Manson, Marilyn and the Mercury Seven.
Television is making history this summer.
Many of the best new shows and miniseries of the coming months — particularly NBC’s Aquarius (about 1960s California and a young Charles Manson), Lifetime’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe and ABC’s The Astronaut Wives Club (the early days of the space program) — have a delicious retro flavor.
Other summer premieres are also turning back the clock: There’s History channel’s Texas Rising (the 1830s and the Texas Revolution), TNT’s Public Morals (New York vice cops in the 1960s), Sundance’s Deutschland 83 (a 1980s Cold War thriller), Investigation Discovery’s Serial Thriller (a 1970s true crime case) and Spike TV’s Tut (Ancient Egypt, circa 1340 B.C.).
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Mind you, there are dozens of modern-day dramas and sitcoms as well.
Many of these programs are quite good. It’s a far cry from what summer TV used to be like, when warm-weather schedules were mostly filled with endless reruns and a few forgettable originals.
There’s a lot new to take in, so we offer this rundown of the most notable summer premieres.
Premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC (KXAS/Channel 5)
David Duchovny stars in this 13-episode series as a Joe Friday-esque cop during the culture-clash ’60s. He looks into a case involving a missing teenage girl and the trail leads to a charismatic Charles Manson (played by Gethin Anthony). The Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969 are two years away; for now, Manson aspires only to be a rock star. Speaking of music, the playlist of classic 1960s tunes is practically a co-star.
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe
Premieres at 7 p.m. May 30, on Lifetime
Kelli Garner stars in the title role, capturing the essence of Marilyn during good times and bad. The four-hour, two-night miniseries recreates the tent pole moments in the life of Marilyn, a beloved movie star who is nevertheless tormented by self-doubt, loneliness and mental illness. The biggest “secret” in Marilyn’s life: Her schizophrenic mother (Susan Sarandon), a woman who studio publicists had said was dead.
The Astronaut Wives Club
Premieres at 7 p.m. June 18, on ABC (WFAA/Channel 8)
America’s Mercury astronauts, pioneers of manned space flight in the 1960s, weren’t the only ones with “The Right Stuff.” Their wives, transformed from military spouses into American royalty, were also quite remarkable. This series explores the bond the women formed while playing key roles in some of biggest events in U.S. history. The strong ensemble cast includes Yvonne Strahovski and JoAnna Garcia Swisher.
Premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on History
This 10-hour, five-night miniseries opens with the fall of the Alamo, then follows Sam Houston (Bill Paxton) and his ragtag army as they fight for Texas independence from Mexico. The cast (which includes Ray Liotta, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Brendan Fraser) is terrific; the visuals (filmed where John Wayne made seven movies) are remarkable; and the more or less true story will fill Texans with rah-rah state pride. (Read more about it in Sunday’s Life & Arts section and at Star-Telegram.com/living.)
Premieres at 9:30 p.m. June 21, on HBO
This 10-episode dark comedy is a Dr. Strangelove for our times. When an unstable Pakistani general stirs up unrest in the Middle East, hawkish U.S. leaders plan a reckless military countermove. It’s up to three unlikely heroes — a weed-loving State Department bureaucrat (Jack Black), a level-headed Secretary of State (Tim Robbins) and an ace Navy fighter pilot (Pablo Schreiber) — to prevent World War III.
Premieres at 9 p.m. June 1, on Lifetime
This addictive drama series reveals what it must be like behind the scenes of a reality show. If you thought the antics on The Bachelor were outrageous, wait until you see what happens off camera on the fictional set of “Everlasting.” The rich bachelor doesn’t want to be there; the gaggle of gold-diggers have crass agendas; and the manipulative producers (Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby) will do anything to boost ratings.
Premieres at 9 p.m. June 16, on TNT
This intriguing drama could have been called The Ex-Files, because it’s about what happens after we die. Jennifer Beals plays a cynical surgeon seeking verifiable and incontrovertible proof of what’s on the other side. She begins her work with the case file of a girl who dies on the operating table and comes back saying she went to heaven. Future episodes involve reincarnation, out-of-body experiences and hauntings.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Premieres at 9 p.m. July 16, on FX
Denis Leary, who gave FX one of its first hits, Rescue Me, returns to the network — and he still needs saving. As hard-partying Johnny Rock, he’s a 1990s rock & roll flameout whose drugs of choice today are Crestor, Cymbalta and Cialis. His old band, the Heathens, which broke up the same day its debut album dropped, gets the chance to make a comeback. Can Johnny check his ego at the door and make it work?
Premieres at 9 p.m. June 1, on ABC (WFAA/Channel 8)
Bad things happen when adorable kids play with a manipulative imaginary friend. After their games turn deadly, an FBI child behavior expert (Lily Rabe) investigates what may be a national security threat. The strange conspiracy is somehow linked to a downed military jet in the Sahara Desert and its missing pilot. The show has a malevolent Close Encounters of the Third Kind vibe. Milo Ventimiglia and Barry Sloane co-star.
Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!
Premieres at 8 p.m. July 22, on Syfy
The shark storm hits Washington, D.C., in the third installment of the so-bad-it’s-good, nature-goes-nuts movie franchise. Chainsaw-wielding Ian Ziering and Tara Reid are back to save the day, joined by pop-culture icons/jokes David Hasselhoff and Bo Derek. Look for celebrity cameos from Mark Cuban (as the U.S. president), Ann Coulter (as his VP), Michele Bachmann, Anthony Weiner, Chris Jericho and more.
More summer programs worth considering
Stitchers: Procedural drama in which the investigators are “stitched” into the minds of the recently deceased to investigate murders and other mysteries. Premieres at 8 p.m. June 2, on ABC Family.
Sense8: Science-fiction drama about eight strangers who suddenly find themselves mentally and emotionally linked. From the creators of The Matrix. Available for streaming on June 5, on Netflix.
Serial Thriller: Three-part miniseries about the pursuit of a 1970s-era killer with a string of young female victims throughout the Pacific Northwest. Premieres at 9 p.m. June 7, on Investigation Discovery.
Odd Mom Out: Comedy starring author and actress Jill Kargman as a member of an elite and treacherous mommy clique in New York’s Upper East Side. Premieres at 9 p.m. June 8, on Bravo.
Dark Matter: Sci-fi drama in which the crew of a derelict spaceship awakens with no memories of who they are or how they got there. Premieres at 9 p.m. June 12, on Syfy.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Miniseries set in 1806 England about a magician who wields extraordinary powers. Premieres at 9 p.m. June 13, on BBC America.
Clipped: Ashley Tisdale stars in this workplace sitcom about misfits working in a Boston barbershop. It’s a Cheers wannabe that co-stars George “Norm!” Wendt. Premieres at 9 p.m. June 16, on TBS.
Deutschland 83: Espionage thriller about a 24-year-old East German who is sent to the West to gather NATO strategy secrets in the 1980s. Premieres at 10 p.m. June 17, on Sundance.
Complications: Jason O’Mara stars as a suburban doctor, disillusioned after his daughter’s death, who becomes a vigilante hero. Premieres at 8 p.m. June 18, on USA.
Killjoys: Space-hopping adventures of a wise-cracking trio of interplanetary bounty hunters. Premieres at 8 p.m. June 19, on Syfy.
Ballers: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as a former football superstar who mentors former and current players through the daily grind of life in the game. Premieres at 9 p.m. June 21, on HBO.
Mr. Robot: Techno thriller following a troubled computer programmer who toils as a cyber-security expert by day and as a vigilante hacker by night. Premieres at 9 p.m. June 24, on USA.
Teen Beach 2: The gang is back in this sequel to 2013’s Teen Beach Movie, the second-highest-rated original movie in Disney Channel history. Premieres at 7 p.m. June 26, on Disney.
Best Friends Whenever: Comedy in which a science experiment goes awry, giving two teen girls the ability to travel back and forth through time. Premieres at 8:30 p.m. June 26, on Disney.
Humans: William Hurt stars in this London-based sci-fi thriller about AI technology, robot servants and the line that separates machines from sentient beings. Premieres at 8 p.m. June 28, on AMC.
Zoo: Nature-goes-nuts thriller, based on a James Patterson bestseller, involving a wave of violent animal attacks against humans across the world. Premieres at 8 p.m. June 30, on CBS.
Scream: A group of teens is harassed by a puckish serial killer in this series, which is based on the Scream horror movie franchise. Premieres at 9 p.m. June 30, on MTV.
Tut: Ben Kingsley stars in this three-night miniseries about Tutankhamun’s rise to power and his efforts to lead ancient Egypt to glory. Premieres at 8 p.m. July 19, on Spike.
Mr. Robinson: Craig Robinson stars in a comedy about a struggling musician who takes a job as a substitute high school music teacher. Premieres at 8 p.m. Aug. 5, on NBC.
Kevin From Work: Single-camera comedy about the awkward office situation that arises after a guy declares his love for a lovely co-worker. Premieres at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12, on ABC Family.
Public Morals: Edward Burns and Michael Rapaport play New York cops who work the vice beat — and who are a little bit crooked themselves. Premieres at 9 p.m. Aug. 25, on TNT.