“What should I be watching?”
How many times have I heard that question this year? At least twice in the past week alone. I’m tired of saying “Well, ‘Game of Thrones’ is kinda fun,’ or “I dunno. Read a book lately?’ ” There’s plenty to watch, much more to avoid. But choices must be made, and because this August has been a particular fecund August, TV-wise, let’s get to those. Here are my picks for the best new scripted series that premiered this month, in order of bestness.
This Davey Holmes (“Shameless”) adaptation of the Elmore Leonard classic about a hit man with Hollywood ambitions draws you in from the opening credits, and doesn’t release its hold until the closing ones. Lots of fine performances, with Chris O’Dowd’s Miles Daly first among equals. Others include his partner in the burial business, Sean Bridgers’ Louis, and Lidia Porto’s boss-of-bosses, Amara. Ray Romano as a has-been producer, and Megan Stevenson as his cutthroat overseer round out a remarkable cast. The pilot, by the way, was directed by the legendary Allen Coulter (“The Sopranos.”) What or who’s not to love here? Nothing, no one. By the way, Epix has made the first three episodes available on its website. They’re free, and you can’t beat that price.
Hello world, the Tick is back after a 16-year absence, and his timing couldn’t be more perfect. Starring Peter Serafinowicz as a deeply earnest, deeply blue — literally, he’s blue — superhero, and his sidekick, Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman), “The Tick” is both a sendup of our current superhero overload, and an abiding, joyous affirmation of it. The pilot about a young superhero obsessive who makes friends with a superstrong dude in a tick costume is cinematic, fun, funny and sharply written. “Evil wears every possible mitten.” “Hahahahaha — go tell it on the mountain!” “Light against darkness, up against down — a struggle as old as time but with a beat you can dance to.” Dialogue — or in this instance, voice-over musings from our hero — this good doesn’t come along often.
BARONESS VON SKETCH SHOW
In an apparent bid to prove that women really are funnier than men, this all-female comedy sketch show largely succeeds, and then succeeds some more. Herein include sketches about dry shampoo, a girls night out, zombie children and someone named Nicole. The Toronto-based performers are Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen. They are, to a woman, hilarious, and so is their show.
Bridgeton is a hollowed-out town in a hollowed-out part of America, where a hollowed-out ex-cop named Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) is tormented by a terrible crime he failed to solve before his retirement. Sixteen people were murdered by a crazed driver in a Mercedes. The Mercedes was found, the driver is still out there, now taunting Bill. “Mr. Mercedes” — part of the David E. Kelley comeback tour (he adapted this, also the Emmy-nominated “Big Little Lies”) — is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. Like all things Stephen King-related, it’s addictive. (You’ll also need a subscription to AT&T U-verse or DirecTV to watch.)
Another winner from the brothers Jay and Mark Duplass. This anthology imagines the lunacy that unfolds in just one motel room in one godforsaken motel in who knows where. What can happen in just one motel room? You’d be surprised, perhaps revolted too. (And this one was, apparently, built directly over an Indian burial ground.) Like all good anthologies, you need only be invested for one episode, while each of them promises a surprise ending — some more surprising than others.
Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) is married to Mason Tannetti (Christopher Abbott). They seem like a happy couple and have a 1-year-old. Then she stabs a guy to death on a beach at a local lake. Her excuse to the cops, including one Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) who has non-homicidal demons of his own: The guy was playing the music on his boombox too loud. Did she know him? She says no, but if you stick with this, the answer will evolve. “The Sinner” is good, the cast even better. It’s also an onion, where the layers are peeled back and back and back, to reveal Cora’s past. That could test your patience for both the show and onions.
“In the 1980s, millions of Romanians tuned into ‘Comrade Detective,’ a gritty, sexy, Communist buddy cop show that has now been digitally remastered and dubbed into English for the first time.” Thus begins this sendup of Eastern bloc TV and, by association, American cop shows circa 1980 which were parroted by Eastern Bloc TV shows. Voices of Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jenny Slate and Nick Offerman are dubbed for the actors playing the Romanian cops — all good, true Communists, who happily quote from “Das Kapital” and happily denounce the evil narcissist Americans. It’s about tough cop Gregor Anghel (Florin Piersic Jr., voiced by Tatum) along with his country bumpkin partner Iosif Baciu (Corneliu Ulici, voiced by Gordon-Levitt) on their trail of a killer — doubtless an American. This high-quality spoof can be funny, also long-winded, and the joke can kind of get lost in that wind at times. Otherwise, most definitely an original.
STAN AGAINST EVIL
A few hundred years ago, 173 witches were burned at the stake in Willard’s Mill, New Hampshire, and they’ve all returned to curse the sheriffs of this town, in particular, Stanley Miller (John C. McGinley) who, for some reason, escaped death before retiring. His successor, Evie Barret (Janet Varney) might not be so lucky. I’ll watch anything with McGinley (“Scrubs,” “Platoon”) so this instantly earns a pass, even if the horror is spotty, and the humor erratic. “Stan” has promise.