Television used to take a break every summer, as families vacationed, kids played outside and people lucky enough to live near (or travel to) a body of water stocked up on beach reads. Many of these traditions live on—or so indoor types like myself are told—but Peak TV yields to no weather pattern. Now lots of buzzy shows, from Stranger Things to Big Little Lies, air between June and August. So if you’ve unplugged at any point in the past three months, you’re bound to have missed some of the season’s most promising debuts. For those who hope to remedy those oversights as temperatures drop, here are six great new shows that premiered this summer.
A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO)
It’s been a stellar year for sketch comedy, with new offerings like Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave, Arturo Castro’s Alternatino and Sherman’s Showcase reinvigorating a form SNL has allowed to go stale. The best of the bunch is A Black Lady Sketch Show. Creator Robin Thede (The Nightly Show, The Rundown) delivers exactly what the title promises, creating unique recurring characters like a self-styled intellectual who’s really just a conspiracy theorist and a spy whose superpower is non-supermodel looks that render her invisible in public. Come for guest stars including Angela Bassett, Lena Waithe and executive producer Issa Rae. Stay for the hilarious, versatile and historic core cast of Thede, Full Frontal correspondent Ashley Nicole Black, Gabrielle Dennis (Luke Cage) and Quinta Brunson (iZombie).
Blown Away (Netflix)
A glass-blowing reality competition sounds like a shameless ploy for stoner eyeballs—if not just another sign that TV is running out of ideas. In practice, however, Blown Away is the best new creative contest since RuPaul’s Drag Race. Even for stone-cold sober viewers, the fiery, delicate work of glass artists makes for more captivating television than cooking or fashion design. And with shows like Project Runway bloating to upwards of 90 minutes, the series’s 23-minute episodes are brisk enough to binge through without feeling too gross about yourself. But what really propelled me—and many other viewers—through the season was a wonderfully weird, talented and apparently unfiltered contestant named Deborah, who wins an early challenge by sculpting an artificial womb that symbolizes a future in which cisgender men can be pregnant.
David Makes Man (OWN)
Moonlight was a watershed moment for American cinema—a quiet but assured, artful yet accessible triptych portrait of a boy growing up queer, black and poor that generated enough momentum to take Best Picture in 2017. Now, Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play Moonlight was based on, has brought another indelible image of black male adolescence in South Florida to the screen. Backed by executive producers Oprah and Michael B. Jordan, David Makes Man is the lyrical coming-of-age story of a brilliant 14-year-old (Akili McDowell) caught between the pressures of his rigorous magnet school, the needs of his single-parent family and the gang politics of the housing project where he lives. What sets David’s tale apart from others in this familiar genre is the vividness and complexity of the community that surrounds him, as well as the role imagination plays in his introspective life.
Florida Girls (Pop)
About a day’s drive northwest of Miami, in scenic Clearwater, the beach-bum best friends at the center of Pop TV’s best new show since Schitt’s Creek are also fighting to survive on the wrong side of the poverty line. But while David Makes Man is an emotional drama, Florida Girls happens to be a manic comedy in which the local trailer park makes a perfect home base for the often-intoxicated adventures of four young women who live to party. That levity doesn’t prevent creator Laura Chinn from making sharp observations about how class, gender and race intersect; when the character Chinn plays, Shelby, decides to take her future seriously, the obstacles to her success speak volumes about the challenges of being a poor woman in America. That these hard truths are conveyed through amusing mechanisms—including a multi-episode arc about trying to throw an island party when you don’t have access to a boat—only makes them more memorable.
On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime)
Yes, it’s a third unmissable show about working-class folks in Florida. Less earnest than David Makes Man but more poignant than Florida Girls, this propulsive dramedy (premiering Aug. 25) stars Kirsten Dunst as a suburban Orlando water-park employee and new mom desperately clawing her way to the top of a pyramid scheme. This summary alone should be enough to send fans of the famously intense actor running to the DVR. And though she bears a resemblance to strong single mothers past, Dunst’s character Krystal Stubbs is one of a kind—a protagonist whose superpower is getting what she needs by intuiting what the people around her want most. It’s breathtaking, watching one extraordinary woman embody another.
Veronica Mars (Hulu)
Misogyny and class strife are twin Bat-Signals for Veronica Mars, the hardboiled teen detective who spent the mid-2000s sniffing out corruption in her economically stratified beach town—the fictional Neptune, California. So of course the sarcastic, wounded, hyper-culturally-literate girl wonder played by Kristen Bell is back to take on 2019. An update suited to its newfound home on Hulu, the revival is a bingeable eight-episode mystery that opens with a deadly bombing and goes on to pit the small-business owners who’ve transformed Neptune into a spring break destination against local elites who want their private paradise back. What really makes Veronica Mars worth the resurrection, however, is the insight Bell and creator Rob Thomas bring to a character who’s spent upwards of 15 years dealing with devastating adolescent trauma.
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