Lee Pace in an ’80s computer-programming drama, a Victorian horror mash-up, sex researchers, Jack Bauer, Louie, and female prisoners? Check, check, check, check, check, and check.
1. 24: Live Another Day (Monday, May 5, at 8 p.m. on Fox)
Kiefer Sutherland’s seemingly unkillable Jack Bauer is back as 24 returns this summer with 24: Live Another Day. The action moves from Los Angeles to London in this 12-episode limited-series event that finds Jack racing against the clock to thwart a terrorist attack. Expect explosions, Jack yelling (though it takes a full two hours to see Jack growl “damn it!” for the first time), whiplash-inducing plot twists, and some familiar faces, including Kim Raver and William Devane, as well as Mary Lynn Rajskub, whose Chloe seems to be emulating Lisbeth Salander here. Plus, Yvonne Strahovski (Dexter) joins the cast as a disgraced CIA agent; other additions include Gbenga Akinnagbe, Tate Donovan, and Benjamin Bratt. Your mileage will vary based on how much you enjoyed 24 the first time around; this newest iteration puts a British-accented spin on the formula, though Sutherland’s Jack Bauer feels like a bit of a relic of a bygone era at this point.
2. Louie (Monday, May 5, at 10 p.m. on FX)
Frank Ockenfels/FX Networks
After a seemingly interminable hiatus between seasons (seriously, it was last on in September 2012, a full 19 months ago), Louis C.K.’s mordantly charming comedy Louie returns for a sterling fourth season that finds the hapless comedian struggling with back pain, Jerry Seinfeld’s wrath, and an encounter in the Hamptons with a model (Yvonne Strahovski again!) that seems to recall the (wrongly) maligned Girls episode where Hannah stumbles into the arms of Patrick Wilson’s Joshua. In true Louie fashion, however, things go from awkwardly wonderful to strange to absurdly terrifying rather quickly. What follows is powerfully incisive comedy at its most wicked and witty, as Louie’s fourth season proves more than worth the wait.
3. Penny Dreadful (Sunday, May 11, at 10 p.m. on Showtime)
I am not a horror fan, so the fact that I quickly found myself obsessed with John Logan’s Penny Dreadful, a period mash-up of such familiar characters as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Mina Murray, and Dorian Grey, speaks volumes about its savage spell. Featuring Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Billie Piper, and Timothy Dalton, Penny Dreadful is a gory Victorian portmanteau, sliding between the sinister and the sizzling as it recasts characters from our collective nightmares. Addictive and nightmare-inducing, in the best possible way.
4. Halt and Catch Fire (Sunday, June 1, at 10 p.m. on AMC)
Tina Rowden / AMC
The 1980s. Computer programmers. Lee Pace. (Need I say more?) Named for a line of computer code (with a dramatic effect), Halt and Catch Fire is a stellar period drama set against the backdrop of IBM’s meteoric rise in the personal computing business. Pace plays a former IBM executive harboring a secret who forces his new employers — Cardiff Electric — into a race against Big Blue when he attempts to reverse-engineer an IBM computer with the help of down-on-his luck engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy). Look for Mackenzie Davis’ explosive tousle-haired programmer Cameron Howe to steal nearly every scene she appears in…and for one of the year’s best opening sequences, set to a pulsing synth track. The result is a thrilling drama that crackles with electricity as it depicts desperate dreamers and schemers who see the future as something malleable, and computers as “the thing that gets us to the thing.” Sweet dreams are most definitely made of this.
5. Orange Is the New Black (Full season available Friday, June 6, on Netflix)
Just how Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) manages to get out of that season-ending predicament with Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning) — and what happened to Pennsatucky (my money’s on new teeth) — will finally be revealed when Jenji Kohan’s superb prison drama Orange Is the New Black returns for its second season. (Spoiler: Piper is in solitary when Season 2 begins.) And, given that the entire second season of OITNB will be made available at the same time (look for many, many people to call in sick to work on release day), we’ll soon have many new reasons to be stressed for Piper and the gang at Litchfield.
6. Rectify (Thursday, June 19, at 9 p.m. on SundanceTV)
Season 2 of Sundance’s extraordinary drama Rectify — which I named the best new show of 2013 — finds newly released death-row inmate Daniel Holden (Aden Young) moving past his initial unease in an environment he no longer understands. Daniel’s trying to take control of his own destiny in a “dangerous and unpredictable world” that is not too happy to see him wandering about among the law-abiding citizens of this small town. His presence has not only opened old wounds but creates a butterfly effect on those around him, his family members (including Abigail Spencer’s charmingly combative Amantha) and the potential perpetrators of the crime that landed him on death row in the first place. Ray McKinnon’s spellbinding drama, which will have 10 episodes for its second season, pokes at the dark underbelly of the American dream, presenting a sobering picture of crime and punishment, damnation and salvation, beauty and horror.
7. Last Tango in Halifax (Sunday, June 29, at 8 p.m. on PBS)
Courtesy of Ben Blackall/Anthony and Cleopatra Series Ltd.
Sally Wainwright’s winning comedy Last Tango in Halifax returns for its second season as reunited childhood sweethearts Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) begin to plan their new life together amid an unexpected second chance at love. But secrets from the past threaten their present-day joy. As Alan recovers from his heart attack at the end of Season 1 and Gillian (Nicola Walker) and John (Tony Gardner) dance around their one-night stand, long-buried secrets from the past threaten Alan and Celia’s happiness in new ways. This could be tea cozy television, but a strong undertow of social relevance (ageism, widowhood, same-sex attraction, teen pregnancy) gives Halifax some substantive heft. Utterly charming. (Check your local listings for details.)
8. Masterpiece Mystery: Endeavour and Poirot (Sunday, June 29, at 9 p.m. on PBS)
Courtesy of ITV for MASTERPIECE
Courtesy of ITV for MASTERPIECE
Masterpiece Mystery is back with two of its most famous sleuths in tow. Endeavour — about the young Inspector Morse (here as an ambitious Constable Morse, played by Shaun Evans) as he solves crimes in 1960s Oxford — and Poirot — which finds David Suchet stepping into the Belgian detective’s spats for two of the final four Agatha Christie adaptations — return to offer some deliciously twisty period mysteries. Your “little gray cells” thank you. (Check your local listings for details.)
9. The Leftovers (Sunday, June 29, at 10 p.m. on HBO)
Paul Schiraldi / HBO
Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta and overseen by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, HBO’s highly anticipated new drama The Leftovers charts what happens to a small suburban community in the wake of a global Rapture, when half the world’s population simply disappears in the blink of an eye. Justin Theroux plays a local chief of police who attempts to create order in a chaotic new world; the rest of the sprawling cast includes Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Charlie Carver, Max Carver, Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, Michael Gaston, Emily Meade, Annie Q, Margaret Qualley, Amanda Warren, and Chris Zylka.
10. Under the Dome (Monday, June 30, at 10 p.m. on CBS)
Brownie Harris / CBS
The ongoing adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, from executive producers Neal Baer and Brian K. Vaughan, had more than a few loopy charms in its uneven first season, as the inhabitants of Chester’s Mill struggled to survive after a massive dome of unknown origin plonked itself down over the town. Murder, butterflies, cryptic messages from ghosts (?), monarchs, mini-domes, and bloody visions soon followed in its wake. I’m curious to see if the second season of Under the Dome can recover from some of its woeful missteps last year and present a narrative that is somewhat tethered to an emotional reality.
11. The Strain (July TBA on FX)
If you’ve forgotten what House of Cards star Corey Stoll looked like with hair, you’re in for a surprise, which Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain has in spooky abundance. Stoll plays a beleaguered CDC official whose team is investigating an odd viral outbreak that points toward “an ancient and evil strain of vampirism.” But this isn’t a modern-day Dracula — there are no kitschy trappings, only a truly horrific and gory high-stakes battle between humanity and the undead in Manhattan…and some of the most intense and disturbing scenes ever on television. Not for the faint of heart, The Strain — which is executive produced by Lost’s Carlton Cuse — also decidedly does not make for appropriate dinner viewing. You’ve been warned!
12. Extant (Wednesday, July 9, at 9 p.m. on CBS)
Dale Robinette / CBS
Steven Spielberg executive produces this Halle Berry-led thriller — presented as yet another limited-series event — about Molly Woods, a female astronaut (Berry) who returns home after 13 months in outer space and attempts to reconnect with her family. The only catch: She may have brought something back with her, a passenger of the unwitting space explorer whose presence may forever alter human existence. Just what is Molly pregnant with? How was she impregnated? And what inexplicable thing did Molly see in space that could unlock these mysteries? The 13-episode series also stars Goran Visnjic, Camryn Manheim, Michael O’Neill, Hiroyuki Sanada, Pierce Gagnon, and Grace Gummer.
13. Masters of Sex (Sunday, July 13, at 10 p.m. on Showtime)
Season 2 of Showtime’s period drama Masters of Sex returns for another look into the inner workings of sexuality. As researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan anchor a show that examines what truly makes us human at a very different time in American society. Knowing that the duo eventually marry in real life only makes the frisson between the two that much more fraught and powerful. The show’s extraordinary ensemble cast — which includes Caitlin Fitzgerald, Nick D’Agosto, Teddy Sears, Beau Bridges, and Allison Janney — fill out a striking tableau of desire, both thwarted and realized.
14. The Killing (Full season available Friday, Aug. 1, on Netflix)
Frank Ockenfels / AMC
Apparently, you can’t kill The Killing, which has miraculously managed to survive not one, but two cancellations. Based on the stunning Danish mystery drama Forbrydelsen, The Killing will wrap up its narrative with a six-episode final season, this time on Netflix. The Season 3 finale saw Detective Linden (Mireille Enos) shoot and kill her former lover/boss (Elias Koteas) after it was revealed he had been brutally murdering homeless teens in a string of killings that linked back to a previous case Linden had worked on. Just what will the end mean for Linden and Holder (Joel Kinnaman), and how similarly will it play out to the conclusion of the Danish original? Find out this summer.
15. Breathless (Sunday, Aug. 24, at 9 p.m. on PBS)
Former Smash star Jack Davenport anchors this period drama, set in 1961 London, as a gifted surgeon hoping to make a difference in the lives of his female patients. The stylish series also stars Zoe Boyle, Joanna Page, Sarah Parish, and Iain Glen. Just don’t get too attached: ITV opted not to commission a second season, which means that this six-episode season is all the Breathless you’re ever going to get. (Check your local listings for details.)