Summer is done and the pool is closed, so before we launch headlong into the fall, I wanted to reflect on the best TV of the long, hot season. Usually summer is pretty dead for television, but this year we got a surprisingly great Olympics, a few good reality shows, a couple solid scripted series, and some killer miniseries.
I’ve limited myself to only three picks (in the spirit of the Olympics, gold, silver, bronze), so here are my choices for the top three TV series of the summer:
1. O.J. Simpson: Made in America
It’s been many years since I’ve seen something this good on television. This eight-hour documentary could have been 28 hours and I would have watched every minute of it. It’s a jaw-dropping meditation on race, class, celebrity, and the American experience. This is a work of art that will be studied in university classrooms and watched in living rooms for years, maybe decades, to come. It’s not just fascinating entertainment; it’s essential viewing for anyone who wants to fully understand the American experience, especially regarding the subject of race.
2. American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson
As tempting as it would be to lump this into the same bucket with my top choice (and free up another pick!), these two works must stand apart. They cover the same material, but in entirely different ways. Made in America is a documentary and this one is a dramatization, so the different conventions of storytelling allow each one to get at angles and nuances that the other can’t quite touch. This powerful telling of the O.J. story allowed us to get under the skin of Marcia Clark and Chris Darden and Johnny Cochran in ways the documentary couldn’t quite reach. It was funny and sad and wholly captivating.
3. Game of Thrones
Just as you devoured the Harry Potter books and knew in real time you were reading what was to become classic literature, so it is with watching Game of Thrones. It is apparent, even in the moment, that you are watching a television epic that is destined to be remembered as one of the great works in the history of the medium. This season was loaded with great moments: the resurrection of Jon Snow, the revelation of Melisandre’s true nature, Cersei’s revenge, and Hodor’s demise, just to name a handful. With The Battle of the Bastards, it featured the best battle scene in television history. This brilliant show was not just one of the best things on television this summer, but one of the best series on television ever.
As a psychologist, I can’t help but notice how all three of these shows involve complex, conflicted characters who give us a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. Even Game of Thrones, with all its fantasy elements, grounds its drama in the human experience so deeply you leave each episode contemplating and debating their motives and wrestling with their dilemmas. If you haven’t already watched these shows, find a way to experience all three of these television events. These are three brilliant works that will stand the test of time.