M. Osterreicher/Courtesy of ESPN Films
O.J. Simpson with his mother and father at Rich Stadium for his induction into the Buffalo Bills’ Wall of Fame in 1980.
If you’re anything like me, you enjoy capping off a wonderful outdoor summer day with a night of television binge-watching. This month, viewers are flush with great options, from dark but funny dramas like UnREAL to ESPN’s much anticipated eight-hour documentary on O.J. Simpson.
Lifetime, returns June 6
UnREAL is back for its sophomore season, and it’s a seamless mixture of critically acclaimed drama and nighttime soap. I was positively captivated by this show last year thanks to its meta perspective on human behavior. It follows the production staff and contestants of a Bachelor-like show called Everlasting. The main character, a producer named Rachel (played perfectly by Shiri Appleby), often straddles the line between strategy and cruel manipulation in order to get results. And Constance Zimmer (House of Cards) is magnificent as Quinn, the executive producer of Everlasting. She’s an example of what Rachel could become if she continues down her behavioral path — someone who rather fabulously takes joy in the pain of others in the name of good TV. Despite my love for reality television, I’ve always reserved a particular kind of disdain for programs like The Bachelor because of their outright exploitation of young women in the name of “true love,” but putting that concept front and center is what makes UnREAL so great.
Hulu, returns June 7
I love a good Hulu original, so I am all about Casual. Returning for its second season, it’s the story of Valerie (Michaela Watkins), who is going through a divorce after her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Along with her teenage daughter, she moves in with her younger brother (Alex Dewey). The first season was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Television Series, Comedy or Musical. I don’t think the Globes were wrong to classify the show in that category, but Casual is more of a dark comedy than anything else. The sharp, acerbic writing tone gives Casual the painful yet funny edge that sets it apart from a lot of other comedies.
O.J.: Made in America
ABC, premieres June 11; ESPN, continues June 14-15 and June 17-18
Just when you thought you’d OD’d on O.J., there’s more, and it gets even better. FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson reopened the floodgates of the infamous series of events that divided the nation back in 1994 and 1995. And while the story has been told time and time again, the recent Ryan Murphy-helmed limited series exposed the awful racism and sexism that was so rampant as the case played out. Now, ESPN is dropping an eight-hour documentary that digs even further into the legend of Simpson. The doc will presumably begin with Simpson’s childhood and spend a good deal of time on his athletic background and achievements on and off the football field. When looking back at the trial, these types of details about his life are often minimally touched on and generalized. It is important to know about these elements in order to contextualize the trial itself, and further understand the public opinion of him in the early ’90s. I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for this one.
The 70th Annual Tony Awards
CBS, June 12
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the first annual Hamilton Awards! I’m sure some of the other fantastic shows on Broadway this season will grab a few Tonys, but Hamilton is essentially Broadway’s Golden State Warriors. Not only is it critically praised, but the buzz surrounding it is just the jolt Broadway needs to reinvigorate the community. I’ve had a “take it or leave it” attitude about the Tony Awards the past few years because it’s lacked shows with true staying power, critical acclaim and a huge public draw. But this year, the contenders for Best Musical are as fierce as they’ve been in a long time: the folkie musical Bright Star, from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell; Waitress, adapted from the film and starring Tony winner Jessie Mueller (Beautiful), with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles; Shuffle Along, starring resident queen of Broadway Audra McDonald; crowd favorite School of Rock; and, of course, the aforementioned Hamilton. But it’s not just the musicals that pique my interest, as Broadway plays have boasted a bevy of young superstars this season, like Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o in Eclipsed and two-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Tony winner James Corden will host the ceremony this year, and he seems like a logical choice, considering it will be broadcast on the late-night host’s network, CBS, and that his musical talents are now well known thanks to his famous Carpool Karaoke shorts. All in all, it seems like an exciting show that will hopefully reinvigorate many people’s passion for the theater.
CBS, premieres June 13
Now that my beloved The Good Wife has ended, I’m excited to see this new series from its creators, Robert and Michelle King. Sure, BrainDead doesn’t have Julianna Margulies sad-drinking tequila or Christine Baranski serving all of the shade, but it does have some intriguing elements. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a young woman who gets a job on Capitol Hill but quickly realizes things aren’t quite right. Aside from noticing the dysfunctional state of our nation’s government (duh), she figures out that “alien spawn have come to earth and eaten the brains of a growing number of congressmen and Hill staffers.” Now there’s a twist! The show — which also stars Monk’s Tony Shalhoub and everyone’s Broadway crush Aaron Tveit — is part thriller, part comedy and perhaps just the right wacky fit for the CBS summer schedule.
TNT, premieres June 14
Based on the 2010 film of the same name, Animal Kingdom is a new drama series about a teenage boy who goes to live with his crime-connected grandmother and extended family in Southern California after his mother dies from a drug overdose. When I saw the preview for the series, it immediately caught my eye. It’s not often you see Ellen Barkin, who plays the matriarch of the family and the main character’s grandmother, on television. There’s something cinematic about this show — maybe it’s the California setting, the edgy vibe or the fact that it’s literally adapted from a film. The showrunners, John Wells (Shameless, Southland) and Johnathan Lisco (Halt and Catch Fire), are experienced with this type of drama, and I’m curious to see where they’ll take it.
Showtime, premieres June 26
My favorite movie of all time is Almost Famous, and the new Showtime series Roadies comes from the same creative mind: writer and director Cameron Crowe. He’s making his first foray into television with this project, which stars Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino. Roadies follows a group of band roadies on a U.S. tour as they try to do their jobs to the best of their abilities while also having to put up with crap from venues, talent and others. The technical crews behind great performances and concerts are seldom acknowledged, so Roadies explores some new territory.