Remember all those TV shows you've heard about but never watched, saving them for that proverbial someday? Summer is the best time to finally watch them – curtains drawn, A/C cranked down to 70. Quick, before fall gets here, and critics start insisting you watch some other new show.
Summer is when I catch up on my old TV: That culturally relevant comedy I raved about last year but never got around to Season 2? The stylish new cable crime drama that sneaked past me because I was too busy reviewing four other shows? That popular reality-show reboot I just didn't have the energy for? Now's the time.
Stay up late for an extra episode or two (or three); retreat into a comfy binge-fest on a blisteringly humid Sunday; download episodes onto tablets or phones for long journeys; check out entire seasons from the local library's DVD shelves to take to that cabin with no cable.
Leave obligation out of the equation. Don't attempt the literary equivalent of declaring this the summer you'll at last read "Moby-Dick" and force-feed yourself all 92 episodes of "Mad Men," just because you think you're the only person left who never watched it. (Trust me, you aren't.) Think bite-size treats. Pick a show that has only a season or two under its belt.
And think recent. It's tempting to go back and re-binge a nostalgic favorite, but, as your friend, I strongly suggest you sample shows that are relatively current. Your barbecue guests don't want to talk about "Battlestar Galactica" anymore.
Here are six suggestions of recent shows that I keep hearing people say they've been meaning to watch. I've added a couple from my own catch-up list and tried to calculate the rough time investment needed for each. Plan wisely, but take it easy. Summer TV shouldn't feel like mowing the lawn.
– "Killing Eve" (BBC America)
An exciting, wryly executed espionage thriller – easily BBC America's best original series since "Orphan Black" – but whatever praise I can add here is shamefully belated: "Killing Eve" slipped by me during a busy spell. Sandra Oh ("Grey's Anatomy") gives a cool-as-cucumber performance as Eve Polastri, an American-born analyst working in a British intelligence office who nurtures a pet theory that there's a prolific assassin-for-hire on the loose in Europe.
Eve's hunches prove to be dangerously correct, as she's drawn further into the world of Villanelle, a glamorous but psychopathic killer based in Paris who performs hits for a clandestine Russian cabal. Jodie Comer is unforgettably creepy and oddly hilarious as Villanelle, making the most of ingenious scripts by Phoebe Waller-Bridge ("Fleabag"), adapted from Luke Jennings's books. The show moves fast, but there's a lot to stop and notice, including how effortlessly it focuses on strong female characters.
Time investment: Only eight episodes – about six hours if you zip through the commercials. You can do it in two nights, and you better hurry – after June 26, it leaves on-demand services and becomes available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon. Hulu will have it next year.
– "Timeless" (NBC)
Some viewers gripe that one-hour dramas are either too predictable or, on the prestige end, too violent and disturbing. That's my cue to suggest "Timeless," the plucky NBC time-traveling adventure series with just the right amount of conspiratorial puzzlement, historical intrigue and romantic entanglement, without the blood spatter and raw language, etc. "Timeless" is like old-fashioned TV with a modern sense of momentum and wit.
After a slick time machine is stolen by a villain intent on creating paradoxical chaos, a professor (Abigail Spencer), an Army operative (Matt Lanter) and a programming wiz (Malcolm Barrett) are given a clunkier, earlier model of the machine so they can chase him through American history and thwart his schemes. Things get wonderfully complex as we learn more about a wider, deep-seeded plot to undermine the country's founding principles – so, it's, you know, vaguely relevant. I'm still about six episodes behind, so don't tell me what happens.
Time investment: 26 episodes, or 19-ish hours if your format can skip the ads. At two episodes per night for two weeks, it's like a nice snack at bedtime. Don't get too hooked, though – NBC still hasn't renewed the show for a third season.
– "Our Cartoon President" (Showtime)
When Stephen Colbert first described his collaboration on an animated series about the Trump White House, I doubted the show would be able to keep up with the zany news cycle and the steady stream of Trump jokes.
"Our Cartoon President," however, proves to be plenty nimble and often very funny, not so much for its take on the president (voiced by Jeff Bergman) but for the way it lampoons just about everyone else, including versions of sons Don Jr. (Gabriel Gundacker) and Eric (Emily Lynne) that are more biting than "SNL's" spoof. The show quickly figured out the difference between vicious and vital satire, with especially good sendups of Cabinet members (many of whom are still serving!), the Fox News echo chamber and the MSNBC mortification machine. There's also a horrifying earworm at the credits, an '80s-style synth diddy with a manic refrain: "Donald Trump is the prezzzzzidennnt!" My mind replays it every time I click on The Washington Post's homepage.
Time investment: 10 episodes, about five hours. Great for treadmill time, or during a couple of connecting flights. More to come when the show returns July 15.
– "Atlanta" (FX)
Some viewers put this one off because watching it comes with a whiff of woke-culture duty, but trust me, that's not what you're smelling. "Atlanta" is about as chill as they come, and the things Donald Glover and company tell us about some of the biggies (race, class, suburban poverty, social intersections) are conveyed in a subtle and artful way that pairs nicely with summertime's moods.
Season 2 (dubbed "Robbin' Season," for its Christmastime sense of dread and increased crime), has some of Season 1's experimental playfulness, but it's more linear in form. It's also where Brian Tyree Henry gives a layered and beautifully doleful performance as Alfred, aka Paper Boi, a local rapper beginning to feel the hollowness and burnout that comes with a small taste of fame. For Glover's character, Earn, there's a terrific episode that flashes back to the 1990s and the haunting failure of wearing a knockoff FUBU shirt to school. So real it hurts – and yes, "Atlanta" is still very much a comedy.
Time investment: 21 episodes of varying lengths, about 11 hours without ads. Got any cross-country flights planned? Watch Season 1 outbound and then Season 2 on the return trip.
– "The Good Fight" (CBS All Access)
The subscription-TV model is indeed out of control, but don't let an angry I-ain't-payin'-extra-for-CBS stance deprive you any longer from Robert and Michelle King's impressively relevant and always engaging "Good Wife" spinoff. Following the further jurisprudence adventures of proud liberal-elite attorney Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), Season 1 dealt her the triple blow of financial ruin, divorce and the election of Donald Trump.
Diane's new work as a partner at a predominantly black firm provides a bounty of topical casework in an era rife with outrage and high-tech lawlessness. The alt-right, the anarchist left, the #MeToo movement – "The Good Fight" is always a half-step ahead of everyone else. One episode even lands on the so-called "pee tape" that preoccupies the active subconscious of Trump foes. Without ever seeming hammy or overblown, "The Good Fight" has become a "West Wing"-style safe space for certain viewers.
Time investment: 23 episodes, around 19 total hours (commercial-free if you pay a little more). Pace it over four weeks, while using a month-long CBS All Access subscription to also try the surprisingly addictive first season of "Star Trek: Discovery."
– "Baskets" (FX)
The saga of Chip Baskets – a delusional, French-schooled, chronically underemployed clown who lives in Bakersfield, California, and winds up working for a rodeo – came on too strong and seemed a tad wearying in concept, at first. Co-creator and star Zach Galifianakis easily pings between his dual roles of Chip and his pathetic twin brother, Dale, but, as you've doubtless heard (from the Emmys and elsewhere), the real draw is Louie Anderson's outrageous yet movingly dear performance as the twins' mother, Christine.
Sometimes it's best to let a show find its way a bit and then come back for another look. The dysfunctional Baskets family members evolve (or in Dale's case, devolve) over three seasons into more meaningful characters, as "Baskets'" initial slapstick gives way in Seasons 2 and 3 to a more authentic story in a bleak setting – the perfect combo of funny and sad.
Time investment: Even with three seasons (30 episodes), you can bang them out in about 12 hours – like, maybe during a week at the beach? Or a dude ranch?