Rectify (Thursday, July 9, Sundance), season premiere: Critics spent the first two seasons of Rectify trying explain a series that defies description; the dirt-simple outline being: “Daniel (Aden Young) returns to his Georgia hometown after 19 years on death row for murdering his childhood sweetheart due to inconclusive evidence, and the God-fearing townsfolk are understandably—and in some cases, violently—wary of his innocence.” Like them, viewers don’t yet know if he did it, and Season 3 seems intent on introducing some hard law and order to this dream-state Southern Gothic, much to the distress of Daniel’s long-suffering, supporting sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer). Seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix: They’re short; they’re fantastic; and you should experience them now.
7 Days in Hell (Saturday, July 11, HBO), movie: So many questions: Was Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington aware that this would be his first post-Jon Snow role? Has there ever been a tennis mockumentary before? Did Andy Samberg already own that throwback John McEnroe/Andre Agassi wig? As the title states, 7 Days In Hell chronicles the longest match in tennis history, with “bad-boy” American Aaron Williams (Samberg) taking on British prodigy Charles Poole (Harington), as recounted by talking heads like Will Forte, Lena Dunham, John McEnroe and Serena Williams. At 45 minutes, 7 Days almost strains the limits of what’s essentially a beer-commercial sight gag, but Harington and Samberg commit. And really, what’s not funny about tennis?
The Strain (Sunday, July 12, FX), season premiere: Season 2 of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire-invasion thriller opens with the most terrifying bedtime story in the history of ever, and escalates from there. The Strain’s first season established New York City as Ground Zero for an ancient, horrific, not-sparkly-nor-pretty vampire race’s takeover of the planet (because, as any New Yorker will tell you, it’s the center of everything); now that it’s in full swing, Centers for Disease Control docs Ephraim (Corey Stoll, still wearing the wig) and Nora (Mia Maestro) may have sussed out a cure, whereas Prof. Geezer Van Helsing (David Bradley) would just as soon kill ’em all. It’ll never reach Walking Dead-levels of hyper-fandom, but The Strain deserves credit for being faster-paced and more genuinely scary than that zombie soap opera.
Ray Donovan (Sunday, July 12, Showtime), season premiere: As imposing as he and his giant head are, Ray Donovan star Liev Schreiber is always thisclose to being overshadowed by secondary players (namely Jon Voight as Ray’s unrepentant bad-ass father, Mickey). To complicate matters in Season 3, Deadwood scene-stealer Ian McShane joins the show as a billionaire movie producer who hires Ray to retrieve his kidnapped son (discreetly, of course). Lesser threat Katie Holmes also comes onboard. (Cue the Inevitable Sex With Ray countdown clock.) Fortunately, now that Ray’s estranged from his family and is acting as a lone-wolf Hollywood “fixer” free of boss/mentor Ezra (Elliott Gould), his swagger seems to finally match his billing. But don’t worry—Mickey’s still a bad-ass.
Masters of Sex (Sunday, July 12, Showtime), season premiere: It’s 1966, and Dr. Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) are now famous, published authors of the Human Sexual Response journal. Even more shocking than all of this was in the ’60s: Caplan finally has a TV series that’s survived to see a third season!
The Jim Gaffigan Show (Wednesday, July 15, TV Land), series debut: Darren Star’s Younger, which premiered in the spring, was TV Land’s first toe in the rebranding water as the retro-network dumps Baby Boomers in favor of Gen-Xers (can’t keep catering to a demo that’s almost extinct—unless you’re the GOP). Here, laugh tracks and cheap sets are being replaced with single-camera film and a snarkier attitude, and The Jim Gaffigan Show is a far more gentle bridge between the two than Younger was. If you’ve seen Gaffigan’s stand-up, you know what he and this sitcom are about: Tubby white guy who tries to do right by his wife and kids, whom he tolerates as much as they tolerate him—oh, and he loooves junk food. If you already like his all-inclusive comedy, The Jim Gaffigan Show won’t do you wrong. For slightly more edge, stick around for …
Impastor (Wednesday, July 15, TV Land), series debut: Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville’s Lex Luthor) plays a hard-partying gambling addict who, to escape thugs and loan sharks, assumes the identity of a new pastor who was supposed to take over a small-town parish—and he later learns that the no-show Craiglist hire is also gay, hence, wackiness. Despite the deep-cheese setup, Rosenbaum sells Impastor with rogue-ish charm and some surprising comedy chops. It’s a funny pilot, but will it hold up for nine more episodes? It had better—TV Land has to fill those Dukes of Hazzard slots with something.