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Here's what to watch during the ongoing writers strike

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli. It's now been three months since members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike in Hollywood on May 2, with the Screen Actors Guild joining them July 14. That combined work stoppage has affected TV viewing already and significantly - no new late-night talk shows, several shows closed down in mid-production and the fall broadcast season in total disarray, populated mostly by reality and game shows. The Emmy Awards, scheduled for September 18, have just been postponed - the first time that's happened since 2001, in the wake of 9/11. But there's still some excellent television to watch as the strike drags on, if you know where and when to look.

The longer the strike continues, the more the TV networks and streaming services will be shifting and delaying their planned schedules. No one is eager to launch new shows when the actors won't promote them or schedule expensive productions from their inventory when they don't know how soon they'll be able to resume filming new ones. But in August, a few completed series are indeed arriving on schedule. The Showtime series "Billions," for example, returns later this month for its seventh and final season. On Hulu, the delightful "Only Murders In The Building" returns next week for its third season, with Meryl Streep added to the cast. And this week, the Apple TV+ series "Physical," starring Rose Byrne, returns for its third season, and it, too, has a prominent new guest star - Zooey Deschanel, former star of Fox's "New Girl" sitcom.

You also can watch for shows that are rolling out their episodes this summer on a weekly basis. The FX miniseries "Justified: City Primeval," which is great, presents new installments every Tuesday this month. And "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" on Paramount+ is concluding its second season by serving up some very wild, inventive episodes. Last week it did a crossover episode with another "Star Trek" spin-off series, "Star Trek: Lower Decks," which was tricky because "Lower Decks" is a cartoon. And this week "Strange New Worlds" rips a page from the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" playbook and finds a way to do a musical episode where characters burst uncontrollably into song. In "Buffy," the cause was a demon's magic spell. On "Strange New Worlds," it happens when the Starship Enterprise encounters something called an improbability field, and the crew members start singing instead of talking, beginning with the usually somber Vulcan Spock, played by Ethan Peck.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS")

ETHAN PECK: (As Spock) Ensign Uhura, are you patched into comms?

CELIA ROSE GOODING: (As Nyota Uhura) Aye, sir.

ANSON MOUNT: (As Christopher Pike) I need a full status report - all stations.

GOODING: (As Nyota Uhura) Apologies. Reporting from engineering first, sir. Mr. Spock?

PECK: (As Spock, singing) The intermix chamber and containment field are stable. I'll get to the warp core and assess its state when I'm able.

(As Spock) Where's that music coming from?

GOODING: (As Nyota Uhura) Not from anywhere on the ship.

PECK: (As Spock, singing) Apologies - the most confounding thing. I appear to be singing.

GOODING: (As Nyota Uhura) I have sickbay for you, sir.

PECK: (As Spock, singing) Most unusual, so peculiar.

GOODING: (As Nyota Uhura, singing) We can confirm there are no...

BIANCULLI: This prolonged strike period also is an opportunity to catch up on terrific series you've missed or want to revisit. Netflix is the place to see all of "Breaking Bad," "Better Call Saul" and "Black Mirror," three of the best TV series made in this century. Disney+ has an excellent inventory of old series, plus the fabulously filmed version of the musical "Hamilton." Apple TV+ has all three seasons of "Ted Lasso," and Hulu is a goldmine. Its inventory includes such classic never-fail comedies as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Bob Newhart Show" and even such rarely available TV dramas as "St. Elsewhere," the '80s series that still makes me smile with anticipation whenever I hear its instrumental theme song.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE GRUSIN'S "THEME FROM ST. ELSEWHERE")

BIANCULLI: But Hulu isn't just an oldies station. You can find all the seasons of "Fargo" there and the original "Justified" series and a still-fresh series, "The Bear," that dropped its second season on Hulu in June and instantly has become my new favorite TV show. It stars Jeremy Allen White from the Showtime series "Shameless" as a talented chef. As he works to launch a new restaurant, the TV series "The Bear" has only two speeds. There's fifth gear, where all is frenetic insanity, and there's first gear, where things slow down and scenes are shot in long, single takes. In one such scene, with music playing in the background, White's Carmen repairs a dining table with fellow chef Sydney, played by Ayo Edebiri, while the two of them talk about food.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEAR")

JEREMY ALLEN WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) You still love to cook, right?

AYO EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Yeah.

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) Yeah.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Best part of my day, like, 10 minutes ago...

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) Yeah?

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) ...I made Nat an omelet.

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) Yeah. You love taking care of people.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Yeah, I guess.

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) What was in the omelet?

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Boursin, and I put chives and potato chips on top.

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) Yeah?

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Oh, yeah.

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) What kind of potato chips?

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Sour cream and onion.

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) Oh, f***.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Yeah, the type with the ridges.

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) Oh, I bet that was fire.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) It was f****** delicious.

WHITE: (As Carmen Berzatto) That's good. That's good.

BIANCULLI: And that reminds me TV serves as comfort food, too. Don't forget about old "Columbo" episodes on Peacock or "The Sopranos" on Max. Or to stick with the comfort food metaphor and return to the omelet idea from "The Bear," how about going to Prime Video and paying to watch old episodes of Julia Child as "The French Chef"? I have, and there's something about them that's delicious as well as genuinely instructive.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

JULIA CHILD: You can tell exactly the heat of the pan by looking at the butter foam. As you see, it's still foaming, but when the foam begins to subside, then it's time to make the omelet. But you want to make - just be absolutely sure the butter is very hot because if it isn't, it's going to - your omelet is going to stick to the pan.

BIANCULLI: I know. It's an old show from the '70s. But sometimes, especially during strike times, there's nothing quite so tasty as leftovers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: On Monday's show, Jason Moran is at the piano to play music that shows how he's drawn from early jazz, hip-hop and the avant garde. His latest album is his take on the music of James Reese Europe, the composer and musician who led the Harlem Hellfighters Regiment Band in World War I. Europe had a short but remarkable life, as we'll hear. I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support by Joyce Lieberman, Julian Herzfeld and Tina Kalakay. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. For Terry Gross and Tonya Mosley, I'm David Bianculli.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.
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