Summer TV Roundup, Week 5

Summer has officially arrived on the calendar, and things are heating up on the small screen, too. In these weekly posts I look at the first and second episode of new scripted series for the summer. Don't see a new show listed below? Check previous weeks.

Monday Nights:
Guilt, Mondays at 9 p.m. on Freeform (Premiered June 13)
About: This new series on Freeform, centered on an American and Irish girl living abroad in England. When the Irish girl turns up dead, the American and her French boyfriend become likely suspects. This conjures thoughts of Amanda Knox, but it's not that straight forward. There are plenty of suspects here, and plenty of potential mystery. It's also got Billy Zane as a shady defense attorney. But, that being said, the first two episodes were incredibly boring. I didn't care for the series, and even in the midst of the slow summer season there wasn't enough for me to stick with it. The performances and characters are blah, as is the story. This might work for younger viewers, but not for people looking for something engrossing.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-

BrainDead, Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS (Premiered Jun 13)
About: This is the latest series from the creators of "The Good Wife." It's a political show, but it's also a sci-fi show about alien bugs taking over people in Washington, D.C. And it's a family drama. It has a nice cast — led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who's great in the lead role. It's got a lot of quirk, which helps make it endearing. The second episode started with a concept recap of the pilot set to song. It's unlike the other things I've seen on the air this summer, and that's a good thing. I like what they're doing here, and think there's some potential for fun with this summer series.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: B-

Tuesday Nights:
Animal Kingdom, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on TNT (Premiered June 14)
About: "Animal Kingdom" is the latest drama on TNT. This one is about a criminal family, and the young teen that gets pulled in. It's based on the 2010 Australian film that garnered an Academy Award nomination for Jacki Weaver as the matriarch of the family. The TV version features Ellen Barkin in the lead role, with a cast that includes Scott Speedman and Shawn Hatosy. It's a decent potential set up, and it feels like an expansion of the typical TNT drama brand, which tends toward more of a standard procedural feel. This is something different. I applaud TNT for taking a step out to increase their brand, but I didn't enjoy this series. The first two episodes aired on Tuesday night, and I found the characters a little creepy, and the story a little boring. Some of what was meant to be edgy felt a little forced, too. It's a noble attempt, but not a series I care about.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C-

Uncle Buck, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC (Premiered June 14)
About: ABC has cultivated a unique brand of diverse family comedy for itself. "Uncle Buck," a re-make of the 1980s John Candy film this time with an all African American cast, seems like something that would work with that brand. Though it was picked up to series during the upfronts in May 2015 it didn't make it to the air until this summer. That's never a good sign. In fact, it's the mark of the series that the network had second thoughts about after seeing it develop. I think that's probably true, too, after watching the pilot. The series aired its first two episodes in a block last Tuesday and they were fine, but not engaging. The series lacks the charm and originality of the film, and instead feels like a by-the-numbers family comedy. It feels stale even being measured against ABC's family comedy brand. There's a reason this is a summer burn off.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Wrecked, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on TBS (Premiered June 14)
About: This is the other new comedy that debuted last Tuesday. "Wrecked" is about a group of people whose plane crashes on a remote island, leaving them to fend for themselves. Sound familiar? Yes, this is the sitcom version of "LOST," and it very intentionally wants to draw out that comparison. That, in theory, can be fun. And the way they do caricatures of some of the "LOST" characters and plot draws some mild chuckles. But at some point a series has to stand on its own and can't rely solely on parody. "Wrecked" doesn't seem to understand that. It's first two episodes, which aired last Tuesday, have some amusing moments, but it doesn't work well as a complete series. It feels more like a sketch that got blown out to a full series, and it loses steam accordingly.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C-

Saturday Nights:
The American West, Saturdays at 10 p.m. on AMC (Premiered June 11)
About: This series captures the history of the American West, beginning just after the Civil War. It follows the stories of famous outlaws, such as Jesse James, Native Americans, such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, and soldiers, such as General Grant and General Custer. It does it all through a combination of interviews with historians and actors and historical re-enactments. That can be fascinating, but in this case I find it a little too dull. It's interesting to sort out fact from fiction — particularly in the case of Jesse James, who's revered as a western hero but was really a more damaged individual. But there's not enough of a hook here. If you love history, this is for you. If you're looking for something dynamic, you might be bored by this presentation.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Sunday Nights:
The Tunnel, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on PBS (Premiered June 19)
About: A few years back FX debuted a fascinating series called "The Bridge." It began with a murder on the border between Texas and Mexico, and delved into a mystery surrounding that killing and the politics of our two nations. Through two seasons it didn't generate big ratings but it offered quality story telling. "The Tunnel," which was released in 2013 in England and debuted in the U.S. on Sunday night, follows that same formula because, like "The Bridge," it's based on the original 2011 Denmark series "The Bridge." It follows the plot exactly, updating it to a body found at the mid-point of the Euro Tunnel connecting England and France. A pair of detectives, one French (Clemence Posey), and one English (Stephen Dillane) are called in to investigate. The pilot followed the story from "The Bridge" almost exactly, meaning the first season should as well. If you have seen "The Bridge" and miss it, you might want to watch "The Tunnel." But otherwise, if you haven't seen "The Bridge," go check out season one of that show instead.
Pilot Grade: C


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