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Need a new summer show? Here’s what the critics are watching
Judy Woodruff: As you head into the weekend, we are told there's plenty of new TV and video out there, binge-worthy and sometimes cringe-worthy. Several widely anticipated shows are premiering or streaming this week.
Jeffrey Brown has a series of previews over the next couple of weeks about noteworthy arts, culture, and literature for the summer season.
He's here tonight to help distill some of this ever-growing summer TV season.
It's part of our regular arts series, Canvas.
Jeffrey Brown: There was a time when just a few new shows were rolled out in the lazy months of summer, but in the era of digital streaming and cable, summer seems as busy as the rest of the year, with plenty of new fare vying to attract interest.
This summer season already under way features 55 shows that will air in the coming months, including the return of popular series such as "The Handmaid's Tale," "Pose," "Big Little Lies" and "Stranger Things."
And they will now compete with a large number of new shows.
Eric Deggans of NPR is back with us to provide a handy and subjective viewer's guide.
Welcome back, Eric.
Eric Deggans: Thanks for having me.
Jeffrey Brown: Let's start with -- let's start with that category of returning shows. What are you looking forward to?
Eric Deggans: Well, there's a lot of great stuff.
David Letterman has this interview series that he's been doing on Netflix called "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction."
He really gets -- digs in deep with his new series of guests. He gets Kanye West to talk about some of the mental issues that he's had.
Kanye West: It is a health issue. This is like a sprained brain, like having a sprained ankle.
And if someone has a sprained ankle, you're not going to push on him more.
David Letterman: Right.
Kanye West: With us, once our brain gets to a point of spraining, people do everything to make it worse.
Eric Deggans: And David shares some of the issues that he's had himself. And Ellen DeGeneres talks about being molested by her stepfather when she was 15 and coming to terms with that and coming to terms with that with her mother.
He talks to people that he only wants to talk to.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Eric Deggans: And really digs deep with them. So I really like that new season.
Jeffrey Brown: How about a returning drama?
Eric Deggans: Well, "The Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu, I have always said as a critic, this is a show that feels like it's just two steps away from what we're living right now, particularly with these fights that we're having over abortion.
And the third season of "The Handmaid's Tale" finds the lead character deciding to go back to this totalitarian, theocratic system that she was living under. She had a chance to escape at the end of the last season. She goes back to find her daughter and to also challenge the system even more.
"Big Little Lies" is also going to come back on HBO. And that features -- you already have a stellar cast with Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes, very high level.
Eric Deggans: Now, I have seen the first three episodes. It doesn't feel like the show is quite engaging in the way that it did last year.
So Meryl Streep joins the cast. She plays the mother of Nicole Kidman's character's husband, who died. Ostensibly, she's coming back to help Nicole Kidman's character take care of their children. But she's really back in town because she doesn't believe what the police have told her about her son's death. And she wants to find out what actually happened.
Meryl Streep: My son is dead. And I want answers.
Nicole Kidman: I gave you answers.
Meryl Streep: Yes, but you left some things out, didn't you? You were planning to leave him. And you learned of his infidelity just 10 seconds before he died. Oh, you left that out too.
Jeffrey Brown: How about a couple of new shows? What do you know and what do you like?
Eric Deggans: So, Ava DuVernay, who you will remember as the director of "Selma" and a great documentary called "13th" on Netflix, has a Netflix series called "When They See Us."
And it's about the Central Park 5. You may remember these are five young men who were accused of beating and raping a jogger, doing a huge amount of unrest in Central Park in the mid-'90s. They were convicted primarily on the basis of confessions.
And then it came out later that they had been coerced into those confessions and someone else 12 years later admitted to the crime.
Actor: Sit up. This isn't a game.
Actor: Is my mom here?
Actors: She left. She wasn't feeling well. It's just us, you and us.
Eric Deggans: Ava does a recreation of the drama around the incident, the boys' arrest, their coercion, their conviction in court, and then their attempts to rebuild their lives after they get out of jail.
And it is a way of humanizing people who are often marginalized, who often have no voice, and, in particular, kind of grabbing ahold of history and rewriting it in favor of what happened, because so much had been said there was negative about the boys that were accused of this crime.
And even Donald Trump back in the day took out newspaper ads calling for them to get the death penalty. So, this is a really -- I think this is her best work since "Selma" and really worth checking out. It's going to be on Netflix.
Jeffrey Brown: I'm curious, because you and I talked last about "Game of Thrones" as that was ending, is there a -- TV producers and programming, are there ways to look at grabbing some of that audience in anything that you see coming out now?
Eric Deggans: Well, it's going to be hard, I think, for a show to aspire to that kind of success. That's a lightning in the bottle kind of success.
HBO has some new shows coming. Next year, they will have "Westworld" coming back, which I think they hoped would be their new "Game of Thrones." But it doesn't seem as if that show is going to be quite as popular.
What's interesting about summer is that this used to be a time and it still is a time when the broadcast networks don't have as much interesting fare. So the streaming outlets and cable channels are really stepping up and we're starting to see a lot of interesting stuff on streaming.
So the upside is, you're going to have a lot to watch over the summer.
Jeffrey Brown: All right.
Well, Eric Deggans of NPR, get back there and start watching. I don't know how you do it, but thanks for doing it for us.
Eric Deggans: I'm going to pull out my phone and watch an episode right now.