When it comes to television, there is no beginning or end — just a constant, steady stream of content on any number of devices, running at whatever time of the year for however many episodes it is deemed worthy or profitable. Some five or ten years ago — or somewhere in between — there existed a proper television calendar, a standard that dictated when programs should air, for how long, and when they would return. That calendar has been gradually destroyed. Netflix helped finish the job that was started by so-called prestige TV — such as shows on AMC and HBO.
It all adds up to the viewer having more options available, but with great reward comes great responsibility…or something like that. The viewer must not only be more discerning, but more engaged — ready to ditch a show at a moment’s notice if it’s not meeting the most specific of expectations. There is simply too much out there to waste time on things that aren’t satisfying.
With that in mind, here are some of the summer’s best binges — what to look out for and how they might satisfy your entertainment palate.
Sharp Objects – HBO, July 15
One of the most anticipated shows of the summer is getting a lot of attention for looking and feeling like another Big Little Lies. This correlation is mainly being drawn because it is a limited miniseries on HBO, is directed by talented filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee, and stars a popular female lead.
Amy Adams stars in this story as reporter Camille Preaker, a woman with a history of mental health issues who returns to her Missouri hometown tasked with investigating the murder of a young girl and the disappearance of another. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects is garnering plenty of early acclaim for its acting and direction. Vallee, as he has often done so well, particularly in Wild (which also told the story of a headstrong woman with a troubled past), alternates between time periods, creating a mystery around what happened in that hometown before Camille left, and what troubling things have taken place since. The finale airs tonight, and here’s hoping that both parallel tales — the personal journey and the professional job — are wrapped up with equal care and intrigue.
Maniac – Netflix
Next month there will come a genre-bending series by another visually compelling and talented storyteller. Cary Fukunaga, who helmed the first, fantastic season of True Detective and did some quality things with Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation, leads this adaptation of a Norwegian black comedy (which I suspect, in Scandinavia, they just call “comedies”).
Jonah Hill and Emma Stone star alongside Sally Field and Justin Theroux, and at the moment, Netflix has only teased how closely the new series will be to the original. That story told two parallel narratives about a person living in a mental asylum: one was of the real world, and another of an internally created fantasy realm. Competing perspectives, dreamlike visuals, and mystery are right up the alley of Fukunaga; surely we want more more darkness than comedy, though.
Castle Rock – Hulu, July 27
From a couple of masters of horror and science fiction — Stephen King and J.J. Abrams — comes Castle Rock. Like Sharp Objects, it involves someone returning to their quaint, rural home; but of course, this town isn’t so simple and pure. That a man (Bill Skarsgård) is found trapped in a cage beneath a penitentiary is the main mystery revealed thus far, though many more abound, with the supernatural and themes of light and dark at play.
Castle Rock, of course, is the fictional setting for many characters and events in various King works, and a teaser trailer makes certain that you know this; a bunch of names and famous quotes are offered. King’s televisual and cinematic adaptations have ranged from the great to the, well, Dark Tower, so anything is possible. But it could be fun if there was a sort of self-contained universe in the show along the lines of Gotham or Once Upon a Time, where random, wild stuff can happen, and you’ve already decided that you want to go along with it, however absurd.
Disenchantment – Netflix, August 17
There is always room for more absurdist, grotesque, slightly off-colour cartoons; the world simply needs more. Disenchantment may add to that pool, as Matt Groening (of The Simpsons fame) crafts a new show with his signature animation style.
Abbi Jacobson voices Princess Bean, who, alongside her elf companion (cleverly named Elfo) and a personal demon named Luci, navigates a problematic medieval kingdom called Dreamland. And they navigate it mainly by drinking and, I’m assuming, scheming. With Netflix, Groening breaks away from Fox and broadcast TV, so things may be somewhat less subtle and more daring than his previous work. (Though Futurama proved Groening could be silly, subversive, and still adult-themed.)
Jack Ryan – Amazon Video, August 31
For something a little more straightforward and less supernatural, Jack Ryan, America’s most talented C.I.A. agent, who has been making cinematic forays for decades, comes to television. Amazon Video presents this series starring John Krasinski as the titular hero, following in the footsteps of Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine — so there is a lot from which to draw. Abbie Cornish, Wendell Pierce, and Peter Fonda will costar in the series, which has already been renewed for a second season.
The story looks to take Ryan around the world battling terrorists and spies and such, but perhaps the most important thing is that the creators and Krasinski have said they’ve looked to Ford’s turn as the spy for motivation and inspiration. The former goofball from The Office has done well to reimagine his own Hollywood reputation, getting super muscly for a war movie a couple of years ago and recently writing, directing, and starring in a pretty compelling horror film. The everyman quality Ford possesses seems pretty fitting for Krasinski.
It is unknown whether at any point Ryan will have to talk to the camera for a personal testimony.