Another season of television has come to a close and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’m breathing a sigh of relief and looking forward to new possibilities. To say that this season was trying would likely be an understatement. While I found a few new shows to enjoy, many fell flat with me and even returning favorites tested my patience and love for them. Then of course, there was the spring doldrums, where each week seemed to bring a new show making inexplicable choices to kill (or not re-sign) vital characters who made a tremendous impact and a general state of misery that befell too many shows. Now that the season is largely behind us, it’s time to look forward and hope for a brighter season next fall.
Summers can be a great time to catch up on new shows that you missed or fell behind on or try out an older show that you hear great things about but missed on its first run. My last summer was spent largely with Grey’s Anatomy and LOST but I was also able to try out shows like You’re the Worst, which quickly became a favorite and a highlight of the fall season. This summer, I’m continuing on my multi-year journey with The X-Files, finishing up Avatar the Last Airbender, watching Freaks and Geeks for the first time, starting Happy Endings, hopefully watching Grace and Frankie, and likely becoming obsessed with Shadowhunters, though I’m sure I’ll find time to squeeze a few more things in there. In case you’re looking for some ideas for your own summer watching, I’ve listed a few shows below that I think would be a fantastic way to spend this hiatus.
Sense8 To understand this show is to understand me and that has nothing to do with these characters (who I love dearly) or the plot (which is fine) but everything to do with its central theme of connection and the beauty that results from it. My love for this show is all about the way it makes me feel. I love shows that understand the value in simple moments between two people, allowing them to share themselves with each other, and this show loves those moments. Its strongest moments are often when two sensates are doing nothing more than talking to each other and lending each other emotional support. The fun action sequences and the excellent romances make it even better but its core principles are what move me and what has made it stay with me.
The Americans This show is in its 4th season and it just keeps getting better, which most TV fans know is a truly remarkable accomplishment. Rather than being a fast-paced spy drama, this show is about a family struggling for connection and facing the consequences of their actions. That family just happens to be headed by two Russian spies. It’s a look at identity and loyalty to one’s country and family and how those things can change over time. It is incredibly well-made television that is comfortable in quiet moments and gives them the proper space to truly resonate. It can be nearly unbearably tense at times but only after it’s asked you to care about these people on an emotional level. It’s dangerous being a spy and external threats will always be a part of the show but the most compelling work is done on a smaller more personal level. The emphasis on the people behind the actions and the talent at all levels of this production make it one of the best shows on television at the moment.
Gilmore Girls With the revival nearly wrapped, what better time could there be to travel to Stars Hollow and fall in love with this special show? The lighter tone of the show is perfect for lazy summer days and the fast-paced, witty dialogue will leave you quoting the show long after it ends. No matter with Gilmore girl most resonates with you, there is inspiration to be gained and laughter and tears to be had. For all of the disagreements about boyfriends on the show, the heart of the show exists in Lorelai and Rory’s relationship with each other and it is something that should be cherished all these years later. If you’re not already a fan of this show, check it out and see what makes it special to so many.
Jane the Virgin I am continuously amazed at this show. It juggles so many different tones and stories and while it doesn’t handle them all equally well, it comes together to form an incredible whole. No matter what it is trying to do, it has three reliable strengths to fall back on. The first is Gina Rodriguez’s talent and love for this role. She puts everything she can into whatever this show throws at her and her natural warmth and light shine through it all. The second is the relationship between the Villanueva women. This will always be the best love story on the show. The dynamic between these ladies is always feels beautiful and real. This is the grounding point in the show, amidst all the telenovela styling and crime boss plots. Finally, it’s the coherency that the Narrator brings to the show. It adds a lightness and awareness to everything the show is doing and gives it that fantastical edge that sets it apart from other shows. This is such a special show and there is truly nothing else on television like it.
Avatar the Last Airbender The final season of this show is actually on my list for the summer but based on what I’ve seen so far, I can whole-heartedly recommend it. Yes, it was originally made for children but it doesn’t take long to see why it has so many adult fans. The animation is beautiful and the characters (especially Zuko) have fantastic arcs as they figure out who they are and where they fit into the world. This show also gives us Uncle Iroh, who is the best, as well as a collection of utterly adorable animal hybrids.
Battlestar Galactica This was a summer project of my own a few years ago and I quickly fell in love. This show has one of the best individual episodes of a television show that I’ve ever seen in “33” along with a cast full of incredibly complex and interesting characters. It’s a story about choosing your family and carving out an identity for yourself, despite what others may say. There is loyalty and love and messy complications that result in compelling and touching relationships of all kinds. It’s a show that excited me intellectually as well as emotionally, with its look at what it means to be human, how we rebuild after a catastrophic event, the value of democracy, and our unalienable rights when our survival is on the line, along with many others. Like many mythology-based shows, it had some missteps and lost its way a few times but that never took away the overall value of the show as a whole. It drew me in and excited me from start to finish and continues to do so to this day.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer The impact this show has made on popular culture and television has been phenomenal. From the start, Joss Whedon intended to flip the standard script when it came to supernatural horror stories. Instead of the pretty blonde cheerleader being the damsel in distress, what if that girl had the power to protect the world from the forces of evil? The idea of a physically strong female lead who retained her femininity may not seem as extraordinary now, but it was at the time. From the memorable, unique dialogue to the idea of season-long villain arcs (which were more out of fashion at the time), this show helped usher in a new era of TV. It didn’t necessarily set out to do it, but it was through the strength of Joss’s vision and the writing staff he cultivated that made this show what it was. There are so many episodes that stand out for being extraordinary or for trying something different (and succeeding!). It’s a show I want everyone to experience, both for those episodes and for the incredible collection of characters and relationships they established. Joss has gone on to have an even more celebrated career but it’s this work that I’ll keep coming back to above all of his others.
People v. OJ Simpson I was only 7 years old when this trial concluded. I’ve known about it because of the way it has permeated pop culture but I knew very little about it. While a TV show may not have been the best way for me to learn about this infamous trial, it was an ideal mechanism to examine it. The spectacle this trial became was a complicated tangle of gender, race, and the influence of celebrity. The way it was reported to the scrutiny the prosecution faced to the overall mood of the country during this lengthy trial was on display throughout the miniseries, allowing me to get a glimpse of what it must have been like to experience while it was actually occurring. While I’m sure that facts were exaggerated or distorted for effect, the feeling that it captured was more important and all of that was brilliantly portrayed by this cast. The work of Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, Courtney B. Vance, and David Schwimmer was nothing short of extraordinary and there are simply not enough good things to say about what they did with their roles. If nothing else, this show is worth a look for their amazing performances.
The Carmichael Show If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I spend most of upfront week and the week prior complaining about NBC’s delay in renewing this show. It’s not the flashiest show. There aren’t many sets, it’s a multi-cam sitcom, and the only action that occurs is the show is people having a conversation. And it’s all the better for it. It’s simplicity is what allows it to shine. Each week, the show takes an issue and has this family discuss them. The Carmichael family is one that likes to debate things because they all have their own strong and unique viewpoint so it never feels like it’s trying too hard with these debates, they’re just the result of people who care about each other communicating their thoughts. No matter how outlandish some of their views can be, you understand where each character is coming from and the perspective they bring to the table. It allows for debate without demonization of those who disagree and as that becomes more rare on the internet and seemingly in real life, it’s a welcome treat on this show. And as a comedy should be, it’s also really funny. Loretta Devine and David Alan Greer in particular are wonderful to watch and their comedic styles play off of those of Jarrod Carmichael incredibly well. It’s a show that makes me happy to watch every week and I hope more people will discover this show before season three.
Mom When this show came out, it was easy to dismiss it as another Chuck Lorre show and the abrupt tonal shifts in the pilot did nothing to convince people that this show would handle the heavier topics it regularly tackles with any sort of skill or understanding. However, as the show grew into itself and started to shift the focus off of Christie’s work and children and on to her relationship with Bonnie and the other women in their AA meetings, the show found its tone and footing. Uncomfortable moments are allowed the space to breathe and they no longer have to be immediately followed by a joke to break the mood. It’s a show about forgiveness, both of yourself and others, and is unflinching in depicting the highs, lows, and monotony that comes with addiction recovery. Allison Janney is as fantastic as one would expect, given her ever growing pile of Emmys for the role, and her chemistry with Anna Faris feels natural and lived in. It can make you laugh, make you cringe, and make you feel for these characters in quick succession.
Summer is an excellent time to catch up on TV you missed out on, but it’s also a great time to enjoy a bit of reading, especially if you live somewhere where it is actually pleasant to be outside. So whether you’re in the mood for something a little lighter, an engrossing thriller, or a way to improve your life, I’ve got you covered with some recommendations for a few of my favorite books and series.
The Selection Trilogy This is the perfect series to spend a lazy summer day with because you won’t want to put it down. America Singer didn’t anticipate what her life would be. Then she was chosen to compete for the hand of the prince. Torn between the life she thought she wanted and these new possibilities, she found something much greater than a simple love story. She found friendship, a purpose, and the woman she was always meant to be. Her kindness radiates through the series, giving it a warmth and comfort to ground the plot. The women that fill this series are very different but by the end, each is shown to have her own perspective and internal struggles, dismissing the idea that certain types of women are inherently superior to others. The friendships that fill these books are equally (if not more) compelling as the love story and the kindnesses shown within them, both big and small, set this series apart.
Newsflesh Trilogy I can’t describe this book any better than it did itself, so in the words of Georgia Mason, “The zombies are here and they’re not going away, but they’re not the story.” This story takes place years after the zombie apocalypse, in a world that has been rebuilt and changed as a result. It’s part conspiracy thriller, part social commentary with zombies thrown in just to keep things interesting. The world that Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire’s pen name) has built is detailed and richly drawn. She understands people and the systems they construct and uses that knowledge to make a world that is at once recognizable though undeniably changed from our own. The structure is primarily in first-person with blog posts ending the chapter to further give us insight into these characters and the world they live in and I could honestly have read a whole other book of just these blog posts alone. There are three novels and several novellas (to be released in a larger book later this summer) and another full-length novel in the same universe on the way in October so there is no shortage of material to enjoy from this incredible series.
In Death series When I’m in the mood of for a crime novel, these are the ones I turn to. They remind me of the best sort of procedural show with their intriguing cases and their character development. While you could start this series at any point (I personally started with number 17), like any good series, it gets richer if you start at the beginning. You get to see Eve Dallas (who reminds me a startling amount of Kate Beckett in season 1) find and embrace a family all while solving cases and bringing justice to families. I love any sort of story with chosen families and this is one of the best. Eve finds a home and an ever-growing family that she never had as a child and that family never fails to make me cry at least once per book. There are over 40 books in the series to date and every time I read a new one, it’s like visiting with old friends. There is a comfort to be found in these books, even in the midst of the horrific crimes presented to us.
Discworld You won’t finish this incredibly beloved series in a summer, unless you plan to do nothing but read it. It’s an expansive world, with multiple storylines and multiple recommended reading orders (just to make it a little more confusing), and more than a little weird. Terry Pratchett has never met a pun or piece of wordplay he didn’t like and his writing is full of asides and detours that have nothing to do with what you think should be happening with the actual plot at the moment. Though I’m only on The Light Fantastic (reading in chronological order), it is a series that has already filled me with delight and I look forward to venturing further into this world over the course of the summer and coming years.
The Gifts of Imperfection If you only take one of these recommendations, make it this one. I read this book last year and I knew that this would be one that stayed with me forever. I think Brené Brown’s research (both the style and the content) are fascinating and they’ll always intrigue me on an academic level but this book also inspires me to my core. It is about owning your story and embracing your own truth and coming to recognize that you are enough. That you’re enough not for what you do but for who you are, flaws and all. It’s about the power that comes from engaging with the world with that newfound acceptance of our vulnerability and the joy that comes with truly connecting with others. It gave me words to identify what the people who inspire me practice every day and the tools and understanding to apply those principles in my own life.