The 5 Best New TV Shows of July 2023

As Barbenheimer rocks the box office, and Hollywood actors and writers hit the picket line, TV’s summertime slump is in full effect. July 2023 saw the return of comedy favorites like What We Do in the Shadows, This Fool, Minx (which jumped from Max to Starz), and, for its final season, How To With John Wilson. Justified and Project Greenlight are back in new incarnations. But we didn’t get much in the way of showstopping debut series. Still, there’s a handful of titles worth checking out, from a flawed but fascinating Soderbergh thriller to a pair of beautifully executed docuseries to the best new animated comedy in recent memory.

Full Circle (Max)

Fatalism should make life simple. Once you embrace the belief, whether secular or spiritual, that everything happens as part of a grand cosmic plan, you can relax, safe in the knowledge that the universe (or God, or science) has had your discrete destiny gamed out since the dawn of time. But that’s not how fate—or is it free will?—operates in Max’s Full Circle, a cluttered yet compelling thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh. As conceived by creator Ed Solomon, the trajectory of human life isn’t a straightforward circle of cause and effect so much as it’s a tangled web of emotion, self-interest, faith, luck, character flaws, and above all history.

The series applies this worldview to the case of a seemingly incomprehensible kidnapping. In Queens, the brother-in-law of a Guyanese crime boss, Savitri Mahabir (CCH Pounder), is murdered by a rival family. But instead of exacting revenge on the immediate culprits, as her ambitious nephew Aked (Jharrel Jerome) proposes, Savitri—who believes the Mahabirs are cursed—travels to her home country, consults a mystic, and returns to New York convinced she knows how to close the circle of misfortune that has afflicted her family. Weirdly, the remedy entails abducting the hapless teen son, Jared (Ethan Stoddard), of a rich, white Manhattan couple. [Read the full review.]

The Horror of Dolores Roach (Amazon)

Step aside, Sweeney Todd! There’s a new human-meat entrepreneur in town, and her name is Dolores Roach. Played—gloriously against type—by the wonderful Justina Machado (One Day at a Time), Dolores has just been released from prison after doing time for a drug-dealer boyfriend. Hoping to reunite with him, she returns to their old neighborhood, Washington Heights, only to find the area overrun by young, white gentrifiers and the fancy businesses that so reliably spring up around them. At least good, old Empanada Loca is still hanging on—and its proprietor, her acquaintance Luis (Alejandro Hernandez), is happy to host her there. Dolores moves into his gloomy apartment, in the basement of the empanada joint, and sets up a gray-market business to capitalize on a skill she learned behind bars: giving massages. Her hands are magic. So magic, it turns out, that they can fatally snap a client’s neck before she’s consciously decided to do so. Lucky for Dolores, Luis is twisted enough to help her dispose of the bodies by carving them up to make delicious empanadas.

Dolores Roach was a one-woman show and then a narrative podcast before it was adapted for Amazon, and the series uses a distracting framing device to acknowledge that history. But Machado makes a riveting antihero, believably unhinged but too warm to hate. The supporting actors, including Marc Maron, Cyndi Lauper, and Jean Yoon from Kim’s Convenience, are perfectly cast. And what the social commentary on offer here lacks in freshness (the play does date back to 2015), it makes up for in cathartic humor, as Dolores dispatches the new neighbors who look down on her and Luis fries them up and feeds them to cool-hunting foodies.

[Read about Dolores Roach‘s Sweeney Todd connection.]

Human Footprint (PBS)

I’ve sampled so many nature documentaries over the past few years that they’ve all blurred together into an umpteen-hour mass of sweeping aerial panoramas, stunning wildlife closeups, and grand narration from David Attenborough. Don’t get me wrong: I’m as awed by the beauty and technical achievement of these post-Planet Earth productions as anyone. But there’s more than one way to make a great nature show. Human Footprint takes a chattier approach to exploring the Anthropocene, sending the affable biologist and Princeton professor Shane Campbell-Staton around the globe to document and discuss the often-catastrophic impact of humans on the natural world. Each of six hourlong episodes takes on a different facet of that enormous topic, from the invasive species we’ve introduced into fragile ecosystems to the phenomenon of the city. While there’s plenty of heavy stuff here, Campbell-Staton knows when to inject some levity—including an entire episode on our relationships with dogs.

Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York (HBO)

More than an investigation, this true-crime series is an eloquent and timely rumination on why it took police in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania so many years to catch a serial killer who, throughout the early 1990s, picked up men at gay bars in Manhattan and crossed state lines to dispose of their dismembered remains. Unlike so much contemporary true-crime schlock, which enthuses over “favorite” murders and fetishizes Jeffrey Dahmer, its emphasis is on the victims, their still-grieving families, and a larger LGBTQ community that sublimated fear into action. Harnish’s question epitomizes the disconnect that persists between police and one of the most vulnerable groups they’re supposed to serve and protect. [Read the full review.]

Praise Petey (Freeform)

This exuberantly weird animated comedy comes from the mind of Anna Drezen, the former SNL head writer known for slyly surreal showbiz sendups like “Nephew Pageant” and Kate McKinnon’s unforgettable character Debette Goldry. Schitt’s Creek alum Annie Murphy riffs on her breakthrough fish-out-of-water role as the voice of Petra “Petey” St. Barts, a vivacious young New Yorker who loses her fiancé (he’s a literal slab of lumber, by the way), her best friend, her home, and her job as Senior Assistant/Editorial Assistant at a fashion magazine in the same awful day. Thankfully, her rich, distant mother, Christine Baranski’s spectacularly named White St. Barts, has just informed Petey that she has a father. And he recently died. Also, as he explains in a VHS tape, she’s just inherited the small, Southern town he owns. It’s called New Utopia, which sounds like a cult because it is a cult. [Read the full review.]

The 5 Best New TV Shows of July 2023

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