When looking at the “meh” summer box office, I thought of the TV shows that I binged over the past few months. It was a reminder of how much great television there is. In many respects, television has surpassed the movie theater as the home of the best entertainment.
I don’t always watch these shows when they first come out. With so many series on different platforms, it is impossible to catch up with everything worthy on Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, etc.
Network television’s summer break gave me the opportunity to watch a few great series. This included one of the best shows I have ever watched (The Americans), a unique comedy (Insecure), and a disappointing science fiction drama (Westworld). This wide range of entertainment led to a summer filled with some of the most interesting television going on right now.
The Americans (FX) – This is a TV show worth watching. I began bingeing The Americans after the series wrapped up in May. Apparently, I had been missing out on something great for six years. The FX drama is one of the best series I have ever watched.
The Americans checks all boxes. The show about a Soviet spy couple who assimilates into American society as “illegals” is an absolute masterpiece. The couple, played by Emmy-winner Matthew Rhys and Kerri Russell, are terrific anti-heroes. In fact, no regular in the show is a true good guy. Even their neighborhood FBI agent has significant flaws (his own wife Renee might be a spy).
The espionage fosters terrific intrigue in each season. The spy duo sleep with and/or kill just about anyone who stumbles into their paths. Creator Joe Weisberg kept the story fresh throughout all six seasons. There is never a “jump the shark” moment and each episode has superb writing.
Weisberg’s creativity is best displayed in the finale, which is itself a work of art. There is one sequence in The Americans finale that is the best use of music in a television series that I have witnessed.
Of all the television that I watched this summer, The Americans is by far the most engrossing series. I can’t recommend the show enough.
Westworld (HBO) – I quasi-enjoyed the first season of Westworld. It was a little confusing, but the acting and production were good enough that I stuck with it. The first season had a rewarding finale, but I stopped watching Westworld halfway through the second season.
I only have patience for certain levels of misdirection. The show is not a weekly TV drama with self-contained stories. The entire series is devoted to the long game of finding out the meaning of Westworld. That formula is better suited for a movie or ten-episode mini-series, but not for a television show that depends on hooking viewers on a regular basis.
Most character development moments are unfulfilling because the primary figures are sophisticated robots. The robots may be portrayed by brilliant actors, but at some level the crawling pace of the series comes in to play.
Insecure (HBO) – A few weeks ago I mentioned how addicting Insecure’s soundtrack is. My amazement of Raphael Saadiq’s music selections has continued through Season Two.
As the series progresses, I have become more intrigued by Issa Rae’s imperfect characters than I was in the first season. I still don’t know where the L.A. relationship saga is ultimately going, but I am on board to follow these characters to the end. Also: I love Issa Rae’s mirror rap scenes. They are a creative way to break the fourth wall that I have not seen before.
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction (Netflix) – David Letterman’s return to TV is exactly what he needed – limited exposure that scratches a performance itch as he does something different.
In My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, the veteran talk show host spends roughly 45 minutes interviewing dynamic figures (Tina Fey, Jay-Z). Field pieces are mixed in throughout the interviews, bringing out Letterman’s trademark eccentricity.
The interviews have also given Letterman a chance to discuss his own life. Episodes with Barack Obama and Malala Yousafzai reveal a reflective and remorseful side of the late night icon.
GLOW (Netflix) – The Eighties women’s wrestling dramedy returned for an interesting second season. The series shifted towards more intense personal drama as Sam Sylvia’s crew schemes to stay on the air.
For the most part, the series remained fun throughout most of season two. There is one episode filled entirely with B-roll wrestling shorts that was tedious. Outside of that snafu, GLOW remains an entertaining look at a unique character universe.
Ballers (HBO) – The Rock’s football drama is the most guilty pleasure television that I watch. I know that it is not the greatest show in the world, but it indulges my lazy TV side.
The writing in Ballers is just okay. There are more than a few over-the-top moments (skywriting jets during a recruit’s visit to USC), but I like the glimpse of football’s social scene. The fourth season of the series follows The Rock as he wrestles with the NCAA and his new low-ranking cable channel. The organization is a fairly safe target that fans, coaches, and players can probably all loathe equally. I am looking forward to seeing how the series deals with the organization.
Nailed It (Netflix) – The reality series pits people with normal or sub-standard culinary skills against each other. The objective: recreate deserts with outlandish decorations. The result: epic fails.
It is the most therapeutic TV series for people who stink at baking (guilty). Nailed It is a reminder that most of us are mere mortals in the kitchen. It is also a mindless way to kill off a half hour by watching wannabe chefs laugh at each other’s efforts to rival perfection.
Barry (HBO) – I love Bill Hader. Henry Winkler is phenomenal as an egotistical drama teacher. Stephen Root is similarly golden as Hader’s mentor. With that in mind I was mildly disappointed in Barry.
The dark dramedy uses the premise of an assassin who realizes his mid-life crisis during an acting class to create awkward humor. Barry’s brutal violence overshadows some of the comedy. There are occasions where the scenes are so dark that it is hard to emerge and find the laughter. While I don’t object to anything that happens onscreen, a little less bloodshed could unearth the humor.
Cobra Kai (YouTube Red) – This was everything you could want from a Karate Kid TV series. Cobra Kai is a continuation of the original movie that surpasses the lowest of expectations. The Johnny Lawrence-Daniel LaRusso rivalry is rebooted. There is another All-Valley Tournament. Do you need anything else?
The streaming show intersperses an after-school vibe with the middle-aged rivalry. Bullying and cyberbullying are frequent topics that make The Karate Kid story relevant in 2017. The drama is just okay, but mildly entertaining enough to keep watching.
Cover photo: Pixabay