The days are getting longer and hotter, which might have you seeking the cool confines of a living room. If you’re wondering what’s worth diving into as an escape from the summer heat, let this weekly post be your guide as I look at the pilot and second episode of new scripted, and select unscripted, series this summer. Don’t see a new show listed below? Check previous weeks.
Mind Over Murder, Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO (Premiered June 20)
About: In 1985, six people in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska were convicted of a brutal rape and murder. Despite the fact five of the suspects confessed, in 2009 all six convictions were overturned thanks to DNA evidence. Even more bizarre, some of those exonerated still maintain their guilt. Now, the town is putting on a play, looking at the case. This docu-series, which will span six episodes, looks at the crime, the investigation, the trial and all that has come in the more than 30 years since the event. The first episode introduced the world and explored the crime. For those who enjoy true crime explorations, this is a strange and intriguing case. HBO has done well this these type of series in the past, and this one has enough of a hook to make for a fascinating journey.
Ms. Marvel, Wednesdays on Disney+ (Premiered June 8)
About: Kamala Kahn (Iman Vellani) just wants to be special. When a family heirloom unlocks something in her, it seems her wish has come true. But there is more to being a hero than powers, something that Kamala finds out quickly in the second episode of the new Marvel series, Ms. Marvel. Vellani is a delight in the lead role, and after a pilot that was a lot about establishing a world and set of characters, the second episode really hums. It moves the plot forward in fun ways but also was full of heart and humor. It’s a great compliment to the pilot and makes me excited to see where this story is going. To this point, Ms. Marvel feels like one of the better additions to the series library built on Disney+.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: B+
The Old Man, Thursdays at 9 p.m. on FX (Premiered June 16)
About: Jeff Bridges takes the lead in this seven-episode limited series from FX. The first two episodes dropped Thursday with subsequent episodes dropping weekly. Bridges stars as Dan Chase, a former CIA operative who’s been in hiding for years. But, somehow, the government has found him, and seeks to bring him in. The man leading that hunt was his old contact, Harold Harper (John Lithgow). This one moves at a slow, deliberate pace. The pieces of the story are being parsed out as we go, including flashbacks to 30 years earlier when Chase and Harper were working together. The action sequences are often surprising and tense. Bridges is great in the lead role as the pilot built the story and intensity, and the second episode took you further into the world. Bridges and Lithgow are working well opposite each other as this one offers a compelling hook and a solid finished product.
Second Episode: B
Players, Now Streaming on Paramount+ (Premiered June 16)
About: The team behind the successful mockumentary series American Vandal, Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, is back, this time exploring the world of eSports. This new series focuses on the Fugitive Gaming Team, led by revered player Creamcheese (Misha Brooks). He’s a great player, full of promise, who has never quite been able to bring home the title. When the team signs the hot new rookie, Organizm (Da’Jour Jones), the style of the two stars instantly clashes. It leads to rough starts and feuds as the team begins to fracture, despite the best efforts of coach Kyle Braxton (Ely Henry). This series features interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, seeking to bring people into the world of competitive gaming. It’s a novel idea but I wasn’t taken with the world or characters. I’m not a gamer, so those in the world might feel differently, but this lacked some of the punch and appeal of American Vandal. It’s OK but not incredibly compelling. The first four episodes—each about a half an hour—dropped on Thursday, with the rest of the 10-episode season dropping weekly.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C
Becoming Elizabeth, Sundays at 9 p.m. on Starz (Premiered June 12)
About: This latest series for Starz focuses on Elizabeth I (Alicia von Rittberg), going back to just after her father passed away. Elizabeth isn’t yet Queen, she’s a teen girl caught in the middle of family squabbles. This includes her younger brother, King Edward (Oliver Zetterstrom), and her sister, Mary (Ramola Garai), being at odds. As we know from history, all three eventually become monarchs, and their histories are sad. Edward doesn’t reign long; Mary suffers and Elizabeth ends up unmarried for her lengthy reign. But this series aims to show how we get to the history we know. It’s an interesting concept but the execution, like many Starz original features, is flawed. The first episode was overly dry and failed to create compelling characters. The second offered more of the same and was arguably even a duller watch. Those who are fans of history might be taken, but otherwise this one doesn’t make a dent in a crowded marketplace.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C
God’s Favorite Idiot, Now Streaming on Netflix (Premiered June 15)
About: Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone have long been creative partners on screen and behind the scenes of productions. That’s true for the newest Netflix comedy, God’s Favorite Idiot, which was written by Falcone, who stars as Clark, a mild-mannered man who is struck by God. McCarthy is there, too, as his strong-willed co-worker and love interest. This series wants to be part The Office and part Joan of Arcadia and none of it works that well. It’s OK but hardly compelling. Through two episodes of an eight-episode season, the series also hadn’t truly explained the premise of the show. It’s made in bingeable 30-minute chunks but it doesn’t give you enough to hold on to in order to care enough to make it all the way to the end. McCarthy is sometimes fun as a big, brash character, but there just wasn’t enough here to make a solid series.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C
The Summer I Turned Pretty, Now Streaming on Amazon Prime (Premiered June 17)
About: Jenny Han, who authored To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series for Netflix, is back with a new series for Amazon Prime based on her novel. This one is set during the summer and focuses on the love triangle between Belly (Lola Tung) and a pair of brothers that blossoms as they are celebrating the magic of a perfect summer. The show features seven episodes, each about 40-45 minutes. It comes out in an easy, bingeable chunks. The performances are decent and this plays like a solid option in this kind of genre. I wasn’t as personally drawn to the characters and story but fans of Han’s other work will likely be pleased to see this story play out in a bit longer form.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C+
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.