Aquarius (Thursday, May 28, NBC), two-hour series debut: In a semi-factual drama about one of America’s most notorious killers, the cop (David Duchovny) probably shouldn’t be more charming and charismatic than his target—especially when that killer is Charles Manson (Game of Thrones’ Gethin Anthony). Duchovny’s 1967 LAPD detective Sam Hodiak is pretty much the same as Californication’s Hank Moody and The X-Files’ Fox Mulder: same snark, same swagger, different haircut. Aquarius—all 13 episodes of which will be available on NBC.com and other streaming platforms post-premiere—lays the music (half the budget must have been spent on Greatest Hits of the ’60s clearances) and the cultural touchstones on thick, but often loses its Manson focus, likely because Anthony is only mildly creepy, and 13 episodes is too damned long to prop him up. Duchovny and his proto-Jump Street partner (Grey Damon) have a natural rapport; the supporting cast is solid; and it all looks great. Remove the lacking Manson factor, and Aquarius might have fared better as Law and Order: Hippietown.
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (Saturday, May 30, Lifetime), miniseries debut: It’s been 53 years. There are no more Marilyn Monroe “secrets.” Stop making these.
Halt and Catch Fire (Sunday, May 31, AMC), season premiere: This oddity about the dawn of the early-1980s personal-computer revolution booted up strong in 2014, like The Americans shooting up a Radio Shack. Unfortunately, Halt and Catch Fire fizzled down the stretch, in both ratings and story, and seemed destined for cancellation. (Star Lee Pace barely acknowledged the series while out promoting Guardians of the Galaxy last summer.) But it’s back, and the plot’s jumped ahead to 1985, which means much forced Exposition! about what the hell happened in the past couple of years, set to a dead-on ’80s soundtrack. (There’s no way any Texas bar ever had Black Flag on the jukebox, though.) HFC’s four still-fantastic leads (Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishé) and a tighter, startup-centered direction make Season 2 look promising, but we’ve been burned before. Best-case scenario: Halt and Catch Fire is an elaborate prequel to Silicon Valley.
The Whispers (Monday, June 1, ABC), series debut: Kiddies’ imaginary friends turn out to be an alien force bent on “world domination”—I’ve been saying this for years, and now it’s an ABC sci-fi series (based on a 1951 Ray Bradbury short story, Zero Hour). The Whispers is dumb summer-escapism filler that’s convinced itself that it’s something Far More Important (likely due to Steven Spielberg’s name being in the producer credits), and wastes actors who deserve better (like American Horror Story’s Lily Rabe and Revenge’s Barry Sloane), but it’s still not the worst thing ABC is serving up in the warm months (see: The Bachelorette, Celebrity Wife Swap, Mistresses, etc.). Don’t think too hard about it, and don’t be surprised if The Whispers suddenly disappears from the schedule in a few weeks.
Royal Pains (Tuesday, June 2, USA), season premiere: It was fun for a couple of seasons, but now USA is just straining to drag Royal Pains into 100-episode territory for the Big $yndication Payoff—really, how many stories are left here? Apparently, 16 more, stretched into summer 2016. With Royal Pains (it’s about a concierge doctor who caters to rich Hamptons folk—yes, that’s the show) almost done-zo, USA is looking to leave its trademark happy-sunny programming comfort zone and move onto darker, grittier experiments like this summer’s new Mr. Robot (about hackers) and Complications (vigilantes), and returning series Graceland (sexy feds), Satisfaction (adulterers) and Chrisley Knows Best (a grating “reality” series possibly devised by reanimated Nazi torturers). Essentially, USA now wants to be FX, though the results will probably be more A&E. If you followed all of that, you’re watching too much TV—good for you.