TV News & Reviews

Our recommendations: What we’re watching on TV this summer

Taraji P. Henson earned an Emmy nomination for her starring role on “Empire.”
Taraji P. Henson earned an Emmy nomination for her starring role on “Empire.” The Associated Press

“Better Call Saul”

I was a huge fan of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” but not so much of Saul Goodman, the sleazy lawyer for chemistry teacher-turned-meth-kingpin Walter White. So the spinoff origin story “Better Call Saul” was a happy surprise.

Saul, it turns out, is not his real name: He’s Jimmy McGill, a struggling lawyer with a battered car and an office in the back room of a nail salon. He scrambles for cases, looks after his brother Chuck (a brilliant lawyer confined to his house by a fear of electricity) and pines for Kim, a rising star in Chuck’s big-time firm.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy is a revelation, by turns funny and heart-breaking as he struggles to live up to his brother’s lofty standards. (Odenkirk and the series earned Emmy nominations last week.)

We know where Jimmy/Saul is headed, but the journey has turned out to be highly entertaining.

New episodes will air on AMC early next year. In the meantime, download or stream on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Xbox.

| Paula Southerland, psoutherland@kcstar.com

“Empire”

If you haven’t watched this crazy drama yet, it’s time to jump on the hip-hop bandwagon.

Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), CEO of Empire Entertainment, is the King Lear to his three sons, deciding which one will inherit the company. (The eldest is played by Trai Byers of Kansas City, Kan.) But the real star is Lucious’ fabulous ex-wife Cookie, played by Emmy nominee Taraji P. Henson, strutting in with one-liner scene-stealers like “The streets ain’t for everybody. That’s why they made sidewalks.”

The catchy music will get stuck in your head — Timbaland serves as the show’s producer — and famous artists keep popping in. Season 2 debuts on Fox in September. Binge-watch now on Hulu.

| Meredith Newman, mnewman@kcstar.com

“The Fall”

The only thing scarier than “Fifty Shades of Grey” star Jamie Dornan’s portrayal of misogynist stalker turned emotional abuser Christian Grey? Jamie Dornan’s performance as a mild-mannered bereavement counselor in Northern Ireland.

In Netflix’s thriller series, Dornan is Paul Spector, just an average guy with a wife and kids. Oh, and a nasty habit of breaking into women’s houses in Belfast and killing them in various nasty ways.

Netflix has approved a third season, but I’m too scared to watch “The Fall” alone or after dark, so I haven’t made it through Season 2.

Luckily for us, Gillian Anderson is brilliant as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, assigned to help out with the serial killer investigation. In just 11 episodes, Gibson quickly revealed herself to be one of the best lady cops ever, establishing dominance over the manboys on the police force and facing down her suspect with steely confidence. She also runs her personal life like a boss.

“Keep them coming,” she tells a lecherous barfly who shows up with drinks for her and a friend. “I’m not a waiter,” the guy replies. Gibson, unfazed, asks him, “So why are you standing there?” Then she makes out with her friend until he goes away.

| Sara Smith, ssmith@kcstar.com

“Rectify”

A quiet fire with a slow burn. I’ve never seen a show with such bittersweet intensity.

Currently in its third season, this Sundance drama is the story of Daniel Holden, sentenced to death 19 years ago for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. Now 37, he’s spent half his life in solitary confinement. Thanks to the hard work of his sister and some new DNA evidence, his sentence has been vacated. For now.

Every episode is an emotional boil as Daniel adjusts to life outside of prison, outside of his own mind and finally out in the real world. But his family and their small Southern hometown are still haunted by the crime and the question: Did he do it? And will he return to his cell?

New episodes air at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Sundance. Watch older episodes on Netflix, Amazon, Google Play and XBox.

| Jeneé Osterheldt, josterheldt@kcstar.com

“UnREAL”

If you’re a sucker for reality TV, Lifetime’s scripted drama is the perfect series to get wrapped up in. The show, co-created by a former producer of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at how contestants are manipulated and edited to create the drama we know and love — particularly on dating shows. The minds behind the cameras are as interesting as the contestants on the fictional show “Everlasting.” Expect to be equal parts intrigued and horrified. “UnREAL” airs at 9 p.m. Mondays on Lifetime.

| Melissa Schupmann, mschupmann@kcstar.com

“Daredevil”

I’ve always heard that a superhero is only as strong as the villain he’s up against. And now I get it.

Sure, the good guy of this Netflix series, based on a Marvel comic, is pretty cool: Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a blind man whose other senses are so supercharged that he can “see” well enough to go out on the mean streets of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and punch and kick the scum of the earth senseless.

But then in the fourth of 13 episodes we get to know his opposite number, Wilson Fisk, played in nuanced, angst-ridden splendor by Vincent D’Onofrio. This isn’t a cardboard bad guy who only craves world domination (are you listening, pretty much every other comic book villain?). He genuinely thinks he is helping his city, and basically just wants to be loved. Until that nasty temper gets in the way and someone loses his head — literally.

Netflix has started filming Season 2 and will reportedly add new villains. But let’s hope they hang on to this good baddie as well.

| Sharon Hoffmann, shoffmann@kcstar.com

“Sense8”

The Wachowskis of “Matrix” fame love convoluted and conceptually driven storytelling, and with this Netflix series, they echo the thematic and stylistic ideas of “Cloud Atlas” with more diversity than you’ll find in just about any TV show.

Eight people across the world find themselves suddenly telepathically connected, switching bodies when they need help and communicating with one another when in parallel emotional states.

It’s a bold, challenging show that takes many risks but creates compelling stories with each character and explores human connection in fascinating, visually astounding ways, from a one-of-a-kind orgy scene to action sequences with awesomely creative dynamics.

| Alex Lamb, alamb@kcstar.com

“Halt and Catch Fire”

This techno-history drama from AMC, now in its second season, keeps me watching for three basic reasons: very good acting, solid writing and an affectionate depiction of a time when the personal computer was a bold new concept.

Set in 1983 in Dallas — the “Silicon Prairie” — the show’s fictional version of the development of PCs, chatrooms, online gaming and the Web allows the production designers a field day as they show us nerdy visionaries at clunky computer terminals with slots for floppy disks playing primitive combat games.

The show achieves a sense of period authenticity, but its version of old tech isn’t totally accurate, according to the geekosphere. As a native Texan, it bugs me that it was apparently shot in Georgia. And what’s up with all those California license plates?

Season 1 is streaming on Netflix. The current season airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on AMC.

| Robert Trussell, rtrussell@kcstar.com

Cooking shows

How many of these shows will I need to watch before all that knowledge coalesces in my head and hands to make me a great cook?

I haven’t hit that number yet, but it’s not for lack of trying. I like the shows that provide recipes, tips and techniques (I’ll pass on the competition shows). Here are my current favorites:

▪ “The Kitchen,” 10 a.m. Saturday on Food Network: Five chefs gather for this hourlong show with a theme in mind: backyard grilling, Father’s Day favorites, etc., from elegant to kid-friendly. The recipes are not complicated, and the chefs all have great tips. What’s the easiest way to slice a watermelon? What’s a fast way to get a crispy taco shell?

▪ “Good Eats” on Netflix. This is Alton Brown, the early years, before he became the emcee of all those contests on Food Network. This is cooking advice with the chemistry and history thrown in as well. He usually focuses on one item — waffles, meatballs — then gives you the rundown on the the best approach, the tools you need and what not to do. It’s pretty silly, as many food shows are. But very educational.

▪ “Pioneer Woman,” 9 a.m. Saturday on Food Network. Accessible, straightforward recipes, stories about the ranch she lives on and her four kids and many pets (my daughter likes watching this one with me). Probably the place where I get most of my new recipes.

| Michelle Smith, msmith@kcstar.com

“Wentworth”

A modern reimagining of an ’80s soap opera, this Australian drama in a women’s prison is the gritty, thrilling alternative to the American dramedy “Orange Is the New Black.” There’s still humor, too, but the transformation of Bea Smith through her dealings with gang leaders, wardens and the other inmates is an intense and stylish journey.

This import series on Netflix really picks up in its second season as Bea’s enthralling rival Franky becomes just as central, and the new warden, Joan Ferguson, quickly establishes herself as one of the most formidable and memorable villains in modern television.

| Alex Lamb, alamb@kcstar.com

“Under the Dome”

Stephen King and Steven Spielberg. Even if you know nothing about the fictional town of Chester’s Mill, and the massive, transparent dome that cuts it off from the rest of the world, that’s two good reasons to give this CBS show a chance. The science-fiction drama, produced by Spielberg’s DreamWorks Television, is based on King’s 2009 novel by the same name.

Besides, it’s just cool. A whole town essentially trapped inside a giant snow globe? Yes, please.

A hunky Iraq war vet finds himself teamed with a crusading red-haired newspaper editor and other concerned citizens who just want answers. What is the dome? Where did it come from? And will they ever get out?

Against them stands a bald bully of a politician who will stop at nothing to retain power, and his creepy son who is harboring a horrible secret.

New episodes air at 9 p.m. Thursdays on CBS, and you can catch a few older episodes on CBS.com and Amazon Prime.

| James A. Fussell, jfussell@kcstar.com

“The Mindy Project”

Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal and I’m not afraid to admit it. Kaling is the showrunner and star of this sitcom about the love life of Dr. Mindy Lahiri. Although Fox canceled this show in March, Hulu just picked it up for a fourth season.

It’s hard not to love Mindy (and her beau Danny Castellano, played by Chris Messina) because she’s relatable, yet ridiculous. She’s your friend who has no filter and says what everyone is thinking: “I’m not overweight, I just fluctuate between chubby and curvy” and “I have the right to life, liberty and chicken wings.” Hilarious and addicting; be prepared to watch the entire first season on a lazy Sunday. At the end of it, you’ll want Danny Castellano to be your personal trainer.

| Meredith Newman, mnewman@kcstar.com

“Law & Order: SVU”

I can’t stomach the sight of blood, so I can’t explain my new fascination with “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” With 16 seasons that’s more than 200 hours to watch on Netflix, the NBC app or USA Network, where episodes air back-to-back for hours on end just about every day, it seems.

The sexual assaults are almost always heinously bloody. More than one perp has had his criminal digit chopped off. (Giggle moment: when a squirrel ran off with said appendage.)

Maybe I’m just enthralled with the ever-changing hairstyles of Mariska Hargitay, who plays the comely Detective Olivia Benson. The detective’s own mother was raped — Olivia is the product of that — and now she’s on a mission to put every other rapist behind bars and to keep women safe.

Every episode is wrapped around a moral conundrum. For instance, is it so bad for the distraught father of the sexually abused little boy to shoot the abuser?

I don’t know. Let’s ask Mariska Hargitay’s hairstylist.

| Lisa Gutierrez, lgutierrez@kcstar.com

“Grace and Frankie”

Tough women who are funny, vulnerable, honest, imperfect. Sign me up!

Their husbands are partners who fall in love and decide to leave their 40-year marriages to wed each other. Their wives (portrayed by the wonderful Lily Tomlin — an Emmy nominee — and Jane Fonda) and grown children navigate the fallout as best they can. I’ve watched the 13 episodes of this Netflix series twice. A second season is coming next year. Can’t wait.

| Michelle Smith, msmith@kcstar.com

“Utopia”

Few shows can match the ultra-cool intensity of this British thriller, in which four fans of a creepy graphic novel get pulled into a pulse-pounding conspiracy by an all-powerful secret organization. As hitmen trail behind taking care of every loose end, no one can be trusted. The show is packed with brutal violence, gripping twists, distinctly developed characters, dry humor and a stylistic edge of vivid colors, stunning cinematography and an electronic score buzzing with energy. The show’s so good, director David Fincher and Kansas City native and “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn are remaking it for HBO. Watch the original on BBC’s Channel4.com on demand.

| Alex Lamb, alamb@kcstar.com

[ More! Read about some TV shows that are off the air but on our radar ]

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