STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Summer is arriving, which means summer TV is here. The days are long gone when the TV networks more or less took a break during the summer and people would just have to watch the Discovery Channel's Shark Week. This summer will see close to 100 new and returning shows coming to the small screen. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is here. Hi there, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: Have you watched all 100?
DEGGANS: (Laughter) Let's say I've watched about 98.
INSKEEP: Ninety-eight? OK, anything big out there?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, it's interesting, last summer there was this hit that seemed to come out of nowhere, "Mr. Robot." And I was hoping that we might have a similar incident happen with TNT's "Animal Kingdom." It's this great drama about a family of thieves and criminals headed by this sexy, smart matriarch that's played by Ellen Barkin.
It's based on this Australian film from 2010. And it starts with Barkin's character, and she's called Janine Smurf Cody, taking in her 17-year-old grandson when his mother, her daughter, dies of a drug overdose. Now, the other kids aren't that happy that this is happening right before a big heist that they have planned. And Smurf has to set them straight. I think we've got a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANIMAL KINGDOM")
ELLEN BARKIN: (As Janine Smurf Barkin) The kid is in until I say he isn't. And the next one of you to say a word will not get his share of this job, not a penny. Test me. Go ahead.
DEGGANS: I don't think you want to test her. (Laughter) So...
INSKEEP: But Eric, you said you thought this was going to be the great show of the summer.
DEGGANS: I know. I know. Barkin's great. And there's this guy Shawn Hatosy, who plays her psycho son with anger management problems. You might remember him from the TV show "Southland." But it's tough to find a character to care about when you're looking at this sea of thieves and miscreants. And the show is a lot less compelling than I thought it was going to be.
INSKEEP: What about, you know, upscale prestige television, anything big coming?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, you ask people in the TV business, and they're going to tell you that TV's become a year-round industry. You know, TV does not go into reruns in May. Cable TV doesn't really get to take over the summer anymore. So what we're seeing in the summer is stuff that's a little more experimental and a little less commercial than the stuff that might air in the fall and spring.
So I think a good example is CBS's new show "BrainDead," which debuts tonight. It was created by Robert and Michelle King, and you might remember them as the husband and wife team that's behind the legal drama "The Good Wife." And they have a particular take in "BrainDead" on why Washington, D.C., politics seem so dysfunctional and unpredictable. And here's a clip that kind of explains it all.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BRAINDEAD")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Some kind of meteor came down. No one knows where it's from. The shifted off so they could study it in Washington. Guess what? It's filled with space bugs. Now they're losing, eating people's brains.
INSKEEP: Wait a minute, but I don't understand. If it's about Washington, why is it called "BrainDead?"
DEGGANS: It's a political drama about aliens creating gridlock in government...
DEGGANS: ...By controlling people's brains. Come on, Steve, isn't that obvious?
DEGGANS: So now...
INSKEEP: We don't need aliens for that. We could do it on our own.
DEGGANS: Exactly. Now, Tony Shalhoub is great as a politician who goes from being an alcoholic to becoming a health nut when these bugs get inside his head. But again, this is kind of a fine line. You know, you're walking between political drama and sci-fi satire. And I'm just not sure "BrainDead" gets over the finish line in the end.
INSKEEP: Does anything excite you this summer?
DEGGANS: I like a lot of returning shows. Netflix's "Orange Is The New Black" comes back with great episodes. A whole season drops on Friday. And I can't wait to see James Franco on Lifetime. He does a version of this TV movie called "Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?" And it's about a lesbian vampire who might be a killer.
INSKEEP: Smash hit on the way. Eric, thanks very much.
DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: That's Eric Deggans, our TV critic.
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