For proof that summer is no longer the silly season of television – or at least not solely silly – just take a look at names involved in some notable shows from Memorial Day to September. Steven Soderbergh, Guillermo del Toro, Michael Bay, John Malkovich and Halle Berry are among the A-listers we’re not used to seeing attached to summer TV, or to TV shows at all.
Not all of the season’s intriguing offerings are popcorn entertainment from Hollywood brand names, of course. In June, the invaluable documentary-maker Stanley Nelson continues his career-long exploration of African-American history and culture with “Freedom Summer” on PBS, celebrating the 50th anniversary of a turning point in the civil rights movement.
It will be a moment of high seriousness in a season largely populated by pirates, jailbirds, angels, musketeers, vampires, time travelers, secret agents and pregnant astronauts. Here is a chronological listing of some of the highlights:
THE NIGHT SHIFT: (NBC, Tuesday) “Grey’s Anatomy” in a Texas emergency room. Eoin Macken (“Merlin”) plays the ex-military bad boy, Jill Flint (“Royal Pains”) the all-business shift boss and Ken Leung (“Lost”) the laconic Asian.
CROSSBONES: (NBC, next Friday) Neil Cross, the creator of “Luther,” is behind this blend of pirate drama and 18th century techno-spy thriller, but the draw is John Malkovich in his first regular television role. Malkovich plays Blackbeard, a role that should not require a lot of restraint on his part.
HALT AND CATCH FIRE: (AMC, June 1) Trying to do for the 1980s personal-computer industry what “Mad Men” did for the 1960s advertising industry, Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy are the former IBM executive and the alcoholic engineer who want to change the world (for a decade or two, anyway).
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: (Netflix, June 6) Season 2 of Jenji Kohan’s women’s prison dramedy, so far the best of the Netflix original series, goes up in its entirety.
POWER: (Starz, June 7) Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, has an executive producer credit, but the creator of this sex and drugs and hip-hop drama is Courtney Kemp Agboh, a writer and producer for “The Good Wife.” Omari Hardwick stars as the club owner by night, drug kingpin by even later at night.
CHASING LIFE: (ABC Family, June 10) An inspirational series about an aspiring journalist (Italia Ricci) at a newspaper? What’s the catch? Oh, she has leukemia. OK.
THE ESCAPE ARTIST: (PBS, June 15) Between filming “Broadchurch” and its American adaptation, “Gracepoint” (on Fox this fall), David Tennant squeezed in this three-part BBC thriller. He plays a London barrister who may be a little too good at his job.
DOMINION: (Syfy, June 19) Scott Stewart is a producer of this series, based on his 2010 angels-versus-humans film “Legion.” In the film, a rogue angel fought off his brethren long enough for a hash-house waitress to give birth to humanity’s savior. Maybe, just maybe, that will have something to do with this series, set 25 years later.
THE MUSKETEEERS: (BBC America, June 22) Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan as swashbuckling romantic comedy heroes. Peter Capaldi plays Cardinal Richelieu in this first season, before departing to become the 12th Doctor on “Doctor Who,” but the real stars may be costume designer Phoebe De Gaye’s gorgeous leather tunics.
THE LAST SHIP: (TNT, June 22) Michael Bay is an executive producer of this post-apocalyptic adventure story, but a glimpse at the pilot doesn’t reveal any major explosions or alien robots – just a microbe that wipes out most of the earth’s population and an American ship on a secret scientific mission that survives uninfected.
FREEDOM SUMMER: FREEDOM SUMMER: (PBS, June 24) In documentaries like “Freedom Riders,” “The Murder of Emmett Till” and a “A Place of Our Own,” Stanley Nelson has been building a mosaic of black life across a century of American history. His new film for the “American Experience” series recounts the movement to register black voters in Mississippi in 1964 and the catastrophic violence it unleashed.
TYRANT: (FX, June 24) Gideon Raff, creator, writer and director of the excellent Israeli series “Prisoners of War” and a producer of its offshoot, “Homeland,” tries an original American series. Adam Rayner plays a Middle Eastern strongman’s estranged son who’s living a quiet life in the United States but goes home for a wedding. Big mistake.
THE LEFTOVERS: (HBO, June 29) Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) returns to show running, and Tom Perrotta (“Little Children”) returns to screenwriting with this series about the people left behind after a rapture-like event. Justin Theroux and Amy Brenneman star.
VICIOUS: (PBS, June 29) Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi put on an acting clinic in this Shakespearean … well, no, it’s actually a British sitcom and they play a bickering gay couple who have been together 48 years. Frances de la Tour is the best friend, and Iwan Rheon the stud muffin who moves in upstairs.
EXTANT: (CBS, July 9) Halle Berry plays an astronaut who returns to Earth after 13 months alone on a space station, only to receive some inconvenient news: She’s pregnant. The initial script by Mickey Fisher, whose previous credits were a couple of micro-budgeted indie features, was a hot enough commodity that CBS ordered a 13-episode season without a pilot.
MASTERS OF SEX: (Showtime, July 13) The best of last fall’s new series — largely on the strength of supporting performances by Allison Janney and Beau Bridges — moves into the summer for its second season.
THE STRAIN: (FX, July 13) A ghost plane lands at Kennedy International (shades of “Fringe”), and Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) of the Centers for Disease Control rushes to investigate. Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Pacific Rim”) and Chuck Hogan adapted their own vampire novels for this series, which like other FX shows promises to have a pulpy energy unusual among cable dramas.
THE DIVIDE: (WE, July 16) This cable channel’s first original scripted series is a legal drama created by accomplished screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (“The Fisher King,” “Behind the Candelabra”) and actor and director Tony Goldwyn (“Scandal”). Marin Ireland plays a caseworker for an organization resembling the Innocence Project who takes on a Philadelphia district attorney (Damon Gupton).
POIROT: (PBS/Acorn TV, July 27) David Suchet’s 25-year run as Agatha Christie’s fastidious detective comes to an end with five episodes. Only the first two will be on TV (as part of PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery!”) but all five will be available online at Acorn TV.
THE HONORABLE WOMAN: (Sundance, July 31) British writer and director Hugo Blick (“The Shadow Line”) created this thriller miniseries that will be shown simultaneously on Sundance and BBC Two. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a businesswoman active in the West Bank who is appointed to the House of Lords, but she’s surrounded by a top-shelf British cast: Janet McTeer, Eve Best, Stephen Rea, Andrew Buchan, Lindsay Duncan, et al.