LOS ANGELES – Network television, once wedded to a September-to-May schedule, saw the error of its ways as cable and online competitors demonstrated a brazen disregard for tradition.
So summer has evolved from a rerun graveyard to the home of lively offerings, with enough choices to threaten your vacation plans – or at least DVR capacity.
That includes returning shows AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire,” already underway on Sundays, along with NBC’s “Hannibal,” coming June 4; “Orange is the New Black,” Netflix, June 12; TNT’s “The Last Ship” and HBO’s “True Detective,” both June 21; “Under the Dome,” CBS, June 25, and “Masters of Sex” and “Ray Donovan,” Showtime, both back on July 12.
The newbies include a mix of scripted series, documentaries and a few reality-genre curveballs – like CBS’ “The Briefcase” (9 p.m. EDT Wednesdays) which tests families’ charitable instincts – just as in the old-fashioned TV season.
One of the higher-profile dramas is Netflix’s June 5 release “Sense8,” the first series from sibling filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski of “The Matrix” fame. The story: Eight people realize they’re mysteriously connected and must engage in a life-or-death fight that plays out, travelogue-style, in sundry locations worldwide.
The ensemble cast is equal parts international, includes Daryl Hannah and Naveen Andrews, who found the project, and the Wachowskis, and irresistible.
“I have enormous respect and admiration for their insane, intense creative brains. Plus I like to work with great directors,” Hannah said.
“They’re artists, and there are precious few of them,” Andrews said.
Also upcoming are two transgender journey docuseries, one about a celebrity, Bruce Jenner (his as-yet untitled show debuts 9 p.m. EDT Sunday, July 26, on E!), and another focusing on an average American family in ABC Family’s “Becoming Us” (9 p.m. EDT Monday, June 8).
More small-screen choices to consider:
– An armchair travel experience of a different kind than “Sense8” is offered by Discovery’s “Life Story,” a six-part natural history series debuting at 9 p.m. EDT Saturday, June 6. Narrated by David Attenborough, “Life Story” tracks animals as they go about their daily, often perilous routines in locations scattered across 29 countries. Want to see the mating dance of the astoundingly colorful Australian peacock jumping spider? Here’s your chance, and shot in ultra-high definition.
– If you’d like to cast a chill over your summer, Investigation Discovery is obliging with “Serial Thriller,” its first scripted series and one it promises will “propel viewers” into a community “terrorized” by a serial murderer. The narrative approach is based on accounts from those involved and plays out at 10 p.m. EDT Sunday through Tuesday, June 7-9. Who is the killer? True-crime buffs may crack the case early on, the channel said, but others will have to stay tuned to figure it out.
– ABC’s answer to post-”Mad Men” 1960s withdrawal is “The Astronaut Wives Club,” debuting at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 18. The glossy series is based on Lily Koppel’s nonfiction book about Annie Glenn, Rene Carpenter and other women whose close ties helped them cope with their spouses’ hero status and its fallout. There was glamor (tea with the first lady!) but hardship and sacrifice as well. The ensemble cast of “astrowives” includes JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Yvonne Strahovski, and Dominique McElligott.
– Oh, those annoying celebu-clans and the media attention that makes them possible. But what’s a family seeking fame and more fortune to do when it predates TV and blogs? That’s the plight of the Bellacourts of swanky Newport, Rhode Island, circa the early 1900s, in the Comedy Central satire “Another Period.” Created by and starring Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome as misbehaving sisters, the comedy beginning at 10:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, June 23, also features “Mad Men” star Christina Hendricks, Lauren Ash, Michael Ian Black and Paget Brewster.
– Denis Leary, who played a deeply flawed firefighter in FX’s “Rescue Me” returns to the channel as a deeply flawed musician in “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” which he created. Leary’s Johnny Rock was the frontman of a 1990s New York band, The Heathens, that broke up the same day its eagerly awaited debut album was released (Johnny’s sexual hijinks were to blame). The hard-luck rocker dreams of a comeback but, for now, is standing in the shadows as songwriter for young singer Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies). The series, starting at 10 p.m. EDT Thursday, July 16, features John Corbett as Flash, Johnny’s former bandmate and cuckold.
– HBO’s miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” from top-tier writer David Simon (“Treme,” ‘’The Wire”) and director Paul Haggis (“Crash”), dramatizes Lisa Belkin’s nonfiction book of the same name. Set in Yonkers, New York, it examines how residents and the mayor (Oscar Isaac) react to a federal order to build low-income housing in white neighborhoods. The impressive cast includes Catherine Keener, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder and LaTanya Richardson-Jackson in a sharp-edged examination of race and community debuting at 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.