As we wind up August and head to September, we enter a lovely time in TV when the summer season (as it were) is over but the Fall has yet to begin. During this period there are a few new shows airing but it’s also the best time to catch up on the Summer (or earlier) TV you may have missed – you know before you get sucked back into your returning shows/new favorites.
This summer I watched A LOT of stuff. Some I stuck with happily, others I abandoned with prejudice. Everything I’m about to mention should be easily accessible from various streaming sites (with one exception) and with 2 exceptions have only 1 season currently available.
Let’s start with FXX’s You’re the Worst which is a romantic comedy for nihilists. This show, and Hulu’s Difficult People both occupy a spot in my brain I like to call “what I’m usually thinking but social norms keep me quiet” as they are both about terrible, damaged, borderline sociopathic, deeply unstable people making their way in the world. You’re the worst is all of that and weirdly lovely as you watch 2 awful people fall in love and see how that affects them. It’s smart, cute, and hilarious but also speaks to a very real sense of isolation in a world where everything is covered in a thick layer of sarcasm and how that shapes who you are and what you want. As it heads into season 2 in September, the characters have changed dynamics and grown as people, which is not to say that I’m not expecting a return to the previous heights of debauchery. Sweet, in it’s way, and hilarious, if you’re a little twisted. A You’re the Worst season 1 is available on Hulu, season 2 will air on FXX
Similarly, the aforementioned Difficult People is also about terrible people but here it’s best friends trying to make it in to the comedy world. It’s fast, unfiltered, no holds barred and screamingly funny. One of the things that makes it so fun to watch is the easy pop-culture steeped friendship of stars Billy Eichner and Julie Klaussner and their complete disregard for decorum and tact. The series is filled with cameos/guest roles by modern comedy stars (Rachel Dratch, Andrea Martin, Fred Armisen, and James Urbaniak to name a few) and brutally explores what it’s like to try to break into the comedy. A Difficult People is a Hulu original series, airing weekly on Wednesdays
Netflix’s BoJack Horseman continues this spate of disaffected comedy with a series this is painfully funny, bizarre, and filled with a type of emotional resonance that will make you forget you’re watching an animated alcoholic horse. Over it’s 2 available seasons, the series explores alcoholism, depression, friendship, love, desire, loss, disease, and the nature of pain in a way that is both incisive and broad. Even the sometimes deep dives into Hollywood satire are easy to understand for the outsider and never distract from the main story of a washed up actor trying to figure out his place in the world. That half the characters on the show are anthropromophized animals only helps ease the true bitterness of a dark narrative. And make no mistake, it is dark. Near the end of the first season this show does what I have never seen an animated show do and follows a rabbit hole of depression that is almost uncomfortable to watch. But the strength of the characters, and a truly wonderful voice performance by Will Arnett, will keep you engaged to the very end. A BoJack Horseman is a Netflix original, 2 seasons now streaming.
Our last dark show- I swear I did watch happy light shows as well- is Lifetime’s UnREAL. This series, widely considered to be one of the best of the summer is the twisted behind the scenes of a Bacherlor-like series and all the horrific manipulations that go along with it. Every emotion is toyed with, every weakness exploited and no gambit is safe. And just when you think the stakes can’t get higher, not only do they but ridiculous is where this show starts! Part scathing satire of reality TV, it’s co-created by a former Bachelor producer, and part engaging drama this show has one of the most fun and crazy first seasons ever. A+ UnREAL season 1 is available on demand or on Lifetimetv.com/the Lifetime app
In a tonal shift, there’s Amazon’s Catastrophe, a British series about a man and woman who have a one night stand, or a week stand, and end up having a baby. While the show does show some similarities with You’re the Worst, Catastrophe aims to show a relationship try to work itself out through an extraordinary circumstance. Throughout the first season, this relationship in fast forward hits all of the beats you’d expect while mining humor from 2 characters who are both wholly unprepared for the situation they’re in and also weirdly perfect for each other – which terrifies them more than anything. A- Catastrophe season 1 is available through Amazon Prime Instant Video
Speaking of non-traditional families, USA’s Playing House (now airing season 2) is the story of 2 best friends (real life besties Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham) raising a child together. When Maggie (Parham) gets a divorce, Emma (St. Clair) moves back home from China to help out. To say “hilarity ensues” would be an understatement as this show is laugh out loud funny. The cast has an easy relationship, the dialogue is zippy without being over the top and the typical sitcom tropes are handled easily and without feeling tired. B+ Playing House season 1 is available on the USA app, season 2 now airing on USA Tuesdays
In another example of taking a formula concept and making it shine, Syfy’s Killjoys takes a boring idea of “space bounty hunters” and creates a rich and interesting world and fascinating characters. Hannah John-Kamen, Luke Macfarlane, and Aaron Ashmore make for a magnetic trio who are incredibly entertaining to watch. The show manages to strike a balance between sci-fi silliness (Pregnant woman shooting flame thrower at marauding bad guys) and character building drama (nanite based torture leads to stunning revelations) while never letting up on the various looming threats surrounding the team. I watched this show on a whim, and deep abiding love for Ashmore and Macfarlane, and ended up marathoning 5 straight episodes. It’s an incredibly fun and engaging show that deserves to be picked up for a second season. A+ Killjoys season 1 available on Syfy.com/on demand and on Hulu with proper cable subscriptions.
Netflix has 2 wonderful series that I want to highlight. First, Wet Hot American Summer: The First Day of Camp is an 8-episode prequel to 2001’s cult favorite Wet Hot American Summer. I have nothing more o add then what has already been said in the hundreds of reviews online already except to say that this is surrealist perfection and the final conversation between Janeane Garofalo and Jon Hamm is one of the funniest exchanges I have ever seen. If you’re a fan of the movie, you will love the series. Second, British import Scrotal Recall is fantastic series with a silly name. It follows the story of a man who is diagnosed with chlamydia and must track down all of his past partners to let them know. Through this journey we follow his life in flashback and and see his ups downs and misses in love. One of the things I love about British TV is how economical they are with their characterizations. Most British shows have around 6 episodes per series and they use every second to get you into these stories and characters quickly so that the emotional punches will hit that much harder. B Wet Hot American Summer: The First Day of Camp available on Netflix. A Scrotal Recall available on Netflix
Which brings us to another British series and the one that will be hard to find. My Mad Fat Diary is one of the most brilliant shows I have ever watched and it’s criminal that it’s not available to stream easily. Taking place in 1996, it’s the story of 16 year old Rae Earl (Sharon Rooney) trying to readjust to her life after being hospitalized for a mental breakdown/suicide attempt. It is beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, infuriating, and all-around wonderful and based on a true story. Rooney fearlessly plays this role and embodies every terrible thought you ever had as a teenager as well as every terrible thought you ever had if you grew up in any way different from everyone else. I haven’t even finished series 1 (of 3) and I find myself itching to watch more. And, if you were approximately this age in ’96 the pop-culture references will leave you smiling/cringing throughout. A+ My Mad Fat Diary seasons 1-3 available on DVD and through methods.
Finally I want to talk about 2 shows I’m NOT watching, the first being Syfy’s Dark Matter which is a joyless, plodding, poorly acted affair that everyone involved should be ashamed of. I’m sorry, that was harsh, the production teams was also behind Stargate SG-1 which also started pretty poorly so maybe this will improve, but the story of 6 amnesiac mercenaries trying to run for their terrible pasts is poorly realized and barely watchable. D- Dark Matter season 1 available on Syfy.com/on demand and on Hulu with proper cable subscriptions.
Then there’s USA’s Mr. Robot, which along with AMC’s Humans are arguably the best shows of the summer. Not having seen a single frame of Humans I can’t comment on it’s quality, but Mr. Robot is technically fantastic. Rami Malek delivers a stunning performance as a computer genius/hacker who is out to change the world. It’s filled with conspiracies, action, suspense, and drama and after 1 episode I could not be bothered. The entire pilot I was naggingly reminded of Fight Club with its sense of nihilism, anti-consumerist, humorless detachment and hallucinatory elements. From what I have read about the series since, those feelings would not have changed and in fact probably would have only intensified. And, while I enjoyed Fight Club I don’t need to see that story again told in an only marginally more subtle way and with more computers. That said, to call it critically acclaimed would be an understatement as it is topping nearly all lists and there is already 2016 Emmy talk for Malek. And, while I won’t be watching any more of it, better critics than I would like you to know it’s amazing. A Mr. Robot season 1 is available USA app/website and on demand