7. “UnREAL” – Season 1
Debut: June 1, 2015
Episode Highlights: “Return,” “Fly,” “Two,” “Future”
The summer of 2015 saw two new dramas break out on two networks. No one expected “Mr. Robot” and USA Network or “UnREAL” and Lifetime to be the hottest series/channel pairings of the hottest months of the year, but both shows earned their buzz. “UnREAL” was as fun in its celebration of reality TV as it was smart in condemning its falsities. Both exciting and enriching, it hit all the right buttons.
6. “The O.C.” – Season 1
Debut: August 5, 2003
Episode Highlights: “Pilot,” “The Escape,” “The Secret,” “The Telenovela,” “The Strip,” “The Ties That Bind”
Spanning from August 2003 through May 2004, the elongated first season of Josh Schwartz’s impeccable nighttime soap hits all the hotspots of a summer series: hot drama with hot people in a permanently hot climate. Perhaps that’s what makes even a Chrismukkah episode feel appropriate year-round, even during the summer months, and what makes “The O.C.” worth revisiting every time that California sun comes to mind.
5. “Orange is the New Black” – Season 2
Debut: June 6, 2014
Episode Highlights: “A Whole Other Hole,” “You Also Have a Pizza,” “It Was the Change,” “We Have Manners, We’re Polite”
Seasons may not feel the same, or even exist, from inside a federal penitentiary, but “Orange is the New Black” has become an annual summer kick-off. The Piper Chapman chronicles have dipped further and further into their dramatic side over the last two seasons, but Jenji Kohan’s hour-long Netflix original remains associated with freedom despite its strikingly opposite setting: freedom of expression, choice, and love.
4. “Breaking Bad” – Season 4
Debut: July 17, 2011
Episode Highlights: “Shotgun,” “Salud,””Crawl Space,” “Face Off”
Only the final two seasons of “Breaking Bad” qualify, based on release date, as summer series, and Season 5’s year-long break between Part 1 and Part 2 seems like a bit of a cheat, so we’re sticking with Season 4. Plus, let’s not be dismissive here: Season 4 is great. Starting with Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Walt (Bryan Cranston) held captive by Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and ending with the crime lord of chicken’s assassination, the penultimate season of “Breaking Bad” saw Walt’s deep moral bend break beyond repair. It’s an exciting, irreproachable season worth admiring on its own.
3. “BoJack Horseman” – Season 3
Debut: July 22, 2016
Episode Highlights: “The BoJack Horseman Show,” “Fish Out of Water,” “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew,” “Best Thing That Ever Happened,” “That’s Too Much, Man!”
Another L.A. story that feels like a summer story, even though it takes place largely during Oscar season, “BoJack” reached new (literal) depths in “Fish Out of Water” while finding the figurative variety all season long. Sharply funny and aggressively adventurous, “BoJack” brings the best qualities of an edifying summer experience to the forefront.
2. “The Wire” – Season 1
Debut: June 2, 2002
Episode Highlights: “The Target,” “Old Cases,” “The Wire,” “The Cost” “Sentencing”
To be clear, only two seasons of David Simon’s crime classic qualified: Seasons 1 and 2 were released during the hottest time of year, while the latter half of his saga came out in the fall or winter months. That makes the choice fairly simple, even though the much-discussed year on the docks is more than pristine TV to us. But Season 1 is as iconic as they come, and there’s something about life on the streets — even when the characters are wearing stocking caps — that makes “The Wire” feel like a show meant to be watched in warm weather. That it’s always worth checking out — summer, winter, hot, cold, the first time or the 50th — only bolsters its case.
1. “Mad Men” – Season 4
Debut: July 25, 2010
Episode Highlights: “The Good News,” “The Suitcase,” “The Summer Man,” “Blowing Smoke,” “Tomorrowland”
Another show with limited options, “Mad Men” was nevertheless an instantly iconic summer series. The smoke. The sweat. The rolled up sleeves and buttoned-up collars. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) covered all the essentials, but it was the interpreted appreciation of summer that puts this season above the rest.
Season 4 features more time in sunny Los Angeles than ever, taunting Don with trips to a destiny he won’t discover for years to come. Moreover, this was the season that saw Don delay happiness by repeating his past mistakes: abandoning a challenging but fruitful relationship with Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono) to marry his secretary, Megan Calvet (Jessica Pare). Sunshine became the ultimate representation of contentment when “Mad Men” came to a close (that or Coca Cola), and Season 4 saw Don reject the blonde locks of freedom for a familiar dark hue of easy temptation. (We like Megan, for the record, but obviously their relationship was flawed from the get go.) Summer loving, Don had a blast. Summer loving, over so fast.
Honorable Mentions: “Sex and the City” (Season 4 — gah, it killed us to leave this one off!), “Flight of the Conchords” (Season 1), “Rescue Me” (Season 3), “Hannibal” (Season 3), “Halt and Catch Fire” (Season 2), “Rectify” (Season 2), “Deadwood” (Season 3)