Top TV Episodes of the Month: Game of Thrones, Rick and Morty, and Hard Knocks

Plus, one of television's greatest heroes finally returns


They call the majority of August the dog days of summer, and traditionally that has meant an absence of captivating entertainment, be it in film, sports, or television. In film, August is often left for the blockbusters with less intrigue than the big event films of Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. In sports, it’s a strange time when baseball has yet to reach its peak and the other sports have yet to start in proper. And in TV, before there was streaming or even as much original cable programming, summer was a time of hiatus.

But, many are learning, these dog days also represent an opportunity, regardless if they have to compete with family vacations. Christopher Nolan has used this to his advantage, making it a habit to release films in mid to late July so he can own August as well. In sports, fantasy football now turns August into a month where sports fans are caring about every aspect of the NFL pre-season, turning a traditionally yawn-worthy period into one of the most exciting times of the year. And in TV, some of the biggest shows have opted to air their biggest episodes in August. In a world of 24-hour news and seven-day work weeks, why not have 12-month television schedules that keep people tuned in regardless of the page on the calendar.

To be clear, August is not feast time for good television. Being lucky enough to have Halt and Catch Fire kick off its final season just as Game of Thrones and Twin Peaks are wrapping their own respective runs feels like we’re watching a comet pass by us. But it sure beats how we used to entertained ourselves in August, back when watching a literal comet pass by us would be about as good as it gets.

–Phillip Cosores
Executive Editor


Ricky and Morty

“Pickle Rick”

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“Okay, I may have fucked up here.”

Like the best episodes of Rick and Morty, “Pickle Rick” hits a sweet spot between devastating realism, referential comedy, and unimaginably lowbrow jokes destined to be run into the ground by your friend who quotes them way, way too often. But the episode arrives at a point in the series when life is starting to move by Rick, even as he’s too obsessed with the limits of his own genius to give a shit. His daughter is getting a divorce, one of his grandchildren is huffing pottery enamel, and the other can’t stop wetting himself in school. But when the family is compelled into group therapy by Morty and Summer’s principal, Dr. Wong (Susan Sarandon) patiently forces them to confront the real issue at the heart of all their dysfunction: Rick.

Meanwhile, Pickle Rick is busy having quite the adventure, full of rat exoskeletons and stock Russian villains. Yet for an episode that sees Rick become the Russian legend “Solenya, the ‘pickle man’,” “Pickle Rick” also offers one of the show’s most melancholic trips into its own psychology to date. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have often toyed with the perpetual agony that drives Rick, whether in his flippant abuse of his loved ones or in the way that his hyper-intelligence ultimately gives him all the weapons he needs to slowly destroy himself. But there’s a truth to Dr. Wong’s climactic revelation, that Rick and his family “use your intelligence to justify sickness.” These are people who use their self-awareness to hurt themselves and each other, and for an episode full of action movie cliches and references to poop-eating, it’s something of an emotional breakthrough for the Smith/Sanchez family. At least until Morty and Summer still find themselves at the kiddie table on the ride home. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


Hard Knocks

“Episode 1”

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Every year, HBO takes a deep dive into the NFL with their Hard Knocks documentary series, which focuses on the drama of training camp as stars prove their leadership and rookies fight for a roster spot. This year, the focus is on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the only NFL team with a pirate ship in their stadium and an NFL analyst who marches around still convinced he’s their coach. But while it was fun to see Jon Gruden with his Bucs visor in hand, this year’s Hard Knocks would be nothing without a breakout star, and it has a pair in Jameis Winston and Gerald McCoy.

With one leading the offensive side of the ball and one leading the defensive, both Winston and McCoy have proved captivating on the show for their big personalities and inspired leadership qualities. For McCoy, it’s an action as simple as carrying his teammates helmets for them. For Winston, it’s showing support when rookies are forced to embarrass themselves with public vocal performances. The HBO series has long been a fascinating look at what makes these athletes tick, and with Tampa Bay, they’ve quickly found a team worthy of documenting, striking the perfect balance between entertainment and inspiration. –Philip Cosores


Halt and Catch Fire

“Signal to Noise”

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Halt and Catch Fire only gets better by the season, which is why it’s so hard to see the AMC drama go. It’s for the better, though, because the series will likely go out on top, and that’s more than you can say for its characters. With season four, it appears that everyone is giving it their final push in Silicon Valley, whether it’s Gordon (Scoot McNairy), Donna (Kerry Bishé), Joe (Lee Pace), or Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), and there’s something deeply affecting in the way they’re so physically and mentally drained. As we detailed in our season review, they’re all perpetual underdogs, no matter what “side” they’re on, and that’s what has long made them so intriguing and relatable as characters.

“Signal to Noise”, the second episode of the new season, captures those feelings in spades, particularly with Joe and Cam. In what can only be described as The Cameron Crowe Episode, the two spend over 24 hours together on the phone, roaming around their respective sanctuaries as they rekindle their romance. They revisit past affairs. They cook meals. They drink wine. They stare off into the night sky. One of them even falls asleep. It’s a reunion that’s been teased time and time again on the show, and boy do they earn it, thanks to writer Mark Lafferty emphasizing these tranquil scenes over the erupting chaos that’s boiling around them. It’s a wise decision that insinuates this is what the two have been missing all along.

Hey, no argument there. –Michael Roffman


Game of Thrones

“The Dragon And The Wolf”

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For all of Season 7, Game of Thrones has had a time problem. Whereas previous seasons would spend several episodes on the time it took to travel from Winterfell to Kings Landing, suddenly large distances could be crossed in a single scene. Part of this was trying to condense what could have easily been 10 episodes down to seven, and part of this is just the knowledge that a lot of plot needs to be covered before the series concludes next year.

Still, all of this factors in to why “The Dragon and the Wolf” was so refreshing. With nearly 90 minutes to wrap up the season, for once Game of Thrones didn’t need to rush through its motions to get to the action. Sure, much of the early episode dialog proved to be misdirection, but these kind of magic tricks is the same thing the show was built on. The audience wants to be shown a dove in one hand only to have it appear in another, that’s why people watch the show to begin with.

So in getting drawn out conversations between Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) or the reunion between Tyrion and his old buddies Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and Podrick (Daniel Portman), it doesn’t matter so much that it moves the plot, rather that it gives the plot the time it needs to breathe. There was plenty about the finale to feel satisfied, the biggest of which was Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) final comeuppance, but Game of Thrones finally felt like itself when not that much was going on. Like the fire and ice that make up so much of the show’s imagery, it’s all about balance. –Phillip Cosores


Twin Peaks

“Part 16”

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No kidding, MIKE. After 16 hours of unbelievable television, Special Agent Dale Cooper returned to Twin Peaks, and Kyle MacLachlan didn’t skip a single beat in bringing him back. The second he stirred out of his coma, MacLachlan assumed the confident swagger and demeanor of the Blue Rose Task Force MVP, nailing it down right to the posture. If you listened close enough, you could hear a collective sigh from the Twin Peaks community, who have been patiently waiting for their favorite hero to return. It’s an incredible relief, too, seeing how some had speculated he might not even show up until the very last second, which would certainly drive home the meaning of the limited series’ title: The Return. Fortunately for us, that didn’t happen, and we now have two hours of Cooper to look forward to during what will certainly be an unforgettable conclusion.

But let’s not shorthand this incredible hour. No, “Part 16” had all the signature motifs of an original episode of Twin Peaks — the original theme, that unnerving sequence involving Diane (Laura Dern) that ended in the Red Room, and Cooper’s delivery of “I am the FBI” — complete with a tantalizing stinger involving Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). When the episode immediately cuts from the Roadhouse, where she had been dancing to “Audrey’s Theme” among a circle of spectators, to whatever cell she’s been trapped inside all this time (ahem, maybe the White Lodge?), it felt like the familiar green title card of “Executive Producers David Lynch and Mark Frost” might glaze over the screen … you know, just like the old days. Well, seeing how the final two episodes of the series will concentrate on the titular town, that may have been Lynch’s and Frost’s intention all along.

In a way, it’s like we’re being prepped for our own proper return. –Michael Roffman