Orange Is the New Black (Friday, June 12, Netflix), season premiere: Aside from the return of a beaten-down and bruised-up Alex (Laura Prepon), things are almost too bright and happy at Litchfield Penitentiary in Orange Is the New Black’s Season 3 opener. The episode, however, ends on a heartrending downer that drives home the facts that 1) this show is still set in a prison and, 2) unlike narrow award-show categories, creator/writer Jenji Kohan will pivot from “comedy” to “drama” however she damned well pleases. Kohan also introduces even more character flashbacks and new faces without spinning into Game of Thrones overload, and spends just enough quality time with the woman she initially fooled us into thinking was the “star” of the show, Piper (Taylor Schilling). That “Best Season Yet” buzz may turn out to be more than just Netflix hype.
Dark Matter (Friday, June 12, Syfy), series debut: The writers and producers behind long-running sci-fi-lite hits Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis essentially killed the franchise with 2009’s Stargate Universe, the bleak tale of a space-exploration team lost in uncharted cosmos. Dark Matter finds another crew adrift in space—but they have no idea who they are, how they got there, or why random scumdogs of the universe are out to kill them. As you’d expect, the amnesiac models soon learn they each have requisite A-Team abilities (fighter, hacker, thinker, more fighters, etc.), assign nicknames (like “Boss Lady,” “Kid” and, best of all, “Slashy McStabberson”), and at least pretend to trust one another to survive. It’s nothing new, but at least Dark Matter serves up slick action-distraction, and it’s actual sci-fi in space—how often do you get that from Syfy?
Clipped (Tuesday, June 16, TBS), series debut: If the notoriously nostalgic TV Land can drop laugh tracks (see the just-wrapped, fantastic Younger; the upcoming, promising Jim Gaffigan Show; and Impastor), why the hell can’t TBS kill the canned sitcom yuks already? Clipped, about a group of former clashing-clique high-school classmates who all end up working on the same Bah-ston barbershop, is from KoMut, the TV production company that’s been cranking out failed variations or this crapcom since the ’90s (with one hit exception: Will and Grace). Like every other “comedy” KoMut has somehow sold into instant cancellation, Clipped wastes genuinely funny actors (like Ashley Tisdale, and a bored George Wendt on autopilot) on the same tired setups and stale jokes they’ll probably use in their next network pitch. I should have gone into TV production instead of TV watching …
Proof (Tuesday, June 16, TNT), series debut: Shows like Rizzoli and Isles and Major Crimes still pay the bills, but TNT tried to shake up its mom-cops image last summer with new dude-centric testosterone-fests like The Last Ship and Legends, with varying results. Proof is something else entirely, like Grey’s Anatomy meets Ghost Whisperer. (Ghost’s Anatomy, a better title than Proof.) Jennifer Beals plays a brilliant surgeon whose life is a steaming bag of suck (bitter ex-husband, estranged daughter, dead teen son—guess the plot point), until she’s hired by a cancer-stricken tech billionaire (Matthew Modine) to prove—or disprove—life after death. Will her hard-science ways conflict with supernatural hooey? Will there be tears? Can Modine rock a turtleneck? Yes, hell yes, and was there any doubt? Beals and Modine are good enough here to keep Proof from devolving into a manipulative weeper—but just barely. Proceed with caution, and a box of tissues.
Tyrant (Tuesday, June 16, FX), season premiere: It’s a political drama! It’s a family drama! It’s back for a second season? Tyrant, set in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin, may not seem like an on-brand fit for FX (devoid of pulp theatrics or any trace of humor, it’d make a better companion piece for Homeland on Showtime), but it deserves a second chance to clean up after a messy debut season. Then, expatriat Barry (Adam Rayner) went from advising his power-mad dictator brother, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), to attempting to overthrow him. Now, Barry awaits execution, much to the distress of his American wife (Jennifer Finnigan) and Jamal’s wife (Moran Atias), Barry’s long-ago ex. Even more concerning than the possibility that he may order his brother’s death is the lack of Jamal’s fearsome Season 1 power beard—shaved, he bears an unfortunate resemblance to Arrested Development’s Buster Bluth.