While not every show is as awesome as those two, many of them are well made and reasonably diverting. What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of summer programming, but a sampling of shows that are worthy of your time. Since it’s nearly the end of June, many shows have already begun their summer runs. (All times listed are Eastern time.)If you don’t feel like keeping up every week, you can just tune in for a given week’s episode and ignore the serialized elements.USA is one of the channels that has most fully embraced summer programming, with more than half a dozen shows on now or starting new seasons in July. USA’s shows tend to be lighter dramas with season-long plot arcs balanced by weekly stories, so if you don’t feel like keeping up every week, you can just tune in for a given week’s episode and ignore the serialized elements.
Burn Notice has successfully mined this formula for six seasons with its story of a wronged man fighting to clear his name while helping others in difficult situations, though USA’s penchant for splitting its seasons (with the second halves airing during fall or winter) has resulted in some audience fatigue. But the show has returned for its seventh and last season (Thursdays at 9 pm) with a more serious, higher-stakes story that has recharged viewers who want to see how things will be resolved.
TNT’s programming efforts are similar to USA’s, but some of its shows have a bit more of an edge, especially the alien-invasion drama Falling Skies (Sundays at 10 pm), executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and now in its third season. LAPD police procedural Major Crimes (Mondays at 9), an offshoot of The Closer, does not flinch from telling less pleasant stories, though its cases are typically solved in a single episode.Sadly, the brilliant Louie did not return to FX this summer; Louis C.K. felt he needed a break to recharge creatively.Sadly, the brilliant Louie did not return to FX this summer; Louis C.K. felt he needed a break to recharge creatively and ensure the show is as good as it can be, but it will return for its fourth season at some point in 2014. Keeping the comedy lights on for FX this summer, the surreal Wilfred is back for a third season on Thursdays at 10. FX also has a new drama offering, The Bridge, premiering Wednesday, July 10th at 10 pm. It’s a crime show set on the border between Texas and Mexico, where detectives from both sides will collaborate to catch a serial killer.
On the broadcast networks, your best option is probably Under the Dome, a 13-episode adaptation of the Stephen King novel that premiered on Monday on CBS. The ratings were huge (better than those of most regular-season shows), and will probably remain strong due to the relative dearth of new scripted shows during the summer on the “big” networks. (If you missed it, the first episode is available online at CBS’s website, and they will be repeating it Sunday, June 30th at 10 pm; new episodes will follow Mondays at 10.)
The only new show airing on HBO this summer is Family Tree (Sundays at 10), a comedy from Christopher Guest about a man who discovers a branch of his family he never knew about. Returning shows include True Blood (Sundays at 9), now in its sixth season, and Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, which premieres its second season on July 14th.This Sunday, Dexter begins its eighth and final season on Showtime.This Sunday, June 30th, Dexter begins its eighth and final season on Showtime at 9 pm. Some feel the show headed downhill after the shocking end of season 4, but long-running shows that are able to plan their final seasons typically manage a creative resurgence to satisfy longtime fans. Following Dexter at 10 is a new series, Ray Donovan, about an LA-based “fixer” whose estranged father is released from prison and reenters his life, making it more complicated than it already is.
Starz, home of the various incarnations of the Spartacus series, hopes to lure back some of that show’s fans, while also aiming to capture some of the Game of Thrones audience, with The White Queen (Saturday, August 10th at 8 pm), a new series about the maneuverings and power struggles behind the monarchy in 15th-century England, presumably with the requisite helpings of violence and sex.
Comedy Central debuts new shows all the time and doesn’t have a set summer schedule, but the final new episodes of Futurama are currently airing Wednesdays at 10. Drunk History, a new series based on Funny or Die web shorts, premieres Tuesday, July 9th at 10, featuring celebrity reenactments of historical events recounted by intoxicated narrators.
BBC America has a built-in source of programming that’s new to US audiences, but that isn’t stopping them from developing original shows as well. Last year the channel debuted its first original scripted series, Copper, about a New York police detective in the 1860s. The show did well enough to get a second season, which premiered last Sunday (new episodes Sundays at 10).And of course there’s Top Gear, the gloriously bonkers automotive show that even people who don’t care about cars enjoy.Of their British imports, the murder mystery Broadchurch earned wide acclaim when it aired in England; starring former Doctor Who lead David Tennant, it arrives on our shores Wednesday, August 7th at 10 pm. The third season of Luther, another critically praised police drama starring Idris Elba, airs over four consecutive nights starting Tuesday, September 3rd at 10. And of course there’s Top Gear, the gloriously bonkers automotive show that even people who don’t care about cars enjoy. Season 20 premieres on UK TVs this Sunday, June 30th; BBC America has adopted a welcome policy of airing the new episodes just eight days later, so you’ll be able to watch the new season here starting July 8th at 8:30.
Finally, every word of praise you’ve heard about Breaking Bad is true. The story of chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin Walter White is told with flawless writing, impeccable performances, and some of the most beautiful photography ever seen on TV. The final eight episodes begin on AMC on Sunday, August 11th at 9 pm. I emphatically endorse binge-watching of the previous 54 episodes (available on Netflix streaming), whether you’ve seen them already or not, to get you primed for its return. Following at 10 is a new series, Low Winter Sun, about Detroit police detectives attempting to cover up the murder of one of their own.