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fear-the-walking-dead-season-2b-madison-dickens-strand-domingo-935-1It took awhile for this “Walking Dead” spinoff to find its bearings, but as the show begins the second half of its second season, it seems to be finding its own pace and rhythm. The main group of human survivors (including Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Ruben Blades and Colman Domingo) have escaped a conflagration and are now split up and headed in different directions. Midseason premiere, 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, on AMC.

‘Gilmore Girls’

Save. the date. Nov. 25.

‘Tour de France’

1tvtourdefrance_tzrIf you want to see the live airing of the final leg of this year’s competition (it starts at the Château de Chantilly and ends at the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris), you might want to set an alarm — or maybe the DVR. I know a certain member of my family that will be awake and cheering (Hi, Mom!). 7:30 a.m. Sunday, July 24, on NBCSN.

gbbsFinally! This delicious baking competition is back for a third go-round. Twelve new bakers, judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, and hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, return to that tent in the lovely English countryside. On your mark … get set … Bake! 9 p.m. Friday, July 15, on KCTS.

Mr. Robot

Mr. RobotThis fascinating drama about a young cybersecurity engineer/hacker (played by Rami Malek) was a big success during its premiere season last summer. It also won a Golden Globe for best drama. It is honestly unlike anything else on TV, and if you’ve seen any of it, you know what I mean. To be safe, you might want to go and change your computer password, because here comes season 2.0. Season premiere, 10:01 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, on USA.

‘The Last One’

indexA woman wanders through a deserted Northeastern landscape. Where can she build a shelter? Does she have enough water to survive? And, most important, when will it all be over so she can go home?

In her debut novel, “The Last One” (Ballantine, 294 pp., $26), Alexandra Oliva takes this (possibly) post-apocalyptic setting, grafts on a knowledgeable skewering of the inner workings of reality television and gives us a gripping story of survival.

I say “possibly” because even though we’re told in the opening chapter that an editor on the production team of a reality-television show will be “the first to die,” we don’t know right away where the devastation comes from, or just how widespread it will be. Not yet.

The story unfolds in chapters alternating between the setup and execution of the reality show “In the Dark,” and the first-person narrative of one of the show’s contestants, known only as Zoo.

When we discover Zoo, she is foraging through an empty market, keenly aware of the overhead cameras that she assumes are recording her every move. She believes that she is on an extended “Solo Challenge,” where every empty building, or wild animal, or accident scene is an obstacle put in her way by the production staff of the show. But is it? Has something unthinkable happened in the outside world?

This is the genius of Oliva’s storytelling. As the story unfolds, we don’t know what is “real” and what is possibly a very well-executed television program.
Fans of reality TV will recognize many of the genre’s mainstays: the preening, B-list celebrity host, the challenges that more-than-likely come with a twist, the “confessionals” (where the contestants speak directly to the camera), and the handpicked-for-maximum-diversity contestants, all given names that reflect their professions (Air Force, Banker, Carpenter Chick, Waitress).

Oliva is so spot-on with her depiction of reality-television shows that I wonder if she’s ever worked on one. She also has fun with reality-TV show fans, excerpting comments from online-chat boards throughout the story.

As Zoo forges on, losing her glasses, worrying about her husband back home, she is confronted with increasingly stronger signs that the world around her has changed forever.  Her stubbornness turns to grit and determination and then heartbreak as she presses on to discover the truth, not only about her surroundings, but herself.

A Seattle resident, Oliva makes a stunning debut with this page turner, and becomes a writer to watch.