Summer TV: ‘True Blood’ has final season, new reality takes singing to new heights

Tampa Bay TimesMay 15, 2014 

The summer TV schedule is full of sweet relief from the heat. A bevy of miniseries-type shows lead the way, which started two weeks ago with Fox’s 12-episode “24: Live Another Day” rehash. But summer TV’s true love will always be the vapid, cheaply produced reality show, and this year is no exception.

Oh, sure, the next few months also see the arrival of must-see dramas and the anticipated return of a Netflix original, but this year’s reality crop is so off the wall we couldn’t look away even if we wanted to. Here’s a look at new shows and returning faves, all of them a perfect excuse to get out of the heat and carve out an air-conditioned spot on your couch. Dates and times are subject to change.

Rosemary’s Baby

Series concludes tonight on NBC

“Fear is born” is the tagline for this four-hour, two-part miniseries that stars Zoe Saldana (“Avatar,” “Star Trek”) as a woman who becomes pregnant with, well, you know the story. Adapted from the 1967 book (and, if Saldana’s Mia Farrow-esque pixie haircut is any indication, also Roman Polanski’s 1968 movie), the thriller centers on Rosemary (Saldana) and Guy (Patrick J. Adams), a young couple who move next door to a satanic coven in Paris (why Paris?) and creepy things start happening. Not the least of which is that Rosemary is probably carrying the spawn of Satan.

Extant

Starts at 9 p.m. July 9 and airs Wednesdays, CBS

File “Extant” under “Shows That Are Impossible to Screw Up.” Steven Spielberg serves as executive producer of this 13-episode sci-fi drama that stars Oscar-winning actor Halle Berry as an astronaut. The premise is that Berry’s character has returned home to her family after a year in outer space, possibly carrying a nasty space parasite. If the show is smart, we’ll also get lots of flashbacks to her adventures in space, a la Sandra Bullock in “Gravity.”

I Wanna Marry “Harry”

Starts at 8 p.m. Mary 27 and airs Tuesdays, Fox

It’s best not to overthink this new dating show, in which a dozen single American women fly to London to meet a random English bloke they’re led to believe is Prince Harry of Wales. You know, Harry, grandson to the Queen of England, brother to Prince William, someone who would never step foot near a Bachelor-esque dating show. “Harry” (a.k.a. 23-year-old Matt Hicks, who actually does look a lot like the real prince) courts each of the ladies, taking them on romantic dates and trying to convince them he’s royalty. At least one contestant is duped early on: “He’s Prince Harry, and I know it,” she declares as if her life depends on it. Sure, honey, good luck with that.

Sing Your Face Off

Starts at 9 p.m. May 31 and airs Saturdays, ABC

Is this actually a show, or are we having a nightmare after binge-watching too much “Celebrity Apprentice”? Let’s start with the convoluted concept: Each week, celebrities are transformed into and trained to perform as musical icons, undergoing physical makeovers to look like the famous musicians before singing their songs. Then there are the “celebrities,” who include RuPaul, Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, the NBA’s Landry Fields, comedian Jon Lovitz, Disney Channel actor China Anne McClain and actor Lisa Rinna. Eighties pop star Debbie Gibson and “SNL” alum Darrell Hammond are the primary judges, because at this point, why not?

Rising Star

Starts at 9 p.m. June 22 and airs Sundays, ABC

Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency designed the voting app for this new singing competition, so you know it’s high stakes. “Rising Star” hopes to set itself apart with a gimmick to rival “The Voice”: Aspiring singers audition behind a video wall and, as they’re singing, viewers vote via a smartphone app. It’s all in real time, so if they get enough votes, the screen goes up and reveals them to the audience. Oh, and to add to the sheer terror of being judged in front of millions, the performers can see the voting results the whole time.

The Maya Rudolph Show

10 p.m. May 19, NBC

If you asked us to describe our ideal television program, it’d look a whole lot like “The Maya Rudolph Show”: a one-time variety special featuring “Saturday Night Live” alum Rudolph and a bunch of her pals (Fred Armisen, Kristen Bell, Sean Hayes, Chris Parnell, Craig Robinson, Andy Samberg) singing, dancing and being hilarious. It doesn’t get much better than that. Oh, wait, maybe it does: We hear the special, produced by “SNL” overlord Lorne Michaels, could turn into a weekly series. At which point we’d faint from pure joy.

Crossbones

Starts at 10 p.m. May 30 and airs Fridays, NBC

In what is perhaps the most fake-sounding show of the year, John Malkovich plays Blackbeard in this new action drama that takes place in the 1700s. Because if there’s one actor we think of immediately when we think of historical pirates on TV, it’s … John Malkovich?

The Leftovers

Starts at 10 p.m. June 29 and airs Sundays, HBO

This high-concept drama based on author Tom Perrotta’s 2011 book marks “Lost” showrunner Damon Lindelof’s first major foray into television since his infamous ABC show ended in 2010. Co-written by Lindelof and Perrotta, “The Leftovers” is the story of the people who didn’t make the cut after the Rapture. It’s a killer concept, with a cast led by Justin Theroux and Liv Tyler, and we’re eager to see how it all plays out. Just no smoke monsters, okay?

The Strain

July, Date and Time TBD, FX

This 13-episode horror series from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, author Chuck Hogan and other former “Lost” showrunner Carlton Cuse is based on the bestselling vampire novel trilogy by del Toro and Hogan. The premise: A CDC scientist leads the fight against a bad outbreak of mutant, del Toro-esque vampires. But wait, it gets better! The heroic scientist is played by Corey Stoll, who remains one of the only good things about Netflix’s “House of Cards.”

So You Think You Can Dance

Starts at 8 p.m. May 28 and airs Wednesdays, Fox

Move over, every other talent competition on TV, “So You Think You Can Dance” returns for its 11th season to put you all to shame. Why are we so charmed? Maybe it’s the entertaining yet level-headed judging panel led by “SYTYCD” creator Nigel Lythgoe, or the fact that everyone who competes is jaw-droppingly talented, or peppy British host Cat Deeley, the greatest off-the-cuff reality show emcee this side of Tom Bergeron.

Orange Is the New Black

All episodes available June 6, Netflix

When all 13 episodes of “Orange Is the New Black’s” first season debuted on Netflix last summer, no one knew what to expect. There wasn’t nearly as much hype for the prison-set dramedy as there was for Netflix’s previously released “House of Cards.” But slowly, “OITNB” became one of 2013’s hottest shows, and deservedly so. The show, from longtime TV writer (and “Weeds” creator) Jenji Kohan, is composed of a sprawling, mostly female cast of all sizes, backgrounds and colors something we don’t see nearly enough of, anywhere. The highly anticipated second season comes after a whopper of a cliffhanger last year: The final moments showed Piper Chapman, who was sentenced in Season 1 to 15 months in a women’s prison for transporting drug money, relentlessly punching one of her fellow inmates. Are the Litchfield ladies headed for bleaker times?

True Blood

Starts at 9 p.m. June 22 and airs Sunday, HBO

“True Blood” heads into its final season with little of the sexy satirical sparkle that once made it buzzworthy. It debuted in 2008, just months before “Twilight” hit theaters, and officially helped kick-start our culture’s obsession with All Things Vampire. Six years later, the sexy blood suckers just aren’t as dangerously alluring and “True Blood” isn’t as compelling. That said, the citizens of Bon Temps aren’t going down without a fight. Sick vampires are invading the town this season, bringing the Hep V virus with them and leading our remaining do-gooders into some sort of apocalypse.

Under the Dome

Starts at 10 p.m. June 30 and airs Mondays, CBS

Once upon a time, when “Under the Dome” premiered last summer, there was talk of it being a one-and-done miniseries. Then it went and shattered a bunch of ratings records with more than 13 million viewers for its pilot, it was the highest-rated summer drama opener since 1992 and CBS’s biggest summer pilot since 2000 so here it is, back for a second season. The show, based on a 2009 novel by Stephen King, is about a small town in Maine where a massive dome has cut off its residents from the rest of the world. We learned a bit about the dome’s origins (aliens?!) at the end of Season 1, but chances are that doesn’t mean the characters will be free from it any time soon.

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