It’s that time again: TV finale time, when many shows close up shop for the season, leaving fans to another summer of watching reruns. It’s both my favorite and least favorite time of year: I get all of the crescendos, conclusions, and cliffhangers that I’ve been waiting for, and at the same time, May heralds another several months of waiting for new episodes.
It’s also the time of year when I go back and dig through all the new shows I could have been watching, to see if there are any that deserve regular rotation in my DVR. (As you can imagine, I end up sifting through a lot of bad TV. I even try to give shows a fighting chance of several episodes—Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life had such promise!) So if you’re looking for a new show to keep you sated over the summer, here are five that have been renewed and are definitely worth digging into.
A lot of people I love and respect would consider these fighting words, but here goes: Superstore is the only heir apparent to Community. It’s true! Aside from the fact that many people from the Greendale production crew migrated to Superstore, the show brings a diversity of characters, surprising heart, and biting wit that just isn’t present on any other sitcom currently airing.
With its ensemble cast, Superstore takes aim at how retail corporations treat their workers and their customers, without going over the top or condescending to anyone. The diversity of the characters is almost beside the point—there are gay, black, Asian, poor, thin, heavy, old, disabled, and even straight white male characters—because they all live within corporate culture. The ensemble in Superstore is united by the common experience of having to turn over their identities and become box store workers. While the blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em jokes and tight plot lines are hilarious, the season-long arc is a commentary on the culture of Walmart, Target, CostCo, et al, and puts some relevant questions in front of its audience, like “Are those low prices worth it, if it means denying working class people health care?”
That’s a big deal, and one that shows that Superstore has promise for seasons to come.
The Real O’Neals
As a huge fan of show co-creator (and “Savage Love” podcaster) Dan Savage, I was very wary of this one—how would an idea from my favorite sex advisor translate to broadcast TV? It was hard to see his brand making it past the censors; my Spidey-sense just couldn’t see prime time being very welcoming of discussions of pegging, orgies, or…really, anything Dan regularly talks about.
Despite Savage himself explaining that the show “went in a different direction” than he initially conceived, The Real O’Neals is able to get away with quite a bit, and ABC is surprisingly embracing of the show’s premise of a gay teenager’s life after coming out to his conservative Catholic family.
Social politics aside, The Real O’Neals is easily one of the funniest new shows this year, largely in part due to the acting of series leads Noah Galvin and Martha Plimpton. In a time when other ensemble shows have become bland and predictable (cough cough, Modern Family), The Real O’Neals is full of surprises every episode, and laugh-out-loud gags.
After the last season of Louie, Louis C.K. justified a hiatus by claiming that he wanted to explore new creative territory—he’d outgrown the metaphorical sad clown he played on Louie, and was ready to do something else.
So he dove into a new project, Baskets, starring Zach Galifianakis as… a sad clown.
Creative growth or no, Baskets is a terrific, if dark, comedy about Chip Baskets, a French Clown School flunkee who returns home, where the only way to pursue his passion for clowning is to become a rodeo clown while living with his mother. The show is really about watching a group of characters who are self-involved and mostly unable to care about other people, but the gem here is in the performances. Louie Anderson, as Chip’s mother, steals the show, embracing the role that, like the show, is both heartwarming and tragic.
The Ranch is a different kind of sitcom: It relies on the format’s clichés as much as it throws them out the window. Yes, it’s from the producers of Two and a Half Men, and borrows from the cast of That ‘70s Show; yes, it has a studio audience and a laugh track; yes, the characters are archetypes we’ve seen before (Sam Elliot ‘s character may as well be a farmer version of Red Foreman).
But past that, it takes some big chances: the heroes of The Ranch are cattle ranchers with openly conservative, anti-Obama points of view; every character swears exactly when it’s called for; and best of all, the storylines are built around subjects network TV wouldn’t touch—struggling farmers, wannabe pro athletes, and older women who’ve outgrown their traditional marriages.
The fun and emotion of The Ranch is a slow burn that in a lot of ways doesn’t pay off until the final sixty seconds of the season finale. But it’s worth the wait: all season long, it takes what could be an esoteric premise and turns it into a universally enjoyable show. Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson still have an easy rapport, and even in it slower moments, Sally Field (Sally Field! In a sitcom!) is graceful and sweet. Where a traditional sitcom would have fun bouncing two-dimensional characters off of each other, The Ranch builds real moments between family members and their loved ones, taking the extra time Netflix affords them and using it well.
While even comic book nerds are getting a little overwhelmed with the number of superhero properties on TV (which will be in the double-digits by 2017), Supergirl stands (hovers?) above the rest. I’ve written a bit about this before, and I won’t repeat any prior points for the sake of both of my fans, so let’s leave it at this — Supergirl is DC’s Goldilocks, taking the epic stakes of Batman v. Superman, the action of Arrow, and the fun of The Flash and creating a “just right” mix for an hour a week. And now that the show is bound for The CW in the fall, joining its brethren, it can only get better.
What shows are YOU planning on giving a chance over the summer hiatus? Let us know in the comments.