As the summer sun persists in beating down on us for literal hours each and every day, nothing's more refreshing than slipping into a cool, dark, shady television show. We’re in something of a relative dry patch for new TV—summer has historically been a time for reruns, and while Peak TV and the streaming revolution have changed that, most networks have seemingly decided to play the summer of 2017 safe, and avoid the 10,000-pound juggernaut that is Game of Thrones altogether. Still, there are some fun, crime-y genre shows that’re worth catching right now, even if none of them are likely to top any critics’ lists at the end of the year.
Soaking in the frosty cool, dark-blue look of Ozark really does feel like slipping into a cold lake on a hot day. Bill Dubuque’s Netflix show, set around the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri, debuted last weekend to middling critical response, and the show is not without flaws, the biggest of which is the very familiar ground it traverses. But there’s plenty of enjoyment to be derived from its family-crime/hillbilly-noir clichés. Jason Bateman, who also directed a few episodes, plays a Chicago financial planner who gets caught up in criminal activity, and Laura Linney plays his cheating wife. The plot device that gets their family to the Ozarks is pretty nonsensical—Bateman desperately needs to launder $8 million, stat—but once there, the show luxuriates in its world of redneck crime. Sure, it enforces some red-state stereotypes and Bateman is both super fun to watch and all-wrong for this part, but Julia Garner (The Americans) as a 19-year-old member of an Ozark crime family is the standout. It’s like a lite version of dark antihero/family crime shows like Breaking Bad and Bloodline, crossed with a little Justified for extra fun.
We’re four episodes in with John Singleton’s 1983-set series about the rise of crack in America, and as far as I can tell, the show’s narcotic of choice is still 100 percent cocaine—unless I missed it, not a single character has said one word about crack so far. I assume we’ll get to that, and we’ll also see the three separate storylines interlock at some point. For now they’re discrete, although they all take place in Los Angeles (with part of this week’s episode taking place in Nicaragua). Each story has its pluses and minuses: Franklin (Damson Idris) plays a street dealer whose transformation from sweet kid to rising kingpin has seen some shockingly dark turns; the end of Episode 4 sees his arc reach a sort of terminus, so it will be interesting to see what the show does with him from here. Meanwhile, Sergio Peris-Mencheta plays a wrestler who enters the cartel underworld by acting as hired muscle for Emily Rios and Filipe Valle Costa; this plotline gets the least screen time but has the most potential. And finally, Carter Hudson plays an American CIA operative who’s working with Nicaraguan Contras, importing cocaine into the US marketplace in exchange for weapons. The show doesn’t give quite enough context to make sense of this, and I am utterly ambivalent about Hudson’s performance, which at times is really, really good and at others is like watching a kid with a breaking voice sing at a middle school talent show. Reviews have not been super enthusiastic about Snowfall, which leads me to believe the show’s 10-episode season does not build to anything fully baked, but hour to hour, I’ve really been enjoying Snowfall so far. Also, co-star Juan Javier Cárdenas should be the one playing Freddie Mercury in that upcoming biopic.
Preacher is the weird little show that keeps on giving. The line right now is that it reinvented itself successfully for its second season, but I thought the first was pretty great, a surreal, darkly comic look at a small Texas town with some very peculiar inhabitants. That town’s gone now, so Preacher is focused on its three leads: Dominic Cooper as Jesse, the preacher whose voice can command anyone to do anything; Ruth Negga as Cassidy, his girlfriend and a career criminal/total badass; and Joseph Gilgun as an Irish vampire. Right now it’s a road movie—or, road TV show, I guess—as the trio goes from town to town, looking for God and avoiding the murderous Saint of Killers who’s hot on their tail. But the best thing about Preacher is that for an hour each week you get to hang out with Negga and Gilgun, both of whom are so charming and delightful that it kind of doesn’t matter what’s going on around them. (Weird sex and crime stuff, mostly.)
ANIMAL KINGDOM (TNT)
Also in its second season, Animal Kingdom has more or less completely left its source material—David Michôd’s excellent 2010 Australian thriller—behind. We’re now fully into this new, Southern-California-set Animal Kingdom world, and it’s fun, campy, trashy, and more than occasionally thrilling. While each episode usually features a totally unnecessary beefcake surfing montage or a gratuitous, bare-ass sex scene (bonus: there’s plenty of eye candy for all preferences), there are some deep characterizations emerging in the four brothers (and one nephew) who make up the Cody crime family. The matriarch, played by Ellen Barkin, is such a weird character that it mostly makes me uneasy—the show toys with the suggestion that there’s some long-term familial incest going on, but playfully steps back from saying it outright—but the role of Pope (Shawn Hatosy) has grown into something totally intriguing. Pope was the loose cannon, the crazy uncle in Season 1, but in Season 2, he’s got himself a girlfriend, started going to church, and is beginning to feel bad about all of his misdeeds. With a heist, showdown, or some sort of action sequence happening in almost every episode (this week's was a rare exception), Animal Kingdom is turned-up, brainless summertime fun with something extra going one beneath the surface. If you're new, I'd recommend starting with the first season, which is now streaming at Amazon Prime.