Summer TV Roundup, Week 13


It's August. We're a few weeks from fall premiers, but the new shows of summer keep on coming. 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 Sinner, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA (Premiered August 2)
About: This latest scripted series from USA is an eight-episode limited series starring Jessica Biel and based on a book of the same name. It's about a wife and mother who, one day, snaps and stabs a man to death while on a family outing to the beach. She's quickly taken into custody and confesses. But a detective (Bill Pullman) is convinced there's more to it than that. That pretty much covers the pilot episode, and the question moving forward is whether there's more to the story. Biel began her career on the small screen but quickly graduated to film. Her return here is with a very different kind of character and a very different kind of story, and it works. I thought the pilot was interesting and did a nice job of establishing the world and the conflict. It wasn't perfect, in fact I thought it was slow at times, but it was interesting and I'm curious to see where it goes.
Pilot Grade: B-

Baroness Von Sketch Show, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. (Premiered August 2)
About: This sketch comedy show, fronted by an all female cast, premiered on IFC on Wednesday night. Sketch comedy isn't my favorite format, but it can be a nice diversion at times. My biggest issue with this show (at least the episode I screened) is that the sketches were too short and vague at times. Sometimes the criticism has been leveled at "Saturday Night Live" that they let bits go a bit too long, sapping the humor. This show seemed to have the opposite problem. Some were so short that I was trying to figure out what was happening and it was over. That's not great. And nothing really made me laugh hard. I might not be the target audience here, but to me this was a show that was constructed in a way that made it hard for me to get into it.
Pilot Grade: C-

Thursday Nights:
What Would Diplo Do, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on VICE (Premiered August 3)
About: This is the first scripted series from VICE, and it's certainly an interesting concept. James Van Der Beek, who once played a lightly fictionalized version of himself, is now playing a fictionalized version of the DJ Diplo. Didn't know Diplo was a real person or a musician? You're not alone. I didn't either, so I spent plenty of time in the pilot googling him. The plus side was I had time to google because the show wasn't that compelling. I like Van Der Beek. Let's be honest, I'm a big "Dawson's Creek" fan, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. But this didn't really do it for me. The first episode had some funny moments, but I didn't really see the point of this as a long-term series investment. Perhaps it fits with the VICE brand, but I'm not sure since everything else is unscripted on the network.
Pilot Grade: C-

The Guest Book, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on TBS (Premiered August 3)
About: Never before had I seen an anthology series set in a motel room. Last week, with "Room 104," we got one (more on that below). Less than a week later, "The Guest Book" debuted with back-to-back episodes on TBS. Tonaly, the shows couldn't be different. But they are linked in a common plot construction (an anthology series, featuring different characters and stories each week, set in a motel room). "The Guest Book" changes it up a bit because it's a traditional sitcom, and also because there are recurring characters in this small town (a stripper and her step son, a single father whose an over worked doctor, a food delivery driver and the motel manager). But the first two episodes featured wildly different stories and characters. And the close of each episode sets up the next guest and story. There were some fun moments in these episodes, and some good casting. But I wasn't that taken with either story, or the connective tissue of the recurring characters. In a crowded TV landscape (one hurtling toward fall), this just doesn't make the cut for me.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C-

Friday Nights:
Room 104, Fridays at 11:30 p.m. on HBO (Premiered July 28)
About: It was a big week for Van Der Beek, who has a starring role in the second episode of this anthology series set in a motel room that airs on HBO. The question I had after the first was what kind of genre this episode would have. The first episode decidedly felt like a horror story. This second one did at times, too, though it had an interesting twist at the end. While "The Guest Book" is going for a lighter, comedic tone, "Room 104" seems to be aiming for the serious and, through two episodes, a darker tone. The performances in the second episode were quite good, but I wasn't totally taken with the story. This is interesting because it's something unique and completely different each week, but it's likely an acquired or niche taste.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C

Streaming Series:
Comrade Detective, Now Streaming on Amazon Prime (Premiered August 4)
About: This high-concept comedy series debuted on Amazon Prime on Friday. All six episodes are now available to stream. I watched the first two and thought it was interesting. It's billed as a long-lost, pro-communism series from Romania prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. In reality, it was written in America, filmed in Romania in Romanian, and dubbed back over by an all-star voice cast of American actors including Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. There's some humor to be mined here, but I also thought the episodes were a little disjointed. The dubbing style isn't my thing either. It's a very creative endeavor, but it's likely not for everyone.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-

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