It can be hard writing What’s on Tonight during the summer. Take tonight, for instance — where only a few months I could highlight new episodes of How I Met Your Mother, Adventure Time, Mom, Sleepy Hollow, or The Blacklist, now I’m stuck with the likes of Bachelor in Paradise and, um, Mike & Molly reruns? But I’m not complaining (well, not complaining that much), because despite Monday nights sucking, there’s A LOT of great TV on during the summer. Honestly, there’s no reason for you to ever go outside, not with these eight shows on now. (I left off the forever-controversial The Leftovers, which we already cover extensively, and The Strain, which isn’t a great show. As for True Blood, hahaha.)
Rectify is a very different show than it was in season one. Last year, it was an out-of-nowhere critical smash, the kind that people who watched the Sundance original loudly championed to their friends; they felt it was their obligation to loudly preach the quiet words of Daniel. Or at least that’s how I felt, and I couldn’t wait for season two to begin. Somehow, it got even better when it did. If season one was about Daniel’s innocence, season two has focused on the opposite: what if he did it? But even if the answer to who killed Hannah doesn’t matter (and it might not), there are numerous other aspects to latch onto, like Amantha (the superb Abigail Spencer), who spent so much time trying to free her brother, she’s forgotten what it’s like to do what’s best for her; and the fractured relationship of Tawney and Ted, Jr., the type of guy who says “we’re pregnant.” Rectify is like if The Shawshank Redemption had been directed by Terrence Malick, except with even more sobbing.
3. The Bridge
Freed from the confines of a serial killer arc we’ve seen a million times before, The Bridge has become a show like no other in season two. It’s dark and carefully plotted, with more mind paid to atmosphere than twists (one of the many benefits to airing on cable, not network). The procedural elements get your attention, but the weirdness of The Bridge, with its Sloth-like creatures (?) trapped in cages, Diane Kruger sleeping with the brother of the guy who killed her sister, an unlikely Big Bad with a fabulous collection of hats, Beardface Mumblemouth, and a legitimately good performance from Matthew Lillard, as well as a brief cameo from the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, is what makes you stick around.
4. Nathan for You
The real-life Nathan Fielder has created a TV persona with such a fully-formed persona, complete with almost unnoticeable physical tics, it can be hard to tell the difference between what’s (who’s?) real and what it isn’t, like Stephen Colbert and “Stephen Colbert.” Comedy Central has gotten into the exaggerated personalities business of late, and it’s paid off handsomely with not only Nathan for You, which SHOULD feel like a too-long SNL sketch but doesn’t, but also the must-watch Broad City and Review. They’re character studies, as “method” (minus the pretentious connotations) as they are funny.
5. The Legend of Korra
As much as we love to gripe about NBC’s handling of Community, Dan Harmon ain’t got nothing to complain about, at least compared to The Legend of Korra creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Korra, a sequel to the equally fantastic Avatar: The Last Airbender (pretend the movie didn’t happen; watch the show), was a solid performer for Nickelodeon for two seasons, but in between season two and season three, several new episodes were leaked onto the Internet. Nick panicked and announced the new season only a week before it was set to premiere. That left little time for promotion, and to the surprise of no one, the first couple of episodes, which were aired two at a time on Friday nights, had pitiful ratings compared to what Korra had been pulling in. It’s since been removed from the schedule, mid-season, with the rest of the episodes available only online (where, to be fair, the show is a Jennifer Lawrence-sized sensation). It’s a show that deserves to be treated much better than the way it has — the animation is top-notch, the fight scenes are as finely choreographed as any live action movie, the stories are exciting and inventive, and the voice cast includes J.K. Simmons, Aubrey Plaza, The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun, and Henry Rollins (!). TV PARTY TONIGHT.
6. The Honorable Woman
While AMC continues to concern itself with guts (The Walking Dead) and the gross (all their horrible reality shows), Sundance has scooped up the kind of slowly paced, smart series the home of Mad Men and Rubicon used to desire. Rectify and Top of the Lake require patience, as does their latest achievement, The Honorable Woman, a split-production miniseries with the BBC. But it’s worth the wait. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a career-best performance as Nessa Stein, the daughter of an Israeli arms manufacturer who has taken control of the company, and yes, based on that description, it’s as political as you assume, with shifting alliances and…what I’m saying is, Sharknado 2: The Second One it ain’t.
7. You’re the Worst
When FX announced two new comedies premiering during the summer, I was only really excited for one of them. That would be Married, which stars Nat Faxon, Judy Greer, Jenny Slate, and Brett Gelman. That’s about as solid a comedy lineup as you’re gonna get on a TV show, but so far, Married hasn’t impressed me yet — it’s Apatow-lite. This Is 38, if you will. Meanwhile, You’re the Worst, the other new show, has been VERY impressive. Friend-of-the-site Aya Cash has been a foulmouthed revelation as Gretchen, who puts the “f*ck” in “why the f*ck not.” Think of her as Nancy Botwin, before she had kids (Worst was created by Stephen Falk, who’s written for Orange Is the New Black and…Weeds). The selfish and cynical Jimmy gets tiring after awhile, but in Sitcom 101 fashion, he’s got a funny roommate, war veteran Edgar, to keep things from swirling into TOO much of a pit of self-loathing. You’re the Worst isn’t perfect, but perfection’s overrated anyway. Just ask Gretchen.
8. Masters of Sex
Masters of Sex shouldn’t be nearly as good as it is. It’s yet ANOTHER period-piece drama about a emotionally distant husband and father with daddy issues, a poor housewife, a mistress, a married couple who have trouble in bed, and a whole bunch of perverts. But the writers and actors, especially Michael Sheen and the Emmy-nominated Lizzy Caplan, have found new ways of approaching old archetypes. Caplan’s Virginia Johnson isn’t just a mistress — she’s also as smart and stubborn as the man she’s sleeping with, Sheen’s Bill Masters, or Dong Draper as I call him. And when Virginia’s not working on “The Study,” she’s assisting Dr. Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson, of Boardwalk Empire fame) with getting her project, providing free pap smears for women to detect cervical cancer, funded, or at least she was (spoiler?). Masters handles gender politics with a grace and skill most other shows are unable to, and if none of that HIGHBROW stuff does it for you, there’s also a lot of boobs.
Now I’ve got your attention…