summer 2020

The 20 Best and Biggest Shows to Watch This Summer

Peak TV hasn’t slowed down (yet).

Clockwise from top right: Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, Love Victor, The Good Lord Bird, I May Destroy You, The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo. Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson/Vulture and Photos Courtesy of Networks
Clockwise from top-right: Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, Love Victor, The Good Lord Bird, I May Destroy You, The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo.
Clockwise from top right: Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, Love Victor, The Good Lord Bird, I May Destroy You, The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo. Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson/Vulture and Photos Courtesy of Networks
Clockwise from top-right: Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, Love Victor, The Good Lord Bird, I May Destroy You, The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo.
Clockwise from top right: Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, Love Victor, The Good Lord Bird, I May Destroy You, The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo. Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson/Vulture and Photos Courtesy of Networks

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on entertainment vary greatly from medium to medium. Where the summer movie season has been turned inside out by the uncertainty surrounding the future of multiplexes and summer music festivals are effectively on hold until next year, television’s inherently housebound nature, combined with the long lead time most series have built into their production schedules, means a good chunk of the summer TV schedule is rolling out more or less as planned. Well, kind of. Yes, several productions are still on hold, but outside of a few big reality-show-shaped holes in the schedule (sorry, Bachelor Nation) and some accelerated season finales, we won’t really start feeling the effects of those delays until later this year.

For now, though, we still have a summer TV season full of highly anticipated follow-up seasons, intriguing new projects from big-name creators, and, oh yeah, two new streaming services complete with new original programming. Sure, it might be a slightly more manageable deluge than we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years, but it’s still more new TV than any one human could consume in a single summer — or is it? With more reason than ever before to stay home and in front of our televisions this summer, we’ll have ample opportunity to find out. Here’s a guide to the premieres we’ll be keeping an eye on during the Great Indoor Summer of 2020.

Legendary (May 27, HBO Max)

Legendary, one of the inaugural series on HBO Max’s launch slate, got a head start on negative buzz thanks to not-a-host Jameela Jamil, in actuality one of the judges overseeing this voguing competition (alongside Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach, and “Wonder Woman of Vogue” Leiomy Maldonado). But Legendary is not about Jamil: It is about the eight houses that will compete in challenges inspired by the underground ballroom community. If that sentence confuses you, you are hereby prescribed one (1) viewing of Paris Is Burning, with an optional Pose chaser, before you may consume this series. —Genevieve Koski

The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo (May 27, HBO Max)

Parents desperately seeking new distractions for their housebound kids will grasp onto a new Elmo show like a drowning person grabbing for a life jacket, so it may not have mattered much whether Elmo’s Not-Too-Late Show was actually good. But the format — 15-minute episodes featuring a gentle late-night format and conversations with guests like John Mulaney and Kacey Musgraves — makes this an especially welcome, family-friendly summer option. My kids loved it. —Kathryn VanArendonk

Central Park (May 29, Apple TV+)

After an initial boom, it’s been a quiet spring for Apple’s new streaming service. For those who do subscribe, though, or for anyone who’s been on the fence about it, Central Park is a worthwhile series to check out. It’s a new animated comedy from Loren Bouchard, the creator of Bob’s Burgers, about the family of a Manhattan park ranger. In addition to a fantastic voice cast — Leslie Odom Jr., Kathryn Hahn, Tituss Burgess, Kristen Bell — Central Park is a musical, which means that everyone also sings! —KVA

Ramy (May 29, Hulu)

Golden Globe winner Ramy Youssef returns for a second season of this dramedy about an Egyptian-American wrestling with his cultural identity. As this season begins, Ramy takes his life in a new spiritual direction, with Mahershala Ali as his guide, which makes sense since most of us praise a higher power when we watch Mahershala Ali. —Jen Chaney

Space Force (May 29, Netflix)

The names alone will make this Netflix comedy a big summer draw: It’s co-created by Office alums Greg Daniels and Steve Carell, and it stars Carell along with John Malkovich, Lisa Kudrow, and Ben Schwartz. The premise is a bit of a question mark, though. The titular Space Force is a fictional version of the Trump-created one, which puts the show in a curious position between reality and satire. —KVA

Quiz (May 31, AMC)

Remember when a couple in England tried to cheat on the British version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? This drama tells the whole story, with Sian Clifford of Fleabag and Matthew Macfadyen of Succession in the lead roles. Cheating on a game show — such a Tom Wambsgans move. —JC

Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story (June 2, USA)

The first season of Dirty John revisited a true-crime story that had previously been explored on a podcast of the same name, but it’s been revived for season two as an anthology series, following a completely different true story of love gone wrong (and on a completely different network, no less). This time around, Amanda Peet and Christian Slater play the seemingly perfect but actually doomed couple in question, the Brodericks, whom the series will follow from the 1960s through the ’80s (you know what that means — yes, period costuming!) as they endure what Oprah described as “one of America’s messiest divorces.” —GK

13 Reasons Why (June 5, Netflix)

Because there are still a few more reasons why, I guess, this teen drama returns for a fourth and final season. The season will consist of ten episodes, because apparently there are more reasons but, like, not that many. —JC

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars (June 5, VH1)

After deploying two rapid-fire seasons of All Stars in 2018, this arm of the Drag Race empire took a much-needed breather. It returns on VH1 (not Showtime, as initially planned) with a sickening-looking lineup of queens and the tacit acknowledgment that this is basically Shea Couleé’s competition to lose. But with beloved legacy queens like Jujubee, Alexis Mateo, and even Ongina returning, there’s intriguing old-school Drag Race flavor in the mix here that could — nay, should — shake things up a bit. —GK

I May Destroy You (June 7, HBO)

Michaela Coel, creator and star of Netflix’s Chewing Gum, gets her own high-profile HBO series this summer, which she also stars in and wrote. In I May Destroy You, she plays a London woman who gets slipped a date-rape drug whose aftereffects force her to rebuild the framework of her life. —JC

Love, Victor (June 19, Hulu)

“A spinoff of a sweet but blinkered Disney coming-out movie” doesn’t initially scream must-watch TV. Love, Victor was reportedly shifted from Disney+ to Hulu because it didn’t fit on the family-friendly streaming service, but don’t let that fool you either. Like its originating movie Love, Simon, the spinoff series is very charming, but it adds layers of complexity and emotional turmoil that make the show much more richly rewarding. —KVA

The Politician (June 19, Netflix)

The first season of the Ryan Murphy’s high-school politics show, starring Ben Platt and Gwyneth Paltrow, had some bumps and slow spots. The final episode, though, was a promise that the second season could be campier and stranger and an altogether more fun thing. Bette Midler! Local New York politics! Judith Light as a politician trying to conceal her longtime throuple from the voting public! —KVA

Perry Mason (June 21, HBO)

The reboot casts Matthew Rhys in the role of the famed defense attorney, while taking the character back to his original fiction roots in the 1930s, when Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels were first published. Fingers crossed that the theme song from the Raymond Burr series gets repurposed. —JC

Search Party (June 25, HBO Max)

The third season of the mystery–comedy–Brooklyn millennial satire arrives on HBO Max, after previously airing on TBS, and picks up with Alia Shawkat’s Dory and John Reynolds’s Drew on trial for a (mostly) accidental murder. —JC

The Twilight Zone (June 25, CBS All Access)

The first season of Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg’s reboot of the vaunted anthology series delivered a decidedly mixed bag, as all modern anthology series seemingly must do in their first season. Now that Peele & Co. have made their nostalgic callbacks and meta commentary on the series’ very existence, they’re well-positioned to settle into a groove in the second season, which, like its predecessor, has a fully stacked guest cast, including Morena Baccarin, Topher Grace, Tony Hale, Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, Chris Meloni, Billy Porter, Damon Wayans Jr., and many more. —GK

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (June 28, HBO)

A documentary based on Michelle McNamara’s book about the Golden State Killer, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark investigates that infamous serial rape and murder case, as well as McNamara’s extreme diligence in writing about it, all the way up to her unexpected death in 2016. —JC

The Baby-Sitters Club (July 3, Netflix)

If you were a kid who devoured every single Baby-Sitter’s Club book [raises hand], then you’re already onboard to check out the Netflix adaptation series, which revives Kristy, Dawn, Stacey, Claudia, and the whole group, starting from the earliest origins of the club. It is 100 percent more charming than it really needed to be, and I personally will keep watching at least through the reveal of Stacey’s Secret. —KVA

The Umbrella Academy (July 31, Netflix)

If a comic-book show involving estranged siblings, magic, time travel, the apocalypse, action scenes set to incongruously happy songs, and Game of Thrones’ Tom Hopper transformed into an immense gorilla-man sounds like satisfying TV to you, I’ve got good news for you: The second season of The Umbrella Academy is coming this summer. —KVA

The Good Lord Bird (August 9, Showtime)

Originally slated for a February release, Showtime’s adaptation of the James McBride novel will now premiere late this summer. That’s a good thing, because by August the TV well will start running dry. Plus, by August, I think we’ll all be in the best possible mood for a historical show where Ethan Hawke screams a lot while playing the controversial abolitionist John Brown. —KVA

Lovecraft Country (August TBD, HBO)

The Lovecraft Country novel by Matt Ruff, about a trio of black Americans who take a scary road trip through white America in the 1950s, is adapted into this racially conscious horror series, executive produced by Jordan Peele, J.J. Abrams, and Misha Green (Underground), who also acts as showrunner. —JC

The full summer 2020 lineup

Monday, May 25
Barkskins (Nat Geo)

Tuesday, May 26
America’s Got Talent (NBC)
World of Dance (NBC)

Wednesday, May 27
American Soul (BET)
Craftopia (HBO Max)
Game On! (CBS)
Legendary (HBO Max)
Looney Tunes Cartoons (HBO Max)
Love Life (HBO Max)
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo (HBO Max)

Friday, May 29
Central Park (Apple TV+)
Ramy (Hulu)
Space Force (Netflix)
Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)

Sunday, May 31
Celebrity Family Feud (ABC)
Laurel Canyon (Epix)
Match Game (ABC)
Press Your Luck (ABC)
Quiz (AMC)

Monday, June 1
90 Day Fiance: The Other Way (TLC)
Below Deck Mediterranean (Bravo)

Tuesday, June 2
Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story (USA)
Fuller House (Netflix)

Thursday, June 4
Forged in Fire: Beat the Judges (History)

Friday, June 5
13 Reasons Why (Netflix)
Dear … (Apple TV+)
Queer Eye (Netflix)
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars (VH1)
We Are Freestyle Love Supreme (Hulu)

Sunday, June 7
I May Destroy You (HBO)
30 For 30: Be Water (ESPN)
The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons … Ever! (ABC)

Wednesday, June 10
Lenox Hill (Netflix)
Bulletproof (The CW)

Thursday, June 11
The Bold Type (Freeform)
Don’t (ABC)
Double Shot at Love With DJ Pauly D & Vinny (MTV)

Friday, June 12
Crossing Swords (Hulu)
Pokemon Journeys: The Series (Netflix)

Sunday, June 14
Helter Skelter: An American Myth (Epix)
Grantchester (PBS)
30 For 30: Long Gone Summer (ESPN)

Tuesday, June 16
Siesta Key (MTV)

Thursday, June 18
Syfy Wire’s The Great Debate (Syfy)

Friday, June 19
Dads (Apple TV+)
Love, Victor (Hulu)
The Politician (Netflix)
Sherman’s Showcase (IFC)
Taste the Nation With Padma Lakshmi (Hulu)

Sunday, June 21
The Chi (Showtime)
NOS4A2 (AMC)
Perry Mason (HBO)
Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

Monday, June 22
Penn & Teller: Fool Us (The CW)

Thursday, June 25
Doom Patrol (HBO Max)
Search Party (HBO Max)
The Twilight Zone (CBS All Access)

Sunday, June 28
The Story of Late Night (CNN)
United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell (CNN)
Black Monday (Showtime)
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (HBO)

Wednesday, July 1
Unsolved Mysteries (Netflix)
Help! I Wrecked My House (HGTV)

Friday, July 3
The Baby-Sitters Club (Netflix)
Hanna (Amazon Prime Video)

Sunday, July 5
Outcry (Showtime)

Wednesday, July 8
Tough As Nails (CBS)

Thursday, July 9
Expecting Amy (HBO Max)
Close Enough (HBO Max)

Wednesday, July 15
Brave New World (Peacock)
The Capture (Peacock)
Intelligence (Peacock)
Psych 2: Lassie Come Home (Peacock)

Thursday, July 16
The House of Ho (HBO Max)

Friday, July 24
Room 104 (HBO)

Tuesday, July 28
Maxxx (Hulu)

Thursday, July 30
Frayed (HBO Max)
In My Skin (Hulu)

Friday, July 31
The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)

Sunday, August 9
The Good Lord Bird (Showtime)

Friday, August 14
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Sunday, August 30
Love Fraud (Showtime)

August TBD
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Love in the Time of Corona (Freeform)

The 20 Best and Biggest TV Shows to Watch This Summer