May 18: Some additional details have been added to the description for Weeds.
Summer's hottest shows, from Futurama to True Blood
Summer is no longer just a wasteland for reruns and reality programs (not that there's anything wrong with the reality genre; check our guide to summer's top reality shows for details about new and returning unscripted programming). Of course, it helps to have cable; most of the summer's top shows cannot be found on broadcast TV.
The next few months will bring the first new episodes of the cult hit Futurama in seven years, as well as the returns of True Blood and critic favorite Mad Men. Speaking of the latter program, it will be paired on AMC with a brand-new conspiracy thriller (Rubicon), while other new shows this summer include several promising-sounding cop dramas and the TV returns of Kids in the Hall and Louis C.K.
Below, we have selected the 20 most intriguing summer series, divided into new and returning programs.
Ten new summer series
The Big C
(Showtime, Mondays at 10:30p starting August 16)
Originally titled The C Word, Showtime's new dark comedy stars Laura Linney as a wife, mother and teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The show's excellent cast also includes Oliver Platt and Gabourey Sidibe, and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) directed the pilot.
Why watch? At least she doesn't start cooking meth.
(Adult Swim, Sundays starting July 11)
Rob Corddry's web-only comedy series (available on TheWB.com) comes to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim this summer with new episodes, though the network will broadcast the existing season one first before moving into the brand-new season two. The cast for this medical drama spoof (think of it as an intentionally funny Grey's Anatomy) includes not only Corddry but also a who's-who of alternative comedy, from Party Down's Ken Marino and Megan Mullally, to David Wain, Ed Helms, Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Henry Winkler, and Rob Huebel, among a host of recognizable faces.
Why watch? Any show that brings together actors from The State, The Daily Show, Arrested Development, and Party Down can't be that bad.
(USA, Tuesdays at 10p starting July 13)
Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) is among the producers of USA's latest original series, which stars Piper Perabo as a skilled young CIA trainee who is suddenly thrust into an active operation one month ahead of schedule, for reasons that are initially mysterious. Peter Gallagher, Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty), and Anne Dudek (House, Big Love) also star.
Why watch? A USA-style Alias?It could work.
The Good Guys
(Fox, Mondays at 9p starting June 7; special premiere May 19 at 8p)
Like it did for Glee last year, Fox is giving its new buddy cop dramedy a special premiere next to American Idol, but where that high school musical didn't return until fall, the network will air The Good Guys throughout the summer months (and, assuming ratings are decent, the show will move to Fridays in the fall). The hour-long show -- created by Matt Nix (Burn Notice) -- pairs a washed-up detective (The West Wing's Bradley Whitford) with an ambitious young cop (Colin Hanks) in Dallas.
Why watch?This lighthearted throwback to '70s cop shows comes across as more original than it sounds on paper, has an intriguing cast, and, yes, there is that 'stache.
The Hard Times of RJ Berger
(MTV, Mondays at 10p starting June 14; special premiere Sunday June 6 at 11p)
A rare scripted series on reality-happy MTV, this new comedy plays like a teenage variation of HBO's Hung -- well, without the male prostitution. An awkward outcast at his high school, sophomore RJ Berger (Paul Iacono) finds that his social status changes for the better after a wardrobe malfunction exposes his anatomy to the entire school.
Why watch? TV is due for a good teen comedy, and this one at least has somewhat unconventional subject matter and presentation (the show occasionally blends animated sequences into the live action).
Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town
(IFC, Fridays at 10p starting August 20)
All five members of the original comedy group (Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson) reunite for this eight-episode comic murder mystery, which finds the Kids playing 20 new characters. The show was dismissed as silly and underwhelming by some critics when it aired on Canadian TV earlier this year, though others enjoyed its humor and willingness to go in a new direction.
Why watch? Even lesser Kids in the Hall could still have some laughs.
(FX, Tuesdays at 11p starting June 29)
Although Louis C.K.'s last eponymous series -- HBO's Lucky Louie -- was met with critical disdain and was quickly canceled, the comedian has a long, successful history as a stand-up and television writer. His unconventional new single-camera comedy offers a series of vignettes drawn on observations about his life as a newly-divorced single parent. Ricky Gervais and Pamela Adlon are set to guest star.
Why watch? After his excellent guest-starring role onNBC's Parks and Recreation, he deserves a second chance at his own show.
(TNT, Tuesdays at 10p starting June 22)
George Clooney is among the producers of this offbeat, Memphis-set cop drama starring Jason Lee as a blues-loving police officer who lives with his mother. The cast also includes Alfre Woodard and DJ Qualls.
Why watch? The pilot was directed by Clark Johnson, who also helmed the first episodes for The Shield and The Wire.
(AMC, Sundays at 9p starting August 1)
AMC's latest entry into series television focuses on a government intelligence agent (James Badge Dale, The Pacific) who begins to uncover a sinister conspiracy after a shocking tragedy. Miranda Richardson also stars, and the series is executive produced by Henry Bromell (Homicide: Life on the Street).
Why watch? If it's even half as good as AMC's first two series Mad Men and Breaking Bad, it'll be better than pretty much everything else on in August.
(FX, time/day TBD)
One of two upcoming series executive produced by The Shield's Shawn Ryan, this hour-long dramedy stars Donal Logue as an irresponsible former cop who launches an unlicensed private investigation business with his equally immature best friend (Michael Raymond-James). The show was created by Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven).
Why watch? While Fox's Ride-Along sounds like the better of Ryan's two new shows,we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Ten shows returning this summer
(BBC America, Saturdays at 9p starting July 24)
A werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost
walk into a bar attempt to live together in a house and blend in with 20-something humans in Bristol, England. Last year's first season quickly won over critics and fans with its blend of fantasy, drama, and humor, and an American remake of the show is also in the works (which could air on Syfy as soon as this summer).
Why watch? Because Vampire Diaries and True Blood isn't enough vampire TV for you.
(USA, Thursdays at 9p starting June 3)
Season 4 of USA's hit action show adds a new cast member (Coby Bell of Third Watch) to a core group that includes Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, and Sharon Gless. The series revolves around ex-spy Michael Westen, who works as a private detective in Miami while trying to stay one step ahead of the enemies who had him blacklisted as a spy.
Why watch? They must be doing something right; the highly-rated show is already set to return for two additional seasons after this one.
(HBO, Sundays at 10:30p starting June 27)
The 10-episode seventh season for the popular HBO comedy finds Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) taking a new approach to life after suffering an accident while performing a stunt in his new action film, while agent Ari Gold (Emmy-winner Jeremy Piven) seeks to expand his agency through a deal with the NFL. We imagine the rest of the season gets taken up by scenes of impossibly good things happening to already wealthy and successful people.
Why watch? You'll see this phrase again here, but: it can't be as bad as it was last season, right?
(Syfy, Fridays at 9p starting July 9)
Eureka's fourth season will be its longest yet, at 20 episodes. James Callis (Dr. Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica) joins the cast as a former resident of Eureka -- the secretive Pacific Northwest town that is home to some unusual, cutting-edge government research -- who returns and causes trouble for Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson). Meanwhile, all of the town's residents face major changes after a "cataclysmic shift."
Why watch? Because there are few better choices for TV sci-fi this summer.
(Comedy Central, Thursdays at 10p starting June 24)
On August 10, 2003, Fox aired its final episode of Futurama, the futuristic animated comedy created by The Simpsons' Matt Groening. But, like fellow canceled Fox cartoon Family Guy, Futurama continued to grow its fanbase on DVD, leading the show's cast and crew to reunite for several DVD-only movies released over the past few years. Now, Comedy Central is bringing the show back with up to 26 new episodes, which begin in June.
Why watch? To thank Comedy Central for reviving one of the past decade's funniest shows.
(HBO, Sundays at 10p starting June 27)
Stars Thomas Jane and Jane Adams received Golden Globe nominations for their work last season in this comedy about a well-endowed Detroit high school coach who becomes a male prostitute after he loses his wife and his house. Jericho's Lennie James joins the cast for this second season as a potential love interest for Adams' pimp character.
Why watch? Insert your own "big" joke here.
(AMC, Sundays at 10p starting July 25)
The two-time Emmy-award winner for best drama returns for a fourth season after concluding season three with two major shakeups (one personal, one professional) for ad man Don Draper that point to a potentially very different show this year. While details are still scarce about the upcoming season, we do know that Jared Harris will be a regular this year after appearing occasionally as Lane Pryce last season, though Bryan Batt's Sal character will not return.
Why watch? In case you hadn't noticed, it's one of the best shows on television.
(HBO, Sundays at 9p starting June 13)
Alan Ball's Louisiana-set vampire series (based on the novels by Charlaine Harris) returns for a third season after cementing its status as HBO's next big thing during 2009's season two. The upcoming season will likely reveal the true nature of Anna Paquin's Sookie Stackhouse character, though rumors about the departure of Carrie Preston's Arlene character are untrue. Lara Pulver (BBC's Robin Hood) and Tony-winning actor Denis O'Hare will be joining the cast, while 90210's Michael Steger will guest.
Why watch? It's the show most likely to have people talking this summer.
(Showtime, Mondays at 10p starting August 16)
Season six of Showtime's long-running comedy will pick up where last season's cliffhanger left off, which featured a notable development for Shane (Alexander Gould), the younger teen son of Mary-Louise Parker's Nancy Botwin character. The season will take place at least partially in Seattle, and Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) will guest star on multiple episodes. This will also be the final season for Elizabeth Perkins' Celia Hodes character.
Why watch? Because it can't be as bad as it was last season, right?
(USA, Tuesdays at 9p starting July 13)
USA's oft-praised crime caper centers on the unlikely working relationship between an ex-con (Matt Bomer) and the FBI agent (Tim DeKay) who enlists him to track down white-collar criminals. Though the first season ended in a cliffhanger, don't expect all that much to change in season two. Regulars Willie Garson and Tiffani Thiessen also return.
Why watch? Because season one was one of cable's best-reviewed new shows last fall.