The media industry never stops, we should all know this by now. Fortunately, July’s biggest new TV shows are all concentrated towards the beginning and end of the month, leaving you plenty of time to get outside and soak up some rays. Go on, damn you, enjoy the climate while it’s still there.
1. Stranger Things | July 4
Is it possible to make summertime scary without resorting to the terrifying spectre of hayfever? This is one of the things we’re about to find out.
Stranger Things has already covered the obviously-scary Halloween, and also Christmas, which is less obviously scary but has seen a slew of pulpy horror movies set in and around it (classics like Silent Night, Deadly Night, and the R-rated Jack Frost). But there’s no horror flicks set on Independence Day, which throws a spanner in the works here. Stranger Things’s whole deal is drawing on the cinema canon of the ‘80s, the culmination of the nostalgia trip that a certain kind of comedy’s been desperately leaning on for over a decade now (I mean Family Guy, I’m talking about Family Guy).
This third season will probably be the making or the breaking of the show. The second was in most respects up to par, but had one notably duff episode, and was inexplicably coy with its new characters, only giving them any actual personality traits towards the finale. God willing the creators have learned from their mistakes.
2. The Boys | July 26
The golden age of comic book adaptations isn’t ending any time soon, and even if the cream of that’s been confined to the cinema so far, that can only mean the best is yet to come for the small screen. Hearteningly, the media’s even started to move beyond becaped superheroes to more experimental stuff – an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s definitive Sandman is still a pipe-dream, but we’ve already seen half-decent versions of Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta and Watchmen hit the screen, and more recently, the well-received Netflix version of The Umbrella Academy.
This is another one from the mind of Garth Ennis, creator of Preacher – it hasn’t entirely escaped the shadow of the cape, but instead of following the cape in question, it revolves around a group of vigilantes who go after corrupt superheroes. The idea of caped crusaders for truth and justice going bad was what Watchmen was always flirting with, given the arc words of ‘who watches the watchmen?’ suggesting that they did a long time ago, possibly at the point they decided to dispense justice to their fellow man based purely upon their own force of will.
The Boys has Supernatural creator Eric Kripke attached as showrunner, and Karl Urban lined up to play the leader of the vigilantes. Between his appearances in Lord of the Rings and the Star Trek reboots, Urban certainly has the action chops for this kind of role, though his ability to deconstruct it remains to be seen.
3. Orange Is The New Black | July 26
After six years, it’s the seventh and final season of the lady-centric prison drama. When the first season came out in 2013, it was an immediate coup for Netflix, appearing as the company’s streaming service was hitting the mainstream and probably helping to solidify its position as top dog among the early video-on-demand services. Indeed, executives have pointed to Orange Is The New Black as Netflix’s most watched original series, a remarkably frank admission given Netflix’s usual secrecy around viewing figures.
Despite its core concept of women in prison, the end of the sixth season saw main character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) being unexpectedly released early. This season, then, promises to deal with her and a number of other characters readjusting to life on the outside. The old saying is that you only do two days in prison, the day you go in and the day you come out.
The series has been praised for its diversity of characters (and not just for showing us a middle-class white woman in prison), as well as touching on contemporary social issues. Most notably, it features America’s opioid epidemic in a big way, although perhaps more controversially it reflects the rise of the private prison industry, a trade which is notorious for abuse of power and seems to mainly serve to funnel public money into private pockets.
4. Bulletproof | July 28
Those who only know Noel Clarke as Billie Piper’s hapless, desperately outclassed boyfriend on Doctor Who are really missing out. Through the early 2000s Clarke quietly expanded from acting to creating as well, writing the grimy urban yoof hit Kidulthood and going on to write and direct two sequels – which, yes, shoehorned Clarke himself into the lead role, but he got some genuinely good performances out of himself.
Bulletproof sees Clarke opposite co-creator Ashley Walters, previously of the shamelessly The Wire-like Top Boy (which itself has a Netflix revival on the way), playing an odd-couple pair of Metropolitan police officers. Being a British property, odd-couple here means the upstairs-downstairs dynamic that the nation is unlikely to shake off any time soon, with Clarke’s character a member of a middle-class police family, in contrast to Walters’s having come from the streets and made something of himself.
While you can hardly say that these class dynamics haven’t been covered in fiction before, they are richer territory for both personality and culture clashes than the standard good-cop bad-cop dynamic. They’re definitely richer territory than stuff like Tango and Cash, where Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell played two different kinds of tough cop who plays by their own rules.
5. Pennyworth | July 28
When a media property is successful, it makes people want more. The sequel was once a strange and untrustworthy thing, now you have films clocking up sequels in the double digits. Now, when the property is an adaptation – of, for instance, a beloved comic – the tendency is to go mining the source material for anything that even sounds like it could stand on its own two legs.
As such, DC comics’s TV side now presents Pennyworth, the early years of Batman’s butler Alfred, back when he was fresh out of the SAS and teamed up with a hotshot billionaire named Thomas Wayne to fight crime and clean up this dirty stinking town. This is a prequel to Fox’s Gotham, itself a prequel to the larger Batman franchise. The non-nerds in the audience probably think this is scraping the barrel, don’t you? Guess again. In the comics, Batman’s fought both Alien and Predator, he’s been turned into a vampire more than once, there was the time he was a terrorist when Superman ran the Soviet Union – my point is, this isn’t even that far off normal.
And while it’s not ridiculously outlandish, it is fairly fresh territory. Alfred’s military history was touched on in the Nolan films, in what seemed to be an excuse to have Michael Caine pronounce the word ‘tangerine’, but before now Thomas Wayne’s been a bit of a blank. Like his fellow dead guardian Uncle Ben, he’s previously existed mainly to die dramatically and give the hero a raison d’etre. With great power, comes becoming a bat.