Winter is coming (in Westeros, at least), and with it comes the end of the group-participation event that is a season of Game of Thrones. And though the official network season has long since wrapped and new, interim shows have launched, this is arguably the true beginning of Summer TV: the finale of the one remaining show that Everyone Is Watching, and the opening in our schedules theoretically earmarked for Going Outside.
But summer is TV’s weirdest, most sporadic, and, occasionally, most delightful time of year. It belongs equally to camp classics, mindless distractions, prestige events, and showy blockbusters. It’s confusing as hell, and we’re here to decipher it for you. So, here’s our carefully calibrated guide to what to watch in the next few months.
If you like: Key & Peele, but before they were cool
Then you should try: The revival of the show where they got their start. Following the success of Whose Line Is It Anyway? 2.0, the CW is bringing back MADtv, the long-running sketch revue that never quite got its cultural due. (Do check out this Vulture oral history, though.) Cringeworthy characters like Bon Qui Qui and Ms. Swan — so funny in YouTube’s early days, so embarrassing in the year of our lord 2016 — are presumably out, and a diverse cast of newbies is in. Between this and the Lonely Island–co-created Party Over Here, the Key & Peele-Inside Amy Schumer sketch revolution is finally bleeding over into network, giving comedy fans in search of “I liked them when” bragging rights that much more to DVR.
Premieres: July 26 on the CW
If you like: The works of David Simon, because you like your TV serious and moral and you don’t care who knows it!
Then you should try: The Night Of, cowritten by Wire alum (and G.O.A.T.-level crime writer) Richard Price and veteran screenwriter Steven Zaillian, who also directs all but one of this miniseries’ eight episodes. The Social Issues Drama — or rather the proud viewer who brings it up at every damn dinner party — may be something of a punchline. But when it’s good, it’s great — and a legal drama starring John Turturro (in a part originally meant for James Gandolfini, then Robert De Niro) as a defense attorney and Riz Ahmed as his Pakistani American client on trial for murder has all the makings of a white-collar water cooler sensation.
Premieres: July 10 on HBO
If you like: The first three episodes of any given season of American Horror Story, before something insane happens, like “Gabourey Sidibe masturbating in front of a minotaur”
Then you should try: Stranger Things, the high-profile horror-mystery from Netflix. (While you’re at it, definitely check out Outcast, the demon-possession show on Cinemax that shares a creepy-stuff-goes-down-in-a-small-town motif. It’s just a handful of episodes old, and easy enough to catch up on.) The whole “mystery” thing means plot details are under wraps, but the bare-bones details are compelling enough: a 1983 setting, a missing child, and Winona Ryder. After this and Show Me a Hero, we’re one more show away from a “TV Winonassaince” trendlet!
Premieres: July 15 on Netflix
If you like: The idea of Flaked, but literally nothing else about it
Then you should try: Shut Eye, another series about charlatans in Los Angeles with a slightly stronger premise and creative pedigree. A Hulu drama from Breaking Bad alums Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein — between this and Sam Catlin’s Preacher, this is clearly the summer the Bad writer’s room bears fruit — Shut Eye dives into the world of storefront psychics in the City of Angels. (The higher-ups at Hulu are clearly very into bogus spirituality and its enduring appeal.) The ever-welcome presence of Isabella Rossellini is an added bonus, who joins co-leads Jeffrey Donovan and Emmanuelle “Still Sloan” Chriqui.
Premieres: Aug. 31 on Hulu
If you like: Eastbound & Down, but also The Hateful Eight — or you didn’t like it at all, just thought “That Walton Goggins should really do more comedy!”
Then you should try: Vice Principals, the new adult-children-behave-accordingly comedy from the same people (Danny McBride and Jody Hill, with an assist from David Gordon Green) and the same channel (HBO) that brought you Eastbound. Goggins is the new kid on the block; he and McBride are rival … vice principals who make their competitive streak about themselves, not the kids they’re supposedly in charge of. McBride’s blowhard credentials are well established by now, but Goggins’ chance to point his essential strangeness towards comedy after more than a decade on Very Serious FX Shows is promising. And like any high-profile comedy worth its salt, it’s even got the Bill Murray cameo blessing.
Premieres: July 17 on HBO
If you like: Moulin Rouge, ironically and/or on shrooms; early hip-hop, unironically but possibly on shrooms
Then you should try: The Get Down, a full-length version of one of the eight shows crammed into Vinyl. Where the dawn of hip-hop in the Bronx amounted to a Kool Herc cameo and basically nothing else on that Show About Music, here it’s a full-length show — as it should be. Either this will be the treatment a seminal moment in musical history deserves, helping an almost entirely nonwhite cast of relative unknowns launch their careers, or it’ll be another maudlin, overcrowded Baz Luhrmann trainwreck. However it turns out, it’ll be extremely entertaining, and it’s got the combined forces of Jimmy Smits, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jaden Smith on its side.
Premieres: Aug. 12 on Netflix
HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.