July 19th)
The first season of this mockumentary laid waste to the tropes of the true-crime genre, as New York defense attorney Josh (Nicholas D’Agosto) played fish-out-of-water in South Carolina for a high-profile murder case. He’s now making the trip back to Trump country for another homicide, with star Kristin Chenoweth as universally beloved, ultra-kooky heiress who’s the case’s primary suspect. He’s also a tad concerned about the revelation that his legal rival and former lover Carol Anne (Jayma Mays) is carrying their child. Clever narrative trickery and 30 Rock-ian laugh-per-minute ratios make this a stealth contender for TV’s finest sitcom.