In the era of peak T.V., it is to feel lost in the deluge of new and returning shows. Whether it’s basic cable, premium channels, or streaming services: great television and greater stories are everywhere. I considered making this list double, and even triple, its final length, but I’ll keep it short. These are the five summer television shows you must absolutely see before the year is done.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
This one is a cheat of sorts because of half of the season debut in the spring. Nevertheless, Season 2 of the Elisabeth Moss-led dystopian drama somehow topped the excellence of Season 1. Without giving too much away, the dark palette of despair and misery reigns supreme in Gilead this season. As expected Moss gives a torturous and rapturous performance as June. Previous guest stars last season, Samira Wiley as Moira and Alexis Bledel as Emily, get promoted to supporting cast members and their performances are simply exquisite. Emmy-winner Bradley Whitford guest stars, but the real star of Season 2 is Yvonne Strahovski. Her harrowing portrayal of the Commander’s wife and her illuminating past was the single best performance on television this year. I will say that I preferred last season’s writing more, but the overall production and direction of this season’s episodes were immaculate.
2. POSE (FX)
Ryan Murphy’s latest series is yet another jewel in his crown. POSE follows the lives of a small ensemble of queer and trans characters in the ballroom scene. Led by the inimitable MJ Rodriguez who plays House mother, Blanca, and excellent supporting performances by Billy Porter as Pray Tell, Indya Moore as Angel, and Evan Peters as Stan, the cast is incredible. POSE is bright and colorful and stands strong and proud in its overt queerness. We get to see interactions among those in that community, between different sections of the LGBTQ+ community, and between the queer and straight realms. Most incredibly, POSE boasts the largest cast of recurring trans ctors for a primetime show in history. POSE highlights communities that many of us know little to nothing about us and gifts us with knowledge and insight beyond wonder.
3. Sharp Objects (HBO)
My personal favorite this summer. The slow burn of Sharp Objects is one of the most rewarding experience a viewer can ever undergo. Amy Adams gives an instantly classic performance as a journalist who goes home to write about dual murders in her hometown and face her dark and peaceless past. If Amy Adams, Eliza Scanlen, Patricia Clarkson, and Chris Messina don’t sweep awards season next year, I might explode. The expertly picked cast work together with a peerless ease. The character-driven storytelling is the perfect method to build up the anticipation for the jaw-dropping finale Sure, Sharp Objects starts off at an achingly slow pace, but stay with it and you will be beyond amazed at the caliber of storytelling and acting.
4. Insecure (HBO)
There have only been three episodes released so far, but Insecure is already on track to own the final stretch of the summer. Issa (Issa Rae) and friends are back with more blackness for season 3. We learn more about Daniel (Y’lan Noel) and watch Molly (Yvonne Orji) struggle with her transition to an all-black law firm, and of course, Issa is still a disaster. What’s incredible about Insecure is that in a world dominated by sneakily-constricting hashtags like “#blackexcellence,” “#blackboyjoy,” and “#blackgirlmagic,” this show just lets us be black. We’re normal, we struggle, we’re afraid of the future, we’re average, we’re insecure. The season started off amazing, and the lighting on this show is absolutely impeccable. Here’s to more thirty-minute slices of great, black comedy.
5. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon)
John Krasinski (Jack Ryan) has been on a hot streak this year ever since A Quiet Place took the world by storm. This summer he teamed up with Amazon to reboot the classic political thriller character and series, following in the footsteps of the likes of Chris Evans and Alec Baldwin. This is also a relatively young series, but it’s penchant for great action scenes, emotional apexes, and solid summer goodness cannot be denied. It’s escapism that still hones in on the duality of humanity. Jack Ryan is the embodiment of a summer series: wry humor, drama, and thrilling action scenes all tied up in one suave leading man.