Vox: The 5 best TV shows of July 2019

Vox: The 5 best TV shows of July 2019
South Side is a wildly funny shaggy dog story that captures a side of Chicago we don’t always see on TV
Picking the best of July TV.
The Boys, Pearson, and Sherman’s Showcase are all great shows to watch this summer.
 Amazon; USA; IFC

 

June might contain the technical start of summer, but it’s July that feels most like the start of TV’s summer season. The shows that debut tend to be fluffier and lighter-weight, and they’re often best watched with a glass of your favorite cold beverage and a personal misting fan.

Summer is also basic cable’s time to shine, because summer is prime “Wait, I’m still paying for a cable package? Time to channel-surf!” season. Four of my favorite new shows of July air on basic cable (i.e., everything that comes with your basic cable package before you start paying for add-ons like HBO or Showtime); three of them are raucously funny comedies.

So if you’ve still got cable, and if you still love to channel-surf, you’re in luck. But even if you don’t, there are plenty of interesting new shows on streaming platforms to check out.

Here are the five best new shows of July 2019, along with assorted other programs of interest.

The Boys is undiluted cynicism you can drink straight from the bottle

The Boys is exactly the kind of show I typically dislike — smugly certain that its cynicism is the proper way to view the world, and stuffed full of sex and violence like supply is running out. It’s a superhero deconstruction arguing that superhero stories are for babies and this is a superhero show for adults.

So it is probably very high praise that I’ve seen three episodes of this show and want to keep going. Chalk that up to co-creator and showrunner Eric Kripke, who’s one of genre TV’s best. (He created Supernatural and the very enjoyable Timeless.) He knows exactly when to release some of the smugness building up within The Boys into the atmosphere and exactly what the show can say about our superhero-infested moment.

The Boys is based on the comic of the same name by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson. Like all Ennis comics, its premise is that every social institution you might hold dear is lying to you, then filters it through a hefty dose of meta-commentary, snarky humor, and ultraviolence. In The Boys, that means the CIA recruits a team of vigilantes to deal with superhero crime by thumbing their noses at social convention like a 15-year-old boy who has just realized many of our social mores are completely arbitrary.

Kripke (along with fellow producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) grasps that this could be unbearable if not handled just so, and he’s smart about alleviating the crasser, more distasteful elements with moments of connection among the vigilante team. Will that be enough to power a whole season of TV? I don’t know, but the fact that I’m probably going to find out speaks well of the show thus far.

(Note: As you can probably tell from the title, this show is hyper-masculine. Its ideal audience is teenage boys pretending to be asleep but actually watching this show on their phones. Your mileage may vary as to whether that describes you or some small part of yourself.)

Watch The Boys if you like: the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, The Tick, Angel

Where to watch: The series is streaming on Amazon.

Florida Girls is very funny without falling back on a bunch of jokes about Florida

The sneaky rise of PopTV has been one of the biggest success stories in the cable world over the past few years. The CBS-owned network — formerly known as the TV Guide Network — has turned Schitt’s Creek into a four-time Emmy nominee, and it recently picked up the critically beloved One Day at a Time for a fourth season after Netflix canceled it.

Its summer series Florida Girls extends the network’s hot streak. Unassuming but very funny, Florida Girls manages the tricky task of telling humor rooted in working-class women from Florida without making lots of easy jokes about working-class women or Florida. The show gets why its characters are so ridiculous instead of assuming it’s because of their class or background, something plenty of other TV shows would forget.

Star Laura Chinn (who also created the series and wrote several episodes) plays Shelby, a woman who grows frustrated with her lot in life when her friend receives a GED and moves out of the trailer park where the two live. Inspired by her friend’s success, Shelby decides that she and the other three “Florida girls” of the title should strive for something more.

The more people in their 20s and 30s make comedy, the more their shows center on people for whom the sorts of things few other TV characters (usually rich and college-bound) would strive for — a GED! — become things to aspire to, because whatever form the American dream used to take, it doesn’t look like that anymore. (Indeed, Comedy Central’s South Side, which I’ll discuss in a moment, takes a similar tack.) Florida Girls doesn’t draw too much attention to this aspect of its premise, but that low-grade desperation drives the show.

Florida Girls needs a couple of episodes to truly settle into itself (I’ve seen four), but the bright, poppy colors and slightly hazy feeling of the series make it an easy binge. It’s also a perfect summer show: a little overheated and delirious from too much sun, but ready to slide on a swimsuit and party.

Watch Florida Girls if you like: Cougar TownThe Other TwoOrange Is the New Black

Where to watch: New episodes air Wednesdays at 10 pm Eastern on PopTV, with two episodes debuting every week. Previous episodes are available on PopTV’s website.

Pearson is Good Wife lite, but what a perfect summer show that can be

Here’s a confession for you: I like USA’s oft-mocked-on-Twitter Suits. I haven’t seen every episode, and I haven’t watched it in a few years. But the legal drama, currently in its ninth season, scratched my perpetual itch for smart and entertaining TV I don’t have to pay too much attention to, preferably with quick, quippy dialogue and plotting that’s quite dense if you actually do sit down and focus. Complex TV that just slides by is hard to make. Suits made it look easy.

I’m not sure Pearson is quite there yet, but I’ve seen two episodes and it’s pointed in the right direction thus far. The series spins off one of Suits’ most popular characters — Gina Torres’s Jessica Pearson — and sends her into the cutthroat world of Chicago politics, where she takes a job working for the mayor. This dynamic was set up in an episode of Suits, so Pearson just dives right into the political intrigue.

“Chicago politics and legal shenanigans” might put you in mind of either the CBS classic The Good Wife or its currently airing spinoff The Good Fight, and Pearson doesn’t yet cut as deeply as either of those shows. But it has its own pleasures, with some fun plot twists in each episode and a growing ability to balance Jessica’s day-to-day life in the mayor’s office with the harsher realities of Chicago politics in 2019.

I won’t oversell Pearson’s grittiness. This is still a big, glossy show with a side of soap opera. But I’m going to keep watching to see if it finds another gear. If it does, it will be very good summer TV indeed.

Watch Pearson if you like: The Good WifeSuitsGrey’s Anatomy

Where to watch: New episodes air Wednesdays at 10 pm Eastern on USA. Previous episodes are available on the network’s website, and the first two are available to watch for free.

Sherman’s Showcase might be worth watching for the concept alone

Some shows I give a chance just because their basic conceit is so utterly up my alley. Sherman’s Showcase, a sketch comedy series that takes the form of a retrospective special on a fictional 43-year-old variety show hosted by fictional superstar Sherman McDaniel (Bashir Salahuddin), is one such show. It is very, very loosely similar to Soul Train — but so much weirder.

Every week, a new celebrity (often producer John Legend) introduces the theme of the episode’s retrospective, and then the show darts through 43 years of pop culture history, with sketches and musical numbers designed to send up both that pop culture and recent black American history. (Sherman is an artistic and social conservative who thinks that culture peaked in the ’70s. Needless to say, he has some issues with modern music, and so on.)

The series premiere nods to Showcase’s surprisingly ambitious sweep, delving into Sherman’s family history to show the generations of entertainers preceding him. There are great jokes here (particularly a very strange bit about a Bobby McFerrin type who’s so good at making sound effects with his mouth that he can make it seem like he’s tap-dancing even if he’s not), but in the early going, I’m most taken with Sherman’s Showcase’s willingness to try damn near anything.

Watch Sherman’s Showcase if you like: CommunityAtlantaGlee

Where to watch: New episodes air Wednesdays at 10 pm Eastern on IFC. The show debuts Wednesday, July 31.

South Side is a wildly funny shaggy dog story that captures a side of Chicago we don’t always see on TV

In some ways, South Side feels like a culmination of this month’s best new TV, even though I’m only writing about it last because it comes last alphabetically. Like Florida Girls, it’s a show about young strivers in a world that often doesn’t care for young strivers. Like Pearson, it’s a show that dissects the complicated world of Chicago. (It doesn’t have any superheroes within the five episodes I’ve seen, but maybe it will find some in order to overlap with The Boys.)

But the most striking overlap the show has is with Sherman’s Showcase. Like that show, South Side is interested in aspects of American black culture not always seen on TV. But the connection goes beyond that: Both shows are created by the same people, former Late Night With Jimmy Fallon writers Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin, who bring their sketch comedy sensibilities to the more straightforward sitcom trappings of South Side.

Unlike in Sherman’s, Riddle and Salahuddin don’t play the central roles (though they both have smaller recurring parts). They are perhaps too old to play the two recent community college graduates at the center of South Side, but one of the main characters is played by Salahuddin’s brother, Sultan Salahuddin. (The other is played by Kareme Young.) But their incisive goofiness cuts through in each and every joke.

There’s not much to this show’s premise — the main characters are trying to get ahead in a world that doesn’t want them to — but it’s got a great, affectionate understanding of Chicago’s South Side. Its use of rent-to-own companies as a central workplace setting in a few episodes also nods to a kind of predatory capitalism that targets the show’s lower-class characters.

Don’t let me make this show sound too serious, however. It is very, very funny and frequently strange, while also quite cutting about sociopolitical topics. It’s the kind of show where the police show up to a workplace and say not to worry, because no one’s getting beaten today, and even the best job interview can be felled by a background check that comes up riddled with problems. And those are just bits from the premiere. The longer South Side runs, the more incisive and humorous its portrayal of the structures built to hold these two young men in place becomes.

Watch South Side if you like: 30 RockBroad CityThe Wire (okay, maybe not really, but South Side is similarly interested in how cities function almost as organisms)

Where to watch: New episodes air Wednesdays at 10:30 pm Eastern on Comedy Central. Past episodes are available on the network’s website, and the series premiere is available for free on YouTube.

5 other new shows (possibly) worth checking out

July offered a veritable cornucopia of new TV offerings, as summer gets ever hotter and the temptation to just stay inside only grows. Here are five more shows you might enjoy.

  • Okay, I haven’t seen Designated Survivor: 60 Days (streaming on Netflix), but if you, like me, were frustrated that the short-lived Kiefer Sutherland vehicle Designated Survivor(about an unassuming Cabinet secretary who becomes president after a terrorist attack) wasn’t more over-the-top, well, this K-drama remake will hopefully go full camp.
  • Another confession: I don’t get the Love Island (every weeknight at 8 pm Eastern on CBSthing. Couples being made to hook up for my enjoyment feels a little icky to me. But a lot of people are obsessed with both this show and the original British version (which can be found on Hulu), and who am I to stop them?
  • Now, if you want to know the kind of thing I get into, consider The Movies (CNN, Sundays at 9 pm Eastern), a very standard talking-head documentary that seems primarily designed to get you to say, “Gosh, I love the movies!” But guess what? I sure do love the movies! (Also, every other talking head on this show is a friend of mine. I’m not made of stone.)
  • Pennyworth (Sundays at 9 pm Eastern on Epix) takes Batman origin stories to new, ridiculous lengths with the story of Batman’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth, before Bruce Wayne was even born, but it’s gorgeous to look at and well-paced. It’s a far better version of “the origin of Batman’s butler” than you’d expect … but it’s still that exact show.
  • Who Killed Garrett Phillips? (streaming on HBOhits a lot of familiar true crime documentary tropes — dead child, man perhaps wrongfully accused of the murder, racial animus in a small town — but it’s fortunate to have the guiding hand of terrific documentarian Liz Garbus at its center.

5 returning shows worth checking out

Maya Hawke stars in STranger Things
Everybody loves Robin on Stranger Things. 
Netflix

Finally, it wasn’t all new TV in July. Here are five returning shows you should check out if you already haven’t.

  • If you haven’t seen the gleeful space opera Killjoys (Syfy, Fridays at 10 pm Eastern), it’s a blast of pure science fiction fun, just entering its final season. (If you want to get caught up, the first three seasons are on something called VRV. They’re also available for digital rental or purchase.)
  • Speaking of final seasons, the last 13 episodes of Orange Is the New Black (streaming on Netflixwere a great reminder of just how good that show can be at its best, bringing one of the best dramas of the decade to a justifiably acclaimed close.
  • Netflix also debuted new episodes of Queer Eye (streaming on Netflix), one of those heartwarming reality shows that seem to go over well with just about everybody.
  • Netflix also debuted the third season of Stranger Things (streaming on Netflix), which you might have forgotten even happened in the month of July, but I assure you it did. Season three is a blast of summertime fun — but it evaporates from the memory almost immediately.
  • Finally, Veronica Mars (streaming on Hulucame back for its fourth season (the third ended way back in 2007!) of a bright and brassy young woman solving impossible crimes. The fourth season has been … controversial, let’s say, but I found it a strong return to form, even with its hugely divisive ending.

August will be upon us soon, with the return of two of the best new dramas of 2018 for second seasons: HBO’s Succession and AMC’s Lodge 49. Get hype!

Lane 44, Ltd., founding partner and Executive Director Debbie Holstein spent most of her childhood performing in theatrical productions, acting, singing and dancing.

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