2014 Summer TV Preview, Part Two: July Review!

By on June 27, 2014
Halle Berry

June was a solid month for television, but the summer’s only begun. Join me now for a look at July, which features some really big names both behind and in front of the cameras. Summer TV: it’s not just for shut-ins anymore!

Things get off to an impressive start on July 9th, with the latest from executive producer Steven Spielberg, “Extant.” The sci-fi mystery revolves around astronaut Molly Watts, played by Oscar winner Halle Berry (the “X-Men” series), who returns from a year-long solo mission inexplicably pregnant. Adding further suspicion to the scenario, Watts was infertile when she left as well. Was it divine intervention…or something else altogether?

Find out on the CBS drama, which airs on Wednesdays and runs for thirteen episodes. It co-stars Goran Visnjic (“ER”) as Berry’s husband- who may know more about what happened that he lets on- Camryn Manheim (“The Practice”), Grace Gummer (aka Meryl Streep’s daughter, of “The Newsroom” fame), and former Jack Bauer squeeze, Annie Wersching, of “24” fame. This one could be a keeper, between that cast and the Spielberg connection.

Diane Kruger ("Inglorious Basterds") and Demián Bichir ("Weeds") hedline the critically-acclaimed "The Bridge" on FX on Wednesdays. Courtesy of imdb.com

Diane Kruger (“Inglorious Basterds”) and Demián Bichir (“Weeds”) hedline the critically-acclaimed “The Bridge” on FX on Wednesdays.
Courtesy of imdb.com

One of the stand-out highlights of last summer was the exceptional dramatic series, “The Bridge,” which revolved around a murder in which the body was left halfway on the Mexican border, with the other half on the American side, necessitating a team-up from both concerned parties. Representing the Mexican police is the volatile Marco Ruiz, as played by Demián Bichir (“Weeds”), and leading up the American team is Sonya Cross, played by Diane Kruger (“Inglourious Basterds”). Not helping matters is the fact that Cross has Asperger’s, which doesn’t exactly endear her to most people, including her partner.

I’m not sure what the second season will revolve around, given that the main case was solved last season, but there were certainly some dangling plot threads left hanging, in particular one revolving around a widowed woman (Annabeth Gish, “Pretty Little Liars”), who just so happens to have a tunnel on her property that runs back and forth between the States and Mexico, where some shady dealings are going on. My guess is that the new plotline will incorporate that somehow. Either way, it’s good to have this first rate series back for another go. This one also premieres on July 9th, on FX on Wednesdays.

On July 10th, the latest from “Parks and Recreation” and former “SNL” star Amy Poehler, “Welcome to Sweden” premieres. It’s based on the real-life story of Poehler’s brother, Greg (who also executive produces, along with his sister), who packed up his life as a successful accountant to-the-stars to be with his girlfriend in Sweden, where he knows no one and doesn’t even speak the language. Needless to say, chaos- and one hopes hilarity- ensues.

The NBC show co-stars Illeana Douglas (“Cape Fear”) and Patrick Duffy (“Dallas”) as Greg’s parents, who are stunned and not entirely thrilled by the news, the same of which holds true for his girlfriend’s parents, which includes Lena Olin (“Alias”) as the mother and Swedish actress Josephine Bornebusch as the girlfriend, Emma. Amy Poehler and Aubrey Plaza also crop up, as themselves, and Greg Poehler actually plays himself as well. This premise is interesting enough to warrant a watch, but it remains to be seen if the lesser-known cast has the comedic chops to be a success. We shall see.

Bill Skarsgård  ("Simple Simon") and Famke Janssen (The "X-Men" series) hedline the spooky horro series "Hemlock Grove," the latest from Netflix. Courtesy of imdb.com

Bill Skarsgård (“Simple Simon”) and Famke Janssen (the “X-Men” series) headline the spooky horror series “Hemlock Grove,” the latest from Netflix.
Courtesy of imdb.com

On July 11th, the second season of Netflix’s flagship horror series, “Hemlock Grove” takes a bow. As is the custom for their shows, the entire season will be made available all at once on the day, for optimum binge-watching. The show revolves around the titular town in Pennsylvania, where all sorts of nasty things are happening, of potentially supernatural origins, some of which may involve werewolves.

The show was nominated for several Emmy’s, including one for outstanding special effects, and was executive produced by horror auteur Eli Roth, of “Cabin Fever” and “Hostel” fame. It stars Famke Janssen (the “X-Men” series), Bill Skarsgård (“Simple Simon”), Dougray Scott (“My Week with Marilyn”), and Lili Taylor (“The Conjuring”). Though the first season received mixed reviews from critics, the show was enormously popular on Netflix, garnering more viewers than the much more high-profile “House of Cards” in the week of its release. It was enough to secure a second season for the show, so we’ll see how it does or doesn’t improve in the new season.

Premiering on July 13th is the returning “Ray Donovan,” which boasted the biggest premiere of any show in Showtime’s history last season. The show takes place in LA, where professional “fixer” Donovan (Liev Schreiber, of the original “Scream” trilogy) solves problems for the rich and famous for a highly-successful law firm. Think keeping certain activities on the down low, i.e. drug overdoses, homosexual trysts, and questionable accidents and the like. His job is to keep stuff like that out of the tabloids and off the internet, and he’s not above breaking the law to do it.

Complicating matters in the first season was the return of his father (Jon Voight, “24”) from prison, who was barely out before he was up to no good yet again, causing enormous troubles for his well-off son and the rest of his family. Voight is great on the show, earning a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series. Some pretty crazy stuff went down on last season’s finale, so do your best to get caught up before the premiere!

Lizzy Caplan ("Mean Girls") and Michael Sheen ("Underworld") play real-life scientists Masters & Johnson in "Masters of Sex." Courtesy of imdb.com

Lizzy Caplan (“Mean Girls”) and Michael Sheen (“Underworld”) play real-life scientists Masters & Johnson in “Masters of Sex.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Another critically-acclaimed show is the fantastic “Masters of Sex,” which revolves around the first scientific study of sex by Masters & Johnson back in the mid-50s, when such things were unheard of. It’s sort of like a much-more sexed-up version of “Mad Men,” only with actual forward momentum. The show is anchored by two great performances in the leads, with Michael Sheen (best-known for the “Underworld” and “Twilight” series) as Dr. Masters, and “Mean Girls”-vet Lizzy Caplan in a breakthrough dramatic performance as Dr. Johnson.

Both the show and Sheen were nominated for Golden Globes, and the series also received nominations from the Writers Guild of America and a win for the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Most Exciting New Series. The show proves it’s possible to be titillating and sexy and still have a working brain at the same time- no small feat, that. The supporting cast is also aces, including Alison Janney, Beau Bridges, and Julianne Nicholson; with new faces Sarah Silverman, Courtney B. Vance, Keke Palmer and Betsy Brandt joining in the fun for season two. It premieres on July 13th on Showtime, along with “Ray Donovan.”

Sundays, as ever, continue to be a busy time over the summer, with “The Strain” also premiering on July 13th. It’s the latest from cult director Guillermo Del Toro, of “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” fame and was based on a book series written by Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, who wrote the book upon which the film “The Town” was based. The show-runner is Carlton Cuse, of “Lost” fame and looks to be an intriguing mix of an “Outbreak”-style virus on the loose and a horror movie, with the virus possibly being vampiric in nature. The pilot looks fantastic, and the show has a colorful sheen to it that one doesn’t always get in horror-related material, which leans towards the gloomy, for obvious reasons. I’m definitely in.

The StrainOn July 14th, CW throws its hat into the summer TV ring with “Backpackers,” which revolves around two friends, Ryan (Noah Reid, of the miniseries “Titanic”) and Brandon (Dillon Casey, of “Nikita”) who embark on a hiking trip across Europe that also doubles as a sort of bachelor party to the newly-engaged Ryan. The problem is, he and his fiancée Beth (Meghan Heffern, “Almost Heroes”) agreed to let what happened on the trip stay on the trip- and she’s gone on a Eurotrip of her own. Wildly resenting the decision, Ryan sets off to find her before it’s too late, but there’s another problem: he has no idea where she is in Europe.

The show bills itself as “a comedy series for the digital generation,” so make of that what you will. To me, that probably means lots of shaky-cam footage and a low-budget, but maybe the exotic locales will make up for it. I do like the premise, so you never know- it could well be a diamond in the rough. The show is paired with “Seed,” the less-promising tale of a man who once served as a sperm donor and discovers he has a host of kids out there, a la the Vince Vaughn movie, “Delivery Man.” Like that movie, it’s played for laughs, but will it deliver the goods? (See what I did there?) I’m not so sure, and the lack of name stars doesn’t exactly encourage me to find out.

Next up is the USA show “Rush,” which airs on July 17th and is about an on-call doctor (Tom Ellis, who played Robin Hood on “Once Upon a Time”) that has an unorthodox style. He isn’t attached to any hospital and basically offers up his services to anyone who can pay his cash-only premium. When he’s not helping people in need, he’s living a party-hard lifestyle.

Odette Annabelle (“House”), Rick Gonzalez (“Reaper”), and Sarah Habel (“Underemployed”) co-star in a show that sounds like the medical equivalent to “Ray Donovan,” as many of doctor Rush’s clientele is of the famous- or infamous-variety, who value discretion. Check it out on July 17th on the USA network, along with another new show, “Satisfaction,” about a couple who make some unconventional choices in a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage.

Judy Greer ("Arrested Development") and Nat Faxon ("The Descedents") play a "Married" couple trying to keep it together on FX's latest sitcom. Courtesy of imdb.com

Judy Greer (“Arrested Development”) and Nat Faxon (“The Descedents”) play a “Married” couple trying to keep it together on FX’s latest sitcom.
Courtesy of imdb.com

Also bowing on July 17th are the FX sitcoms “Married” and “You’re the Worst,” which might be more promising than you’d think at first glance. “Married” boasts Oscar-winning writer/actor Nat Faxon (“The Descendents”) and go-to comedic actress Judy Greer (“Arrested Development”) as a couple struggling to keep it together as they try and manage a bustling house-hold of kids. Though writer Andrew Gurland is best known for the horror series “The Last Exorcism,” he showed some comedic promise in the underrated indies “The Virginity Hit” and “Mail Order Wife,” so you never know.

The supporting cast is interesting, including former “SNL”-star Jenny Slate, quirky comedian Brett Gelman (“Go On”), and Regina Hall, of “Think Like a Man.” “You’re the Worst” looks to be a sitcom about a couple who are terrible for- and to- each other but attempt to work it out anyway. Although the cast is largely unknown, the trailer is funny, so who knows, maybe it’ll be a sleeper hit. See for yourself on the 17th.

Last and possibly least, I don’t typically cover, much less watch reality shows, but “The Quest” has such a nutty premise, it might just be worth a watch or two. Or at least good for some amusing clips on “The Soup.” It’s a mash-up of something like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Amazing Race,” which makes sense as some of the producers behind each are involved. It revolves around a competition in the fantasy-themed realm of, um “Everealm.” Real original, guys. Anyway, expect a lot of yahoos running around in medieval garb with broadswords trying not to kill each other. Could be fun, could be a train wreck. Find out for yourself, if you dare, on July 31st on ABC.

Well, that about does it for July. Keep an eye out for next month’s installment, and thanks for reading!

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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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