A-List Television with ‘House of the Dragon,’ ‘The Boys’ and ‘Presumed Innocent’

(Courtesy of HBO)

This summer, every streaming service is bringing out the big guns with massive series starring A-listers, apathetic antiheroes and aerial lizards. Here are but a few new and returning series that are bringing the heat for the summer season. Parents, take note that the shows reviewed here contain adult themes and images, and are all rated TV-MA (mature audience only). 

‘House of the Dragon’ (Season 2, HBO MAX)

War is hell. But add a few fire-breathing, flying basilisks into the mix, and war is transformed from hell into entertainment or, in the case of “House of the Dragon,” prestige TV. The first season of the “Game of Thrones” prequel meticulously set up internal strife within Westeros’s royal family, the Targaryens, as it introduced all the main players in the war of succession known as “The Dance of the Dragon.” But will Season 2 fulfill its promise of hot and scorching dragon-on-dragon action?

Last season, House Targaryen was divided after Queen Rhaenyra’s (Emma D’Arcy) throne was usurped by the Greens, a faction of Targaryens led by her stepmother, Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), in support of her son Prince Aegon II’s (Tom Glynn-Carney) claim on the throne. And before either side had a moment to think of the repercussions of their actions, Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) lost control of his dragon Vhagar, which made a meal out of Rhaenyra’s son.

This season, the seeds of drama planted in the first season have begun to take root. Ser Cole continues to blossom in his villain arc while Aegon flourishes into an inept leader and Aemond steadily becomes an apathetic sociopath. Each actor, particularly D’Arcy, Cooke, and Matt Smith as the haunted Daemon Targaryen, has more to chew on in the new season, as their characters develop due to personal tragedies and a growing sense of doom. 

Observant fans might know the outcome of “A Dance of the Dragons,” either from books, online wikis, or when a distorted version of it was once shouted in glee by Joffrey Baratheon during a blink-and-miss-it scene in “Game of Thrones.” But this time around, the showrunners are cashing in on the journey, and not just the ending. Fueled by vengeance and fury, this particular fight for the Iron Throne is less about the victor and more about the brawl. The show slowly takes its time and builds to full-scale dragon carnage, which this season will delay as much as possible. Or at least for a few episodes.  

An eye for an eye and a son for a son seems to be the mantra of this “Dance.” And though a house divided against itself will fall, the fall is what we are here to see. The slow and inevitable destruction of House Targaryen is what makes “House of the Dragon” so captivating. And in that, Season 2 is successful, as it continues on the fiery path toward dragon-filled warfare that will become a special effects spectacle to behold. Even with the knowledge of how it will end, watching the gruesome vengeance should be satisfying, thanks to polished performances from the players and the eye-popping, high-end production values we’ve come to expect from HBO.

‘The Boys’ (Season 4, Amazon Prime)

(Courtesy of Prime Video)

In an alternate timeline where corporations can manufacture superheroes and many of those heroes are psychotic, “The Boys” are the best defense against Übermensch megalomaniacs, corrupt corporations, and blood-bending government officials.

“The Boys” is back in town, kids. And it has something to say about the state of society on the brink of madness.

When we last left off, Homelander found himself in a powerful position as a supe who can do no wrong in the eyes of his followers, even when it comes to murder. And as America gears up for an election year, evil enterprise Vought International has its eye on the prize: The Oval Office. Never a show to shy away from any hot-button issue (or anything else), the fourth season of “The Boys” parodies political issues dividing Americans during a volatile political year.

Once again, Antony Starr is absolutely phenomenal as the ghastly Homelander, the hellish hero who looks like a caped crusader but has the demeanor of a psychopath. Starr continues to shade his performance with moments of vulnerability as the audience learns more about his twisted backstory that led to the creation of the all-powerful enfant terrible. 

In addition to Starr’s contributions, Jessie T. Usher as A-Train continues to have the best character growth of the group, evolving into a truly remorseful metahuman whose mistakes led to the crippling of his own brother. Chace Crawford as The Deep and Laz Alonso as Mother’s Milk also get storylines worthy of their caliber, while new additions Susan Heyward as Sister Sage and Valorie Curry as Firecracker add significantly to the story, particularly Heyward whose character grows beyond her comic book counterpart. 

The fourth outing of “The Boys” is the darkest season yet, as it makes as strong a statement on American government, politics and voters as it does on comic book culture. The series maintains the levels of crazy that fans have come to expect thanks to heaps of visceral violence and the odd rubber duck hallucination. Those looking for an escape from horrors of reality might not enjoy this brand of crazy, but those in need of biting satire and stellar performances, “The Boys” delivers. And to make it worth your while, there is a left field “Mrs. Maisel” crossover that absolutely nobody was expecting. 

‘Presumed Innocent’ (Apple TV+)

(Courtesy of Apple TV+)

Chief deputy prosecutor Rusty Sabich is in a bit of a bind. His colleague and former flame Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve) has been found brutally murdered in her own home, and now Rusty (Jake Gyllenhaal), a happily married man who is trying to put his affair with Carolyn behind him, is now in charge of the investigation, at least until he becomes part of the investigation. As newly elected State’s Attorney Nico Della Guardia (O-T Fagbenle) and his toady deputy prosecutor Tommy Molto (Gyllenhaal’s real-life brother-in-law Peter Sarsgaard) set their sights on Rusty as a possible suspect, the audience is left to ponder the question: Who killed Carolyn? And why?

Created by David E. Kelley and executive produced by J.J. Abrams, “Presumed Innocent” is based on the bestselling novel by Scott Turow and is Apple TV+’s big-ticket play for accolades and audiences, as Gyllenhaal steps into the role that Harrison Ford once occupied in the 1990 big screen version. As a miniseries, the story can have pacing issues, taking its sweet time as it examines the marriage between Rusty and his long-suffering wife Barbara, as well as establishes his contemptuous relationship with the new DA who wants to strike down the attorney with the power of Mjölnir. 

But in this production, the performances are key. Gyllenhaal portrays a man on the edge, a husband and father whose world slowly collapses around him. Gyllenhaal gives a performance that can be interpreted as both remorseful and resentful, allowing the miniseries to grow beyond the “falsely-accused fugitive” trope to one in which the white knight seems like an actual psychopath at times. In addition to Gyllenhaal’s chops, Sarsgaard and Fagbenle offer creditable performances as Rusty’s foils, prosecutors powered by their convictions but unable to see past their own aspirations and prejudices.

Though the story of a family man with a dark secret is a clichéd construct, this most recent version of “Presumed Innocent” is hoisted to new heights thanks to its cast. The elevated ensemble helps put a new shine and a fresh take on a well-worn tale.

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