Peak TV is a perplexing time, filled so often with wildly exciting premises and wildly unfulfilled promises. Allow us to guide you, then — on a weekly basis — through this thicket of ideas towards some of the best. I’ll add an addendum to the usual text here: Summer TV is a bit less perplexing, in that the options wane considerably — and the week of the 4th of July is even scarcer when it comes to premieres. Many are either niche (like Netflix’s upcoming gruesome animated series based on the acclaimed Castlevania video games), or sound good on paper (Gypsy: Naomi Watts! Billy Crudup! Psychological thriller!) but end up in fact being wastes of those good-on-paper factors. So though you might want to check out Watts’ performance in Netflix’s Friday release of Gypsy (which itself can’t be saved from some of the weirdest, stiffest TV writing around), that show is just so stultifying that I’m leaving that out of this post for the week and opting for the few other things we have to look forward to-ish. (Yes, the list is so thin that one of them is a game show manifestation of fucking Candy Crush…and so thin that I’m reaching a day past next week to include it.)
Tuesday, July 4: The Standups (Netflix)
Netflix has been releasing an hourlong comedy special weekly this year, and in a move that seems made to further flaunt their infinite trove of yuks, the streaming service is dumping a gaggle of six 30-minute comedy specials all at once next week under the name The Standups, with comedians who’re perhaps one rung removed from the fame level of those who’ve done hourlong specials — and all the more worth checking out for it. (The L.A.-filmed series features specials with Nate Bargatze, Deon Cole, Fortune Feimster, Nikki Glaser, Dan Soder and Beth Stelling.)
Wednesday, July 5: Snowfall (FX, 10 p.m.)
While plenty of series have been doing the ’80s lately — GLOW, Stranger Things, The Carrie Diaries, Halt and Catch Fire, Wet Hot American Summer — most have their share of warmth and nostalgia for the era, with the exception of the bleak The Americans and the socially meticulous tragedy, Show Me A Hero. Snowfall, created by Boyz n the Hood/Poetic Justice‘s John Singleton, Eric Amadio and Dave Andron, will take the more brutal approach of the latter category, depicting the degeneration the crack epidemic caused in then-South Central Los Angeles. (Though the filming itself frames it in a more saturated, less grim light than some of those other 80s-devastation shows.) Though it’s an ensemble series, Damson Idris’ character Franklin Saint, a 19-year-old weed dealer who begins to dabble — and then becomes immersed — in the dangerous infrastructure of drug lords bringing about the epidemic, is at the heart of the narrative. “He’s not Scarface. He’s just a little kid who’s trying to make his way into a business that could kill him at any moment,” Singleton told the Chicago Tribune. Not only does the show explore the ways the drug infiltrated the largely black communities in that region of Los Angeles, but also how usage was disproportionately and oppressively punished (particularly with the involvement of the CIA) — and how that of course led to further devastation. Early reviews of the series haven’t been particularly favorable, with critics taking issue with what gets glossed over in the attempted panoramic view of, per the tagline, “how crack began.” That said, it’s worth at least giving some time, given Singleton’s own cinematic/personal history with this area of L.A.
Sat. July 8: Tour de Pharmacy (HBO, 10 p.m.)
Andy Samberg’s humor may often be cohered by the sheer fact that he’s a comedian who loves singing and making elaborate videos for ridiculous songs, but another through-line is his involvement in projects mining celebrity culture, across professional spheres. Tour de Pharmacy is his third mockumentary, following the Justin Bieber-adjacent Popstar: Don’t Stop Never Stopping and the 45-minute Wimbledon-oriented HBO movie 7 Days in Hell. Tour de Pharmacy, in which he stars as a doped up Tour de France biker, is a follow-up to that last film, and it comes with its own small but impressive duo of maligned former sports icons — Mike Tyson and Lance Armstrong himself. And it includes other stars whose involvement is a bit less meta, including Orlando Bloom, Maya Rudolph, Daveed Diggs, Will Forte, James Marsden, Danny Glover, Kevin Bacon, J.J. Abrams, and Jeff Goldblum. Speaking of which, if you don’t already want to see Tour de Pharmacy, perhaps this will change your mind:
Sun. July 9: Candy Crush (CBS, 9 p.m.)
You’ll perhaps be more inclined to check out, say, Snowfall or The Standups when you see that this week’s offerings are so slim that Candy Crush makes its way onto this list. And perhaps I need to explain myself for putting it here: oh, right, because tiny people make a massive screen covered in digital candy do stuff for a half hour. The game show is hosted by Mario Lopez, and will almost certainly not be enjoyable, and you most certainly shouldn’t spend your time on it. That said: tiny people, big digital candy. Get out your weed and Haribo and hate-watch butterscotches that move up and down on a screen.
Sun. July 9: The Defiant Ones (HBO, 9 p.m.)
If you’re feeling more in a documentary than mockumentary state of mind this week, this HBO miniseries airing Sunday through Wednesday is equally teeming with celebrity, with interviews from various parties who’ve worked with Jimmy Iovine or Dr. Dre, around whose professional relationship the film centers. (Snoop Dogg, Bruce Springsteen, Gwen Stefani, Eminem, Stevie Nicks, and of course Dre and Iovine appear in the trailer above, and Nas, Ice Cube, and Trent Reznor also discuss Dre’s mark on culture in the film.) The documentary, by Allen Hughes, follows both Iovine and Dre’s personal histories as they slowly come together with the rise and mainstreaming of gangsta rap, and becomes a decades-long, empire-building partnership.