Summer TV Roundup, Week 9

As we approach the Summer Olympics, the new shows are slowing to a trickle. In these weekly posts I look at the pilot and second episode of new scripted series this summer. Don't see a new show listed below? Check previous weeks.

Wednesday Nights:
The A Word, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Sundance (Premiered July 13)
About: This latest series is another import from England, this time centering on a family coming to grips with the fact their son is autistic. It's a dysfunctional family. Grandpa (Christopher Eccleston) is too involved, the parents are in denial, and the aunt and uncle have marital problems. But they come to realize that the little boy, Joe, is not your average five year old. The first episode of the series was about coming to that point of realization. The rest of the six-episode run is how they adjust to that reality. This is a serious question to ponder for many in America and England. Autism is on the rise, and it can be a challenge for parents to deal with. That makes for an interesting subject. But this show feels a little too focused on other problems, many of which aren't that interesting. There's the germ of a good idea here, but this show might not be it.
Pilot Grade: C

Sunday Nights:
The Night Of, Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO (Premiered July 10)
About: This latest HBO limited series, an eight episode exploration of a single crime and the man on trial for murder, is a perfect slow burn summer series. Some might argue it's moving along at a glacial pace. In truth, through two episodes and about 2.5 hours, we still have more questions than answers. But that's OK. It's been about developing these characters, this world, and the journey we're about to take. It's a look at the system. It's a look at racism, or at least racial bias, and how the wheels of justice sometimes don't turn as smoothly — or in the right direction — as we'd like. John Turturro, taking over a part originally conceived for James Gandolfini before his death, does a nice job as the lead attorney. Riz Ahmed, meanwhile, is great in the lead role as the accused, Naz. His journey is the one the audience is experiencing, and he's done a great job making you feel it as he navigates the often murky criminal justice system. Is he a kid who made mistakes? Is he a violent killer? At this point we don't know, and that's half the fun.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: B-

Vice Principals, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO (Premiered July 17)
About: This is the latest comedy series from HBO, starring Danny McBride and Walton Goggins as a pair of feuding high school vice principals who are about to join forces to oust the new principal. There's plenty of potential here. I like McBride and Goggins as performers, and I think both are ideally suited for these roles. However, I wasn't taken with the story and execution in the pilot episode. Some of it was funny, some of it was painful to watch. All of it seemed a little ridiculous. There's some potential here, but it will depend on where the series goes from here.
Pilot Grade: C

Streaming Series:
Stranger Things, now streaming on Netflix (debuted July 15)
About: This series is a throw back to a different era. It's set in the 1980s, and it captures that sense of nostalgia. It also fuses it with a supernatural mystery and broken characters that feel like modern. It's trying to have the best of both worlds, and it does so pretty successfully. The pilot is moody and weird, introducing the characters and setting the table. It's not quick with answers, and that's OK. The second episode dives a little more into the story and who these people are, and sinks the hook deeper. All eight episodes are available to stream now. I have only seen the first two so far, and while they're not perfect it is enough to keep me interested and curious as to see where this is all going. It's got a strong cast — including '80s faves Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine — and an intriguing set up. Definitely a refreshing and engaging change of pace for this summer season.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: B-


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