Summer is a useful time to finish or delete anything that’s loitering in your DVR and graze TV’s junk-food aisles. Yet summer programming is improving. Here are 20 new and returning shows worth checking out:
“The Mist” (Spike at 10 p.m. Thursday): Stephen King’s 1980 novella about a strange fog that rolls into a small town (providing a shrouded habitat for bloodthirsty creatures) has already been tried as a 2007 movie, but creator Christian Torpe has some new ideas meant to turn the story into a 10-episode “Walking Dead”-type survival of the fittest.
“Prime Suspect: Tennison” (KET at 10 p.m. June 25): Before she was the ace inspector played by Helen Mirren in one of public TV’s best series, Jane Tennison was just a 22-year-old rookie “WPC” (woman police constable) in London’s Hackney borough in 1973. This three-episode “Prime Suspect” prequel, co-written by Lynda La Plante, who wrote the original series, is is easily one of the best shows you’ll find this summer.
“Broadchurch” (BBC America at 10 p.m. June 28): Remember how wild people were for the “Broadchurch” debut a few years back? (And disappointed by Season 2’s meandering?) Now the show is back for a reinvigorated third (and final) round, reuniting detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller (David Tennant and Olivia Colman) as they investigate a rape case.
“The Words That Built America” (HBO at 7 p.m. July 4): Documentarian Alexandra Pelosi gets famous and non-famous Americans to read aloud from three documents that define our nation: the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.
“Snowfall” (FX at 10 p.m. July 5): This compelling Los Angeles crime epic is about the birth of crack cocaine, set in the summer of 1983. Created by John Singleton with Eric Amadio and Dave Andron, “Snowfall” is lean, mean and precise. Though it fictionalizes and chronicles a depressing (and violent) American crisis, it belongs on everyone’s must-watch list.
“The Defiant Ones” (HBO at 9 p.m. July 9): This four-night documentary focuses on the intertwining careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, and the emergence of Interscope and Death Row Records.
“Will” (TNT at 9 p.m. July 10): There’s plenty of charm and thrills in this drama about 24-year-old Will Shakespeare (Laurie Davidson), who leaves his wife and three children in Stratford and travels to 16th-century London. Pop oldies and current hits blare in the background as Will tries to write a play entertaining enough to impress James Burbage (Colm Meaney), the proprietor of a certain 3,000-seat theater that is destined to make history.
“Last Men in Aleppo” (KET at 10 p.m. July 10): Of all the documentaries coming out of war-ravaged Syria, this one from director Feras Fayyad is particularly impressive. Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan wrote that “Last Men in Aleppo” is “a deeper and more artful film” than Oscar-winner “The White Helmets.”
“Salvation” (CBS at 9 p.m. July 12): This sci-fi/suspense thriller is about an MIT student and a tech billionaire who team up to save the world from an asteroid. That particular sort of Armageddon sounds like old hat, but CBS seems to understand the experimental nature of summer TV.
“Friends From College” (Netflix, July 14): Film director Nicholas Stoller and his wife, Francesca Delbanco, are behind this eight-episode dramedy about six Ivy Leaguers (including Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, Cobie Smulders and Nat Faxon) who remain friends in their complicated 40s.
“Game of Thrones” (HBO at 9 p.m. July 16): There are only seven episodes in this penultimate season of one of the best shows of our time, so enjoy them while they last.
“The Strain” (FX at 10 p.m. July 16): Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s viral-vampires saga moves at a nice clip, with a minimum of existential crises amid the horror. This fourth and final season deals with the fact that petulant brat Zach (Max Charles) set off a nuclear bomb in Manhattan at the end of Season 3.
“Insecure” (HBO at 10:30 p.m. July 23): Issa Rae’s affecting portrait of a social worker in Los Angeles and the up-and-down state of her friendships and love life ended its first season on a down note, when her character’s boyfriend dumped her after discovering she’d had an affair.
“Midnight, Texas” (NBC at 10 p.m. July 24): From author Charlaine Harris (who gave us “True Blood”), this drama is about a small town full of paranormal inhabitants (vampires, witches, werewolves, psychics) who have to fight off cops and biker gangs to form a community where they can be themselves.
“Room 104” (HBO at 11:30 p.m. July 28): From brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (“Togetherness”), this anthology series features a random mix of characters who each spend a night in Room 104 of an nondescript motel.
“Manhunt: Unabomber” (Discovery Channel at 9 p.m. Aug. 1): Discovery takes an eight-episode stab at telling the story of hermit and domestic terrorist Ted Kaczynski (Paul Bettany) and the FBI profiler, Jim Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington), who tracked him down in 1996. Jane Lynch plays Attorney General Janet Reno.
“First in Human” (Discovery Channel at 9 p.m. Aug. 10) This three-night documentary, narrated by “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons, takes viewers on a trip inside the National Institutes of Health’s “Building 10” hospital complex, where chemotherapy was first used against cancer, lithium was tried for depression and — so long as federal funding continues — further research continues.
“Broad City” (Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m. Aug. 23) Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s surrealistic, hilarious twist on the “young women in the big city” trope is back for a fourth season. Delightfully weird and endearing, “Broad City” has a “Seinfeld”-esque way of reflecting this generation’s sharpest sense of humor.
“Halt and Catch Fire” (AMC, late summer): The fourth and final season of AMC’s dawn-of-the-internet drama was slow-going at first but evolved into a moody rumination on a certain time (the 1980s) and place (first Texas, then the Bay Area). Now it’s the 1990s — so here come all those freebie AOL discs?