It's getting harder every year to know where summer TV leaves off and fall TV begins.
As HBO's Sharp Objects brings its Southern Gothic tale to a chilling close on Sunday, Aug. 26, there's no shortage of series to tide us over until the traditional autumn rollout begins to peak in late September.
Let's start with Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, the new Amazon series premiering on Friday, Aug. 31, which adds John Krasinski (The Office, A Quiet Place) to the list of actors who've portrayed Clancy's brainy action hero.
My editor will tell you that there's only one Jack Ryan and that his name is Harrison Ford. But I rewatched Ford in Clear and Present Danger not long ago, and Krasinski comes closer to Ford's righteous Boy Scout than most. I think she'll come around.
But then, I was hooked from the moment the new Jack rode his bicycle to work through the streets of D.C. and had a meet-not-so-cute with his new boss, James Greer (Wendell Pierce). An urban warrior on two wheels? This is the eight-episode action movie I've been waiting for all summer.
Developed for television by Lost producer Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, Jack Ryan brings the character, who in Clancy's timeline eventually became president, back to basics. He's a CIA analyst and former Wall Street whiz with a bad back. His eye for suspicious financial transactions leads to his going head to head with Greer, and eventually with a Mideast terrorist leader, Suleiman (Ali Suliman), whose origin story this is almost as much as it is Ryan's.
Terrorism is painted as the evil it is — one act, frankly, is so evil I worry the writers might give someone an idea — but the Muslim characters aren't all terrorists. And even terrorists can have backstories. Suleiman's, told through flashbacks that begin with him as boy in 1980s Lebanon singing into a hairbrush to Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance," suggests his radicalization wasn't inevitable. And it's hard not to see that he and Jack may have things in common.
Dina Shihabi gives a fierce performance as Hanin, Suleiman's once-dutiful wife, whose transformative journey may prove more arduous than Jack's.
Pierce's Greer also gets his share of the action, quickly escaping what could have been a desk job in a more adrenaline-charged version of the role played in three films by James Earl Jones.
Clancy fans will recognize that Dr. Cathy Mueller (Abbie Cornish) is likely more than a random love interest, and the six episodes I've seen include a glimpse into her work as an infectious-disease specialist. (Yes, she's changed specialties, but she's still a physician.) Whatever the future holds for her and Jack, this woman won't be simply waiting for Jack's texts as he jets from one hot spot to another.
Here are some other shows out to beat the fall rush:
America to Me. New documentary series from Hoop Dreams director Steve James follows a dozen students from Chicago's Oak Park and River Forest High School to look at the role race and financial means play in public education. I know that sounds like I'm telling you to eat your vegetables, but the kids are irresistible. Including the one who tells his classmates the camera crew is there because they're "training for Cheaters." 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, Starz.
Greenleaf. Lynn Whitfield finally gets to flesh out her character's backstory in the third season of this drama, set in a family-run black mega-church whose bishop (Keith David) and "first lady" (Whitfield) now preside over a house divided. As the cracks in their marriage lead them to the brink of divorce, their daughters Grace (Merle Dandridge) and Charity (Deborah Joy Winans) are trying to figure out their own next moves. Look for Philadelphia's Patti LaBelle in a recurring role this season as the college friend and celebrity motivational speaker who represents the road not taken for Whitfield's Lady Mae. 10 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 28, and Wednesday, Aug. 29, OWN.
One Dollar. I haven't yet seen this new mystery from CBS's subscription streaming service in which Philadelphia's Leslie Odom Jr. has a recurring role, but the Pittsburgh-filmed drama at least sounds intriguing: "A one-dollar bill changing hands connects a group of characters involved in a shocking multiple murder." Thursday, Aug. 30, CBS All Access.
Mayans M.C. The symbolism of a motorcyclist running over a dead crow in the opening scene will mean more to the Sons of Anarchy faithful than to newcomers, but it's a signal that Kurt Sutter and cocreator Elgin James (Little Birds) hope to do something with Mayans beyond picking at the bones of Sons.
This spinoff, set in a Latino club with ties to the boys in Charming, but with a distinctive culture of its own, drew me in faster than Sons of Anarchy originally did. Though it took most of the supersize premiere to do it, and the second episode, too, will likely run beyond the hour with commercials.
JD Pardo stars as Ezekiel "EZ" Reyes, a Mayans "prospect" who's fresh out of prison but out of place in the rigidly structured criminal enterprise he's trying to join, which already claims his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas) as a member. Battlestar Galactica's Edward James Olmos plays their father, Felipe, and Cold Case's Danny Pino a drug lord to whom the Mayans owe fealty. There are women in this world, too, who are every bit as complicated as the women who kept me coming back to Sons, but to tell you what they're doing here might give too much away. Keep your eyes peeled for a flashback cameo to not exactly happier times, as well as Sons-worthy fight scenes. And you probably won't be surprised that a show about a motorcycle gang in league with a drug cartel that operates on the U.S.- Mexico border occasionally has political overtones. 10 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, FX.
The Purge. What I know about the Blumhouse movie franchise mostly comes from trailers I've treated like warnings to stay far away, but now the story of a 12-hour period every year in which murder is legal is a TV show about class divisions, rich-people politics, the #MeToo movement, and, of course, wanton killing. (Because The Handmaid's Tale and cable news apparently aren't scary enough.) Amanda Warren (The Leftovers) plays a Wharton grad whose boss (William Baldwin) insists her entire team work to close a deal on Purge Night. Emmy winner Anthony Hemingway (American Crime Story, Underground) directs the first episode, which will be simulcast on Syfy. You'll probably want to start locking the doors now. 10 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, USA.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. As Season 13 begins, the gang's still all here — or will be, eventually. Even more than Seinfeld, Sunny has been a show whose characters did their best to avoid learning and growing. And yet things are changing, though not enough to spoil the fun. Charlie (Charlie Day) is living with the Waitress ( Mary Elizabeth Ellis), Dennis (Glenn Howerton, who's also starring in NBC's A.P. Bio) is, if only for the moment, elsewhere. Mac (Philly's Rob McElhenney) came out as gay last season and will be staying out, in part, McElhenney told reporters this month, because of the response to that episode from LGBTQ viewers. "I just didn't think that we were that kind of show, and it turned out that we were for people." 10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, FXX.