You learn a lot when you research summer network TV lineups. For instance, ABC has a new show no one asked for, The Astronaut Wives Club (June 18), focusing on the group of women left behind on boring ol’ 1960s Earth while their hubbies raced to space. This will air alongside another ABC series, Mistresses, apparently starting its third season and looking at the lives of … mistresses? What I’m saying is, network TV is often a wasteland, but it definitely is void of substance in the summer. Thank your gods for cable and streaming services, kids (with one exception — NBC?), because the draught hasn’t reached our entertainment.
I want Lifetime’s unREAL (tonight) to succeed not only so I can have a new silly show to watch but because its leading ladies Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer, really deserve a hit by now. Others are more encouraged to root for Sense8, from Andy and Lana Wachowski (June 6, Netflix), which could be promising … or one big sci-fi mess. Royal Pains (June 2, USA) is the only USA show my father doesn’t watch, but this is its seventh season, so mazel tov! Ballers (June 21, HBO), starring Dwayne Johnson, centers on football player life; Zoo (June 30, CBS), starring Mad Men’s James Wolk, gives us additional reasons to make “Not great, Bob!” jokes; the pub trivia night Geeks Who Drink is getting its own SyFy series (July 16, hosted by Zachary Levi; Tyrant (June 16, FX) and Under the Dome (June 25, CBS) are still things; and so is Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (July 22, Syfy).
Here, however, are your TV-watching essentials to survive the summer. We’re missing a few notable entries due to lack of available information, such as David Simon’s Show Me a Hero (August 16, HBO) and the still-to-be-determined The Walking Dead spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead AMC). But for now, here are the top picks:
Halt and Catch Fire (May 31, AMC)
Don’t delete this series off your DVR yet: Creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher Rogers plus showrunner Jonathan Lisco have rebooted the AMC series on the early days of computer programming to reportedly good results. With regrets to Lee Pace, who probably won’t be getting a Don Draper-esque role out of this after all, the focus appears to have been shifted to where it should have been from the start: Mackenzie Davis’s punk programmer Cameron Howe. Like Silicon Valley, but if that series’ punk programmer were in charge? Sign me up.
Hannibal (June 4, NBC)
Hannibal Lecter has friends? Producer Brian Fuller thinks so, and he’s promising intrigue in further examining the relationship the serial killer (Mads Mikkelsen) has with his therapist, Bedelia (Gillian Anderson). They begin Season Three traipsing about Europe doing what I can only assume are dark deeds and looking sexy while doing them.
Orange is the New Black (June 12, Netflix)
Some critics already are calling Season Three the best yet for Netflix’s breakout show, and maybe the best season of TV showrunner Jenhi Kohan has ever produced — “It’s the ideal of her style of television: white people problems seen from below.” With Season Two’s Big Bad, Vee, out of the way, we’re back focusing on the sprawling cast of delightful characters. This season kicks off on Mother’s Day at the prison, so maybe have a box of Kleenex ready.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (June 13, BBC America)
Bless BBC America for trying to to wrangle Susanna Clarke’s novel to the small screen (not to mention trying to get the hashtag #JonathanStrangeAndMrNorrell off the ground). Adapted by Peter Harness (Wallander, Doctor Who) and directed by Toby Haynes (Sherlock, Doctor Who), the seven-part series takes place in an alternate history (1806 England) in which magic is real — and it’s making a comeback.
The Brink (June 21, HBO)
From brothers Roberto and Kim Benabib and executive producer Jerry Weintraub, The Brink is being pitched as a Dr. Strangelove-like comedy centering on global annihilation and the buffoonery that almost gets us there. The same cast (Tim Robbins, Jack Black, Pablo Schreiber, Aasif Mandvi) will presumably star each season, with the first focusing on the geopolitical crisis in Pakistan.
True Detective (June 21, HBO)
Probably the most anticipated series of the summer if not the year, all eyes are on no one’s-favorite Nic Pizzolatto to see if he can reproduce the zeitgeist of Season One. Pizzolatto is writing all the episodes again, Carly Fukunaga is only producing and not directing. (And the Matthew McConaughey-Woody Harrelson magic is out. Is that enough to squash the vibe? Hopefully not. Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch lead the cast of California sheriff’s detectives, Highway Patrolmen, and businessmen who all probably have a past and more than a few secrets they want to keep buried.
Rectify (July 9, Sundance)
Mine and Dustin’s collective “Gahhh it’s so good”-ing over Rectify may not have been enough to get you watch it, but damn it, you should watch it. The series is one of the best dramas on TV, a sparse, existential, haunting look at life and living with one’s actions. The first two seasons are on Netflix. You have no excuse.
Masters of Sex (July 12, Showtime)
Almost equally overlooked, the performances in Masters of Sex are worth tuning in for alone. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan are mesmerizing as sex researches/sometime lovers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, and this season, fans get an extra treat in the form of Josh Charles. He joins the cast as a self-made businessman working in the scene industry who approaches the duo about their work. He likely will start a relationship with Johnson (this season jumps to 1965), as she has several serious relationships that make Masters take notice.
Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll (July 16, FX)
Dennis Leary as an out-of-work, over-the-hill rock star? Sure, why not. But I’m tempted to protest this series based on the title punctuation alone. Also stars John Corbett, Elizabeth Gillies, Elaine Hendrix and Bobby Kelly.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (July 17, Netflix)
This is really what we’re all waiting for: The eight-episode prequel to David Wain’s glorious Wet Hot American Summer. The cast is insane, and most of them will all be trying to look the same as they did in the 2001 movie. You don’t need me telling you to watch this: You just will.
And now, everything else (courtesy of Vulture):
Devious Maids, Lifetime
The Whispers, ABC
Pretty Little Liars, ABC Family
Stitchers, ABC Family
Secrets & Wives, Bravo
Melissa & Joey, ABC Family
Baby Daddy, ABC Family
The Fosters, ABC Family
Major Crimes, TNT
Becoming Us, ABC Family
Murder in the First, TNT
Skin Wars, GSN
Dark Matter, Syfy
Rizzoli & Isles, TNT
Deutschland 83, Sundance
Celebrity Family Feud, ABC
The Last Ship, TNT
Big Brother part-one premiere, CBS
Big Brother part-two premiere, CBS
Rookie Blue, ABC
What Happened Miss Simon, Netflix
Falling Skies, TNT
Teen Wolf, MTV
Food Fighters, NBC
Penn & Teller: Fool Us, the CW
Hollywood Game Night, NBC
Dates, the CW
Masters of Illusion, the CW
Ray Donovan, Showtime
Running Wild With Bear Grylls, NBC
BoJack Horseman, Netflix
Hell on Wheels, AMC
Welcome to Sweden, NBC
Knock Knock Live, FOX
Last Comic Standing, NBC
As-yet untitled Bruce Jenner reality series, E!
Face Off, Syfy
Cold Justice, TNT
Cold Justice: Sex Crimes, TNT
Strike Back, Cinemax
Significant Mother, the CW
Playing House, USA
America’s Next Top Model, the CW
A Wicked Offer, the CW
Mr. Robinson, NBC
The Carmichael Show, NBC
Blunt Talk, Starz
Survivor’s Remorse, Starz
Public Morals, TNT
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. You can find her on Twitter.