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leftovers

Nia LongSummer’s almost over. Where did the time go? Oh, yeah. I’ve been inside watching television all summer for you instead of going to the beach or learning how to tap dance like I had planned. You’re welcome, Internet strangers. Below I’ve ranked the shows I felt were worth ranking, those that you should definitely give a chance if you haven’t already. Of course you may disagree on the order, or feel like I’ve slighted some series by omitting it, but of course you’d be wrong.

But feel free to leave a comment.

10. You’re the Worst, FX Thursday at 10:30pm EST

With a young and cynical veneer but a creamy sentimental center, this new FX comedy is perfect summer television fodder. The two main characters are as agreeable as your typical toxic amoral Angelenos but one’s British, so that should account for something. Overall, this is a show about a relationship presented as atypical but develops into something functionally unexceptional. And that’s sort of the point. When the entertainment value of the primary relationship gets derailed by an immature commitment to actually proving which one of the two is the worst, the two best friend-supporting characters pick up the slack in refreshing ways, and it’ll be interesting to see where the show takes them. Not expecting many surprises, but FX comedy is sort of in a transition period so the possibility of second season (which likely wouldn’t occur elsewhere) will probably have this show finding its comfort zone one way or another.

9. Satisfaction, USA Thursday at 10pm EST

There’s something not particular good about this show. The main characters are so overdrawn as an American Beauty-esque portrait of disenchanted family life drenched in privilege and disconnected from the rest of the world that they should be unbearable. But they aren’t. The pilot succeeded pretty well at compelling viewers to follow the Truman family patriarch down this rabbit hole of his pristinely unsatisfying life falling apart. On the other hand Mrs. Truman is apparently well on her way to self-correcting with the help of a young gigolo. Interestingly enough their daughter seems to be responding to all of this, while remaining completely ignorant to what’s happening. This all combines into an attractively dynamic premise that regrettably, after the pilot, the series seems to manage clumsily. USA has some ads running for the show referencing the Fifty Shades book series and upcoming film, alluding to some plot similarities if not just similar target demographics. So presumably there’s not much intended to go on here besides a bit of sexual intrigue and fun. Nonetheless, Satisfaction has its moments.

8. The Strain, FX Sunday at 10pm EST

Despite anything, this is a series about vampires. In that the series is seemingly presented with a gift and a curse. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a scientific explanation as to what big bad has made it’s way to New York City by way of an arrival at JFK, but the main protagonists being agents of the CDC do call for a certain level of intelligent consideration to what is happening. To be honest, a CDC procedural has been on my television wish list for a long time and if this (or sadly Helix) is the best we can hope for in these vampire/supernatural-crazed days, then so be it. But there’s something insincere about this sort of procedural. It’s neither science fiction or supernatural. It’s unclear if there’s even a mystery to be solved. And are these creatures really even vampires? All of these concerns add baggage to what could be a fun show about people getting eaten. Nonetheless, this is a pretty fun show about people getting eaten.

7. Garfunkel and Oates, IFC Thursday at 10pm EST

Sometimes an act deserves a show so much that the actual product doesn’t matter as much as how much it adequately presents their work. That would be the case for Garfunkel and Oates if it wasn’t actually so damn funny and filled with complimentary acting that brings out the best in our new-to-television main protagonists. Garfunkel and Oates sing funny songs extremely well and this show presents a fictionalized account of the lives they’ve built around that. The only reason the series isn’t higher on this list is because there haven’t been many episodes as of writing this and there is some apparent clumsiness in the somewhat inventive singsongy format. I’m sure these will be ironed out as the series progresses but it’s a shame that the invoke the visual asides and memories trope (in the style of Family Guy most infamously) so often but it rarely contributes to the humor as much as Lindhome and Micucci do just be awkwardly smiling. They’re wonderful.

6. Extant, CBS Wednesday at 9pm EST / The Lottery, Lifetime Sunday at 10pm EST

Extant presents high concept science fiction and futuristic world building in an easily digestible package. The Lottery does the same pretty much. Both series use their science fiction vehicles to introduce significant philosophical questions about humanity and society, but as each show awkwardly progresses though their respective summer tv-friendly clickbaity premises, worldwide infertility and immaculate conception in outer space respectably, it becomes a little too clear that there hasn’t been much consideration made beyond this. Both shows will inevitably rely on their extraordinary babies (or lack thereof) much more than actual storytelling, but one of the two has Halle Berry as an astronaut. I forget which. Still, that’s something.

4. Girl Meets World, Disney Channel Friday at 8:30pm EST

Consider this: Boy Meets World premiered in 1993 and ended its seven season run in 2000. So Disney Channel’s decision to spin-off the series all these years later in many ways represents how much of an impact Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Mr. Feeny made on generations of television consumers for almost twenty-one years. You see the continued influence much of Disney Channel and even Nickelodeon’s current lineups aimed at pre-teens and anyone who enjoys overacted comedies with heart (and questionable fashion choices). Girl Meets World now has a lot on its plate in trying to fit into the new mold while maintaining a more than superficial connection to its legacy. New Cory and Shawn, Riley and Maya, are a great start with their charmingly sincere on-screen relationship. Honesty and directness seem to be such an important component to the new series’ mechanics that at times dialogue comes off as idealistically unreal, and emotions are awkwardly wrung out of some scenes. But still that awkwardness is familiar and reminiscent of many Mathews-Hunter-Feeny conversations from the olden days. The values and lessons being resurrected here are timeless and there are some sweet laughs to be had as a new generation discover them. As an adult and a fan of the original, there’s enough fan service (the return of Minkus, bohemian Topanga, ghost Feeny, to name a few) made in its early episodes to keep tuning in each week for a nostalgic smile. Kids might like it too.

3. Leftovers, HBO Sunday at 10pm EST

HBO’s new prestige drama is a thoughtfully human procedural that follows the chief of police trying to keep everyone safe and make sense of his small town in the wake of an apparent rapture and disappearance of about 2% of the world’s population. It’s sort of like Lost if we followed everyone else not on the island as they dealt with their friends and families going missing. Wait. Yeah, it’s pretty much like Lost. Damon Lindelof strikes again! But in all fairness, the exposition of the series is rich and there’s not as much of a big mystery for viewers to be concerned with. Instead, characters’s lives unfold and re-fold into one another in such a way that sheds light onto what these connections—husband, wife, daughter, citizen—might really mean and challenges what used to be believed. Amongst other things, belief and religion are significant threads in Leftovers, the Guilty Remnant are as compelling as they are probably bad for your respiratory system. Still, a refreshingly heavy meal for the summer television schedule.

2. Young and Hungry, ABC Family Wednesday at 8pm EST

A traditional multi-camera sitcom, ABC Family’s new series is hilarious. Perhaps, the most fundamentally sound comedy this summer, it follows a young, pretty chef recently hired to be the personal chef of a wealthy, also young, tech entrepreneur in San Francisco. The premise is as fashionably contrived as one could hope for in a summer comedy in 2014 and the cast features a great combination of new and familiar faces. Kym Whitley is delightful and has been deserving of a horribly stereotypical sassy Black housekeeper role for a long time. Along with Rex Lee as a token gaysian assistant and Aimee Carrero as the feisty Latina best friend, almost everything that’s wrong with Hollywood casting is present. Still, the quick and clever writing doesn’t shy away from this most common of affronts and an argument to the value of tokenism is undeniable when these are still some of the most prominent people of color on television this summer. A white female chef (with her Latina sidekick in tow), a Black female housekeeper, a homosexual Asian assistant all under the employ of a wealthy white man is implicitly the setup to a joke with a potentially risky punchline in the current television environment. A joke Hollywood has nonetheless been telling at the expense of people of color and other minority communities for a long time, without even being funny. In a way, Young and Hungry should be appreciated for at least setting up the joke, and telling a bunch more in the meantime. A tremendously funny show in a traditional vein.

1. The Divide, WE TV Wednesday at 9pm EST

The best show of the summer. WE TV’s new legal drama is as smart as it is riveting and timely. There’s enough of a whodunit embedded into the narrative to attract the most casual viewers but the series digs deeper and explores the politics and social dynamics at play when the murder case that made careers and tore apart families was first tried 11 years ago and now, as new evidence is uncovered that can change everything. Race plays such a large part in this series that the performances of the Page family—who’s prestige, power, and wealth were largely established when this murder was first brought to trial—is instrumental to selling the drama. Damon Gupton and Nia Long share numerous powerful scenes together as husband and wife with some occasionally differing views and together they navigate an extended family of distinctive characters. Interestingly enough, much of the series itself seems very much divided amongst race lines, which adds another layer of honesty to the depiction of today’s society that’s rarely present on television. On the other side of those line, we have an impassioned caseworker and advocate for the “Innocence Initiative” work to right the wrongs of the past by navigating a web of lies and political influence. A lot of the legwork is done here and through their eyes the show unpacks as much more of a procedural, with clues being discovered and interviews with some of the more intriguing characters (read: suspects) the show has to offer. At times, this duality of the series may seem a bit disconnected, but there definitely seems to be more in store and the wickedness murder case and the coverup seem more than enough to tie every loose end of the series together effectively. There’s a lot to enjoy about this show and it is very much just getting started.

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