Hollywood Reporter TV Critics: 10 Great Shows That Feel Like Summer

8:00 AM 5/29/2020

by Daniel Fienberg and Inkoo Kang

The next few months won't come with all the usual pleasures, but these series offer their own versions of the breezy escapism, steamy atmosphere and melancholic nostalgia viewers may be craving.

new- Broad City, Claws and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp - Publicity stills - Split - H 2020
Comedy Central; TNT/Photofest; Netflix/Photofest

June is nearly upon us, which means that a uniquely strange spring is about to transition into a uniquely strange summer — one without crowded summer camps, crowded BBQs, crowded baseball stadiums or crowded movie theaters. This summer, you’ll be lucky if you can stand on a beach at a respectful distance from strangers in masks (strangers who may be friends and loved ones, but who can even tell?).

With that in mind, our latest list of “quarantine TV” recommendations celebrates shows that capture the feeling of summer. Even if there aren’t big-screen blockbusters or patriotic fireworks displays to enjoy, you can still crank up the AC and revel in the beach-club season of Beverly Hills, 90210, or the orange-filtered, shirtless ridiculousness of The Outer Banks. You can tune in for the always sweaty hijinks on Friday Night Lights or Breaking Bad. And you can join the motley group of passengers who embarked for an uncharted desert isle on Lost or relive classic seasons of CBS’ Big Brother, though why you’d want to do that is beyond me. 

Or you can watch…

  • 'Betty'

    Though it debuted only a few weeks ago, this ultra-relaxed, ultra-street-fashionable hang-out comedy about girl skaters, based on Crystal Moselle’s teen drama Skate Kitchen, already feels like it belongs on this list. Created and directed by Moselle, the six-episode HBO comedy is a natural successor to High Maintenance, another show about misfit New Yorkers that challenges our ideas about who lives in the city and what that city could be. Centered on young women trying to carve out their own niche in the male-dominated skating scene — and filled with female characters who glide through the world in ways we’ve seldom seen before — Betty is an unconventional delight. — INKOO KANG

  • 'Broad City'

    Quarantine comfort watches don’t come any no-brainer-ier than Broad City, which bowed out after five seasons last year. With most episodes set over the course of a single, sunny day, best friends Abbi and Ilana’s (Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer) Brooklyn adventures are pure summer: low-stakes, weed-filled, mildly sweaty and exuberantly serendipitous. No one knew better how to have fun — often for no money — than these post-collegiate women, who treated (a decidedly pre-coronavirus) New York like a playground of endless possibility. — I.K.

  • 'Claws'

    The irrepressible Niecy Nash stars as Desna, a Dixie Mafia moll-turned-girl-gang-leader in this Florida-set dramedy. With wonderfully gaudy nail art as its visual calling card, the series co-stars Carrie Preston, Judy Reyes, Karrueche Tran and Jenn Lyon as Desna’s ride-or-die friends but reluctant criminals, hiding in plain sight as nail technicians. Come for the skintight fashions and retina-searing colors; stay for the vicious hijinks necessary to remain one step ahead of the men who won’t tolerate a group of women encroaching on their territory. — I.K. 

  • 'I Love Dick'

    We already recommended this Kathryn Hahn vehicle earlier this month, but let us make the case for the Jill Soloway- and Sarah Gubbins-created one-season wonder once again, this time for its evocative mix of dusty landscapes and erotic obsession. Sure, TV may never top the cinematic deserts of Breaking Bad, but I Love Dick maximizes its Marfa, Texas, setting through its artistic preoccupations (especially regarding whose art gets to be called “great”) and exquisitely ambivalent study of a New York woman suddenly reblooming in a new environment. Hahn’s character’s midlife-crisis-turned-creative renewal-turned-sexual-mania is the kind of summer blossoming we can’t turn away from. — I.K.

  • 'The O.C.'

    Now available as one of the initial library offerings on HBO Max, The O.C. is more easily streamable than ever before. Start, of course, with the Doug Liman-directed pilot for this Josh Schwartz teen favorite — an episode that captures the pregnant and enticing possibilities of being wealthy, attractive and free. Then rediscover how they do things in Orange County, relive the disgust at meeting somebody from Chino and stock plenty of provisions, because you might just want to take off on an extended cruise on the Summer Breeze. (Yes, it’s both a show that feels like summer and a show about loving a girl named Summer.) — DANIEL FIENBERG

  • 'The Other Two'

    Summer — specifically, late summer — is as much metaphor as setting in this Comedy Central gem, which stars Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke as Cary and Brooke, older-millennial siblings whose 13-year-old kid brother (Case Walker) becomes an overnight viral singing sensation. The adolescent’s Bieber-esque rise, only theoretically supervised by their overwhelmed Midwestern mother (Molly Shannon), makes the “other two” siblings feel even worse for not having gotten their lives together as their supposed prime passes them by. With a second season due to drop later this year, now is the perfect time to catch up on this sharply satirical comedy with not-so-hidden depth. — I.K.

  • 'Pitch'

    Chances are good that Major League Baseball will come back at some point this summer, even if the teams return to the diamond without fans and possibly some stars. Until that happens, though, you can head over to Hulu to watch the (alas) only season of Dan Fogelman and Rick Singer’s drama about the first female player in the majors. Kylie Bunbury should have immediately become a breakout star, Mark-Paul Gosselaar should have never shaved his beard and somebody should have given this spirited show a better chance to find an audience. — D.F.

  • 'Stranger Things'

    For one year, Netflix tried pretending that Stranger Things was a Halloween series, what with the scary demogorgons and whatnot. The reality, though, is that this pastiche of Stephen King, Steven Spielberg and countless other ‘80s influences is as summery as TV gets, ripe with the blush of first love, the exhilaration of an unsupervised late-night bike ride and, yes, the terror of a creature from an alternate dimension scooping up your best friend. Stranger Things is proof that you can be an awards contender and pure escapism at the same time. — D.F.

  • 'Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp'

    In vintage Netflix style, the streaming giant delivered something audiences didn’t necessarily know they wanted — a prequel to the cult favorite Wet Hot American Summer — and it was good enough that the streamer tried again and…unfortunately, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later wasn’t nearly as good (not that it lacks for laughs). So maybe stick with the wonderful eight-episode summer-camp prequel, which combines a superstar cast, a deep reservoir of nostalgia and the bizarre audacity to turn a can of mixed vegetables into a key character. — D.F.

  • 'The Wire'

    Yes, whole seasons of HBO’s The Wire take place in Baltimore in the winter and no season is specifically a “summer” season, but doesn’t the entire series have that feeling of unrelenting urban heat? Maybe it’s got something to do with all the corner kids, who rarely if ever make their way to school? And even the season that is actually set in the educational system — the near-perfect fourth chapter — begins with an episode fittingly titled “Boys of Summer” and uses the end of summer vacation as a prelude to a set of episodes that chronicle a loss of innocence. — D.F.