At first glance, our summer TV line-ups already seem to be loaded.
There’s a ton of reality shows, a half-ton of game shows. There are oceans of sharks. ABC has the basketball finals and NBC is waiting semi-patiently for the July 23 start of the Olympics.
Is there anything missing? Yes, actually. New, scripted shows have been scarce … until now.
They’ll arrive in one gulp on Sunday (July 11). That night has the debuts of three series and the season-openers of two more; that’s five new, scripted shows … plus one that looks at past comedies.
That pile-up is logical, actually: Networks like to have shows on Sunday nights, when people are back home; this year, July 4 was on a Sunday, so many shows waited until the 11th.
Two of the shows – “Unforgotten” and “Wellington Paranormal” – are exceptional; here are quick looks at five of them, followed by a full review of “Unforgotten”:
– “Wellington Paranormal” (9 and 9:30 p.m., CW). You and I might react strongly when confronting a cow in a tree … or a she-beast … or ghosts and vampires and such.
But these New Zealand cops view this calmly, while consulting Google or YouTube for guidance. The humor here is in creating a ridiculous event, then having characters view it with illogical calm.
That’s the same approach that writer-director Jemaine Clement uses in the Emmy-nominated “What We Do in the Shadows.” This show (a pseudo-documentary, using two characters from the “Shadows” movie) was done on a micro-budget, in his native New Zealand. Some viewers will find it hilarious.
– “Professor T” (10 p.m., PBS). In his classroom, this criminology professor is an all-knowing master.
But he’s also obsessive-compulsive and needs to have everything in control. Real life is too messy; he tries to turn down a former student, when she wants help on a real case.
That concept has already worked in Belgium and Germany; surprisingly, this British version stumbles in its opener. We expect a Sherlock-Monk-House sort, charming despite his flaws. Mostly, we get a cold, flat guy who’s difficult to care about.
– “Animal Kingdom” (9 p.m., TNT, rerunning at 10). Now we go to the other side of law-and-order tales, following a family of crooks.
For four seasons, this was led by a stern matriarch, trying to control her four sons (one adopted) and her grandson. Last season, however, she had cancer and tried a suicidal mission; when she survived, the grandson obliged by killing her. Now the guys, forever in internal warfare, are on their own.
– “White Lotus” (9 p,.m., HBO, rerunning at 10). From “Pasadena” to “School of Rock,” Mike White has blended drama and comedy, while creating interesting characters. Now he returns to HBO, which previously did his “Enlightened.”
This six-week series views a week at an upscale Hawaiian resort, where the guests are played by Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, Jennifer Coolidge and more.
– “History of the Sitcom” (9 and 10 p.m. ET, CNN, rerunning at midnight and 1 a.m.). Alongside all those shows, we get one that ponders scripted series from TV’s past.
The opener looks at families, from the orderly world of “Father Knows Best” to the disorderly fun of “Roseanne.” The second views sexuality – from a time when TV’s married couples had twin beds to an age when gay and trans characters are shown non-judgmentally.
Each hour is quick and slick and surface, with a cascade of clips to keep us interested.
For three painful seasons, we’ve see Cassie Stuart dig into dark corners of the soul.
She and her police team have solved decades-old murders. It’s been a rugged ride for suspects … and for viewers … and for Cassie herself.
Now comes her fourth and final mini-series, even better than the others. “Unforgotten” (shown here) debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday (July 11) on PBS, under the “Masterpiece” banner. It’s smartly written and beautifully played.
We wish we could say the same for the show that follows. The opening episode of “Professor T” (10 p.m. Sunday) is a drab disappointment.
“Unforgotten,” however, gradually grabs us with its usual style: A body is discovered. We meet lots of troubled and interesting people who seem wildly unrelated. Somehow, they’re all linked.
The American mass-production plan churns out 22 hours every year, with a platoon of writers and directors. “Unforgotten,” by comparison, has had only four stories – each six episodes – in seven seasons. Each episode has the same writer (Chris Lang) and director (Andy Wilson).
And each focuses on Cassie, played with weary precision by Nicola Walker (shown here with Sanjeev Bhaskar).
There will be a fifth season, but not with her. As the show makes it clear, she wants to retire right now, after being emotionally battered by previous cases. The higher-ups won’t budge: She still has three months before qualifying for pension; there’s one more case.
Walker, 51, brings the same weariness that Helen Mirren brought to the brilliant “Prime Suspect,” but there are key differences. Mirren’s character was alone – resented by her male underlings and (in the cop-show tradition) living by herself. In “Unfogotten” (arriving 24 years later), Cassie has a deeply supportive guy and staffers who (male and female) respect her.
She’ll need all of that for this case – a headless, handless body, preserved for 30 years. It links to some widely varied people, including two cops – one passionate and articulate, the other manipulative.
The latter is also quick to accuse others of prejudice against Pakistanis … stirring hesitance from Sunny Khan (Bhaskar), Cassie’s top assistant.
There’s a long way to go with this one, stirring up deep waves of sadness on all sides. This is a difficult ride, but one worth taking.