Remember when summer was the season to watch silly game shows, cringe at the faux positivity of celebrity-hosted talk shows, and catch up on reruns? Those days are increasingly over thanks to diarrhea outbreaks, Ellen DeGeneres’s retirement, and the never-ending churn of original programming. You can now have basically any TV experience you want in the summertime, from revisiting the Worst Chris question to wondering why Stranger Things didn’t just film several seasons at once to avoid the kids’ aging out of believability. What vibe are you going for this season? Vulture is here to help you choose.
The twinge-of-misplaced-nostalgia experience
Want something familiar to take you back to the good ol’ days? A resuscitation of Yo! MTV Raps, the first hip hop-themed program on MTV in the ’90s, will now stream on Paramount+, but the content seems about the same, with a mixture of tributes, music videos, and live performances. Also tapping into that “The past? It was wild!” vibe is the fourth season of Stranger Things, which Netflix is dividing into two parts, premiering on May 27 and July 1. It’s cute that the series wants us to pretend only six months have passed since the events of season three, when in reality it has been three years since it last aired and the cast of high-schoolers are now basically grown adults.
The sand-without-a-beach experience
Rona is still raging, so maybe you want to experience the sand-getting-everywhere feeling of the beach without actually going there. That is basically the desert, which you can visit from your couch with two different series. The success of The Mandalorian and the “Whatever, fine” impact of The Book of Boba Fett paved the way for Star Wars miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Ewan McGregor returning as the Jedi he played in the Star Wars prequels and Hayden Christensen reprising his role as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, the “chosen one” who turned his back on his mentor. Also in a galaxy far, far away — from most of us, in terms of staggering consumption — is The Real Housewives of Dubai, the first international installment of the long-running Bravo franchise about women who often have more money than sense. The sandy location probably will be the least irritating aspect of that show, actually.
The shame-of-realizing-you-don’t-do-nearly-enough-to-make-the-world-a-better-place experience:
• This Is Going to Hurt (AMC+), premieres June 2
• Loot (Apple TV+), premieres June 24
If you want your TV with a sprinkle of shame, how about a series in which the main characters are probably more altruistic and/or integral to the functioning of society than you? This Is Going to Hurt stars voice-of-Paddington Ben Whishaw as a fourth-wall-breaking doctor struggling to navigate the realities of being overworked, underpaid, and responsible for people’s lives in the U.K.’s National Health Service. If medical series aren’t your thing, there’s Loot, in which Maya Rudolph plays a billionaire who suffers a public humiliation and decides to get more involved in her charity foundation. The premise might be neoliberal as hell, but an ensemble including Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Joel Kim Booster, Nat Faxon, and Ron Funches is promising.
The grateful-you’re-not-in-high-school-anymore experience
• Ms. Marvel (Disney+), premieres June 8
• Never Have I Ever season three (Netflix), premieres August 12
On one hand, being in high school meant you got a summer break. On the other, you were in high school — not always the greatest time! Revel in the contrasting emotions inspired by those memories with Ms. Marvel, the latest MCU miniseries on Disney+, and the third season of Never Have I Ever, the coming-of-age show inspired by co-creator Mindy Kaling’s life. Like the recent Moon Knight, which was guided by a creative team whose backgrounds aligned with that series’ Egyptian mythology, Ms. Marvel is led by Pakistani Canadian actress Iman Vellani, British Pakistani series creator Bisha K. Ali, and Moroccan Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. Superhero problems seem only slightly more stressful than the complicated relationship dynamics between the teens on Never Have I Ever, bless their little love-triangled hearts.
The anti-Marvel experience
We live in a PG-13-superheroes-as-cinematic-monoculture time, which is why the gory and vulgar The Boys feels so unique: There is no one on TV more charmingly terrifying than Antony Starr’s Homelander or as terrifyingly charming as Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher. Their rivalry kicks up a notch as The Boys adapts one of the major narrative elements of the original comic books this season. Plus Jensen Ackles as new character Soldier Boy! Over on Netflix, the wonderfully soundtracked, steampunk-and-noir-influenced The Umbrella Academy returns after season two’s time-traveling high jinks for a third season that sees the original Hargreeves superhero siblings face off against their father’s new family, the Sparrows.
The superiority-of-saying–“Well, actually, in the books” experience
The first Game of Thrones spinoff to make it to TV is House of the Dragon, an adaptation of Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin’s 2018 prequel to his A Song of Ice and Fire series. House Targaryen, with all its incest and fire-breathing friends, is the focus, because let’s be real: No one wants to watch the history of House Arryn or House Tully. The Rings of Power occupies a similar position, set during the Second Age of Middle-Earth, millennia before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Because Amazon doesn’t have rights to the books that cover those time periods, like The Silmarillion, The Rings of Power should have a fair amount of new storytelling. Even still, if you nod sagely while watching with your friends and say stuff like, “Hmmm, yes, I think this subplot was referenced in Tolkien’s manuscripts,” you’ll probably be fine.
The copaganda-with-a-twist experience:
• Dark Winds (AMC), premieres June 12
• The Old Man (FX), premieres June 16
Zahn McClarnon and Jeff Bridges are so consistently great in everything, they might make sitting through copaganda worth it. In Dark Winds, McClarnon gets the lead role he deserves as a Tribal Police lieutenant investigating mysterious murders; gigantic claw marks on a hotel-room door seem like just the tip of the spooky iceberg. Operating outside the law is Bridges’s character in The Old Man, Dan Chase, a former CIA agent who abandoned the agency and is now being hunted by the FBI. Most intriguing is the casting of Alia Shawkat as Chase’s protégé; after the zaniness of Search Party, watching her in action-drama mode could be a kick.
The stargazing-from-your-couch experience:
Earth is pretty bleak right now, so turning to the cosmos for your summer entertainment is perfectly understandable. The best returning show on Apple TV+ is For All Mankind, which landed on two of the three ballots for Vulture’s Best TV of 2021 list. As Kathyn VanArendonk wrote of season two, “The real delight is the unparalleled narrative acceleration toward the end,” and that hyperspeed plotting brings us to a third season focused on the colonization of Mars and a new Elon Musk–like figure played by Edi Gathegi. If that headiness isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, there’s also the slightly sillier-looking Moonhaven, in which a peaceful colony on the Moon isn’t exactly what it seems. Joe Manganiello with a mohawk? Yes, please!
The all-banter-all-the-time experience
• Only Murders in the Building, season two (Hulu), premieres June 28
• Reservation Dogs, season two (FX), premieres August 3
• Mo (Netflix), premieres August 24
• Welcome to Wrexham (FX), premieres August 24
A summer of pithy dialogue and sarcastic exchanges is upon us! Only Murders in the Building picks up where its cliffhanger season-one ending left off, with Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin trying to figure out exactly why their Arconia building is so cursed by violence. Also returning for a second season is Reservation Dogs, which benefited greatly from the titular gang’s intragroup chemistry. Will the currently scattered friends find their way back to one another?
New series focused on the sometimes funny, sometimes tragic push-pull dynamics between family and friends are Mo and Welcome to Wrexham; the former sitcom stars Palestinian comedian Mo Amer as Mo Najjar, a refugee stuck in the immigration process, while the latter docuseries follows Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney after they bought the Wrexham Red Dragons, a Welsh football club, in 2020. If that seems like an extended bit, it very well may be.
The “Wait, what the hell is happening?” experience
Westworld has been unintelligible for two seasons now, but hey, this trailer sure does look pretty! I’ve never seen such an expensive-looking robot spew insects out of its mouth. If you prefer twisty-turny drama to sci-fi, acclaimed novelist and TV writer Dennis Lehane is behind the new series Black Bird, which stars Taron Egerton as a convicted drug dealer who takes a deal that requires he befriend a serial killer (Paul Walter Hauser) and coax him into a confession. How many lies are the two telling each other, and themselves? Is this really how the criminal-justice system works? No matter. It can’t be worse than the return of Law & Order.
The “I really should work out more” experience
Summer is the season for all bodies, including mine, which will slowly atrophy as I watch TV shows about far more active people. P-Valley and Physical both return for second seasons that dive into the contrasting anxiety and pride of making one’s body one’s business, while the Resident Evil franchise continues to grow with a series set 14 years after the apocalypse caused by the Umbrella Corporation. Would the characters in the first two series be able to outrun the zombies of the latter, while I would immediately get eaten? Yes, hence the need for an “I really should work out more” experience.
The “Is anyone else watching this show?” experience
• Irma Vep (HBO), premieres June 6
There are layers upon layers to Olivier Assayas’s 1996 film, Irma Vep, which starred Maggie Cheung playing herself in a commentary on the collaborative, symbiotic nature of filmmaking. Assayas guides his own miniseries remake, replacing Cheung with Alicia Vikander, who has a knack specifically for inhabiting tweaked and duplicate versions of characters (The Green Knight, Ex Machina). But Irma Vep seems made for Film Twitter alone, not something co-workers will casually bring up as small talk. If solitary viewing is what you’re after, Irma Vep could be a solid bet.
The “Will TV ever be this good again?” experience
• Better Call Saul season six (AMC), premieres July 11
No, it probably will not. These final six episodes of Better Call Saul pick up where half-season finale “Plan and Execution” leaves off, and will likely have a fair amount of Breaking Bad Easter eggs and references, including the return of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. If you haven’t watched any Better Call Saul and want to catch up for the series finale, you have about 50 or so days to get through 57 episodes. You have time! You should do it!
The you-can’t-escape-Chris-Pratt experience
• The Terminal List (Prime Video), premieres July 1
For the people who want to mutter before, during, and after each episode, “When will I know peace?”