Your TV GPS, Globe critic Matthew Gilbert’s guide to what’s on television, appears at the beginning of each week at BostonGlobe.com. Today’s column covers July 8-14.
A DYSTOPIA FOR EVERY OCCASION
On some level, as I review TV over the seasons, I’m always thinking about my year-end Top 10 list. And I can guarantee you that the miniseries “Years and Years” will be on that list, because I can’t stop thinking about it.
These days, it seems, there must always be some dystopian story feeding our nightmares. But “The Handmaid’s Tale,” while still beautifully filmed and acted, has lost its mojo, as the season three storyline has stumbled into illogic. “Westworld” has become tedious and at times incoherent. And “Black Mirror” has grown terribly spotty.
“Years and Years,” currently in the middle of its six-episode HBO run on Monday nights, carries the dystopia flag proudly. It gives us a glimpse of a world darkening — morally, technologically, politically — as we reach more deeply into the 21st century. On a broad level, it’s about the next 15 years, as the pacing of the show leapfrogs forward into our near future. It’s not science fiction, really, or apocalyptic, but it takes our current circumstances and gives them some unpleasant, logical extensions. That unpleasantness is embodied by Emma Thompson’s character, a blustery nationalist politician whom we only see on TV screens throughout the show.
On a more intimate and engaging level, “Years and Years” is about one family as they weather the storm together. Beautifully portrayed by an ensemble cast that includes Rory Kinnear, Anne Reid, and Russell Tovey, the Lyons family is compelling and emotionally engaging. Their individual stories ground the miniseries in real and relatable feelings.
Written by Russell T Davies of “Dr. Who” and “Queer as Folk,” “Years and Years” shows how political situations quickly or eventually have an impact on individual lives. As we watch the arc of world history unfold, we see it forever alter the arc of each member of the Lyons family.
WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. The story of Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts teen at the center of the text-message suicide case, raises all kinds of questions — about mental health, about suicide, about social media, about human nature, about responsibility and guilt. HBO is airing a two-part documentary about the involuntary manslaughter trial called “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter.” It looks into both the defense and the prosecution, turning us into a jury of sorts. It airs Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m.
2. One of the more controversial cases in the early days of the #MeToo movement involved Aziz Ansari. According to a 23-year-old woman writing on the now-defunct Babe.net, Ansari ignored her cues that she wasn’t enjoying their date, and she said she felt pressed to participate in certain sex acts. Some supported her, others felt she should have walked out of the date. At a show in February, Ansari said about the experience, “I felt really upset and humiliated and embarrassed, and ultimately I just felt terrible this person felt that way. After about a year, how I feel about it is I hope it was a step forward. It made me think about a lot, and I hope I’ve become a better person.” His new stand-up special, “Aziz Ansari: Right Now” premieres Tuesday on Netflix.
3. Showtime has a four-part documentary series about influential music producer Rick Rubin, who has worked with artists from the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC to Adele, Aerosmith, Kanye West, and Lady Gaga. “Shangri-La” will be released weekly on Showtime, beginning Friday at 9 p.m., but all four episodes will be available Friday for Showtime streaming apps.
4. The Kennedy family, along with Princess Diana, practically kept People magazine in business — before the reality TV characters took it over. So if you’re hungry for the American royals, TLC is bringing us “JFK Jr. and Carolyn’s Wedding: The Lost Tapes,” which features never-seen footage of their 1996 wedding. Narrated by Elizabeth McGovern, the two hour special — set to mark the 20th anniversary of their deaths — airs Saturday at 8 p.m.
5. I would be terribly neglectful if I didn’t mention the third-season return of TLC’s “Dr. Pimple Popper.” I’m not a fan of the show, on which we watch the good doctor remove globules, pustules, lipomas, boils, cysts, zits, and pus, a veritable “Macbeth” witches brew of soggy atrocities. As I wrote in a piece called “Dr. Pimple Popper Is Enough To Make Your Skin Crawl,” while some claim the most disgusting word in the English language is “moist,” I think I could made a good case for “discharge.” But millions love the show and wouldn’t want to miss a single squeeze on Thursday at 9 p.m.
6. Brace yourselves, my friend, because “Love Island” is coming to America. It’s CBS’s remake of a British series (that is available on Hulu) that brings 11 strangers — six women and five men — together on an island (CBS is in Fiji). They hook up, with one woman left alone; then the viewers get to screw with them all by voting out individuals to strategically break up couples. There are tons of other rules, but all you need to know is that there are cameras everywhere, it’s hot outside, and everyone is attractive in that People magazine kind of way. The 90-minute premiere is Tuesday at 8 p.m.
7. Someday, someone will do an anthology about insanity called “Florida Man.” In the meantime, Pop, the home of “Schitt’s Creek,” has a new comedy series about four women on the west coast of Florida. The friends in “Florida Girls” — played by series creator Laura Chinn, Laci Mosley, Melanie Field, and Patty Guggenheim — keep one another in good cheer despite their financial hardships. It premieres on Wednesday at 10 p.m.
We’ve all been waiting for a remake of the 2010 movie, so here it is, with Frank Grillo, Marcia Gay Harden, and Teyonah Parris. Netflix, Friday
The third season of the prostitution drama begins, with two episodes dropping and then a weekly release schedule. Hulu, Wednesday
“Bring the Funny”
A new comedy competition with judges Chrissy Teigen, Jeff Foxworthy, and Kenan Thompson. NBC, Tuesday, 10 p.m.
Loretta Devine and Tia Mowry star in a new multi-generational comedy series about a family that moves from the big city to the countryside. Netflix, Wednesday
“Next Big Thing”
A new reality music competition! The judges Damon Dash, Zaytoven, and Tina Davis! An R&B and hip-hop boot camp! Charlamagne tha God as host! BET, Tuesday, 10 p.m.
The fourth-season premiere of the PBS drama. WGBH-2, Sunday, 9 p.m.
It’s always a risk when a character on a TV show breaks the fourth wall and looks directly at — and sometimes speaks directly to — the viewer. I’m not talking about shows like “Modern Family” and “The Office,” mockumentaries that feature interviews with the characters; I’m talking about a character making eye contact with us, aware that we are watching.
But confident TV writers have done it many times over the years. Of late, three shows have done it admirably. Suranne Jones’s Anne Lister does it in HBO’s “Gentleman Jack,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag does it in Amazon’s “Fleabag,” and Olivia Cooke’s Becky Sharp does it in Amazon’s “Vanity Fair.”
Here are some other notables:
“The Bernie Mac Show” featured Bernie talking to us — usually with some comic angst — about his houseful of kids.
“30 Rock” would go anywhere, and did give us a few wall breaks, most notably Liz Lemon looking into the camera and asking, “Can we have our money now,” after a product placement.
“Secret Diary of a Call Girl” gave us Billie Piper’s high-class escort confiding in us about her life and explaining her decisions.
“House of Cards” featuring Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood being more truthful with us than with the people in his life.
“It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” which relied heavily on Garry’s comments to the audience, was so meta the theme song included these lines: “Garry called me up and asked if I could write his theme song/It’s almost halfway finished/How do you like it so far?”
“Saved by the Bell” gave us Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Zack Morris making asides to us.
“Scrubs” was a freewheeling, surreal show, and it gave us the occasional wink, most memorably after it moved from NBC to ABC and J.D. pointed to the ABC bug in the corner of the screen and said, “Hmm, that’s new.”Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.