Hayden Panetierre, Connie Britton
Summer is here and school is out! But like any good teacher, we have assigned some homework. (Don't worry, the beach will still be there tomorrow.)
With more great TV than ever available in so many different places, it's easy to miss a show or two. Below, we've hand-picked a dozen that you might not have noticed or simply didn't have the time for during the regular TV season. But they deserve your attention. Behold the 12 shows you should catch up on this summer:
1. The Americans (FX)
Premise: Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Ryhs) are deep-cover KGB spies living with their two children in early 1980s Washington, D.C. Just as Philip considers defecting, an FBI agent (Noah Emmerich) moves in next door.
Why You Should Watch It: The success of this drama hinges almost entirely on the two stellar performances at its center. Russell's steely intensity makes us forget all about Felicity, but she brings just enough emotion to make us sympathize with the enemy. Rhys, meanwhile, is both captivating and unpredictable as he bounces between being lovelorn family man and brutal spy.
Where to Watch: Season 1's final three episodes are available in our Online Video Guide, and all episodes are on iTunes and Amazon.
2. American Horror Story: Asylum (FX)
Premise: American Horror Story's second season goes inside the Briarcliff Asylum, the frightening domain of the nefarious Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), the kindly Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) and various justly and unjustly admitted patients.
Why You Should Watch It: What's the difference between sane and insane? In this place, it's hard to tell, and that's the fun part. (The patients make more sense than the doctors at times.) The show's manic pace and litany of horror-movie tropes can be a chore, but a strong ensemble, led by Emmy winner Jessica Lange, anchors the show. This one is a scary good time.
Where to Watch: Episodes are available on Amazon.
3. Arrested Development (Netflix)
Premise: Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) tries to hold his dysfunctional family together after his father is sent to prison.
Why You Should Watch It: Sure, you've had years since Fox canceled this cult favorite to catch up, but now that the Bluths are back with a new season on Netflix, you really have no excuse. Each of the 15 new episodes cover the same time period, but are shot, Rashomon-style, from different characters' perspectives. The initially disaparate plotlines converge for a unique viewing experience.
Where to Watch: All four seasons are available on Netflix.
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4. Bates Motel (A&E)
Premise: In this modern-day prequel to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) moves her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) to White Pine Bay to run a seaside motel and escape their troubled lives.
Why You Should Watch It: Farmiga and Highmore are brilliantly cast in the lead roles, and each skillfully alternates between being happy and a total nutjob. But there's plenty of creepy to go around, thanks to the morally ambiguous supporting cast (Mike Vogel and Nestor Carbonell among them) and a number of surprising twists and revelations about the Bates family's history. Perhaps the biggest surprise: Who knew Norman Bates was such a high school mack daddy?
Where to Watch: The episodes are available on Amazon and iTunes, as well as for free in our Online Video Guide.
5. The Bible (History)
Premise: The 10-hour miniseries from reality TV superproducer Mark Burnett (Survivor) brings both the Old and New Testaments to life, recounting everything from Noah's Ark and the great flood to Jesus' birth, death and resurrection.
Why You Should Watch It: The production is glossy, but the show is completely earnest, paying tribute to real-life believers. Benefiting from Burnett's shrewd eye, History's version doesn't dwell on the dread that has hindered other retellings. Plus: Don't you want to be able to discuss it with the estimated 95 million people that have already watched?
Where to Watch: It's available on DVD and can be downloaded via several paid streaming services.
6. Duck Dynasty (A&E)
Premise: This Louisiana-set reality show follows the adventures of the (gloriously bearded) Robertson family, a laid-back clan that made its fortune creating calls for duck hunters.
Why You Should Watch It: With easygoing charm and backwoods wit to spare, each 22-minute trifle makes you feel like you're hanging out with your old friends. The guys experience everything together — campouts, Hawaiian vacations, and of course love. Then they pray about it at the dinner table. It's slickly produced and even beat American Idol in viewers for its Season 3 finale in April. Grab a Mason jar of sweet tea and settle in.
Where to Watch: Episodes are available for free in our Online Video Guide.
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7. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Premise: Amy Schumer examines sex and relationships with a mix of raunchy stand-up routines, sketches, edgy free-form bits and interviews on the street.
Why You Should Watch It: Bringing a much-needed feminine energy to the male-dominated Comedy Central, Schumer has a pixie-ish likability and a razor-sharp sense of humor. But don't let her nice smile fool you — this is very R-rated humor.
Where to Watch: It airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central, and episodes are available on Hulu Plus.
8. Louie (FX)
Premise: A divorced father of two girls (Louis C.K.) deals with sex, depression and divorce in vignettes connected by stand-up comedy bits.
Why You Should Watch It: Wait, doesn't that sound kind of like Seinfeld? Sure, but the comparisons stop there. Louie has a singular creative vision that replaces typical sitcom plotting and camera mugging with a deeply funny humanist soul.
Where to Watch: Episodes are available on iTunes.
9. Nashville (ABC)
Premise: Fading "Queen of Country" Rayna James (Connie Britton) must learn to coexist with ambitious, up-and-coming pop-country star Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) when their label asks them to tour together.
Why You Should Watch It: Believe it or not, the music. Barroom ballads and arena anthems aside, Panettiere shines in a performance that is equally tough and vulnerable. There are tons of other stories to keep up with —Rayna's affair with her ex Deacon (Charles Esten), the burgeoning careers of lovebirds Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Scarlett (Clare Bowen), and Rayna's husband Teddy's (Eric Close) political ambitions — but don't worry, the finale draws the threads together nicely.
Where to Watch: Season 1 is available for free in our Online Video Guide.
10. Scandal (ABC)
Premise: Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is a crisis specialist who left behind working for the president (Tony Goldwyn) to form her own company. (P.S. She's sleeping with him too!)
Why You Should Watch It: Washington crackles on screen as she juggles her problems with those of her clients. Creator Shonda Rhimes delivers delicious, fast-paced dialogue, and the show continues to gain momentum with its breakneck pacing and stunning twists. Really, what are you waiting for?
Where to Watch: Episodes are available in our Online Video Guide.
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11. Veep (HBO)
Premise: Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) navigates Washington politics as a powerless No. 2 with a broken marriage.
Why You Should Watch It: While we liked the show's first season, delving more into Selina's personal life has been a riot this year. Louis-Dreyfus won an Emmy for this role, but her talented supporting cast — including Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky and Gary Cole — also bring the funny as her not-so-merry men.
Where to Watch: It airs Sundays 10/9c on HBO; episodes are available on HBO Go.
12. Vikings (History)
Premise: History's first scripted drama recalls the journeys and battles of real-life Norse warrior Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) as he raids and pillages England with his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) and wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).
Why You Should Watch It: It's a blast of visceral escapism without the overt reliance on obscenities and power games. (Cough, Game of Thrones.) Vikings offers a realistic feel for the difficulty of its characters' lives: hunger, bleakness, and suffering. It's from the creative minds behind Showtime's period drama The Tudors.
Where to Watch: Episodes can be downloaded via several paid streaming services.
Which shows will you be catching up on this summer?