2014 Summer TV, Part One: June Review!

By on June 18, 2014
Halt Catch Fire

Gone are the days of summer reruns and reality TV overload! Ever since shows like “Pretty Little Liars,” “The Closer” and its spin-off “Major Crimes” took off over the last decade or so, scripted dramas and comedies have become much more prevalent, making summer television no longer such a wasteland of terrible mediocrity. Indeed, even the major networks are getting in on the action, meaning that television in the summertime has genuinely become a force to be reckoned with. Let’s take a look at some of the more promising shows coming up this summer.

Already several episodes into its initial run, AMC’s latest drama, “Halt and Catch Fire” is garnering massive critical acclaim. It revolves around the early days of making computers more accessible to the general public in the 80’s. In other words, the formation of the PC and similar tech like the laptop. The ensemble cast includes Lee Pace (“The Hobbit”), a magnetic Mackenzie Davis (“That Awkward Moment”) and the “Argo” two-fer of Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishé.

The show is only three episodes into its run at this writing, and AMC regularly re-airs it, so catch up while you can, because it’s fantastic viewing. It has also has a phenomenal soundtrack of off-the beaten path 80’s music that ranges from punk & new wave to synth pop and classic rock, depending on the character, which is well-worth checking out as well. It normally airs on Sunday nights, so check it out!

OrangeMaking its second season debut on Netflix, “Orange is the New Black” is the latest effort from the critically-acclaimed writer/producer Jenji Kohan, of “Weeds” fame. It’s a great comedy-drama about a woman in her thirties (Taylor Schilling, also of “Argo”) busted for a crime she committed a decade ago. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with her, not to mention her boyfriend, as she has long-since moved on from her previous lifestyle and become a member of NY’s upper-middle class.

It’s based on a true story and features a great cast, including Laura Prepon (“That 70’s Show”), Taryn Manning (of Boomkat and”8 Mile” fame), and Jason Biggs and Natasha Lyonne, of the “American Pie” series. The great thing about Netflix shows is that you can binge-watch them to your hearts’ content, as each season is offered up wholesale in its entirety. “Orange” has already been okayed for a third season, so get onboard now!

Back for a fifth season this summer is USA’s “Covert Affairs,” which chronicles the adventures of a female CIA operative, winningly played by Piper Perabo, of “Coyote Ugly” fame. This is a great time to get onboard the show, even if you’ve never seen it, as agent Annie has just faked her death in a secret operation- hence the title- and is starting over with a new identity and cover. If you miss “Alias” and/or like “James Bond”-style exotic locales and action, only with a kick-ass female lead, be sure and tune in on June 24th.

If your tastes lean towards the even more exotic, check out the futuristic Dystopian sci-fi land of “Defiance,” in which a group of varied alien races are forced to co-exist with humans on a post-apocalyptic Earth. There’s also others who are Earth natives, but were mutated in various ways by contamination from a terra-forming incident. As a result, you have any number of species co-habituating whether they like it or not, and not without some serious issues.

Defiance-Syfy-season-2-2014-posterThe show stars Grant Bowler (“True Blood”) as the titular town of Defiance’s erstwhile sheriff, Julie Benz (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) as the Mayor, and Stefanie Leonidas (“MirrorMask”) as the sheriff’s adoptive daughter, who has some interesting abilities that set her apart from the norm. The show also features genre faves like Jaime Murray (“Warehouse 13”), Tony Curran (“X-Men” and “Thor”), Nicole Muñoz (“Sanctuary”), and Jessie Rath (“Being Human”). Further, there’s a tie-in videogame that actually preconfigures events and introduces characters that later have appeared on the show, which is a cool touch. It premieres on the Syfy network June 19th.

Premiering the same night and paired with “Defiance” is Syfy’s newest series, “Dominion,” a spin-off of the 2010 film “Legion.” This one takes place twenty-five years after the events of the film, as literal angels of vengeance have set-about trying to possess as many humans as they can and take over Earth in general. Siding with the humans- shades of a similar plotline in “Supernatural” as of late- is angel Michael (Tom Wisdom, of “300”); while leading up the archangel opposition is Gabriel (Carl Beukes, “Mandela”), Michael’s brother.

Christopher Egan (“Resident Evil: Extinction”) plays Alex, “The Chosen One,” aka a soldier who is mankind’s best hope for saving humanity. Also cropping up are genre favorites Alan Dale (“Lost”) and Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from “Buffy”). The movie was just okay, but the concept has promise, and it should make for a good double-header with “Defiance,” so I’m in for the foreseeable future.

More apocalyptic shenanigans await you in “The Last Ship,” the latest from super-producer/director Michael Bay, of “Transformers” fame. This one revolves around the denizens of a battleship who are stuck onboard after a global catastrophe, and must make do living there until they can safely return ashore- if they ever can. Upon learning that the disease at hand has wiped out some 80% of the Earth’s population they must try and seek out a cure while learning to live together under cramped conditions.

falling-skies-season-4Starring as Tom Chandler, commanding officer of the ship in question is Eric Dane (“Grey’s Anatomy”), with an assist from “Firefly” favorite Adam Baldwin as his second-in-command. Rhona Mitra (“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”) co-stars as a paleomicrobiologist trying her best to find a cure, who just happens to be smoking hot because, you know, TV. Based on the best-selling novel by William Brinkley, Bay serves as only a producer here, so you never know, it might not suck. Plus, it’s only a ten-episode run, so it’s a relatively low-end commitment. Look for it on Sundays on TNT, starting June 22nd.

Also bowing that same night is the fourth season of “Falling Skies,” the Spielberg-produced sci-fi epic revolving around a band of human survivors of the alien apocalypse. This should make for a good paring with TNT’s “The Last Ship,” though the show is already getting a bit long in the tooth. Still, “ER”-vet Noah Wyle makes for an appealing-if-somewhat-unlikely action hero, and the ensemble cast is likewise engaging, including Moon Bloodgood (“Terminator: Salvation”), Sarah Carter (“CSI: NY”), Will Patton (“Armageddon”), and character-actor creature- feature extraordinaire Doug Jones (“Hellboy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”). I’ve cooled on the show somewhat, but I’m willing to give it another chance based on the slam-bang cliffhanger ending of last season finale alone, so we’ll see.

For those more into horror, there’s the final season of the completely nut-bar HBO series “True Blood.” After going completely off the deep end in recent seasons, this last one seems to be a return to basics and what made people fans in the first place, and that’s a good thing. Also, it being the final season, count on a fair amount of deaths for major characters, for better or worse. If they kill Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), I will not be happy. Ditto if fan favorite Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) proves no more, as hinted at in last season’s finale- but hey, if you’re gonna go out, naked in the snow is a pretty fab way to do it. Check out erstwhile “Rogue” Anna Paquin, her real-life hubby Stephen Moyer (“Priest”), my bro Sam Trammell (not really, LOL), and the rest of the gang on June 22th as well.

True-Blood-FinalWant even more supernatural creature shenanigans? Be sure to check out the guilty pleasure that is MTV’s surprisingly-engaging “Teen Wolf” on June 23rd. Not at all the camp fest the original movie was, this show has been given a “Buffy”-style makeover, with serious dramatics alternating with tongue-in-cheek humor that should appeal to fans of shows of that nature, a la “Supernatural” and “The Vampire Diaries.” The show ended with a shocking death of a major character that caught even fans of the show off-guard, so the fallout from that should be interesting moving forward. The cast is super-appealing, if admittedly of the CW’s where-do-they-grow-these-beautiful-people variety. Hey, it’s MTV, what do you expect? The off-beat plotting and left-of-center creatures involved make this a cut above many of the competition, however, so give it a shot if you don’t have anything else going on Mondays.

“Tyrant” is the latest from producer Howard Gordon, of “Homeland” and “24” fame. It revolves around a man from the fictional country of Abbudin, a war-torn region of the Middle Eastern variety. Now living in LA, he returns for the first time in nearly twenty years, with his American family in tow, for his nephew’s wedding- only to get sucked into family drama and politics he purposefully left behind ages ago. It sounds and looks a bit like a Middle Eastern “Scarface,” if the main character was more reluctant about embracing a life of crime. Though it lacks in name actors, the trailer is spell-binding, and it’s only a ten-episode commitment. It looks like yet another winner in the FX dramatic series department, whose track record speaks for itself, including “American Horror Story,” “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy.” Check it out on June 24th.

HBO, who know a thing or two about superior dramatic series, take a stab at another one with the intriguing-looking new show “The Leftovers,” from Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) and author Tom Perrotta, of “Election” and “Little Children” notoriety. Given that neither is exactly afraid of pushing people’s buttons, this should make for compelling viewing. It revolves around a suburban community of people left behind after a global “Rapture,” of the Biblical variety. The cast is pretty solid, including Justin Theroux (“Mulholland Drive”), Amy Brenneman (“NYPD Blue”), Liv Tyler (“The Strangers”), and former “Dr. Who” Christopher Eccleston. The trailer is fantastic, and you can catch the show on Sundays, starting on June 29th. (Why is everything on freaking Sundays? Curse you, great-looking TV shows!)

DomeOn June 30th, we get the return of “Under the Dome,” which was originally intended as a mini-series, but proved so popular CBS opted to go off-book and expand it into a series, forgoing the ending of Stephen King’s original novel in the process. Fear not, King fans- the man himself scripted the opening episode, so he’s very much onboard with the series moving forward from the revised ending, which includes a different reason for the dome than the one in the book. Though the show got a little sillier as it went on, it’s repeatedly been completely overhauled for the new season, with new characters and considerable changes to the existing ones, including a turnaround for leading man Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”), who was the bad guy last time around and a division amongst the citizens of the town into factions revolving around science and religion, respectively, which might be interesting in a microcosm-for-society sort of way. We shall see.

I do like the cast, which also includes Mike Vogel (“Cloverfield”) as the reluctant anti-hero lead, Britt Robertson (“The Secret Circle”), Rachelle Lefevre (“Twilight”), and Natalie Martinez (“CSI: NY”). Having watched season 1, I’d like to see how it all turns out, and having King onboard with the revisions helps inspire some confidence in where this is all heading. But it would be wise for the show not to overstay its welcome, as the frayed ends are already showing, which is never a good sign for a show this early on in its run. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, personally- especially as I’ve been hired to cover it for another website.

Well, that about does it for June, but be sure to join me for another TV preview for what July has to offer, which includes Halle Berry’s first venture into series TV, “Extant,” the return of the critically-acclaimed “The Bridge,” “Ray Donovan” and “Masters of Sex,” and a nifty-looking show from horror/fantasy mastermind Guillermo Del Toro, “The Strain.” See you then!

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
 
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