The reality of the current state of pop culture is that often all you can hear at a given moment is the loudest and most urgent next big thing. On television, that means that here at the beginning of June 2019, the only two TV shows that seem to matter are HBO's returning Big Little Lies and Hulu's returning The Handmaid's Tale. Similarly, at the end of the month, Showtime will premiere The Loudest Voice, about the rise of Roger Ailes and Fox News, starring Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts. Make no mistake: each of these should make for excellent TV. But they're also taking up all the air.
That's why, for a change of pace, we're highlighting five upcoming shows that, while not exactly small or unassuming, stand the risk of being swallowed by the great gulp of American pop culture. These five shows — one new series, one returning series, two miniseries, and a documentary movie — are among the highlights in a month of television that goes beyond just Meryl Streep and Roger Ailes.
In 1994, PBS aired the miniseries Tales of the City, based on the first in a series of novels by gay author Armistead Maupin. Starring Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis and a pre-fame Laura Linney, the "tales" were of San Francisco in the late 1970s, and in particular the goings on around the boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane, overseen by the kind and eccentric Anna Madrigal (Dukakis). Linney played Mary Ann Singleton, whose sheltered eyes were opened by the sex and queerness of San Francisco in the '70s, and over the course of the original miniseries and its two later seasons (on Showtime), Tales of the City came to represent the kind of frank and celebratory queerness that simply didn't exist on television back then. As a result, it holds a place of cherished honor in gay pop culture.
Which means Netflix bringing it back for an update — with Linney and Dukakis reprising their old roles — feels so important. These are beloved characters, even as they're being re-cast (Looking's Murray Bartlet assumes the role of Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, previously played by first Marcus D'Amico and then Paul Hopkins). Ellen Page anchors the younger cast additions, joined by Charlie Barnett (Russian Doll), Zosia Mamet, Ashley Park, and Victor Garber.
Premieres June 7 on Netflix.
Just because Leonardo DiCaprio is back to having freewheeling fun in a Quentin Tarantino movie this year — the upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — doesn't mean that he's forgotten his environmental activism. Ice on Fire is the latest documentary film he's produced to demonstrate the disastrous effects of climate change on polar ice.
But rather than merely scare the everloving crap out of the viewer, Ice on Fire appears to be gearing up to offer unprecedented solutions that, if implemented, could help. So come to see them light methane geysers on fire in the middle of icebergs; stay for the profit-based solutions that might actually give you some hope for the future. Hey, if it's good enough for the Cannes Film Festival, it should be good enough for us.
Premieres June 11 on HBO.
Get ready to twirl on your rivals this summer, hunnies, because FX's Pose is back for another lookat the history of the drag culture and house balls of New York City of the 1980s and 90s. The season premiere is set to kick off with the 1990 release of Madonna's "Vogue," the record that famously (or infamously, if cultural appropriation is on your mind) spotlighted drag culture and popularized it under the Material Girl's ever-re-inventing wing.
Look for the theme of family to show up strong in Season 2, as the hard-won House of Evangelista will have to support each other through, among other things, mother Blanca's HIV diagnosis.
Premieres June 11 on FX.
Showtime is promising something of a twist on the dirty-cop/urban jungle cliche with City on a Hill. Kevin Bacon does play a crooked FBI agent, but he ends up working in concert with a Brooklyn district attorney (played by Straight Outta Compton's Aldis Hodge) who has some ideas about how to solve the gun violence in early '90s Boston. The show also stars Jonathan Tucker as the leader of a gang of armored car robbers, former Law & Order ADA Jill Hennessy as Bacon's wife, and, as Tucker's mother, Academy Award nominee Cathy Moriarty. And since the 1990s and Boston are involved, you know it's being produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, along with Homicide's Tom Fontana.
The series seems to be going after the kind of cerebral cop-show angle that Oscar Isaac's Show Me a Hero did. And between this and Pose, the early '90s will be well represented on TV this summer.
Premieres June 16 on Showtime.
Russell T. Davies resurrected Doctor Who and gave the world Queer as Folk. Now he's got Emma Thompson playing a Donald Trump-esque celebrity prime minister in this HBO miniseries for HBO. Years and Years looks to be a bit of speculative fiction, imagining the rise to power of a controversial political figure in the form of a famous, rich, and outrageous personality. That it's the lovely and talented Emma Thompson playing such a cretinous type is sure to blow some minds.
The series also stars Rory Kinnear (Penny Dreadful; Black Mirror) and Russell Tovey (Looking) in the half of the series that focuses on a London family trying to go through their own business while their country goes crazy around them and the series plunges farther and farther into their (our) uncertain future. It promises to be like nothing else on television, and for that reason alone it deserves a look.
Premieres June 24 on HBO.
Which show are you most looking forward to seeing this month? Join the conversation in our forums.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.