8 shows you should be watching this summer season

Not to confuse any Australians, but technically it is the summer TV season in America right now, despite it being winter in the southern hemisphere. And since pretty much everything on our TV screens right now is terrible, Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell excluded, I’ve decided to compile a list of shows either premiering or returning in the summer season that are actually worth your time. Since I just assume everyone downloads TV to some degree in this country, I’m just going by the US premiere dates because we probably won’t get any of these seasons/shows for another decade.

Comedy Bang! Bang! Season 1 (IFC, premieres Friday 8th June – downloadable after the 9th)

Comedy Bang! Bang! is a translation of a podcast to television, which is oh so very new media. The podcast, which began as Comedy Death Ray, is where improvised comedy lives nowadays. It has an open door policy which sees myriad alternative comics coming through the doors doing batshit, glorious characters anywhere from Seth Morris’ brilliant, diseased, list-making Bob Ducca to Matt Besser’s terrifying Bjork impression to Paul F. Tompkins’ ridiculously accurate John C. Reilly impersonation, to name just a few. The show reworks the formula a little bit, making it a little bit more like a sketch comedy/variety show. I’m sure there’s lot of improvisation on set – if you watch the free episode IFC has put up, BATTLETOADS! – so it comes off essentially as a knowing parody of the talk show format. It’s all highly weird, and like the podcast not everything works 100% of the time, but when it does, it’s hysterical. And the guests are stellar; the premiere starts with Zach Galifianakis and Gillian Jacobs, and the second episode has Amy Poehler, who is the best person.

Bunk Season 1 (IFC, premieres June 8th, downloadable the 9th)

Bunk is another show that essentially functions as a parody of a format. Hosted by Kristen Schaal’s comedy partner Kurt Braunholer (of “Kristen Schaal is a horse” fame/infamy), whose demeanour was best described by The AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff when he said Braunholer has “the jocular terror of the game show host down pat”. With completely meaningless games such as Shame That Puppy and Name That Horse, and a similarly pointless scoring system which works towards bizarre achievements rather than challenges, such as learning how to ride a bicycle, the show basically winds up being a forum for the comedian guests to riff on silly topics and come up with the funniest possible answers. A particular highlight in the second episode is the lightning round. Watch a clip from the premiere here.

RuPaul’s Drag U Season 3 (Logo, premiere’s 18th June, should be downloadable the next day, hopefully – the Drag Race torrents were often hard to come by)

RuPaul is one of the greatest personalities on TV today. Fans of Drag Race (which should be every human person) will know how his inspirational, self-aggrandising, witty combination of drag, reality and comedy makes for some of the most wonderful television around. That said, not every RPDR fan has seen Drag U – so what is it? Essentially, it’s the drag queen makeover show equivalent. In the previous two seasons, anyone from masculine lesbians to tomboyish wives have been made over by drag professors, which this season include some of the best queens RuPaul has ever presented us – Willam, Sharon Needles, Raven, Jujubee, Chad Michaels, Manila Luzon, Raja and Latrice Royale. Drag U  is going for something different from Drag Race; instead of spruiking his singles, here Ru spruiks his books, and tries to teach women to just be fabulous and free and unleash their inner drag queen. It’s not a perfect message – it relies very heavily on appearance a lot of the time – but the tears at the end justify the means, and the competition between drag professors always creates hilarity as they vie for their student to graduate Top of the Ass, Valedicktorian, and so forth. Watch the best of Jujubee on the show here.

Futurama Season 7 (Comedy Central, premieres 20th June, available next day)

Not many shows have had the charmed life that Futurama has. Beginning on Fox in 1999 and being cancelled in 2003, Futurama’s glorious approach to futuristic comedy was revived for some average straight-to-DVD films before being ordered back to series beginning in 2010. Another 26 episodes are being produced for Season 7, to be aired in 2012 and 2013, with the possibility for more in the future. While the show likely doesn’t reach its most dizzying heights most of the time, episodes like ‘The Late Philip J. Fry’, ‘The Prisoner of Benda’, ‘Overclockwise’ and ‘Reincarnation’ show that the series is just as capable of brilliant, and sometimes heart-breaking, episodes. In a world where most of the animated shows of Futurama‘s era have either died or deteriorated – looking at you, The Simpsons and Family Guy – it’s a pleasure to have Fry, Leela, Bender and The Professor on our TVs still.

The Newsroom Season 1 (HBO, premiering June 24)
Look, I’m not the biggest Aaron Sorkin fan. The dude can do great stuff – the first four seasons of The West Wing, for example – but I’m often underwhelmed by what ends up being hugely overwritten (Studio 60The Social Network) but is still lauded by others. That said, I have to give what the dude does a go. And The Newsroom, a show about a cable news network, has a lot of potential to be great. But it also has a lot of potential to be pretentious, overwrought garbage. Hopefully Sorkin can pull this one off, because if there were ever a time modern media needed a revelatory satirical take down, it’s now.
Awkward Season 2 (MTV, premieres June 28)
MTV’s funny, charming, winsome teen sitcom about a girl who is wrongly believed to have attempted suicide after receiving a cruel, confronting letter detailing her faults is one of the best shows on TV. I know, I feel a bit dirty saying something on MTV in 2012 is good, but here we are. After spending the first season working through one of the better will-they-won’t they/love triangle storylines on television in some time, the show returns in Season 2 dealing with the fallout from the reveal of who sent the letter and with central character Jenna – who is like a fun combination of Emma Stone in Easy A, Lizzy Caplan in Mean Girls and Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, probably. She’s really the heart of the show, and despite the voiceover and the emphasis on teen-oriented themes, characters like Valerie, the school counsellor (played with aplomb by Desi Lydic) make the show hilarious and appealling to any audience. And it helps that all the characters are far more interesting and well-drawn than most teen shows. Check it out.
Louie Season 3 (FX, premieres June 28)
Universally recognised as one of the best shows on TV, Louie is written/directed/starring/often edited/produced/etc. by comedian Louis CK, whose caustic, no-limits comedy informs one of the most tonally varied sitcoms ever made. Given a relatively unprecedented amount of creative control, CK goes week-to-week tackling various themes from parenting to dating to ageing. The show can by hysterically funny, alarming, heart-breaking or heart-warming, as it follows a slightly fictionalised version of the comedian as he cares for his two daughters and in another episode, travels to Iraq to entertain the troops with a duckling in his luggage. In another, CK pours his heart out to long-time unrequited love Pamela Adlon, his real-life friend and a co-executive producer on the show. It’s all gorgeously shot – CK really has an eye, and if he wanted to could probably make a kickass art film – and terrifically written, with guest stars in the past such as Ricky Gervais and Chris Rock. Jerry Seinfeld has been signed up to guest in Season 3, which is something to look forward. So check out the show that is being called the first ‘auteur comedy’.
Breaking Bad Season 5A (AMC, premieres July 15th)
I don’t really need to say much about this show, other than that it’s essentially the best drama on TV and of its time alongside network-mate Mad Men. Anyone who’s seen the show up to the end of season 4 knows its horrible power as we watch Bryan Cranston’s Walter White turn into one of the most likeable but terrible people ever written. If you’ve yet to watch the show or are behind on it, catch up RIGHT NOW. Because Breaking Bad is the kind of event TV you want to be watching as it airs.
Other shows to give a peekPolitical Animals starring Sigourney Weaver, Bunheads the new show from Gilmore Girls writer/creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, WilfredAnger Management the new Charlie Sheen sitcom which I imagine everyone will watch once just to remember why we all hate Charlie Sheen so much, Dallas the soap reboot, and True Blood if that’s your thing.
Shows to strenuously avoid because they suck, hard: Tosh.0 one of the most egregiously, offensively terrible shows on TV these days, host Daniel Tosh does nothing to suppress racism, sexism and so forth in his commentary on viral videos, The Glee Project because GleeKendra on Top because it’s about that idiot Kendra from Girls of the Playboy MansionFranklin & Bash because it’s awful, Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp because duh, Wipeout because your IQ is presumably higher than 80, Episodes because it’s poorly-written, sloppy, ham-fisted attempts at comedy are painful to sit through and the show and Matt LeBlanc in it are horribly overrated, and Oh Sit! which is an actual TV show adaptation of the game musical chairs. I kid you not.
A full list of shows returning to beginning this summer season can be found here.
(apologies for formatting errors in this post. I blame WordPress.)
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