What's Worth Watching: Stranger Things, The Nigh Of, Ballers and more for Friday, July 15 thru Sunday, July 17
Stranger Things (Available Friday, Netflix): What could be stranger than a Netflix horror show that's suitable for family viewing? The decidedly PG-13 Stranger Things is a cheerfully cornball homage to early Stephen King—think Firestarter, Stand By Me—and Spielbergian odes to childhood like E.T. and especially The Goonies. This eight-part romp is spooky without being too scary, icky without getting gross. It has little to add to the genre beyond quoting the classics, but it's fun popcorn fare, even if (like most Netflix originals) it might have had twice the impact at half the length. The story takes place in 1980s Indiana, seen as a nerd-vana for a quartet of bullied, misfit youths whose retreat into Dungeons & Dragons fantasy play becomes real when one of their group is snatched by a supernatural terror (creepier when unseen) that has escaped from a nearby research lab. Winona Ryder is a literal scream as the missing boy's hysterical mom, but it's the kids—most notably Millie Brown as Eleven, an intense lab refugee with special powers—who steal this show.
The Night Of (Sunday, 9/8c, HBO): The second chapter of this engrossing crime drama pits shambling lawyer John Stone (John Turturro) against the "subtle beast" of jaded, cunning detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp), who's trying to get the truth from murder suspect Naz (Riz Ahmed). "The truth can go to hell because it doesn't help you," Stone tells his overwhelmed client. Truth is: No one, not even Naz, knows what the truth is.
Ballers (Sunday, 10/9c, HBO): Play "spot the real-life sports figure" as a new season of high-rolling and hard-partying shenanigans gets underway, with athlete-turned-money manager Spencer Strasmore (an appealingly self-effacing Dwayne Johnson) making a spectacle of himself on a sports-talk show, which is exactly what his reputation doesn't need. Followed by the series premiere of Vice Principals (10:30/9:30c), a lazy vehicle for Danny McBride to reprise his foul-mouthed shtick as a pathetically petty tyrant of a high-school vice principal who teams with his poisonously prissy arch-rival (Walton Goggins) to take down the new principal who got the job they covet. Infantile antics ensue with a mean-spirited, borderline racist sting. We're meant to cringe at the self-destructive antics of this belligerent buffoon, and predisposed fans may find this a gnarly, nasty treat.
Power (Sunday, 9/8c, Starz): The weekend's other major premium-cable premiere opens the third season of a propulsive melodrama with the former "Ghost," aka James St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), trying to go legit with the help of Angela (Lela Loren), his first love and, by TV coincidence, the assistant district attorney pledged to take down his former criminal enterprise—which is now being run by his estranged BFF Tommy (Joseph Sikora). Oh, what a tangled, bloody web.