This summer has been hot. And I don’t just mean temperature-wise. TV is hotter than ever. As summer comes to a close, we will see the second season of Amazon’s Modern Love (August 13), the premiere of the final season of NBC’s Brooklyn 99 (August 12), the debut of What If… the next Disney+ series that will probably have us all talking (August 11) and Nicole Kidman headlining Nine Perfect Strangers, the new Hulu series based on a novel by Liane Moriarty (are you having a sense of deja vu?)
These are indeed challenging days and TV continues to provide a much-needed escape. So we picked a few new series that will uplift, amuse, enthrall and help us never forget.
Here are the five under-the-radar shows you can’t miss this month:
1. Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union
Executive Producers: Peter Kunhardt, Andi Bernstein, Mona Sutphen, Jelani Cobb and Jacqueline Glover
Stars: John Lewis, David Axelrod, Rev. Al Sharpton, Cornel West, Jesse Jackson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sherrilyn Ifill, Valerie Jarrett, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Keegan-Michael Key, Jon Favreau, and many, many more.
Premiere Date: August 3 at 9 p.m. on HBO
This three-part documentary, which will air over three consecutive nights, follows the former President from his childhood in Indonesia and college activism days to his early years as a Chicago community organizer, all the way to the highest elected office in the land. Friends, colleagues and co-workers—the famous ones and the ones who knew Barack Obama before he was famous—are all interviewed to provide insight into the beloved former Commander-in-Chief. Early on in the series, Obama states that he had a “general belief that under the skin, people were the same and that whatever circles I travelled in, I could find a common spirit.” That optimistic outlook is explored as a throughline to his life.
2. Fantasy Island
Executive Producers: Liz Craft and Sarah Fain
Stars: Roselyn Sanchez, Kiara Barnes, John Gabriel Rodriquez
Premiere Date: August 10 at 9 p.m. on FOX
Smiles everyone! Children of the ‘80s remember Fantasy Island which was a Saturday night mainstay. (Yes, people really did used to stay home on Saturday night so they could watch TV. Imagine!) Now Roselyn Sanchez stars as Elena Roarke, the great-niece of the mysterious Mr. Roarke (The opening moments of the series pay a nice homage to the late Ricardo Montalban). People travel to Fantasy Island hoping to fulfill their every dream and wish. But, of course, that doesn’t always go according to plan. First up, Bellamy Young as a Phoenix talk show host who wants to be able to eat without worrying about gaining weight or not looking perfect on camera, and a dying woman (Kiara Barnes) who comes to the island hoping to feel healthy again for one weekend. Filmed on location in Puerto Rico, the show offers up a lovely escape. All seven seasons of the original series and the 1998 remake starring Malcolm McDowell are currently airing on Tubi. (We chose to ignore last year’s horror movie of the same name because that’s not what Fantasy Island was all about).
3. Disney’s Magic Bake Off
Executive Producers: Emily Mraz, Joey Lucas, Molly O’Rourke
Stars: Issac Ryan Brown, Dara Renee, Graciela “Gracie” Gomez
Premiere Date: August 13 at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel
Yes this baking game show is one giant Disney corporate synergy extravaganza. But it’s also so much fun that it’s easy to look past that. Three adolescent teams of two compete each week to create an amazing cake. They are judged by Disneyland Resort Pastry Chef Graciela “Gracie” Gomez. Premiering immediately following the long-awaited (at least in my household) Descendants: The Royal Wedding, the teams try to create the ultimate Descendants wedding cake. The winning recipe will be featured in a Tastemade video. It’s quite inspiring to see these young chefs (most are in middle school) bake and create with such aplomb. And their enthusiasm is infectious. “Cream cheese is a magical ingredient. You can do anything with it,” one contestant says.
Executive Producer: Tony Ayres
Stars: Adrian Grenier, Zoe Kazan, Betty Gabriel, Phoenix Raei
Premiere Date: August 25 on Netflix
Adrian Grenier (Entourage) is Nick Brewer. He has a wife (Betty Gabriel), a sister (Zoe Kazan), and two children. Nothing about his life is out of the ordinary, until one day a viral video featuring him holding a sign that says “I abuse women. At 5 million hits, I die” takes over the internet. Detective Roshan Amiri (Phoenix Raei), who is trying to prove that he can move from missing persons to homicide, takes a special interest in the case. The perspective of who is telling the story shifts in each of the eight episodes, as Nick’s story and what happened to him is unraveled.
5. 9/11: One Day in America
Executive Producers: Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin
Stars: Heroes. All of them.
Premiere Date: August 29 at 8 p.m. on National Geographic
We’re ending this month’s column on a somber note. It’s hard to believe we are approaching the 20th anniversary of September 11th. This seven-hour series, made in collaboration with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, airs over four consecutive nights with limited commercial interruption on National Geographic, and will be available on Hulu the day after each episode premieres. Filmmakers went through over 951 hours of archival footage and interviewed 54 people to tell the story of 9/11 in chronological order. Firefighters, paramedics, survivors, bystanders, and journalists share their personal recollections of that tragic, horrific day that forever changed our nation. The harrowing stories of unbelievable courage will stay with you. One firefighter tells how, when they realized that they all might not survive the day, they stopped, shook hands and wished each other luck. May we always remember those who bore witness to that day, those who survived that day, the loved ones they left behind, and the first responders who went into the building when everyone else was running out.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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